My Favourite Books of 2016

My most loved reads of any year are always the same.

They are the ones that seize me, squeeze me and refuse to release me. Books that speak to my heart and my soul.  Books I will never forget.

This year it was these…

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The Book Thief

Have you read it? If not, why not? @Markus_Zusak is an extraordinary writer.

The Book Thief tells the moving story of nine-year-old German girl Liesel Meminger and the people closest to her. Set during the Second World War and narrated by death himself it’s no wonder it won best-selling debut literary novel of the year 2007.

Please say you’ll read it?

Himself

Himself by @JessKiddHerself is magic realism at its finest. A mesmerising tale bursting with secrets, murder and the most original of characters. Oozing with black humour and a tingling supernatural twist it really is a truly magical debut.

Born Survivors

In Born Survivors @wendholden tells the harrowing true stories of three inspirational women as they fight to survive the Holocaust. Pregnant, separated from their husbands and unknown to each other, Priska, Rachel and Anka endure the unimaginable at the hands of the Nazis. An unforgettable, heartbreaking book that made me reconsider my whole life.

Rattle

Being not my usual choice of read I was surprised at how Rattle gripped me instantly. It’s a brilliant but terrifying debut, delving in to the disturbing mind of a psychopath. Within a few pages I wanted to put the book down, hide it away somewhere, but found I couldn’t. I wanted to read on, but also I didn’t. Which doesn’t even make sense, I know. But for me reading is all about feelings and @FionaAnnCummins certainly tapped in to mine!

How To Be Brave

In this touching debut, author @LouiseWriter opens her heart and let’s it all pour out. Based around fact and interwoven with fantastic fiction, it tells the story of a mother and daughter as they struggle together to overcome a new and dangerous illness. With a little ghostly help from much loved Granddad Colin, How To Be Brave weaves a beautiful story of love, loss and survival.

As always, with so many amazing books out there it’s a tough choice picking favourites. So I guess you just have to let the best ones choose you.

Here’s to an equally stunning 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dreams Do Come True

Shaved head

Something I’d dreamed of for many years was to have my hair shaved off. I thought it would be wonderful! When the moment finally arrived I felt nervous and excited all at the same time. What if it didn’t feel like I wanted it to? What if I realise I’d made a mistake after it was too late? But I did it any way.

This week another of my little dreams will come true – I’ve dropped a day at work so I can dedicate it to my writing. I’m beyond excited. But, as with the hair cut I’m feeling nervous and excited all over again. What if it doesn’t feel like I want it to? What if I realise I’ve made a mistake after it’s too late?

But do you know what – if you don’t try, RIGHT NOW, to make these little dreams come true you never will. Because tomorrow is never promised. If you want to go for something, no matter how big or small, build up the courage and DO IT! You never know, it may feel just as liberating, just as wonderful as having no hair really did.

 

 

 

 

Faber Academy Course – The End

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Every end is indeed very much a new beginning.

The eight weeks of this Faber online writing course have whizzed by but what a lot I’ve learnt in such a short stretch of time. This week has been breathing time to look back over the course and complete any unfinished tasks, before the classroom closes tonight.

Having my work critiqued each week by fellow classmates and in turn critiquing theirs has improved my self editing skills tremendously. Tiny little things you can’t see from the inside get spotted by someone on the outside, and can then change the whole dimensions of a piece of writing.

The most important thing I feel I’ve gained from this course is a new found confidence in myself; in my own writing ability. Something I didn’t have enough of before I started.

I would recommend this short, extremely helpful, online basic writing skills course to anyone who feels they may be missing something in their writing and just need that final push to convince themselves they are indeed on the right road!

Thank you to all those who took time to read my words and comment along the way, it really has been appreciated.

Here’s to a new beginning!

The End

 

 

 

Faber Academy Course – Week 7

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This week we’re into the final stretch of the eight week online writing course and it’s all about tying everything together with a last longer, 3000 word piece.

I chose to post the opening of a novel I am currently working on.  The story is of Beth, a forty year old wife and mother who is devastated when her mum, Grace, suddenly dies. Convinced that there is no such thing as spirits or heaven, Beth struggles to cope with the fact that her beloved Mum has gone forever. But her daughter, Lily, has other ideas. 

Thanks again for dropping by.

 

          “Beth, it’s Stan…”

          Stan? Mum’s next-door-but-one neighbour Stan?

          “…I need you to come, dear. Now.”

          I squinted in the dark at the too bright, illuminated screen of my mobile phone. 3.19am shone out. Why was he ringing me in the middle of the night?

          Oh…

          I don’t think I spoke back to him and he may’ve said more, but I couldn’t hear him through the odd rushing sound in my ears. My heart pumped so fast I thought it might burst right out of my chest and land, splat, on the bed in front of me. I pressed the red, end call button.

          Maybe Mum had taken a tumble again and he was calling me to come and help get her up. Or she’d been burgled, or there was a huge ginger cat stuck head first in the old cat flap left in the back door by the previous owners.

          But I knew. I just knew what it meant. I tried to think, but I couldn’t. And then the autopilot I didn’t even know I had kicked in and I began to move. Will sat up next to me in bed, touching my arm.

          “Beth, Beth, say something,” he whispered. “Who was that on the phone? What did they say? You didn’t say a word. What is it?”

