Hi everyone! Today we have a guest post from the wonderful N J Simmonds, whose new book The Path Keeper is released TOMORROW on Tuesday 28th May. In the lead-up, The Path Keeper is taking a blog tour (what a cool idea) and there’s also a competition you can get involved in. I can’t wait to read the book – a novel which asks can love be stronger than fate? The story incorporates magic, mystery, and in a strange coincidence, a number of geographical locations very near me (I believe there’s a scene in Highgate Cemetery) so count me in.
I met Natali online – though she has a very different life than I do, we share a lot of the same interests. Almost fate we became friends – and I’m so excited to read her book! Without further ado, let’s get into Natali’s post. If you like what you read then you can find a link to order The Path Keeper at the end of the post! And by the way – if you’re in London, come along to the book launch on 13th June (I’ll be there reading cards!). Lx
I was the last to arrive in the café and there were already eight women sitting around the table. I’d been invited to a breakfast meeting with local business women, a few of whom I’d met before, an opportunity to network and meet new faces. I hadn’t sat down yet, was just taking off my coat, when one of them looked up at me and said, ‘you’re a witch.’ It wasn’t a question or an exclamation, simply a statement breathed out as easily as if she were asking my name.
‘I used to be,’ I replied with a shrug.
That woman turned out to be a psychic, a friend of a friend who I’d heard a lot about but had never met. The other women around the table gawped in disbelief at our peculiar exchange (after all, most business get-togethers start off with swapping business cards, not calling each other names), but she continued smiling at me like we already shared a secret.
I instantly liked this woman. Softly spoken and unnervingly still, she rarely looked me in the eye when we spoke, instead searching inches around my silhouette as if I was shrouded in something only she could see. As others began to chat among themselves, I sidled up to her and asked what she knew about me and witchcraft.
‘Your past life,’ she explained.
Well, of course, that was obvious. ‘The time I was drowned?’ I asked.
‘Yes. Do you know the story?’
I shook my head. ‘Only the ending.’
Past life memories were nothing new for me, I’d been having random flashbacks since I was a child. After reading a few books on the subject I was torn between believing I’d been on this earth countless times before, or that instead the strange visions were simply my subconscious creating metaphorical allegories to explain my phobias and idiosyncrasies. After all, no one can prove past lives exist.
Since the day I was born I’ve feared water – even though I was raised by the sea. To this day I can’t put my face under the shower. Over the years I’ve forced myself to learn to swim and snorkel and fifteen years ago I passed my PADI scuba diving cert…but my eyes need to remain dry and I need to be able to breathe easily. I never knew from where that fear derived, my mum said I’d been like that since forever, until in my mid-twenties I ‘remembered’ being drowned.
Out of nowhere a clear vision formed in my mind and I saw myself dying. I watched my hands and feet being tied to a long pole, the rough bite of the rope burning my skin as a man, face contorted in disgust and rage, bound my wrists and ankles. I was lowered into a river and felt the dark water rising slowly over my chin, remembered the taste of the silt as it lapped over my lips, my nose, my eyes. Lungs burning and body unable to move, only my head thrashed hopelessly from side to side. I screamed into the river’s murky depths, bubbles floating to the surface and carrying with them my cries of innocence. But nobody cared. No one was going to save me.
‘They accused you of witchcraft, but you didn’t do anything wrong,’ the psychic told me. ‘You were only trying to help those women.’
‘I know,’ I said.
That vision was the inspiration behind the second book of my fantasy romance series. Whereas book one, The Path Keeper (out 28 May 2019, BHC Press) is a gritty and dark esoteric tale of romance in a London laced with magic, the sequel is a kick-arse feminist gut-punch. It takes readers back to the 17th century witch hunts of Holland and a time when healers were murdered for understanding nature a little too well – a past life flashback, its repercussions rippling into my characters’ new life in London today.
Back in the café, as the stranger (a woman I was to eventually become good friends with) continued telling me my story – just one of many past lives she could see flickering faintly behind me like an old movie – an icy chill began to wash over me. This was my story she was sharing. Not a life I remembered in any great detail, but the story I had just written in my second book Son of Secrets.
‘I know what happens next,’ I said to the psychic, as she recounted a tale of healing, misunderstandings and accusation born of ignorance.
‘Of course you do, it happened to you.’
‘No. It happens to Elien, the character in my book. I made this story up.’
She smiled faintly, her eyes still hovering somewhere over my left shoulder.
‘You didn’t make it up, you remembered it.’
I’m not a witch today, not really. I don’t create healing salves made from herbs picked from the woods at midnight. I no longer have a cat, although my first cat was black. I might wear a lot of dark clothing, but I’m yet to sport a pointy hat. I’m also very pleased to say my skin is wart-free and my broom is rarely used at all (not even for cleaning).
But your soul remembers what your mind forgets.
Seven years before I started writing my past-life-inspired fictional trilogy, I trained to be a reiki healer, studied astrology and learned about crystals. Although I was raised a Catholic, spirituality made much more sense to me than Bible stories. I became a member of the London School of Psychic Studies (after a few unsettling encounters of the phantom kind) and only last year I performed a red-moon spell with my very own sigil that worked incredibly well. I was living in a 15th century Dutch canal house at the time – which certainly helped with casting spells. So much so, in fact, that I based the witch’s house in my book on that old creepy house.
Actually, maybe I am still a bit of a witch, and maybe we all remain a bit of what we once were before. Have you ever wondered who you used to be, based on who you are today? Whether you believe in past lives, or whether you see the idea as simply a way of processing fears and beliefs, it doesn’t really matter. And whether you know how to summon spirits, or just like the idea of working with universal energy, that doesn’t really matter either.
All that matters is believing that there’s a little a bit of magic residing in all of us; all you have to do is believe – not in miracles, but in yourself.
The Path Keeper is the first book of N J Simmond’s urban fantasy romance series, out 28 May 2019. Described as ‘a dark and gritty tale of passion, past lives and magic’ it’s perfect for lovers of The Time Traveller’s Wife, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Game of Thrones and Outlander – but with a London edge. Order your copy online or at all good bookstores.
Every blog in the blog tour has a letter. Collect them all to spell out the answer to this competition question: What does Zac get in the sequel SON OF SECRETS that’s very out of character? Prize info and entry details will be posted in The Glass House Glass magazine on release day 28 May 2019. Check out today’s letter and competition graphic below.