My morning writing buddy and all around fabulous human being, A.L. Lester have a surprise new release, Playing Chicken, a short story she graciously gifted to the morning writing crew for free. I was all over the story the second I got it and I loved it. So today is a two-for-the-price-of-one blogpost: a classic Sunday book recommendation from me, and a guest post from A.L. Lester to celebrate the release. There’s also a giveaway, so keep reading.
Let’s start with cover and blurb, shall we?
Marc returns home from London to his isolated Welsh cottage for good, having found his ex boyfriend shagging someone else in their bed. Who’s the thin, freezing cold man with the bruised face he finds in his barn? Will the tenuous connection between them grow, or fade away?
A 9,000 word short story to mark the Welsh St Valentine’s Day, St Dwynwen’s Day, the 25th of January. With chickens.
Marc could feel the fine connection there, a tiny golden thread running between them.Quote from Playing Chicken by A.L. Lester
I loved Playing Chicken. It was short and funny, but at the same time it has a serious undertone, and it touches on heavy subjects. Both main characters are hurt from past relationships and meet by chance when Marc finds poor Mal in his barn. The story is around 9K words, so what we get is just the beginnings of a relationship, like a sunrise after a long period of darkness. The characters are quirky, the chickens were funny, and I loved the setting. I was transported to rural Wales, I was there in the kitchen with Marc and Mal having tea, I was there snickering about the chickens.
But what I love the most is how down to earth it is. Just like Taking Stock by the same author (that was one of the best books I read last year. In fact, I loved it so much, I bought it in both ebook and paperback). There are no grand gestures, or over-the-top love declarations. But there are understanding and connection and understated romance, and I absolutely adored it.
Tag line: A short contemporary gay romance to mark St Dwynwen’s Day – the Welsh St Valentine. With Chickens.
Genre: Gay, romance, contemporary, meet-cute, short story
Length: 9,000 words
Release Date: 18 Jan 2020
And now, help me welcome A.L. Lester to the blog. She’s her to tell you a little about the Welsh St. Valentine’s Day and the background for one of the main characters in the book, Mal.
Thank you so much for having me here to day to talk about my new short story, Playing Chicken! It’s a meet-cute bit of fluff that I accidentally wrote as a distraction from Real Life ™ over the last couple of weeks. I have recently joined the UK Romance Novelist’s Association’s Welsh chapter (Cariad Chapter—cariad means love in Welsh) and we are doing a Thing next week around St Dwynwen’s Day, the 25th January.
Dwynwen is sometimes talked about as ‘The Welsh St Valentine’ and there are various origin stories. They all start with Dwynwen being one of the twenty-four daughters of the fifth century King Brychan Brycheiniog, one of the South Wales kingdoms. She fell in love with a young man called Maelon Dafodrill, but her father wanted her to marry someone else. I’ve written about my favourite version of the legend on my own blog, so I won’t repeat it here!
One of the things that amuses me most, is that in the legend, Maelon—Mal in my story—is given the surname Dafodrill. Despite the similarity to the flower—I initially wondered if he was yellow-haired—in old Welsh, dafodrill actually translates as tongue. And in modern Welsh, maelon means bald.
So poor Mal is actually suffering with the name Bald Tongue. I wondered if that was because he was a man of few words? Or perhaps he spoke the unvarnished truth rather than dressing things up?
I mostly write queer historical fiction with a bit of paranormal and romance thrown in for good measure. Playing Chicken came out of nowhere and caught me by surprise. I think I badly needed distraction in the first few weeks of the year from all the horrible things happening everywhere and something fluffy rather than the paranormal shenanigans I usually write seemed very attractive! To begin with, the story was set on Christmas Eve, but it just didn’t sit right and after the discussion on our Cariad Chapter zoom call last week, it seemed that St Dwynwen’s Day was a natural fit. And I ended up making poor, frozen, unjustly accused Maelon one of my main characters, because he deserved a happy ending!
