Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Mermaid Pool

This excerpt is from a novel I’ve written and am currently looking to publish.

Some say that the mermaid is dangerous, that she’ll lure a man to his death. Some say that the mermaid isn’t real. But Nell has seen her and she knows the truth.

Cornwall, 1877 and two free-spirited women from very different backgrounds, are thrown together after the wreck of a ship. Their friendship leads them to take increasingly dangerous risks and after they fall captive to Nell’s unhinged and violent husband, the bonds of their friendship are tested to the limit.

 

Polmorvoren, Cornwall, 1877

‘The mermaid wept great salty tears for the sea. She had been such a fool to let herself be captured. She’d traded her freedom for the empty promises of a mortal boy.’

Did she escape?’ asked Sarah, wriggling beneath the blankets.

‘Of course she did. How many times have I told you this story? No one can keep a mermaid captive. Every fool knows that.’

Sarah yawned and rubbed her eyes.

‘You’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the rest of the story though. It’s getting late.’

‘But…’

‘But nothing. We’ve got work in the morning.’

‘Nell?’

‘Yes?’

‘Ma says the mermaid isn’t real. She says that it’s nonsense. She said that Pa was a liar to tell you them stories.’

Nell shook her head. ‘Ma doesn’t mean it. She’s not been herself since Pa went missing. Didn’t I tell you I’d seen the mermaid with my own eyes?’

Sarah nodded earnestly.

‘And I’m not a liar am I?’

‘No, Nell. You always tell the truth.’

Sarah smiled and turned over. Shortly, her breathing became quiet and even. Nell descended the stairs from their damp space in the cottage’s rafters and went back to her sewing. The light from the fire was poor and her eyes hurt, but she needed to get the mending done or she’d have nothing to wear for church on Sunday. As she wove the needle from front to back she had to fight to concentrate. She’d been wrong to tell Sarah about the mermaid. Now she’d put them both in danger and it was all her fault. She’d got them into this mess. Pa was gone, taken by the sea, and it was all her fault.

The church bell became one looping wail chased by footsteps and raised voices. Nell realised that she had dozed off. The fire was reduced to embers. She sat blinking in surprise for one moment, before she roused herself enough to go. There had been another wreck. Shivering, she put on her cape and placed a candle in a lantern. Roughly tying her bonnet, she stepped out into the night.

Immediately the rain slapped against her face, the full force of a harsh onshore gale behind it. Other lanterns glimmered in the darkness and shouts could be heard above the roaring wind and waves. Passing the familiar clutch of whitewashed fisherman’s cottages, she drew near to the crowd gathered on the beach. At the south edge of the cove, framed by cliffs and black rocks was the huge silhouette of a ship. Vessels so big were never seen this far into the cove because there was no safe passage for them, the sand bars and rocks preventing entry.

Another gust of wind blew and cries of alarm passed through the crowd as the ship’s sails drove it further onto the rocky outcrop.

The dark shapes of men who had strapped themselves to the masts in their desperation, were revealed momentarily as the waves peaked and fell away. Looking at the wreck, she couldn’t help but think of Pa. Viktor’s boat had been lost just over a year now. Had it been like this for him? She pulled the small figurine from the pocket of her skirts. It was no bigger than her little finger, intricate in its carving, each scale picked out carefully. The mermaid looked as though she was swimming, back arched, ready to flick her tail and disappear under the waves. Nell remembered Pa making it for her, his big fingers so deft with the knife as he worked the piece of driftwood. From his first boat, he’d said, the one that had brought him to Polmorvoren so it was special. He said that it held good magic so why hadn’t it protected him?

A small group of the local fishermen waded out into the swell. They knew where the hidden reefs and rips were and they knew to take no chances. They would only do what they safely could. In a storm like this the ocean could be unpredictable.

Nell huddled nearer to the little crowd that had gathered to try and catch what was being said. She wanted to know if there were likely to be any survivors, but as she moved closer she caught the bitter whispers and sidelong glances. She’d grown accustomed to the way the womenfolk of the village looked at her and her sister Sarah. At the centre of it all was Old Mother Greaves, the head of a long line of sour-faced women. All the Greave’s women looked much older than their years, bowed and bent by their caustic thoughts. Her hair dangled from the sodden hood of her cape and her eyes snared Nell’s for a second. She smiled, all broken teeth and red veins. The smile did not reach her eyes.

Nell turned away and made a point of staring at the waves. With a thundering groan the ship rolled onto its side, its masts crushed and splintered like twigs. The men who had been tied there were gone. As she neared the water’s edge, salt spray joined the rain in lashing at her face and Nell thrust her hands deep into the woollen folds of her cape. There were excited shouts and the two men in the water were joined by others. They hauled something up onto the beach. Nell moved closer, afraid it would be bodies, but it was just casks of brandy. The Excise officer would arrive sooner or later and the men were working quickly, salvaging what they could. In the crowd Nell spied Davey Smith’s sons George and William. Davey Smith ran the fleet of luggers that fished out of the bay. He was a wealthy man and no one ever challenged him. If he wanted the salvaged goods then he’d take them. The Smith boys hauled the casks up the beach and onto a waiting cart. It would soon disappear into one of their cellars in the village.

Nell cast a silent prayer for the crew. The wind and waves were busy grinding and smashing it against the black rocks. There’d be nothing left by that evening. Along the beach, the crowd began to disperse. They would wait for the ocean to do its work and return at sunrise and take what remained. The white water lapped at Nell’s boots and she turned to go but something drew her eyes back. Thinking it simply more flotsam from the wreck, she stepped forwards to take a closer look at the dark bundle on the sand. When it moved, she started to run, not minding that the holes in her boots were filling with water. It was a boy, eyes closed, face pale and bloodied. He retched, sea water and spittle dribbling from his lips. She had to save him. Reaching down, she grasped his cold hands and tugged but he was heavy and she struggled to free him from the sea’s grasp.

She called for help but most folk were out of earshot, tramping up the muddy track back to their warm cottages. Feeling someone’s eyes on her, she turned. It was George Smith, returned to see if there were more casks. George was the oldest of Davey Smith’s sons. He was sure to inherit the impressive fleet of luggers that Davey ran out of the bay and he had already assumed his father’s swagger and arrogance.

Nell pulled at the boy’s limp body. He was a dead weight and Nell stumbled. If he was to survive she needed to get him warm as soon as possible. George’s face was unreadable, his cap pulled down over his eyes. His cheeks were red with the cold and salt spray. He would have been a fine looking man had it not been for his bad temper and grim countenance.

‘He’s as good as dead, lass. Leave him be.’

‘But he’s only a boy.’

George stepped forwards and for one moment she thought he was going to help. Instead, he stared down at her shaking his head.

‘Leave him. It’ll come to no good. You take a soul from the sea and she’ll come after you or one of yours.’

His words shook her. Did he know what she’d done, why Pa had been taken? She looked into cold blue eyes but all she saw was impatience and scorn. There was no way he could know. She hadn’t told a soul. She hadn’t even told sarah the truth. His words were just fisherman’s superstition. Another figure was making its way slowly down the track towards them. She recognised Mr White, the vicar. George visibly stiffened and turned his back on her.

‘Evening sir.’

The vicar’s eyes flitted from the boy’s body to Nell. On seeing the boy, he ran to Nell’s side.

‘Is he alive?’

Nell put her hand on the boy’s chest.

‘Just.’

‘Any other survivors?’

Nell shook her head. ‘No one as yet. Perhaps by morning…’

As she said the words, she knew there was scant hope anyone else would be found alive. All there would be by morning would be smashed timbers and broken bodies. Gobbets that no one would be persuaded to collect that would wash up on the rocks for the gulls to pick at.

Mr White turned to George who hovered uncertainly a few yards from them.

‘Your help would be appreciated.’

