Cover Reveal: Death at the Lychgate

I’m delighted to reveal the wonderful cover for my work in progress, Death at the Lychgate.

The cover is, as usual designed by the uber-talented Jane Dixon-Smith, who was recently honoured for her work by the Romantic Novelists Association.

The book, tells how  amateur sleuth, Amy Rowlings teams up once again with Detective Sergeant Bodkin to solve a fiendishly cunning murder mystery.

The book should be available early in 2022.

 

A short excerpt from Hopes and Fears. An Unspoken Christmas

Alice

Saturday 14th December

At twelve o’clock we sat in the tea shop in town looking out of the fogged-up window as we sipped our hot drinks and nibbled at the dry cake that tasted as though it had spent a day too long under the glass counter. Stephen, bored as usual, began to draw with his finger in the condensation on the shop window. After twenty minutes I put him out of his misery and we got to our feet and made for the door, moving aside to allow a pair of elderly ladies to enter.

‘Thank you, dears,’ the first of the pensioners smiled at the children. ‘I’m ready for a cuppa, I’m parched.’

‘I wouldn’t bother with the sponge cake,’ Stephen advised. ‘You’ll be even parchder.’ He looked at me quizzically as I tried to usher him out of the café before he got us into trouble. ‘Is parchder a word?’ he asked.

Outside, the Saturday lunchtime streets were full of shoppers. Jam-packed buses trundled along the narrow town roads as the half day Saturday workers made their way home from the factories. The bustling market place echoed with the shouts of, ‘Plums, get your lovely plums, they’re big, they’re beautiful just like your… mums,’ and ‘sprouts and cabbage, fresher than your lodger, put it on a plate for him, girls, he’ll love you for it.’

New Author pics

Just to frighten even more readers away I’ve had some professional author photos done. Many thanks to Paul Haynes from the Old Mill studio, Belper St. Ilkeston for the fabulous images.

Hopes and Fears Released!

 

Hopes and Fears, My new Christmas novel was released on October 9th in Kindle and Paperback.

Say hi to the 1940 set of characters from the Unspoken and Murder at the Mill series.

https://amzn.to/2X6oJue

The Full cover reveal of Hopes and Fears

As publication day approaches, I’m delighted to reveal the full cover of my Christmas novel, Hopes and Fears, designed as always by the wonderful Jane Dixon-Smith of JDSmith-Design

Set in Christmas 1940 the story tells the tale  of Alice and her best friend Amy who are determined to reunite Stephen and Harriet, Alice’s evacuees, with their mother, Rose, who is lost in the Blitz.

Hopes and Fears. An Unspoken Christmas Story. Back of the book blurb.

Hopes and Fears. An Unspoken Christmas Story.

Christmas 1940. Despite the rationing and the Blackout, excitement at Mollison Farm is building as Alice and her workforce prepare for the annual Christmas Eve party. The snow has arrived, bang on time.

And this year, Alice has a big secret.

She has invited her evacuee children’s mother to spend a few precious days with her kids at Christmas, but disaster strikes and Alice is given the shock news that Rose’s home is now nothing more than a pile of bricks and the woman herself is missing, lost in the Blitz.

Amy, Alice’s best friend is despatched to the capital in a race against time, to find Rose and if possible, get her out of London.

As the search intensifies and the bombs start to fall again, Amy meets Rose’s sleazy husband Terry, a draft dodger, and Kevin, the ARP man with something to hide.

Meanwhile, on the farm, Stephen and Harriet discover the truth about their mother’s disappearance and Alice finds herself having to deal with the consequences.

The snow will fall and the farmyard carols will be sung, but will it be a happy Christmas on Mollison Farm?

 

Hopes and Fears. Christmas Novella Cover Reveal

HOPES AND FEARS

An Unspoken Christmas Story

I am beyond delighted to reveal the fabulous cover for my work in progress, the Unspoken Christmas Novella, Hopes and Fears.

As usual, the cover has been designed by the wonderfully talented, Jane Dixon Smith of JD Smith Design

The story is set at Christmas in 1940 where Alice is at the farm with her young daughter, Martha and her two evacuee children, Harriet and Stephen who are both excited at the prospect of receiving a visit from their mother, Rose, who still lives in blitz ravaged London.

Continue reading

The Village (working title)

The Village

A Thousand Years of Division

The village of Kirkby Sutton is a conglomerate and an enigma. Formed by the merging of two villages that had outgrown their ability to remain separate as an entity, it nevertheless retains two extremely different and specific identities. One half, as its name suggests, is built around the church and is a (mainly) well-to-do haven of respectability with its Georgian Manor, leafy wide-verged streets lined with large, detached houses, driveways, off road parking and a library. There is also a small 1960s estate, a mix of three bedroomed, privately-owned houses, with an enclave of housing association tenants bolted on for political expediency.

Down the hill, the other half of the village contains a higgledy-piggledy, hotchpotch of stone cottages, modern town houses and rows of Victorian terraces, originally built for the employees at the local lace factory, brewery and estate workers, who made the short trip up the road to toil on the farms of Lord Beresford on the other side of the village. Nowadays, the descendants of those workers still live in the red brick terraces, but are mostly employed by industries in the nearby cities of Nottingham and Derby.

The rivalry of its residents compares to any found in much larger towns and cities. You would be hard pressed to find as much animosity at a local Derby football match in Liverpool or Manchester. The annual village fair, which includes a fiercely fought tug-of-war competition, held on a boozy bank holiday weekend, regularly turns violent. For years, a police sergeant from the small town of Higton was paid to referee the event, but when the ageing sergeant retired and the police station was closed down to save money in the 1950s, the residents were left to sort out their own mess, so a committee, made up of the vicar’s wife and a group of teetotal residents from both sides, sat in sober judgment over the proceedings. To this day, the committee still rules on complaints and accusations made by one side against the other. Most of the grievances are easily dismissed, but on a few occasions a vote has to be taken with the chairperson, a lady with no connection to either side of the village holding the casting vote.

Continue reading

The Reckoning eBook released

I am delighted to announce the release of the eBook version of my new novel, The Reckoning.

The Reckoning is the third and final part of the Unspoken trilogy, following on from the original Unspoken novel and the sequel, The Legacy.

The Official back of the book blurb.

Unspoken Book Three. The Reckoning.

After a fractious few months trying to appease her dysfunctional family, Jessica Griffiths realises that her great grandmother Alice’s legacy has become a millstone around her neck.

With her feisty elderly relatives cruising around the South China Sea she is hoping for a less stressful time, but when Leonora, the meddling ex-wife of her lawyer boyfriend begins to plot and with her own ex, Calvin unable to accept that their relationship is over, she begins to feel the pressure mounting again.

Into the mix walks Josh, the handsome young café owner. Jess is drawn to him immediately. Will he be the one to finally break the Mollison man curse?

Jessica discovers new family secrets as she continues to read through Alice’s wartime diaries but more shocks await as Martha hands over her own disturbing memoirs.

With the cruise ship in trouble and problems nearer to home, Jess finds herself at the centre of another family maelstrom.
Feeling desperately alone and with the weight of the world on her shoulders, can she weather the storm with her family and sanity intact?

The eBook is available from

Amazon UK

Amazon US

and also on Kindle Unlimited.

A paperback version will be available in August.

Tracy’s Lockdown Hot Mail. A warm up episode.

Breaking! Tracy will be back very soon. Tracy’s Lockdown Hotmail will hopefully be written and released by the Autumn so you can look forward to seeing how Tracy and her dysfunctional family, managed to live together through the lockdown periods.

To whet your appetites, here’s a Christmas special that was written after the two original books were released. If you’ve never met Tracy before, you’re in for a treat, if you have… well, you’re in for a treat too, see how generous I am?

Tracy’s Christmas.

Hi Emma

How was your Christmas? I bet it was a bit weird spending it in Cornwall. Their accent is hard enough to understand when they’re sober so it must be just about impossible when they’re pissed. I met a bloke from Penzance at a party once, he spent all night betting me that I couldn’t handle his scrumpy. He was only about five-foot two and his trousers were so tight they hid nothing, so I’m pretty sure I could have. I wasn’t really interested anyway; he was drinking homemade cider, it looked like baby shit in a glass.  It was full of lumpy bits; I think he must have dropped his Cornish pasty in it.

My Christmas was okay, Mum got a bit drunk and Dad and Gran had their usual three rounds of all-in verbal wrestling. It was better entertainment than those crappy 1970’s reruns of Morecombe and Wise though.

Neil was playing the hero at the police station on Christmas Eve, saving us all from gangsters, drug dealers and other, scummy, low life, so he couldn’t come out with me. I was going to go to Tossers with Pauline Potts and her sister, Tia, but Pauline had a dodgy curry on Tuesday night and spent all day Wednesday on the lavvy. She was gutted because she had to miss her office party at work and Tia pulled the bloke that Pauline’s been lusting after for the last three months. Tia texted me to say she was going out on the piss with him on Christmas Eve, so it meant I had to make alternative arrangements. I rang around a few people but most of them were going to Spanners, that garage music night spot in the precinct. It was all ticket and no one had a spare.

I was saved from the ignominy of spending the night at the Dog and Duck with Dad, by that tart Olivia of all people. I was just standing behind her in the queue for the tills at Primark, listening to her highly confidential gossip, when she let it slip that she had a blind date lined up with some poor sod and they were going to meet up at the Spread Eagle pub at the top end of the council estate. Two things struck me about this. One, the aforementioned poor sod would really have to be blind if he was going to go through with the date after he’d met old yo-yo knickers, and two, the meeting place was aptly named because it was odds on that Olivia would be spread eagled by the end of the night, probably over the pool table. Anyway, the interesting bit was that the pub was having a fancy dress night and it was pay on the door.

I thought I’d have to spend the rest of the day looking for a costume, but then I remembered I still had that Xena, Warrior Princess outfit that I bought in the summer. The one I wore when they chucked me out of the St Moribund’s church roof, fundraiser dance because my tits kept falling out. (The bishop didn’t moan about it though and he had at least five dances with me that night.) I didn’t bother hanging around to see what Olivia was going to be dressed as; she always looks like a hooker whatever she wears.

Dad insisted on dropping me off at the pub in his little vegetable delivery truck because he reckons that estate is like the Gaza Strip during an Israeli invasion. Two doorman pilots, built like a row of brick shithouses wearing flying helmets and goggles, checked my undercarriage as I got out of the car.

‘If you can’t pull in there, don’t go home lonely, I’ll give your bomb doors a good greasing,’ said the one with the false moustache hanging precariously on his top lip.

‘If she can’t pull in there she must’ve smashed an entire hall of mirrors,’ said the one with the Tom Cruise sunglasses. ‘Most of ‘em are so desperate they’d queue for an hour for a turn with Ann Widdecombe.’

I managed to squeeze past them with nothing worse than a cursory grope, and walked over to a kiosk occupied by a forty-something woman dressed like Helen Mirren when she played the Queen in that film. She looked at me like I’d just crawled out from the u-bend.

‘Are you the stripper?’ she asked.

I shoved a tenner onto the counter. ‘Do I look like the stripper?’  I asked contemptuously.

‘Well, yes, you do, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked.’ She nodded towards my chest.

I tucked my boobs back into my dress, snatched up my ticket and headed towards the function room.

‘I’d keep those puppies in their kennel if I were you,’ she shouted after me. ‘There are a lot of animal lovers in there tonight.’ Continue reading

The Reckoning. Unspoken book 3 Latest News

I am delighted to announce that The Reckoning is now complete and will be published in eBook format during the week beginning the 18-7-21. The paperback version requires more time to proof for printing so will be a couple of weeks later.

The Reckoning is the third and final book in the Unspoken series and follows on from, Unspoken and The Legacy. It will also be the final time you see this set of characters together in a book.

The back of the book blurb.

Unspoken. Part Three

After a fractious few months trying to appease her dysfunctional family, Jessica Griffiths realises that her great grandmother Alice’s legacy has become a millstone around her neck.

With her feisty elderly relatives cruising around the South China Sea she is hoping for a less stressful time, but when Leonora, the meddling ex-wife of her lawyer boyfriend begins to plot and with her own ex, Calvin unable to accept that their relationship is over, she begins to feel the pressure mounting again.

Into the mix walks Josh, the handsome young café owner. Jess is drawn to him immediately. Will he be the one to finally break the Mollison man curse?

Jessica discovers new family secrets as she continues to read through Alice’s wartime diaries but more shocks await as Martha hands over her own disturbing memoirs.

With the cruise ship in trouble and problems nearer to home, Jess finds herself at the centre of another family maelstrom.

Feeling desperately alone and with the weight of the world on her shoulders, can she weather the storm with her family and sanity intact?

A Short excerpt from The Reckoning. Unspoken, book 3

Alice. September 1940.

‘Don’t forget we’re all going to Old Jack Tanner’s funeral tomorrow. They’re having a special evening service to allow as many people as possible to pay their respects.’

‘I haven’t forgotten, Barney. It’s not often we get to say goodbye to a local hero.’

‘The funeral is taking place at six-thirty. It’s family only in the church but we’re all allowed to line the path from the lychgate to the front porch. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get half the town turning out.’

I walked slowly back to the farmhouse, deep in thought. Old Jack had been almost eighty. He had part-owned a small fishing boat that was kept at Margate. During June, Jack and his younger brother, Cecil, answered the government call and had met up with the rest of Operation Dynamo’s little ships at Ramsgate where they sailed across the channel to Dunkirk to rescue our army that was  besieged there. Not satisfied with rescuing a dozen men, as soon as they had disembarked, he set off again to bring back another dozen, but on that trip, he caught a bullet in his back, a wound from which he never fully recovered.

On Wednesday evening, we arrived at the church to find hundreds of people lining the pavements waiting for the horse-drawn carriage carrying Old Jack’s coffin to arrive. Barney, Miriam, Stephen, Harriet and all of our remaining farm workers, found a place on the paved avenue that led from the lychgate to the church. By the time the hearse arrived, the crowd was three deep on either side of the path. We broke into spontaneous applause as Jack’s younger brother, Cecil, led Old Jack and his family down the hill towards the church. At the entrance, on either side, a dozen soldiers stood to attention and saluted as the coffin was carried in.

Forty minutes later, the soldiers saluted again as Jack was carried out. By now, as Barney had predicted, it seemed that half of the residents of the town were lining the pathway, or standing among the gravestones to see our own hero off.

No doubt, over the next few years, many a local hero will pass through the lychgate, or will be remembered in our prayers at the cenotaph on Armistice Day, but today was special, we buried our first.

I had managed to hold it together until, as the coffin passed us by, Stephen, our child evacuee, stood rigid and saluted as though the king himself was standing in front of him. I placed my hand on his back and wept as I thought about the fathers, husbands and sons that Old Jack had rescued and how grateful they and their families must be feeling to an old man who had done his bit. Then I thought about our farm’s own heroes, the lads who had signed up on the first day of war and had been sent off to fight and maybe die in some foreign land. We had heard nothing from any of them since July, when Benny’s pregnant wife received a heavily redacted letter, saying he was alive and well and looking forward to seeing us all again.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but as Old Jack’s coffin was lowered into his newly dug grave, I sent up a prayer to God, asking him to receive our hero into his care, then I begged him to ask his angels to keep an eye on our farm boys, wherever they were in the world.

Unspoken Book 3 The Reckoning Cover Image Revealed

I am delighted to announce that the cover for my work in progress. The Reckoning has been revealed today.

I would like to thank my fab cover artist, Jane Dixon-Smith http://www.jdsmith-design.com/ once again for the wonderful artwork.

The book, which is the final part of the Unspoken Family Saga trilogy, will be released on the Authors Reach label, in the summer.

I always like to get the cover out early, not just to generate interest in the book but to help inspire me when writing it.

 

The Legacy Publication Day

The Saga Continues

It’s here at last. The Legacy has been released on Amazon UK. Amazon.com are a few hours behind and the book will be released shortly.

The Legacy

In Unspoken, Alice is the feisty, almost 100-year-old who shares a dark secret with Jessica, her great granddaughter. She is also the naïve 18-year-old who, following the death of her father in 1938 is forced to take over the running of the family farm, whilst single and pregnant. In The Legacy, her voice crosses the decades again as she gives her take on the events leading to the start of WW2.

Jessica

Jessica is a journalist researching a novel based on Alice’s memoirs. She is in a relationship with the narcissist, Calvin. In The Legacy, we find out how that relationship has evolved and whether either of them can move on.

Martha. The Matriarch

In Unspoken we learned about Martha’s strained relationship with her mother, Alice. In The Legacy we find out much more about Martha and her motives.

Marjorie The Mouse

Marjorie is Alice’s youngest daughter. A spinster who hides behind her older sister’s skirts.

 

Nicola and Owen. Addicted to drink, gambling, and each other.

In Unspoken, Jessica’s parents have their own issues, both with Alice and Jessica. In The Legacy, their problems burst like an untreated abscess.

