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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

HAPPY NEW YEAR, 1984




  One hour to midnight.
  The clock seemed to be turning slowly, time stretched into a different rhythm, were minutes had turned into hours.
  How much longer would he have to endure this? - Seth thought.
  He didn’t belong here, to this party, to this elegant big house filled with rich kids from the West side of town, all done up in designer clothes and permed hair, all looking as if they had just walked off the set of Dynasty.
  And there was him, in his second hand clothes inherited from an older cousin with no sense of style, big Christmas jumper and faded jeans, his grey eyes hidden behind a curtain of straight dark hair.
  Perhaps he should have accepted Aidan’s invitation after all, even if he had little in common with his friend’s work colleagues. He had seemed more logical mixing with fellow college students. But now he felt just as ill at ease. Why had he come?
  Of course he knew perfectly well why. The reason for his presence was standing a few paces from him, talking with friends and laughing, looking more beautiful than ever, a blue and golden vision of seventeen year old perfection.
  What had made him think tonight would be different? Had he really imagined that Tara would finally look his way? The shy, awkward boy from the East side's council estate who had fancied her in silence since Senior School? What kind of New Years Eve’s miracle had he hoped would happen?
  He should disappear before people started kissing and singing drunken traditional songs, go home and hide in his room, cry and maybe write another silly story about wasted love. Start the new year as the last.
  Seth left the crowded living-room and moved to the hall, where he managed to dig out his coat from under the heap that had been dropped on the old oak settle by the door. There wasn’t really any point in saying goodbye to the others, especially the host. He couldn’t say he liked James Douglas-Smith all that much, the spoilt rich brat. And he was sure the feeling was mutual. So he might as well sneak out the door before anyone realised he had gone.
  “Are you leaving?” A familiar voice put a stop to his plan for a quiet exit and he glanced at Livy standing in the living-room doorframe. The way she was staring at him from behind her glasses unsettled him. Did she know he was so desperately and hopelessly in love with her older sister? She always seemed to see right through him.
  “Yeah,” he muttered. “I don’t know if I want to be around for Auld Lang Syne. It’s depressing.”
  Again Livy scrutinized him, penetrating the invisible wall he put up between himself and the world. There was no hiding and he felt blood rising to his face as if she had just caught him naked.
  “Are you going for a walk, then?” She asked.
  Seth shrugged. “I’ll probably stop at the bridge and watch the fireworks over the river. Got to be better than here.”
  “Sounds like a plan.” Livy smiled, looking suddenly younger than her fifteen years. “I’ll come with you.”
  Seth opened his mouth to protest, but Livy had already extricated her coat and scarf from under all others, getting ready to follow him, and he found himself secretly welcoming her company.
  “Come on, then.” He sighed, and the two of them slipped outside into the cold night.

***

  “I knew I’d find you here.” Aidan had appeared out of nowhere and now stood beside them, as Seth and Livy leaned on the bridge rail.
  Seth smirked. “Of course you did. I told you I probably would come.”
  “Hi, Aidan.” Livy greeted him, as if to make sure her presence was acknowledged. She always looked a little intimidated by Aidan. Perhaps it was his boisterous manners, or his slightly dangerous edge, or maybe his good looks that turned even the most confident girls into a giggly, coy mess.
  “Hi, kiddo.” Aidan smiled at Livy. “Did you have enough of the posh do as well?”
  “Kind of. What about you? I thought you’d be with your girlfriend…”
  “Yeah, where’s Alison?” Seth joined in.
  Aidan shrugged. “She’s not my girlfriend. We just have fun together.”
  “Not having fun tonight?”
  “Nah. I thought I’d come here to see if you were around.”
  Seth laughed. “Sounds like you had a real crappy night.”
  Livy checked her watch. “It’s ten minutes to nineteen-eighty-four. Any wish, resolution for the new year?”
  “Mmmmh…” Aidan assumed a pensive expression. “Winning the Pools would be nice. Have a few quid to help my mum and sisters and buy myself a motor.”
  “Sounds good. What about you Seth?”
  Seth kept his eyes on the waters below. What could he wish for? Sum up the courage to jump in? Or be brave enough to make it through another year of disappointments and heartaches? Grow up and stop being such a prized fool?
  Aidan’s hand landed firmly on his shoulder. “How about finally getting laid, this year, mate?”
  Seth smiled. “Yeah… something like that.”
  “And you, Liv?”
  “I wish we can be here again, next year. Every year. For the next thirty New Year’s Eves.”
  Seth shuddered. “What? Here, on the bridge? In this miserable town for the next thirty years? Perish the thought.”
  “No, no… I don’t mean it like that.” Livy shook her head. “But I’d like it if we could get back together. If our friendship could continue through the years.”
  “I see. I suppose that would be nice.”
  “Where do you think we will be in thirty years time? On the Eve of 2014?”
  “Seth will be a successful best selling sci-fi author.” Again Aidan patted Seth’s back. “He’ll be loaded and take us all to a swanky party.”
  “Ha. I’ll be teaching English to Secondary School kids, if I’m lucky.” He placed his hand on Livy’s hair. “Livy here will be the successful one. Famous artist exhibiting all over the world.”
  “I hope so.” Livy smiled. “And you, Aidan?”
  “I’ll almost certainly be here, still working in a supermarket, still going nowhere, watching you kids making money and the news. I’ll earn a few quid selling stories of your seedy past to Hello! or something.”
  They all laughed just as the peace of the night was shattered by loud bangs and the sky lit with colourful fireworks.
  “Well, it’s nineteen-eighty-four, folks!” Aidan stood between them wrapping his arms around Seth’s and Livy’s shoulders. “Should we kiss and sing Auld Lang Syne?”
  Warmth spread inside Seth, as they huddled together and stood at the edge of life, holding on to their hopes and dreams for the future. Perhaps the new year wouldn’t be so bad, he reflected; he leaned to his right and placed his lips on Aidan’s cheek. “Here’s your kiss, mate. But I’m not going to sing.”
  “Too bad.” Aidan chuckled.
  To the other side of him, Livy grinned. “Happy New Years, guys.” 

