Shadowmaker – the beginning

Teenage girl tattoos

Image : Pixabay

Here, just for fun, is the opening of my YA novel Shadowmaker, a time travel yarn that’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while now. It’s had a little notice – a shortlsting in a magazine competition and it made it to second reads in a Hodderscape open house – but no takers as yet. As I’m considering putting it back out there, any creative criticism – especially from you YA readers and writers – would be gratefully received.


 

The Gift

Edie looked around the kitchen, at food-splashed walls the colour of cowpats and woodlice moored to the floor by lakes of cooking oil. Shouldn’t August sunshine make a place look less like a squat?

‘It’s disgusting.’ She was tired of  carrying boxes and being sticky with dirt. And although they still hadn’t unpacked yet, she was already tired of living in a basement.

‘It’s fine,’ Mum said, dragging the bucket closer to her. ‘Just needs a bit of love. More importantly, it’s cheap. My new job doesn’t pay enough to be fussy.’

Edie groaned. ‘It doesn’t need love, it needs a blowtorch. The carpet looks like a defrosting woolly mammoth.’

Mum giggled. ‘Funny.’

Edie wasn’t trying to be funny. She’d left her friends and her home behind for a flat that smelt like a fish and chip shop run by rats. The thought made her want to punch the wall.

Mum hadn’t listened when Edie begged to stay in Manchester. So one Saturday, after an hour of swearing and door slamming, Edie stormed from the house to the nearest salon, where she’d had every inch of her shoulder-length copper hair shaved from her head. Mum hadn’t said a word when Edie returned home, but her eyes had spoken for her. She’d loved Edie’s hair – and Edie had been sure to keep it cropped ever since.

‘Make yourself useful,’ said Mum, emerging from the cupboard to flick her with a rubber glove the colour of phlegm. ‘Could you fetch me some fresh water, please?’

Edie twitched her arm away. ‘Well, that’s assault, for a start.’

Mum fixed her with cool green eyes and her ‘you’re pushing your luck’ face. ‘How about you mope less and help more. And after you’ve fetched the water, can you nip upstairs and ask Flora for the back door key.’

Edie sagged. ‘Can’t you go? The house stinks of poodles and pee.’

‘Don’t be mean, love. She’s an old lady living alone. She’d appreciate the company.’

‘She’d have more company if she didn’t smell of poodles and pee.’

‘Edie!’

‘All right, for goodness sake!’

      ***

If only she had a Taser.

As her finger touched the bell, there was an explosion of yapping from the other side of the door. Before today, Great Aunt Flora had just been spidery writing in birthday cards and a five pound note every Christmas.  Now they were living in her basement. Would Edie have to call her Aunty? Well, she could get stuffed. Mum and her Nan had been her only relatives for sixteen years. Now Nan had died, she didn’t want or need a replacement.

‘Bluey!’ Flora’s voice was the same pitch as the dogs’ yapping and was so loud, she could’ve been standing on the step beside Edie. ‘Leave Poppet alone or it’s the naughty step for you. Sammy, move your bum. Budge, you lot. Mummy’s got to open the door. Where’s that key?’

A couple of minutes and a torrent of swearing later and the key was found, two chains swung free and four bolts were loose. Despite the hot sun on the back of her neck, Edie thought of crypts as the door creaked open and through a narrow crack, she glimpsed a walnut face and two raisin eyes.

‘Hi, Flora. Mum asked me…’

‘Quick.’

She gripped Edie’s arm, pulling her inside as the front door slammed shut. Edie blinked in the gloomy hallway. There was a smell like public lavatories and soft, snuffling noises coming from somewhere by her ankles. She jumped as something rough and wet brushed the back of her hand.

‘They’re just curious, lovey.’ Flora’s voice receded along the hall. ‘Sorry if I was a bit rough, but Bluey’s a little sod. Nearly escaped yesterday when the postman delivered the nightie I’d ordered. A cracker it is, all pink and flowery. You can’t hardly see the bra cups for lace.’

Edie tried not to imagine Flora wearing a nightie, but failed.

‘Little bugger’s got an adventurous soul, see,’ said Flora.

‘Is that the dog or  the postman?’

Silhouetted against a rectangle of light from the kitchen doorway, Flora tossed a sluggish miniature poodle  to one side with a flick of her slipper. The dog shivered from nose to rump then trotted towards Edie, joining a circle of eager, weepy-eyed faces.

‘Don’t let’em bother you,’ called Flora. ‘Suckers for tickles, that’s all. Come to the kitchen. Got some squash somewhere .’

As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, Edie glimpsed walls crowded with photographs and portraits, surrounded by chocolate brown wallpaper and pale green paintwork – it was like an art gallery inside a mint Aero. Keen to escape all the eyes, she headed for the kitchen, dogs parting before her. She was pretty sure a grave would feel less claustrophobic.

