Catch up from end of book 2…

new powerpoint cover

I am so happy–and maybe ever so slightly relieved–to announce that book 3 of my trilogy will be released on February 11 2016. It is currently available to pre-order. I set out to write a murder mystery, but it’s actually more of a murder not-very-mysterious, as like in Columbo, you see quite a bit from the point of view of the killer (spoiler alert!), Cressida, who writes everything down in her journal. Even the stuff she probably should keep secret.

In a few days I will be posting a ‘sneak peek’ from book 3, but in the meantime, here’s a teeny snippet from the end of book 2 to remind us all where we had got to:

Friday 31 October – 11.10pm

What a f*****g nightmare! I can’t decide if I’m furiously, furiously angry, or if I’m desperately, desperately frightened. Probably I’m both.

Mavis and Henrietta came to collect the little ones for their evening of fun at half past four on the dot.

Paddy was dressed as a cowboy with dinosaur persuasions – green claw hands, and an intermittent growl – and Billy went as a fairy slash ballerina in a cute little baby-pink tutu borrowed from Sara – Millie has outgrown it (unfortunately she’s quite the little dumpling). Lill and I made the wings and the wand this afternoon. Billy was so excited. In fact, we were too.

I asked Sara if she was taking her kids out but it turned out she was taking them to her mother’s, and they were all staying overnight.

Anyway…

So the children looked gorgeous and I took a quick few pics just before they went out.

By six o’clock I was eagerly awaiting their home-coming, excited to hear how it went.

By a quarter past, with no sign, I was a bit edgy, a bit put-out.

Just before half past six, Henrietta, sobbing, along with Stephen and Madison, pounded on the door.

I feel sick just remembering. As soon as I saw them there, I knew something bad had happened. In my mind I saw an accident and their little bodies broken.  It was worse than that.

The old biddies had got talking to a friend they met in the lane.  They didn’t notice that Billy and Paddy weren’t there – that they were gone.

They looked around, checking back down the part of the lane they had already covered, asked a couple of people they saw – no one had noticed anything. The lanes were empty. No sign of two small children in the dark.

At first Henrietta and Mavis were too scared to come and tell us, so they kept trying to find the children, and they enlisted a few friends to help them comb the village, but then Madison and Stephen together had managed to persuade them to come back and let us know what had happened.

While Henrietta was telling us this, and sobbing as she did so, Matt was swearing and pulling on his trainers, Lill was trying not to cry, and Sid was on the phone trying to get through to the police. And I – I was just numb, sitting on the bottom stair, just staring at Henrietta. It couldn’t be true?

She kept saying she was sorry as we made our way back down the lane to where she and Mavis had last seen them. As we reached the spot, a couple of other people were coming just coming out of a garden gate.

“Anything?” Henrietta called out, almost falling into Mavis’s arms but reaching out to the other people.

“Nothing,” they said, shaking their heads.

Mavis tsked and said, “naughty little buggers, wandering off.”

I just managed to stop Matt from losing his temper completely – not that I was far behind – but it wouldn’t help matters if he punched an eighty-year-old. I was fighting back tears to hear someone I thought of as a friend talking about my children like that.

But I just said, “where have you already checked?” She waved her hand about her vaguely and said, “that way and over there, and your end. Pretty much everywhere.”

“If you’d looked everywhere,” I growled, “you would have found them.”

“Well really, there’s no need…”

“There’s every need,” I said, “have there been any cars through the village? Any cars or people you didn’t recognise?”

“There was a white Renault Clio parked down the hill a bit, maybe half an hour ago,” a woman I didn’t know said. At that moment, a few houses away, a firework went off and made me half jump out of my skin; I tasted blood and knew I’d bitten my lip in shock. Of course. It was only a few days from Guy Fawkes’ Night and there were always a few idiots with more money than sense letting off a stray rocket or something.

I shivered. I had to find them. Wewe had to find them. They’d be cold and scared by now. More than that I refused to even think about.

Matt and I headed off down the hill at a run, even though we could see at that distance there were no cars, white or otherwise, parked down there now. Mavis called something after us but I couldn’t hear what it was and I ignored her, still furious. That woman was no longer my friend.