George could not be seen to turn away from the vicar’s request so reluctantly, he took over and between them, they managed to get the boy onto a cart.

The vicar’s cottage was much more comfortable than Nell’s own home; a good fire was burning and the flagstones had been scrubbed clean. The furniture was simple but well made and there was a proper bed. Nell stripped the boy of his wet clothes. They were much like the clothes the fishermen of the village wore: heavy trousers, boots and a knitted pullover similar to their own gansey. When Nell checked the boy’s pockets, she found them empty. There was no indication of who he was or where he had come from. He didn’t look like the folk from the bay, his skin was olive coloured and his brown eyes were framed by thick dark lashes. Nell regarded the single wooden crucifix on the wall over the bed, a cold sweat forming down her spine. She was a sinner. She carried the guilt of what she’d done in her heart, wrapped up tight and hidden, but every time she set foot in the church, she shook with fear under the gaze of perfect Jesus on his perfect cross. He had forgiven Judas, could he forgive her? As her lips moved, head bowed, she thought of Pa. Viktor Ivanov had loved the sea. Nell remembered the evenings, tucked up warm and safe in bed as he’d sat by her side and recounted stories of his travels. In his stories the sea had been a place of marvels; strange creatures and pirates. Adventure at every turn. But what Nell had really loved had been his stories about the mermaids.

Viktor had many tales about the mermaids. Most of them were nonsense. There was only one story that mattered and that was the story of how Viktor had come to Cornwall. When he’d first told Nell, she had laughed at him. After all, Viktor Ivanov was known in the village as something of a teller of tall tales. His catch was always bigger, his waves always tsunami in stature, his skill as a fisherman as good as St Peter himself. Why – he hadn’t just netted souls – he had got himself a real life mermaid hadn’t he?

She had thought it just another of his tales. But then, after Pa had gone missing last year, while she was out swimming, the slim dark shape of the mermaid had glided beneath her. She had seen the flick of a tale, the unmistakeable swirl of wavy hair. It was no fish. This was a woman. This was the thing that Pa had called the rusalka, what the Cornish called a mermaid, and of course, she couldn’t tell a soul.

Write every day…

If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.

Ray Bradbury

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky…

No matter what we get out of this

I know, I know we’ll never forget

Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky

Deep Purple – Songwriters: Ian Gillian, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Roger Glover.

I was listening to this song the other day. Actually I was trying to learn the bass line – a bit tricky – and no, the bass doesn’t play the riff at the start. But that’s another story. What this song made me think about is that writing, or indeed any creative pursuit, isn’t always about the end product. It’s about the process of creating.

Some writers like editing. Some like taking a messy structure – a confused mess with a troubled middle or dodgy beginning and hacking away at it until it resembles something smooth and polished. Others relish line editing. Taking each paragraph of prose and getting every apostrophe, comma and word to work perfectly, efficiently.

I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I do get some kind of perverse pleasure out of putting commas in the right place and making sure all my inverted commas are curly enough but nothing ever beats the flow and magic of that first draft.

Many faiths find something special in creativity. Druids call it ‘Awen’. Its symbol is three divine rays of light pouring down. That’s how that first rush of creating feels to me. Inspiration seems to come out of somewhere bigger than ourselves.

Sometimes, as I have found recently, as writers or creative people, we can get bogged down with the ‘job’. We actually say ‘the magic has gone out of it’ and that’s what it certainly feels like. Another story to edit for someone else. Another chapter that needs to get rewritten by the end of the month. Another synopsis that must be just right for the agent.

Somewhere along the way we lose sight of what it is we enjoyed in the first place. The simple flow of words, bringing characters to life that suddenly take on a life of their own, losing ourselves in places that only exist in our imagination.

This is the magic. The smoke on the water and fire in the sky. This is what it’s all about.

So, next time, before you fire up your laptop, open up a notebook and free your creativity for a while. Write whatever comes into your head. Find that joyful, playful place. Enjoy.