***
  
HAPPY 2014!

***

You can follow the story of Seth, Livy and Aidan in Playing on Cotton Clouds


 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Blitzing to Christmas

Books make for perfect stocking fillers


And so it has arrived. The day when you realise it's only one week to Christmas.

Normally I would be panicking. Few more presents to buy, Christmas cards to send, decorations to put up, turkey to order... ARGH!

But, ha! I'm surprisingly organised, this year. A week to go and I'm ready. Shopping finished, cards sent, tree up, I've even wrapped all the presents already.

Pats on the back for moi!





So today I can relax and go on my scheduled Blitz Book Tour for Playing On Cotton Clouds. I will be stopping on various blogs with info about the book and an excerpt for you to sample, if you'd like to join me. Just grab a hot beverage, sit back and put your feet up. There's still plenty of time before Christmas!


 List of participating blogs on the Blitz Book Tour:


Hosted by  Buy The Book Tours


Monday, 2 December 2013

The Sound of 2013 ~ Fifteen songs



Another year of music is about to end with memories of great concerts and more songs to add to the soundtrack of our lives, some linked to happy times and some to a few tears.

We all have our favourites, I'm sure, and here are fifteen of mine, among the many that filled my player and kept me company while writing in 2013.

The Stone Roses perform in Finsbury Park, London ~ 8th June 2013


15. Secret Colours, BLACKBIRD (ONLY ONE)
Opening track of the American alternative band’s psychedelic album “Peach", it has an amazing instrumental outro.



14. Palma Violets, STEP UP FOR THE COOL CATS
The London based band released their debut album “180” at the start of the year, displaying great energy and echoes of The Clash, The Who and The Libertines.

 


13. Veronica Falls, MY HEART BEATS
Originally released as a single last year, it was included in the album “Waiting for Something to Happen”, which came out in early 2013, so it makes the list. Fresh and uplifting.



12. Gabrielle Aplin, PANIC CORD
A gentle, lovely ballad about the fear of commitment and a hint of regret for possibly having pulled out of a relationship to soon. Simple, sweet and heartfelt.



11. Avicii, WAKE ME UP
A chart topper, this song dominated the radio waves all summer with its mix of country/folk and dance. Just puts me in a good mood every time.



10. Merchandise, ANXIETY’S DOOR
A Smiths-esque song for a very promising new band.



9. Johnny Marr, NEW TOWN VELOCITY
2013 has been a successful year for Johnny Marr, whom I had the fortune to catch live twice in June. This is my favourite song from his album “The Messanger”.



8. The Arctic Monkeys, No 1 PARTY ANTHEM
The new Arctic Monkeys' album, “AM” wasn’t quite as good as 2011’s “Suck It and See”, in my opinion, but it includes some excellent songs, of which this one is the pinnacle.




7. I Am Kloot, THESE DAYS ARE MINE
Difficult to choose just one song from I Am Kloot's beautiful album “Let It All In”, but this is definitely one of the highlights.