The hill was one of those long, meandering ones. I had a vague recollection of an old, overgrown children’s play area near the bottom of the hill. Hardly anybody goes there any more as the equipment is largely broken and rusted, the site is up for redevelopment. The older kids go there to hang out sometimes and smoke cigarettes without their parents finding out. But I clutched at Matt’s arm,

“The playground.” I panted. Somehow I knew that was the place. Mercifully he didn’t ask me for an explanation, he just gave me a look and raced off ahead, leaving me to lumber along as quickly as I could. All those hot chocolates with all the trimmings were finally taking their toll on my fitness.

I was almost at the gate, he was already inside and running across the grass, I could hear voices, children’s and his. I was gasping “ohmygodohmygodohmygod,” as I was running, and as I pushed through the gate I managed to claw back sufficient air to call out, “have you got them? Are they okay?”

He yelled back a simple, “yes!” and at the same time I heard both the children break into overwrought sobs. The sudden deafening sound was more reassuring than anything I could have expected at that moment. I reasoned, if they could make that much noise, they must be okay. I blundered forward in the dark guided by the noise and bumped into all three of them.

For a few frantic moments we simply hugged the children and each other and reassured ourselves everyone was safe.

Then, “what happened?” Matt was asking.

“That lady brung us here.” Paddy said.

“What lady? Mavis?”

“No not Mavis, a new lady. She told us to stay here until Mummy and Daddy came to get us. She said it was a game and when you winned to give you the prize.”

In the dark he held something out to me, something small and thin and pointy and cold. I couldn’t see it clearly, but I knew what it was.

It was a photo. 

Monica had stolen my children.

 

I waited until the police had gone and the children were home safely and tucked up in bed in their fluffy PJs and with their teddies next to them before I came downstairs and fell apart.

The photo was from one of those old instant cameras, like the other photos I had been sent. It showed Paddy and Billy sitting on the step of the broken down old roundabout, side by side, in their cute little costumes, looking blatantly terrified, and Billy was sucking her forefinger, which she hasn’t done for weeks now.

That was when I threw up.

Lill made me some cocoa but I couldn’t drink it. I couldn’t calm down. Lill looked at me.

“We’ve got to get the bitch that did this.” She said. We all agreed with that.

A little while ago, at half past ten, just as we were all just beginning to calm down, the phone rang. I think I’d assumed it would be Monica finally calling to enjoy the fall-out of her little prank, and I grabbed the receiver, ready to scream a stream of invective down the wire to her crazed brain. But it was Henrietta.

She sounded so broken, so defeated, so frail, I felt awful. She apologised over and over again. I spoke to her for a few minutes but it was clear I needed to speak to her face to face – her and Mavis. I knew I’d been too harsh on them, and they were too old to be left to stew in their own juices with that much guilt.

So I’m just getting dressed again to pop back out. Hopefully I’ll only be half an hour or so as I’m absolutely shattered. Matt is coming with me, I think he wants to see them too, and in any case, he doesn’t want me going out on my own after what happened this evening.

 

 

Wed 12 Nov – 2.25am

Matt here. This is the first time I’ve written in this journal since I gave it to her. She loves it. But now it’s me that needs to get things of my chest. I never imagined I’d be sitting here beside Cressida’s bed. She’s got a private room in the hospital – a bit too bloody private, if you ask me, it’s like a morgue in here.

I brought this journal in so I could leave it on the shelf by her bed. I thought she might suddenly wake up one night and see it there, and she’d be pleased to see it, a familiar thing from home.

But now it’s been twelve days.

The doctors say she is “making satisfactory progress”. That means f**k all to me. All I know is, my wife – the woman I love – is lying in bed in a coma. I want her to be okay, of course I do, but mainly all I want is for her to be at home with us, reading to the kids, talking to her friends, doing what she always does, just – f*****g – being – there.

They keep telling me it’s going to take time, but they can’t tell me how long. They tell me she’s lucky to be alive and that I should be encouraged that she’s held on this long. But I’m scared. What if she never wakes up? What will we all do without her?

I know she’s killed people, I’m not saying she’s perfect. But none of us are, are we?

That night. We just came out of the house, on our way to Henrietta’s. Cressida just felt she had to go down and see them and let them know the children was all right and make sure Mavis and Henrietta weren’t too upset, and I think she wanted to say sorry for being so angry too. And I knew I had to apologise, because if Cressida hadn’t been there I know I could of hit Mavis, I was that bloody furious.

