Hope Island

Book cover of Hope Island

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This novel grew from speculation in the summer of 2019 that a viral pandemic was imminent, that the western antarctic ice sheet is fragile and that the Carrington Event of 1859 is overdue for a re-run as it repeats about every 150 years.

The result of all three of these happening in relatively quick succession would devastate the world. But after the turmoil I have hope that society might emerge in a simpler, rather more pleasant form. This novel is set 100 years in the future, not a dystopian future, but one that in which I hope our great grandchildren could survive and prosper. Of course there is always human nature to contend with. Greed. love, suspicion and desire still exist and drive the plot

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Life After Alison

Life After Alison book covers

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This is based on a thought that has been with me since I was a teenager and that I’ve never resolved and never will – what does happen after we die?

I lost friends when I was a teenager and again in my twenties. I don’t claim to be unusual in that respect. Many people wonder about an afterlife, some claim to know, or at least believe. I have no idea, no deeply held beliefs and only a few playful theories. This novel is about the natural sadness of losing someone, their utter surprise that they’re still around, happiness that does return after loss and the fact that we can’t communicate with the dead, or they with us, or can they?

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The Act of Falling

The Act of Falling - book covers

I wanted to set myself a challenge with my second novel. I chose a cast of characters who all had a psychological or sociological problems. I threw them together in their first year at university and watched what happened.

The plot developed almost by itself, I only had the vaguest outline of where it was going and at some points it almost seemed like fate was melding strands together (it was probably my sub conscious).

You can find this book on Amazon as an eBook or paperback

If you wish to review this book a eBook file is available on request for any eReader.

White Lies and Black Sheep

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Not my first novel, but the first one I’m admitting to. Previous attempts are not tucked away in a drawer, they were ceremoniously burnt on the fire (nowadays of course I would recycle them).

I understood that first novels are often a thinly veiled autobiography – or a fantasy version of the author. I decided that the best way to avoid that trap was to write from the point of view of an 18 year old girl who ran away from her childhood home in the fear that she had killed someone. She returns as a 36 woman and only then learns the full truth.

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Nothing Matters

(flash fiction – 500 words)

Nothing Matters

I’ll try to explain but I doubt you’ll get it. The thing is there’s no point to anything. That’s what people don’t understand, that nothing matters. Nothing makes any difference. That’s why I want to do this, that’s why I have to do this, to show you, to make you understand.

Today is not special. It’s not my birthday or anything like that. People will try to explain, but they won’t get it, that’s the point, it doesn’t make any difference, there is nothing to get. We’re all worms grubbing through the earth, eating what comes our way and leaving our shit behind.

It’s sunny. My back is hot while I wait. I like that I’m alone, that nobody knows I am here, but then nobody cares, nobody really cares for anyone else. They pretend, they make noises like they care, but they don’t and I don’t. I don’t need their sympathy, their concerns, boring repetitive words. They go home and forget everything. But they won’t forget me now.

This is the most peaceful I have felt for years, maybe ever. There is nobody up here to tell me what to do, to look at me like I’m not one of them, like I’m not normal, a freak, an outsider, a waste of space, somebody they don’t want to acknowledge or talk to. Today I am truly alone

I have a counsellor. She talks to me. It’s her job. Then she goes home and forgets. She always has to read her notes when I’m there. I’m just a file, a collection of words on a piece of paper. If I tore up the paper and threw it in the bin I’d still be there, but she wouldn’t know who I was. She doesn’t hear what I say, only what she wants to hear, only what fits into the box she’s put me in.

There’s noise below me now. Not individual voices, but lots of voices. Random noise, it comes in waves, in ripples, up to where I am. It washes over me. The time is right. My time. I don’t hate anyone. I don’t know anyone well enough to hate them. I don’t want to know anyone that well, there’s no point.

Today is the day. I don’t why today. It just felt right when I got up. I knew. I dressed, checked myself in the mirror in the hall. My mum said goodbye.

The sun is really hot now, burning through my coat. The metal is cool against my finger. There’s no sweat on my palms, no excitement and no fear in me. I thought I might feel something, but I don’t.

I feel it smooth against my finger, a perfect fit as I pull carefully against it, testing the pressure, the resistance. The noise is louder than I expect, a clean noise, cracking my ear, mixing with the shouts below. If anyone had listened they would understand.

Where do you write?

