- Night and Day now available for Kindle pre-order
Night and Day is now available for Pre-Order on Amazon for Kindle ebooks by clicking on the links: Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca at a price of $2.99/£2.31/CDN$3.87. It will also be available from other Amazon international outlets and through Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.
This is the title of my new book, introducing a new 1930s mystery series with a new female amateur detective, Dottie Manderson. The Kindle ebook will be released on 27th October 2016 on Amazon for Kindle ebook, and a week or so later for the paperback and other ebook versions such as Nook, iPad, mobi, pdf and word doc, with the second book of the series The Mantle of God appearing in spring of 2017, and book three, The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish coming out in the autumn of 2017.
If you’d like to read the opening chapter, you can read it here.
A huge thank you to everyone for their encouragement and support.
- Announcing my new murder mystery series…
I’ve been writing the first book and half of the second book of a new series this year. Book One is due out this autumn, and will be called – more or less – Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery. It’s set in London in the winter of 1932/3. Dottie is a young woman, single, and although from a fairly well-to-do background, also works as a mannequin–these days we would call her a model–in a small fashion house called ‘Carmichael and Jennings, Exclusive Modes’.
To quickly explain, as the story opens, Dottie is on her way to the house of her married sister Flora, after an evening at the theatre. As Dottie walks along the dark street, she finds a man lying on the pavement, he has been stabbed. As he dies, he sings a few words to her from the song Night and Day, from the stage play Gay Divorce.
I chose the era because it is a time that fascinates me – that all-too-brief moment between the end of World War I in 1918 and the realisation in the late 1930s that there was going to be another terrible war, with its consequent devastation.
How they must have rejoiced when the Armistice came. It meant so much – not just no more fighting, no more war, no more death on a vast scale. It meant people could get back to their lives again, no more dreading the knock of the postman, no more fearing to marry or start a family; the men could think about working again and for those who were well-to-do, they could plan a career again. Optimism believed that social and political issues would be confronted and dealt with, in the great new era of progress, and everything was ‘normal’ again. Women had the vote, and if actual equality was still lagging behind, at least there was the sense that things were changing.
I wanted to capture that time; I’m not trying to hold a mirror up to society to confront major issues, I leave that to those who know more about those things. I just want to entertain, and help readers escape into a time when the biggest war was over, life was less driven than it is today, a time when ideals were still intact and most people still thought politicians were people of wisdom and integrity.
What was happening in 1932?
There were already troubling events and the Nazis were already on the rise; in Britain hunger marches were taking place and of course the recession had bit hard. There was, as now, a great gulf between the haves and the have-nots. According to Good Housekeeping in 1931, a reasonable family annual budget, including school fees and medical expenses, was £410: many people didn’t even earn that much.
It can’t be a coincidence that during these difficult times, a whole new range of chocolate confectionery was introduced, including in 1934 the Mars bar at 2d (a penny in today’s Britain) and a new-fangled electric kettle would have set you back 12/- 6d or about 50p.
In 1933 Schiapperelli introduced the new ‘zip’ fastener to her fashion range, and buttons on dresses began to seem like old hat. The zip had been around for about forty years by then but was not used in clothing before the 1930s apart from on windcheaters and the odd boot.
Fred Astaire and Claire Luce had enjoyed success with a Broadway show called Gay Divorce which featured the songs of Cole Porter, and they brought the show to London in November 1932; in 1934 the show was released as a film, with Ginger Rogers replacing Claire Luce in the female lead role, and the film was renamed The Gay Divorcee.
I am planning – and hoping, with everything crossed – to release a series of murder mystery books featuring Dottie Manderson as the amateur detective, and with Inspector William Hardy as the professional detective she butts heads with and has a bit of a thing for.
I’m planning to release The Mantle of God – Dottie Manderson mysteries book 2 in the Spring/Summer of 2017 and later the same year, book three – The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish.
If you would like to read chapter one of book one – Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery, please click on the title to go to the page.
- The Postcard – a short story
‘Have you typed up that contract yet?’
My manager’s voice cut into my little lonely bubble and made me jump half out of my skin. He glowered a bit, angry with me for being startled, but he was somewhat mollified when I told him I only had two more pages to go out of the original 19.
‘By lunchtime, yeah?’ he reminded me as he moved away to pester someone else.
I can’t stand it here. I’ve been here a month but it feels like a life-sentence. A weekend is just not enough parole time for the working week that precedes it.
I stared at the postcard my predecessor left pinned to the hessian wall of the cubicle. It shows a ramshackle cottage on a beach, an empty beach, with palm trees and golden sand that seems to stretch on for miles, lapped by blue, blue water. And nothing else. No one else.
The cottage wasn’t really a cottage, it was more like a shed or a hut. The roof looks like it would blow away in a hurricane. And this looks like the kind of place where they actually have hurricanes. And the walls don’t exactly look sound. There are cracks between the boards—I can imagine all kinds of creepy crawlies getting in through those. And there’s only one small window, partially boarded over. There’s a wonky railing around what appears to be a microscopic veranda.
But all the same…The card seems to call to me. Wish you were here? Oh yes, I most certainly do.
With each passing day I look at it more and more. My eyes are drawn to it.
On Monday, after a tense weekend of knowing what awaits me once Sunday is over, I return to my cell, turn on my computer, and take my first look of the week at the card. Then work begins, I get my head down and get on with things. And quite often, I hardly look up from my desk until half an hour after I should have gone home. That’s Monday madness.
Tuesday is not a lot better, though I quite often get a lunch break and I usually leave more or less on time. I glance at the picture several times on a Tuesday.
Wednesday is easier—the lull before the end-of-the-week storm. Usually I catch up on some filing or photocopying, both of which keep me away from my desk for a while—so I often forget all about the little hut.
Thursday things start to get crazy again—contracts to type, documents to chase, people to phone, emails, faxes, and yet more phone calls. It’s manic but still only a dress rehearsal for Frantic Friday. It’s a bit like grocery shopping the last weekend before Christmas—total chaos with everyone grabbing haphazardly at things just in case they never get any food again.
Friday. So close to the weekend but such a horror to live through week after week. That’s when I seek refuge the most often, gazing at the picture, really drinking in that impossibly blue sky, reflected in the improbably blue water, the wide expanse of deserted beach. As if by the sheer force of my concentration I can transport myself there. I can almost hear the soft sound of the water washing up onto the shore.
The office is huge. And we are all tucked away in our little cells—our cubicles which accommodate our desk, chairs, computer, phone and trays upon trays of paperwork. I remember once years ago people used to say that using computer systems would make most administration processes redundant, and that there would be a huge reduction in paperwork. The strange, alluring legend of the paperless office. There are 86 of us on this floor. 86 computers all warming the heavy recycled air with their hot little components. 86 chairs on rollers that don’t quite roll. 86 miserable people kept in little squares like veal calves or stray dogs waiting to be adopted or euthanised, housed temporarily until either retirement or death claims us—either one is good at the moment.
They play the radio over the PA system—to ‘keep up morale’. The problem is, there is only one radio, and 86 tastes in music. I find it so stressful to listen to boy bands and rock chicks and divas all day long. It’s mentally exhausting.
Then there’s the constant toing and froing of the workers—like being on some crowded stairs—figures bustling back and forth, not friends, not visitors, just milling about.
I bet that doesn’t happen on that little beach. I bet it’s quiet all the time. If I sat on that little veranda, I bet all I would hear if I closed my eyes would be the soft rustling of the palm trees, the sound of the occasional bird overhead, the sound of the waves and my own calm breath, moving in and out and washing away my tension.
I bet no one ever yells out ‘what the hell has happened to the accounting software updates?’ I bet if people ever came to that hut they would bring a small gift—some fruit, perhaps or maybe some flowers. And I’d make tea, and we could sit on that veranda and look at the water. We could talk if we wanted to, but I wouldn’t mind if we didn’t.
‘What happened to that blue folder marked ‘urgent’?’ My manager barks in my ear suddenly, and I accidentally type half a dozen letter Ys on the screen as I jerk round to look at him. He glares at me again. ‘Daydreaming again? For God’s sake, keep you mind on your work. Then maybe folders wouldn’t keep disappearing.’
He’s gone again and I’m fighting back tears. It seems so unfair that I’m here in this place when there are places like the one on the postcard on the wall. I know people say we all have bad days, you’ll feel better tomorrow. But this dread, this slow, cold death has been going on for decades. What if it’s not how I feel in a passing moment of self-pity but it’s the length and breadth of my whole existence?
This is all I’ve ever known. All I’m likely to know until I retire. It’s no good telling me that when I retire I can do all the things I’ve dreamed of, like travelling. Why do I have to wait until my life is almost over to begin enjoying it? I don’t just need a holiday, I need a whole change of life.
I’m hardly thinking. I reach out and grab the postcard off the wall. I lean down under the desk to pull out my handbag. I thrust the postcard inside and put my bag under my arm. I turn and look around me. I see nothing that is mine. I get up, and walk away down the aisle to the lift.
At the lift door, I wait impatiently. When it arrives and the door opens, I feel a sense of excitement, of doing something terribly naughty yet wonderful. I step inside before anyone tries to stop me. As the doors close, I realise no one has even noticed me leave my desk, and as the lift drops towards the ground, I wonder how long it will be before they realise I’ve gone.
No one even sees me walk out of the big double doors. No one. I’m nothing to them. As I hurry down the hill towards the railway station, so aware of the precious cargo in my bag, I feel a slight pang of guilt.
Perhaps I should have left the postcard to brighten the day of the next poor sap that occupies my cubicle.
- What shall I do if I grow up?
At school many years ago, I was delighted when we had to do ‘work experience’.
If you live outside the UK, you may not have heard of this, although you’ve probably got your own similar system. Basically part of the curriculum for those approaching the earliest school leaving age was that we had to spend a week ‘working’ in a job or organisation we were considering for a career. You didn’t get paid, you just went along–it was pre-agreed between the organisation and the school–and you ‘did’ your chosen job for a week, to see if you thought you would like it. How you could tell after just a week, I don’t know. Kids went all over – to other schools, to factories, to offices, to shops, to garages and workshops.
I was one of two very lucky ones. I had a week at the local newspaper. I remember that week I had my sixteenth birthday, and I spent the whole day in the petty sessions court, ‘covering’ local cases. It was an old court, and extremely cold and dark in there, sitting all day on a hard wooden bench with no cushions. I found out a lot about journalism that day – I discovered it was mostly sitting about, freezing my backside off, desperate for the loo, and trying not to yawn. But I loved it. I was shadowing a journalist, a young woman who drove a vintage car–it all seemed so glamorous, so exciting, even the dull bits. I can still remember–forty years later–some of the cases we heard that day. Okay, they weren’t lurid murders or the ‘headline’ type cases we see in the national papers, but they were nevertheless about real people in real situations.
I was thrilled to have a piece I wrote printed that week (with a few revisions!). And a few other bits I did. And when we were summoned to meet the top man, chief editor, maybe, I can’t remember, he offered me a job. Sadly the offices closed down and relocated elsewhere, and I couldn’t remember the guy’s name and I didn’t get one of the exam passes I needed, so I never went into journalism. I let my parents talk me out of it, but I have always regretted not following journalism as a career.
Here are a few other career ideas I have considered, and why I feel I wasn’t suited to them.
P.I. – couldn’t be a private investigator as I get bored quite quickly, would probably fall asleep when watching someone, or forget who I was following.
Psychologist – I’m very interested in psychology but I’d definitely over-empathise with the hard-luck stories, but for those who didn’t recover quickly I’d get impatient and tell them to get a grip.
Sniper – I’d love to be a sniper but my eyesight’s not great, and I have a terrible memory for faces so I’d probably kill the wrong person, plus I’m scared of heights, so couldn’t do any of that rooftop stuff. Plus, you know, it’s wrong. Oh, and I hate mess.
Recluse – I could absolutely be a recluse so long as I could live in a comfy home with lots of chocolate, coffee and books. And the internet, I’d def need the internet. And shops. And cafes…
Librarian – Oh how I love books! BUT…I wouldn’t want anyone else to borrow them, so…
Archivist – Been there, done that, got the bad back to prove it. Thing is, you get everything looking nice in the little gloomy room, with all the matching boxes facing the same way and looking really neat, then people come in and want to take stuff away. I can’t allow that. It’s mine, all mine, my little hoard of information.
Vicar – I’ve thought about it but I’m not a very patient or caring person, plus I can’t kneel, it hurts my knees. And I can’t sing. And I don’t like red wine or tight collars. Or those freaky statues they always have in churches.
Secretary – No! My typing is atrocious, I hate answering the phone and I would never fetch anyone’s dry-cleaning.
Teacher – Patience with kids – yes. Patience with parents – LOL NO! ‘What do you mean you didn’t help Jimmy with his reading homework? Are you stupid?’ Plus, if a kid was sick, I couldn’t help them, I can’t deal with that. I’d probably burst into tears.
Poet – the ruffled shirts would make my boobs look even huger, and I always get my trochees mixed up with my spondees. And I have never wandered lonely as a cloud, more like a bag lady.
So, I think maybe I’ll just carry on carrying on, and hopefully one day find my niche as a novelist.
- The Name Game
I guess we all know that names are really important when writing fiction.
Recently highly-esteemed author Susan Elizabeth Phillips said that she had struggled to write a story about a character called Ben, but one day she realised she should change his name, and then the story seemed to fall into place. I completely understand where she was coming from. I’ve even had a story in my head that I couldn’t begin because I had no name for the protagonist, even though I had a substantial amount of plot figured out.
You might rationalise this and say that the name is irrelevant, at least during the writing process. That characters are fictional, mere creations, they have no will to change or do or possess one name more than another.
But plenty of authors will disagree with this, stating that their characters often surprise them with plot detours and unplanned events and traits, and that characters inhabit a name that is right for them.
Character names matter because in society, names refer to a specific person and conjure up a specific range of behaviours and traits. I’ve heard people say ‘I hate the name Laura.’ (Just as an example and nothing detrimental intended to the Lauras of the world!) What they really mean is, ‘I once knew someone called Laura and she was horrid, and now whenever I meet someone with that name, I remember what she did.’
Names are of their time, their cultural and social background. If you think of a name, it will very often conjure up an idea of a person. If I say to you Madge, you will likely think of an older lady, not too well off. If I say Alex, you might stumble because that name can be used for males and females, and has the advantage of working for people from various nations and times in history. If I say Harrison, you will first think of Harrison Ford unless you personally know someone else with that name. If I say Daisy, you might possibly think of the former Countess of Warwick, but you’re far more likely to think of a small child as the name is very much back ‘in’. All too often we think of celebrities or those who are infamous rather than famous. Famous or infamous names have a long history. For this reason, not many little boys are christened Adolf, whereas a hundred years ago, it was a popular name. So names do not exist in a vacuum, waiting to be plucked randomly from the shelf.
If you are looking for a name for a major character, or a pen name for yourself, or a series title which will contain a name, it is vital you do your research. Google and check Amazon at the very least, because it is all too easy to choose a name already in use, and you don’t want to lose sales or become crowded out by too many occurrences of the same name. I almost had a main character called Ben Sherman. At first I couldn’t understand how good, how ‘right’ the two names sounded together. Until I decided to just have a quick check…I’m glad I did. Yes, in real life people do have the same name, but it isn’t a good idea for it to happen in fiction. I recently edited a trilogy of books for a client, each story featuring a different brother, as is common these days. Sadly the working series title was the same as a well-selling high-profile series already published, I discovered upon checking, and the series title was changed.
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but in fiction-writing terms, finding the right name is crucial to writing the right story, and getting it ‘out there’ to the waiting readers.
- Time for a tactical withdrawal
Just lately I’ve been immersed in revising the first draft of my WIP. Actually it’s not so much a first draft as a mish-mash of various drafts. I’ve been through the whole thing twice and worked on separate specific parts numerous times. But while I’ve been trying to concentrate on getting on with this–because I’m still hoping to publish in September–I have been under siege!
There’s the work, obviously, that needs to be done on a daily basis. Then there’s the time I grudgingly share with my family. (I mean, I do love them and for some reason they put up with me but when I’m doing stuff with them, my laptop is calling me.) And I’ve had (still got) the typical summer cold which comes with sore throat, pounding head and sneezing. My energy levels have been drained to nothing and then I get the emails and the social media messages: ’12/10/8/6/5/3 TOP TIPS to improve/upgrade/build/maintain/push/leverage/enhance your (fill in absolutely anything here)’
I mean, this stuff just comes at you from every direction. Everyone has a ‘top tip’ to give you to tell you how to do what you’re already doing even better. And it’s never anything good or helpful – it’s always stuff you already know and have been doing for years. It’s nearly always obvious, common sense stuff that is not in the least anyone’s ‘special’ or ‘exclusive’ insight. Normally, it’s stuff your mum/teacher/doctor/best friend/priest told you twenty years ago. There are a lot of people out there making money from selling old hat/rope.
So here’s my advice, because I love a bandwagon:
Ignore them all and just carry on doing what you’re doing. Go indoors, batten down the hatches, pull out the internet cable, have a nice cup of coffee and a couple of chocolate digestives and get back to doing what you know works for you, and stop worrying about whether you should be doing everything the way some celebrity entrepreneur does it. You’re okay.
- Create your reader
Recently someone asked me what age group of reader I was targeting with my WIP. My initial reaction was probably the same as most people: “all of them!”
After all, as writers, we want to reach as many people as possible, don’t we? It puts me in mind of board games where it says on the side of the box “fun for the whole family: aged 8 to 80”. (Sorry you 81-year-olds!) And that’s kind of how I feel about my books: Ihope they will be enjoyed by people older than me and younger, and those who are my (approximate) age. We want to reach as many as we can with our work, and are reluctant to rule anyone out. After all, we know that not all fantasy is read by young people, that not all family saga is read by older people. There are always plenty of people who don’t fit into marketing stereotypes, and we don’t want to disregard them just because they are a bit different to what it says on the box.
I’ve read several times this week about the importance of having in your mind an image of your perfect, or some might say, average reader, and of writing your book as if you are writing for that one person. The idea is that it makes it easier to keep your book focused, and to maintain consistency of POV and tense.
I’d go a step further. Use a real person. Most of us have that one person we talk to about our writing, or one or two people. Most of us run ideas past them for feedback, let them read the messy first drafts, and sob on their shoulders when we get a stinking review. These are–hopefully–the people who can look us in the eye and say “Sweetie-pie, in all honesty, it sucks. Write something else.” Let’s face it, you already know this person so well, you know what they like, what they don’t like, their favourite colour, and their alcoholic drink of choice. So it seems to me it is simply good sense to use them as a sounding board during the writing process, not just after it.
BUT…If you don’t have someone in your life like that, you can just as easily create a mental image of a perfect reader in the same way as you create the rest of your book and people its pages with characters. Okay, so they won’t buy you a G & T when you’re down, but they can still be useful. Give your person a name and an identity, with the quirks and foibles of real people. See them in your mind and address them as if they were real and present in the room with you. Speak to them directly as you write–tell them the story. If it helps you could even put at the top of your first page, “Dear (insert name here!), I am writing to tell you the story of…” –after all, you can always remove this later.
It doesn’t matter if your perfect reader is real or pretend, so long as they act as your creative muse and encourage you to find your voice and get writing.
- The new notebook – it’s a geeky writer thing
What is it about a new notebook that feels so special and exciting? I remember when I used to get a new exercise book at school. The pristine, crisp cover with its straight, perfect corners. The clean white pages, somehow calling me, inspiring me yet at the same time seemingly forbidding. With the same irresistible allure as an expanse of pure untrodden snow.
And of course, this untrammeled beauty demands the neatest handwriting, the loftiest thoughts and the total absence of mistakes or crossings-out. I’ve failed in all three areas today. But that won’t stop me. I don’t need to put on airs and graces here.
A new notebook marks a new beginning. Nothing that has gone before will affect this notebook. There’s no memory here of previous failures. It doesn’t know of the times I’ve written trite, shallow, meaningless, unsatisfying rubbish. It doesn’t know of the times when I’ve tried a wee bit too hard and sounded like a Shakespeare wannabe, or worse, like a textbook on How To Write Fiction Really Really Well.
The new notebook opens up a world of new possibilities. It invites me to take risks and to experiment – it promises not to tell anyone if things don’t go quite right. It is a co-conspirator, a friend, a confidante. I could write anything in here, and it won’t give me away. I think I’ll try it. What have I got to lose? Nothing. But I could gain everything I’ve ever wanted. Or even just take one step towards that goal.
You could do the same.
- Engaging the senses
Last week’s post about creating a sense of place led me to thinking about how often we are told to engage our senses to create a world the reader can visualise or feel as a real place. I must admit, this is something I don’t always think about, as I’m not one for writing lengthy scenes of description. But in some of my work, I can see that using sensory descriptions is a useful way of getting the story across.
What do I mean by sensory descriptions? I mean using your five senses to show the reader what is going on, or to set a scene without ‘telling’. Show them what you can see, tell them what you can hear, describe scents and feelings and textures to create in the mind of your reader a kind of 3D image, a deep sense of place.
Here is an extract of a story I wrote a few years ago.
The receptionist was efficient and friendly, but still remained sympathetic. As soon as Gina said why she was there, the receptionist summoned an orderly to take her to the intensive care ward.
He smiled a sad, grave smile and with a little bow left her standing in the doorway with the Sister.
Sister touched her arm lightly, and said, “he’s just along here, he’s been asking for you.”
And so there she was, sitting by the bed, holding the thin, cold hand and the machines all around made the corner of the tiny ward seem crowded.
Now you can tell – just about – from this short scene that it is set in a hospital – but it’s not very clear, is it? When I sent this to betareaders, one person said that it didn’t ‘seem’ like the character was in a hospital. And she was right. Because what’s the first thing you notice about a hospital? Exactly – the smell! And for me at least, the second thing I noticed was the temperature – it’s so hot in those places!
If I’d opened with, ‘The smell of disinfectant and yesterday’s boiled cabbage almost made her gag as she hurried to the reception desk,’ that might have been a better indicator. In my experience hospitals also tend to be very busy, bustling places – you never get from the entrance to the bedside without stepping round about forty people and almost being run down by laundry trains and wheelchairs. Then there’s the tannoy system: ‘Dr McDreamy to Theatre 7, please!’ and ‘We’d like to remind you that smoking is not permitted in any part of the hospital’. And the shops and cafes and the worried people and the crying children, and the white-clad nurses, and the squeak of rubber-soled shoes on the polished floors, and doors banging. And the bright lights and dinging of the lift/elevator. It’s like a city in one huge building.
So there was a lot more I could have done with this vital opening scene.
Ask yourself, what do I see, what can I smell, what can I hear? What do I touch or feel? Can I taste anything? Engage the senses in your writing and you will engage your reader.
- Write your memories to build a sense of setting
Last week I talked about world-building. I was talking about making any setting of your work of fiction real for the reader. It’s not just about how it looks, how you describe the setting for the reader, it’s also about an authentic emotional reaction. When I was trying to capture a sense of setting as part of a course many years ago, I wrote this piece called, simply, ‘When I was four’, it’s based on my childhood memory of roaming blissfully through meadowland in Kent, in the south of England. It is rather long – sorry about that.
More than anything, all those years ago, I remember the buttercups. I was—what? Four years old? And standing in the gently sloping field, I remember the delight, the astonishment of being surrounded by all these tall flowers—almost shoulder high, and I looked about me in wonder at the bright golden flower heads, interwoven with ox-eye daisies and other, unknown meadow flowers. All were almost as tall as I was, and I felt I had strayed into a magic kingdom. I felt like a princess. I’ve been trying to recapture that feeling all my life.
There were bees, and butterflies. I don’t remember much else about that time really, except for two things, the river and the caravan.
All the mothers who worked on the farm brought their kids with them during the holidays. Some of us, the littler ones, were there all the time, too young to go to school. The group of children ranged in age from toddler to pre-teen, or possibly teenage. I remember the big boys seemed very big, but they may have been just 10 or 12. While our mothers worked in the fields, planting or earthing up or digging up potatoes, or cutting cabbages, or training beans or hops or picking them, or laying straw beneath the strawberry plants or – joyous task! – picking the strawberries, we kids roamed the countryside freely, day in, day out, while the long days of the school holidays lasted, and then the big kids went back to school and there was just me and a couple of babies.
We may have been bored much of the time, but I don’t remember it. We may have squabbled and fought, but again, I can’t remember it now. And very likely it rained, but I only recall days of sunshine and warm soft breezes, of laughter and happiness and freedom. I remember how we kids roamed around in a big bunch, chasing and hiding and climbing and running. I remember one of the big kids pulling me out of the river when I fell in. I remember standing on the little bridge and staring down at the water, and that my Dalek, from Woolworths, fell in and it was borne away a short distance before disappearing from my sight and I was inconsolable.
Yes, the river. Bodies of water have always seemed to draw me – perhaps a link to a seafaring ancestor? – and between the ages of 4 and around 17, I fell in pretty much every body of water I went near. I spent many hours sitting in the sunshine waiting for my clothes to dry.
I don’t remember the clothes I first wore when we used to go ‘to the fields’ – but after a short while – or maybe after payday – my Mum bought me something new and exciting and wonderful – my first jeans. I remember the waist was elasticated and that the broad stretchy band was soft and fuzzy on the inside and I loved the feel of it. I doubt the new jeans stayed stiff and dark blue for long, what with scrambling up trees and over stiles and gates, crawling through dirt and up and rolling down hills, but I never stopped loving my jeans.
Of course, for the hottest part of the year, there were shorts. And I did love my shorts, even to the point of wearing them at Christmas, with long socks and a jumper and my knees turning blue with cold. I hated skirts and dresses and girly stuff.
Footwear was again a choice of 2 simple pleasures – red T-bar sandals for the summer and black wellies for the winter. I loved both of these. I’m fairly sure I tried to wear my new wellies to bed once, though that may have been one of my cousins.
So, it was stripy t-shirt, shorts and sandals by day during the summer, my dark hair done up in one long fat plait down my back. And for the winter it was a hand-knitted jumper, jeans and wellies – what was there not to love?
As I’ve said, the river used to draw us kids, and we enjoyed the countryside, chasing, climbing, hiding, but the best, most amazing thing about this part of the farm was what lay at the top of a sloping field. Something I had never seen before, something that seemed at once magical, yet homely.
An old gypsy caravan, it had been parked there, I suppose, as a refuge from the weather for workers or whomever. We kids found endless hours of amusement in it. The girls particularly, were keen to play house and furnish the bare walls and floor from their imaginations.
The caravan had been completely stripped of all the colourful and ingenious fittings that normally make a caravan a home. And I don’t remember if it was brightly painted outside or not.
I can remember how much I loved the echoey noise my feet made as I clomped up and down the bare boards, and how we used to put dusty soil into the abandoned grate and as we stirred it up with sticks, pretend the dust that rose was smoke from the embers. And I enjoyed sitting on the top step looking out across the fields.
I wasn’t brave or adventurous like some of the other, bigger kids, and they could never persuade me to jump from the top step as they did, it was scary-high. But I managed to jump from the bottom step and the middle step.
There was a handsome young man called Roy. He wasn’t one of the kids. At sixteen he was one of the grown-ups and he worked on the farm, driving the tractor. He always waved to me, and would often stop and talk to me. I – of course – followed him around with the worshipful attitude of a small puppy. He used to stop the big kids picking on me, so there must have been squabbles and rivalries after all, and I still remember his kindness to a little kid with gratitude.
But looking back to that time, the overwhelmingly pervasive memory of those days for me is that of standing shoulder-deep amongst a crowd of buttercups and feeling as though I were part of something magical and beautiful. I’m still trying to recapture that moment when I was four.