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

 

Advertisements

Three Line Tales : Was she dreaming?

three line tales week 26: summer camp

photo by Maher El Aridi – here’s the full-size version


The story so far: Sixteen-year-old Edie falls asleep in her bed clutching a Tudor sixpence. She wakes to find herself in 1588, surrounded by soldiers preparing for war. But what do you do, when you’re stuck in the past and alone?


 

Edie looked up. The sky was black — not bleached with the usual streetlight — and slashed by a cloud of milky grey. Staring deeper into the haze, she saw stars, at first a few dozen, then hundreds, thousands, clustered in blobs or drawn out in long strings. She’d never seen so many. Suddenly, the sky felt too full, the sight so unnerving she had to look away.

Was she dreaming?

The panic that had threatened earlier gripped her, flinging thoughts together until her stomach flipped and her head spun. She bent over, hands clutching shaking knees.

 


 

The above is a brief, abridged extract from my YA novel, Shadowmaker.

When I saw Sonya at Only 100 Word’s lovely photo prompt for today’s TLT, I thought of Edie, alone and scared and about to have the worst night of her life. Her life so far, of course. The future holds murder, treason, execution, betrayal – this is merely a taster.

Okay, Edie’s surrounded by Elizabethan tents, not teepees, but she’s facing that same, huge sky – intimidating for a girl used to the bleached orange of a city night.

I’m polishing the MS for submissions as we speak, so wish me luck. And the best of luck to all those of you going through the same process.

Those who strive to be published – we salute you!

 

Wednesday Word Tangle: How to turn conception into an autopsy.

Bagged, tagged and on the slab Image: Pixabay

Bagged, tagged and on the slab
Image: Pixabay

Have you ever performed an autopsy? I have. Well, sort of.

There were no guts. Well, not real live (or should that be, real dead – for live autopsies are much frowned upon in these days of Health and Safety) fleshy, tubey, pink and wriggly ones. I did not have to don white Croc shoes or a surgical mask and a bone saw was not needed, which was just as well as mine’s in the shop.

But dissection was required. Along with a steady hand, a sharp mind and a strong stomach. Which is a problem, because at the moment I don’t have any of those things.

But at least I could perform my autopsy sitting down, in the comfort of my own home and without the necessity of plastic sheeting, a chainsaw, black bin liners and duct tape. Actually, that’s a dismemberment, not an autopsy. I’ve really watched too many episodes of Dexter.

Not only that, but I tore apart this particular body whilst drinking copious amounts of tea, eating a body bag’s worth of Custard Creams and without having to wash my hands. Except after having used the loo, of course – I’m not an animal.

This was not an autopsy of the stays-with-you-for-years-especially-returning-on-nights-out-at-the-All-You-Can-Eat-Rib-Shack, but one of a more wordy nature.

For today’s Wednesday Word Tangle word is:

SYNOPSIS

Now, many more experienced novelists reading this will be muttering to themselves,

But, Lynn. How can you compare a synopsis to an autopsy? For surely, you wrote the synopsis before you wrote your novel, then based your writing on the carefully plotted design therein. Surely, the synopsis should more closely be compared to conception, not autopsy?

Yeah, alright, Mrs Smug-Pants. I know now I’m supposed to write the synopsis first. But you see, what you’re forgetting is when I started this story six years ago, my previous writing experience had been in my teens and involved Goth Princesses being whisked away from web-strewn castle turrets to live Happily Ever After on dry roasted peanuts and Pot Noodles. With added talking dragons.

I was blissfully ignorant of the process, so just dived in.

Therefore, to make my present novel ready for submission to agents, I’ve had to write the synopsis after the book was finished. It was a lesson in dissection, for I had to pick apart themes (never realised my novel needed a ‘theme’ before, I naively thought it just had to be a good read) and story arcs and ‘beats’.

Ever had to distil a novel of 80,000 or so words – giving a description of the main characters, key events, turning points and ending, whilst communicating a sense of tension and writing style – down to two sides of A4?

Neither had I.

But now it’s done and the end result is not as awful as I feared, just don’t ask me to write another one.

Until the next time.


Do visit Kat, the founder of W4

Tales of the Shadowmaker: Worst Girlfriend Part One

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Really, what choice did Alex give me?

All right, she wasn’t the worst girlfriend I’ve ever had. That prize should probably go to Sarah the tattooist and vampire wannabe, who filed her canines to points and bit me when she got excited – which, considering she was a massive Leonard Cohen fan, was surprisingly often.

Close runner up was Hannah, who’d rather dismantle her Harley-Davidson ‒ on my new Ikea beech effect dining table ‒ than sit and eat my lovingly prepared spinach and Dairylea lasagne.

Don’t get me wrong, Alex is great. In lots of ways, really great. Beautiful, quirky, smart, quirky, runs her own business, quirky, drives a cherry red Porsche 911 that Jeremy Clarkson wouldn’t throw out of bed. Bit of a disturbing image there, but you know what I mean.

