A big thank you to all the writers and storytellers who allow us to live different lives in different places, and introduce us to characters who often feel like friends. If only for a short time, we can escape from this world and live in another.
Some books are parties to which you are invited, full of friends who are there even when you have no friends.
Everyone has that book, or series of books, that defines their childhood and influences their future lives in some way. This is mine. What’s yours, and why?
When I first discovered ‘Flambards’ by K.M Peyton, I devoured the whole series, and returned to them again and again. They had everything; a strong heroine who was so real to me she was like a best friend, a hero who had his weaknesses but it still gives me pangs when I think of his sad fate, and a First World War setting – not on the front line, but on the home front – which pits the rise of automobiles and airplanes against the decline of horses and cavalry, and delves into women’s rights and the crumbling of social divisions. Cleverly, the house – ‘Flambards’ – is a mirror that reflects this era of change in Britain. Its fate is directly affected by all that is going on around it, and yet it is also a symbol for everything the heroine is experiencing. She is tied to it. It becomes her heart.
Flambards taught me, like no other books I read in my childhood, that
In which Jo gets to look after a bookshop for a whole blinking day!
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…
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.”
Diaries are supposed to be full of secrets and intrigue. Rev. Robert Shields’ diary was absolutely not one of those diaries.
A short guide to the art of curtain-twitching.
“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…