Sue Bentley, fantasy and gritty reality
Meet author Sue Bentley and read about her debute YA fantasy novel, We Other.
Jess Morgan’s life has always been chaotic. When a startling new reality cannot be denied, it’s clear that everything she believed about herself is a lie. She is linked to a world where humans – ‘hot-bloods’ – are disposable entertainment. Life on a run-down housing estate, her single mum’s alcoholism and violent boyfriend – become the least of her worries. Drawn into a new world of rich darkness, she finds herself torn between love, family and a growing sense of a powerful new identity.
Ninka was trying not to listen to the struggling hob’s squeals. It wasn’t the tiny faery’s death that bothered her; the matter of life and death in the Shadow Court was like everything else there, twisted and uncertain. It was the lengthy pleasure that Tweeter took in his task that she found so upsetting.
Added to this, in the midst of it all, Catelysma was jouncing her newest plaything on her knee. No one knew where the pretty baby had come from and no one was foolish enough to ask. It looked too well cared-for to be a forest foundling. But it was of no concern to any of the gathered fey that a mortal might be grieving her baby’s loss; mortals were fecund, if short-lived, and the mother could easily have another. The infant’s rounded features, flushed pink cheeks and soft, peach-skinned limbs were drawing murmurs of admiration from all those in attendance.
As Ninka looked more closely at the fitted garment that covered the baby from its neck down, her heart gave a lurch. Although muddy and grass-stained it was just possible to see the original pink colour and the faint design of dancing animals. Immediately, she guessed where it had come from.
‘She shall be known as, Aerith,’ Catelysma decided, a smile of satisfaction playing over her perfect features.
There were nods of approval from the scrags and boggarts clustered in the shadows. A grey phantasm drifted past, smoke-like limbs trailing and its mournful features wearing what passed for a smile.
Aerith smiled and gurgled, unconcerned by narrow eyes blinking at her from spiteful cat faces.
Ninka felt a shiver of fear for the little mortal. How soon before the Dark Lady tired of her and she became prey to the ravenous scrags and red caps? She watched as Catelysma placed a golden ball in the baby’s lap and made a languorous gesture with one slender white hand, setting a glamour on the ball, which instantly became a fluffy golden rabbit.
The infant’s lips pursed. She blew a loud raspberry as she clapped her chubby hands with pleasure.
‘How delightful, she is!’ Catelysma purred. ‘Eyes like cornflowers and tender pink lips.’
Nods and smiles rippled round the court. Ninka found herself smiling too. Aerith was indeed charming, but then new-born mortals brought into Faery usually were – at first.
‘Some pity…I beg.’ The wounded hob gave a loud moan, as Tweeter continued working with his curved bone blade.
Some of the faery host tittered. A few yawned. Many paid no attention to the little hob’s commonplace suffering, preferring the rare novelty of watching Catelysma petting the pretty infant.
Was the Dark Lady thinking of that other half-ling babe – the Forbidden? And what had become of it? Was it dead, and if so, did she mourn it? Was this what the show of maternity was about? Ninka’s thoughts began to wander.
The details of that event in the forest, which she alone had witnessed by accident, were imprinted deeply upon her. It would have far-reaching implications for the Shadow Court, the solitary fey and beyond if what she knew ever came to light. But that knowledge was caged within her, where it must stay buried. If Catelysma had even the slightest inkling that any fey knew her secret –her life would be worth less than a dandelion seed blowing on the breeze.
A bloated-bellied scrag nudged her, jerking her out of her reverie. ‘Pretty toothsome thing, ain’t it?’
‘Yes, very,’ she replied neutrally. The scrag’s eyes gleamed. Ninka turned away from the blast of its meaty breath.
‘Tender bones,’ it mused.
Ninka normally cared little for mortal playthings that were so easily broken. But Aerith was an engaging little creature, unafraid and sunny-natured. For the first time, it bothered her that innocence could be corrupted so carelessly.
