Trevor Belshaw Author

Author of Out of Control

Author: tbelshaw (page 1 of 3)

Desperate Measures

First published in Ireland’s Own magazine.

Michael Keagan stared despondently at the bleak winter sky. The light snow that had started to fall half an hour ago had become heavier and begun to settle.
‘Fabulous,’ he whispered, ‘the first Christmas snow we get in decades and I’m stood around in it, freezing to death.’
Cursing under his breath, he pulled his hood forward, checked his watch for the 20th time and wondered, once again, why he had chosen to wear trainers instead of the warm winter boots that were sitting under the stairs at home.

Christmas Eve wasn’t the best time to do a spot of breaking and entering, he decided.

Keagan looked around, the garden was quiet. His hiding place could not be overlooked by the neighbours, he had chosen well. The laurels were excellent cover and he could see into the drawing room clearly. The occupants, a man in his 40s and a slightly younger woman, were sat together in front of an open fire, drinking and sharing some joke or happy memory.

Keagan willed them to go to bed, it was 11.45. It couldn’t be much longer now surely? There was a child in the house, kids always got up early on Christmas day. Parents usually got up with them.
Five minutes later his patience was rewarded. The couple left their fireside seats and headed for the door leading to the stairs. The man remained for a while, turned off the Christmas tree lights and placed a metal guard in front of the coal fire. He checked his watch as he left the room; closing the door behind him.
Keagan watched as the stair light was turned off. It was replaced by a bedroom light and the duller light of the en suite close by. Not long now. He reached for a cigarette then decided it was too risky. He would have to wait.

Ten minutes later the lights were extinguished. He hoped the pair weren’t feeling amorous.

Keagan waited in the shrubbery for another thirty minutes before he decided it was safe enough to proceed. He took a final glance at the upstairs window and hurried across the lawn, crouching as he ran. The snow was coming down heavier than ever and would quickly cover any footprints he left behind.
Still crouching, he crossed the patio and headed for a set of French doors. A pair of small garden statues guarded them, one either side of the frame. Keagan lifted the right hand statue carefully and groped underneath until he found a key. He grinned and nodded to himself. He knew it would be there; people were so lax about security matters.



With a trembling hand, he turned the key in the lock. The door opened with a low groan, the warm air that greeted his entry, welcome after the freezing two hour reconnaissance. Keagan dipped into his pocket and pulled out a small pencil torch. Sliding a tiny button forward he shone the thin beam around the room. The door he wanted was on the left and with a few quick strides he crossed the timber floor and let himself into the drawing room.

The fire had begun to die down but gave out enough light to enable him to turn off the torch. Keagan wandered over to the Christmas tree, a dozen parcels lay underneath. Picking a couple at random he shook them, guessed the contents then returned them to the pile.

‘Now for the tricky bit,’ he thought.

He walked to the stair door and slowly eased the handle down. He grimaced as it creaked open, didn’t anyone lubricate hinges anymore? Keagan waited for a full minute in case the sound had been heard, but no-one stirred in the rooms above. He decided to leave the door ajar, for his heart as much as anything else. The noise had un-nerved him.
On tip toe and grateful now for his decision to wear the trainers, Keagan crept up the stairs a step at a time, listening intently for any sound of movement.
At the top he halted and waited for a few seconds; all was quiet. He turned to the right, eased open the white painted door in front of him and entered the bedroom. A small night light glowed on the bedside table, he smiled to himself; she never had liked the dark.

Keagan looked toward the small figure curled up under the covers and caught his breath. The girl was asleep, breathing softly, deep in dreams; her golden hair spread over the pillow. He moved slowly to the side of the bed, reached into his pocket and brought out a small package containing a bracelet and a short letter. Holding his breath, he gently lifted her hand and laid the package on the coverlet, then set her hand on top. Instinctively, he leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
He wanted to stay longer, but he daren’t. He wanted to wake her, to tell her he loved her, to tell her he hadn’t forgotten, but that could end in disaster. Laura’s mother had steadfastly refused him access, despite the court order he had won. She had even refused to pass on gifts and messages. Were she to discover him in this burglar role, her revenge would know no limits

Keagan leaned over her again, whispered, ’Soon, my darling,’ then, wiping away a tear, he turned and left the room as quietly as he had entered it.
Back outside, Keagan replaced the key under the statue and took a last look at the house he knew so well, the house he used to share with Laura before life had become so difficult. His lawyers had insisted that access would be granted in the New Year It all should have been sorted out much sooner. Had it been left to Laura’s mother and him, it would have been.