Bradley

The handsome lawyer with a link to Alice’s past.

Ewan

The charity worker who has been in love with Jessica since their schooldays.

Wade.

A much needed, I.T expert, but is he trustworthy?

Amazon Link

The Legacy. Who’s Who

 

The Legacy. Who’s who.

Alice… Alice? Who the f… is Alice?

In Unspoken, Alice is the feisty, almost 100-year-old who shares a dark secret with her great granddaughter. She is also the naïve young girl who, following the death of her father in 1938 is forced to take over the running of the family farm, whilst single and pregnant. In The Legacy, her voice crosses the decades again as she relates the events that lead up to the start of WW2.

Jessica

Jessica is a journalist researching a novel based on Alice’s memoirs. She is in a relationship with the narcissist, Calvin. In The Legacy, we find out how that relationship has evolved and whether either of them can move on.

Martha. The Matriarch

In Unspoken we learned about Martha’s strained relationship with her mother, Alice. In The Legacy we find out much more about Martha and her motives.

Marjorie The Mouse

Marjorie is Alice’s youngest daughter. A spinster who hides behind her older sister’s skirts.

 

Nicola and Owen. Addicted to drink, gambling, and each other.

In Unspoken, Jessica’s parents have their own issues, both with Alice and Jessica. In The Legacy, their problems burst like an untreated abscess.

Bradley

The handsome lawyer with a link to Alice’s past.

Ewan

The charity worker who has been in love with Jessica since their schooldays.

Wade.

A much needed, I.T expert, but is he trustworthy?

The Official Blurb for The Legacy, Released.

Unspoken Book Two. The Legacy.

Where there’s a will there’s a rift.

The Legacy continues the story of Jessica Griffiths and her fractious relationship with her grandmother, Martha, her gambling addicted father and her narcissistic ex, Calvin who refuses to accept that their relationship is over.

Jessica an aspiring novelist, is writing a book based on her great grandmother’s hand written memoirs. Still grieving for Alice, she receives a telephone call that will change her life, and her relationship with her family, forever.

During the process she meets Bradley, a handsome young lawyer. Calvin, meanwhile, believes he can work his way back into Jess’s life by fair means or foul.

When Martha, the matriarch, complains that she hasn’t been treated fairly, she puts pressure on her granddaughter to ‘do the right thing.’ Meanwhile, Jessica’s father returns with the loan sharks on his tail.

As Jessica prays that the ‘man curse’ which has plagued the women in her family for generations, has finally been vanquished, she meets the beautiful, calculating, Leonora, a woman with a secret and a fondness for mischief.

Unspoken book 2. The Legacy. Cover reveal.

 

I am delighted to reveal the fabulous cover for my next novel, the sequel to the family saga, Unspoken.  I’d like to thank the wonderful Jane Dixon Smith, http://www.janedixonsmith.co.uk/  for the stunning artwork. I am truly delighted with it.

The Legacy, is still a work in progress, but I hope to release the book in late March early April, hopefully on the Authors Reach platform.

The novel continues the story of Jessica Griffiths and her ongoing relationship and family problems.

 

Death at the Lychgate. An Amy Rowlings Mystery

Death at the Lychgate

The parish church of St john the Evangelist sits proudly at the centre of the Kentish town of Spinton. Constructed in the twelfth century, the blue-grey church, built from local Ragstone, boasts a Norman tower that stood unaltered for centuries, surviving minor earthquakes, violent storms, civil war and mining. Then, in the eighteen-fifties, a Victorian Alderman, aptly named, Mason Meddle, raised the funds to add a clock, a spire and a low, red brick extension, (thankfully hidden from view behind the main structure) that was used for Sunday School, Temperance Society gatherings, and until the Town Hall was built some seventy years later, Parish Council meetings.

The surrounding graveyard is split by two paths. The first, the main walkway to the church, is a ragstone-paved avenue that leads from the church’s main gates directly to the vestibule. The second, a winding path made mostly from broken slate and gravel, is accessed from the Lychgate, a timber built, gabled structure that has been the dead parishioner’s gateway to the afterlife for centuries.

The Lychgate, or corpse gate, was used to shelter the body of the deceased until the funeral service could take place. In years gone by the corpse could rest there for up to two days, accompanied by friends or relatives who would sit on the hard plank seats built into the structure, sometimes as an act of vigil, but often as a presence to ward off the body snatchers that preyed on the poor of the district.

 

Chapter One

The early morning mist that crawled across the land from the Kent coast, covered the tombstones like a thin grey cloak as a pale, almost water-colour, March sun began to rise from behind the church tower.

In the town, men slept off the excesses of their Saturday night drinking while their wives bathed a new black eye or cut lip before starting to prepare breakfast for the family. Children would be scrubbed and dressed in their Sunday best clothes before being packed off to be lectured about their heathen ways at Sunday School. Although most of the adults shunned the church, having far more important things to do on a Sunday morning, it was thought that the weekly disciplined routine was good for the children, though there was the added benefit of getting them out of their hair for an hour.

At nine thirty, Mrs Rosegarden climbed off her bicycle and wheeled it across the pavement to the church gates. Finding them still locked, she frowned, looked at her wristwatch, then checked the time again by the church clock.

‘Villiers,’ she snorted into the misty air. The aging, but surprisingly sprightly woman turned her bike around and rode across the pavement to the west side of the church where the lychgate entrance was situated.

The brittle haired, bespectacled Sunday School teacher was a woman to be feared, even by the toughest of the ragamuffins that attended her scripture lessons. Quick to anger and swift to punish she patrolled the room like a prison guard. Armed with a bible in one hand and a leather strap in the other, she stalked the three, wooden benches quoting from both testaments, threatening dire consequences, both in the present and in the afterlife for anyone who closed their ears to the word of God.

‘Drunk again, Villiers,’ she hissed as she dismounted by the Lychgate. She leaned her bike against the high, stone wall and lifted the catch that secured the rough, wooden pole gates. Pulling them open, she looked through the gabled, porch-like structure to the mist covered tombstones beyond. She retrieved her bicycle and wheeled it over the ragstone paving towards the gravel path that led to the church.

As she strode under the roof of the Lychgate she glanced to her right-hand side where the figure of a grey haired, bespectacled man was slumped on the vigil seat. His right hand clutched  a page of lined paper onto which had been scrawled, Ephesians 5:18

His eyes were closed and his neck was twisted at what must have been a very uncomfortable angle. His lips were open and his teeth bared in a skeleton-like smile.

‘Reverend Villers!’ Mrs Rosegarden exclaimed. She leaned her bike against the vigil seat on the opposite side of the Lychgate, then reached out and grabbed the vicar by the shoulder. When he didn’t respond she shook him. When that failed to rouse him, she squatted down, grabbed the lapels of his grey jacket and shook him again.

As the vicar’s head slumped forward, the Sunday School teacher stood and turned in one movement. Forgetting her bicycle, she hurtled into the main road shouting at the top of her voice.

‘Help… someone help…. It’s the vicar. He’s dead.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murder at the Mill. Released

 

I am delighted to announce that my new, cosy crime novel, Murder at the Mill is released today on the KDP platform. The paperback version will follow shortly and the audiobook, sometime in the New Year.

The book features a few of the characters from my last novel, Unspoken and is set in the English county of Kent in 1939. Amy, a machinist at The Mill, a clothing factory, is drawn into a murder investigation when she meets Detective Sergeant Bodkin on her way to work one morning.

I’d like to thank two wonderfully talented ladies who have helped me produce the novel.

Maureen Vincent-Northam, my fab editor and Jane Dixon-Smith my brilliantly creative cover designer. You can find her here should you need a beautifully designed cover for you own book.  www.jdsmith-design.com

Cosy Crime is a new genre for me but I hope Murder at the Mill will be the first in a series of Amy Rowlings mystery books. For those waiting for a sequel to Unspoken, I hope this book will keep you going until Unspoken 2 arrives in 2021.

Murder At The Mill: An Amy Rowlings Mystery eBook: Belshaw, T. A.: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

Murder At The Mill: An Amy Rowlings Mystery – Kindle edition by Belshaw, T. A.. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Murder at the Mill Cover Reveal

The Cover for my upcoming novel, Murder at the Mill is revealed today. Once again, it has been designed by the fabulous Jane Dixon Smith. http://www.jdsmith-design.com/

To say that I’m blown away by it is an understatement.  Murder at the Mill is my first cosy crime novel and is a spin off book using one of the minor characters from my Family Saga, Dual Timeline, novel, Unspoken and will be published in early December in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

Blasts a fanfare,, Da da da da da da daaaaaaa

 

 

Murder at the Mill. The Official Blurb

Murder at the Mill.
The back of the book, blurb.

Murder at the Mill. A Gripping New Cosy Crime Series with a light hearted touch.

January 1939 and the residents of the snow-covered streets of a small Kentish town awake to horrific news.
When young Amy Rowlings meets Detective Sergeant Bodkin at the scene of a burglary on the way to work at The Mill one snowy January morning, she is blissfully unaware of how much her life is about to change.
She is drawn into the murky world of murder when the body of Edward Handsley is found lying on the floor of the clothing factory.

Edward, the son of factory owner George is a libertine, philanderer, and a young man with a lot of enemies, many of them female.
Twenty-one-year-old Amy is a vivacious, quick-witted collector of imported American music, a movie buff and an avid reader of crime fiction. A girl who can spot whodunnit long before the film star detective gets an inkling.
Bodkin is new to the area and accepts Amy’s offer to provide local knowledge but she soon becomes an invaluable source of information.
When Adam Smethwick is arrested for the murder, Amy, a family friend, is convinced of his innocence and sets out to prove that the detective has arrested the wrong man.
Amy befriends Justine, the young French fiancé of the elderly George, and soon discovers that it was not all sweetness and light in the Handsley family home. Meanwhile, back at the factory, Amy is sure that the foreman, Mr Pilling, has something to hide.

As the investigation proceeds, Amy finds that her burgeoning relationship with Bodkin is pushed to the limits as the detective becomes even more convinced that he has arrested the right man and while Bodkin relies heavily on the facts as they are presented, Amy has a more nuanced approach to solving the crime, born out of her beloved Agatha Christie books and the crimes she has witnessed in the movies.

 

New! Unspoken Review from The Haphazardoushippo blog

The Unspoken blog tour continues apace with a fantastic review from Neats, part of the Damppebbles Blog Tour.

‘If family saga’s and dual time novels are your thing, you’d be hard pushed to find a more enjoyable one than Unspoken. It’s got drama, love, intrigue, revenge and secrets – so basically everything you need for a captivating read and that’s exactly what I thought it was.’

https://thehaphazardoushippo.blogspot.com/2020/10/blog-tour-unspoken-t-belshaw.html

A Halloween poem for the kids

Clicking Gran
Last Halloween I took a train
and travelled to the coast again,
to execute my mother’s plan
and spend some time with Clicking Gran.
Clicking Gran has five black teeth
with dark red gums sat underneath.
Her face is wrinkled, like a peach,
her pace is slow, just like her speech.
Gran sucks bread and slurps her tea,
she’s really not a bit like me.
She has a beard and long white hair
and owns a cat called Lucifer.
Gran’s stiff knees go, click, click, click,
as she hobbles with her stick,
her back is bent, her ankles meet,
she’s always looking at her feet.
Gran lives in a creepy dwelling,
how she got it, she’s not telling.
Bats live in the broken eaves,
her letterbox is full of leaves.
On Saturday I got quite ill,
I said to Gran, ‘I need a pill,’
but Gran said she would give to me,
‘a bit of homemade remedy.’
I drank some soup, then Granny said,
‘You’re really better off in bed.’
Granny said that she would stay,
‘until the pain had gone away.’
When I woke up in the night
Gran had gone, I felt alright.
I was hungry, wide awake,
I thought I’d get a slice of cake.
I put my slippers on before,
I crossed the creaky timbered floor.
I heard a noise, a weird sound.
I crept downstairs and looked around.
On the kitchen floor was Granny,
searching every nook and cranny.
Then she caught a hairy spider,
Lucifer was right beside her.
She dropped the spider in the pot,
and stirred the brew, it looked quite hot.
Then I saw my Granny stoop
and drop five beetles in the soup.
She cackled as she added snails
and slugs and tiny mouse’s tails.
Lucifer sat idly by,
chewing on a hover fly.
After that I saw her bake,
a bat and frog and spider cake.
Then she got a big old broom,
I thought she meant to sweep the room.
But granny pushed the big door wide,
she called the cat and went outside.
I saw her run and very soon,
she was flying ‘cross the moon.
I cut some cake and took a bite,
it tasted nice, to my delight,
I licked my lips and in a trice
I ate another giant slice.
I sped upstairs and packed my case
and ran out of that awful place.
But Granny caught me in the lane
and took me back inside again.
When I woke the sun was high,
I yawned and stretched and breathed a sigh.
Granny smiled and said, ‘it seems,
that you’ve been having nasty dreams.’
We went downstairs and had some tea,
then Granny said, ‘My goodness me!
What have you been doing, Keith?
There’s spider’s legs stuck in your teeth.’

Murder at the Mill. Chapter 3

Chapter Three

‘Bodkin!’

Both Amy and the detective turned towards the sound of the angry voice. Walking towards them was a fifty-year-old, thickset man, wearing a light-grey trilby and a heavy, double breasted, overcoat. He stamped his booted feet on the cold concrete of the loading bay floor and scowled at Bodkin.

‘This had better be bloody good, Bodkin. I’m supposed to be driving my wife to her mother’s in Tunbridge Wells this morning and, if Mrs Laws isn’t happy, then you can guarantee, Inspector Laws won’t be happy, either.’ A look of pain came over his face. ‘It’s a long drive to Tunbridge.’

Bodkin straightened and pushed his feet together. Amy thought he was going to salute, but instead he snapped out a quick report.

‘There’s a body inside, Sir. The deceased is the factory owner’s son, one Edward Handley. He appears to have been attacked in the repair shop, which is to the left of the loading bay doors. The body is in the spare-parts section, which is connected to the main repair room. We don’t know yet how long the It has been there as the night shift maintenance team had no reason to go into that area during their stint, so Mr Handley could have been lying there since the shifts changed over, yesterday evening.’

Bodkin stopped his report, waiting for a response from his superior, but when nothing came, he continued.

‘The deceased is lying on his front; he has suffered a traumatic head wound on the right hand side of his head. There is a large, adjustable pipe wrench, lying at the floor at his feet.’

Bodkin stopped again.

‘That’s about it so far, Sir.’

Laws looked past Bodkin to the interior of the loading bay.

‘Who reported it?’ he asked without looking at the sergeant.

‘One of the maintenance crew, Sir. He discovered it at six thirty this morning when he turned up for work. The two teams meet in the repair shop for a shift report before they begin their daily checks. The night crew let the new team know of any incidents they encountered with the machinery during—’

‘I think I can guess what sort of things they report, Sergeant,’ snapped Laws. He turned his attention to Amy. ‘Who is this? Don’t tell me the bloody press have got hold of it already.’

‘No, Sir. This is Miss Rowlings. She works here.’

‘Here! Outside in the freezing cold?’

Bodkin did his best not to bite. He allowed Inspector Laws to get under his skin, far too easily.

‘Miss Rowlings is a machinist, Sir.’

Laws pushed his head towards Amy. ‘Then, why aren’t you at your machine, doing what they pay you to do?’ he barked.

‘I’m just going,’ replied Amy, quietly. ‘I was…’ her voice tailed off, not wanting to add to Bodkin’s problems.

Bodkin, spotting Amy’s nervousness under the inspector’s scrutiny, came to her assistance. ‘I was just asking Miss Rowlings when she last saw Mr Handley alive, Sir.’

Laws shrugged. ‘And…’

Amy responded quickly. ‘Five-thirty yesterday evening, Mr Laws. He was standing by those doors as the staff were clocking out.’

‘Inspector Laws,’ the detective corrected her.

‘Inspector,’ repeated Amy.

‘Right, get to your machine. There will be a team of officers deployed to take statements from all members of staff later this morning so, if you remember anything else, that’s the time to bring it up.’ The inspector narrowed his eyes and issued a dire warning. ‘If you breathe a word of what you have just heard out here, to anyone, and I mean, anyone, I will have you up for accessory to murder. Do I make myself clear?’

Laws dismissed Amy with a flick of his head and turned back to Bodkin.

‘Let’s have a look at the scene of the crime, Sergeant.’ Laws pushed his way past the stragglers, still being directed to their places of work by the foreman, and stepped into the loading bay looking at his wristwatch. ‘Today, of all days,’ he muttered.

Bodkin beckoned PC Davies towards him.

‘I want you outside the door of the maintenance room, Davies. No one goes in or out without my express permission, do you understand?’

Davies nodded and took a quick look at the figure of Laws as he entered the factory.

‘Someone got out of bed the wrong side this morning.’