          I stared at him. Why was he talking in slow motion? His mouth was moving. I knew he was speaking to me, but it all happened so slowly.

          It took me a moment before I found the right words. “Mum’s gone,” I said, peering into his half-open green eyes. A sliver of moonlight peeked in through a gap in the curtains. I concentrated on every detail, every line and crease on his face. The stubble on his chin looked like an old yard brush worn down to nearly bare from years of sweeping. His short dark hair was sticking up at the crown, making him look like a small boy. The scar on his cheek from many moons ago looked different in the near dark. “Mum’s gone,” I repeated.

          “Gone? Gone where? It’s the middle of the night.”

           I didn’t answer him. Instead, I swung my legs out of my warm bed and slid my feet into the cold slippers on the floor. The black ones, with the bow and the sparkly glittery bits, the ones Mum gave me last Christmas. Still clutching my mobile phone I opened the bedroom door and started down the stairs, Will tailing me.

          “Beth, you’re worrying me. Please tell me what’s going on,” he whispered, creeping past our daughter’s bedroom door. I put my coat on over my pyjamas, took my car keys from the hook on the wall, and turned back to him.

          “She’s dead,” I said.

           He looked at me as though he didn’t recognise me, his wife of nearly a decade. Had I spoken out loud? I wasn’t sure, especially the longer he stared. But then he sat down, on the bench next to our front door, and the worried expression turned to disbelief.

          “You stay here with Lily. I’ll call you when I get there.” He nodded as I unlocked the front door. A blast of freezing February air rushed in and swirled around us, sending a handful of dry brown leaves dancing in after it.

          My fingers slipped on the key as I started the car. 3.26am glowed from the dashboard clock. Should I get back out and scrape the ice from the windscreen? I turned the heater up full blast and directed it on to the frosted glass instead.

          I thought I’d sat there for only a few minutes but when I checked the time again it said it was 3.52am, and the windscreen had cleared.  The inside of the car was now hot, but something inside of me was now cold.

          Pulling out of the drive, I glanced up and down the road. I don’t know why though, there never tended to be a lot of traffic down our little lane at any time of the day, let alone that time of night. Turning right, I started off along the way. Mum only lived ten minutes away. One pretty much long straight smooth road actually; took you right to her doorstop. How many times had I made this journey? Countless; somewhere in the thousands probably.

          3.56 am. Only a few more minutes and I’d be there. Breathe.

A rather podgy, scruffy old badger crossed the road up ahead of me, opposite the pub where Mum and I went every Thursday for lunch. The road curved off to the right and I drove past Mum’s favourite garden centre – the one we always stopped in at on the way to do the weekly shopping, for a cake and a coffee. So many memories around every corner.

          As I pulled into her drive I glanced down at the clock. I’d made good time – only nine minutes.

          And then I looked up at the bungalow. Curtains still open, the light still on. Breathe.

          I started to shake. First in my feet and then my legs, up through my body to my face. My teeth began to chatter to themselves.

          Stan’s old white classic car sat on the drive. He was huddled in the front seat, the engine ticking over.

He looked up as I parked in front of him. Even though I couldn’t see his face through the reflections of both of our windscreens, I knew he was sad.

Time jumped in stages. Stan opened my car door and stood back so I could get out. We neither looked at each other nor spoke. I guess he, like me, had no idea what to say. I stepped out onto the shingle path and the tiny stones crunched under my shoes. Sparkling frost dusted the path to the bungalow. Keep breathing.

          Stan stood by Mum’s front door, and waited, so I went there, too. He raised his arm and I noticed a fraying patch on the elbow of his jacket. He pushed down on the handle and the door creaked open. Had it always done that? Again I followed. The smell of Mum and all her worldly things hit me. I took a long and deep breath.

          Stan had gone left, along the narrow hallway into the lounge. But this time I couldn’t follow. I’d already looked up and seen Mum, sitting with her back to me in her armchair, her brown leather handbag on the floor next to it. A small pile of books sat on the little table beside her, along with a half-drunk glass of orange juice.

          Why had Stan brought me here? He obviously didn’t realise Mum had simply fallen asleep and needed waking and helping to bed. But no, I knew. I wanted to turn myself around and go straight back out that creaking door but my feet were numb. I couldn’t function.

          Stan stood across the other side of the room; his hands folded together in front of him, staring down at his boots. I studied them, too, for a moment. Maybe they were muddy. They seemed clean enough to me. And then he looked up, and over at Mum. That’s when I saw the tears in his eyes, the strain across his forehead. He reached for the hanky in his jacket pocket and rubbed at his nose.  As much as I wanted to pretend Mum was just sleeping, I knew she wasn’t. I knew she’d gone. To a place I couldn’t follow.

          I wanted to crumple into a heap on the floor right there and then; curl up into the tightest little ball I could manage and pretend it wasn’t happening. But the untrained autopilot inside of me took over again and instead I walked the hardest steps of my life and came around to stand in front of my mother. The person who’d carried me inside of her. The person who’d taken me to school on my first day and gone home crying; who’d taken me to swimming lessons every week for nearly two years before I got the hang of it; who’d shed tears when we bought my uniform for big school. The person who’d helped me move into that first tiny flat I’d rented when I eventually left home, aged twenty three; and who’d been at my side for the arrival of my own daughter. The only one who’d been there my entire life. She was my person. And now she was gone.

          She now sat so very still, and so very quiet.