I am fortunate. After a lifetime of working freelance as an illustrator, graphic designer, copywriter and cartoonist, I have an established working routine and a studio with forty years history embedded in every dust mote – or I did have until we moved house two years ago. I now have a smaller, newer studio, but some of the dust came with me.

Interior of Charlie Friday's coffee shop and café in Lynton

Charlie Friday’s
Sometimes I walk down to my local café, Charlie Friday’s, where they have great coffee and make the best fruit scones and cakes I’ve had anywhere. The ambience is totally different to my desk space and makes a pleasant change that can revitalise my writing.

Boston Tea Party in Barnstaple, café, restaurant and meeting place

The Boston Tea Party
If I’m in our local county town (about twenty miles away) I’ll pop in to The Boston Tea Party (often while my wife is taking a Pilates class). It’s a café with mismatched furniture, friendly staff and good toasted tea cakes. Also great for people watching.

Now there’s a thought
I wonder how much of my working life has been associated with the quality of available cafés?

How does this work practically
I write predominantly using the Pages app on a Mac computer. The files automatically update on my iPad so I can stop mid sentence, grab my iPad, and continue writing anywhere.

Does anyone else have a special place where creativity flows?

Late Mail

(Late Mail is a 300 word murder mystery)

My phone pinged with a message. I expected it to be a friend, checking in after David’s funeral.

‘Hello Lauren. You think you’ve got away with it, don’t you?’

It was David, but it couldn’t be, we’d just cremated him. Someone had hacked his account.

‘Who is this?’

‘Did you really think you could murder me and not be caught?’

Nobody knew what had really happened other than me and David, and he was dead.

‘David’s death was an accident. Stop this cruel joke now or I’ll report you to the police.’

They police had questioned me, maybe suspected me, but I claimed never to have taken the tiller before, that I was confused, that I was trying to stop the boat. Putting it into reverse was judged by the coroner as an accident. 

‘I saw you looking at me, you knew what you were doing.’

‘You’re not David. Please stop this.’

‘Would the police have believed you if they knew you spent every childhood holiday on a canal boat?’

My stomach lurched. My childhood and my father’s abuse was a closed book. I spoke to nobody about it, other than David, I had trusted him, until he made a joke of it that day, one he paid for with his life.

‘Whoever you are you’re crazy.’

‘Not crazy, but I am angry. And you’ve made one mistake.’

‘You can’t be David, you’re dead.’

‘You still have those photographs.’

I should have burned them. Photographs of me as a teenager, at the tiller, threading my father’s narrow boat into a lock.

I’ve emailed Detective Connery. He knows where the photographs are.

There was a knock on the front door. I looked through the window and Detective Connery was outside, with three other officers.

“Open the door please, Mrs Baker.”

Writing can't only be a mirror

illustration of age and ethnicity

When I was a teenager I had no idea what it felt like to be sixty, or even thirty. Now I’m older I am told sometimes that I can’t possibly connect with the mindset of a younger generation. Frankly I think both opinions are misjudged.

We have imagination
Anyone who is astute and observes those around them cannot possibly be restricted to writing within their own age group, gender, ethnicity and sexuality. If that were the case then every novel would only contain one generation of characters who look, act and think alike.

The only limit to our writing should be our powers of observation, the breadth of our reading, the ability to listen and our imagination.

First Love

(First Love is a 1250 word short love story)

Mary moved to a small village on the coast within a year of Vernon’s death. Her friends told her it was too soon, that she ought to wait and not make decisions so hastily but, if anything, she had waited too long.

They never had children and Vernon hadn’t been interested in identifying the cause or seeking a solution. In later years she was convinced that he thought more of his garden than he did of her. He treated the lawn with the attention he had conferred on her, when they were first wed, and fussed over his chrysanthemums with a tenderness of touch she had once enjoyed.

The town house was sold within days of putting it on the market and, once settled in her new cottage, Mary decided to take up painting again. She had the time, the freedom, and no one to belittle her attempts. She was free to express herself in ways that would previously have been criticised as frivolous.

Never having considered herself as particularly talented, despite two years at art college, Mary found the courage to contact a local art group. They met twice a week in an old chapel, now the community centre. The first time she walked through the doors she felt comfortable. The group was comprised mostly of women, but there were also three men there. They were quiet, almost apologetically so, and didn’t command the space as some men seemed to have done during her life.

The teacher, Sam, the woman Mary had spoken to on the telephone, welcomed her and made cursory introductions to a few of the othermembers, but soon excused herself in order to set up a still life on a central table. 

