Cabinet of Curiosities…

Thoughts for the new book are coming together.


I feel like a detective placing clues on a board. Some shout louder than others but somewhere in what I am looking at, a storyline is emerging. The legend of the Fox Spirit is whispering particularly loudly. Readers might remember her appearance in The Shifu Cloth. 


I’ve found faces for characters.

I’ve written a few pages to set the opening scene in my mind – a sketch that will provide the larger picture. Just a light pencil line here, a soft stroke there – nothing substantial.

And my own little map, to give a sense of place in my world of Eirie…


Sometimes, being a stitcher, it feels like the beginning of an embroidery, threads floating past me and I can almost see something definitive.

I reach for it…

But it dissolves before my eyes.


It’s a fabulous time, this early evolutionary stage. I feel as if I am on the brink of something and it makes me feel positive and eager.

People ask me what inspires me to write a particular story, what sets off that creative moment. In the case of this story, it was spectacular Chinese maps – beautifully painted, and like  journeys through Chinese towns.



And it was also a curious little cabinet which I inherited from my Dad and which lends its name to the book. It was locked when it came into my possession, with no key, and required a locksmith to make a key and to allow me to view the world within. Inside was a collection of odd things – a thimble, a small ivory handled awl for bookmaking, a scrap of paper with Chinese characters (Dad learned Mandarin), a small silver paperknife. Nothing and everything!



But there were other things to inspire as well.


 Things like a card sent from a friend.

And an carved ivory scent bottle. Having something like this in my possession produces a moral dilemma. I treasure elephants and am totally against the ivory trade. This little bottle belonged to my grandmother and came down from my father to me. Do I destroy it? Thus invalidating the life of the elephant who gave his life for ivory maybe one hundred years ago? Or do I keep it to honour the life of that elephant and as a  reminder that things like this must never again happen for humanity’s aesthetic indulgence?


Below is a rough extract (not the opening pages) from the new book, The Cabinet of Curiosities – a fantasy in the style of my first quartet, The Chronicles of Eirie. This extract is set in one of Eirie’s provinces, the Han.


‘She stood, her robes falling about her, and walked along a gravel path where shrubs had been clipped into such submission they almost kowtowed at her feet. The fragrant air of the Small Garden parted and then drifted back around; the clatter and bash of the kitchens and the shrill chatter of the cook giving such relief, such a sense that all was right with the world.

And yet…

Looking back toward the walls of the Middle Court with its elegant moon gate, she swore she could see amber eyes watching through the filigree elm leaf, and something pulled at her. Something as delicate as a cobweb.

But like that insidious thread, it was strong. Perhaps too strong. It pulled at her with the strength of the ropes on the Bridge that Never Was. She shivered, pulling the silk folds tight around her body…’