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.

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How to commit murder

knife-316655_1280

 

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I’M LEARNING THE ART OF MURDER. It’s a slow, messy process. Sometimes I’m filled with remorse and regret, but with every act of violence, the next swing of the axe becomes easier. Allow me to explain how this pyschopathic streak took hold.

My YA time travelling novel has been through many drafts. It’s not that the initial concept was a bad idea. Man, it’s a great idea- I should know, I’ve lived with it for years. But it was also my first big writing project after a couple of decade’s hiatus (see my About page) and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

To write sparingly is an art form I’m struggling to achieve. Begone overblown ADJECTIVES! Die in agony tortured ADVERBS! May you perish alone and unloved, my overuse of the SEMI-COLON!

To reach the barely competent stage I’m at, I’ve had at least four rewrites of the YA novel, written first drafts of two others, umpteen short stories, filled twenty five note books with plots, character studies, overheard conversations and observations AND been one of the main contributors to my writing group’s blog https://allwritethen.wordpress.com/

And still I struggle to ‘kill my darlings’, to edit out what’s superfluous, what slows the plot, what muddles the narrative, what doesn’t fit the style or theme.

Although… Just recently, I’ve excised an entire chapter from near the opening of my book. It was tense, creepy and frightening with a sniff of the pervy stalker about it- all great things- but the tone was wrong and it introduced the villain too early.

So, I murdered it, rubbed it out of the narrative and buried the body in a separate file. Maybe one day I’ll resurrect it, transforming the withered corpse into a short story. But for now it’s dead, an ex-chapter, pushing up the literary daisies, gone to join the choir proverbial.

Now my plot is cleaner, punchier, more perfectly formed. Problem is… There’s this other chapter. It’s flabby, carrying too much weight and really, everything that happens in it could be summed up in a few sentences at the start of the next section.

Now, where did I put my axe.