Saturday, 30 March 2013

Sunday Sample 'A Good Day for Jumping'

 This is an excerpt from my recently published ebook ' A Good Day for Jumping'.  It is a character-driven novel with an intriguing plot, set mainly on the island of Crete.


Chapter 8

Miss Shackleton’s mother had recovered sufficiently from her operation for her daughter to leave her and return to her own life.  She would cope very well on her own again, and would call regularly.  Her neighbour had agreed to shop for her once or twice a week and the doctor would make a house call the day after next to make sure of her health.

‘I assure you, Joyce.  I will manage perfectly well.  Stop fussing!’

There was something in her mother’s voice, especially when she pronounced her daughter’s Christian name that twisted itself deep inside Joyce’s belly. 

‘If you are sure then, Mother?’

‘Absolutely.  As I have already said.’  Her mother’s tone was, as usual, unconditional.

Joyce packed her suitcase and arranged her hair in front of the mirror.  She applied a subtle lipstick, taking her time, and put on her red tailored jacket, which fitted her perfectly and exactly suited her colouring, which, once upon a time, had been darker than it was now. She pinned on an antique silver brooch of a spider in its web and fastened a discreet string of pearls around her neck.  Her shoes were polished and waiting by the front door, below the hook where she had hung her new lamb’s wool coat. 

Leaving twenty minutes for the fifteen-minute walk to the station and allowing for a possible platform change, she left the house at 2.35pm precisely, calling once to her mother that she was going and neither expecting nor receiving a reply.  She closed the door quietly behind her and set off at a brisk pace down the driveway and out onto the street.  She greeted Mr. Thompson but did not stop, as she had not allowed the time to do so.

The avenues of trees were bare, and a cold wind whipped their branches as she proceeded towards her destination.  It was a pleasant enough morning.  It made her spirits rise.  Her mother had been difficult, but Joyce had done her duty.  She breathed in the clean, fresh air and stood tall, her arms swinging just the right amount at her sides to show that she was strong, dynamic, confident.  It was good to be alive on such a morning.

The train was on time and Joyce chose a carriage near the centre.  At the front of the train, if there were an accident, you would be sure to be killed and at the back of the train equally so, as the last carriages would leave the track and most likely turn over.  She sat facing backwards, so to speak, so that on impact she would not be thrown forward.  Once settled, she listened to the guard announce that the train was a non-stop service from Bristol Temple Meads to London King’s Cross and that the journey would take two hours and twenty minutes.  Then she settled back into her seat and looked out of the window.

There were not many passengers on the train and so she did not have to put up with the smells of people eating or the babble of inconsequential conversation.  There was a middle-aged man who was checking his mobile phone, but then he slipped it into his pocket and looked, mercifully, as though he might go to sleep. 

The doors of the train closed and she felt the familiar jolt as her carriage moved forward behind the engine.  People on the platform waved and were left behind, replaced by factories and compact city housing.   The green fields of the leafy suburbs were soon dashing past.  Joyce liked the colours of the countryside even if she disliked the thought of stepping out into it.  It was better to view it from her present vantage point, safe from unpleasant odours and muddy lanes. 

A memory came to her of blackberry picking.  There had been brambles and nettles, slippery banks, mud and animal faeces.  Her hair had been in pigtails then, and she had worn a cream pinafore over her yellow dress.  She, her mother and her two sisters had each had a Tupperware to collect the berries, which were large and juicy.  The other girls had almost filled their containers and were ready to go back to the car but Joyce had only five berries in her bowl.

‘These are no good, Joyce!  Look how hard and small they are,’ her mother had said, in the tight voice she reserved for her middle daughter.

‘Have some of mine, Joyce.  Look how juicy they are.’  Sandra picked one out and popped it into her glistening mouth.

‘Look, Joyce,’ said Lily, ‘I got big ones.’  She grasped a handful of berries, squashing them in the palm of her hand and holding them out to her big sister.

Joyce recalled all this with an expression of profound disgust.  The horrible blue-black of the juice, the stained fingers, tongues and mouths of her sisters revolted her then and now.

‘Come along girls.  Joyce doesn’t want your berries.  Let’s go home.’

Her mother understood.  But, at the car, as she removed her sisters’ ruined aprons and cleaned their hands and mouths with a special cloth that smelled of soap, laughing and telling Lily to hold still, Joyce had stood to the side, pristine in the cold September sunshine and had known that her sisters were more loved for being stained and dirty.  And she had felt a sense of injustice that sparked a deep resentment inside her. 