          The room behind me fell away and I was left with just Mum and me, alone, on a mountain top. The air around us was bone-chillingly cold. Her heating had long since turned off; she usually went to bed at ten.

          There was no sound, just an absolute eerie, silence. I stared at her; she looked asleep. Her eyes were shut but her mouth hung open. Today’s hanky  poked out of the sleeve of her favourite old cardigan. The hands on her black leather watch still going round. Tick, tick, tick, tick.

          Maybe, just maybe, if I stared hard enough and for long enough I’d catch her out, and she would flutter her eyelashes a little by mistake. But I watched her carefully, for a very long time, and nothing moved.

          I still shook, but now a panic rose inside of me, creeping up through every bone in my body. I wanted to look away but I couldn’t. I wanted her to stand up instead and take me in her arms. Feel her warmth around me and hear her voice telling me it was all going to be all right.  But that would never happen again. 

          Stan coughed behind me bringing me rapidly down from the cold lonely mountain and back into the bungalow with an almighty thud.

“Thank you very much, Stan, for ringing me,” I said in my autopilot voice.

          “Oh, Beth, I am so, very sorry…” His hoarse voice trailed off. He couldn’t continue.

          He turned and rested his hand on my shoulder for a few seconds before he left. The smells of tobacco and chocolate surrounded me.  No more words to be said for now. The front door clicked shut. I looked again to Mum.

          In slow motion I knelt down by her feet and laid my weary head on her lap. The tears came then. Single droplets at first. Followed by a silent stream. And then the gushing floods. My whole body heaved as I sobbed, emotion attacking every cell of my body.

          Why had she left? Why had she gone where I couldn’t follow? Why hadn’t she told me she was going? We always told each other everything. I wasn’t ready for this. I wanted her here, with me, with us. She was our family, I couldn’t manage without her.

          I imagined her then, lifting her hand and stroking the back of my head, smoothing my hair down. Her gentle voice washing over me.

          “Come on, Beth, don’t upset yourself, love. It’ll all be okay,” she said. Except that she didn’t, because she couldn’t. She was no longer. I would never see her again. The whole blackness of it enveloped me, pulled me down, and tried to swallow me up in one gigantic mouthful like Jonah and the Whale.

          I don’t know how long I sat there for. Time really did seem to stand still. From the corner of my eye I saw her handkerchief peeking out from her cuff. Its tiny detailed pink roses danced across the cloth, losing me in their never-ending pattern.

          Mum loved the world’s amazing gifts – the flowers, the trees, the plants, the very soil itself. She loved to spend the day with her hands caked in her garden’s dirt. Giving life to each bulb and seed that she planted. I’d come and sit near her sometimes on those days, watch her at work, bring her a cup of tea when she got lost in the moment and forgot about the time ticking by.

          Who would look after those lives now? Who would come and start a new chapter of their life here, in the bungalow, where Mum’s had ended? I couldn’t bear to think of it. My head felt heavy, and sore, and then my pocket began to vibrate as my mobile rang. Will. I’d forgotten about Will. I fumbled for my phone.  Pushed the green button and held it close to my ear.

          No words came, from Will or myself, but I knew he’d be feeling my pain. I needn’t explain. I heard a single, very quiet, lonely sob escape from his end. We’d had our ups and downs over the years, like all married couples. But he’d always been there for me.

          “I’ll be home soon,” I managed and clicked the red button.

Time wouldn’t stand still though, because it couldn’t. The sun had arrived. The long cold darkness of this awful night was already turning into a new day. How bloody dare it. Did it not know what had happened? Did it not have any respect?

The pins and needles in my legs told me I had to get up. I had to go home. I had to phone someone. All of a sudden the day that I’d planned was gone. I didn’t need to take Mum to the supermarket now, or pop into the garden centre on our way back for a cup of her favourite coffee. Didn’t need to make space in her fridge from last week’s shopping because she hadn’t eaten all of the rhubarb yoghurts she’d insisted on when we bought them last Tuesday. Now I had to ring people instead. Who? I didn’t know. I only remembered seeing people on the television ringing lots of other people at times like this.

          I pushed myself up onto my knees and leaned into Mum’s face. My hand stroked her soft cheek. She was cold. Why hadn’t the heating come on? And then I remembered. She wasn’t that sort of cold. She was empty of life cold. She was never to be warm again cold. I bent forwards and kissed her soft, cool forehead.

          “I love you, Mum,” I whispered into her ear. On unsteady legs I got up and left the room without a backward glance. – I’d never felt so alone.

           How would I carry on without her?

                                                  ……

        We all three sat together on the blue sofa that’d lived in our cosy lounge for the past seven years, and had become a part of the family. An old friend and a place of comfort in times like these. We put Lily in the middle and each placed an arm around her.

           We’d made attempts for three days to break the news to her, but it was just too hard to say. The words got caught in our throats and never made it up as far as our mouths. She was only seven, how was she possibly going to understand? We tried to think of nice ways to put it. We even looked up ideas on the internet of how to break death to a child, but they all came down to the same thing – you had to tell them. And keep it simple and honest.

          “Lily, honey, we have some very sad news to tell you,” Will started. Lily looked up wide eyed at her daddy, her hero. I held my breath, nerves shook my hands.