Once on the street he lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. The snow fell steadily. It was in for the night, there would indeed be a white Christmas; Laura would love that.
Back in the car Keagan lit another cigarette, fired up the engine, turned on the radio and adjusted the dial for the heater. He had a two hour drive ahead of him, but the journey would be shortened by the feeling of a job well done.

As he was about to pull away he heard a beep from his pocket. Keagan checked the phone; a text message was waiting in his inbox.

‘Thanks Dad, I love the bracelet. Happy Christmas! Laura.

Through misty eyes, Keagan checked his mirrors, pulled away from the kerb and turned up the radio. As he drove along the deserted High Street he heard the familiar voice of Bing Crosby wishing everyone a merry Christmas.
‘Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow…’
Keagan nodded in agreement and headed toward the motorway.

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The Visit

The Visit.

He walked across the veranda and stopped just behind her.

‘Jodie?’

The young girl stared into the darkness and said nothing.

‘Jodie, I…’

‘Don’t talk to me.’

‘Come on, Honey, I just…’

The girl whistled tunelessly and studied the darkness.

‘Jodie don’t…’

‘You left us.’

The man bowed his head. ‘I know, Honey. I didn’t want to.’

‘You just left, without even saying goodbye.’

‘I couldn’t, Jodie, there wasn’t time, your Mom…’

‘Mom was hurt real bad. Do you know that?’

‘Yes, Honey, I know that. Do you miss me too, just a little?’

‘No, I got over you, it took a while, but I made it.’

‘I never got over you, Jodie. Never will.’

The girl got up from the step and turned to face him.

‘You haven’t changed much.’

‘No,’ he laughed. ‘I don’t suppose I have.’ He reached out to put a hand on her shoulder.

She stepped back quickly. ‘Have you seen Ryan?’

‘Not yet, I don’t know if he wants to see me.’

‘Probably not. He calls Jim, Dad, now.’

‘And you? Do you call Jim, Dad?’

She shook her head. ‘He’s not my Dad. I call him Jim.’

‘Is he looking after you Okay? Does he…’

‘What do you care? You left us. He wouldn’t be here but for that.’ She sat on the step again and wiped away and angry tear.

He placed a soft hand on her hair. She snapped her head away, then dropped her chin to her chest and began to sob. ‘You went… without…saying…goodbye.’

He sat on the step and placed his arm around her shoulder. A few seconds later she buried her head in his chest.

‘I would have given anything to stay, Sweetheart. You know that. I would never do anything to hurt you.’

The sobbing slowly subsided. When she spoke again her voice was soft, all the anger gone.

‘Christmas was bad, and Thanksgiving. I didn’t celebrate my birthday, not properly.’

‘I couldn’t send you anything, Jodie. It wasn’t possible.’

‘I know, Dad. I’m older now, I understand.’

A voice called from inside the house. ‘Jodie? Dinner’s ready. Come wash your hands.’

She stood up slowly. He crouched and took her hands in his. ‘You had better go or you’ll be in trouble.’

She threw her arms round his neck and hugged him. ‘Thanks for coming, Dad. Will I see you again?’

‘He sucked on his teeth and tipped his head to the side. ‘Never say never. It’s difficult, but I’ll try to come over now and then. It might be a while ’til next time though.’

She stepped back and gave him a smile. ‘I love you Dad.’

He nodded slowly. ‘I know, Honey, and I love you, never forget that.’

She smiled again. ‘Sorry for behaving like a brat.’ She turned away and crossed the veranda as Jim appeared in the doorway.

‘Jodie, how many more times…’

‘Sorry, Jim. I was just thinking about Dad…it’s three years ago today that he died.’

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Designer Shorts

Re-Released today. The Kindle version of my collection of Short Stories, poetry and sample chapters.

Knees provided by
David W Robinson

Designer Shorts is an anthology of short stories, excerpts from works in progress and a bonus section of poetry by the author of Tracy’s Hot Mail, T A Belshaw.
The collection includes two emails from the sequel to Tracy’s Hot Mail, Tracy’s Celebrity Hot Mail.
The Zombie Poets is a rather amusing tale about the aftermath of a Zombie apocalypse. The Zombies don’t want to eat brains; they have something far worse in mind.
The Psychic is a short story about a bored policeman stuck on desk duty, who encounters a strange individual delivering a very disturbing message.
Blind Date is a three-part story of a woman who allows herself to be persuaded to go on a blind date with the friend of a friend.
The Instant Messaging Machine, the Bath O’ Matic and The Time Machine are a series of Steampunk stories based around a Victorian inventor and the wife of his best friend who is determined to become the test driver for his amazing inventions.
The Second Valentine’s Day Massacre is a tale of gangster revenge.
Can You tell me Where God Is, tells the story, in verse, of a man struggling to bypass heaven’s insufferable, red tape.
At My Expense, is a poem about MPs expenses, whilst Clicking Gran is a children’s poem long listed in the Plough Prize international poetry Competition.