Catelysma glanced her way and Ninka quickly lowered her eyes, veiling her expression. It was not wise to show too much interest or to become too attached to anything. At the Shadow Court finer emotions too swiftly became currency.
The hob was wailing piteously now. ‘Mercy. Ah, mercy,’ it sobbed.
Catelysma had laid her cheek against the fuzz of blonde hair that clothed the infant’s small skull. She lifted her chin, her face clouding. ‘Be done with that now.’
‘Ladyship.’ Tweeter clenched uneven mud-coloured teeth in an ingratiating grin. Raising the blade, he thrust hard. The hob shuddered, was silent.
Ninka would have liked to think the Dark Lady had spoken up out of pity. But she knew she was simply impatient to find out whether her latest experiment had worked. She feared, sometimes hated, the tall, slender faery who ruled uncontested over the Shadow Court, but her humble sensibilities could not help but be moved by Gentry beauty. The Dark Lady had milk-white skin, her waterfall of shifting pale green and silver hair brushed the ground behind her as she walked. Her slanted eyes were a dazzling turquoise ringed with gold, but Ninka knew how they could change in an instant.
Tweeter had filled a goblet, carved from rock crystal. He minced towards Catelysma, every inch the attendant courtier with his awkward rolling walk, as he balanced his powerful upper-body on a pair of stringy, knock-kneed legs that ended in goat’s feet.
He handed Catelysma the glass of warm red liquid. ‘I hope the flavour delights you, Ladyship. The hob, which chose to sacrifice itself for your pleasure, ate only newly sprouted wood sorrel leaves for the allotted portion of time.’
Catelysma twirled the crystal glass. She took a dainty sniff and swirled the thick liquid, before finally sipping. ‘Mmm,’ she murmured, swallowing.
Everyone waited. Nearby, another tiny hob hovered in the air, trembling, its wings shedding powdery faery dust. Kors and puckles sprawled in the grass. A boggle-eyed brownie and three slender pixies sat rigidly on a fallen log.
Tweeter shifted impatiently. ‘Good, is it, Ladyship?’ he simpered.
‘You do not have permission to speak.’ She stared coldly at him until his grin slid towards dismay and then dawning fear. Tipping the goblet, she poured the red stream onto the ground. ‘It tastes insipid. You have failed me again. What will you do to make reparation?’
Ninka saw sweat break out on Tweeter’s face. ‘A thousand pardons, Peerless One. I do not deserve your forgiveness. I shall cut strips from my skin and eat them, while dancing on hot coals. I will blind myself in one eye with a thorn…’
Catelysma gave a stifled yawn. ‘If you can’t be more inventive, do not bother.’
There were mutters and cries of disappointment from the watching host at the loss of the chance of some more entertainment.
‘Silence!’ The Dark Lady glowered. ‘You, Tweeter, will find another for my purpose. But not a hob this time.’
She cast her gaze round the assembly. Ninka steeled herself to remain still as all around her faery kind shifted nervously. Some looked rigidly at the ground. Others shrank inside their skins like fungi collapsing in a rainstorm. Black eyes, sharp faces and snouts melted further into the shadows.
‘A pixie, I think,’ Catelysma mused. ‘Instruct it to feed on violets – the flowers only.’ She fanned long fingers in the air. ‘You shall gather the flowers, dew-fresh.’
Tweeter sighed with deep relief bowing low, so that the bones of his spine showed pale through his hairy, lemon-coloured skin. ‘As you command. The sole purpose of my miserable existence is to serve you.’
Catelysma sighed, already bored. She stranded a tress of shining, silver-green hair through her fingers, fingering the strings of emeralds woven through it.
The pixies on the log seemed frozen in terror. Then one of them lost her nerve. With a strangled cry, she flexed glassy dragonfly wings. But before she could rise into the air, Tweeter’s muscular arm shot out and grasped her round her slim neck.