          Their matching green eyes stared at one another; Lily’s from under her straight blonde fringe.  She waited for whatever he was about to say. What was she thinking? Maybe she thought he’d run over her pink scooter on the drive earlier because he hadn’t seen it, or maybe that he’d eaten the last of her favourite biscuits.

           He blinked, opened his mouth, blinked again, and then closed his mouth. Breathe.

          “Lily, darling,” I began instead, surprised at how calm my voice sounded. “Nanny has gone, honey.” She turned and looked her trusting young eyes up at mine. Her soft hands rested in the lap of her yellow cotton dress. Her feet didn’t quite touch the floor yet, but it wouldn’t be long.

           Mum would never see that. How much was she going to miss? She wouldn’t see her turn eight on her next birthday. She wouldn’t see her open presents on Christmas morning ever again. I tried my hardest to keep the lump of sorrow rising in my throat down. I wanted to be calm and comfort her. I didn’t want her to be comforting me.

           “Where?” she asked after what seemed like an eternity. “Why has Nanny gone?”  That’s when the good friend I now knew I had – my autopilot – switched itself on again. I took a deep breath.

          “Because she died, honey. Nanny’s dead.” My voice quivered slightly. But there, it was said. Her beloved grandmother was gone now. Forever.

          She sat very still, and very quiet. Had she heard? Had she understood?

“When will I see her again?” she asked eventually.

What could I say? I couldn’t lie. Simple and honest they said.

          “Lily, you’ll never see her again,” I replied, trying to hold back my own heart-breaking sobs. Lily frowned.

          “But what about heaven, Mummy? When we die we go to heaven and then when the other people who are left die they come to heaven too and then we all live happily ever after together on a cloud.” She turned to look at Will and then back again to me. Neither of us had the answer she wanted.

          Simple and honest.

          “Well, nobody actually knows if heaven is a real place though, sweetheart.” I endeavoured to swallow my next words, but they came out anyway. “I don’t think I believe it’s real, Lily.”

          She stared at me, her eyes fixed on mine. Was she trying to determine if I was telling the truth? She raised her eyebrows as she spoke.

           “Does she not love us anymore?”

          “No Lily!” we said, in unison this time, and held her even closer, even tighter.

“But Nanny still loves us, doesn’t she?” Her voice was soft.

What could we say? Mum was gone. She couldn’t love us anymore because she was no more. I didn’t know what to say.

          “Honey, Nanny died, she didn’t choose to die but she did, and if she was still here she would still love us but she’s not…” Will replied, taking Lily’s hand in his and kissing the back of it. I stroked her silky hair.

          “Well, I still love Nanny,” Lily said with a pout, pulling away from us.

          I wanted to reply. “And Nanny loves you too, Lily,” but I couldn’t, because she couldn’t, because she was no more. My stomach churned. 

          Silence. Nothing but silence. Tears slid down both mine and Will’s faces, but not Lily’s. Not one. No sobs, nothing.

          She climbed down off the sofa, picked up the remote control and turned the television on. Seconds later she was smiling at Tom, as he chased Jerry out through the cat flap, like nothing had happened.

 

Faber Academy Course – Week 6

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This week it was all about structure. Weaving together all the elements we’ve been learning about throughout the course.

I chose to post a short story using the classic five stage structure: Set-up. Complication. Crisis. Climax. Resolution. Not an easy task bringing everything together. But, I received some lovely comments again this week so I’m hoping I got it right.

Here it is…

 

                                         Sweet Dreams

 I want to reach out and touch her hair as it moves in the breeze, but I’m reluctant to distract Chloe from her book. So I’ll just sit and watch instead. 

    She looks so beautiful, lying under the magnolia tree at the bottom of our garden. Spring has arrived, along with another year of my daughter’s life. She’s turning into a young lady. It’s hard to believe she’s a teenager already.

      The glorious scent of the blossoms wash over me as I turn my face towards the April sun. Isn’t it lovely to feel the first warmth of spring sunshine on your face? A warm glow but with the hint of much hotter summer rays to follow shortly. The grass will need its first cut of the year soon; I do so love that smell. How can this not be the most perfect day?

      She smiles as she reads. I can’t see the title of the book, but it’s obvious she’s engrossed by the speed she’s turning the pages.

      I look back up to the house and see my husband, sitting in his chair in the conservatory, glasses perched on the tip of his nose, reading the paper. Tom looks just as handsome as the day I married him. A few grey highlights now streak his thick dark hair, and his six pack is long gone, but he still looks good for his forty eight years. A fine catch.

      They argued this morning, about Chloe going out tonight. And they haven’t spoken since. I guess it’s the start of things to come. I suggested I’d go as well, keep an eye. But no. Not that they listen to me any-way. Stubborn father, stubborn daughter.

      Chloe was a long time coming. We struggled through six rounds of IVF treatments before we struck gold. And what a winner she is. A real mixture of Tom and I but with so much extra, thrown in. With my long blonde hair, and his lean, graceful limbs, she’s a beautiful creature. But she isn’t our little girl any more. She’s growing up, fast. Changing, becoming a young woman. She has to make her own path. But that isn’t going to be easy, for any of us.

      Tom must sense I’m looking at him because he lifts his head and smiles. Chloe doesn’t notice, though. She’s far too buried in that book. They had a really close relationship, until recently. -Well, since our daughter turned fourteen, and started pushing her new boundaries. They worry me now. I don’t like standing by, watching their awkwardness grow and tangle around each other.

      “Cup of tea?” Tom calls as he pushes the conservatory door open. I smile at him, shaking my head. Chloe hesitates for the briefest moment, before looking up from her book.

      “That would be nice.” It’s a start. At least they’ve spoken to each other.

      Tom goes off to put the kettle on.

      I close my eyes and lay back on the grass. It really is a gorgeous spring day. Birds are singing their happy songs, and bees are buzzing around the flower beds. I love this time of year, a season so full of promise.

Tom arrives a few minutes later, with Chloe’s favourite mug in his hand. “Good book?” – he asks, passing her the steaming cup.

“It must be,” I answer for her. “She’s not spoken since I sat down.”

I don’t open my eyes.

“It is, yes,” comes her brief, tense reply.

I could lie here, like this, with my little family, forever. The best things in life really are free, trust me.

“Soon as that sun goes in it’s going to get chilly though,” Tom says, more to himself, than to us. At least he’s trying. – “I was thinking about fish and chips for tea.”

I don’t need to say anything; he knows it’s my favourite.

      “Sounds good.” – Chloe nods, letting the book rest in her lap, and takes a sip of her tea. Fish and chips, another delicious smell. How many others are there? Hot toast is another for sure.

      I open my eyes and look at my husband and my child. How did I get so lucky? Two wonderful people. They just need to get passed this new, difficult phase. Find each other again. Be the father and daughter they used to be, not so very long ago.

“Come on, let’s go up now,” Tom says. “It’s getting cold.”

“You two go,” I say, “I’ll be up in a minute.” I just want to stay here for a few more minutes.

“Meet you up there.” Chloe sighs, starting off up the garden, alone.

“She is such a lovely girl,” Tom says, once she’s out of ear shot.

“Of course she is – she’s ours.”

“I’m worried. It’s getting harder now she’s growing up, and so fast. I honestly don’t know how to handle this…” He mumbles away to himself, pushing his hands into his pockets and shrugging. Things are certainly getting tougher.

I remain silent. Not that he would hear my advice anyway. I’m always by his side, but he needs to work this one out, by himself.

Tom follows Chloe up at a much slower pace, leaving me to the dregs of the sunshine. Why can’t things slow down? Life is too rushed. Work and school will come again tomorrow, and I’ll be left to mooch about the house by myself – once more. Can’t they just stay home all day, with me?

Chloe shuts herself in her room and turns the music system on, loud. Tom stands in the kitchen and stares out of the window – to the garden below. The ceiling vibrates with the noise from above.

      “Come on, love. Put the kettle back on, make some tea. Let’s sit down together, relax for a bit.” And so Tom clicks the kettle back on, and I wait for him in the conservatory. We sit in silence, he in his chair and me in mine. Funny how people do that, isn’t it – pick a seat and stick to it. We do the same thing in the lounge. I guess other people do this, too.

      The music stops and we both look up.

“I’ll go and see her, Tom, have a little chat.” And so I leave him drinking his tea.

Chloe is sat on the edge of her bed, the book she’d been reading lying open in her lap, staring out at the same view as her father downstairs. They should be looking at it together. I sit down, on the other side of the bed.

“Chloe, honey, you know your dad loves you. He’s just worried about you, that’s all. You’re still so young – to be out – without us.” And she is, young, but, she does have to start somewhere. It must be hard for her too, starting out on her own adult journey. I remember being her age – like it was yesterday, except there hadn’t been a father at my house, just a mother, who wasn’t actually home very often. And so I’d been able to come and go, by myself, from far too young an age, and I grew up fine. But things are different now. I’d turned out okay, granted, but what if I hadn’t been so fortunate? What if something bad had happened when I’d been out, alone? And so I understand where Tom is coming from, trying to keep her from harm, but, well, our daughter needs to start taking a few steps by herself, at least. “Your dad’s only trying to keep you safe, Chloe. Just go with it for now, sweetheart, please, he’ll come round.” She doesn’t answer, but the expression I can see on her face, in the reflection of the window, tells me she isn’t convinced. “Come downstairs soon, love. Don’t sit here by yourself too long.”

When I get back downstairs, Tom has moved to his seat in the lounge, watching the news – and frowning. The usual horrific story lines flash across the bottom of the screen as the presenter informs us the missing teenager, from a town not far from ours, has just been found, strangled and dumped in a derelict cement works.

“Maybe you should go and talk to her, Tom, I don’t think she’s listening to me.” He sighs and points the remote control at the screen, to make the awful, tragic news disappear.

The day Chloe was born had been a tough one, but Tom had stayed with me the whole time. He hadn’t shied away at the blood that spilled out of me. Hadn’t faltered when the doctor said the baby was in danger. He’d stayed. With me. It was just a shame I couldn’t have stayed with him.

I’m with him now, nearly every day, he just doesn’t know it. I try to help out, whispering little things in Tom’s ear I think he might forget, like Chloe’s things for school, or his pass for the office. He always smiles when he thinks these things have just popped into his head, in the nick of time. I send him dreams, too, sweet dreams, snapshots of the times we shared together – before I had to leave.

Chloe saw me – quite a few times – when she was a baby, but obviously she couldn’t tell anyone. How do I know? Because she used to smile and point at me – when I sang her lullabies at night in her crib – when she woke, and I soothed her back to sleep again. I send her dreams, too, sweet dreams, where the world is made of candy floss and chocolate. I would love to have stayed, to be her mum, but that’s never a role I was destined for. I understand that now, and one day she will, too.