‘Constable, if you had met Mrs Laws, you’d know that whichever side of the bed you got out of, it would be the wrong one.’

Bodkin turned to follow his superior officer into the building. At the entrance to the repair shop he stopped and looked back at Davies. ‘Once those few are in, shut those doors. Parkins and Wallis can keep watch over the yard, and cheer up, man, you’re inside in the warm this time.’

 

When Amy reached the changing room, she found it to be a hotbed of conspiracy theories. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of who had killed Edward, and by what means he had been dispatched.

Margaret Beech, a seamstress of some forty years’ experience, claimed to have, ‘cast-iron, proof’ that that Edward’s sister, Beatrice, had done the deed, whilst the twin sisters, Sarah and Louise Keddleston, both thought that he had taken his own life after being outed as a homosexual. Neither of the rather portly, forty-five-year olds had been the subject of Edward’s amorous attentions and that fact formed the basis of their theory.

Jennifer and a few other trainees, were under the impression that Mr Handley had been shot. Rachel, another trainee, even claimed to have heard the bullet being fired when she took a toilet break at three-thirty the previous afternoon. No one contradicted her, even though he was seen alive on the loading bay at five-thirty.

Katie Hubsworth, who worked on the machine behind Amy, insisted that he had been repeatedly stabbed, while her next-door neighbour, Wilhelmina, told everyone within earshot that she had been informed by the policeman on the door, who was a Saturday drinking partner of her husband, Bernard, that he had been strangled with his own cravat.

Carole twisted the handle of her locker, pulled it shut, and ambled over to Amy.

‘Well, this is a strange state of affairs isn’t it? Hark at this lot. He’s already been stabbed, garrotted, shot, battered, choked, decapitated and disembowelled, not to mention committing suicide. You’d think they’d have more sense than speculating like this. A man has lost his life for pity’s sake.’

‘You can’t blame them,’ said Amy, looking around the room. Twenty conversations were taking place at once. She had to raise her own voice to be heard amongst the babble of noise. ‘It’s the most excitement they’ve had in years. The last time they got so animated was when old George Blenkinsop fell under a bus, and that was five years ago. Some of them are still adamant that he was pushed.’

Carole rolled her eyes to the ceiling. ‘He was drunk, wasn’t he?’ She leaned closer to Amy. ‘Look, I don’t want to add to the mountain of conspiracies, but what have you heard?’

‘I can’t tell you. I’ll be in trouble if I do.’

Carole’s eyes opened wide.

‘You do know something then? Come on, out with it, you know you can trust me.’

‘I’ll tell you later on, when all the witness statements have been taken,’ replied Amy. ‘I do know how he was killed… and I do trust you, honestly, but that grumpy inspector out there told me that if I breathe a word of it to anyone, I’ll be in court myself. I can’t risk being overheard, Carole.’

Carole was appeased. ‘Fair enough, but if you tell anyone before you tell me, you’ll be up in the court of Carole and I’ll be the judge, jury and executioner.’

Before Amy could reply, the door burst open and an angry, red-faced, Mr Pilling stood in the opening.

‘What the hell are you lot doing in here. Get to your machines this instant or the whole shift will be docked an hour’s pay.’

Locker doors slammed and the foreman was unceremoniously brushed aside as thirty women, still chattering among themselves, rushed past him to get to their work stations. Amy and Carole were last out. As she walked by him, Mr Pilling grabbed her elbow.

‘I don’t know how you managed to hang around out there for so long, Rowlings, and it’s a good job that police sergeant vouched for you, because I was about to issue you with a verbal warning. That’s the second time in twenty-four hours he’s done that. He seems to care more for your employment status than you do.’ The foreman pointed to the shop floor. ‘Now, get on that machine, I expect ten percent more from you by way of finished garments today, and there had better be no shoddy work, either.’ He shook his head. ‘You’re a common or garden machinist, Amy, not an amateur sleuth. Stay away from those policemen.’

 

At nine o’clock, the first of the machinists was called into the canteen to give a statement about their whereabouts and actions the previous day. Mr Pilling began with the workers in line five, the closest to the canteen. That week, Amy was working on line two. She kept a watchful eye on proceedings as she stitched together the parts of her allocated garments. By ten o’clock, she was well up on her usual rate, she was determined to get the extra ten percent done, it was a matter of honour. The bonus pay she would receive for producing the additional dresses, would be welcome too. Her uncle, who imported the latest records from America, had managed to get hold of a copy of the new Al Donahue release, Jeepers Creepers, and he had put it aside for her.

Amy hummed an old Bing Crosby song as she worked. She was brought out of her reverie when she felt a tug at her sleeve. It as Emily Frost, who was working on the second machine on line two.

‘They want you next, Amy,’ she said.

‘Me? but there are a couple of dozen to go yet.’

‘I know, but they told me to get you. I couldn’t say no.’

Amy stood up, brushed the loose pieces of cotton from her pinafore and walked smartly along her line of machines. At the end she turned left and crossed the room to the wide, blue painted, double doors at the far corner of the workshop. She felt forty pairs of eyes burning a hole into the back of her head as she went. The buzz of sudden conversations seemed to rise about the noise of the machines.

Amy walked slowly down the three steps to the floor of the canteen. On the front row of tables were a line of uniformed policemen scratching details into notebooks as they questioned the factory workers. In the centre of the second row, sat Inspector Laws. Next to him was a police constable with an open notebook and a pen in his left hand. He seemed eager to be writing. Standing behind the constable was Bodkin. He raised his hand and gave her a quick wave and a nervous looking smile.

‘Ah, Miss Rowlings.’ Laws beckoned her towards him. As she approached, he stood and addressed the policemen on the front row. ‘When you have finished this batch of statements, get yourselves a cup of tea, go to the back of the room and wait until I give the order to resume.’ He turned back to Amy, who was standing patiently at the side of the Formica-topped, table. He reached across and pulled a low-backed chair towards him. ‘Sit,’ he commanded.

Amy sat. The inspector tapped his foot impatiently until the last of the interviewees had left the canteen and the policemen had lined up for their drinks.

Laws studied a hand-written sheet from the notebook on the table, flipped a page, then turned it back again.

‘Miss Rowlings,’ he said, sternly. ‘We have been given evidence that you had a confrontation with Edward Handley as recently as yesterday.’ A cold look came across his face. ‘Is this true?’

Amy silently cursed Carole, who had been the only person she had told about the incident. She was puzzled as to how the inspector had got hold of the information, as her best friend hadn’t yet been called in for questioning. Something was amiss.

‘Yes, that is true,’ she said. ‘He came into the changing room at lunchtime, while I was there.’

‘I see,’ Laws read the statement again. He flipped over two more pages as he saw Amy twist her neck in an attempt to see who had given the evidence. ‘So, this altercation. What brought it about?’

‘I don’t really want to speak ill of the dead, Inspector.’

‘You’ll tell me what occurred, and you’ll tell me in detail, or I’ll have you carted off to the nick right now.’ Laws made a fist and slammed it down, hard.

Amy sighed and took him through the details of the attack.

‘And was this something out of the ordinary?’ he asked.

‘He wasn’t called Wandering Handley for nothing,’ Amy replied.

The policeman at the inspector’s side, snorted. Laws gave him a withering look.

‘Wandering Handley? I’ll be honest with you, Miss Rowling, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that nickname this morning. Didn’t anyone think to report him?’

‘HA!’ Amy retorted. ‘And just what would have you lot have done about it. We’d have been risking our jobs and you wouldn’t have done a thing to help.’

‘You seem to have a very low opinion of the police, Miss Rowlings.’

‘Not at all. I think the police have an extremely difficult job and they do it very well in the main. But, when it comes to the abuse of women, you always seem to turn a blind eye. My best friend, Alice reported—’ Amy stopped, not wanting to bring Alice’s former relationship with her abusive partner into the conversation.

Laws made a note on a clean page of the notebook.

‘So, he allegedly attacked you. What then?’

‘There was no allegedly about it,’ snapped Amy. ‘He did it, I’ve probably still got the bruises.’

‘All right, let’s assume this attack actually took place. How did you get yourself out of the situation?’

‘I elbowed him in the throat and he went down like a sack of… coal,’ she replied.

Laws put down his pen, laid his forearms on the table and looked hard at Amy.

‘Is that when you threatened to kill him?’ he asked.

 

 

Murder at the Mill. Chapter 2

Chapter Two

Amy rushed into the factory and found the foreman in the stock room, tallying the different bales of cotton materials that the machinists would be working on that week.

‘Sorry I’m late, Mr Pilling, but there’s been a burglary over the road. There’s a detective at the staff entrance who would like a word with you.’

The foreman checked his pocket watch.

‘Ten minutes late, you know the rules, you’ll be docked fifteen and if it happens again this month, you’ll lose a full hour.’

‘But—’

‘No buts, no excuses. Get to your machine now or you’ll be docked thirty minutes and receive a verbal warning. You can make up for this morning’s tardiness in your lunch break.’

Amy walked quickly to the staff changing area, took off her big coat and hung it on a peg along with her hat. Then she took a pinafore from her locker and wrapped it around her body, tying it off at the back. She hurried through to the factory floor and slumped down on her seat, before letting out a deep sigh and reaching down to her side to pick out her first garment of the day.

‘It’s not like you to be so slack,’ said Dora, who worked the machine next to Amy.

‘I was assisting the police with their inquiries,’ replied Amy, knowing that it would be the talk of the workshop before morning break. She smiled to herself and slid the part-finished cotton dress onto the plate of the overlocking machine and pressed her foot onto the pedal.

Amy was a diligent, hard working machinist and soon made up the time lost. When the bin on her left was almost empty, she called for the runner to bring her a new supply of dresses from the cutting room. By lunchtime her finished bin had been emptied twice and she was in front of her daily target.

To keep on the right side of Mr Pilling, Amy stayed at her machine for an extra fifteen minutes before heading off for lunch. By the time she reached the canteen, the other workers had eaten their sandwiches and were mostly sipping hot tea while they gossiped and lit cigarettes.

Amy bought a cup of tea and a buttered scone at the counter and not liking the smoky atmosphere of the canteen, she took her tray into the changing room, pulled a twice-read magazine from her locker and sat down to peruse the stills from the latest Hollywood movies.

After eating her scone, she stood up to shake the crumbs from her pinafore. There were a couple of stubborn ones stuck to her bosom, so she rubbed at them to shake them loose.

‘Let me give you a hand with that,’ said a voice she recognised instantly.

‘I’ll manage, thanks, Mr Handley.’ Amy forced a laugh and brushed down her clothes again. Before she could turn to face him, his hands came around her sides and he squeezed hard on her breasts.

‘You can call me Edward when there’s no one around. Ooh, you do have a nice pair, Amy.’ His breath felt hot on the back of her neck.

Amy struggled to move away but his grip was too strong. The next thing she knew, one of his hands had found its way up her dress.

‘GET OFF ME!’ Amy shouted and twisted in his loosened grip.

‘Come on, Amy, you know you like it.’ He pulled one leg back and kicked the door shut. His hand reached the bare area at the top of her stockings. She shoved her hips forwards before his groping fingers found their intended target.

‘Don’t struggle. You tried to defend your honour, so you can relax now. I won’t hurt you.’ His fingers pushed inside the elastic at the leg of her knickers.

Amy bent over and pushed her backside into him as hard as she could. Her movement caused him to lurch forwards, and as he straightened, her sharp elbow caught him in the throat. He fell back clutching at it, struggling to breath.

Amy left the cup and plate on the bench and hurried past the gasping factory owner’s son.

‘Never try anything like that again, or I’ll kill you,’ she spat.

Amy tore open the door, marched back to the canteen and dragged out a seat next to Carole, one of her closest friends at work.

Carole took one look at the furious Amy. It took her seconds to work out what had happened.

‘Wandering Handley?’

Amy stuck out her chin, bit her bottom lip and nodded quickly. ‘He caught me in the locker room.’

‘The filthy bastard needs teaching a lesson,’ said Carole with a frown. ‘It’s not right, he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it just because he’s the boss’s son.’

‘He grabbed my chest, then shoved his hand up my skirt. I was lucky to get away this time,’ Amy wiped away an angry tear. ‘He’s picked on me once too often.’ She thought for a moment. ‘I met a police detective this morning. He seemed a nice man, I wonder what he’d make of Edward sodding Handley? Surely there’s something the law can do to stop him.’

Carole patted her hand.

‘They won’t do anything, love. Don’t get your hopes up. Men, especially rich men, can do what they want with the likes of us.’

Amy sniffed and turned her hand over to squeeze Carole’s.

‘I know. But it’s wrong. Why do they allow them to get away with it?’

‘Men looking after other men,’ said Carole, sadly. ‘It’s always been the same.’

‘I’d report him but it would probably end up with me being sacked,’ said Amy. ‘I don’t really fancy working at Goodman’s, they’re slave drivers.’

‘Do your best to forget about it and don’t get caught alone again,’ advised Carole. ‘He tends to pick on a different girl every week. He’s left me alone since I kicked his shins.’

‘I elbowed him in the throat,’ said Amy. ‘I left him in a heap, choking.’

‘Good!’ replied Carole. ‘It’s the least he deserves.’

Ten minutes later, Amy nudged Carole and flicked her head in the direction of the canteen door.

‘Here he is, Wandering Handley himself,’ said Carole, loud enough for half the employees in the room to hear.

If he heard the remark himself, Edward Handley didn’t seem to be bothered by it. He shot a look of anger at Amy, then made a beeline to the table where the trainee machinists, most of them fifteen or sixteen years old, were sitting. He pulled out a chair, put a foot on it, smoothed back his creamed, black hair, and leaned over the table to make a comment to a girl called Ronnie, who laughed aloud and looked around to see if her friends had got the joke. The other girls, already wary of Edward, got to their feet and made their way out of the canteen.

‘Come on, Ronnie,’ called a tall girl named, Jennifer. ‘We’re on cutting duties this afternoon. Frigid Freda will be after you.’

Freda Brownlow was the factory’s skills instructor and was the owner of a sharp tongue and a fiery temper. She was nicknamed Frigid Freda because she was still single, at forty.

Ronnie stood up as Edward whispered something into her ear. She giggled, then pushed a soft hand into his chest. ‘Oh, you,’ she chuckled.

Edward turned around to see if the older girls on Amy’s table had noticed, to a woman they ignored his look and chatting between themselves, made their way out of the canteen.

Amy checked the clock and realising she had time to visit the lavatory before resuming her shift, hurried to the toilet block and let herself into a cubicle. When she came out, Edward was standing with his back to her, an arm around Ronnie’s shoulder and he was again whispering something in her ear. Amy was tempted to cough, or make some sort of noise to distract him, but after her run-in with him in the locker room, she decided not to play with fire and walked quietly back to her machine.

When Ronnie hurried across the shop floor a few minutes later, she was blushing, but had a huge grin on her face. Ignoring the caustic remarks aimed in her direction, she weaved a path through the machines to the cutting room where she knew Frigid Freda would be waiting.

 

The next morning, Amy stomped, slipped, slithered and skated her way along the mostly frozen pavement and walked through the factory gates. The maintenance team, who usually spent their time repairing broken machines, or setting up new ones, had spread half a ton of salt over the frozen yard in an attempt to avoid the three broken arms that had occurred during the previous winter. At the staff entrance, Amy noticed a huddle of male figures, who were speaking to each employee as they entered the building. Among them were three uniformed policemen and Detective Sergeant Bodkin.

Mr Pilling, the foreman, stood, like Lord Muck, snapping out instructions and directing the workers with a long arm.

‘Go straight to the locker room, then onto your machine. Do not linger, and keep away from the maintenance room.

‘Go straight to the secretary’s office. Keep away from the maintenance room.

‘Go directly to the cutting room, stay away from maintenance.’

As Amy reached the big, double door, Bodkin took her arm and pulled her to one side.

‘So, Miss Marple, we meet again.’

‘What’s going on?’ asked Amy.

‘We’re keeping an open mind at the moment, but a serious incident has occurred inside the factory.’

‘A serious incident…Oh, my goodness… Something’s happened in the maintenance room, hasn’t it? Is that why we aren’t allowed in there?’ Amy put her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide.

‘I’m not at liberty to—’

‘Divulge that information,’ Amy interrupted the detective. ‘Come on, Bodkin, I’ll find out the moment I get into the changing room anyway. You may as well tell me now.’

Bodkin took her arm again and led her away from the group of people at the door.

‘Fair enough, Miss… Amy. It’s the owner’s son. Edward Handley, he’s lying on the floor of the repair shop, and he’s stone dead.’

 

 

 

 

Murder at the Mill. An Amy Rowlings Mystery

Chapter One

The shard of winter sun burst through the mass of black cloud like an archangel’s lance. The heavy snow that had fallen overnight, enveloped the thick layer that already covered the town, making the roads and verges indistinguishable from the pavements. January, 1939 had announced itself in spectacular style.