His first aid kit was rudimentary but covered the basics. Antiseptics, dressings, butterfly strips. It should do the job. He hauled it out from under the driver’s seat, eyeing the squeezed-in boxes disfavourably. That was going to be today’s job, he supposed.
He was so taken up with his mission that he forgot there should have been a chicken in the porch until he turned back toward the house. He blinked in disbelief. She had a friend. Two friends. They were sat in a row on the back of the garden bench underneath the parlour window. As he watched, they jumped down, one by one and stood in a line, as if waiting for him. The two new ones were very clearly the same breed as Chicken Number One. Big, fluffy, orange. One had more exciting headgear than the other two and was a bit bigger, so he guessed that was a boy-chicken. Cockerel. Cock. He sniggered quietly and then stopped himself as the first chicken…he could tell it was the original one because it had a bit of black in its tail and the others didn’t…looked at him disapprovingly.
Obviously cock jokes were out. The telepathic chicken didn’t like it.
“Sorry,” he said. “I was just getting the first aid kit for Mal. I’ll stop.”
He performed a shuffling dance around them to get back indoors. “You’re like the Midwich Cuckoos,” he told them. “You are not coming into my house. Stay outside. It’s bad enough having a porch full of chicken shit.”
Mal was on his feet looking at him in alarm when he stepped through the parlour door, and the dog was standing beside him, hackles up.
“Who were you talking to?” he asked in a panicked voice. “Is someone out there?”
Marc shook his head. “Chickens,” he said. “I seem to have chickens living in the porch. It’s fine. He narrowed his eyes. “What makes you think there might be someone out there? Who hurt you?”
Mal sat down on the edge of the chair and ran his hands over his cheeks, pulling a face. The dog sat beside him and put her chin on his knee, staring up at him, and he absently began to pet her ears. Marc knelt beside him and opened the first-aid box.
“My ex’s dad,” he said, quietly, after a moment or two. We’d split up anyway. Ages ago. But he saw me in Welshpool a couple of days ago and wanted to drive the point home.’ He shivered. “I’d only gone down into town to pick up some food and bits.” He winced as Marc turned his face toward the light and began to wipe the cut against his hairline with antiseptic. “I’d left Anghared up here, else he wouldn’t have got near me.”
The dog gave a small woof as she heard her name.
“Would he, girl? Stupid man.”
“So how did you end up in my barn?” Marc said, gently fixing butterfly strips over the cut. It had come open again and was bleeding a bit, but it looked like it would be fine. “Come on, let’s look at your ribs too, while I’m at it.”
“They’re fine, honestly. Only bruised.” Mal pulled away and Marc just looked at him. Mal sighed. “All right, all right.” He began to unzip the big hoodie he was swamped in and winced again. Marc raised an eyebrow, silently asking for permission and then reached out to help when Mal nodded. There were a lot of layers to get through and it took a while to gently extract him. The cold was still coming off him in waves and he was shivering badly as he said, “I’ve been staying up in the woods. But I felt too bad to get home. Anghared found me, didn’t you girl? And we needed somewhere out of the cold. I’m freezing, still.”
He was shuddering, which was probably a good thing in retrospect, Marc thought. He hadn’t been shivering at all when he’d first come inside. Incipient hypothermia. He had a quick look and a gentle feel of the ribs. They were badly bruised but he couldn’t feel anything shifting around, so he’d call that good. Mal’s skin was icy cold under Marc’s fingers.
“Bath?” he said. “Or body-heat?”
“Ugh,” he screwed his face up. “Do I have to?”
“Yes,” said Marc firmly. “I don’t want you to die on my first day home for two and a half years. If that’s all right.”
“What I’d like…What I’d like, Marc, is to sit in front of your fire and watch the snow come down through your parlour window, and count your increasing number of chickens in the porch, and find out more about you.”Quote from Playing Chicken by A.L. Lester
About A.L. Lester
Writer of queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense. Lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a badly behaved dachshund, a terrifying cat and some hens. Likes gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy. Not musical. Doesn’t much like telly. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has tedious fits.