The man with the mobile phone was snoring.  His mouth lolled open, making him look half-witted; his chin had disappeared into his neck, and his enlarged jowls swelled as he breathed in, flattened as he breathed out. The trembling noise he made, gentle as a snuffling baby, was insufferable.  Joyce didn’t think she could stand it. 

She took out a book she was reading.  It was ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’.  She opened it up and tried to concentrate.  Michael Henchard had risen above the depravity of his initial base act of auctioning his wife and child at a country fayre, (at which he had consumed too great an amount of beer).  He was now Mayor of Casterbridge, the eponymous town in the South West of England.  She felt sorry for him, knowing that he would be found out, that he would pay the ultimate price for his recklessness.

The man with no chin let out a particularly resounding snort just as the guard arrived to check their tickets.  Joyce was delighted.  She watched his startled expression as he came out of a deep sleep and struggled to extract the ticket from his wallet with his large, fumbling fingers.  When he glanced across at her, she gave him the unedited smugness of her smile. 

When the guard had gone, the man took out some papers from his briefcase and, softly clearing his throat, busied himself, embarrassed that he had been observed, hoping that he had not been snoring too much, for he knew from his wife that he was in the habit of doing so.  He looked over to the woman who had smiled at him, hoping to catch her eye, to nod at least, if not to apologise, for how could he know what he had done?  But she was reading and unassailable, so he returned to his work and became gradually absorbed by figures and statistics.  The woman did not look at him for the remainder of the journey and he was irked at how awkward she had made him feel.

The train pulled into King’s Cross shortly after the announcement on the carriage intercom.  The doors opened and the passengers alighted. The odour of the platform air was reassuringly familiar and Joyce stood for a moment taking in her surroundings.  It was good to be back where she belonged. 

On the way to her flat, she shopped for dinner at Marks and Spencer.  Two lamb cutlets, a tub of couscous and a green salad.  For dessert, there was tiramisu.  To drink, a half bottle of Bordeaux.  The food came neatly wrapped and hygienically sealed.  The dates were good.  She paid by card, assessing the cleanliness of the cashier’s hands.  It was pleasant to pay for the things that she wanted with the money she had earned.  It was comforting to be reliant upon no one but oneself.
Inside her apartment, there was the grainy light and the profound stillness of a place that has been left empty for a while, waiting to be revived, filled up with life once more.  The delicate ticking of a carriage clock was all that could be heard, measuring out the silence.  Joyce unbuttoned her jacket and hung it up by the front door.  She liked that nothing unexpected came to meet her: no leaks, no scufflings.  She stooped to pick up the post from the mat and, seeing that there was nothing of interest, laid it on the table in the hall and went through to the kitchen.  The light buzzed and the fridge droned.  She heated olive oil in a pan and listened to the sound of the lamb sizzling, sprinkling it with oregano, salt and pepper.  She ran water to wash the salad and prepared a tray for her food. When everything was ready, she arranged it carefully on one of her favourite bone china plates and poured herself a glass of wine.  The news had just started and so she watched it with the tray on her lap.  It was good to be home.  

If you would like to read more of 'A Good Day for Jumping' please click on this link:

Thursday, 28 March 2013

How Still

How Still

Not a sound.

As though the world had not yet started

With its impossible creation

But held itself outside time and life and love.


The stars are ice hot and busy now

After the first millisecond blast.

The planets circle

Spinning, cooling, making  space.

In the night

We stand,

All of us, from time to time

Looking out from our marvellous rock.

The human element has no number.

Although we know the code

We do not know our self.

Time and life and love are all we have

Which are too much to measure.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Boy

A young woman walked along the platform, her long red hair bouncing on her shoulders.  She wore a purple jacket and carried no bag.  She was thinking about what her grandmother had said. 

‘When the time comes, you will know.’

It was difficult not to think her grandmother naïve. 

The day was bright and busy.  It was a good day for making up your mind.  Probably it would be one of the most important decisions she would ever make. It would be a relief to get it over with.

The train was almost full and the people lifting their bags onto the racks, pulling off coats, settling into seats, brought a lightness to her mind.  There were families with young children off for a day out, she imagined.  There were young women chatting together, smiling and making plans.  There were businessmen, pushing past, trying to find a quieter carriage.  She welcomed all of this.  It made her feel as though her life were just as simple.

On the train opposite, the same things were happening, but silently.  It was like watching a film.  It was as though she were making the film.  The strangeness of this idea held her for a long moment.