Picked up on the quirky, then? Oh, I loved that about her to begin with. Ah, the beginning…

I was sitting in Lucky’s Bar during Happy Hour, or Functioning Alcoholic Hour as I call it. Lucky’s is one of those dumps that’s survivable during the day, if you can ignore the smell which is like a full ashtray soaking in a bowl of beer into which a Doberman has just peed. At night, of course, the place is a no-go area unless you have a death wish or own a Kevlar onesy.

If the Hour of cheap drinks was intended to help business, it hadn’t worked. There were four of us in that afternoon – me, Fat Sweaty Guy, Skinny Looks-Like-A-Drug-Addict Guy and Covered-in-Homemade-Tattoos-Scary-Builder Guy. We’d each found our own corner of the room, as far away from the others as physically possible because if you’re in Lucky’s at three o’clock on a Tuesday, you’re not there for the company.

The barman had stopped rubbing beer glasses with a filthy towel and was leaning on the bar, his thumb flicking up and down his phone screen, his elbows wedged in the drip tray. I’d finished my beer ten minutes earlier but didn’t have the energy to order another. Besides, the longer I sat there, the more I was convinced the five of us had slipped out of the universe, into an alternate time stream, where the barman’s thumb would always flick the screen, the same fly would mark out the same triangle over my head, time and again, forever. Or maybe that was the Stella talking.

The fruit machine winked a seductive sequence of red, green and gold lights. My forearm was stuck to the table with semi-dried beer and I didn’t have the energy to disengage. The CD player was on an eighties loop and not in a good way ‒ we’re talking Orville and Joe Dolce rather than The Smiths and New Order.

Why was I sitting in a joyless city centre purgatory on a Tuesday afternoon instead of being at work? Well, the Friday before I was invited to be part of a ‘future interchange movement involving the rationalisation and reorganisation of roles and responsibilities’, which all sounded very exciting until I realised it meant me packing my Snoopy mug and my I hate Mondays coaster and leaving work with a month’s severance and zilch redundancy money.

Some would say I was drowning my sorrows. I like to think I was regrouping, reconfiguring, ‘planning a forward action from a challenging dip in financial growth’.

I was just trying to interpret one of Scary-Builder Guy’s tattoos – a daringly, avant-garde representation of Winnie the Pooh doing something unimaginably uncomfortable to Eeyore with a very large carrot – when Alex walked in.

Have you ever seen a stunningly beautiful, copper-haired, five foot eight girl enter a grotty city centre bar wearing red PVC boots, a tartan mini-dress with a bustle, carrying a silver topped cane and dragging a wheeled leather suitcase large enough to hold a medium-sized human male in the foetal position? Me neither. Not before that Tuesday, anyway.

The barman looked up from his phone, thumb in mid-scroll. Fat Sweaty Guy and Skinny Looks-Like-A-Drug-Addict Guy exchanged a look. Covered-in-Homemade- Tattoos-Scary-Builder Guy stopped plucking lumps of dried plaster from his overalls with his thumbnail and ‒ I guess as there was no one else to share the moment with ‒ looked at me. It was a speck of time on the backside of the universe, but with one flick of his eyes, I swear he said,

  ‘Well, this is a turn up, eh? Who’d have thought it, pillocks like us, sitting in a dump like this. Just shows you never know when Lady Fortune is going to reach into your day, grab you by the jockeys and shake you ‘til something comes loose. Be lucky.’

It was quite a bonding moment. Brought a tear to my eye.

Perhaps one of us should’ve played the dashing hero, offered to help her with her case. But, let’s face it none of us were hero material. We stared speechless, immobile, unable numpties caught in her radiance.

She eased her bag to a halt in the middle of the floor, teetered to the bar, wriggled up onto a stool and said in a voice which I later compared to that of a small, female James Earl Jones, ‘Tequila, please, with a Snakebite-and-black chaser.’

I mean, come on – that’s quite an opener.

But I’m not an idiot and I’m no masochist. Maybe in a parallel universe, there’s another version of me who isn’t a thirty-three-year-old unemployed telephone marketer living in two rented rooms above a fish and chip shop in the crappy end of town. But I’m not him. So I stayed put, tucked my head down low and waited for that oasis of womanhood in my desert of a life to swig her drinks and pass on through.

It was then that a pint of purple liquid was dumped on the table in front of me.

‘This seat taken?’ she said.

To be Continued …


Welcome to the world of The Shadowmaker

In honour of the fact my YA manuscript, Shadowmaker, is about to wing its way into the submissions process, I thought I’d introduce you to its world.

Tales of the Shadowmaker are short stories inspired by the novel. The characters dwell in the same world, they live by the same rules, perhaps rubbing shoulders with the novel’s protagonists, perhaps not.

They may be humorous, they may be dark. They’ll always be filled with Shadows …