Amy Rowlings shielded her eyes as she trudged through the thick, white blanket, stepping into footprints made by earlier travellers in an attempt to keep the snow out of her ankle-high winter boots. Another day spent at her machine at Grayson’s Garments factory wearing cold, soggy, woollen socks, was something she could well do without. Locals called the factory, The Mill, because it produced cotton fabric back in the 1800s, nowadays the workforce spent their days manufacturing women’s clothing; anything from underwear to winter coats. Ahead, Mildred, a fellow machinist, tripped on a hidden kerbstone and fell headlong into a drift that had covered the short privet hedge that lined the pavement. Before Amy could reach her, she picked herself up, and cursing, turned through the huge, wrought-iron, gates into the factory yard, where the snow had already turned into a slushy mess by the hundred pairs of feet that had tramped over it when the night and day shifts changed over.

As Amy approached the gates, a car pulled up on the opposite side of the road, and a late-twenties, man, wearing a grey mackintosh, and a black fedora, opened the rear door and slid out in one movement.

He swore as he realised, too late, that the snow would cover his patent leather, brogue shoes, and looking up to the heavens, trudged around the front of the car before nodding to a uniformed policeman standing at the ornate, snow-tipped, iron gates that guarded the forecourt of Wainwright and Sons Builders Merchant. The policeman wiped his runny nose on his sleeve, shuffled his booted feet, and blew into his hands.

‘Cold one today, Sir.’

The man in the mac nodded and examined the police constable as he would an object left behind at the scene of a crime. The uniformed colleague stamped incessantly in the snow, his bright red cheeks and chapped lips told him he’d been there for some time.

‘Report, Davies, and make it snappy.’ He pulled his unbuttoned mackintosh tightly around himself and tied off the belt.

‘Reported robbery, Sir. Estimated at three o’clock this morning. No suspects. We don’t even know how they got in. Two men attacked the watchman, tied him up and took away the cash tin. We don’t know exactly how much was in it, but apparently, the company takes about a hundred pounds every day. Because they don’t close until after the banks, the money is kept on the premises. They bank it every morning.’

The officer stamped his feet again and blew into his hands.

‘What do you mean, we don’t know how they got in?’

‘Well, Sir, there were no footprints.’ He turned to the gates and pointed. ‘The two pairs of prints, you can see, belong to myself and PC Watkins.’

The detective rolled his eyes to the dark sky. ‘What about round the back?’

‘They can’t have got in that way, Sir. The building is tied to a twenty-foot wall that separates it from the railway. There are only two ways in and out of the premises, and they are both accessed from here.’ He pointed across the yard to a red-painted door at the front of the building. ‘That one, and the side door where the goods are delivered and collected. But, as you can see, they would have to get through the gates to reach either one, and, as I said, there are no footprints. Apart from ours, that is. Two sets going in and one set, mine, coming back out.’

‘Where is the night watchman now?’

‘He’s inside with PC Watkins, the lucky so and… Sorry, Sir. Watkins is St John’s Ambulance trained, so he’s provided a little bit of first aid. The watchman wasn’t badly injured. He’s got a black eye and split lip. He managed to free himself and ring the police at about six o’clock. Do you think he might be in on it, Sir?’

The detective sighed.

‘I have no idea, Constable. I haven’t spoken to him yet.’

‘No, Sir, of course you haven’t. Sorry, Sir.’

He stamped his feet again and shivered under his heavy navy overcoat.

‘Oh, for God’s sake man. Go and sit in the car. Tell the driver to come out to take your place for half an hour. His name is Hodges.’

The policeman nodded gratefully and scurried around to the black Ford as Amy carefully crossed the road.

‘Has there been a burglary?’ she asked.

‘The detective swivelled on his heels to face her.

‘I’m not at liberty divulge that, Mrs…Miss.’

Amy smiled.

‘Oh, I wasn’t trying to get any information that might help a criminal.’ She smiled again, showing off a perfect set of teeth. A whisp of blonde hair loosened itself from beneath her hat and wafted in front of her eyes. She brushed it away with the back of her gloved hand. ‘My name is Amy Rowlings and I work at Grayson’s over the road.’ She pulled up her sleeve and looked at her men’s style, leather-strapped wristwatch. ‘And, if I don’t hurry, they’ll dock me a quarter of an hour’s wages.’

Amy turned away from the detective and began to make her way back, treading carefully in the footprints that she had made originally.

‘I didn’t think you were attempting to assist a criminal, Amy Rowlings,’ the policeman called after her. ‘I’m Detective Sergeant, Bodkin. I’m sorry I was a little abrupt just then.’

Amy stopped and looked back over her shoulder. The man was in his late twenties and handsome in a rugged sort of way. He took off his hat and gave her a curt nod. His hair was thick, dark and was in need of a good cut. He had two days’ worth of stubble on his chin and the bags under his brown eyes, told her that he hadn’t been sleeping well, or for long enough. His coat had fallen open revealing a creased, white shirt with a badly starched collar, a pair of wide, striped braces, held up his baggy, black trousers that bunched around his ankles.

Unmistakeably a single man, said Amy to herself.

He smiled and his tired face lit up.

‘Don’t worry about being a few minute’s late… Miss, erm… Rowlings, was it? I’ll tell your boss you were helping me with my inquiries.’

Amy laughed.

‘I’d get more than fifteen minutes docked if they thought you’d been questioning me, Detective. I’d be given my cards. They’re a suspicious lot over there. They think everyone is stealing from them.’ She thought for a moment. ‘A lot of them are, as it happens.’

‘No need for the formalities,’ he said, smiling again. ‘Everyone calls me Bodkin.’

She raised a gloved hand and waggled her fingers at him.

‘Well, Mr… sorry… Bodkin, it’s been nice chatting but I really should be going in.’

‘Please don’t rush away. I’ll tell them you’re helping me with this case. I’ll say you’re a vital witness.’

‘Ooh, that will get them all talking in the canteen,’ replied Amy. She brushed the errant hairs away again. ‘As it happens, I can help you with the case.’

‘You can?’ Bodkin took a step towards her. He smiled again. ‘And what would you know about my crime scene, Miss Rowlings?’

‘They got in via a skylight.’ Amy pointed to the snow-covered roof where footprints were clearly visible across the gently sloping, snow-covered roof.

Bodkin swivelled around in the snow, stared at the roof with his mouth wide open and shouted to the policeman sitting in the back of the car.

‘Davies!’ he yelled.

‘It’s not his fault,’ Amy said to the back of Bodkin’s head. ‘You can’t see the roof from that side of the road and it would still have been dark when he arrived.’

Bodkin turned back towards her.

‘There are no street lights,’ she pointed out, quietly.

Bodkin appraised the roof again. The trail of footprints led across the roof from the still-open skylight, to the adjacent building.

‘Looks like they got to the roof via the fire escape,’ said Amy, pointing out the obvious.

Together, they walked the thirty yards to the entrance of Harrington’s timber yard. Any footprints made on the forecourt had been wiped out by the twenty or so staff that worked there.

‘Stay back, please, Miss. This is a crime scene; I have to protect the evidence.’

Amy ignored him. ‘I’m not going to steal your precious footprints, am I?’

She marched onto the forecourt and crouched down at the bottom step of the fire escape. Bodkin leaned over her to examine the steps himself. Two separate sets of prints were clearly visible, one much larger than the other.

‘Blimey, those are big feet,’ she said.

Bodkin laughed. ‘That’s a hell of a clue. There can’t be too many men in this town with feet that size. They must be a size twelve.’

‘True,’ replied Amy. ‘But that is assuming the criminals live locally.’

‘All right, Miss Marple. It’s time you were at work. I’ll get Davies to guard the evidence.’

The detective gave orders to Davies and the policeman muttered to himself as he trapsed through the snow to take up his position guarding the fire escape.

Bodkin walked Amy over to the factory, they came to a halt at the staff entrance.

‘Could you tell your foreman I’d like a word please, Miss Rowlings? I’ll explain the situation to him.’

‘Call me Amy,’ she replied with a quick smile. ‘And, it won’t make any difference, they’ll still stop me the quarter hour.’

 

 

Sad Lisa. Chapter Three

Sad Lisa

Chapter Three

Adam, once one of the beaten, church poor, had no serious religious beliefs, and had only attended church (for a friend’s wedding), once since he had left school, so he spent the rest of the morning reading a copy of Thomas Hardy’s, The Mayor of Casterbridge, that he had found, damp, but still readable, on a seat in Hyde Park, earlier in the summer.

At around 1.00 PM he heard the loud chatter of children as the Parsons family returned from church. He got to his feet and hurried across the room as he heard someone rap on his door. He opened it to find Mr Parsons standing in the hall.

‘Mr Sears, I feel I have to apologise for the behaviour of my children earlier today. They have been instructed not to disturb you by running up and down the hallway in future.’

‘They were playing,’ Adam said with a smile. ‘I wasn’t disturbed in the slightest, quite the opposite in fact. I always find something joyous in the sound of children’s laughter.’

Mr Parsons nodded, and smiled back.

‘I’m so glad you see it that way, Mr Sears. They are confined upstairs rather too much and they do tend to expend all that built up energy every chance they are given. They visit the park twice a week but I fear that is not enough to let off the steam that builds up.’

‘They are welcome to play in the corridor at any time, Mr Parsons,’ replied Adam. ‘Rest assured, I will never be annoyed by their presence.’

Mr Parsons nodded again. ‘Oh, by the way, if you spot a cat around the area, could you let us know. Our pet, Mr Dickens, appears to have disappeared again. It’s a regular occurrence, so I’m not particularly concerned, but the children do worry about him. He’s not supposed to go into the street but he manages to slip out sometimes, usually when the children aren’t as observant as they promised they would be when we allowed them to take the creature in. He’s a big furry ball of a thing. Mostly ginger with a white flash on his chest.’

‘I’ll keep my eye out for him,’ Adam said, looking to the staircase where Veronica and Catherine waited with hopeful faces.

Mr Parsons turned away.

‘Come along, girls. Mr Sears will let us know if he spots the escapee.’ He patted both girls on the back. ‘He’ll turn up, he always does.’

Adam closed the door and returned to his book.

While visiting the bathroom during the afternoon, Adam thought he heard a baby crying. He turned off the tap, waited for the drain to empty, then cocked his head to listen. The sound came again, faint, but clearer. Adam paced the bathroom pushing his ear against the marble tiles, here and there. He wondered what was on the other side of his bathroom wall. He paced out the distance from the back wall of the bathroom, past a short open space to the kitchen, then through the sitting room until he got to the doorway of the apartment. He opened the door, stepped into the passage and paced out the same number of steps, towards the back wall.

‘Ten paces short,’ he said, as he reached the painted brickwork at the end of the hall. Adam looked to the right and noticed a door, set into the panelling below the staircase. The glossy door was not locked and he opened it and stepped into the dark recess beneath the stairs. Adam squinted into the gloom and saw another door, this one much more substantial. He stepped forward and turned the handle but the door was locked. Adam retraced his steps and returned to his sitting room where he picked up the bunch of keys from the mantel, that his landlady had given him. He had taken the front door keys from the bunch so that he wouldn’t have to carry the unwieldy ring of keys in his pocket.

Adam carried the keys back to the door in the stairwell, selected one of the larger keys and inserted it into the lock. Luck was with him; he turned the key and heard the lock click open. Adam twisted the handle and pushed open the door. Daylight filled the stairwell and Adam blinked a few times as his eyes became accustomed to the light. After a few seconds acclimatisation, he stepped out through the doorway.

Outside, he found himself in a short, high walled garden area. To his left was what he assumed was the extended wall of his bathroom. In front was a paved area with an ash-pit dug into the left side. Facing him, cut into the high wall, was a roughly-painted, wooden gate that showed at least three layers of faded, flaking, paint that has been applied over the years. Along the wall, at the left-hand side of the gate were three, dented, metal dustbins. To his right was an iron built, timber-treaded stairway that led up to the back door of the apartment above. On the third step sat a large ginger cat. It stared at him through narrow, green eyes, flattened back its ears, and hissed.

‘Mr Dickens, I presume,’ said Adam with a laugh. He held out his hand in what he hoped was a cat-friendly gesture. Mr Dickens ignored the offer of a petting, leapt down from the step and ran into the house. Adam looked around his surroundings again, then followed the cat, locking the heavy door behind him.

Temporarily blinded by the darkness, Adam felt his way along the right-hand wall until he found his way back to the stairwell door. He stepped into the bright hallway, decided to leave the door ajar in case the cat was hiding in the dark, and walked back to his sitting room. As he entered the room, he saw the ginger cat watching him carefully from the dining table.

‘There you are,’ said Adam, aloud. He walked slowly around the table so as not to alarm the animal, stepped into the kitchen and returned with a small piece of sliced ham, which he pulled apart and laid on the tablecloth. Mr Dickens looked at the ham, then at Adam, and remained where he was. Adam backed away and sank into an armchair. He pointed towards the tiny pieces of ham. ‘Eat,’ he said.

The cat sniffed the air, then padded across the tablecloth and began to tuck into the unexpected treat. Encouraged, Adam got to his feet, walked slowly to the table, and made what he hoped was soothing noises. Mr Dickens turned his head towards him, then returned to the food.

Adam decided not to risk a clawing by attempting to pet the cat and instead took a step back. The cat ate another sliver of ham, then became stiff, its ears flattened against its head, the hair on its back stood on end. It stared at the open bathroom door, hissed twice then began to growl.

Puzzled, Adam looked to where the cat was staring.

‘It’s alright, puss, there’s nothing there.’

The cat obviously thought otherwise, and still growling, began to back away, never taking its eyes off the bathroom. When it reached the edge of the table, it turned and leapt in one movement. With a swish of its tail it hurtled out of the still open door.

Adam took one last look at the bathroom, shook his head, then turned and walked to the hallway. On the stairs was Catherine, she cradled a still-wary Mr Dickens in her arms.

‘Did you have him all the time?’ she asked accusingly.

‘Of course not,’ replied Adam, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice. ‘I found him out on the back stair, near the ash pit. He must have got into the yard when the dustmen came and couldn’t get out again.

Veronica seemed appeased.

‘Well, in that case, thank you for finding him. We were getting worried.’ She ran her fingers through the thick fur on the side of the cat’s head. ‘You’re a very silly cat, going into the yard. There’s nothing there for you, not even a mouse.’ She grunted as she got to her feet lifting the heavy cat. ‘Let’s get you some dinner, you must be starving.’

‘I gave him a little bit of ham,’ said Adam. ‘Not much though, so he should still want his dinner.’

Veronica began to climb the stair. ‘Thank you for rescuing him,’ she said, without looking back.

Adam returned to his flat, picked up the two, tiny pieces of ham that Mr Dickens hadn’t eaten and took them into the bathroom where he dropped the meat into the lavatory and pulled the chain, flushing it into the drains.

Adam put the kettle on the kitchen stove and made tea, adding milk from the pan he had boiled earlier that day. He carried the tea tray to the big table, placed it in the centre and sat down facing the bathroom, wondering what the cat had seen to make it act in such a strange manner.

After two cups of tea and a wasted half hour, Adam decided that it was impossible to understand cat behaviour, and laughing to himself, pulled on his jacket, went out into the quiet street, and made his way to the Dog and Duck for dinner.

The three-course meal cost nine pence, twice as much as he used to pay at the Furling public house in Paddington. The meal consisted of a thin, beef soup, mutton, potatoes, cabbage and gravy, followed by a sweet, lemon pudding. At the Boar restaurant, just up the road, the cost for a similar meal would be a shilling. Adam decided that a shilling was too much to pay for his evening meal on a regular basis, and that he would eat at the Dog and Duck four nights a week, have restaurant food on Saturdays, before visiting the music hall, and dine at home on the other two nights.

Adam remained in the bar of the pub, drinking a decent ale, until eight o’clock, then made his way back home, breathing in the still clean, summer evening air. At midnight, the destructor, a huge furnace built to burn household waste, would start up at the refuse disposal yard and heavy industry boilers and ovens would be relit, ready for the new working week.

It was a relatively short walk home. When he arrived, Adam decided to sit on the top step of the stairs outside his apartment building to watch the world go by. With a full stomach and two pints of heavy beer in his stomach, he was as happy as he had ever been.

 

 

 

 

Sad Lisa. Chapter 2

Sad Lisa

Chapter Two

Adam slept well on the first night in his new home. He woke early on Sunday morning and took a brisk walk through the almost empty streets. In his former lodgings, the streets would have been almost as busy as a weekday, with many children of the less well-heeled spending the early morning of the Sabbath scouring the gutters and pavements for tiny pieces of coal that has been missed by the Saturday evening search patrols. Some scoured the back yards of food shops for half-rotten potatoes, a few, bad smelling leaves of cabbage or a crust of stale bread.