A heavily-built man, smelling too strongly of aftershave, sat down next to her.

‘Do you mind if I squeeze in here?’ he asked.

‘No, go ahead.  It’s very crowded for a Wednesday, isn’t it?’ she said.

The man smiled thinly and busied himself with his laptop.

She thought about the layers of scent she was picking up, trying to identify them, like a game.  There was a warm musk, animal and thick.  On top of this, a heavy oiliness and finally the aftershave, sweet, pungent and crass.  The man was sweating, too.

She looked out of the window.  On the opposite platform there was a boy running along, looking into the carriages.  He would jump up onto the train, only to reappear seconds later.  He must be looking for someone.  Without knowing why, the young woman began to look with him. Perhaps she could conjure the right person.

In her own carriage, the noise bubbled up and simmered down, losing volume as the passengers arranged themselves for their journey.  She closed her eyes and pictured the man she was going to meet.

He would be standing at the gate, wearing jeans and a tee shirt, his hair messy, his eyes focused on her as she walked towards him.  He would be smiling and holding flowers.  It made her laugh out loud - thinking of the flowers. He wouldn’t know how to hold them, they would only be in the way.

The man next to her glanced quickly over and then went back to his work.  He was looking at graphs but the detail was too small for her to see.  She wasn’t interested anyway.  The doors slid to and the driver announced the stations the train would be stopping at.  It was all going like clockwork and she suddenly felt a deep panic; that she needed more time.

The boy on the opposite platform must have found who he was looking for.  She was glad.

‘Would you like one?’  The man next to her was offering her a polo mint.

‘Oh, no thank you.’  She answered too quickly.  She had a feeling that something important was about to happen and that she might miss it.

The train pulled away slowly and she watched the people being left behind.  In the sunlight, just where the station platform ended, stood the boy.  He had blond curly hair and a very straight nose; he could be no more than six or seven.  Startled, she rose up in her seat and tried to keep him in sight but the glare of the sunshine made her look away.

‘Did you see that boy?’  She asked.  It was addressed to no-one in particular.

The man next to her did not reply.  A few people who had heard her, smiled politely and looked away again. 

The young woman felt that something had been interrupted and that it was of tremendous importance.  She tried to recall what she had seen, but now the boy seemed less real than the things around her: the rain-stained window with its soft black rubber frame, the smooth velour seat, the shiny, rounded roof of the train.  

Outside, the buildings receded and great swathes of fields, edged by hedgerows, enveloped her.  She contemplated the passengers travelling with her on the train.  They didn’t notice her.

With her eyes closed, she calmed herself.  After all, she had an important decision to make and was aware of  the train moving inexorably on.  All at once, she felt like a prisoner.  Again, it occurred to her that it was too soon, that there was no time.  But that was ludicrous.  She had had weeks.  

The faces of her family flashed before her, like a photograph, a moment frozen in time, a fait accompli.  Nevertheless, at the back of her mind was the horror that, despite all the friendly advice and helpful platitudes, she had not actually worked any of it out.  Of course, it was all perfectly logical and both families would be delighted.  Why could she not feel delighted too?  It was impossible to know what she felt.

Her eyes closed once more as she sought refuge.  The boy’s face came sharply into view and this time he was closer.  There was an urgency in his eyes that made her want to speak to him.  His eyes were beautiful to her.

Now, the driver was announcing the penultimate station and the predictability of his words, the flatness of his voice, soothed her.  It was not complicated, after all.  Just nerves.  She had the jitters.  It was normal.

The people in the carriage were getting on with crosswords, reading their magazines and newspapers, speaking quietly into their phones.  And soon the dirty greyness of the clustered city, with its huge stone structures, flimsy office blocks and complex skyline shunted into view.  There was movement once more inside the train and she pulled on her jacket, trying not to elbow the man beside her. 

As the train slowed, the platforms filled with new travellers and she looked across the station, watching a different train pull out.  Inside the last carriage sat the boy.  Next to him, a young woman, with long red hair, heavy on her shoulders.  And the boy looked directly at her, through the glass, across the gloomy space between them. 

‘Are you all right, my dear?’  The woman’s face was fleshy and kind-looking.

The young woman did not answer, but gaped a little.

‘I hope you’re not worrying about that little boy.  I’m sure he’ll be absolutely fine.  His mother wasn’t far away, I should say,’ she added.

‘Did you see him?’  She felt a surge of relief.  She had not imagined him, then.