That’s what I intend to do before starting work on my next longer piece of work.

I think you’ll find that as a result, when you come back to the work you have on your to do list, it’ll feel looser, more inspired, more creative.

Happy Creating x

What can writers learn from art?

I’ve recently begun a course in ceramic at the Art House in Sheffield. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time and I’m really enjoying it. I loved art at school and it’s great to finally let that part of myself stretch its wings again. It’s had a knock on effect on my writing – a good one.

It has freed me up, made me take more risks. Before, I had become blinkered, entrenched in the form and expected manner of my writing. Novels are supposed to be written in a certain way, short stories usually take form x. y and z etc. However, by exposing myself to the risk of something new, to create in a looser way with clay, I have found that I’m more willing to take risks with my writing, to dig deeper and be a little looser.

This has led me to consider further, what can we as writers learn from art and artists. Yes, I know that the art world can be cut-throat, nepotistic and snobbish. But that’s just the same with the so-called upper echelons of the literature world. I believe that if we look more broadly at art, there’s a lot we can learn.

One of the main things we can emulate is the playfulness of some artists. Creativity is essentially play. This makes me think of a quote by Ray Bradbury, the Science Fiction writer and author of ‘Fahrenheit 451’

‘I don’t understand writers who have to work at it. I like to play. I’m interested in having fun with ideas, throwing them up in the air like confetti and then running under them.’

Writing should be playful. Yes, I know it sometimes feels like a hard slog and the words just don’t come and redrafting and editing can be a chore, but the actual act of creating a story or poem out of nowhere is magical and fun and playful. There really is nothing quite like it. Perhaps, if it’s not playful and enjoyable, then we aren’t truly speaking with our proper creative voice, we’re just putting words on a page that we think other people expect to see.

But just because art and writing should be, and can be playful, it doesn’t mean it isn’t important. I think Grayson Perry says it so so well in ‘Playing to the Gallery’:

‘Art is not some fun add-on to life. Go back to the Ice Age and the artists were still making art even when living constantly under threat..The need to express oneself runs very very deep. The problem is often accessing this need..without the self-consciousness that so curses teenagers and the world alike.’

Being playful, breaking free of the constraints of expectation of form, medium or technicality can set us free from that self-consciousness and lead us to be better writers.

 

 

 

Winner of Sheffield Off The Shelf Short Story Competition 2016!

I am thrilled to have come first place in this years Off The Shelf Short Story Competition. The competition, run by Sheffield Authors held an evening to hear some of the stories and present the awards at the Mugen Tea House on 17th October.

I attended, pleased to have made the final twelve with my story ‘After The Fire’ but was not expecting to make the top six, let alone be first prize!

It was a lovely event and I met some really lovely creative people, including Berlie Doherty, author of Street Child and Dear Nobody. Berlie, a double Carnegie medal winner was one of the judges. I also got chatting to Steven Kay, another writer of historical fiction and author of The Evergreen in Red and White and Beverley Ward who won a Northern Writers Award in 2012 for her yong adult novel Straight on Till Morning. It was a lovely event and everybody was so supportive and friendly.

The story is set in Birley Spa woods in the nineteenth century is centered around the burial of Lucretia, the Queen of Gypsies at Beighton. It will be published in the next issue of Now Then magazine.

It was fantastic finding out that I had won and it has really spurred me on in my writing and creative endeavors.

Prejudices, old and new

Here is a link to the first few chapters of a new novel I’m working on. It’s called ‘The Witch Bottle’ and it’s a novel for young adults.

The Witch Bottle

It’s set in Derbyshire, in the Peak District, and it follows a teenager, Jane and her friend Lilith, the daughter of Polish immigrants, as they get caught up in a centuries old feud sparked by the murder of a suspected witch in the village in 1760.

It’s very much about prejudice and bigotry as well as identity, and how fear and hatred can get passed down the generations.