6. Jake Bugg, ME AND YOU
Jake was the sensation of 2012, with his self titled debut album. His follow up, “Shangri La”, is more of a mixed bag, but he still delivers aplenty when playing to his strength, the acoustic ballad.



5. Primal Scream, IT’S ALRIGHT, IT’S OKAY
Despite the departure of bass player Mani, who in 2011 rejoined the reformed Stone Roses, the Scream were back in great form last May, with their new album “More Light”, possibly their best work since XTRMNTR. Plenty of great tracks. This is the poppiest moment, which lifted me up all summer, a great sing along remindful of “Movin’ on Up”.



4. Jagwar Ma, THE MAN I NEED
From the psychedelic/dance Australian duo’s album “Howlin’”, this can only be described as sunshine in a record.



3. Masters in France, FLEXIN
Nothing French about this Welsh band, whose track “Playin’ with My Friends” has been made famous by the quirky IKEA advert. “Playing with My Friends” was released towards the end of 2012, so, though I’m still obsessed with it, it can’t make this list, but “Flexin” came out earlier this year and it’s just as good. Apparently they have been recording their debut album, which, if this is anything to go by, promises to be rather good.



2. The Temples, KEEP IN THE DARK
I’m really looking forward to the debut album from this new British band – scheduled for February 2014 – whose music is drenched in 60s psychedelia with a nod to glam rock (bit of T-Rex going on here). Currently touring with Primal Scream.



1. Arthur Beatrice, CARTER
Palm of Song of the Year 2013 from me goes to this stunning track by British band Arthur Beatrice. Album also scheduled for February 2014 and I’m very much looking forward to it.



Wednesday, 13 November 2013

THE SHADOW - Part Two




I’m standing by the church.
The stony, nineteenth century building breaks the afternoon November sun and casts its familiar shadow over the small, empty car park, the low wall bordering it, the pavement on the other side and me.
I’ve grown in this shadow.
It used to be familiar, made of something beautiful, of angels, miracles and sky, until the beauty was broken into pieces and encased in books and rules, the shadow turned into a heavy mantel of shame.
Now angels are only made of stone, miracles just fairy-tales and the sky distant.
Our father, who art in heaven…forgive us our trespasses…
My hands search the pockets of my jeans, fingering the questions I always carry with me. I close my fist and trap one inside: who am I?
There’s a different answer, a different me for everyone: my friends, my sister, my baby brother, my mum, my dad, the priest, the teachers, the people of this small town.
Yet, to everyone I’m Samuel Daly, seventeen year old, the quiet, thoughtful eldest son of the pharmacist, Patrick Daly, who writes letters to the Bishop about the corruption and decay at the heart of respectability, forced as he is to stand side by side with divorcees and single mothers, in his cast-iron righteousness, while his daughter lines up for communion before running off to make love to her boyfriend, his twelve year old son serves on the altar minutes after stealing money from a smaller boy and his firstborn is going straight to Hell, wrapped up in filthy dreams and fantasies.
My hand is still holding on to the question.
Who am I?
I can’t bring myself to dig it out. It seems pointless, when the answers are already there, in the shadow.
A freak. A joke. A sinner. A queer. A poof. A faggot.
I know I am. I know that’s what they would call me. Some would laugh, some would hate. And perhaps some would love me, a thought that still scares me and warms me up inside at the same time.
I wish I could get out of this shadow and stop asking myself questions. I have been asking them for too long and for too long ignored the answers.
But I know who I am, now.
 ***
The wind blows over the dead leaves at our feet.
We kicked them as we walked along the path in the park, half an hour ago and for eight autumns before then.
We go back a long way, Alan and I. We walked together many days and through many streets, outside school, in the playground, by the canal, along the back alleys of our estate.
We walked together today, from the church where we met to the public park a few yards away, my slim shadow next to his, better proportioned. We walked almost in silence, as he finished his cigarette and I jangled lose change in my pocket and gathered thoughts in my head.
Today is the day I am going to tell him.
I don’t know why I decided it would be. I hadn’t set out to have this conversation, when I left home, but the shadow is suffocating me and I need to find an escape, somehow.
Alan… my best friend and the object of my fantasies and desire.
I stare at his handsome profile, his straight nose and his Mediterranean complexion, his full lips, dark eyes and short black curls, and I hold my breath.
We walked here, to this bench, and here I broke my silence, stepped out of the shadow in just three words: I’m gay.
I can let go of my questions, now, open my fist and let them all crawl away. It’s out, it’s real, it’s true. I’m gay. I’m me. It even seems beautiful and I wonder what I was so afraid of. I can be me and I can love him my way, though he’ll never know.
Alan’s profile turns to face me, his ink eyes looking at me from under a frown.
‘You’re confused, right?’
‘No, I’m not.’
I’ve never been less confused in my life.
Alan leans back on the bench, hands sunk into his expensive designer coat.
‘Wow… just… wow.’ He shakes his head. ‘Maybe it’s just a phase, though… I mean… they happen, gay phases…’
‘It’s not a phase.’
‘Can’t you… like… change your mind? You know… maybe if you shagged some hot girl…’
‘It’s not something I can change. It’s not something I want to change.’
‘You want to be a queer?’ He sounds affronted by the idea, his tone getting aggressive. ‘You want it up your arse?’
The shadow is chasing me and I want him to pull me away from the fear it’s trying to tie me with. I want him to love me his way. More than anything, I want him to understand that.
Please, understand.
I lift my hand.
‘Just let me…’ Let me be me, I want to say, but my hand moves to his face, my fingers touch his smooth skin and my thumb strokes his lips.
He jumps up.
Let you what?’ His breaths are short and rapid. ‘You tell me you’re a queer and then you make a pass at me?’ His eyes dig into me as if he is seeing me for the first time. ‘Did you think…Did you imagine we could…Fucking Hell.’
I’m shaking now and the shadow is upon me once more.
‘It’s not like that.’ I try to free myself. ‘It’s…’
‘I don’t want to know what it is like. You’re…’
I can fill in his pause for him.
Queer. Pervert. Disgusting.
Somehow his voice becomes confused with my father’s in my head.
I wish I hadn’t told him. I wish I had remained in the shadow, hidden away.
‘I’m what?’
He doesn’t answer. He’s already walking away, his shadow growing longer and distant in the setting sun.