‘Yes, dear.  Such a beautiful child.  A little angel with all those blond curls.’  She grinned and patted the young woman on her shoulder.  ‘I should hurry along now, you don’t want to miss him.’ 

Even when the last of the passengers had left, the young woman remained, wondering.  Waiting to feel ready. What had the woman said to her?

Eventually she stepped down from the train and made her way along the platform with an expression on her face that made others turn to stare. 

The man was waiting, as she knew he would be, with his blond curly hair and straight nose.  The boy’s eyes had been blue, like her own.  Her grandmother had been right – she knew what she would say to the man.

I hope you liked the story. If you like the way I write, why not try one of my published ebooks on Amazon?  Links can be found at the top of this page on the right.  An author's greatest wish is to be read!  

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Do Not Forget

The post van trails bills
Jettisons dreams
Homing in
In red
Ink moves like blood in water
Or Orion’s belt
A cloud of
Atoms bursting into life
Heavy metals into precious worlds
While    I    open    letters
Infinitely petty
Printed with too many little words

REMINDER: (do not forget
The universe
Or that we are made of stars)
In bold
So you can see
What it is you have to do.

The post van comes again
Combusting more loudly
Than suns
The rush of planets
On their daily rounds

Inside the meadow
I hide.
Become a 
To dance with
And butterflies.

Monday, 11 March 2013

My first kiss

The Boys' Club, Bishop Percy's House, Bridgnorth, Saturday night in early 1970.

It was at the end of the street where I lived and totally beyond my fifteen-year-old imagination.

I remember the night when everything changed in my tiny, grammar-schoolgirl world.  It would have been a Saturday, around eight o'clock and dark.

Dad was against it.  He insisted on driving me and dropping me off  'round the corner'.  He would come to meet me at 10.30. But none of this mattered.

My friends were consumed with disgust that my father had placed restrictions on my freedom, that he had not allowed me to wear my red floral button-through mini dress, chain belt and red socks with lace up the sides.

I didn't care.  Their faces, up close, made-up and screeching with life, made my head buzz and my stomach leap, as they led me, for the very first time, into a room with high roof, hundreds of people and a stage, complete with lights, dry ice and pulsating DJ.

The music was Motown, tinny and with an irresistible beat, 'Baby, Baby. Where did our Love go?'  driving my feet forward along a corridor of eyes, towards the centre, where people were dancing in small groups, smiling and inexpertly predatory in the gloom.

I looked at my friends in a new light.  Out of uniform and out of control.  They were bright and glorious.  They were in charge.  I nestled in amongst them and, feeling my young body tense inside my sensible skirt and polo-neck sweater, I moved with the music, my silky brown hair a curtain when I needed it.

A friend grinned and shouted that she was going outside with Pete.  She pulled me towards the exit and thrust me into the cool night, spotlit by the single yellow light on the wall above.  She took a long drag on her cigarette.

'BoBo fancies you,' she said.

I nodded.

'He wants to go for a walk.'  She did not expect me to reject the idea.

'Who's BoBo?'  I asked, curious but with a terror starting in my bowels.

She couldn't believe I didn't know who BoBo Finch was. I can still see her face, young and scathing, her body fragile and outrageous.  She seemed so wise.

'Pete won't come unless you go with BoBo,' she whined.

I was naive, but I knew that 'go with' did not necessarily mean 'go for a walk'.

'I don't know...' My body shook and my teeth chattered.  All low-level and almost imperceptible.

'It's just a walk!'

I was in danger of alienating my friend.  I looked at the path along the river and hugged myself.

BoBo wore bovver boots, flares and one of those long 'officer's' coats with brass buttons, from the Army and Navy Stores.  His hair was feathered and his looks considered good.  With hardly a word, he took my arm in his and led me down the ramp and along the river.

My friend walked ahead with Pete, laughing, and disappeared into the night.

There was a bench.  It was just a bench.  Somewhere to sit.  I had watched the river before from such benches.  But not like this.  There were cars on the bridge and the face of the clock tower.  My home only two-minute's walk away.

I remember him saying my name.


It was neither a question nor a statement.  It was so much more.

I felt his arm around my shoulders and heard him speak again.

'Loosen up.'

He was gentle.  I told myself.  Nothing to be afraid of.

The kiss, when it came, was warm and overwhelmed me with its wetness.  His mouth tasted of cigarettes. I held out.  It was my first kiss.  I should give it a chance.

