We visit Suffolk often. For those unsure of English geography it’s the bit that sticks out of the Eastern side, like a British buttock. Flat, rural with a dialectic of its own (today we heard ‘she’s a rummen’ and ‘it’s squit ‘. The nearest town – Halesworth – is delightful even if it’s going the way of many with the preponderance of cafes.
This week, however, in the run up to Halloween it’s scarecrow week. These are some of the exhibits – each shop competes to be voted best in show. Which do you prefer?
Yes, it’s officially out today. You can buy it here.
The blurb says this:
Jason Hales is at his lowest ebb: his brother is in a coma; his long-term partner has left him; he’s been sacked; and Christmas is round the corner to remind him how bad his life has become.
After receiving an unexpected call telling him he’s a beneficiary of his Great Aunt Heather’s estate, he visits the town he vaguely recalls from his childhood, where his great aunt lived. Wanting to find out more, he’s soon sucked into local politics revolving around his great uncle’s extraordinary glass ornaments, his ‘Captures’, and their future.
While trying to piece his life back together, he’ll have to confront a number of questions: What actually are these Captures and what is the mystery of the old wartime huts where his uncle fashioned them? Why is his surly neighbour so antagonistic? Can he trust anyone, especially the local doctor Owen Marsh and Charlotte Taylor, once a childhood adversary, but now the lawyer dealing with the estate? His worries pile up, with his ex in trouble, his flat rendered uninhabitable and his brother’s condition worsening. Will Christmas bring him any joy?
Set in the Sussex countryside, this is a modern novel with mystery, romance and magic at its core, as well as a smattering of hope, redemption and good cooking.
Early reviewers have indicated they may be prepared/inclined to say
How much? My accountant
The cover’s lovely My designer
This is clearly amongst the best, if not the best piece of literaturethat has appeared in millennia My Ego
I hope to persuade a few kindly souls to showcase a few aspects of how the novel came about and the ways in which I created the characters, settings etc. If you’d like to take part in that exclusive opportunity to have me drag my muddy thoughts across you blog, just drop a comment, click on contact or generally holler in my direction.
HRR Gorman has reviewed my previous book, below and it’s always intriguing to see how others see your work. Maybe I’ve stumbled on a previously undiscovered genre…
Oh and her spoiler review… How many of you think a linear walk where you can find food and accommodation at the end of each day is strange? Maybe it’s one of those Anglo-American contradictions…
Anyway, thanks HRR and please enjoy it everyone.
Geoff LePard is a popular blogger ’round these parts, and some bloggers have been urging me to read his works for a while. So, when I received a review request from him through my Review Request Page, I knew I had to read it!
That being said, it’s not my usual genre, so hold onto your butts.
Walking Into Trouble Author: Geoff LePard 2020 Amazon Link
As a note for people who are thinking about this book: there are a lot of intense sexual implications, innuendo, and scenes. The book is not erotica, but sex takes a front seat of importance in the story. I’d honestly classify this as a “sex mystery,” as the story is essentially about trying to solve problems surrounding who slept with who and when. Those who are triggered by intensely sexual content may want to be aware before reading the book (or, honestly…
Celia Footpedal looked left then right. This was definitely off. Not a moment ago she was in Naomi Pleasedimple’s garden, enjoying some of her fruit compote surprise. Now she was in a field of some sort.
‘It’s disconcerting, isn’t it?’
‘What?’ Celia spun round, but there wasn’t anyone there.
‘It’s deliberate, of course.’
She spun back. This was crazy. There wasn’t anyone…
‘Over here.’ In the far distance to her left it looked like someone was waving. Celia squinted, but she couldn’t make out any detail.
‘You need these?’
Celia took her spectacles and put them on. ‘Thank…’ There wasn’t anyone there. This was madness.
‘Nope, you’re not mad. Have another guess?’
This time the voice seemed to come from her right, but even with her specs in place she couldn’t see anyone. Maybe it was a hidden microphone.
Celia toppled back and sat with a thump. A huge stack of speakers, of the sort Darren Dimnobble, her boyfriend of the time had tried to climb during a set by the Fairly Bland at Knebworth shot out of the grass and towered over her. Sitting on the very top, about 1000 feet up, a blond woman in a blue onesie and red shoes smiled down. When she saw Celia looking, she waved her white gloved hands and jumped off.
Celia screamed and began to scrabble back to get out of the way of the plummeting woman. The poor soul would be squished.