Continues in Part Three

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

THE SHADOW - Part One




The gravel is cool and wet against my face, its mouldy, mossy smell fills my nostrils and passes into my mouth. I can almost taste it, mixed with the metallic, sweet flavour of blood.
My eyes slowly bring the ground into focus. A puddle lies a few paces from me, beyond my fingers. I try to lift them, but they are glued to the stony path, throbbing with pain.
It is a relief to feel pain still. The rest of my body is now numb, detached from my senses as if it doesn’t belong to me any more. I am aware of the rain washing over me, of the voices echoing around, confused into one blurred, buzzing noise.
Except for one.
That one voice soars above the others and rains back down on me like a shower of rocks cast to cleanse my shame and sin.
‘Bloody perv!’ The harsh, disgusted tone hits me, more painful than the strike at my kidneys, more degrading than the warm spit dropping on my cheek. ‘I hope never to see your face again.’
My jaw jolts and cracks under the blow of one last kick. A rush of heat engulfs my brain and I watch the red tinted rain trickling away from me. The world becomes fuzzy and I slowly plunge into silence and darkness.
 ***
 Sunday afternoon always smells of cabbage.
Or broccoli. Or whatever other vegetables mum decides to boil for lunch. She never chooses gentle greens, like courgettes or runner beans, she always goes for the boldest, most arrogant plants, that impose their presence long after they have left, overpowering pretty much any other odour in the house.
The auditory sense, however, is subjected to a much more fragmented assault.
In one corner, mum is watching the Eastenders Omnibus while at the same time mending a pair of trousers, the living-room filled with cockney accents and raspy voices.
Sitting by her side on the sofa, same slight figure and dark, wavy hair, her fifteen year old legs wrapped in a pair of black skinny jeans, Lauryn keeps a distracted eye on the soap and concentrates on replying to texts, generating a repetitive tune as she presses the keys of her mobile phone, strangely in rhythm with the drumming noise coming from Shane’s room, upstairs.
It is all quite soothing, oddly enough, like a distant, familiar rhyme lulling my thoughts.
Here I am, perched on the padded bench by the bay window, an island of silence in the sea of cacophony washing at my shore, my long limbs dressed in jeans and plaid shirt, my eyes hidden under the long hair framing my face.
I am present and oblivious at the same time, observant of my surroundings, while detached, as I doodle at the margins of my notes, my English lesson for college, tomorrow.
My drawings are staring back at me and I realise I have almost subconsciously filled the notes with eyes, wide open, terrified. Why, I’m not sure, I just feel the need to add tears and blood vessels to them.
‘Listen to this.’
The decisive, baritone voice breaks through the room’s perfectly orchestrated commotion, like a bugle suddenly calling everyone to attention. Mum and Lauryn drop mobile and needle and I stop tormenting the eyes on the page, as we all gaze back at my father.
He sits straight and rigid at the desk in the opposite corner, his back to the work space, facing us, all arranged in a carefully conceived composition: him to my left, mum and Lauryn to my right and me, not siding with anyone.
The sun from the window reflects on the thin piece of paper he is holding in his hand, allowing a glimpse of his neat handwriting on the other side.
‘I finished the letter to the Bishop,’ he announces.
‘Already, dear?’ Mum reprises her sewing while Lauryn takes advantage of the temporary distraction to change channel.
‘Just tell me what you think.’ Dad clears his throat and lifts his balding head a little higher. ‘Your Excellency, as you might be aware I have written to you in the past highlighting problems and malpractices taking place at our Parish…’
‘An excellent start dear,’ Mum buts in.
‘… malpractices taking place at our Parish.’ Dad frowns and recovers his thread. I am unfortunately forced to write to you again…
I have to listen. Unlike other noises, I can’t escape my father’s voice. It demands to be heard, it grabs my thoughts and doesn’t let go.
Next to the suffering eyes, I now draw a mouth, open and big. I wonder if this is my father’s mouth - slowly and relentlessly listing Father Anthony’s many failures as a shepherd of our flock, his slap dash approach to church duties, his laid back attitude to Communion distribution, Confession, sin – or if it is in fact someone’s screaming to break free. Perhaps it is my mouth.
The reading is finally over. My father is waiting for approval. He never asks for advice. He already knows what’s right and what’s wrong.
‘Very good, dear.’ Mum smiles serenely, as she has done for nineteen years.
I close my ring-binder and stand up, suddenly visible again.
‘Are you done with your studying, Sam?’ Mum asks.
I nod.
‘I’m going for a walk.’
Music, drumming, ring-tones… I’m invisible once more and I leave the room and the house barely noticed.