There was a car coming along the lane, slowly. I didn’t think anything of it. There wasn’t anything weird about it. And we was just walking along in the road – you’ve got to, the roads round our way are too narrow for pavements – but we were keeping in, there was room for the car to get by, so I wasn’t worried.

Then suddenly – I didn’t even have time to call out or do anything – suddenly the car just came at us, the engine was roaring and before I had a chance to shout or to grab her, she was flying through the air, there was a massive bang as she bounced off the bumper and onto the car roof then she was there lying in a ditch at the side of the road and the car was gone. People say things like that happen in slow-motion, but that’s not true, they happen so quick your mind can’t figure out what’s going on.

It was too dark to see more than that it was a small white car, and a woman with longish hair driving it. I think it was that Clio that woman said she saw. And last time we saw her, Monica had long hair. I think it was Monica, in fact I’m sure it was. I told the police it was her.

But none of that mattered.  As soon as I realised what had happened, as soon as I kind of came to life again, I ran to Cressida. I had my phone in my pocket and I was scrambling down into the ditch and can remember I was almost crying and I was practically praying, just saying please God, please God, over and over again, and yet I was sure, I was so sure she would be dead when I got there, and none of it seemed like it was really happening and I just couldn’t take it in.

I was too scared to move her in case I might hurt her worse and I was trying to explain to the emergency operator and I was trying to find a pulse. The operator was telling me what to do and I had to keep wiping my eyes because I couldn’t see what I was doing, and she kept saying, ‘they’re on their way, they’ll be there soon, just hang on.’

It seemed to take hours for the ambulance to arrive, and then there were problems with them trying to get her out of the ditch so that took a while.

Then she was taken straight into theatre.

By the time they let me see her it was almost four in the morning and she was in a coma. They knew the damage by then. Smashed kneecap, broken pelvis, broken arm and wrist, grazes, cuts, bruises, broken jaw, fractured skull, brain swelling.

But the baby – I couldn’t believe it – he’s all right. They say he’s fine.  Because she was hit from behind, all the injuries are on the back and right side of the body, or on her knees and hands as she fell, that’s what took all the impact. I thought for sure we’d lost the baby.

I rang my Mum, she was crying, I was crying. It was a good thing Leanne was at the house. First time ever she’s been useful, but it meant Dad could bring Mum to the hospital and leave Leanne to look after the children.

The three of us sat in the room with Cressida the last few hours of that first night, hoping she’d wake up. She didn’t. She still hasn’t. But we just keep hoping.

Please wake up, Cressida, I can’t do this without you.

Love Matt.

 

So I hope that’s served as a reminder for those of you wonderful people who’ve read the first two books, and if you haven’t read them, I do hope you’ll give me a try. Tune in next week for another episode!

Time for a recap – and plan ahead

IMGP0387

It’s that time of year. TV is full of programmes that round up the highlights of their Best Of lists, counting down from 100, or 50 or 30 or 20, to the mythical eminence of the number one spot – ta-da – the winner, the best…

You probably know by now that like a lot of writers, I’m a bit of an introvert, and rather self-absorbed. I constantly reassess myself throughout the year, not just here, at the year’s-end. In fact I’m notorious, at home anyway, for overthinking everything.

This year I’ve benefitted hugely by the amount of information, how-tos and research that is available on the Internet, and it has helped me to do a number of things I couldn’t before, so thank you to everyone who shares and publishes their knowledge ‘out there’ in the ether. I’ve learned how to link social media bits together to avoid having to put the same content out there numerous times, I’ve learned how to develop my contacts and connections and build my platform (ongoing project though!). I’ve learned that when people say ‘Do what ever you want’ they really mean ‘Do whatever I tell you to do’. I’ve improved my cover-designing skills, found new resources, built my freelancing profile, (earned some actual money!) I’ve become more organised. I’ve achieved some goals. I’ve missed some by a mile. And one thing I’ve learned, especially in this last two months is that it’s okay to have fun, to stop striving and enjoy life. I’ve ‘met’ some wonderful people and had some great conversations.

