Thanks for checking out my slapdash page for my new YA novel, Elizabeth Haberlin and the Unordered Council.
It’s about a little girl named Elizabeth who accidentally joins a global secret society of criminals called the Unordered Council, and also features upside-down mansions, magical doors that you mustn’t ever walk through backwards, letters written in black ink on black paper in black envelopes, and cats.
You can check out the first two chapters below. You can also sign up for the mailing list to receive various pictures of swamps and sad people with mustaches, as well as occasional excerpts and updates.
Chapter 1 — Concerning Little Girls, and Adventuring…
There once was a little girl named Elizabeth who lived in a mansion on a hill.
Most mansions are clean and tidy, with nice carpets and fancy furniture. Elizabeth’s mansion was dusty and smelly. The walls bent in because they were so old and so tired from holding the house up all day long, for years and years and years. There was a hole in the basement that filled up with water, cracks in the roof that went drip-drip-drip when it rained, and stairs that went creak, ba-bump, creak, ba-bump when you walked up them.
The mansion was on The Moor, which is like a swamp for very rich people. The skies there were always gray, except sometimes, and it rained and rained almost every day, so the ground was always wet and soggy.
Elizabeth lived in the mansion with her mother and father. They were nice people, but they were also very boring.
Her father worked for a big bank and spent all day counting other people’s money.
Every day he kissed her goodbye and got into his big black motorcar and drove away into the city. He stayed until very late, so Elizabeth thought he must like counting money very much.
Her mother was a scientist and worked with the Royal Society. That meant that she was very busy all the time, and spent all day looking at things through a microscope or writing very large math problems on the very large chalk boards in her study.
Elizabeth did not quite understand what her mother did. She was, after all, only 11. It seemed to have something to do with very, very small things.
“Like a speck of dust,” her mother had told her. “But even smaller. So small that a person the size of a piece of dust would still need a broom and pan to clean them up.”
Elizabeth thought that this was very small indeed.
She had no brothers and no sisters. The only other people in the mansion were the maids, of which there were many, and the governess, of which there was thankfully just the one.
The governess was an older woman, although of course everyone is old when you are 11, nearly 12, and it was her job to educate Elizabeth about science, literature, and geography. Sometimes the governess brought in great big maps and rolled them out on the floor and made Elizabeth memorize all the countries of the world, in order.
“Once you can name all the countries in a row,” the governess told her, “we shall start learning all the towns, too.”
Apart from her parents, the maids, and the governess, Elizabeth had the mansion to herself. She loved to poke her nose into new places and find things that she wasn’t meant to find, and she was very good at it.
One time, she found a sword in the back of her father’s dressing closet. It was long and curved like a pirate’s, and Elizabeth had ever so much fun chasing the maids around and proclaiming herself to be Black Sally, Queen of the High Seas.
That particular adventure had earned her a stern talking-to by the governess, but it was worth it to be Black Sally for the day. (They took the sword away, too, and hid it better this time.)
When she wasn’t busy educating, the governess spent her days yelling at the maids. She told them to clean this and fold that, then to dust this and shine that. All day the governess yelled, and all day the maids cleaned.
“These sheets haven’t been folded properly,” she’d say.
And “Did no one dust behind the chandelier?” she’d ask.
And “Am I the only one who cares about tidiness?” she’d wonder, and each day she concluded that it must be so, because, why, you only needed to look at the state of the place to see.
The governess cared very much about tidiness, and said so often. It was one of their favorite things, after “being polite” and “right-thinkingness.” But in truth the maids cared about tidiness, too. The mansion had simply gotten into the habit of being very dirty, because buildings can become set in their ways just like people.
And so every time the maids would clean, the mansion would get to work dirtying the place right back up again. Every room that they tidied would quickly get all messy and confused, and any cobwebs the maids knocked down came back all on their own, just as dusty and twice as thick.
None of this bothered Elizabeth, however. She liked the dust and cobwebs and the bumps and creaks. They made her feel at home.
When Elizabeth wasn’t getting into trouble around the mansion, she liked to go exploring out on The Moor. The governess called these her “Daily Constitutionals,” which Elizabeth felt was a very funny and unnecessary way to say you were going for a walk.
“Why don’t you just call them walks?” she asked.
“Don’t be silly, Elizabeth,” said the governess. “A proper woman does not go for walks. Neither does she go exploring, nor on adventures, nor does she get into fights.”
“Does she find buried treasure?” asked Elizabeth
“She does not.”
Being a proper woman sounded extremely boring, thought Elizabeth.
Proper or not, Elizabeth found plenty of interesting things while exploring. She found a little pond where ducks lived. She found a long narrow path that twisted in and out of a row of thorn bushes. She even found a big old oak tree that somebody had carved their initials into (and this, thought Elizabeth, was a very rude thing to do to a tree).
Elizabeth liked the Moor. It was exciting and mysterious – even more mysterious than her big old mansion, and that was quite mysterious by itself. When she was out on the Moor, Elizabeth always felt like a great adventure was about to start.