      I wait on the stairs, until Chloe starts down from her bedroom and Tom comes up from the lounge. I touch the both of them at the same time as they meet, stiff and awkward, in the middle. It takes a few seconds before my love brings them back together again.

      “I’m sorry, Dad.”

      “No, I am sorry, honey.” I’m not sure whose arms go around the other first, but it doesn’t matter. All that does is they are together again and will work it out. And they will, because I’ll always be here to make sure they do.

Faber Academy Course – Week 5

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Time and pace was what this week’s Faber Academy Course was all about.

Our task for week five was to write a 500-700 word piece focusing on summary and scene. Slowing time down, but also speeding it up when necessary. Probably my trickiest exercise so far.

I chose to post my ‘A Day in the Life of…’ story, covering 24 hours of someone’s life, to the discussion forum. I noticed as I started to write about Elsie – as she appeared in my head – that I was writing in present tense when it’s past that normally comes out. Most interesting.

The other classmates who commented on my work said they thoroughly enjoyed it again this week, which is wonderful to hear. I’ve gained so much confidence from this course in such a small space of time. Critiquing their work, also, has made me notice things in my own writing I’d not seen before. Such a great learning curve.

Only three more weeks to go!

Here’s Elsie if you’d like to read about her, too.

 

A Day in the Life of Elsie Jones

 The brightness of the light above my head coming on filters through my closed eyelids, paper thin with age.

“It’s all right, Elsie love, I’ve just come to do your medicine.”

It’s midnight.

How do I know this with my eyes shut? Because I can smell the lavender perfume of Rita, the night nurse at Yew Tree Rest Home, and she always does her rounds at twelve o’clock, that’s how.

Coldness creeps into my veins. “There, all done, dear. You can go back to sleep now.”

I don’t speak back to her. I would if I could; I’m not rude. But after the stroke I suffered on my ninety ninth birthday last year my mouth forgot how to work. The light fades. I pray as always that I don’t wake up again.

“Morning, Mrs Jones. Breakfast is served.” I’m still alive then. I lay perfectly still, pretend I don’t know she’s there; Julie, the day nurse, who’s come to pump liquid food into my stomach tube, to keep me alive for another day. I know it’s her because of the coconut shampoo she always uses. It’s revolting. She pushes open the curtains before she leaves.

When I’m sure no-one else is there I open my eyes. It takes a while for them to focus properly. On the table next to my bed is a large white envelope addressed to me, Mrs E P Jones, in big swirly black writing. It wasn’t there yesterday. A miniature portrait of our Queen sits in the top right hand corner.  I call it that because I cannot remember its proper name. I guess it’s a birthday card. I wonder who it’s from. I can’t reach out for it because, as I said already, things gave up working after the stroke.

Tomorrow is my one hundredth birthday. Seventh born to Arthur Drake the butcher and his tired wife Gladys, married to Stanley Jones the baker boy at eighteen, pregnant with twins at nineteen and widowed at twenty two, I never thought I’d ever reach such a milestone. A stamp! That’s what it’s called. My eyelids, heavy with time, start to droop. I pray I don’t wake up again.

“Hey, love, time for a quick wash, just a cat’s lick an’ a promise today, eh. No-one’ll know.” This one doesn’t smell so I open my eyes. Her back’s turned. She’s rinsing out a flannel. “Oh, you’re awake,” she says, now smiling down at me, hand raised, waiting. The tiny dot of a stud in her nose winks at me as it reflects in the light. Cubic zirconia, I guess. There’s no way she could afford a real diamond.  I want to tell her to go away, to leave me to die, not to care for me. I try to convey this through a furrowing of my brow and a really cold hard stare but she doesn’t notice. Instead she just waits for me to close my eyes again so she can wash my face. I conform. Silent tears slip down my face. I pray I don’t wake up again.

The day carries on in much the same way, as always: Lunch, tea, supper. It’s all the same, because I can’t taste any of it. I keep my eyes shut when someone tucks me in for the night and pray I don’t wake up again.

The brightness of the light above my head coming on filters through my closed eyelids, paper thin with age.

“It’s all right, Elsie love, I’ve just come to do your medicine.”

It’s midnight.

——————————————-

 

 

Faber Academy Course – Week 4

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Fourth week in of the online Faber Academy course brings me to the half way point and already I’m wishing it was longer.

This week it’s all about setting and atmosphere.

To be honest I cheated a little this week – instead of writing a new piece to post to the discussion forum I used my current WIP’s opening page. It just felt too good an opportunity to miss to get it out there to seek others reactions. I was rather nervous, but as ever feedback was good and gratefully received.

If you fancy taking a look and letting me know your thoughts also that would be great!

 

 

Middle House 

It was called Middle House because that’s where it stood. Although saying that it wasn’t actually in the middle of the road, more nestled in the middle of a cluster of decrepit old houses, all huddled together around a small grass square. Set back from the road and built right into the side of a steeply pitched hill, it made the bedroom windows at the back lead straight out onto the sloped rear garden.

      It was the sort of house you drew as a child. Detached, with four perfectly square windows; one in each corner, of course. A grey tiled roof complete with chimney pot perched on top, and a wooden gate at the front with a path that lead you straight up to the front door finished the picture.