I didn’t finish the first draft of the third book of my Posh Hits trilogy. I’m maybe halfway through – not really, I’m actually only about a third of the way through. It should have been written, revised, revised and revised by now. It should be ready for publication. But no. Am I stressed about it? Not any more. I was, a while back, when the harsh reality of stuffing up my schedule began to dawn on me, then I decided that publication dates are arbitrary and if it’s not ready, it’s just not ready. I never usually miss a deadline, so this one time I have given myself permission to do so, and I think, I fervently hope, it will be worth the wait. So that’s still on my to-do list and will be making an appearance a little later than scheduled, some time next year.

And because of that not being finished, other projects have got pushed back too. But again, I feel it’s all going to be okay. Better to put out a good product late than a shonky product on time, I feel. So Miss Burkett will probably miss her May-promised (but only to myself) deadline. But I know she will arrive at some point.

But I’ve kept my blog going, more or less adding new material at least once a week, which has been a major leap forward for me, and one I hope to continue in the New Year. And on Facebook, my Monday Haiku has been going out weekly pretty well for a couple of months now, again, a new more disciplined approach for me.

Next year, Check Mate will, God willing, finally be out, as will the first of my Miss Burkett cosy mysteries. I also hope to publish a novel, Easy Living, which is something of a paranormal-type-kind-of mystery. There may also be another novel, as yet undecided. 2014 has been a year of drafting and consolidation. I believe 2015 will be a year of fruitfulness and fulfillment. I hope to continue the blog, the Haiku, to go on and on and on about books and cats and chocolate and deadlines.

So as this year closes, I want to remember the good days, and say goodbye to the bad, heaving a sigh of relief at the advent of a New Year, with new hopes, a new plan of action, fresh ideas and projects, and to say a huge Thank You to all those wonderful people who have followed this blog, tolerated my rants and self-absorption, encouraged and fed my desire to write, and shared their wonderful gifts of writing, painting and friendship with me. Thanks, folks. Have a good one. See you on the other side.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It wasn’t me – it was her!

file0001574631517

There is a convention, some say a misconception, that writers base their protagonists on themselves.
Not me, of course. I’m nothing like, for example, the main character in my novel Criss Cross, Cressida Barker-Powell. Nothing like her.
She lives in a massive house – we could probably justifiably call it a mansion – with a husband worth at least a million, if not two or three. She has a lady who comes in and ‘does’, whilst I have to wash my own dishes, and heat up my own baked beans.
Cressida wears designer clothes, has accessories to match and she goes to dinner and cocktail-parties in smart restaurants and posh houses, whereas the highlight of my social calendar is going to the supermarket for the week’s groceries.
And she kills people. Lest we forget. Not just one. And not by accident. She plots multiple murders in a vicious and calculating manner. I never so much as step on a woodlouse if I can avoid it.

And yet …
I researched those murders. I put the ideas into her fictional head. I wrote those words that come from her perfectly-lipsticked mouth. I chose her clothes, her bags, her shoes. When she is complaining about people who annoy her in some way, her impatience is mine, her anger, even her acerbic wit is mine.
And when, in those rare and tender moments, she does something nice for a change, that’s me too, isn’t it?

I tried. I had hoped to succeed – at least in part – in making her so different to me. Some of her views and attitudes and certainly her experiences are different to mine. But differences can be positive and negative. I would never – I hope – kill anything or anyone, but part of me can’t help but admire her decisive (if somewhat ‘final’) method of dealing with things and people she is unhappy about, whereas I am very passive, and I agonise and fret and usually fail to act. Let’s be clear, she is a monster, but she is bold and acts in ways I never could. It’s quite cathartic sometimes to allow her to do those things I choose not to do. But she’s nothing like me.

She’s more like my big sister.

Back From The Dead

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Back From The Dead

You seem surprised to see me.  I don’t know why.  When you arrived home just now, you must have noticed the door was unlocked, must have seen my coat hanging on the coat-stand.  So why are you surprised?

I’m glad you’re able to sit down quietly and maintain a little dignity.  I hate a scene.

Yes.  Three years.  Hmm.  I know it’s a long time.  And I guessed you’d want an explanation.  I suppose I do owe you that much at least.

I watched them take him away you know.  That night.  Was it really three years ago?  It was in the last year of the war, wasn’t it?

Yes, they hanged him.  I know.  I feel a bit awful about that.  But it can’t be helped.  I imagine it was inevitable the police would suspect him.  They always do look to the husband when a wife disappears, don’t they?