Two hands slipped under Celia’s armpits and helped her up. She was shaking, blinking away tears as she looked for, but couldn’t find the woman’s shattered body. ‘She’s gone!’
‘Tricksy, that one. Never trust a jumper.’
Celia hadn’t noticed the person standing next to her. When she looked, she began stumbling back again. It was the same woman.
Once again two hands slipped under her armpits to stop her falling. This time Celia was prepared for the two white gloves. She took a breath, made sure she was upright and didn’t feel faint. Then she turned very slowly.
The woman wore a dark blue business trouser suit, a lemon yellow blouse and the same red shoes and white gloves. She studied a clipboard, peering over gold rimmed half-moon glasses. Occasionally she made a note with a small pen.
Celia folded her arms, and waited. And waited. And waited. ‘Oh, for God’s sake. What nonsense is this? I can’t believe Naomi would set up anything this ridiculous. Was it Martin?’
The woman kept making notes.
‘Terrance. Those speakers are the sort of thing he’d have in his garage.’
The woman looked up. ‘Speakers?’
‘The stack tha…’ Celia’s hard won composure deserted her. Where was it? It definitely grew out of the ground, not ten feet away. But there was nothing, not so much as a broken grass stalk.
The woman had her arm around Celia’s shoulders. She wore the sort of faux fur coat her granny had worn when Celia was small and needed comforting. It even smelt of granny, that mix of lavender, sandalwood and urine. Celia buried her head into the fibres.
‘It must have been a nasty little dream, sweetie pie.’
Celia felt the tears flow and pulled her face away. Looking down at her the woman in the blue suit and yellow blouse tapped her pen on the clipboard. ‘Or maybe not.’ She swung her free arm in an arc. As she did so multiple stacks of speakers shot up out of the ground, before bursting into an incredible display of fireworks.
The woman tapped the clipboard again and it stopped. She glanced at her notes and then at Celia. ‘Celia Footpedal?’
Celia managed a nod.
A hand lifted her chin; the woman’s face was millimetres from her own. ‘It’s customary to say yes or no.’
Before Celia could blink, the woman was back, looking at her notes. ‘Celia Footpedal, of 127 Mingewarble Crescent, Drunk Piddle, Dorset?’
‘Yes.’ Celia’s normally stentorian tones were reduced to a reedy warble.
‘And your preferred hereafter is…’
‘Hang on. What hereafter?’
The woman sat on a bench next to Celia, a brochure open in front of her. Celia didn’t remembering seeing a brochure. The woman said, ‘It is a bit unusual but not unique. Most know where they’re going. Heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana, Empryean, Paradise… All the usual. Even the atheists are clear it’s a dead end. But your opinions seem to have stayed open. That’s why you’re on the choice plan.’
Celia looked at the double page spread in her lap. On it there was a field much like the one she’d seen ten, no twenty… she couldn’t remember how long ago. But this field was bisected by a forked path. Celia looked up and there was the forked path. She looked down but the brochure had gone, she was standing at the apex of the fork and the woman was beside her.
‘That path,’ the woman pointed left..
At the end of the path there were a set of gold shimmering gates giving of a sort of opalescent light. Celia nodded. ‘Pearly Gates?’
‘Good. The other,’ the woman’s hand moved to point right…
There a large brick arch stood through which you could see… nothing.
Celia looked at the woman. ‘Am I dead?’
The woman pointed at Celia’s feet. Until that point she thought she had been standing in a field, but now she could see through what looked like a glass floor onto Naomi’s garden. There she saw herself, prone, while three or four people mingled around.
‘Why aren’t they trying to save me?’ Celia looked at the woman who shrugged. When Celia looked back she saw her husband carrying a dish towards the kitchen. ‘What’s he doing?’
Then, ‘how did I die? Do you know?’
By way of an answer the imagine below her zoomed in on the plate being carried by her husband. ‘The fruit compote?’
The answer, once again was via the images at her feet. It now showed what appeared to be an earlier scene in which Celia’s husband and Naomi could be seen kissing, followed by one of them picking some red fruits. Both were wearing thick rubber gloves.
Celia looked at the woman, whose expression remained unreadable. ‘I don’t suppose you can tell me how much time they’ve got together, can you?’ She looked at her feet but it was just grass, waving in the wind.
The woman raised a questioning eyebrow and titled her head towards the paths.
