INSPIRATION: The Walls Have Ears (and Eyes)

(From a work in progress – ‘Appleheart’)

There is a saying: “The walls have ears.” It means that you should be careful of discussing secrets too loudly because you never know who is listening. I used to think it started in World War Two because of all the secret spies in dark, belted raincoats. But no… as early as 400BC in Ancient Greece they had listening posts installed in their palaces to eavesdrop on gossiping visitors.

But, sayings aside, walls really do have ears. And they have eyes too. The first time I learnt this I was five years old and at my grandma’s house. I was in trouble for stealing a biscuit from the cupboard without asking, and my punishment was to stand in the corner of the hallway facing the wall. That sounds strange, but Grandma was a retired Geography teacher and missed her job with all her heart. She would talk to my brother and I as if she was taking a class, and liked to test us on capital cities and river names.

Standing in the corner of my grandma’s hallway in my disgrace, the stolen shortbread still melting on my tongue, I placed my hands on the walls, closed my eyes and saw Grandad.

He stole in quietly from the garden in his gardening slacks, mud on the knees, holding a small bottle of golden liquid. Peering around like a burglar, he lifted the bottle, took a swig, and opened the hall cupboard. With supreme care the lid was screwed back on, the bottle lifted high and placed behind a tin of paint on the top shelf. Then he tiptoed back outside and came in again, this time full of noise. Stomping feet, sighing, swishing hands together. ‘Hey, Joan, put the kettle on, will you?”

When my grandma released me from the corner and I told her what I’d seen, her face drained of colour. She marched over to the hall cupboard, moved the tin of paint to one side and brought forth the half-empty bottle of golden liquid with a shaking hand. She surprised me with the force of the sobs that bent her in half.

When I saw Grandad that day, he had already been dead for two years from liver failure, and she continued to find hidden whisky all over the house for a long time to come, each bottle a painful slap in the face.


For more on ‘Appleheart’, which takes place in a haunted Art College :

APPLEHEART First Day Nerves

APPLEHEART Upside-Down

Thank you for reading!

How long does a book take to cook?

The previous post – ‘First Day Nerves’ is connected to this one. Both come from the same story, which will probably be called APPLEHEART.

It will be a long time before I can call it a book, and, to be honest, it’s already been stewing for a good number of years. Checking back, I wrote the Appleheart excerpt in 2014, and First Day Nerves is from 2016. It’s now almost 2018 and I have the best part of four chapters. Four years to write four chapters!?

This is what I like to call a ‘slow-cook book’, and they’re often the best. I’ll keep adding to it, and all sorts of ideas will get mixed in along the way. It should make for lots of flavour, just like a long-simmered stew!

Appleheart

APPLEHEART

My mother said I would regret choosing art as a career. My father couldn’t care less what I chose. He was, however, worried about Ned and drama. If he’d ever seen any of Ned’s acting; if he’d bothered to go to the school plays or the drama group productions like I had, he wouldn’t have been so worried. My brother was a natural. We were still in nappies when he began to people his world with characters from his imagination. They occasionally took him over so that he became someone else entirely. Many times, over the years, his acting made me laugh so hard I was sick, or cry until I had a headache.

As kids, we would sit together in a tent pitched in the middle of the room we shared. It was like a wigwam, but one we’d made by haphazardly stitching old sheets together and stealing bamboo canes out of the garden. Only we two were allowed in. No family. No friends. Because, inside that tent, was our own little world. A stage for Ned, a studio for me. We would sit together for hours, forgetting empty tummies and full bladders and all the boring routines of life. I had my drawing pad and my coloured pencils on my knee. Ned told me all about the people in his world. I drew them for him.

“Draw an apple for Murphy. He loves apples more than anything.”

I drew an apple for Murphy and tilted the pad.

“No. He only likes red apples. Not green ones.”

I rubbed out the apple, picked up the red pencil, and started again. “What about Mia Emilia? What does she like best?”