It was pig’s blood obviously.  And I didn’t mind sacrificing a strand of hair or a tiny scrap of my blouse.  That afternoon, I made sure my neighbour noticed me in that blouse.  It was my favourite too, almost brand new, soft as parachute silk, it was.  Bought with all my ration coupons.  I had to save them up for ages to get that blouse. Such a shame.  Still these things have to be done, don’t they, and it seemed to work out beautifully.  An upturned chair, a broken vase, a little shouting in the afternoon.  All very, very effective.  I wasn’t completely certain that it would work.  So nice that it did, and so beautifully.

So, here I am.  I assume you’ve found some other poor woman’s husband to lust after.  At any rate, you’re looking quite good.  Clearly you’ve recovered from the loss of my husband.  Shame in a way.  I’d hoped to find you broken, wretched.  I might have found it easier to forgive if you’d shown any signs of actually loving him.  Well, that’s probably what they’ll say, isn’t it, when they find you?  No matter how good a show you’ve kept up in public, they’ll remember you as you were back then, weeping in the courtroom gallery.  Not that you saw me there, did you?  Your eyes were only for him.  My husband.

Which brings us to this.  Yes, it is loaded.  He brought it back with him at the end of the Great War.  Don’t worry, it won’t go off on its own.  Not until I’m ready.  I wanted you to see it.  I wanted you to know.  I just wanted to watch your face as you realised you were going to die.  Yes, that’s the look.  That’s what I was after.

Hmm.  That was easier than I thought.  I’ll just wipe it and pop it in your hand, then I’ll be off.

It’s a weight off my mind, knowing she has got what was coming to her.  Oh look, the sun’s come out!

Not long now …

cross check
I’ve been spending the last week editing the second draft of my new novel Cross Check. I’d already done most of the donkey work, so this time around editing has been a walk in the park, but all the same I am so glad it’s almost over! All on course for publication the first week in February.
Someone once told me that if you are not sick of the sight of your story, you haven’t done enough work on it. I have to say I’m beginning to see what they meant. I’m not exactly sick of the sight of it, but I am beginning to feel pretty excited about writing something else and the prospect of spending some months later this year writing the third book in the Posh Hits trilogy is something I’m not yet ready to contemplate!

Neolithic Village imagined

HIF 2010 178 (1)

The corridors linking the houses are dark, black-dark, and yet the children run back and forth giggling and jostling as children have always done.  They barely pause in their running with the narrows and curves of the corridors.  They laugh in and out of the houses, running amongst the groups, tribes, families.  Outside, beyond the houses, the sea and the wind roar, and strange creatures prowl the earth.  But not in here.

In the houses themselves, the central hearth is the main light and although bright enough to prepare the food by, the illumination doesn’t reach to the farthest parts of the room where the animals are safely housed against thick stone walls.  Their soft noises and comfortable smells lull the elders who sit by the fire to prod the embers or stir the cooking-pot by turns.

Soon the eye becomes accustomed to the dimness and it is possible to see not just vague shadows but the bodies of the cattle in their pens, or the shapes of the drawings in the sand of the fireside floor, the simple outlines that accompany the story that is being told.  A half-grown child, listening to the stories with wide eyes, is given instructions and items of interest are brought from the dresser to the one who speaks, who holds each thing up for all to see and recounts all that is known, the history of the item, the way it happened to be found or created, all that makes it special is told now to those who are gathered.  They’ve heard it before.  Even last night. But still they all look and a discussion takes place, even the child speaks.  He will be a fine man one day soon.  They look on him with pride.  One day, he will be the teller of stories.

The food is passed round, grain and meat and fish and coarse bread, flat and hot from the stones by the fire.  Everyone eats and a strange hush falls over the house for a time.  There is a ritual about eating.  There is a ritual about being in the safety of a warm and solid home with the cattle and the fire.  To be with the kinfolk and listen to the stories. This is what it means to be at home.

It is evening, the day has drawn to its close and everyone is gathered in the safe warmth of the roundhouse. Nearby, there are other houses, with other people gathered, and the children are the running link between them.  More stories are told, more conversation and discussion over the nature of the stars and their brightness, of the tides of the sea, of the path of the moon who guides the hunters and blesses the crops.

And nearby, in another such house, the bones of the ancestors are keeping watch over the living. The ancestors listen to the old stories and smile as the brightness of the moon creeps in at the doorway of their resting chamber.