I’m struggling a bit with the tone as this is a move from writing for women, as well as trying to work out the best way to convey some of the historical content and how the prejudices affect families down the generations without confusing the audience. I think it’ll be a case of trial and error. Luckily I have my daughter aged 11 to test it on.

If you have the time to read it, I’d be really happy to have any thoughts you have about it.

This Garden

So we’ve passed the longest day now and it feels like everything’s preparing for fruit bearing and harvest time. In the woods, the bees are busy collecting pollen from the blackberry flowers. I’ve only started to notice how many different types of bees there are recently.

Today I spotted a Tree Bumblebee queen and a Buff-Tailed queen on the blackberries and gorse in the woods. I used the website of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to identify them. Apparently there are over 250 species so I was thankful for the help!

IMG_4539

 

The Tree Bumblebee only arrived here in 2001 from mainland Europe and it’s a great pollinator, moving with incredible speed from flower to flower. I had a bit of trouble photographing it, it was moving so fast and it was enormous!

 

 

IMG_4504

 

 

By comparison, the Buff-Tailed Bumblebee was quite easy to capture on film. You can see her pollen baskets which she uses to collect pollen and take it back to her young.

IMG_4514

 

 

The Oak trees are starting to produce acorns, as is the Horse Chestnut that me and Ollie pass every day. Indeed, there are hundreds of tiny conkers, still in their protective shells all over the pavement.

 

 

IMG_4501

 

A few blackberries are starting to show, as are the elderberries – although still green – just like the strawberries in my garden. Just a little more sun needed to ripen them.

 

 

 

 

Lastly, bizzarely, there was an abandoned shopping basket in the woods. Must be a mystery shopper gone wild.

IMG_4487

A Wood in England

Thought I’d add a new short story to the site. It’s one I did on a Saturday afternoon for an online writing community called Scribblers. They’re a friendly bunch and they do a piece of flash fiction each week. It’s fun and it keeps you on your writerly toes.

img_3846-1_25682732186_o

It’s a story that owes a lot to Amy Jump / Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. Set in the civil war it’s about a deserter meeting a strange old man in the woods.

When I’ve got time I’ll build on it – want to make more of the folk/fairy tale themes of blood, death, the soldier/poor man trying to make good and the trickster.

Earth by Sarah Peacock.

Out and About

Well, I didn’t quite manage to do the whole nature writing thing every two weeks as I thought I would, but I do have a good excuse. I’ve been squirreling away on the novel and am now near the end. About 84,000 words done and twenty chapters or so.

I have been walking in the woods most days as we go to school and back that way. We’ve also been walking along the Cleveland Way on the North Coast, as well as visiting more local wilds in Derbyshire. We’ve even been engaging in a little wild swimming!

IMG_1120

The changes in the woods now are quite amazing. Even though some parts of my little scrub-wood are simply that; scrubby and if I’m honest, full of litter and vandalism (that is until you get further into the woods, where most people can’t be bothered to venture) – they have flourished with the warmer days we’ve had.

 

 

 

 

The bluebells are wilting now but we’ve got cow parsley in abundance as well as forget-me-nots and cranesbill.

The field maples have pushed forth their buds, the new leaves striking out and the hawthorn is heavily in flower, complete with it’s own heady fragrance.

 

IMG_1119

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out on our walk along the coastal path of the Cleveland Way we encountered hundreds of frogs in a makeshift pond right next to the North Sea and also came across a magnificent and rather large toad dominating the steps along the path.

IMG_4353

I’ve seen a few frogs in the garden as I’ve been gardening and hopefully I’ll be able to give them a home soon as my plan is to dig a wildlife pond once draft one of the novel is complete.

Nature Writing

img_3846-1_25682732186_oI’ve decided to start writing a post every couple of weeks or so about the woods nearby. I found I was writing far too much setting in my novel, waffling on about skies and trees so I decided to put the urge to better creative use.

It’ll also help me to pull together some ideas for my next novel.

‘Lost in a Forest‘ is the first post. Enjoy!