The kitchen resembled a junk shop,  cluttered with stacks of yellowing newspapers, food packets, tins and dismantled electrical appliances. Edie picked up something that looked like a food mixer with a propeller on the top.

Flora blushed. ‘Great fun taking ‘em apart, bloody nightmare putting ‘em back together again. Now where’s that squash? Ah, pantry.’ Flora ducked through a bead curtain with a clatter of plastic.

Edie was reluctant to trust even mucky jeans to Flora’s chairs, which had the same greasy sheen as the basement’s kitchen counters. There were more photos hung by the cooker, so for lack of anything else to do, she wandered over, careful to avoid an Everest of mouldy tea bags heaped by the gas ring. The first picture she looked at was of a young woman in a long dress, hair scraped back from her face. Behind the woman hung a painted backdrop of broken stone columns and tumbling roses. On the cardboard mount in gold lettering, an inscription read Albert Dee esq 1881.

‘There you go. Found ‘e under a load of old fairy lights.’ Flora reappeared from the pantry draped in cobwebs, a sprinkling of dust in her hair. ‘Why’s it what you want’s always at the back?’ She brandished a mug filled with something luminous.

The liquid had a chemical smell, a mixture of fruit and plastic chairs. Edie forced a smile, carefully resting the mug on the draining board.

‘You found my pics, then,’ said Flora. ‘Gorgeous, wasn’t I?’

Edie looked between the graceful figure in the photograph and the gnome-woman beside her. ‘That’s you?’ The words were out of her mouth before she could think of something polite to say.

Flora just smiled. ‘Oh, yeah. ‘Bout 21 there.’ She pointed to the next picture along, which had crinkled from the heat of the oven. ‘Bit younger there. Too skinny, but that was mostly corset. Good one of the ghost, though.’

‘Ghost?’ Edie had seen the smudge of grey but assumed it was dirt. Now, as she peered closer, the mark resolved into a translucent figure, dark blotches marking the eyes and mouth.

‘I was so young when I met Albert,’ sighed Flora. ‘He was a snapper in town and I was a girl who saw dead folk. Being a medium was fashionable then, see.’ She traced the name with her fingertip. ‘So handsome ‒ moustache like a floor brush. All fake, o’ course.’

‘The moustache?’ Conversations with Flora mangled her brain.

Flora laughed, showing a mouthful of unnaturally white teeth. ‘Not the ‘tache, Muppet. The pics. You can’t photograph real ghosts.’ She dabbed at her nose with her cardigan sleeve. ‘Now, what do you want?’ Flora was soon scuffing back to the pantry.

Edie looked up at the gold lettering: 1881

 

Time Travel and what to do with it

silhouette-391653_1280I’m writing a novel, one of three that are at a not-a-bad-effort-but-not-quite-there-yet-stage. Two of the books are good ideas, they have ‘legs’ and I know one day I’ll return to them, jiggle them into some kind of readable format and have them published.

But there’s one, my true love, my first…

It’s YA and features Edie*, a ginger headed, arsy teenage girl as the main protagonist. She finds time travel, an old lady with a dozen miniature poodles, a two-thousand-year old psychopath who decides the best thing is just to kill her as nastily as he can… You know how these things go.

Edie’s the teenage me I wanted to be. Mouthy and self-confident when I was painfully shy and reserved, brave and headstrong when I was chicken and biddable (Okay, maybe my Mum would disagree with the biddable bit…)

Edie’s a great girl, if a bit of a handful, but she does have one talent I would **skin a badger for – she can travel through time. Well, to be precise she can travel BACK in time, and there are restrictions on where and when she can visit, but I ain’t publishing a synopsis here, so let’s just say she’s a Time Traveller.

Time travel is a popular subject in fiction, recurring and reinventing itself since Mark Twain and H.G Wells and is it any wonder? Who can seriously say there isn’t at least one period or event they’d like to visit? Roman, Elizabethan, Victorian… there’s some time, Somewhen, we’d all like to see. I’ve included these eras in Edie’s travels (or will include in sequels- yes, planning sequels before I even snare an agent!) I just need to set a whole book in World War II and I’ll have the secondary school history curriculum covered!

What would I do if I could time travel like Edie?

Well, I reckon my research would be a lot more through. I can imagine what a Tudor privy smelt like, how it felt to wear armour in the Roman arena, but if I could go back in time… Of course, I’d need to live long enough to return to the present and with my running/fighting/thinking on my feet that could be a big ask.

Would I go back in time and tell myself to start writing earlier, go back to the teenage me and tell her I needed to stick at my studies or I’d spend the next decades in low paid retail work?

I dunno. I reckon living in grotty bedsits and lodging houses with fungus growing out of the walls, living with arsonists, bipolar sufferers, drug addicts and folk in witness protection has all added to my knowledge of people and filtered into my writing.