She knew that this was silly, that she was just a little girl and adventures, the governess had told her, did not happen to little girls. And they certainly did not start on the Moor outside her parents mansion.
Until, one day, an Adventure did start on the Moor outside her parents’ mansion. And it most definitely did happen to her, no matter what the governess said, because she was the hero and nobody else, which goes to show you how little grownups know about the world.
It began on the day that she met the tall thin man dressed all in black.
Chapter 2 — Concerning Kidnappers, and Other Bad Guys…
There was a tall thin man dressed all in black, and he was standing on Elizabeth’s favorite garden path.
The path was at the back of her parents’ land, behind a row of hedges and near the duck pond. It went along an old stone wall, and on the other side was a big road that went all the way to Coddlesley.
On the other side of the road were miles and miles and miles of swampy, boggy moor that went on for as far as your eye could see. In some places there were little roads and even other mansions, but mostly it was big, gray, and empty.
The governess would have been very cross if she knew Elizabeth was out there by herself. But Elizabeth had sneaked out while the governess was taking a nap, and she would be back before she woke up.
“You must stay away from the road, Elizabeth,” the governess had told her, just the week before. “There are dangerous people afoot. Dangerous people who will steal you away. Your parents would be so worried! It just isn’t safe, these days.”
According to the governess, the world was a scary place that was filled with bad people who liked nothing more than to kidnap little girls.
But from what Elizabeth had seen, it was actually mostly filled with boring adults and their boring adult friends. A kidnapping would have been much more interesting.
So every time she got the chance, Elizabeth snuck out to her little hidden path and sat behind the hedge. From her hiding spot she could watch the road and look for kidnappers, thieves, and other bad people. But she was always disappointed, because none of them ever showed up.
Here, though, was a tall thin man, and he was very suspicious.
Elizabeth didn’t know much about grownup clothes. If she had, she would have said that the tall thin man looked a bit like a very scary lawyer — or an undertaker who was going to a party. He wore a long, skinny black coat with funny tails at the back, simple black boots, and black gloves.
Elizabeth had never seen a bad guy. She had, however, read about them in books, and she had a very good imagination. And to Elizabeth, the thin man looked exactly like a bad guy was supposed to look.
“Hallo,” she said, stepping out from behind the hedge. “Are you a kidnapper?”
The thin man jumped. He did not expect there to be anyone else around.
“A kidnapper?” he said. “No, certainly not. I have never been a kidnapper.”
This was a very unusual thing to say, thought Elizabeth, or at least it was an unusual way to say it.
The man had a crooked nose and beady eyes, and he twitched his fingers when he spoke. He made Elizabeth think of a great big spider, just waiting for a fly to come along.
“My governess told me that only criminals come to this part of the moor. If you aren’t a kidnapper, then what sort of criminal are you?”
The man leaned forward and looked Elizabeth right in the eye.
“You’re a very curious little girl, aren’t you? That can be very dangerous, if you aren’t careful. If you must know, my name is Speck — Mister Speck, if you don’t mind.”
Some children would have been frightened of Mr. Speck. But Elizabeth could always tell when a grownup was trying to scare her, and so she stayed where she stood and looked him right back in the eye.
“I will call you what I please,” said Elizabeth, in a very strong voice for such a little girl. “And if you don’t tell me who you are and why you are here, I’ll tell my parents that you were snooping around, and they will tell the police, and they will come and get you and lock you up for a very long time.”
It’s not every day that you are yelled at by an eleven year old girl. But Mr. Speck knew when he had been beaten, and so he tipped his hat and smiled his best smile, although in truth it was not a very good smile at all.
“As to who I am,” he said, “I am a messenger, of a sort, for a very important man, and that is all you need know. And as to why I am here, I have come to retrieve a letter. I think that it was sent to your mansion by mistake.”
Mr. Speck reached inside his coat and took out a long, thin, black envelope, as long and thin and black as Mr. Speck himself. And from the envelope he took a piece of paper, which was also black.
“It looked just like this, and it is very important. Have you seen it?”
Elizabeth stared at the envelope and the letter. It didn’t just look important. It looked mysterious, which was even better.
“What good is a black letter?” she said. “If you wrote on it, you couldn’t read it.”
Mr. Speck smiled a nasty little smile and put the letter away.
“Of course you can’t,” he said. “And that is the idea. It’s for secrets.”
Elizabeth wanted very badly to know what sort of secrets were written in black ink on a black letter in a black envelope. But she also knew that the governess would be waking up soon. And if the governess caught her out in the hedges, or if she found out about Mr. Speck, Elizabeth would be grounded for a very, very long time — a month, at the very least.
The risk was just too great.
“I wish I could help you,” she told Mr. Speck. “But I can’t. We haven’t gotten a letter like that, but I wish you the best of luck in finding yours. Good bye!”
Mr. Speck called out, but Elizabeth was already running down the path back to the mansion. And after a moment more, the strange thin man disappeared around the bend.
So with that, Elizabeth went back home. And after she made sure that the governess was still asleep, she went downstairs to the mail slot by the front door.
And there, in the middle of the floor, was a single black envelope — just where it had been when she’d seen it that morning.