      Except this one was more than just a house.

      The first day I set eyes on it I knew it was no ordinary house, and I was only twelve years old. It just looked, well, it looked at me. Every other house I’d ever seen before in my short life, had never looked at me, but this one did.

      “Come on, Jess love, you’re the only one small enough to fit through the window and you can just run through the house quick and open the front door, yes?” my mother said, nodding at me and smiling, willing me to just do it. But I didn’t smile back. I didn’t want to be squeezed through the broken window at the side of the derelict old house and have to try and find my way through its cold, dark empty hallways to open the front door. I wanted to go home.

       Except we didn’t really have a home any more, because we all four currently lived squeezed into the not very spacious spare bedroom of the people we called Auntie and Uncle, but they weren’t really. Everyone seemed to have those sorts of ‘relatives’ years ago, don’t seem to hear of them so much nowadays, though. We’d moved in with them when Mum left Dad.

      “No-one’ll know, go on, just be fast, Jess, to the door, and then we can all go in and have a look about can’t we,” said my ‘Auntie’ Jane, with the same nod and smile that mum had just given me. A dank, musty smell crept out of the broken pane of glass and wafted itself under my nose. I swallowed hard.

       The thought of going into that house made my stomach churn, four times. When we’d come around the corner to it a few moments earlier, and it had stared at me the way it did, I had wanted to run – fast – in the opposite direction. But now they wanted me to go inside of it, on my own!

      “Come on, Jess, please! We just want to have a look around, love. We get the keys next week. It’ll give us a chance to see what needs doing and that, before we move in.”

      What needed doing, Mum? I could tell you from standing right here right now what needed doing – it needed demolishing!

My Nan’s Old Desk.

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For as far back as I can remember this was my nan’s beautiful desk.

 

When I was a child we lived next door to each other in a house handed down through generations.

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In this photo of that house in Kent, the child is my nan, Marjorie, (born 1922) and the lady behind her is her mother, my great-grandmother, Grace.

 

 

 

 

Nan – early 1940’s.

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Years later when my brother and I came along, my nan and granddad moved in to the semi-detached house next door and our new little family moved in with Grace. Something you don’t hear of much nowadays.

A hobbit sized door was knocked through in the back-to-back cupboards under the stairs, allowing us the freedom to go between the two houses whenever we liked.

Sadly this idyllic childhood came to end a decade later when my parents divorced and we moved away.

More years flew by and we all changed homes but still saw each other often. In 2003 my own daughter was born.

When my nan died in 2011 I was devastated. She’d always been such a huge part of my life and suddenly she was gone. Heart broken didn’t cover it.

We then had the soul destroying task of selling her bungalow and all its furnishings as Granddad had already left us years earlier. We sold many things but I simply couldn’t imagine parting with her beloved desk so I brought it back, contents and all, to my own house and tucked it away in the garage.

Recent  changes made me suggest we change our now hardly used third bedroom into an office. My husband loved the idea. We just needed a desk to go in it. But hey, we had one just waiting outside, right?

So, we brought Nan’s lovely old desk into the house. Unfortunately all the drawers had swollen with damp and were stuck shut.  It took a week of drying out but eventually one budged and then all the rest came free, too.

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Amongst the usual desk paraphernalia we also found some other, very interesting things.12721695_1317375918279999_1661180503_n Unfortunately now, though, we have no-one to ask about their history.

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It’s nice to know there were some good times through the bad ones.

This week we cleaned and polished and moved Nan’s old desk into its new home, in ours. 12659771_1315791505105107_554736758_nI think it looks right at home and I’m sure my lovely nan would agree.

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Faber Academy Course – Week 3

 

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Third week in of the online Faber Academy writing course and I’m really getting stuck in. 

This week it was all about character. The task I chose to post to the forum was a character sketch of someone I knew. I struggled with this at first because the picture that jumped instantly into my head was of someone I didn’t know, and she just wouldn’t go away. So I wrote about her. Mary. She must be real somewhere in the world, though, right?

Feedback started to arrive. Always the scary part. Thankfully my piece was liked, but as per previous week’s posts opinions on certain words were divided. One person’s favourite line was another’s suggestion to drop! Proving again that writing is such a subjective business and we simply cannot possibly please everyone.

It’s so encouraging to read people’s comments about your work and it’s thrilling to be able to tell others the same about theirs. Week four starts tomorrow and I’m itching to get my hands on it already.

In the meantime, here’s Mary.

 

                                                                     Mary

Black roots seeping down the centre of her dyed blonde hair is always the first thing that lurches to mind when I think of Mary. Next comes the swirl of the foul smelling cigarette smoke as it curls its way up her face and into her ever squinting eyes. I don’t remember the exact colour of them. Her eyes, I mean.  Maybe that’s because they were never open for long. When they were closed you could see just how much baby blue eyeshadow she’d smeared on that morning without using a mirror. And gaze in disbelief at the great smear of blood red lipstick she’d plastered on at the same time. Thick, sticky lipstick that always pooled into a gloopy mess at the corners of her mouth by the end of the day. Not a pretty sight, I’m sure you’d agree. But she didn’t seem to care.

“If no-one don’t bleeding well like me then that’s their problem, it aint mine. I don’t give a flying fox crap what anyone else thinks of me, they can all go to hell for all I care.” She didn’t have many friends. Not a surprise really.