Maybe I’m better for being a late starter.

N.B One thing I won’t be doing if I time travel is killing my own Grandad. And why is it always Grandfathers and not Grandmothers (we’ve all known some awful old ladies, let’s be honest) and why do scientists think the first thing we’ll do if we discover time travel is go back and murder a family member?

Scientists are weirdos.

*And for those interested in reading my Edie novel… You’ll have to wait a little longer. An agent submission package is about ready to send out. If only I could see into the future and discover who’s more likely to pick it up, I could save myself a lot of hassle!

**No badgers were skinned in the writing of this post.


Writing 101 Day Nineteen. Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

The Lego red jumper

building-blocks-456616_1280

Oh, hell, what’s the matter with him now? Crying in the park… God, I hope no one sees.

I only married him because he was handy. The first day we met, he offered to fix my car, to clean out my bunged up guttering… He reminded me of my dad- so practical. Good with his hands, you know. He wasn’t one of these drippy modern men who talk about their feelings all the time and have to call in an electrician to change a light bulb. I thought, ‘you’d better hold onto this one, Soph. You don’t get many of those to the pound.’

Then on the wedding day, in front of all those people… He cried when we exchanged vows, cried during the speeches. I was so embarrassed; I wanted the ground to swallow me. You could see people looking, smiling to themselves. Afterwards during the reception, I made a point of going round apologising to people- I knew he wouldn’t. Oh, they all said the right thing… ‘It’s nice when a man’s in touch with his emotions.’ That’s what Aunty Brenda said, sarcastic cow.

Up until that moment at the altar, I’d been upset Dad wouldn’t be there to give his little girl away. But when David started to cry… I’m ashamed to admit, I was pleased. Pleased poor old Dad didn’t have to sit through such a spectacle.

I never once saw my dad cry. When he knew he’d have to have his legs amputated because of the thrombosis, he just said, ‘You gotta go somehow, love.’

So brave. Didn’t cut down the cigarettes, even after the diagnosis. A proper man, my dad.

  ***

I was just thinking we’re so lucky with this weather. Above seasonal norms, the weather lady with the big eyes said. I was thinking of the weather lady and her soft brown eyes, of it finally being dry enough for me to look at the roof. Sophie’s been nagging, but it’s just been too wet and…

Then I saw her. An old lady sitting on the bench alone, knitting. Bit of an eccentric by the looks of her. Still in her slippers, dressing gown cord holding her coat together. It crossed my mind that maybe she was a bit confused, that she’d been wandering. I thought about ringing someone. Sophie would call it interfering, but you’ve got to look out for people…

We were just drawing level and I was being nosy, looking to see what the old dear was knitting. I thought, ‘Right, Dave. If she’s making some mad bit of stringy underwear or something, we’re stepping in and Sophie can moan all she likes.’

But then I saw it. A little red jumper. And it was the exact shade of red. Not tomatoes, or post boxes, but colour of red Lego bricks. The colour of my favourite jumper when I was six. The last time I saw it, it was hanging from my dad’s hand…

I remember thinking that if he was going away, it couldn’t be for long because he hadn’t packed many clothes in his holdall. But then he asked if he could borrow my jumper.

‘But it’s too small for you,’ I said. I think I was actually worried he might try it on and it would be all stretched out of shape by the time I got it back.

Then Dad said, ‘It’s not for wearing, Davey. It’s so I can look at it and think of you.’

His eyes were all bulgy-looking and I remember being very worried then, because you only need things to remind you of someone when you don’t see them for a long time.

I started crying, wrapping my arms around his neck, gripping one of my hands with the other, thinking that if they couldn’t separate us, then I’d have to go with him, or he’d have to stay. I thought of Action Man and his curly, rubbery fingers and I pretended I was him and gripped and gripped. It was a shock when my mum pulled me away so easily. I’d tried so hard.

Dad was still clutching my jumper as he walked out of the door. The last thing I saw of him was a flash of red as he vanished round the corner of our road.

***

Nice bit of sun, this. I could just ease me slippers off, get some warmth to these bunions of mine. Ooh, look at these two coming along the path.

Now, she looks like she’s been chewing a wasp, that one. Chewing a wasp with a rod up her backside. Not comfy. And he’s crying, poor man. Not surprised if he lives with that. ‘Marry in haste, repent at leisure’ my old Ma used to say and she weren’t wrong. Ah, love him. Give the man a cuddle, you flinty old cow. Ah, well. You makes your bed…

Now, where’s that girl got to with my babies? I needs a dog to measure this thing against, or I’ll keep knittin’ and knittin’ and it’ll be too long and get all tangled up in their paws.

Here she is now.

‘Edie! Where you been with them puppies? Bring Bluey over and we’ll give him a fitting…’


Today’s Writing 101 Prompt: A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry.