It’s happened again! Our local second-hand bookshop owner has gone away and left me in charge for the day. Now I just have to try not to spend all my wages on the books! That bookshop owner knows what he’s doing hiring me 😀
What’s the first nightmare you ever remember having? The first time you woke in a cold sweat, pulling your covers up to your nose and staring around your dark bedroom, completely terrified? This was mine…
The Mr. Tickle nightmare came out of nowhere when I was about four years old, but looking back at the text, it’s hardly surprising. And now I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who had this particular nightmare.
SPOILER ALERT: This is how Mr. Tickle ends… Continue reading
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!
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
Diaries are supposed to be full of secrets and intrigue. They are a place to store our wildest dreams, and crazy thoughts we would never let out of our confused little heads in a million years. The idea of someone discovering your diary should be an unthinkable thought, filled with icy horror.
Rev. Robert Shields’ diary was absolutely not one of those diaries. It was a whopping 37.5 million words long and filled 94 boxes – the equivalent of 500 good-sized novels. How did it get so big? He simply documented his life every five minutes of every day for a quarter of a century.
There may well be secrets and intrigue hidden within those pages, but the six pages available to the public contain treasures like these:
“7 a.m.: I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.”
“7:05 a.m.: Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine. Used five sheets of paper.”
“6:30-6:35 p.m.: I put in the oven two Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese at 350 degrees.”
“6:50-7:30 p.m.: I ate the Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese and Cornelia ate the other one. Grace decided she didn’t want one.”
Out of all my ‘Odd Writers’ so far, Robert Shields has to be the oddest!
‘Selecting the Tools of the Trade’ by Daisy May
It doesn’t matter what kind of curtains you have. They don’t have to be the traditional net or lace ones. Cotton, velvet, organza, polyester, silk… all work just as well. The main thing is to actually have curtains. Blinds can be discounted immediately. They are too noisy and do not have the required elegance. Blinds do not ‘twitch’; they clatter.
Taken from The Curtain-Twitcher’s Handbook, in which Daisy discovers the dying art of curtain-twitching is not just for old, nosy people.
The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook on Amazon.co.uk
The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook on Amazon.com
“The stew’s ruined, but you should have been home a half hour ago.”
Emily sat near the Rayburn, the clothes on her back so warm they were almost burning her chilled skin. Her thawing fingers tingled as she dug a fork into her heaped plate. The stew wasn’t ruined. It was delicious. Grandma was full of false threats. She was incapable of handing out punishments to her loved ones. Even now, full of her own family’s betrayal, she was helping Granddad to more cabbage.
One thing Emily didn’t miss about home was her mother’s cooking. Her mother wasn’t built for cooking. She was designed for looking pretty and saying witty things, but those rare skills definitely had their place. Emily got the impression that her grandparents did not wholly approve of the match their son had made. The odd remark here and there about homemaking and ‘don’t cry over anything that can’t cry over you’. But, though the cooking hadn’t been great at home, Emily felt she hadn’t missed out on anything. The social whirl of her girlhood was something she treasured. Especially now, stuck in the middle of nowhere.
“Any news from the village? I haven’t had the time to go down for three days.” Grandma said.
It was one of her pointed ‘poor me’ remarks that generally passed uncommented, much to Grandma’s chagrin. Emily opened her mouth to tell everything and Granddad fixed her with a meaningful stare.
“Not really,” she said, and shoved another mouthful of stew in to stop any more words coming out.
Chapter Three (Part Two)
“They’re coming. They’re coming. Everything will be alright.” The pilot tried to console himself, but it wasn’t the same as having someone else consoling you. It was much harder to believe.
He found his way onto his hands and knees and bashed his fists against the cockpit door to get out. The way the plane had turned over meant that the door was angled more towards the sky and had not been buried in the snow. It was a small consolation. The door opened easily and the pilot swung it open and hauled himself out, careful not to put pressure on his broken ankle.
The snow was deep and getting deeper. When the pilot put his gloves down into the snow, his arms were buried almost to the elbow. On all fours, he surveyed the blank canvas that stretched before him. The dark sky whirled with millions upon millions of white dots, and the snow-blanketed moors below it rose and fell forever, it seemed, into the distance. Though all his memories had been bashed from his head, he still knew that light was a good thing… Light = People + Help. But, unfortunately, Number of Lights = 0. There was nothing to guide him in a particular direction. He would have to take a risk.
“Eeny meeny miny mo,” he chanted, thinking it was a method as good as any.
Once he had chosen a direction, the pilot spent a bit of time looking for a makeshift crutch, and found one of the support struts hanging off the damaged framework of the plane. With a twist and a pull the metal tubing fell away. It was a bit sharp, but his flying jacket was so thick with sheepskin that it wasn’t too uncomfortable underneath his arm. He practised hopping about, forced to lift his ankle high to avoid the thick snow, but he seemed to be quite accomplished with a crutch. Maybe he’d used one before. It was the first positive thing to happen so far, and for a second he even felt a little hopeful.
Then the strangest thing…
Chapter Three (Part One)
The young man awoke in the dark to the smell of burning. His head throbbed with an immense pressure, and his ears sang with the thundering pulse of blood. He opened his eyes to the mangled metal of the cockpit, scattered with an array of smashed instruments, nothing of which he recognised. An icy wind blew through the shattered windscreen, biting at the exposed skin of his face. Blinking, he peered out and was surprised to see that the world outside had not only turned completely white, but also turned upside-down.
There were straps biting into his shoulders and chest, holding him captive. He felt his way along them with gloved hands, searching for a release, and his fumbling dislodged the identity tags that hung around his neck. They fell down and hit him on the nose with a jangle, making him jump. It was then that he realised. It wasn’t the world that was upside-down; it was him.
Reaching for the identity tags, he scrutinised them. The letters swam before his eyes until, with effort, he managed to focus.
“J Fairchild, Pilot,” he read out loud.
He repeated the name a few times with a voice he didn’t recognise, and wondered why the tags said ‘J Fairchild’ when his name was… was…
Looking again at the twisted metal in front of him, it occurred to him that it might once have been a plane. The tags around his neck said ‘Pilot’. And as there was nobody else around…
“Hello?” he tried.
… As there was nobody else around, he must have been flying the plane. But how could he possibly be a pilot? He didn’t know the first thing about planes or how to fly them. He sifted through his memory, searching for the merest scrap of knowledge about flying. And as he was sifting, it became clear that there was nothing to sift through; he didn’t seem to know anything at all about anything at all. Not about flying, not about his name, not about where he came from, or about how he’d ended up hanging upside-down in a crashed plane in the snow.
He hung there a while longer as he thought about this. There were suddenly questions everywhere, pecking at him like hens.
Who am I? How old am I? What am I doing here? What day is it? What did I have for breakfast? Will anyone miss me?
The last question seemed the most important, for with all these questions came a profound sense of loneliness. And above all else, what he needed right now was the feel of someone else’s arms around him, the whisper of comfort in his ear, the soft press of lips on his cheek. He closed his eyes and was horrified when a tear squeezed out and dripped down his forehead.
Was this the kind of man he was?
But he let the tears fall. He allowed himself the self-pity. After all, there was nobody around to see it. And if the sobs that escaped from his mouth were too loud, what did it matter?
When there were no more tears he sniffed loudly a few times, and then continued the search for the catch that would release him from his straps. He couldn’t remember how the harness worked so he tried everything he could think of. The last thing he wanted was the indignity of dying upside-down.
“At least let me walk a few paces so that they know I tried.”
Quite who ‘they’ would be, he didn’t know. He imagined some faceless creatures dressed in thick overcoats and hats trudging through the snow with a stretcher. They would find him, not in the cockpit, but stretched out as a frozen slab of flesh in the snow a hundred footsteps away, eyes closed, but jaw set with determination. ‘At least he tried,’ they said to each other, ‘We can tell his parents he was brave.’ If he had any parents.