My Mistake was highly commended in the Farringdon Poetry competition.

Available on Kindle, Click Here. Amazon UK



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The Steampunk Instant Messaging Machine

From 2011

‘What an interesting device, Sir Oswald. What does it do exactly?’ Albert Parkin straightened his cravat, leant back in the stiff leather chair and took a sip from his brandy glass.

‘This,’ said Sir Oswald, ‘is my latest invention. I call it the IM machine. It is capable of sending short messages to recipients anywhere in the world. Providing they have one of these devices of course.’

‘Doesn’t the Telegraph system already do that?’ asked Albert.

Sir Oswald nodded. ‘Yes, but this little beauty can be set up in a person’s own home or office.’ A huge grin spread over his face. ‘No waiting for the delivery boy.’

‘It does looks very impressive,’ said Mrs Parkin from the back of the machine. Her head appeared through a cloud of steam. ‘How does one send an instant message?’

Sir Oswald puffed out his chest and stood proudly in front of the contraption. He opened a small door and threw in a single lump of coal. A fresh burst of steam hissed from a valve at the rear making Mrs Parkin scurry round to the front. She laid a soft hand on Sir Oswald’s arm as a small cloud of smoke snaked from a funnel on top.

Let’s say,’ said Sir Oswald, ‘that I wanted to send a message to Mrs Pettigrew, my secretary at Crankshaft and Piston Ltd. All I would have to do is this…’

Sir Oswald pulled a red lever, twisted a dial, then pulled on a green handle. He turned to Mrs Parkin with a smile as a panel slid to the side and a typewriter keyboard presented itself.

‘Voila.’

Sir Oswald fingers danced across the brightly polished keys. As he hit return, the machine emitted a small toot. There was a crunching of cogs, and more steam hissed from the safety valve. To Mrs Parkin’s delight a thin strip of tape appeared from a slot in front of her.

At Sir Oswald’s invitation, Mrs Parkin pulled the tape from the slot and read aloud.

‘Mrs Pettigrew. Please reply to this message immediately.’

Sir Oswald fed the tape into a second slot just above the first, and pressed the return key again.

‘Shouldn’t take a minute,’ he preened. ‘We have an identical machine in the office. We’re hoping to have thirty of them littered around the county by the end of next year.’

Sir Oswald poured himself another brandy and strolled back to the IM machine.

‘It’s taking longer than usual,’ he said with a frown.

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The Country Park

From 2009

The Country Park

By Ruddred0 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33165150

I live in a village called Ruddington, part of the borough of Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire.

The village itself dates back to Saxon times, though a recent excavation on the perimeter found stone arrowheads dating back to 1500 BC. Looking at certain members of some of the older families of the village, I can well believe they have been here that long. Two spring to mind immediately. They both have beards, long straggly hair and the wife of one of them has a fur coat.

Close by the arrowheads they found the remains of a Roman villa. Try as I might, I have yet to discover any of their distant relatives. No orgies have been reported in my lifetime.

 Such is the gossipy nature of the village, that if as much as a threesome had been planned, the entire village would have heard of it before number three had taken his coat off. A full-blown orgy would have seen a horde of Ruddintonians peering through windows long before the participants got as far as second helpings.

Ruddington is home to the famous Framework and Knitters Museum. I have to shamefully admit that this is a place I have never visited. Maybe it’s the thought of those dark old satanic mills that puts me off, maybe it’s the anger I would surely feel when I saw the conditions those poor Victorian wretches had to work in. But mainly I think it’s because I would be bored rigid. Cotton and wool, whilst worthy commodities, do not do a lot for me.

The museum is situated just beyond the church in the centre of the red brick village. Ruddington may sound as if it is named after the colour of its soil, or the brickwork on show; but it is actually named after a Saxon called Rudda. The name Ruddington means “the homestead’ or ‘ton’ of the Ruddingas (Rudda’s people).