Later, the streets he now walked would be littered with children heading off to Sunday School before meeting up with parents at the church for their regular Sunday morning service. All of the children in Adam’s new, more affluent area, walked to church in their Sunday best clothes to be given bible tuition and made to repeat the Lord’s Prayer and the ten commandments before listening to a guest speaker. Sometimes it would be a vicar from a neighbouring parish, sometimes a fiery, American preacher, and sometimes, more interestingly, a missionary, fresh back from Africa with tales of man-eating lions and crocodiles the length of an omnibus.

In Paddington, Adam’s previous district, only the children of the religious poor attended Sunday School. The church official in charge of the poorest of the poor handled things in a very different manner. Unruly children were dragged unceremoniously to the front of the room and beaten with either a thick leather strap or, if the offence was considered blasphemous, a three-foot cane. Threats of hell and damnation would follow the children out of the hall and into the streets where the cursing and fighting would begin anew.

Adam counted three public houses and two, small but well looked-after, restaurants as he surveyed his new neighbourhood for the first time. The chalked-up blackboards outside each establishment showed prices for two or three course evening meals. Even the pubs seemed to have a reasonable menu. They were all twice the price of a meal in the eateries less then half a mile along the road, but he knew he would be enjoying a far superior meal and would have less chance of a seriously upset stomach during the night. Following the recent licencing restrictions, the pubs in this district at least were not allowed to open until 12.00 PM while all of the shops were closed and shuttered, as people adhered to the strict, Lord’s Day rules.

Adam switched from the cobbled streets to the pavement as the private hire and privately owned carriages came onto the roads and walked back to his new apartment at a brisk pace, lifting his hat or nodding to the few fellow citizens who were taking the chance to exercise in the almost deserted streets and the smoke-free air.

Adam had precured a small loaf, some butter, a lump of cheese and an onion on the previous afternoon and when he returned home, he made a pot of tea and sat down to enjoy the first meal in his new abode. Outside, in the hall, he could hear the sound of children’s laughter. He opened the door and looked out to see two girls aged between nine and eleven, wearing smock dresses and lace-up boots, along with a red-faced, wheezy boy, some years younger, sporting a checked knickerbocker suit, acting out a game of tag up and down the long corridor. They stopped dead as he appeared in the doorframe. The older of the girls looked particularly shocked.

‘Shut the door, mister,’ she begged, and began to back her way along the polished wood panelling that lined the bottom of the staircase. She held out her hand to the other girl. ‘Veronica, quickly now, come here.’

Never taking her eyes from Adam, the younger girl edged towards, who he assumed was her sister. She grabbed at her wrist and together they ran up the first three steps to the turn of the stair.

‘Don’t be afraid, children.’ Adam held out both hands. ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’ He turned to the boy who stood, mouth agape, only three feet away from him. ‘You’re not afraid of me, are you?’ He smiled and crouched down so he was at more or less the same height as the boy.

‘Stanley! Get yourself up here… NOW!’ the older girl commanded.

Stanley looked from Adam to the girl then back again, but remained glued to the spot.

‘Stanley?’ Adam spoke softly. He held out his hand towards the child. The movement seemed to wake Stanley from his stupor, and he spun around on one foot and hurled himself up the steps.

Adam straightened, and held out his palms again. ‘I’m not going to hurt you. Please, don’t be afraid.’

‘It’s not you we’re scared of,’ said the younger of the girls. ‘It’s what’s insi—’

‘Shh, Veronica,’ the older girl put her finger to her lips, ‘you’ll entice her out, then we’ll all be for it.’

Adam looked puzzled. He half turned and pushed the heavy door, open wide.

‘There’s no one here but me. See for yourselves.’

The girls looked at each other, the older of the two stretched her neck in an attempt to see past him. Adam stepped into the hallway and stood to the side so the girls had a clear view into his sitting room.

‘See? No one. I live here alone.’

‘Catherine, Veronica. Come along now, let me brush your hair, it’s almost time for Sunday School. Is Stanley with you?’

A tall, slim woman in a grey pleated skirt and a light pink, frilled-collared blouse, descended the stairs. Spotting Adam, she paused, then held out a slender hand towards the children. ‘Come now, we don’t want to be late.’

She began to turn away but stopped as Adam spoke.

‘I’m Adam Sears,’ he said quickly. ‘I appear to have frightened your children. I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry.’

The woman smiled thinly.

‘I’m Felicity Parsons,’ she replied. Her face became softer. She ushered the children upstairs then walked elegantly down the stairs to the hallway. She held out a gloved hand. Adam took it as gently as he could.

‘I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,’ Adam said. ‘I’m new to the district, I don’t know anyone around here. I’m sorry we seem to have got off on the wrong foot.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ Mrs Parsons replied, stretching to look over Adam’s shoulder and into the sitting room. ‘I hope you last a little bit longer than the previous tenant… previous three tenants, that is. No one seems to stay here long. It seems that just as we get to be on speaking terms, they disappear on us.’

‘I met Mr Parsons last night, he told me the same thing,’ said Adam. He looked back into the apartment, a puzzled look on his face. ‘It’s a lovely place, I really can’t understand what’s wrong with it for the life of me.’

Mrs Parsons patted his arm and walked quickly back to the staircase.

‘Let us hope you never do, Mr Sears,’ she said.

 

 

 

 

Sad Lisa. A ghost story. Chapter 1

Sad Lisa. A ghost story based on the Cat Stevens song. Unedited and seen as written. Part two will be along soon.

 

SAD LISA

by

T. A. Belshaw

Adam Sears sat at the heavy-oak dining table and for the umpteenth time that week, wondered how he, a young man of just twenty-one years, with limited prospects, had managed to acquire such a comfortable apartment in such an elegant house, in this much sought-after district of London.

The room was tastefully decorated with a cornflower patterned wallpaper. The furniture, including the dining table and a drop-leaf side table, was made from sturdy oak. An almost new, oriental style, blue/grey rug, sat on the floor and the bay window was framed by heavy, dark-grey, velvet, curtains.

Adam got to his feet and walked across to the open, sashed-window. Outside, the well-heeled Saturday afternoon crowds strolled the pavements.  Ladies, resplendent in summer hats, walked arm in arm with their heavily moustached, stiff-collared, male companions. Hanson and Landau carriages, pulled by a single or pair of horses, clattered across the cobbled street. Come autumn, the view would be restricted by the heavy smog that would hang in the air like a thick coverlet, but for now, with the sun high in the smoke-hazed sky, he couldn’t imagine a place he’d rather be. Adam stood for five minutes,  wallowing in the spectacle, thinking again how very fortunate he had been to find such a pleasant place to call his home.

Adam was an accounts clerk, working for Lorimar’s Bank. His shiny coat and frayed shirt collars were an embarrassment to him, especially out on the streets of such a genteel district. He felt the eyes of the privileged on him as he climbed the three steps from the pavement to the front door of his residence. Most took him for an Insurance salesman, visiting a client, or a butler to a rich tradesman, returning from running an errand. He was determined to improve his station, Mr Robbins, the branch manager had told him that if he worked hard, he could earn a substantial promotion in the next five years. Old Mr Armitage, the senior clerk, was seventy and had begun to struggle with his sight. Adam had designs on his job, and with it, the extra fifty pounds a year.

He had found the apartment after noticing a poster in a ground-floor window as he passed by on the omnibus. The first evening he just noticed the ‘for rent,’ headline and he had travelled home, daydreaming about what it must be like to live in such a pleasant neighbourhood. The following night, a Hanson cab had lost a wheel and the omnibus came to a halt right outside the building, so Adam had plenty of time to read the entire advertisement.

‘Apartment to let. Furnished, with private bathroom and kitchen. 10 shillings per week. Professional gentlemen only need apply. Deposit and references, required.’

Adam read the poster three times, then got up from his seat, left the omnibus and walked quickly up the steps to the front door of the residence. He brought down the brass, lion’s-head knocker three times and stepped back as the door opened. In front of him was a woman of about forty years. She was smartly dressed in a blue skirt and white frilled blouse. Her greying hair was tied in a tight bun, but wisps of it had escaped and lay across her frowning, forehead,

‘May I help you?’ she asked.

‘It’s about the, umm, the… advertisment… in the window. I’m not sure I read it correctly.’

The woman looked him up and down, took in his much-repaired shirt and coat, his scraped brown boots, then half closed the door. ‘The stipulation is, professional gentleman,’ she said.

‘My name is Adam Sears, I work for Lorimar’s Bank, I look after the accounts of our more affluent clients,’ he said hurriedly. ‘If the apartment really is for rent at ten shillings a week, I can easily afford it. I’ve just had my salary increased.’

The woman looked at him suspiciously. ‘Where are you living at the moment?’

Adam thought quickly. He didn’t want her to know he was renting a tiny attic room in a run-down part of Paddington, so he answered, ‘I live with my aunt in Marylebone, but she is increasingly, frail and is moving to the coast for the sea air.’

She looked him up and down again, quite taken by his piercing blue eyes and the handsome face that was almost pleading with her to accept his word.

‘Lorimar’s Bank you say? Well, I’ll need a reference.’ She stepped back and opened the heavy, black-glossed door. ‘Come inside and take a look. I will require a month’s deposit in advance, plus the current month’s rent.’

Adam’s jaw almost hit his chest when she opened the door to the apartment and showed him around. This was pure opulence, considering the conditions he was living in at present.

‘And, and, it’s definitely, ten shillings a week, the rent won’t increase after the first month, or so?’

‘Ten shillings it is and ten shillings it will remain until the day you leave, or can no longer afford to pay. She looked him over again and sniffed. ‘Defaulter’s deposits are non-refundable,’ she warned.

‘I have to ask, why is it so cheap? I mean, my friend is paying the same amount to share a couple of dingy, rooms in Balham.’ Adam turned a full three-hundred-and-sixty degrees. ‘This is beautiful.’

‘I just want it let, instead of sitting idle,’ she said. A look of annoyance crossed her face. ‘No one seems to stay very long. The last two tenants left without notice, leaving all their belongings behind them. It seems to have a history of short term, tenancy. I only bought the house a couple of years ago and it has been rented out six times during that period. The rest of the apartments in the house have settled tenants, some have been living here for years.’ She shrugged. ‘Anyone would think the place was haunted.’

Adam laughed nervously. ‘Well, if it is, I don’t care.’ He looked around the beautifully decorated sitting room. ‘As long as I don’t have to pay its share of the rent.’

The woman smiled at the joke. ‘I’m Mrs Prendergast. I live just up the street at number forty-five, you’ll find me there most of the time if you need me for anything… like paying the rental deposit, or settling the monthly account.’ She narrowed her eyes, her mouth so tightly closed that her lips almost vanished. ‘Due on the first day of the month, every month,’ she added.

Adam offered his hand. Mrs Prendergast looked at it, then turned away.

‘We’ll leave the formalities and niceties until the contract is signed, shall we?’ She showed Adam to the front door and watched him onto the top step.

‘I’ll bring the deposit and the first month’s rent around tomorrow after I leave work. It will be about this time of day,’ he said.

He turned away and walked to the pavement before turning back to face her.

‘You won’t let it to anyone else before I come back?’

‘A chance would be a fine thing,’ she muttered under her breath before looking directly into his eyes. ‘The apartment is yours, Mr Sears,’ she said, firmly.

***

The following night, Adam, carrying a large, battered case containing everything he owned, arrived at Mrs Prendergast’s house. She showed him into a neat study where she studiously counted out the money he placed on the table. Adam handed her an envelope containing a reference from his employers, which stated that to the best of their knowledge he was of good character, was a diligent, trustworthy employee with some promotional prospects, and earned a salary of one hundred and seventy pounds per annum.

His new landlady read the document through a pair of narrow-lensed, reading glasses that she picked up from her desk. Satisfied, she turned to a tier of small, gold-embossed drawers, opened the top one and produced a bunch of keys. She handed them to him with a warning.

‘If you lose them, replacements will have to be paid for. I only keep one spare set and that is for my use. I may let myself into the apartment from time to time just to see if you are looking after it. I will inform you when I mean to do that.’

Adam almost ran back to his new abode. He rushed up the steps, keys in hand but as he reached out to insert the largest of them into the lock, the heavy, black door opened.

In the doorway, stood a tall, bearded man wearing a dark suit and a black top hat. He smiled at Adam and stood aside to allow him entry.

Adam put down his case and blushed as he noticed the man take in its battered condition. He held out his hand and smiled.

The man took it and smiled back.

‘Henry Parsons, at your service,’ he said.

‘Adam Sears. I’m your new neighbour.’

Henry’s smile was little more than a grimace. ‘Well, Adam Sears, I hope you last longer then the last tenant. He was here for less than a month. The one before him was only here for two.’

‘I don’t understand it,’ replied Adam with a puzzled frown. ‘The apartment is beautiful, and it’s so cheap, why would anyone want to leave so quickly?’

Henry shrugged and walked back to the door. ‘Perhaps the ghost of Sad Lisa has something to do with it,’ he said quietly.

Adam looked puzzled again. ‘Ghost… Sad Lisa? Who is Sad Lisa? he asked.

‘You’ll find out soon enough, I’m sure.’ Henry stepped outside closing the door firmly behind him.

 

Unspoken 2. Chapter 4

Unedited. This preview is for readers to become familiar with one of the main characters of Unspoken Part Two

The name Martha means, The Lady, or Mistress of the House. Her sister is called, Marjorie, which means, The Pearl.

 

Chapter Four

Martha

Martha lay on her side, her turban-covered head nestled into the deep pile of down pillows. Her bedside clock read four-minutes-past-seven.

‘Late again,’ she said under her breath.

She rolled onto her back and studied the thick crack in the ceiling that she was sure had spread further over the last few days. She would have liked to get it fixed but the young man she had booked to give her a quote had looked like a bit of a rogue builder, although he claimed to be a member of the Master Builder’s Federation. Martha didn’t believe a word of it, there were a lot of rogues about these days. At one time you could get a local builder who would take pride in his work, knowing that if he messed up, the word would quickly get about, but now, all the trades seem to come from a minimum of twenty miles away and they wouldn’t give a damn about receiving a complaint. Just look at that Rogue Traders program on TV. The country was full of cowboy builders.

Only last week, old Mrs Hardy a few houses down the lane had been told by a ‘passing builder’ that the roof of her old bungalow looked in danger of collapse. After an inspection he blew out his cheeks, shook his head and told her it couldn’t be repaired for a penny under ten thousand pounds. The silly old woman had agreed to have the work done, but luckily her son came over to visit at the weekend and he had brought in his best friend, a builder himself, to have a look. Finding no fault, he suggested they ring the police. Mrs Hardy’s son, who was no saint himself, was reluctant to get them involved, so he just rang the number on the card she had been given, and cancelled the job, warning the builder that he was onto him and he shouldn’t show his face around the area any time soon.

Martha scratched an itch just below her right eye and looked towards the door.

‘Marjorie, where in God’s name have you got to?’ she muttered.

She shook her head and thought about the meeting with the solicitor later that day. With just the tiniest, and long awaited, bit of luck she so thoroughly deserved, she wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of repairing a crack in the ceiling ever again. She could afford to get the modern equivalent of Sir Christopher Wren to do the job if she felt like it. An unexpected mention in her late mother’s will could mean she would never want for money again. The old girl had been loaded when she died. The big, old farmhouse she had lived in and the couple of acres of land around it, must be worth at least three quarters of a million pounds these days. Then there were the proceeds of her land sales over the years. The farm had once boasted a hundred acres but Alice’s astute selling of parcels of land had netted her a fortune over the years. She had invested a lot of the money in London property and stocks and shares. God knows how much those assets were worth now.

‘About time,’ she said loudly as her sister, Marjorie, entered the room carrying a rattling breakfast tray.

‘I’m sorry, I, well, I dropped the pan with the eggs in and had to cook some more, by the time I had cleaned up, the tea was getting cold so I had to make another pot.’

‘I hope the eggs are properly cooked today.’ Martha scowled at her sister. ‘Yesterday, they were so undercooked they resembled mucus. How many times do I have to say, boil them for three minutes and twenty seconds, precisely.’

‘Yes, Martha, I’m sorry, but the handle of the pan was hot and—’

‘Just give me the tray and stop wittering,’ Martha scolded.

Marjorie pulled open the thickly-lined curtains to allow the early morning sun to light up the room.

‘It’s a nice day for an inheritance,’ she quipped.

‘Don’t count your chickens just yet, Marjorie,’ replied Martha. ‘You know what the tight old so and so was like. Remember the time I went cap in hand to her when Roger claimed a quarter of this house in the divorce court? She wouldn’t give me a penny to help me out of the mess.’

‘It was good job I had some savings, wasn’t it, Martha?’ Marjorie walked stiffly across to the bed and sat on the corner.

Martha coughed on the piece of toast she had just put into her mouth.

‘Don’t go digging up all that again. You’ll never let me forget that for once in your life, you helped me with something, will you? Put another record on, Marjorie, I’m fed up of hearing that one.’