Continues in Part Two

Monday, 28 October 2013

Between History and Myth - Tim Taylor



Journeying farther into book settings, today we dip into Ancient Greece, following Tim Taylor as he explains what inspired his soon to be published novel Zeus of Ithome.

***


Zeus of Ithome, set in the 3rd century BC in southern and central Greece, recounts the struggle of the Messenian people to free themselves from three centuries of servitude.  The origins of the tale lie in the landscape itself: it was the great fertility of Messenia that led the envious Spartans to invade it and turn its inhabitants into helot slaves. 

                There was enough light left in the clear sky to see fields and hamlets of Messenia stretched out all around the mountain.  “Look at it,” mused Aristomenes after a while. “Rich farmland in all directions as far as the eye can see. Where else in Greece would you find land like this? Not for nothing did our ancestors honour the Great Goddesses and guard their secret rites with care. The special favour of   Demeter and Persephone has always been the birthright and blessing of our people. And yet it has also been our curse. Look at the poor Arcadians, scratching away at their thin mountain soil. No one   would bother making helots of them.”

The novel follows a young runaway helot, Diocles, as he travels with Aristomenes, an old Messenian rebel, in search of guidance about how and when to set about freeing their country.  The landscape unfolds before Diocles, literally expanding his horizons: so much of what this na├»ve and uneducated boy sees on his travels is new and amazing to him.  Many places are also charged with religious significance, fuelled by unquestioned belief in deities who live among men and intervene in mortal affairs; nowhere more so than at Delphi, for many centuries a source of prophecy trusted throughout the Greek world and beyond. 

                He was greatly struck by the beauty of the place, with its fine buildings set into the hillside so that, seen from above, they were silhouetted against the surrounding mountains and the plunging valley below. In this Panhellenic shrine, every state in Greece seemed to have vied with every other to contribute the most elegant buildings; the most imposing statues; the most precious artifacts. He understood now why the sacred enclosure was surrounded by a tall stone wall. Most impressive of all, though, was the great Temple of Apollo in the centre of the complex. It was here where, on the following day, the Pythia would breathe the vapours emanating from a deep crack in the earth at the heart of the temple and speak her prophecies to those who had travelled to Delphi to hear them.


Recreating ancient Greece was something of a journey for me, too, as I weaved together memory, imagination and research to create the world that the characters travel through.  I hope that readers will share some of the pleasure I found in bringing to life these places and times. 