I believe an ex-village hairdresser is a direct descendent of Rudda. I’m sure she used an axe as a hair cutting tool, there is no way you could make it look that rough, using scissors.

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The Froggers

The Froggers

 My garden pond is teaming with wildlife at the moment. We have Koi Carp, Goldfish, a couple of Green Tench and a few dozen newts, frogs and toads. I also have two energetic Springer Spaniels. Both of them are accomplished frogger’s, Molly, my black and white Springer, could frog for England at the ‘frogging Olympics’ if such an entity existed.

She is so accomplished that she sometimes comes trotting into the house with three frogs at a time, her mouth gently but firmly closed over fat bodies, leaving a tangle of green legs hanging out of the sides. Usually though, it’s only one unfortunate creature that has been caught unaware s as it came out of hiding, thinking it’s safe to go about catching dinner.

Maisie, my liver and white Springer, isn’t quite as adept at catching them, though she could still be an international at the event. She likes to see them jump, so she’ll give them a whack with her paw, then chase after them and repeat the exercise until they are steered in the direction of the pond. She knows they live there; she saw them in the bottom when we dug it out a month or two back.
Once the escapee is back in its watery gaol, she’ll go in search of another, looking under shrubs, stones and bits of old log we have scattered about the place.

Occasionally she’ll pick one up and trot around the garden with it. If we spot her, a quick ‘leave’ will see her cough up the absconding prisoner. She will then guard it carefully until we, the warders, stroll up to return the inmate to its watery cell.

Molly doesn’t give up her prize anywhere near as easily. She is a hoarder, a collector, an expert on the species. It really doesn’t matter if she has a frog or a foul-tasting toad. Once they are caught, they don’t get released until they been carefully inspected, catalogued, sized and sexed. We always groan when we see her with one, as we know what a tough job we have ahead of us, trying to negotiate a ransom.

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The Winter of 63

By Richard Johnson, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6589924

Another of the articles I wrote for Best of British magazine.

Winter is almost upon us once again. I wonder what the next few months have in store for us weather-wise?

Looking back, I can’t remember many bad winters over the last forty odd years, none that match the winter of 1963 at least. It stands out in memory as the worst (and best) winter I have ever experienced; I was nine at the time.

We kids welcomed the snow and all the extra time off school. We made snowmen, toboggans from bits of old wood or old pram parts and the most lethal pavement slides you ever saw. We had one on our road that would carry you a good twenty five yards. Adults hated us for making them; as I said, they were lethal. Once a fresh covering of snow had landed there was no telling it was there until an unsuspecting adult tried to negotiate the pavement. I can remember my father getting a letter from the milkman saying we would have to pay for any more breakages ourselves. The slide was there for almost three months so you would think he’d have remembered where it was after his second or third fall.

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After The Flood

In the early 1960’s we moved from our old Victorian slum to a brand-new house on a brand-new estate in Kirk Hallam, Ilkeston. I was about seven at the time

The old house, which was tied to my father’s job at the iron works, had been flooded. We lost just about everything; the waters had come half way up the stairs.

The flood struck at 8.am on Sunday 4th December 1960. The normally placid Nutbrook stream, swollen by heavy rain, burst its banks and flooded the Ironworks and the bottom half of Crompton Street. The water carried a hidden danger in the form of highly flammable, Benzoline oil that sat on the surface of the water. I didn’t know until years later that the oil had been a problem. I remember my father sitting on the sill of the upstairs window of our house as he smoked and chatted to the people next door. Cigarette stubs were flicked into the water at regular intervals.

We were rescued by the fire brigade who took us all to a community centre where we slept in sleeping bags on the floor for a few nights.

It was a major adventure for us kids but not so much fun for the parents or the older members of the community. I could have slept on a clothes line in those days but I doubt some people there got a wink of sleep.

We were fed soup and sandwiches by the Salvation Army. Before the evening meal we all had to stand and sing ‘I’ll be a sunbeam.’ My father, a reluctant Christian at best, would move his lips like a poor ventriloquist then burst into song on the final line of the chorus.

A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam;
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
A bloody fine sunbeam am I.

During the day we played Beetle, Draughts, Snakes and Ladders and Monopoly. The older residents must have been sick to death of Ludo, but they gritted their teeth and played on. I think they’d have done anything to keep the more energetic kids on their backsides, sat at chairs and tables instead of hurtling around on the parquet floor.

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Peggy Larkin’s War; Back To The Blitz.