‘I’m sorry, Martha,’ said Marjorie, quietly. I won’t mention it again. I might not need to after we’ve been to the solicitor today though. I didn’t think we’d get a penny from Mother, but we’re both mentioned in the will. I fully expected her to leave everything to our Jessica.’

Martha put the crust of the toast back onto her plate and sliced the top off one of the eggs with a knife. Inspecting the consistency of the yolk, she nodded, and dug a teaspoon into it.

‘Well, if we are the main beneficiaries, don’t you go throwing your share about. I’ll find some nice, safe investments for you. And, watch out for fortune seeking men. You would be taken advantage of far too easily.’

‘I’m seventy-six now, Martha, I don’t think any men will be interested in me.’

‘You’d be surprised, Marjorie,’ said Martha bitterly. ‘If I can get caught out, there’s little hope for you.’

Martha finished her egg and decided the quality wasn’t quite good enough to warrant eating the second one. Instead, she poured tea into a delicate china cup, poured in a small amount of milk, stirred it gently, and took a large sip.

‘At least the tea is made properly,’ she said.

Marjorie got to her feet. ‘I’d better get on with running your bath.’

‘Leave it for twenty minutes, I don’t want to bathe on a full stomach.’

‘Yes, Martha,’ replied Marjorie.

‘You can get in after me.’ Martha ordered. ‘We’ll share the water. Our gas bill was enormous over the last quarter.’

Marjorie walked to the door. ‘I’ll come back for the tray when you’re in the bath, shall I?’

Martha nodded, picked up another piece of toast and bit into it.

‘Off you go then. Make sure the kitchen is properly cleaned, I don’t want to be stepping on bits of egg shell when I come down.’

 

When Marjorie had taken away the breakfast tray, Martha got out of bed, removed her nightgown and slipped into a striped bath robe. Removing her turban, she studied herself in the dressing table mirror, running her fingers through her sparse, white hair before holding a hand mirror behind her head. Cursing the latest, seriously expensive, but useless, scalp cream, she walked quickly to the bathroom where she dampened her hair in the sink before rubbing a generous handful of the supposed miracle, steroid cream, onto her head.

Martha had always been envious of her mother’s shoulder length, chestnut curls. When Alice was young, people used to compare her to the Hollywood actress, Rita Hayworth, and indeed, there had been a remarkable likeness. Martha wasn’t as fortunate, she hadn’t been exactly unattractive when she was young, but she could hardly be classed as a beauty. Her hair had always been straight and thin, almost lank. Even in old age, Alice, her mother, had managed to keep a full head of hair, she had even retained some of her natural colour until she was well into her sixties.

Martha assumed she got her looks, and her hair, from Frank, her father, who had died somewhere in the Atlantic the year after her birth. Maybe she got the hair problems from Frank’s mother, Edna, was it? How was the hair gene passed down? She doubted it was a matriarchal thing, after all, her daughter and granddaughter both had dark, healthy, heads of hair. She decided to blame it on Alice anyway. They had always hated each other. There was talk of her mother practicing witchcraft in the attic of the farmhouse. Perhaps she had placed a curse on her first born, or simply used toxic chemicals when she washed her hair in the bath when she was a baby. Alice was capable of anything.

After bathing, she returned to the sink and rinsed out the sticky cream with fresh warm water, then she returned to the bathroom, calling to Marjorie on the way.

‘The bath’s all yours, be quick, the water isn’t too hot.’

In the bedroom, Martha pulled on a black and grey checked skirt and a white, silk blouse before opening a hat box that sat on the dressing table. She took out a steel-grey wig and pulled it over her patchy clumps of hair. She sat for a few minutes, tugging it first to the right, then the left, then the back. Finally satisfied, she applied a dab of rouge to her cheeks and went downstairs to the lounge where she turned on the radio and listened to the latest international news program. Radio 4 and the BBC TV news were her only source of information. She had cancelled the newspapers to save money some years before.

A few minutes later she heard Marjorie come down the stairs and five minutes after that, her younger sister walked into the lounge carrying a tray laden with Martha’s favourite china tea service. She was wearing a maroon skirt, a cream blouse and a navy cardigan.

‘I thought I’d use the best china as it’s a special day,’ she said.

Martha pursed her lips, looked Marjorie up and down, then shook her head.

‘You aren’t going to a solicitor’s office dressed like that, surely?’

‘What’s wrong with it?’ Marjorie looked down at her chest.

‘It’s not really fitting for the occasion is it? We’re attending the formal reading of a will; we’re not going to a coffee morning at the Women’s Institute.’

‘I… I thought.’

‘Don’t think, Marjorie. It seldom works out well for either of us.’

Marjorie looked confused. ‘What should I wear then?’

Martha sighed. ‘I’m not your dresser,’ she said, testily. ‘Wear the black knitted suit you wore to Mother’s funeral. That will look much more business-like.’

‘The hat had a veil on it,’ Marjorie protested.

Martha slammed her hand down onto the dining table making Marjorie jump.

‘Then don’t wear the bloody hat.’

Sniffling, Marjorie left the room.

‘And don’t take all day about it,’ called Martha. ‘Nicola is picking us up at eleven.’

Marjorie’s tear-stained face appeared around the dining room door.

‘Why are we leaving so early, Martha?’ She sniffed, pulled a handkerchief from the sleeve of her cardigan and wiped her nose. ‘The appointment isn’t until one-thirty.’

‘We’re going to have a look at our old home, Marjorie. I want to see what state the outbuildings are in. I’ve got big plans for that place.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signed Author Copies of Unspoken.

What a week it has been. The first paperback copies have been bought from Amazon, the eBook is picking up a lot of interest and now has SIX 5* reviews on Amazon and TWO 5* on Goodreads with the promise of many more to come.

In October, I have a blog tour organised and in November, a one day blitz by a team of bloggers worldwide. In September I will be featured in the Ilkeston Life newspaper.

Today I heard from Reedsy that one of their top reviewers is going to give an editorial review for Unspoken and I’m seriously looking forward to reading what they have to say.

Meanwhile, on the home front, I am expecting my first batch of author copy, paperbacks to sign and send out to readers. I only ordered ten to see how they go but I’ve already had requests for more than that so I’ve placed another order which will be delivered by Amazon in the coming days.

If you would like a signed copy, the cost is £7.99 plus £3.00 postage to anywhere in the UK. International postage rates will, of course, be higher. You can order one from me via my Facebook Page, or leave a comment on here and I’ll get in touch via email.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has shown interest in Unspoken, especially those who supported me through a very tough, last few years when writing novels was the last thing on my mind.

To any future buyer, could I please ask a favour. All authors in this day and age need help to become a success and by leaving a review, no matter how short, on Amazon and Goodreads you will show to others how highly you rated Unspoken and this might encourage them to read it too.

Thank You.

Trevor.

T.A.Belshaw

Unspoken Paperback Released.

I am delighted to announce the release of The paperback version of Unspoken. It’s a large book, 9×6 instead of the normal, 8×5 size and with the beautiful cover, designed by the fabulous, Jane Dixon Smith, it really stands out. At 408 pages it will take you a while to read it too.

The book is available now, from Amazon, worldwide. Author signed copies will be available on request in about a fortnight.

Here’s the universal link for Unspoken ebook and paperback.

http://getbook.at/TABelshawUnspoken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from Unspoken. A Dramatic Family Saga.

Sheerness station looked pretty much like our local one, with a signaller’s building, a ticket office and a waiting-room-come-café. The sharp, swirling wind,  blew the train’s smoke into our faces as we traversed the platform. We pulled our coat collars over our mouths and hurried to get out of the station.
‘I feel like I’ve just smoked a whole packet of fags at once,’ said Frank, hoarsely.
Outside the station we turned onto the aptly named Railway Road. About half way along it we found a pub, not surprising called The Railway. In the window was a sign advertising rooms with breakfast. Six shillings, double. Four and six, single.
‘What do you think?’ he asked.
‘Won’t it be a bit noisy?’ I said. The pub looked in good condition, on the outside at least.
‘It’ll be fine at this time of year,’ said Frank. ‘I have stayed here, but only for one night. I couldn’t afford nearly five bob a night out of the wages I was earning. I had to go into lodgings. It was a right flea pit too.’
He shuddered at the memory.
‘Let’s have a look at the room first,’ I said. My scalp started to itch. I resisted the urge to scratch it.
The pub was clean, and the landlady was friendly. She ordered a scrawny-looking man with a thick head of tightly curled, ginger hair to take my case and show us up to the double guest room. She noticed the anxious look on my face as he opened the door to the stairs.
‘I’d sleep in it,’ she said with a smile. ‘You’ll both be cosy in there.’
I was glad she didn’t use the phrase, snug as a bug in a rug.
Robert introduced himself as he led us up the one, steep flight of stairs. ‘I live with Irene,’ he announced, in a matter of fact way. ‘We’re not married or anything.’
I pulled my left hand up my sleeve so he couldn’t spot that Frank and I weren’t married either. I hadn’t even considered bringing a ring with me.
The room was nice, bright, and had a window facing the street, not the railway line that the rooms at the back of the pub must have overlooked.
It had a large, enamel basin and water pitcher on a shelf in the corner, clean towels, and a newish-looking double bed on the wall opposite the window. There was a single wardrobe and a round, oak table surrounded by four, rickety looking chairs.
‘The bathroom is at the end of the corridor. Just turn left, you can’t miss it.’ Robert hung around waiting for a tip, so I gave him a threepenny bit and he turned away.
‘Payment is in advance,’ he said suddenly. He spun around and looked at Frank. ‘Shall I show you the way down?’
Frank looked at me and shrugged.
‘We’ll be back down in a moment,’ I told him. ‘My husband will pay you then. Just the one night.’
When we returned to the bar, we found that Irene was in a far more business-like mood. The friendly smile had gone, and had been replaced by a steely-eyed stare.
I’d given Frank a ten-shilling note before we came down. He produced it with a smile.
‘There’s a five-bob deposit,’ said Irene. ‘In case of breakages. It will be refunded when you leave.’
I wondered what there was in the room that could be broken. There was only the bowl and pitcher and they looked sturdy enough.
‘Five bob?’ Frank exploded.
‘It’s the new rules,’ said Irene. She leaned over the bar towards us. ‘I’m already breaking one rule by letting you stay here at all. We don’t usually allow unmarried couples into our rooms.’
I pulled the extra shilling from my purse and handed it over. I leaned forward myself and whispered. ‘Where do you and Robert sleep then?’
Irene stuffed the money into a pocket in her apron and looked smug.
‘We don’t sleep here,’ she said.

We gave up arguing and went for a walk up to the town.
The High Street was a mix of Victorian and Edwardian buildings with faded, washed out shop fronts, but for someone like me, who lived in the country, it was a treasure trove of modern consumerism. On the High Street was a Boots store and behind it, a brightly painted clocktower that stood out vividly alongside the dull expanse of grimy, red brick and mortar.
We stopped for tea at a café in the town centre, but we had to drink it in a breezy garden at the back, because the café itself was under renovation. A waitress, wearing a uniform better suited to Lyons tea rooms than a tiny, underused little café in Sheerness, took our order and apologised on behalf of the café owner. The tea was well brewed and the waitress helpful, explaining to us the quickest way to the sea front. I left her a threepenny tip for her trouble.
After tea, we retraced our steps until we came to Broadway. A few minutes later we arrived at Sheerness beach, which was empty apart from a couple of dog walkers and two children hunting for shells. We walked along the Marine Parade until we reached the pier which the people walking just in front of us had called ‘the jetty’. It was built as a place for boats to unload passengers, but at this time of year there would have been little in the way of business for the boat owners. At the end of the pier was a pavilion. We never found out what entertainment it provided because it was closed, and wouldn’t open again until May Day.
We walked back along the pier, past the silent, unoccupied bandstand and headed further down Marine Parade towards Minster. The sea air had really worked on my appetite, so we bought fish and chips and sat down on the sea wall to eat them. A chilly wind came off the sea and seagulls raided inland looking for easier pickings than the hard to find fish in the Medway Estuary.
It was only about two and a half miles back to Sheerness, but it seemed more like five. Although it was March, we both removed our coats and allowed the shrill wind to cool our bodies. I was tired, even though I was a fit eighteen-year-old farm manager, who worked a fourteen-hour day, month in, month out. Babies tire you out even before they are born.

Unspoken on Amazon UK

Unspoken Released!

I am delighted to announce the release, in Kindle format, of my new Family Saga, Unspoken.
As many of my Facebook and Twitter friends know, this novel has been a long time coming. My last book was a noir, suspense novella, Out of Control, which was published back in August 2015.
Following the sudden, unexpected death of my wife, three days later, I pretty much decided to give up writing. She was my muse, my first reader, someone who would tell me straight, how the story was progressing and I was lost without her.
Fast forward to March 2020 and after several false starts, the circumstances of Lockdown and an unfortunate, very painful injury which meant a short stay in hospital, and a long recovery process ahead, I found myself stuck inside, with only the TV and my rescue cat, Mia for company.

So, I decided to see if I could pick up where I left off all those years ago.
There were several part-started projects I could work with and I did think seriously about finishing one of them, but in the end, I decided that the virtually unlimited writing time that lay ahead, actually warranted a brand new project, something different, something outside of my comfort zone, something that would provide a fresh challenge.
I telephoned my fab editor, Maureen Vincent Northam and had the first of many chats about the new project. Maureen was keen for me to start and with her constant encouragement, via email and telephone, she eased me through the doubts, the plot holes and the comma-ridden chapters that I sent her on an almost daily basis.

The result, some sixteen weeks later, is Unspoken, the first of a series of three novels that will detail the history of the Mollison family from 1938 to 2019.

Unspoken is a story of secrets, love and revenge. In this novel, we meet, Alice, a young girl forced into adulthood before she could properly enjoy her late teenage years.
Alice is fast approaching her one hundredth birthday and she has a secret. One she has kept to herself for some eighty years. She is aware that she has very little time left and wants to unburden herself to her great granddaughter, Jessica, a young woman who could have been mistaken for Alice had they been born in the same era. Unfortunately, Jessica has the same, dreadful tastes in men as Alice. Her partner, Calvin, once a kind, funny boyfriend has turned into a controlling narcissist.

Alice sends Jessica to the attic of the old farmhouse to retrieve her handwritten memoirs and her own relationship with a brutal, controlling man is finally brought into the light.

Unspoken is now available on Kindle at the price of £2.99 but is free for members of Kindle Unlimited. The paperback version is ready, and will follow soon.

You can buy/Download the Kinde version by clicking the link below..

UNSPOKEN 

 

Unspoken. Cover Reveal

 

 

I am delighted to reveal the cover for my new Family Saga novel, Unspoken.

The fabulous cover was designed by the extremely talented, Jane Dixon Smith, of J. D. Smith Design. http://janedixonsmith.com/

Unspoken will be published in Kindle EBook format later today but it may take a day or so to appear on Amazon. Paperback to follow in short order.

Keep checking back to this website for further news of the release.

Unspoken is something that cannot be uttered aloud. Unspoken is the dark secret a woman must keep, for life.

Unspoken

A dramatic family saga, Unspoken is a tale of secrets, love, betrayal and revenge.

Alice is fast approaching her one hundredth birthday and she is dying. Her strange, graphic dreams of ghostly figures trying to pull her into a tunnel of blinding light are becoming more and more vivid and terrifying. Alice knows she only has a short time left and is desperate to unburden herself of a dark secret, one she has lived with for eighty years.
Jessica, a journalist, is her great granddaughter and a mirror image of a young Alice. They share dreadful luck in the types of men that come into their lives.
Alice decides to share her terrible secret with Jessica and sends her to the attic to retrieve a set of handwritten notebooks detailing her young life during the late 1930s. Following the death of her invalid mother and her father’s decline into depression and alcoholism, she is forced, at 18 to take over control of the farm. On her birthday, she meets Frank, a man with a drink problem and a violent temper.
When Frank’s abusive behaviour steps up a level. Alice seeks solace in the arms of her smooth, ‘gangster lawyer’ Godfrey, and when Frank discovers her in another man’s arms, he vows to get revenge.
Unspoken. A tale that spans two eras and binds two women, born eighty years apart.

 

Unspoken. The Blurb.

Two blurbs for Unspoken. The shorter one for the back of the paperback, the slightly longer one for the Unspoken, Amazon book page.

Paperback Blurb.

Unspoken

A dramatic family saga. A tale of secrets, love and revenge.

Alice is fast approaching her one hundredth birthday and she is dying. Her strange, graphic dreams of ghostly figures trying to pull her into a tunnel of blinding light are becoming more and more vivid and terrifying. Alice knows she only has a short time left and is desperate to unburden herself of the dark secret she has lived with for eighty years.

Jessica is her great granddaughter and a mirror image of a young Alice. They share dreadful luck in the types of men that come into their lives.