Delphi Theatre Temple of Apollo - Helen Simonsson/Creative Commons License


***

Tim Taylor was born in 1960 in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent - home of Josiah Wedgwood, Robbie Williams, Phil 'The Power' Taylor (no relation) and Lemmy.  He grew up just outside the city in Brown Edge, then at the age of 11 moved to Longsdon, near Leek.
         Tim went to Newcastle-under-Lyme High School, then studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford. After graduating he moved to London and spent a couple of years playing guitar in a rock band. When it became clear that he was never going to be a rock star, he sadly knuckled down and joined the Civil Service, where he did a wide range of jobs, including Chief Executive of the Veterans Agency.
         Tim married Rosa Vella in 1994 and their daughter Helen was born in 1997. In 2001 they moved to Meltham, near Huddersfield, to be nearer family, and have lived there ever since.
          
While still in the Civil Service Tim wrote two unpublished novels and studied part time for a PhD in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, finally achieving it in 2007.  A period of illness in 2007 caused him to re-evaluate his priorities.  He took a career break in 2009 in order to spend more time writing, and subsequently left the Civil Service altogether in 2011.
         Tim now divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.
         As well as fiction, Tim writes poetry, which he often performs on local radio and at open mic nights (where he also plays the guitar).  He is involved with several local writing groups. He also likes walking up hills. 

His novel, Zeus of Ithome, is due for release with Crooked Cat Publishing on November 2nd, 2013.






Thursday, 24 October 2013

Where it’s at ... The Runaway Year

Back on our theme about book settings, I'm particularly delighted to have Shani Struthers on my blog, today. I greatly enjoyed her contemporary ensemble romance "The Runaway Year", which is set between Brighton and Cornwall. Here Shani tells us more about the places she has discovered through reading and the locations that served as a backdrop to her book. Over to you, Shani!




Location – it gets me every time. With so many books now to choose from there has to be a hook to catch my interest and that hook is, yep, you guessed it, where the book is set. As a child, I loved anything set in the North of England – the wildest and most romantic place on earth it seemed to me, at least in books anyway (Charlotte and Emily Bronte, I hold you personally responsible!). Not just the moors of Yorkshire, either, there was Tyneside in all its harsh, industrial beauty – Catherine Cookson depicted this brilliantly in almost all her books, needless to say, I devoured each and every one of them. It seemed a landscape so much more interesting than the genteel south where I lived.

Moving overseas, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind instilled a yearning to visit America’s often turbulent Deep South (and yes, I will get there one day), Truman Capote got me to Tiffany’s in New York (just browsing mind) and, thanks to Anne Rice, the bougainvillea that decorates the Garden District in New Orleans – home of the Mayfair Witches – is forever vivid in my mind. For me, location is just as important as the characters – it’s what makes a good story, great. If a book has the power to transport me to a faraway place, if it can make me feel that place, smell that place, if it can bring it alive, I will make it to that place... as I said above, one day.

But what if a visit disappoints? What if the industrial north is nowhere near as romantic as I imagined, what if it’s just... well, plain old industrial? As for the Deep South, perhaps it’s stuffed full of Dunkin Donut outlets, once glorious plantation houses now just glorified theme parks? Well, everywhere I’ve been so far, if not quite as depicted in books, still holds a certain beauty; you just have to look a little harder for it, as these writers no doubt did. It seems every destination (perhaps with the exception of Slough) has the ability to touch a person’s soul, so much so it inspires them to create thousands and thousands of words around it, to capture it for generations to come. And if it’s not quite as you imagined, well, squint a bit – it works for me every time!

Cornwall is another sure-fire hit with me, if your story is set there, I’m hooked. It’s also the setting for my debut novel, The Runaway Year, published by Omnific Publishing in July 2013. Huge swathes of sandy beaches, dramatic granite cliffs with hidden caves and tiny villages forgotten by time, all provide the perfect backdrop to the tangled and tumultuous love lives of three friends over the course of a rollercoaster year. Although Tintagel and Trebarwith Strand were the inspiration, the village setting is actually fictional – it’s called Trecastle. Why? Because Tintagel has no real beach, the nearest (Trebarwith) is 2 miles away. In fiction, I can take out those 2 miles, push them together and voila! There’s magic everywhere but in Cornwall, there’s magic in abundance, it’s so tangible you can almost reach out and touch it. Rocky Valley with its mysterious labyrinth carving, St Nectan’s Glen where King Arthur and his knights went to pray before battle, Boscastle with its ancient harbour and Gull Rock – set just off the coastline – mysterious and alluring. All these places and more I’ve loved for years and years – fall in love with them too in The Runaway Year.