Children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, waiting outside the wreckage of what was their home. September 1940. New Times Paris Bureau Collection. (USIA) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 306-NT-3163V WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1009

Chapter One

‘See who’s at the door, please, Peggy.’

Mrs Henderson pulled open the heavy blackout curtains with a grunt. The late August sun lit up the cosy sitting room, highlighting the floral pattern on the square of carpet that sat neatly between the brown, horsehair sofa and the high-backed chair that nestled next to the open fireplace.

‘It’s the postman.’

Peggy Larkin walked into the lounge carrying a handful of brown envelopes. She handed them to the tall, grey haired woman, who had been Peggy’s guardian since she had been evacuated from London to the big house in the small country village, almost a year before. Their relationship had begun poorly, but over time it had flourished and they had become very close.

Mrs Henderson flicked through the letters and selected one with a London postmark. She recognised the fine, neatly-spaced handwriting, immediately.

‘Ah, a letter from your mother, Peggy. Let’s see what news she brings us.’

Mrs Henderson picked up a small silver knife and slid it across the top of the envelope. She took out the two-page letter and scanned the first page quickly before handing the second page to Peggy.

‘Here’s your share.’

She smiled broadly as she re-read the first page, then sat down on the sofa as she waited for Peggy to read her portion of the letter.

‘Aunt Margie is getting married!’

Peggy looked up from the letter, a huge grin on her face.

‘And Mum wants us to go home for the wedding!’

Peggy danced around the room, clutching the letter to her chest.

‘It’s only for a few days,’ Mrs Henderson advised. ‘Your mother thinks you’ll be safe enough in London for a short time at least. The bombing everyone thought would come, hasn’t materialised.’

‘I know,’ Peggy replied. ‘Some of the evacuees in the village went home at the start of the school holidays and they haven’t come back. People think it’s safe now. My teacher, Mrs Johnson, says the Germans might not bomb us at all. Mr Hitler seems to be busy fighting in France.’

‘We’ll have to see about that,’ said Mrs Henderson. ‘Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched, Peggy. It’s not safe to go back for good.’ She folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope. ‘Anyway, on a selfish note, I’d miss you too much, and your mother has a very important job at the armaments factory. With the long shifts she has to work, I doubt she can find the time to look after you as well.’

Peggy nodded.

‘I know,’ she said sadly. ‘Mum works twelve hour shifts at different factories around London, she has to train women how to make the bombs and mines as well as doing her own job. It’s very dangerous work.’

Peggy was quiet for a few moments, then she stepped across the room to give Mrs Henderson a hug.

‘I’m very happy here. It will be nice when I can go home, but until then, I know you’ll look after me.’

Mrs Henderson hugged Peggy tight.

‘It’s been a pleasure my dear.’ A tear ran down her cheek. She hurriedly turned her head and dabbed her face with a white, handkerchief as Peggy pulled away.

‘Something in my eye,’ she sniffed.

Mrs Henderson walked through to the kitchen, shook the kettle, decided there was enough water in it to make tea, and placed it on the hob.

‘We have to make plans,’ she said. ‘We’ll need to check train timetables, buy tickets…’ She placed both hands on Peggy’s shoulders, her eye wide in excitement. ‘… and you’ll need a new dress to wear. We only have a couple of weeks to get ready. Your auntie’s fiancé has only got limited leave. He’ll have to go back to his regiment the day after the service. It’s all a bit rushed, but that’s what young people have to do today, what with the war and all.’

‘Are you coming too?’ asked Peggy.

‘Oh, I’m not invited,’ laughed Mrs Henderson. ‘It’s only a small, family occasion. So, we’ll need to find you a chaperon.’

‘A chapel what?’ Peggy looked confused.

‘It means a companion,’ explained Mrs Henderson. Someone to travel with, to make sure you get there safely.’

‘Harry can be my chappie, thingy,’ replied Peggy.

‘Your brother’s younger than you, dear,’ said Mrs Henderson with a little laugh. ‘I bet he’s had a letter too; we’ll have to drop in at the Watsons’ to organise things.’

Peggy and her younger brother had been split up the day they arrived. Harry was staying with a middle-aged couple on the other side of the village.

‘I think Harry’s forgotten all about Mum,’ said Peggy softly. ‘He never mentions home when I see him.’

Mrs Henderson patted Peggy on the shoulder.

‘I’m sure he remembers her; he’ll be just as happy as you are to go back to London for a while.’

‘I’m not so sure,’ said Peggy with a shake of her head. ‘He’s changed so much over the past year.’