The pixie squeaked with terror and wet itself.
‘The next volunteer!’ Tweeter said, triumphantly.
The pixie’s long toes scrabbled at the floor and her wings clattered desperately against Tweeter’s body. He reached down and roughly tore them from her shoulders, before trampling them into glittering shards beneath his sharp hooves. Moaning faintly, the pixie was borne away towards a dark corridor with walls of woven brambles.
Ninka’s heart moved with pity, but there was nothing she could do.
The pool of hob’s blood on the moss carpet at Catelysma’s feet looked dark and syrupy. She felt slightly sick with disgust, but knew better than to reveal the fact.
‘Dismissed. All of you!’
As the rest of the court melted away into the forest, Ninka sidled behind a birch trunk, eager to be about her work. The rush matting in her forest dwelling was in need of replacement. She planned to investigate a patch of sedge along the lake’s edge in the grounds of…
‘Not you. Approach me,’ Catelysma said softly.
About the Author
Sue was born in the UK and has two grown-up sons. She grew up on a council estate and went to a church school. Books didn’t feature in the crowded house she grew up in. Sue discovered the public library at an early age, and her life-long obsession with reading was born. A fascination with the folklore of the British Isles, and all things fairy (faerie) began after discovering the world of beauty and twisted darkness in many classic fairy tales.
She was interested in a career as an artist or possibly a nurse, but left school with only modest qualifications. So she began working for Northamptonshire libraries, where she remained for many years, working part-time after starting a family. Eventually she began to teach herself the art of writing, which took far longer than she had ever imagined.
She has written over 70 books for adults and children, and numerous short stories. Her own series for 5-9 year olds, Magic Kitten, Magic Puppy, Magic Ponies and Magic Bunny are worldwide bestsellers and have been translated into many languages. Sue also contributed to existing best-selling series, Animal Ark and Rainbow Magic.
We Other is Sue’s first book for Young Adult readers.
Sue says, ‘In We Other, I’ve built a magical world where gritty reality sits side by side with fantasy. It is very dark and has elements of the fairy books I love – but with a modern twist. I’ve lived with Jess Morgan, the main character, a sensitive shy, girl beneath her tough exterior; Ivy Stark painter of nightmare scenes; Caleb Farmer who’s trying to break away from a domineering father, and many others – human and otherwise, for about 3 years. I love every one of them – faults and all.’
Sue remains fascinated by the unusual, the hidden and the unexpected in the everyday. Her work for older readers often includes elements of fantasy and psychological suspense.
She is currently at work on Second Skin, a dark fantasy novel about people who have the ability to become dragons.
She is planning a second novel set in the world of We Other, entitled, Scar You.
Sue is also an artist working in mixed-media, and a maker of mono-prints.
Further details: Sue Bentley.
Hobbies. Reading, cinema, browsing vintage clothes and book shops, walking, sitting in cafes. Cooking. Going to art galleries.
Addictions. Books – everything about them, how they feel, how they smell, how they transport you to new and secret worlds. Coffee, chocolate-covered peanuts, Dr Marten boots. Brightly coloured propelling pencils. Earrings. Collecting bookmarks to match up with covers of books she’s reading.
Hates. Being too cold or too hot. Being too tired to read. High-heeled shoes. Cruelty to people or animals. People talking to her when she’s reading. Being disturbed when deep into a writing session.
Loves. Autumn. Books, reading, writing. Stationery. People who love books, talking about books, getting books as presents. Books set in Victorian times, scandi-crime novels, fantasy fiction. Connecting with readers and meeting them at author events. Meeting other authors. Answering fan letters sent from around the world. TV series – Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful, Peaky Blinders, Taboo. Medical Dramas. Quiz shows. Collecting weird and wonderful facts. Fresh flowers. Velvet and Leather.
email. [email protected]
Sue is a member of the Society of Authors. The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society. The Romantic Novelists Association.