Her body was thin and wiry, not one you’d want to cuddle up to.  Years of existing on caffeine and alcohol did that to a person, I guess. If she did ever attempt physical contact it was probably because she was drunk. Although saying that she did have an affectionate side to her because she loved the next door neighbour’s dog; often squeezing cocktail sausages through the broken section of fence for it when the owners were out. If the other side’s neighbour’s cat dared to stray into the garden, however, she’d send it on its way with a well landed boot to its ginger backside.

Mary’s favourite time of day was the evening when all the terrible soaps were on the tele. One after the other she’d watch them, through a haze of cigarette smoke and gin fumes. When the last one finished she’d slump back in her chair and fall asleep. Sometimes I threw a blanket over her; depending on whether she’d been nice to me or not really.

Sometimes she offered me food, other times she didn’t even speak to me. Sometimes she’d pat me on the back and say “You ain’t that bad really, I suppose.” This was a compliment, you understand. Other times she’d kick me swiftly in the shin when I wasn’t looking and say “Get out of the way you useless sod.”

I don’t know if she regretted some of the ways she’d lived her life, I never got to ask her, because one chilly February morning I found her dead in her chair; TV still blaring out and next doors cat asleep on her lap, purring. Even though I was only ten at the time I knew instantly that she’d died because her face had turned grey under all her hideous make up.  All that said I did still love her, though. She was my mother after all.

Faber Academy Course – Week 2

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Second week in of the online course and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.

This week it was all about POV – writing in first person, second person, third person. Personally I tend to write in my preferred first person so this exercise really helped pushed me that bit further than I’d push myself.

All of the virtual classmates were asked to chose from a selection of ideas to work with. I chose The Surprise in the Kitchen. We were asked to write 300 words in one person and then change it to another. Once happy with our work we post it to the forum where other classmates can read and comment on it. The swapping of feedback is fantastic for seeing the good and bad in your own work that you just can’t see yourself.

Here are my 300 words. I wrote it in my usual, comfortable, first person and then changed it to third. Personally I much preferred the first. Some agreed with me, saying the emotion for the reader is much closer in first. Others, however, disagreed. I’ll leave you to decide for yourself.

 

First person – The Surprise in the Kitchen

When I opened my eyes on that chilly Tuesday morning I didn’t realise there was a surprise waiting for me downstairs in the kitchen. I’d thought it was going to be a Tuesday morning like any other. But I was wrong.

Wrapping my pink fluffy dressing gown around me like a warm hug I padded softly to the bathroom with a yawn and a stretch; my usual routine. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom step of the stairs and smelled something peculiar I realised that Tuesday morning was going to be very different from any other indeed.

For a brief moment I stopped and closed my eyes. Was I still asleep? Still dreaming? “No,” my toes told me, as they squirmed in the thick carpet.

I tiptoed through the dining room before reaching the bright yellow room that was my kitchen. Sunshine beamed in at me through the small square window like the Cheshire cat, blinding me at first.

As I turned to follow my nose – to the smell – I saw him. Curled up on the door mat, like a hibernating hedgehog was Dinky; my little sausage dog. I loved that funny shaped animal so much. Just seeing him there made my heart rise and fall. He can’t have heard me creep in. Snuffly snores escaped him as his soft brown body rose and fell like my heart had. I stood and stared at him.

Not daring to move any closer (just in case), I shut my eyes once more and breathed in his musty scent. He must’ve been in the duck pond again, I thought.  An image of me dragging him out with a net, covered in soggy green weed sprang into my head. The memory of it pushed tears out of my tightly closed eyes. I knew when I opened them again he’d be gone, so I stayed very still until the smell disappeared completely. As I knew it would, because Dinky had died many years ago.

 

Third person – The Surprise in the Kitchen

When she opened her eyes on that chilly Tuesday morning she didn’t realise there was a surprise waiting for her downstairs in the kitchen. She’d thought it was going to be a Tuesday morning like any other. But she was wrong.

Wrapping her pink fluffy dressing gown around her like a warm hug she padded softly to the bathroom with a yawn and a stretch; her usual routine. It wasn’t until she reached the bottom step of the stairs and smelled something peculiar she realised that Tuesday morning was going to be very different from any other indeed.

For a brief moment she stopped and closed her eyes. Was she still asleep? Still dreaming? “No,” her toes told her, as they squirmed in the thick carpet.

She tiptoed through the dining room before reaching the bright yellow room that was her kitchen. Sunshine beamed in at her through the small square window like the Cheshire cat, blinding her at first.

As she turned to follow her nose – to the smell – she saw him. Curled up on the door mat, like a hibernating hedgehog was Dinky; her little sausage dog. She loved that funny shaped animal so much. Just seeing him there made her heart rise and fall. He can’t have heard her creep in. Snuffly snores escaped him as his soft brown body rose and fell like her heart had. She stood and stared at him.

Not daring to move any closer (just in case), she shut her eyes once more and breathed in his musty scent. He must’ve been in the duck pond again, she thought.  An image of her dragging him out with a net, covered in soggy green weed sprang into her head. The memory of it pushed tears out of her tightly closed eyes. She knew when she opened them again he’d be gone, so she stayed very still until the smell disappeared completely. As she knew it would, because Dinky had died many years ago.