Alice shares her terrible secret with Jessica through a set of handwritten notebooks detailing her young life during the late 1930s. Following the death of her invalid mother and her father’s decline, she is forced, at 18, to take control of the farm. On her birthday, she meets Frank, a man with a drink problem and a violent temper.
When Frank’s abusive behaviour steps up a level. Alice seeks solace in the company of her smooth, ‘gangster lawyer’ Godfrey, and when Frank finds Alice in the arms of another man, he vows to get his revenge.

Unspoken. A tale that spans two eras and binds two women born eighty years apart.

 

Amazon Blurb

Unspoken

A dramatic family saga, Unspoken is a tale of secrets, love, betrayal and revenge.

Unspoken means something that cannot be uttered aloud. Unspoken is the dark secret a woman must keep, for life.

Alice is fast approaching her one hundredth birthday and she is dying. Her strange, graphic dreams of ghostly figures trying to pull her into a tunnel of blinding light are becoming more and more vivid and terrifying. Alice knows she only has a short time left and is desperate to unburden herself of a dark secret, one she has lived with for eighty years.

Jessica, a journalist, is her great granddaughter and a mirror image of a young Alice. They share dreadful luck in the types of men that come into their lives.

Alice decides to share her terrible secret with Jessica and sends her to the attic to retrieve a set of handwritten notebooks detailing her young life during the late 1930s. Following the death of her invalid mother and her father’s decline into depression and alcoholism, she is forced, at 18 to take over control of the farm. On her birthday, she meets Frank, a man with a drink problem and a violent temper.
When Frank’s abusive behaviour steps up a level. Alice seeks solace in the arms of her smooth, ‘gangster lawyer’ Godfrey, and when Frank discovers her in another man’s arms, he vows to get revenge.
Unspoken. A tale that spans two eras and binds two women, born eighty years apart.

The Village


A Thousand Years of Division.
The village of Kirkby Sutton is a conglomerate and an enigma. Formed by the merging of two villages that had outgrown their ability to remain separate as an entity, it nevertheless retains two extremely different and specific identities. One half, as its name suggests, is built around the church and is a, (mainly), well-to-do, haven of respectability, with its Georgian Manor, leafy, wide-verged streets, lined with large, detached houses, driveways, off road parking and a library. There is also a small 1960s estate, a mix of private, three bedroomed, privately-owned houses, with an enclave of housing association tenants bolted on for political expediency.
Down the hill, the other half of the village contains a higgledy-piggledy, hotchpotch of stone cottages, modern, town houses and rows of Victorian terraces, originally built for the employees at the local lace factory, brewery and estate workers, who made the short trip up the road, to toil on the farms of Lord Beresford on the other side of the village. Nowadays, the descendants of those workers still live in the red brick terraces, but are employed by industries in the nearby cities of Nottingham and Derby.

The rivalry of its residents compares to any found in much larger towns and cities. You would be hard pressed to find as much animosity at a local Derby football match in Liverpool or Manchester. The annual village fair, which includes a fiercely fought, tug-of-war competition, held on a boozy bank holiday weekend, regularly turns violent. For years, a police sergeant from the small town of Higton, was paid to referee the event, but when the ageing sergeant retired and the police station was closed down to save money in the 1950s, the residents were left to sort out their own mess, so a committee, made up of the vicar’s wife and a group of teetotal residents from both sides, sat in sober judgment over the proceedings. To this day, the committee still rules on complaints and accusations made by one side against the other. Most of the grievances are easily dismissed, but on a few occasions, a vote has to be taken with the chairperson, a lady with no connection to either side of the village, holding the casting vote.
Sutton is the older part of the village and dates back to Saxon times. Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon term for South town, (village, or enclosure.) It was built on the plain at the bottom of a long slope, on the bend of a fast-flowing stream. They built a timber church, which, in bad winters, became a flood plain. Sick of paddling to church for their religious instruction, they erected another one, higher up the slope, using the soggy timbers from their original construction.
A hundred or so years later the Danes arrived, but instead of rape and pillage, the Vikings merely appropriated the land around the church and began to farm it. This community became known as Kirkby, or, the settlement by the church. Over time, the Danish intruders, became Christianised, improved the church building, and appointed one of their own number, a man from the nearby town of Derby, as priest. They reluctantly allowed their near neighbours to attend religious ceremonies, in an effort to re-Christianise the local population, who had, by now, become almost universally, heathen.

The church was rebuilt in stone during the thirteenth century, when the new Lord of the Manor, a distant relative of King Henry 111, was granted all of the lands around the area. Residents of Sutton sent emissaries to their new lord demanding a church of their own. The lord’s response was to add an extra tax on the ungrateful villagers, a tax that the residents of Kirkby were excused. The Sutton inhabitants were outraged and set about building a church of their own on the site of the original timber church, but on the eve of its consecration, it mysteriously burned down. A second attempt was made a year later but with the same result. Suttononians smelled a rat, and protested outside the stone church at Kirkby before Evensong. The parish priest dismissed their grievances and told them in no uncertain terms, that both instances of arson, were acts of an angry God, and if they didn’t start attending his sermons, they would be branded heretics and burned at the stake.
This threat worked to a degree, but there was always an undercurrent of hostility inside the parish.
Sutton attempted to build their own church on no less than twelve occasions over the following two hundred years with the same fiery result. When, at last, an Abbey was built on their half of the divide in the late 15th century, their joy was unbridled. That joy was soon to be bridled again, however, as in 1538 under instructions from Henry V111, the building was demolished and the land and possessions, seized by the crown.
Sutton decided that God really didn’t intend them to have a church and reluctantly fell in with their Kirkby hosts, which was a good job really, as a hundred or so years later, administrators decided that it was too much of the job administering two villages, so they combined them in a covenant and changed its name to Kirkby Sutton. The villagers only found out about it at the next census, and by then it was too late to do anything about it.
The villages expanded in the 18th century to accommodate the newly built mill on the Sutton side of the boundary, and the mill owner’s needs on the Kirkby side. New dwellings to house the relatives and administrators of the fledgling industry were built in Kirkby, whilst rows of stone cottages were erected in Sutton, meaning the dividing line between the two halves became ever closer.
When the mill closed in the mid-Victorian era, it was turned into a lace factory. Next door, the new owners also built a tannery. These budding entrepreneurs were soon followed by Barton’s Brewery, who took the crystal-clear waters of the stream to make their distinctively flavoured ales. Four streets of terraced housing were built on the southern edge of Sutton. The dwellings came complete with individual, outdoor lavatories and a series of communal water pumps. The larger houses of Kirkby, in general, became equipped with their own water supplies, albeit fed from a pump in the kitchens. This led to a near riot one summer, when, fuelled by a small outbreak of cholera in Sutton, the residents crossed the border, (a line of skinny, pine trees,) and begged their richer, and less smelly, neighbours for clean water. The gentry refused, so fuelled by the cheap, but strong, ale, supplied by the new Barton’s Brewery public house, the Suttononian men, invaded the North and smashed up the main pumping station that fed the privately-owned houses. The newly-formed, Borough Police Force were summoned, the riot was quelled and a raid was made on ‘suspect’ houses in Sutton. Several arrests were made, including that of a wheelchair bound lady of 75 years who hadn’t left her home in a decade.

During the first world war, an uneasy peace ensued with both sides of the village losing men in the fields of Flanders. When the war was over, it was decided that a small cenotaph would be built. The Kirkbyans wanted it to be outside the church. The Suttonians, outside the Tannery. A compromise was arrived at and the stone cenotaph was built on the dividing line between the two halves of the village. By now, this line was imaginary, as houses had been erected on both sides, and a tarmac road ran straight through the middle, connecting to a main road at the top end of Kirkby. An uninformed, outsider, would never have known the villages had ever been separate.
Typically, a row ensued over which side of the construction the names of dead would be carved into, so, sensibly, for once, the Sutton names were carved, facing the south and the Kirkby ones facing the north. Every year, on armistice day, the residents line up on either side of the tribute to remember their own. Villagers divided, even in death.
This story begins in the early 1950s.

First Draft Excerpt (1) from Unspoken 2. Martha

Alice January 1939
At nine-thirty on New Year’s Eve, nineteen-thirty-eight, Amy and I went up to the Old Bull to see in nineteen-thirty-nine. The place was packed to the gunnels. Even the snug was so rammed that had either one of us turned around, everyone in the bar would have turned around with us. We didn’t stay long. The people standing next to the bar wouldn’t move away to allow those behind be served, so it would have been well past midnight before we got our first gin and tonic. A couple of lads from the local mill tried to chat us up, but even they couldn’t get close enough to buy us a drink, so we went back to Amy’s and played a few records until just before midnight, when Amy’s dad knocked on her bedroom door to invite us to share the big moment with him and Amy’s mum.
He just had time to pour us a glass of port before Big Ben bonged out it’s barrage of bells. Amy’s parents linked arms with us and we all sang Auld Lang Syne, with me, singing the wrong words. I have been taught the New Year’s anthem three or four times but still sing, for the sake of… Amy’s dad, who was one sixteenth Scottish, knew all of Burn’s lyrics and made sure our arms stayed linked until he had belted out the last line of the song. When he reached, and we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught, Amy looked at me, I looked at her, and no amount of lip biting or cheek sucking, was ever going to stop the hysterical fit of laughter that followed.
Amy’s dad kept going until the bitter end, then he let go of our hands, called us ‘childish’ and retired to his armchair to finish the malt whisky that a real Scotsman had sold him on their family holiday the previous Easter.
Around twelve-thirty, Amy showed me to the door.
I asked why her dad hadn’t done the first foot thing, seeing as he was so keen on the New Year rituals. My own father, who wasn’t even a hundredth part Scottish, had done it every year without fail. I never understood what was behind the custom. Mum told me it was something to do with bringing in a gift to the household, but as all he ever brought in was a lump of coal and a stale mince pie left over from Christmas, things we already owned, I was left as confused as ever. Perhaps they did it differently in Scotland.
Amy looked around to make sure no one could overhear and whispered. ‘He tripped over the step wearing his kilt a few years ago and showed his Willie Waught to the world, so Mum has banned him from doing it since then. He was off work for a month with a cracked ankle. Old Mrs Bowen, who lived next door at the time, got a right eyeful. She was going to call the police until Mum brought her inside and plied her with gin.’
‘I remember him being off work, but you never said why,’ I said, through my giggles.
Any looked at me wide-eyed. ‘Would you tell that story to anyone? It’s one of those tales you want to hear about someone else’s dad.’
‘I was still sniggering to myself when I got home. I stood in the yard for a few moments to look at the new foundations that had been backfilled and waiting for the concrete to be poured for over a week. Mr Hart, our builder, refused to tip the concrete until the weather was above freezing, as the finished slab wouldn’t be as strong. The forecaster on the radio had said the weather was going to be dry for the next few days with temperatures forecast to be around forty degrees Fahrenheit, so, Michael promised to begin mixing the stuff on the morning of the second.
I was really keen to get that process started because once the new milking parlour/winter cow-shed was ready, we could pretty much quadruple the size of our Friesian herd. I turned towards the kitchen wondering if the coming year would bring us better fortune than the previous one. It had been a year littered with secrets and lies, revelations and revenge. As I turned to close the kitchen door, I took one last look at the newly dug foundations and told myself to look for the positives. A new year always came with the promise of a new start after all. Last years’ secrets should remain buried.

First draft excerpt. (2) from Unspoken 2 Martha.

Alice
September 1939
At eleven o’clock on Sunday September 3rd 1939, I opened up the kitchen for the farmworkers to enable them to hear an historic speech from our Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, or the undertaker, as Amy had renamed him. Not all the lads worked on Sundays, some were rostered to tend the animals, milk the cows etc and I called them in when I heard the BBC inform us that there was going to be a speech of national importance.
We had been edging towards war for the entire year and Germany’s invasion of Poland a couple of days before had made the prospect an inevitability. As we waited for the broadcast, my thoughts went back to the autumn of the previous year when the same man, joyfully waved a piece of paper at the cameras whilst declaring, ‘Peace for our time.’ I wondered if he had brought a scrap of worthless paper with him this time around and what was written on it. Bugger! must have been a distinct possibility.
Amy’s nickname was perfectly suited. The scrawny man with the scrawny neck and the old fashioned, turned-over collar, wouldn’t have looked out of place marching solemnly in front of a hearse.
The few whispered conversations ceased as we heard his voice over the airwaves.
I am speaking to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
There was a bit more, mainly relating to Hitler’s warlike mentality, but we didn’t really take that in, the first part of his statement said everything we needed to hear. We were at war with Germany again, even though we were promised that the 14-18 conflict had been the war to end all wars.
Amy pushed her empty tea cup across the table.
‘Well, the undertaker has just assigned another few million people to an early grave. There has to be better ways to advertise your business.’
No one laughed.
Barney, our foreman, gave his thoughts.
‘Levity aside, Amy, this has been coming. Hitler is a nasty piece of work, and it’s high time someone stood up to him. We could have done it last year, but I understand that we weren’t ready to take him on back then. I’m not sure we are now; I think we might have to try to persuade the Americans to come in again or we could be in trouble.’
‘Thank goodness for the channel,’ said Benny Tomkiss, one of the younger workers. He pointed vaguely towards the Kent coast from which any attack would surely come.
Miriam, a non-practicing Jew, whose father had spent the majority of his life working on our farm, waited for a few seconds of silence before adding her own tearful thoughts.
‘I’m so pleased we’re finally telling him he can’t just do what he wants. Last year, cousins of mine were thrown out of their businesses, their homes and their jobs, just for being Jewish. Do you all remember what they did on that bloody Kristallnacht? I’m so worried about them, I haven’t had a letter since February. The Nazis are sending Jews to work camps where they are used as slave labour. How any so-called civilized society can allow this to happen is beyond me. He has to be stopped before millions of people are slaughtered, just for belonging to the wrong religion.’
No one seemed to be able to look at Miriam as she delivered her tear-filled statement. We had all heard the rumours of Jewish people being hounded out of their homes and exiled to concentration camps throughout Germany. The newsreels at the cinema had shown graphic images of Kristallnacht. The vast majority of the British population were horrified by the news reports, but there were some, even in our small town, who seemed to blame all that was wrong with the world on the Jewish race.
I turned off the radio thinking that, as head of the farm, I ought to say something. My father would no doubt have delivered a rousing speech, saying we were all in this together and it was up to each and every one of us to do our bit to ensure that Hitler was defeated. Sadly, as a nineteen-year-old mother, I wasn’t up to delivering rousing speeches.
‘Firstly, I have to say that we all knew this was coming, sad and shocking as the actual announcement was. Secondly, I’m sure the government will announce soon that farming industry workers are in a reserved occupation. The country will still need to be fed and our troops will need their ration packs so none of you will be forced to join up if you don’t want to. I will however, understand completely if any of you feel you have to do your bit for King and country and you can go with my blessing but, please, if you can, wait until the recruiting offices are set up. We’ve still got the corn harvest to bring in before you go.’
I let out a deep sigh.
‘Damn Hitler, damn Mussolini, damn Stalin, and damn Neville bloody Chamberlain.’
As the lads drifted out into the yard, I sat down at the kitchen table thinking about the past year.
The farm had done well. The wheat crop had been as good as it ever had been and we’d had a bumper crop of piglets and lambs too. The new milking parlour/barn had enabled us to house thirty cows through the bad weather and the extra animals meant that our milk production had quadrupled. The electric pumps meant that milking was now a one-man job and Miriam’s little butter and cheese enterprise had expanded. There had been a wedding in March when young Benny married his childhood sweetheart, Emily.
Martha was now a toddler with a mission to explore every inch of the farm. Her inquisitive nature was only matched by her temper, if she was stopped going into places she wasn’t allowed to go.
Our relationship still bordered on indifference. She put up with me if she was in the mood, but no amount of encouragement or proffered bribes, could get her to spend time with me if didn’t feel like it. Her vocabulary wasn’t great yet but ‘Mama’ one of the easiest words to say, was the word she used least.
Since March, I had been accompanying my best friend Amy to the local picture palace to watch the latest Hollywood exports. To my delight and embarrassment, my movie star lookalike, Rita Hayworth, appeared in more and more of the movies on offer. I looked like Rita; my rolling shoulder length curls made the similarities almost photographic. We were so much alike that the owner of the picture house, a Mr Wallington, even offered to pay me to stand outside the cinema greeting prospective movie goers whenever one of her films was on show.
Future wise, financially at least, the farm would be better off. The government tended to look after us during times of conflict. They would almost certainly subsidise the crops and give us more money per ton for producing it. That wouldn’t necessarily transmit to farm workers’ wages and if we lost any of our men to the fighting, we might have to recruit from the elderly residents of the town, then again, the local factories would almost certainly switch to war production and that would mean the skills of the town’s women and elderly men, would be much sought after.
I could never understand the government’s attitude to farm workers. On the one hand they wanted them working at home producing for the country, but on the other hand, they were reluctant to pay them a little extra in order to keep them in our fields instead of fighting in foreign ones.
Amy, as a mill worker, wouldn’t be allowed to leave to do any other work. Her skills would be needed in the manufacture of uniforms, parachutes or anything else the forces might require.
‘I do hope this thing doesn’t go on as long as the last one,’ she said, sipping at a fresh mug of tea. ‘I promised myself I’d be married before I was twenty-five and there will be a severe shortage of eligible bachelors once this bloody war gets going.’ Amy was just coming up to twenty-one.
‘You’ll be all right if the Americans do come in,’ I replied. ‘Imagine Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart turning up at an army camp nearby?’
Amy rested her chin in her upturned hands and sighed.
‘Imagine,’ she said.