Only a few members of the art group positioned themselves to attempt to capture the rather dreary assembly of apples and pears spilling off a glass dish. Mary tucked herself away, near the back of the room, and turned the cover on her new pad of cartridge paper. The room had a high vaulted ceiling with dark beams against white plaster. The lower half of the walls were clad with rich pine planking, polished to a rich lustre by generations of women. She wondered whether it had always been women who gave rooms a sense of welcome and of cosiness.

Mary hesitated, not sure whether to attempt to draw the two people immediately in front of her, their backs hunched in concentration, or try to capture the sense of space in a room which was taller than it was wide. She knew she needed to make a mark, to break the spell that a pristine sheet of white paper presented.

No paint today, just pencils, soft pencils that would glide over the paper and react with the subtle texture of it. A line appeared, as if by its own volition, and she began to retreat from her surroundings, not really aware of what she was drawing, lost from the present to a place in her past where life had held promises, mysteries and passion. The spell was broken by a voice at her shoulder

“That’s excellent Mary?”

The voice of the teacher made her start. Mary hadn’t been thinking about what she was drawing, but on the paper in front of her was the face of a young man, one she recognised even though something about the nose wasn’t quite right.

“It looks very much like Peter Duncan. Have you bumped into him at the pub?”

Mary didn’t know who Peter was. The face before her had been buried in her memory for fifty years. It was David, a boy she had dated and fallen in love with when she was sixteen years old. He moved away with his parents when his father was offered a promotion. For a few months they had exchanged letters, but the interval between each communication lengthened. He never replied to her last letter. She had enclosed a drawing of him and a pressed flower, a silly gesture from a teenage girl that had probably made both him, and his new friends, laugh. What would a boy do with a dead flower and a sketch drawn by a teenage girl.

The comment from Sam drew others to her drawing. Mary wanted to cover it with her hand, but she hesitated, and then it was too late. She let her fingers rest on the table.

“It does look like Peter,” said a woman she thought was called Anne. “You must have met him?”

“It’s just a face I imagined,” Mary whispered.

Everyone agreed that it was an astonishing likeness of Peter and someone said that she must show it to David.

“David?” She repeated. Her breath snagged.

“David owns the Three Ducks. Peter is his son, he’s around at weekends sometimes with his partner. You must have seen him there.”

Mary hadn’t been in the village pub. She had no objection to alcohol and enjoyed a glass of white wine, but Vernon had not beenone for socialising and the idea of going into a pub by herself was unthinkable.

“Oh, I couldn’t. I don’t even know him.”

“Come with me,” Anne said, “We can pop in today. I often go there for lunch after class.”

Mary wasn’t sure but found herself accepting.

She put the drawing to one side, thinking about David and where his life might have taken him. Would they have stayed together had he not moved away? Might they have married, had children? 

After a cup of tea and biscuits, Mary made an attempt at capturing the still life, but it didn’t offer inspiration and her efforts were stilted and awkward. The portrait she had half-finished remained tucked in the back of her pad.

Four of them headed for the pub at lunchtime, after the class has disbanded. Anne had given her no chance to refuse and Martinand Jayne were equally enthusiastic to see David’s reaction. All were certain that there was a striking resemblance to Peter in her drawing. 

“Has David owned the pub for a long time?” Mary asked.

“He was there when I moved into the village,” Jayne said.

The other two confessed to being incomers too later additions to the village than David.

“There’s not that many locals left,” Anne said. “David’s not from round here either, but I know he must have bought the place over twenty years ago, because Peter went to the local primary school.”

“And Peter’s mother?” Mary asked.

“As far as I know they split up when Peter was quite small, but neither of them ever mention her. I don’t think she moved here with David.”

When they entered the Three Ducks there was a man with thinning grey hair behind the bar. He had his back to them but had heard the door open and could see who it was in the mirrored glass behind the bottles.

“I’ll be with you in a moment ladies,” he called cheerfully. Only when he turned did he notice Martin. “Sorry old chap, didn’t spot you there amongst the lunch brigade.” 

It wasn’t the boy Mary remembered and had drawn, but the man he had become. Behind his shoulder, propped ona shelf, was a small frame that held, behind glass, a pencil sketch and a dried flower. So many years had passed, but the flower had retained some of its colour, hinting at a life that might have been or, hopefully, one that had merely been delayed.