Gull Rock
 ***


One of those rare creatures – a true Brightonian – Shani was born and bred in the sunny seaside town of Brighton on the UK’s south-coast. One of the first literary conundrums she had to deal with was her own name – Shani can be pronounced in a variety of ways but in this instance it’s Shay-nee not Shar-ney or Shan-ni – although she does indeed know a Shanni – just to confuse matters further! Hobbies include reading, writing, eating and drinking – all four of which keep her busy enough.

After graduating from Sussex University with a degree in English and American Literature, Shani landed a job at a well-known holiday company. Although employed as a Brochure Production Executive, she promptly reinvented herself as a Copywriter, a new position they were happy (if a tad bewildered) to concede to. At 24, Shani became a freelance copywriter and has been one ever since, in-between writing novels that is.

Contemporary romance The Runaway Year is her first book and set between Brighton and North Cornwall, the latter a home-from-home for Shani, her husband and 3 lovely kids. With no rest for the wicked, she is currently working on a sequel to The Runaway Year as well as a paranormal mystery set in and around the Sussex countryside.

Follow Shani on Twitter and find her on her Website

THE RUNAWAY YEAR

Dumped by her hotshot boyfriend and boss, Layla Lewis quits her job and heads to Trecastle in North Cornwall to house-sit for a friend-of-a-friend. Trecastle isn’t new to her; it's a place where she holidayed regularly with her now-estranged mother. It’s also the home of Hannah McKenzie, her childhood friend. Hannah has tempted her with a place to live and a job in the local pub. Needing time to nurse her battered heart and escape her “real life” for a year, Layla accepts.

Hannah is a talented artist as well as a barmaid. She lives in the village center with her boyfriend Jim, a singer in a local band. They are happy together, or as happy as they can be, considering. Hannah loves Jim, but there is someone she loves more and it’s pushing them to breaking point.

Meanwhile, back in Brighton, Layla’s fiery yet loyal friend Penny seeks revenge on her behalf, sending a forged email that could damage her ex’s business prospects. Penny wonders if she has gone too far but is soon preoccupied with her own problems: the sizzle has fizzled in her marriage, and she feels neglected. After getting frisky with Dylan one night, she confesses all to her husband—and he’s been like ice ever since.

Over the course of a year, there is laughter and heartache as all three endeavor to reign in their tumultuous love lives—discovering you can run all you like, but if it’s love you’re up against, true love, good things can only happen when you stand your ground.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Someone's Brother ~ A New Start

A few days ago I asked people to tell me how they thought my seven part story, Someone's Brother, would end.

A few of you have voted (thank you!), leaving a comment on what they thought happened to Ryan at the end of the story. It was a close call, only one vote between the two possible scenarios, but this is the ending that got the most votes and so here it is, what happens next.

Who knows, this might not be the full story yet!

WARNING: contains strong language

 