Just when he was trying to picture what he looked like; what he would look like dead (he couldn’t), his gloves snagged on the release catch and the harness regurgitated him unceremoniously onto the shattered ceiling of the cockpit. The pilot discovered that he knew quite an impressive range of swear words, and also that he had broken his ankle.
Pain screamed up his left leg and a tidal wave of nausea caused him to retch. He swallowed hard, fighting the urge to vomit, aware that his body may need all the nutrition it could get. As the blood that had pooled in his head began to flow back down to where it should be, his ankle began to throb. The slightest movement was agony. The pilot gritted his teeth in an effort to control the pain and the panic that came with it. He wouldn’t be walking anywhere. He would be hopping. He would be lucky to get out of this alive.
Chapter Two (Part Two)
… “Forget it,” Emily said, “If you’re going to be like that.”
And then she felt so bad because there were people dead, or dying, up there on the moors, German or not.
“Em, love. Don’t.” Granddad got up off his stool at the bar and came towards her, “Tell us what you saw.”
“I’ll tell you,” she said, “But I’m saying nothing to them.”
Nothing to Harry.
Harry passed her to pull back the curtain and look out of the window. Emily tugged her granddad to one side.
“It was flying really low. I knew it was going to crash, and then it did. Up on the moors.”
“Are you sure?”
She looked into his old eyes, the eyelids framing them like baggy stage curtains. She saw something there. He couldn’t afford for her to be wrong, not if she was on the other side. She wondered whose side he was on and remembered that his family had lived in the village for centuries. Never anywhere else.
“Granddad. I saw it. It made me think of Dad. You know, if he’d been flying that plane, he’d…”
He nodded to stop her words: ‘Don’t say it out loud’.
Harry came closer. She could feel the weight of his presence. “Did you see any signs on it. You know – a circle or a cross?”
Emily turned on him. “I know what to look for, thank you very much. My father’s a Squadron Leader.”
Harry raised her eyebrows at her. “Well, excuse me.”
“I think I saw a circle. From the wing shape it may have been a Hurricane.”
A crowd was gathering around them now. The three old men who always played dominos by the fire. The man from the Post Office. Harry’s father. Mr Hopkins the mill owner. Emily was bombarded with outrage.
“But no British pilot would risk such weather.”
“How sure are you it was a circle?”
“Our lads aren’t daft enough to fly in these conditions. It must have been a German bomber.”
“It can’t have been flying low enough for you to see a circle in this light.”
And now that they were surrounding her, Emily felt more and more certain that she had seen a circle.
“Firstly,” she said, “I know how to identify aircraft better than any of you. Secondly, it was too bloody small to be a bomber. And thirdly, I’m pretty damn sure I saw the RAF insignia on the wing. If you choose not to believe me, then that’s up to you.”
They looked her up and down and she felt very small so she puffed herself up and made her expression as hard as she could. She wasn’t about to crumple before these village idiots.
“Ned. I think you’d better take your granddaughter home,” said Harry’s father.
Emily’s grandfather was quiet for a moment, then he put his hand on Emily’s back. “Come on, love. I bet tea’s ready any-road.”
~ ~ ~
The snow was getting thicker in the lane and settling on top of the stone walls like sugar icing. Emily trudged by her grandfather, eyes down as she watched her boots press the snow flat, her toes aching with cold.
“I don’t understand what I’ve done wrong,” Emily lied.
“You’re a bright girl, Em, and you’re not afraid to show it. It might be acceptable in York, but here young girls don’t talk down to their elders, and they certainly don’t swear at them.”
“Not even when there might be lives at stake and nobody’s listening?” she said, screwing her face up in disgust, “There could be men dying up there, and nobody’s bothered but me. They’re all cowards.”
Her granddad swept his arm over the landscape. “And what is anyone supposed to do in this blizzard? We’d be risking our own lives too, trying to get up there. There are bogs and cliffs, and drifts as high as you and me.”
