Jeff Gardiner’s PICA

Oh look! There are a flock of magpies following the magic carpet today! That must be because my guest is Jeff Gardiner brandishing his new book “Pica” and they all want to love the cover!

Welcome, Jeff. Step down off the carpet and come in to have a cup of something warm … or I think Cameron has a nice barrel of homebrew down in the cellar if you’d prefer a pint?

JG : Hello, Ailsa. Thanks for your lovely greeting. I always feel warmly welcomed here. A pint of homebrew sounds wonderful, thanks. Does Cameron live in the cellar with his homebrew?

He used to but he and his new love have moved to Brighton. He left a load of homebrew for my guests. So let’s start with your new book. As you know I am a corvidophile so I recognise the name Pica – why that name? Is it about a thief? Tell us all about it without giving too much away. Perhaps at the end we might get a bit of a teaser?

JG :   Pica pica is indeed the Latin name for magpie. In this fantasy novel a magpie strangely keep tapping on Luke’s window, and as he goes about his normal life at school and home he keeps seeing magpies. Then one day he decides to open the window to let the bird in, and his life is turned upside down. ‘Pica’, the novel, is a tale exploring ancient magic, transformation, and our modern-day relationship with natural world. It is the first book in the Gaia trilogy. In book 2 things get even crazier.

You and I have been co-cats with Crooked Cat Publishing for some time. Can I be very nosy and ask why you didn’t publish this one with them and who published it? Or is it a selfie?

JG:   It is published by Accent Press, who are rebranding their YA imprint, for which ‘Pica’ will be one of the flagship publications. They will be formally launching soon at the London Book Fair. ‘Pica’ was taken up by a literary agent and Accent Press offered me a three book deal for the trilogy. They have worldwide distribution plus promising links with WHSmith. So here’s hoping!

WOW – fabulous news and well done! I think more and more of us are going to have to face the decision to interweave publishers with selfies. I know that Stephanie and Laurence are very supportive of this kind of thing because when I ran an idea past them which wasn’t in their usual genres, they suggested I self publish particularly as I wanted to keep translation rights. All very matey and amicable.

JG : I think that’s the future of publishing. There are some very good self-published books out there – but also some… shall we say… not so good. My fear is that it’s unregulated. Now I also offer freelance editing services, so I must confess an interest here, but many of the, what you call, ‘selfies’ are in need of a damn good edit. (See my website for more details!)

Yes. I do know what you mean. So are you going to continue on the theme of schools or will you too be branching out into crime? Everyone else seems to be.

JG : No plans for crime at the moment – but you never know. ‘Pica’ is my seventh published book: I’ve written YA, romance and literary novels, so far. My short story collection contains horror, humour and slipstream. I also have a work of non-fiction to my name: an appraisal of the works of author Michael Moorcock, who was also kind enough to read ‘Pica’ which he describes as “An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”

(Ailsa – Michael Moorcock?  Oooooo one of my favourite authors too!)

PG : I will post an extract from ‘Pica’ as a taster for your readers, but I thought I’d also mention that Luke – a teenager still at school – is also a victim of homophobia. My first novel, ‘Myopia’, dealt with bullying, prejudice and racism, and I thought ‘Pica’ should also include some of the ugly realities of modern life. As an ex-teacher I witnessed first-hand how prejudice can crush individuals. Some boys, in particular, use homophobic comments and threats to control others. I’ve never understood what gives anyone the right to judge others or to arrogantly believe they are better than anyone else. Why can’t we just go about our lives, leaving others in peace?

(Ailsa – Amen to that! Cameron would agree so much with that!)

Here’s the blurb:

Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.

Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.


Jeff’s website:

Publisher’s Link:


Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

Amazon Australia:

Barnes & Noble:

Thank you so much for chatting to me today, Jeff and I am really looking forward to reading “Pica”. Now for the extract… Author and cover

Extract from ‘PICA’ by Jeff Gardiner

That night I slept in fits and starts. It felt as though I’d lain awake all night, but in truth I probably dozed off for much longer than I imagined. It got to 4.15 a.m. when I realised my mind had become far too active, so I gave up closing my eyes and sat up. I hoicked my pillow up horizontally behind me and leaned back into its softness. Just as I wondered if I might be able to sleep after all in that position I heard a tapping sound. It was a deliberate rhythm as opposed to, say, a regular dripping sound. The taps got louder and more urgent. They were clear and crisp. The window. The noise definitely came from that direction and it sounded like something hard on a pane of glass. Someone was knocking on my window. My window ledge seemed too narrow for anyone to be sitting there – unless someone had shimmied up the drain-pipe – or used the fence dividing us from our neighbours. Someone could conceivably stand on that and reach my window with a stick.

The thought of looking out the window and seeing someone there spooked me out – a lot. I couldn’t imagine Simon doing it; not his style. Guy? Doing so would make him a weird stalker, but I couldn’t be certain he wouldn’t. My fear was that if I pulled back the curtain and saw a face grinning back at me, I would go mental. My stupid imagination conjured up a swinging corpse, hanging upside down and swaying in the breeze.

Hazy light gave the curtains a kind of halo effect, so I knew it wasn’t dark outside, and a pale face against a dark background would be much worse. A face in the daylight would be shocking, but somehow less sinister. I recalled my close encounter with Guy’s face in the roundabout wilderness.

Steeling myself for a fright I whipped back the near corner of the curtain and glanced at the window pane. No face. No person stood or hung outside. Something stood there leering at me, but not a human face. On the window ledge stood a magpie. I was being haunted by a black and white bird. I dramatically pulled back both curtains hoping to scare it off with larger movements, but it stood its ground and continued pecking at the glass. Did it hope to be let in?

I put my face directly opposite the bird so my nose touched the cold window. Its beak tapped a few centimetres away, making me glad about the double glazing separating us. I made a few faces, leaving fogged imprints and condensation on my side. The bird watched me with definite curiosity – its sideways stare like a camera trying to autofocus on me. I got the impression of it processing still-images in its tiny brain – as if it possessed a photographic memory.

Then I tried to scare it by making sudden movements and pulling faces. It hopped around impatiently, trying to get its beak in the tiny gaps of the frame, as if it was strong enough to prize the hinge open. I smiled, shook my head, and stuck two fingers up at it. The magpie flicked its tail with great agitation, and looked at me, first with its right eye and then with its left. With a harsh ‘chack-chack-chack’ it returned to its tapping on the window, and this time it did so with surprising vigour until I feared the glass might crack.

I lunged towards the latch and in one swift movement of the wrist I unhooked it and swung the casement outwards, knocking the stupid bird from the ledge. It flapped off angrily chattering, its wings long and white-tipped, its tail with iridescent greens and blues stuck out like a rudder steering its flight. To my amazement it wheeled around, beating its wings a few times before gliding around until it faced the house once more. I hastily pulled the window closed and twisted the latch.

And yet the damn bird was still shaping to dive bomb my window. Surely it couldn’t smash through double-glazing? I watched aghast as it propelled itself at speed in my direction. I ducked away at the last second and heard a terrific thump. cover

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