‘Don’t worry about him, Peggy,’ said Mrs Henderson, softly. ‘He’s just settled in very well, that’s all. It’s a good thing really, you wouldn’t want him to be unhappy now, would you?’

‘He calls them Mum and Dad,’ said Peggy, ‘but they’re not.’

‘No, they’re not,’ replied Peggy’s guardian, ‘and I’m sure he knows that. It’ll just be a habit he’s gotten into that’s all.’

Their conversation was interrupted when they heard a frenzied, hammering on the front door.

‘Goodness me,’ said Mrs Henderson. ‘Something sounds urgent.’

She hurried to the front door and flung it open, Peggy rushed along behind.

On the doorstep stood a young boy. His hair was close-cropped, he wore a dirty, white shirt, trousers that were torn at the knee, and mud-caked boots, which he scraped on the edge of the step as he waited.

‘ALFIE!’ cried Mrs Henderson. ‘What on earth is the matter?’

Alfie was a few months older than Peggy; he had been evacuated to a nearby farm at more or less the same time that she had arrived in the village. He and Peggy were best friends and had shared a scary adventure.

‘Nothing much,’ said the boy, looking puzzled. ‘Can Peggy come out to play?’

Mrs Henderson blew out her cheeks.

‘Thank goodness for that. I thought someone had come to tell us the Germans were invading the village.’

‘They’re tied up in France,’ said Alfie seriously. ‘I heard it on the news this morning.’

Mrs Henderson turned away and returned to the kitchen. Peggy walked out onto the front step. She waved her letter at Alfie.

‘I’ve got exciting news,’ she said. ‘I’m going back to London in a couple of weeks.’

‘London!’ he exclaimed. ‘Brilliant news.’ He stared at her; excitement written all over his face.

Peggy grinned.

‘Mrs Henderson is going to find me a… a, chappie something… Someone to look after me on the journey.’

‘There’s no need for that,’ said Alfie. ‘I’m the only chappie you need. I’m going to come with you.’

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The Westwich Writer’s Club

This is a serial I began writing in 2010. Sixteen chapters were written and published on a blog. It proved to be quite popular and I’ve been asked many times if I’ll finish it and turn it into a book. I think the time has now come to do that, so, I’m going for publish the first four or five chapter’s on here to see if there really is an audience for it. Thanks for reading. Comments appreciated.

Chapter One

Manuscript Night

‘Will stared down at the lifeless body of Sir Charles Montague and smiled thinly. It was over, his tormentor was dead. He pulled his sword from the neck of his victim, wiped it on the grass and sheathed it. He looked at the brightening sky, the sun said noon, time to make for Durberry Vale, Elizabeth, and the rest of his life.’

Stephen King looked up from his manuscript and surveyed the hall. The audience of mainly elderly members stared back at him. The silence was deafening. Then from the table behind him came a solitary clap.

Margot Sugden, the writers group secretary, rose to her feet.

‘Thank you for that, Stephen, I’m sure we all found it very interesting. Not many members read the last chapter of their novel on their first manuscript reading but there’s no rule that says you can’t.’

She held up her list and squinted at it.

‘Now, whose turn is it? Ah yes, Deirdre, do you have more from ‘The Quilt? You do? Excellent!’

Stephen made his way to the row of empty chairs at the back of the room and sat down with a sigh.

A white-haired woman turned to face him from the row in front.

‘Awfully good.’ she whispered. ‘For a first timer.’

‘Thank you,’ said Stephen, ‘I don’t think it went down too well.’

‘I think it needs work,’ she replied, ‘quite a bit actually and people tend to read novels from the first chapter here. But you’re writing and getting an audience, that’s what counts.’

She paused, popped a mint into her mouth, thought for a moment, then offered the packet to Stephen.

‘You will find it will take a while to become accepted here. We’re an ancient bunch with a very old-fashioned mentality. We probably see you as a bit of a threat at the moment, but we’ll get used to you…eventually.’

Stephen took a sweet from the end of the roll and smiled.

‘I’ve only written the last five pages of this particular novel so far, ‘I thought if I got the end done, I’d know where I was heading with the story, if you see what I mean.’

A warm round of applause greeted Deirdre as she took to the stage. Mary’s voice dropped to a whisper as she was shushed by the members in front.

‘You ought to be writing horror stories with a name like yours. I’m Mary Clark by the way.’

‘My English teacher said the same thing at school. Nice to meet you, Mary.’

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