         The sun filtering through the vertical blinds drew patterns on the white wall by his bed, his packed sport bag lying next to him, ready to go.
Sitting on the edge, Ryan finished doing up his laces and then stared in the air ahead of him.
He had spent two weeks in hospital, since the day Vivienne had answered his call and ran to him.
He really thought he was dying that day, after a night from hell and a morning of sickness and pain, crying out for drugs, trying to hold together his broken ribs, coughing and burning with fever.
When peace had arrived, he had felt his heartbeat slowing down and once more thoughts of death had filled his mind. Hailey was with him. She had come to take him with her and he was ready. He had closed his eyes and waited.
But he hadn’t died.
He had fallen into a chasm of confused dreams and nightmares, until the voices in his head had started to echo outside him and he was aware of people talking in the room. Someone was at his side, asking him questions. He tried to answer, but only managed faint moans.
He had later realised it was paramedics he had tried to talk to and that his temperature had risen so much that he was only semi-conscious by then.
They had lifted him on a stretcher to take him to the ambulance and once again Vivienne had stayed at his side.
He had known then; he was not going to die.
Hailey was gone. She had come to him to repeat what she had told him the last time he had held her in his arms, you’ll get out of this.
And here he was, two weeks later.
They had treated him for pneumonia, mended his fractures and bruises and cleaned him up. He was heroin free, for now. How long he would last he wasn’t sure. Last time, it had taken him less than two days to go back to her. He knew she was still in his head and even in his system somewhere.
Now he was ready to go…  Where? To What?
For two years he had lived a hellish life, but it was a life he knew, a life he had chosen, a life with purpose: get money, get a fix, stay alive.
Now he was suddenly empty and frightened, as he sat on the brink of a new start.
What was he going to live for?
The door of the room opened and Vivienne walked in.
“Hi.” She smiled. “Packed?”
“Yeah… all done.” He faintly smiled back.
She sat by him. “Are you scared?”
Ryan nodded. “Terrified.” He nervously laughed. “Aren’t you?”
“No, why should I be?”
“What if I disappoint you again?”
“You won’t.”
“But what if I do? How can you be so sure, when even I am not?”
Vivienne held his hand. “Remember when we were children and you had a nightmare?”
He nodded in silence.
“You used to run to me then,” she continued. “You jumped in my bed and hugged me. And I would hug you back and tell you a funny story or a joke to make you laugh.”
“You were good at that.” He squeezed her hand tighter. “Making me laugh.”
“This is where the nightmare ends. Now comes the part where I’ll make you laugh again.” She caressed his hair. “I won’t let you disappear this time, so don’t even think about it.”
“It’ll be hard, Viv.”
“I know.”
“I will fall at some point, I know I will. And it will test you.”
“I’m ready for that.”
“And the other thing…” Ryan looked down at his feet.
“We’ll go through it together.”
He lifted his eyes, pouring into hers his silent fears, and she wrapped her arms around him.
“You heard what the doctors said,” she tried to reassure him.
“Yes, I know.” He didn’t sound convinced. “HIV is not AIDS. There are medications, people can live longer.” He leaned his head over hers. “It’s still fucking scary, though.”
“I know. We’ll take one day at the time, with everything.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard.” Again Ryan gave a short, bitter laugh. “I’ve been living one day at the time for a long while.”
“I’ll be with you for as long as you need me.”
“What about Alex? I imagine he’s not too happy about having me in his home.”
“You’ll be in my home.”
“His too, and I know what he thinks of me.”
“He doesn’t think anything.”
“Don’t lie, Viv. He thinks I’m a waste of time and space. Why shouldn’t he? Even my parents think I’m not worth the effort.”
“That’s not true…”
“It fucking is! You know it better than I do.”
“They did their best, Ryan, they came to see you.”
Ryan moved away from her and walked to the window. “They could have saved themselves the trouble, really, for the good it did.”
Behind him Vivienne sighed. “They tried, Ryan. But mum is weak and dad is stubborn.”
“And ashamed of me.”
Ryan let his gaze wander beyond the glass, to the courtyard below.
His parents had come to visit a week after he had been admitted, finally persuaded by Vivienne. They had disowned him years before, so he wasn’t expecting tears and embraces. As it happened there were plenty of tears coming from his mother.
“I can’t even look at you.” She had sobbed. “What have you reduced yourself to? What have you done to us? You ruined us, Ryan, ruined us!”
His father did not speak. Just stood a few paces from him, darting his condemnation. I’m only here for your mother. You broke her, but she still wanted to see you. So I brought her here and that is all.
 “And now you have AIDS too!” his mother had wailed.
“HIV, mum,” he had corrected her, not really sure why. She lived in her own world most of the time, made up of truths and realities she had built for herself. If she had it in her mind he was dying of AIDS, there wouldn’t be anything he could say to make her see differently.
“AIDS!” As expected his mother didn’t listen. “I can’t even begin to imagine the sordid life you must have led.”
Ryan batted his eyelids a couple of times to shake off the painful memory of that visit.
Sordid…
It was a fitting description of the abuses he had subjected himself to.
“I’m sordid,” he commented aloud, following his train of thoughts. He turned to Vivienne, a smirk creasing his lips. “I take some comfort in thinking that a certain fucker probably is too now,” he said.
“Please, don’t.” Vivienne interrupted him. “I don’t want to know what happened.”
“You don’t?” Ryan’s voice was cutting. “You say you’re ready for me, but are you? Do you know what I have become? How low I sank? How many fucked me? What they did to me? What I did to them? Do you want to know, Viv? I’m sordid. You have no idea how disgusting I am. And you want to take me home with you, think that it’s going to be like when we were children and everything was clean, but it’s not, Viv… it’s not…” He hid his face in his hands and broke down.
“Ryan…”
He heard her moving from the bed, once again felt her arms around him: his little big sister.
“It’ll be ok.” She held him. “It’ll be ok. It was just a nightmare, that’s all.”
Ryan hugged her back. “I can’t laugh anymore.”
“You will.  I’ll make you.”
He nodded and cried, hiding his face in her hair.
“Come on.” She gently patted him. “Let’s go home, now.”


The End