The Old Soldier

A ten minute poem

The Old Soldier

Captain Tom’s a soldier, and
A modest sort of man
At ninety nine he worked out
A money raising plan

He said I’ll get my walking frame
Do a hundred laps of my yard
Before my hundredth birthday
It shouldn’t be that hard

So Tom set out on his crusade
He hoped to raise a grand
To give to nursing charities
Who need a helping hand

Tom marched up and down his yard
Medals glinting on his chest
The nation took to him to their hearts
And cheered him on his quest

Donations flowed like water
The hundred laps were done
The thousands turned to millions
But old Tom soldiered on

We saluted you, the hero
Of your war campaigns
And now in times of trouble
We salute you once again

God bless you, Tom Moore

Christmas Story 2019

The Little Christmas Tree

The Last Pine Tree Before The North Pole

Ryan yawned and tilted his head from side to side in a vain attempt to remove some of the stiffness from his neck. He pulled his head back and looked beneath the fake-fur trim of his hood to the canopy of pine branches high above. Thin, watery sunlight filtered through the trees, casting grey dappled shadows across the gaps on the forest floor. He leaned this way and that to counter the humps and bumps that tossed the sled from side to side as it slid over the snow-covered track. A few feet in front of him, two Inuit guides drove the team of ten, powerful Husky dogs through the rapidly thinning treeline. Earlier, the forest had been thick, and the going had been slow, he had lost count of the amount of times they had had to get off the sled to carry it over, or around, a fallen tree. Now, the vegetation was sparser, the going was easier and the few, short hours of daylight they had been blessed with at their base in Last Town, seemed to have been cut in half.

Ryan, disliked the freezing, long, night, which lasted almost twenty hours at a stretch. But that’s what you had to expect when you got this close to the North Pole. In the forest daylight, he caught glimpses of startled reindeer as they dashed across the path ahead, but in the dark, all he saw was slow moving shapes amongst the trees. Scariest of all, was the sound of a wolf howling from the trees on the left, which was answered almost immediately by a howl from somewhere on the right. Every so often he would hear a loud, Plop! as lumps of ice fell from the treetops onto the soft snow on the forest floor.

Ryan tried to be brave, but he was beginning to regret that he had persuaded his father to let him come on his pre- Christmas trip to the far north, to recover data from the scientific, weather-checking instruments that had been tracking temperature, snowfall and air quality for the past six months. His mother had been against it, but he had begged and pleaded until she gave in.

‘Make sure you’re back in time for Santa,’ she said. She would be waiting for them at their hotel in Last Town when they returned.

He yawned again and looked at his watch. The movement attracted the attention of his father, who looked down, smiled and ruffled Ryan’s hood with his gloved right hand.

‘What time is it, Son? My watch appears to be broken.’

Ryan showed the illuminated dial of his watch to his father.

‘We’re almost there, Ryan. Another half an hour and we’ll be at the camp.’

Ryan puffed out his cheeks and blew warm breath into the freezing air.

‘Thank goodness for that, Dad. I really need to stretch my legs.’

Professor Mulgrew nodded.

‘Make the most of it while you have the chance, son. Were only here for a few hours. It will have to be a quick turnaround if we’re going to get back to Last Town for Santa Claus.’

Ryan suddenly felt a little worried.  Lots of questions came into his mind at once.

‘We will get back in time for Santa, won’t we Dad?’

‘It might be tight; we lost a lot of time crossing that frozen river earlier, but we should make it.’

Ryan looked up at his father.

‘He will find me if we don’t get back in time, won’t he?’

His dad ruffled his hood again. ‘I’m sure he will, Son.’

 Ryan pulled a face as he thought about it. ‘I forgot to hang my Santa sack up,’ he said.

 

Thirty minutes later, as promised, the dog team pulled the sled out of the pine forest, past a few large boulders, and came to a halt alongside a broken-down shack. Part of the roof had collapsed and the open door creaked as it swung in the strengthening wind. The shack was surrounded by a series of high poles which had various sized boxes fixed to their tops. A thin strand of wire holding a few dozen glass lightbulbs, hung between them. On the floor, just inside the shed, was a coil of unused lighting wire.

Ryan jumped off the sled and stamped around while his father and the two guides unpacked the replacement equipment and prepared to check the data from the existing experiments.

He climbed to the top of a ten-foot snowdrift and looked out across the frozen tundra. There were no trees beyond that point and the flat, snowy landscape stretched for miles until it reached a long line of white, jagged mountains. Beyond the mountains lay the North Pole; Santa’s home. The sky looked pitch-black above the peaks, although there should have been a good two hours of daylight left.

As he clambered down from the snowdrift, he noticed a small, stumpy, pine tree that had grown just behind the run-down shack; the only tree for a hundred metres or so. It was a thin, spindly little thing, no taller than Ryan himself. The sparse branches were tipped with icicles.  He immediately felt sorry for it.

‘Look, Dad,’ he called out. ‘A baby tree, all on its own.’

Professor Mulgrew walked across and examined the pine.

‘It’s not a baby, Ryan. It’s probably as old as many of the trees in the forest back there. It’s just that the soil isn’t as good out here and it hasn’t had a chance to grow like they have.’ He looked out across the frozen waste, then back to the tree line. ‘This must be the last pine tree before the North Pole.’

‘It looks so lonely, Dad,’ said Ryan. ‘Can’t we dig it up and plant it near the other trees?’

Professor Mulgrew stamped on the rock-solid ground.

‘We’d never get a shovel into this, Son, and even if we could, I doubt it would survive the shock of being moved.’

As his father walked back to the sled, Ryan patted the tree on one of its frost-covered branches and said.

‘Did you hear that? You’re the last pine tree before the North Pole, that’s something to be proud of. You should be one of the most famous trees in the world really. People should write stories about you. You shouldn’t be left unnoticed and alone.’

Then he had an idea.

He ran around to the storage shed and picked up the coil of spare lighting wire, made sure the lamps were screwed into their holders, nice and tight, and ran back to the tree. He wrapped the wire around its branches, being careful not to disturb any of the hanging icicles, and happily found he had just enough spare wire to reach back to the shed.

‘Dad,’ He called. ‘Could you plug this into the generator for me?’

Professor Mulgrew plugged the extension lead into a spare plug socket as Ryan waited outside, expectantly. Suddenly he heard the sound of the generator starting up and the thin line of lamps between the poles flickered into life. Ryan cheered as his tree lights burst into life. The glow from the bright yellow lamps flickered across the icicles, making them seem to dance in the icy, artic breeze.

‘There’s something missing,’ said Ryan to himself. Then he realised what it was.

He ran back to the sled and rummaged about in the bags until he found a small, round, shiny metal, dinner plate. He rushed back to the tree and wedged it into the topmost branches.

‘There,’ he said proudly. ‘Now you have a shiny star.’

His happy thoughts were interrupted by the alarm in his father’s voice.

‘There’s a storm coming!’

Ryan clambered up the snowdrift again and looked north to see that the dark black clouds had moved a lot closer. The three men hurried about, taking down old boxes from the pole tops and installing new ones.

Amaruk, one of the Inuit guides, (his name means, Grey Wolf, in English,) called Ryan down from the snowdrift and pointed to the old shack.

‘Get the huskies inside, Ryan, take them to far end, where the roof is still in place and tie that door shut. We’re going to have to camp here tonight.’

Ryan began to panic. ‘We can’t,’ he said, ‘Santa is coming tonight. He doesn’t know I’m here.’

Amaruk looked at Ryan sadly.

‘I’m sorry little one, but we can’t outrun this storm. It will blow us back to Last Town.’

Ryan reluctantly led the Huskies into the shed, settled them down, then closed the door and tied it shut with a length of old rope he found on the floor. When he had finished, he walked round the back of the shack to the little Christmas tree. He pointed to the north.

‘There’s a storm coming, little tree. I know it’s not the first one you’ve seen; you’ve probably been through a lot of them. I just wanted to wish you good luck with this one.’

 When he got back, he found the guides using short, sharp, saws to cut blocks of solid snow from the snowdrift.

‘What’s happening, Dad?’ asked Ryan. ‘We’ve got tents on the sled. Why aren’t we setting them up?’

‘They’ll just blow away in this storm,’ replied his father. He noticed the look of alarm on Ryan’s face. ‘Cheer up,’ were going to spend the night in an igloo.’

Ryan forced a smile.

‘I just hope Santa knows where I am. I’m supposed to be in the hotel in Last Town tonight.’

He watched, fascinated as the two Inuit guides shaped the blocks of ice they had dug out of the snowdrift. When they thought they had enough, they began piling them on top of each other to build a circular wall. It was amazing how quickly the building came together. In what seemed like no time at all, Amaruk placed the final block onto the roof and patted into place with a small, wooden mallet, then everyone joined in to cover the igloo with loose snow. Ryan’s job was to pat it all down with a wide, plastic spade.

They finished work just as the storm arrived. Ryan followed his father through a short tunnel and found himself inside the igloo. It was warmer than he thought it would be, and by the time Amaruk had finished carving a few nooks into the ice wall, to hold some battery-operated LED lights, he was warm enough to remove his outer coat. A few minutes later, Aput, the other guide, (whose name means Snow, in English,) crawled into the igloo with their sleeping bags and food packs.

Ryan suddenly found he was really hungry and tore open one of his packs to find a banana, an apple, and a couple of carrots. His other pack contained sandwiches and some round, oatmeal biscuits.

He ate hungrily, leaving only two biscuit and the carrots. He washed the meal down with a bottle of fizzy water and settled back on his sleeping bag with a notepad and a thick pencil.

Dear Santa.

If you read this note you’ll know I’m not in Last Town tonight. I’m stuck up here instead, so, can I ask you a favour? Instead of leaving me a present, could you use some of your Santa magic to make the little tree happy.  I feel so sorry for it, growing on its own like that.

Lots of love.

Ryan.

PS.

Sorry I don’t have a mince pie. I’ve left you some oatmeal biscuits and carrots for the reindeer. I hope that’s okay.

He flattened out the foil-wrapping that the food had been packed in, and placed it on the floor between his sleeping bag and his father’s. Ryan slipped the note under the carrots, pulled off his boots, slid into his thickly-padded sleeping bag, and with the sound of the storm howling around outside, he drifted into a dreamless sleep.

At exactly two-minutes-past-midnight, Ryan woke with a start. He shot bolt upright in his sleeping bag, his head cocked to one side, listening hard to see if the sound that had filtered into his sleep, was real.

The storm, it seemed, had passed over and all was eerily silent, except for… YES! Now he was sure… the sound of the tinkling of sleigh bells. They were faint, but unmistakeable.

Ryan eased himself out of the sleeping bag and as quietly as he could, in his excited state, pulled on his thick coat and boots. He scurried on his hands and knees through the short tunnel and got to his feet. The air was cold, the night was black, but the sky was filled with a billion, sparkling stars. Ryan looked up in wonder, he had never seen so many. Then, as his eyes turned to the north, some of the glittering stars began to move towards him. He blinked, and looked again to make sure he wasn’t imagining it, but the stars were moving towards him, there was no mistake.

His mouth opened wide as the tinkling of bells got louder. The tiny stars became bigger, and bigger until he could see the shape of a sleigh, led by nine reindeer. The sleigh and the harness were covered with strings of rapidly flashing, white and silver lights, Ryan could hear the whoosh as it sped through the skies towards him. Suddenly, it was overhead, two hundred feet above, he heard a deep, booming, ‘Ho, Ho, Ho,’ as it sped on.

Ryan jumped up and down, waving his arms, shouting, ‘I’m here, Santa, I’m here.’

But Santa drove, on, seemingly oblivious to his desperate calls. A tear slid down Ryan’s cheek as he watched the twinkling lights fly over the forest, towards Last Town.

He turned towards the little tree, amazingly still lit, and glowing proudly despite the storm.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said. ‘Santa missed us.’

He crawled back into the igloo, and fighting back the tears, undressed, slipped back into his sleeping bag and fell into a restless, sleep.

Ryan was the first to wake next morning. He sighed as he remembered the events of the previous night. They would be going home today and the lights would be turned off, leaving the little Christmas tree alone and cold through the long dark winter. He looked hopefully at the floor where he had left his note for Santa but his father had rolled over in the night so that he was lying across the spot where Ryan had left it.

He felt a sob rise from his throat, but he held it back, got dressed and slid out of the tunnel. He didn’t want to let the grownups see him cry.

Outside it was still dark, a few of the bulbs on the line of lights had gone out during the storm, but a few were still lit.

Ryan walked over towards the shack to check that the Huskies had got through the night without incident. On the floor, by the shack door, was the string of lights that Ryan had hung around the little tree. They had been unplugged and lain out on the floor alongside his stainless-steel dinner plate. Ryan took off a glove and touched one of the bulbs; it was icy cold.

Puzzled, Ryan walked around the back of the shack to where the little tree stood. As he turned the corner, his eyes opened wide in amazement, a joyful cry escaped his throat.

The lonely, bare, little tree, was lonely and bare no longer.

Its branches were strewn with dainty, star-shaped, glittering lights, some glowed red, others green, blue, silver and gold. There were no wires between the lights, each one was powered separately by Santa magic. Between the lights, lying across the branches, were long strands of silver. The icicles on the tips of the branches, danced, bathed in a myriad of colours. Best of all, at the very top, was a large, shiny, silver star.

Ryan stepped back and admired the little tree.

‘You look beautiful,’ he said. ‘And, because of the Santa magic, you’ll look like that for ever and ever.’

As if to reply, a breeze whispered through the tree’s branches, making them sway, gently.

Then Ryan saw something else that brought more tears to his already wet eyes.

Between the shack and the back of the little tree, in the shape of a horse shoe, were a dozen little pine trees, each about eighteen inches tall. All had their branches decked out in the same star-shaped lights as the little Christmas tree. Ryan clapped his hands together.

It was still the last pine before the North Pole, but it was no longer alone!

Ryan was so entranced by the scene, that he hadn’t noticed the small pile of gaily-wrapped presents that sat beneath the little Christmas tree.

He ran back to the igloo, shouting at the top of his voice.

‘Dad, Dad, Santa found me. He’s left us presents; you should see the little tree.’

The grownups crawled out of the igloo and Ryan led them around to where the little tree danced its colourful dance in the early morning breeze. He passed around the presents.

Dad got a new watch to replace his broken one. The new watch had dials which could tell you the time in any part of the world.

Aput and Amaruk, each got a new fishing rod that could fold away into the smallest length imaginable. The Huskies got a large bag of dog treats.

Ryan held his present close to his chest, not wanting to spoil the moment by opening it.

Finally, under pressure from the others, he at first, folded back a little bit of the paper from one end, before giving in and tearing the brightly coloured wrapping from the gift.

Inside was a box with the words, Junior Arctic Explorers Kit, emblazoned across the lid. Ryan slipped it off to find a fake-fur hat with flaps to keep his ears warm, a set of powerful binoculars and a digital, satellite-connected tracking device with which you could find your way home from anywhere. In the bottom of the box was a card with a picture of Santa on it. Ryan opened it slowly and read.

Dear Ryan.

Thank you for your letter. I was a little bit concerned that you might think I hadn’t found you, but you were my last call on the way home. Thank you for pointing out the plight of the little tree. I hope both you, and it, are pleased with the result.

See you next year, wherever you are.

Love, Santa.

PS.

You will find some more presents back in Last Town.

Merry Christmas.

The adults packed the sled and tidied up the camp, while Ryan said a happy goodbye to the little tree.

‘I’ll come to see you again next year and every year after that,’ he promised.

Ryan stroked one of the glittering branches, took one last look at the little tree’s new companions, and with a happy heart, walked back to the sled.

The Huskies were yapping to each other, clawing at the snow, eager to be off. Ryan fed them two treats each and took his place at the front of the sled alongside Amaruk.

‘Which way is home, Navigator?’ asked the guide with a smile.

Ryan started up his new device, typed in, ‘Last Town,’ and waited. A few seconds later a route was displayed with an arrow pointing South-West. Ryan held out his arm in the direction the arrow was pointing.

‘That way,’ he called.

The Huskies began to run. Ryan took one last look back and waved.

‘See you next year,’ he whispered.

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