“You would risk it if Dad was in that plane.”
“And what if we got all the way up and it was a blinking German? What then?”
“A German is still a human.”
Ned said something like ‘hummph’. Emily didn’t push it. He’d had his own fair share of fighting Germans.
Up ahead, the small farmhouse sat nestled against a line of trees. There was a thin line of light from the kitchen window and, through it, Emily could see her grandmother moving about.
“She never shuts the curtain properly,” Ned said, glancing up at the sky as if for opportunistic bombers, “Don’t mention what happened, will you?”
He left her question hanging in the air and Emily ran through some possible answers.
Because her son flies planes.
Because she’ll probably think we’re all cowards too.
Because I’m embarrassed of you for showing me up in the pub.
Emile thought the last answer seemed the most probable, and it made her grind her teeth together in frustration. If only the war would end, she could leave this bloody place and get back to civilisation.
Moss, the old sheepdog, began to bark in the farmhouse. As he was mostly deaf, Emily had to conclude that he’d smelt them. Her grandma opened the door in her pinny, cardigan over the top, and peered out, rubbing her arms when she felt the chilly breeze.
“Where’ve you been?”
Moss came running up, tail wagging, not sure who to greet first. Emily bent down to sink her nose into his warm, doggy fur. She would let her granddad explain their late return.
Before she went inside, she paused and ran her gaze over the moors high above her. They looked so majestic, lit by the rising moonlight. Majestic, but eerie. If there was an airman stranded up there he would surely feel like the loneliest person in the world.
Eadweard Muybridge (he changed his name several times to come up with that) not only killed his wife’s lover, but also came up with the first ever motion photography. ‘The Horse in Motion’ was achieved by setting up a number of cameras along a distance to take photographs when the horse triggered a series of tripwires.
On Monday morning, Lottie walked into a minefield. She didn’t mean to. She didn’t even know it was there. But once in, she got so far and couldn’t turn back. If she turned back there would be even more explosions. Explosions that would ricochet through her whole life. And she wouldn’t be the only casualty.
Mum suggested it.
“Call Uncle Milo,” she said,” I don’t know why you’re so precious about it. He changed your nappies when you were tiny. He gave you your first taste of orange juice – you shuddered so hard when you swallowed it and then wanted more.”
“He’d feel obliged,” Lottie argued, “And I hate for people to feel obliged.”
“Take, take, take!” Her mum insisted, “If you don’t take for yourself, you’ll get nothing and end up like Helena.”
Helena was Lottie’s older – much older-sister. Helena lived in a one bedroom flat with three cats and a poster of Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic. Helena had a solitary job. She reshelved books at the British Library after hours. She lived in a world of silence. Except for incessant meowing.
Lottie thought about Helena and how their lives were different, and how their lives were the same. They both loved vanilla more than chocolate, and the smell of mown grass more than flowers. But that’s pretty much where the similarities ended.
When he came round, Uncle Milo was so very nice. He said ‘of course’ a lot, and ‘well, I do owe you, Maggie’. All of this to Lottie’s mother who had decided to do the taking on Lottie’s behalf, lest she end up with two useless daughters. Lottie sat, quietly thanking and nodding in the corner. She became so fixated on Uncle Milo changing her nappy that she almost missed the final planning.
A one week course from Monday 18th September. Greenwich School of Film. Accommodation and meals provided. Fee of £4,865 waived for Lottie. Of course.
Afterwards, Lottie’s mother washed the teacups and pressed her finger onto the biscuit plate to capture the crumbs and suck them up.
“You know how amazing this is?” she said.
“He’s one of the best.”
And he was. Milo Lorenzo. Film Director of 25 years. Winner of a Palm d’Or in 1998, an Oscar in 2001, and three Baftas in some other years that Lottie couldn’t quite remember.
“Don’t let me down, Lottie.”
“I… I’ll try not to.”
And so Uncle Milo felt obliged. And so Lottie walked into the minefield. Completely unprotected.