“Mia Emilia doesn’t like anything anymore. She’s always sad. She has a face like this.” He pulled the saddest face I’d ever seen. “And she only ever talks in a whisper.” Continue reading

INSPIRATION: First Day Nerves

Okay, I haven’t done one of these for a while, but I’ve been thinking about new beginnings – first days. Starting a new school, a new college, university, a first job, or any new job. It doesn’t matter how old you are and how many ‘first days’ you’ve had, it never seems to get any less nerve-wracking.

This is from something new I’m writing, in which there will be a lot of really creepy things happening in an old Art College. Yay! Can’t wait to get stuck in 🙂


First Day Nerves

First day nerves. Little sleep. No breakfast. The wardrobe showed me nothing I wanted to wear. Over-cautious, I chose my black jeans then worried over the t-shirt. I wanted to appear interesting, but fun. I wanted to look creative and deep, but not in a self-obsessed way. Approachable, but not puppy-dog. It didn’t matter really – everything looked terrible. Only the stuff worn the day before, and consequently in the wash, looked good.

My twin, Ned, offered to walk me down the hill to the bus. He was starting a Drama course, but not for another week.  At the bus stop, he frowned at the dark clouds, which hadn’t been there when we set off, and asked if I had a raincoat.

“No. But I’ll be fine,” I told him.

“You will be.”

“Will I?”

“Yes.”

“This feels weird. We were at school together, then college. And now we’re moving apart.”

“We still live in the same house,” he said, hooking his arm around me to pull me close. “I’m not going anywhere.”

He smelt of toast and butter and the warm bed he’d just left. When the bus came, I found it hard to let him go. He was my life-raft. My walking Rescue Remedy.

The bus was full and I had to stand. We were having a late-summer stormy heatwave. The sweat was soon trickling down my spine. Did I remember deodorant? A sly sniff in my underarm area and I caught freesias and fresh grass. Phew. The man sitting beside me noticed my action, but his face was blank. I turned away and watched the grey town rush past me. Up Chapel Hill, down Queen Street and left into Baker Street, past the church. We gained more people with each stop, and the press of bodies awakened my latent claustrophobia.

There would be nobody I knew. None of my friends were going to be there. Not even an enemy.

We zoomed up towards the Art College. It was the next stop. I couldn’t wait to get off the bus, but at the same time, I didn’t want to get where I was going. Closed in near the back, I tried to find a button to press so that the bus would stop, but I couldn’t see one. It was an elbow job.

“Excuse me, this is my stop,” I said, tapping on backs and nudging past.

Everyone looked around, but nobody was smiling. They stared critically at my painstaking wardrobe choice. I saw a push-button just as we were about to sail past my stop. I reached for the button, but a huge woman stood in the way.

In a rising panic, I tapped at her frantically. “Press the button. This is my stop.”

It was at least half a mile to the next one, and I had a heavy rucksack full of art stuff. The women glared at me, but the bus started to pull in. Someone else had pressed the button.

A guy up front got off, and I forgot about nudging, and started to shove. Getting off the bus was more important than being liked. I stepped on a few toes and someone shoved me back so that I bashed my head against a metal pole. The driver put his foot on the gas pedal.

“Wait!”

He couldn’t hear me over the drone of the engine. Nobody seemed to understand why I really needed to swear. I was the most hated person on the bus, and I was going to be late on my first day.

As I finally made it off the bus and onto the pavement, the heavens split open and dumped an astonishing amount of water on me. I stood there for a moment, incredulous. There were things I could have done to avoid the situation. A raincoat, an earlier bus, a seat nearer to the door. The next day, things would be different.

The rain found a route that took it directly down my spine. My hair was already dripping like fern fronds stuck in a waterfall. I started to walk as fast as I could, but my canvas bag was so heavy and soaking up water. Everything inside would be ruined.

Just as my ladened shoulders were sending shooting pains up the back of my neck, the college appeared through the rain. I made for the arched door of the gothic building and threw myself through it. My bag hit the floor as hard as a sack of coal. For a minute, I shook my head like a wet dog. Only then did I notice the vast entrance hall was filled with people and silence.

“Woof, woof,” said a dry girl nearby with perfect hair. And just the right outfit.


Photo credit:   Manki Kim @ Unsplash