I had been selected.  I had been chosen.  By BoBo Finch, no less. It was some kind of honour, the greatness of which I wrestled with.  I should be grateful.  I should loosen up.

I pulled back and jumped up.

'I have to go!'

I can't remember if he said anything.

I ran, stopping only to take off my shoes.  I ran.

At home, my heart exploding in my chest, I fled to the bathroom and washed my mouth out with Dettol, spitting and gasping.

And, in the mirror, was a girl who had been kissed.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Interview with Charlie Plunkett

 Today I'm lucky enough to have the very generous and very talented Charlie Plunkett visit.  You can find out more about her well-loved books and see what makes her tick on her fabulous blog:

Hello Charlie and congratulations on your new book '100 Little Words on Parenthood'.

Thanks Bev.  It's great to be here!

If you're ready, I have a few questions for you.

Fire away! 

Have you always wanted to write, or did it just happen out of the blue?

I have always wanted to write. My childhood ambitions were to be a ballerina, author and ahem a Victorian! I managed the first two on my list but the last will remain unfulfilled until a time machine is invented.

Would you ever be tempted to write a novel?

Yes I would, in fact I have a couple of ideas for fictional novels that keep clambering for my attention. I really must do something about that!

What kind of books do you like to read?

My reading tastes are somewhat eclectic everything from chic-lit, to thrillers, to memoirs and I do love a good travel book.

Have you been inspired by any writer in particular?

My goodness to pick just one is difficult as so many writers inspire me the list is endless. I love Sophie Kinsella, Belinda Jones and Bernadette Strachan for chick-lit. When it comes to memoirs I really enjoyed reading The Tent the Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy. All of the ‘Merde’ books by Stephen Clarke and not forgetting your fabulous book Bunny on a Bike. Dan Brown is my man for thrillers along with Stephen C Spencer. I was very inspired by Amanda Hockings success as an Indie author with her Trylle Trilogy and also by Kathryn Stockett author of The Help, who received so many rejection letters before her book received the critical acclaim it so deserved. My top crime authors are Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich and Peter James.

Two desert island books?

Two of my favourite books that I couldn’t put down and know I will re-read –

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Griffin Cryer by Julia Hughes

What is your favourite time of the day?

I’m a night owl so the evening/early hours of the morning, when everyone else is sleeping I’m happiest tapping away at the computer.

Do you spend a lot of time on Twitter?

My husband would say yes! I’m not constantly on there but I do like to keep up with my twitter pals and support them in whatever they are doing. I have met some amazing people and particularly for writing have found it to be an infinite source of information and support.

Where do you stand on housework?

If you saw my living room right now you would say I’m not standing at all I’m lying down I’m so slack with it. I’m a Virgo and supposedly we are neat freaks, so something is not quite right there! I have dreams of being a domestic goddess and I do try to stay on top of things like the laundry and washing up yawn. I love cooking and baking so I do spend a lot of time in the kitchen and am proud/ashamed to confess I have not ironed a thing for around 15 years, I believe in Lycra and non-crease shirts for the hubby!

Rice or pasta?  Wine or beer?  Books or Kindle?  Dark or milk chocolate?  Sprouts or peas?

Rice, wine, this next one is a draw because I do love books but my kindle is also very handy, dark chocolate and sprouts. Blimey not all at the same time though!

Which famous person would you choose to spend an evening in the pub with?

Oh my! Any of the authors I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t mind five minutes with each to ask their top tips for writing.

What about your next book?

I have a couple of books on the go at the moment so it could be the sequel to my ‘true diaries’ The Toddler Files which will follow my little boy from his first birthday to his first day at school and I did start writing a theatrical memoir a while back that I would love to finish. It’s a whole different side to me that not many people know about and will be about my time spent training to be a professional dancer, working in a Mexican circus, being an actress and running a performing arts school.

Where do you write?

Sat at our living room table, facing the windows so I can look out at the seagulls on the rooftops across the street and surrounded by notepads, chocolate and the odd glass of wine hic!

Why do you write?

It’s just something I have always done since childhood, like a photographer wanting to capture a moment on film I’ve always wanted to remember special moments and leave them for the next generation to enjoy. I come from a family where it was normal to leave scribbled messages on the walls before we wallpapered and to sew messages into pillows, ripped from my calendar. I’ve always been fascinated with diaries and keeping boxes of personal treasures, I guess I’m just a sentimental soul at heart.

Thanks Charlie, it's been a pleasure to talk to you.  A bientôt!