Celia looked at the Pearly Gates and the Endless Void. ‘After that?’ She headed for oblivion.
The photos in this piece are from the recent wedding; there is a reason for that so read on.
I read a piece today, quoting Susie Dent, who may be known to British readers as the wordsmith on the TV programme Countdown. She is leading a campaign to bring back into use some words that are more usually associated with their negative form.
She wants us to be ept at our use of words and gruntled when we get the use right. We should be ruthfull about dismissing them and not feel combobulated when confronted with something unusual.
I wholeheartedly agree. I intend to take care and be feckfull in my future uses.
It did make me think a bit about one question that has been bothering me since my son married a month or so ago. I have acquired a daughter in law, and delightful she is too. She joins a son in law that fell into the family a couple of years ago and he’s an excellent addition.
More to the point their parents are grand company. Two weekends ago we spent a few days with the DIL’s parents and in two week’s we are being hosted by the SIL’s.
But what do we call them, to identify how they relate to us? I was slightly perturbed by being relegated to my son’s mother’s partner by a teacher at his primary school who struggled to categorize me as she didn’t know the status of my relationship with his mother. It made me a little third hand.
So if we are not to be our son’s parents in law, what are we?
We thought outlaws might suit and so far everyone favours that nomenclature but has anyone else confronted this and come up with a solution?
It may officially be autumn and the sedums and the cherry trees are colouring as expected for this season but the flower beds, given our Indian summer (am I allowed to use that expression still?) are still in full show mode.
The lawn hasn’t yet started to look ratty, either, despite the occasional fog.
Dog is fairly perky, especially with his new best friend – he’s showing solidarity with British pigs who are suffering from a lack of butchers, though even writing that seems oxymoronic.
We’ve started thinking abut next year. We may create a new round bed in the middle of the lawn to increase our wild flower and bed attractions. It does mean losing the chequerboard, but gaining some more, hopefully easy wins on the planting front. We shall see.
In other news, Vicky has taken to her hutch to hibernate. There are days when I could easily join her…
What do you need?’ This was business and Eileen knew she’d get no peace until a plan had been put together and Death’s price ascertained. While Eileen had in the four years since she’d been given the phone settled on a price structure for her role in sourcing favours from Death, Death’s had been varied, inexpensive and often bizarre. A cone of onion ice cream. Have an Archbishop voice the speaking clock. Knit a sheaf for her scythe. That last proved impossible to fulfil. Because of the sharpness of the blade, as soon as it was slipped on the whole thing fell apart.
Death was usually quite understanding. AS LONG AS YOU’VE TRIED, she would intone. Intoning, she explained, was the default setting for a grim reaper. She could vary the accent, even the language at a pinch (I DON’T REALLY WORK IN ITALIAN, EVERYONE THINKS I’M SOME SORT OF OPERAGRAM). In fact, despite the frankly terrifying appearance, Eileen thought Death was really quite considerate. Callous, yes and entirely happy to carry out mini genocides on request. But as Eileen explained to her neighbour Gerald, we all have our little quirks, but overall she’s a good listener.
‘It’s them things, out there.’ Lorraine’s finger shook as she pointed out to sea, before sweeping in an arc. ‘They’re multiplying.’ She swallowed and leant in a little too close for Eileen’s comfort. ‘We thought, at first, they were listening stations for them Eurocrats, spying on us, ready to implant us with them nanobums…’
‘Bots.’ Eileen was nothing if not au courant with modern technology.
‘Them too. But then we got out, didn’t we and still there are more and more. Only last week we counted 89. Today it’s 104. Margate’s the same, and Ramsgate. We’re being encircled. They must be breeding.’
Eileen adjusted her hosiery and frowned.Lorraine was self evidently a loony. ‘You think they’re alive?’
Lorraine looked furious. ‘I’m not stupid. Of course they’re alive. How else do they grow and multiply. And if they’re alive they can die, right. We thought, you know, your fella could maybe do something. Cut them down.’
Eileen put down Nokia. Death pulled her black cloak over her knees. She’d confided in Eileen, early on in their relationship, that she hated her knees. ‘THEY CLACK, LIKE NOVELTY MARACAS WHEN I RUN AFTER A RELUCTANT NEARLY DECEASED. IT’S RATHER EMBARRASSING.’
Eileen had tried to reason with Lorraine but it was no good. And Lorraine was a formidable woman who had maintained spotless counterpanes across many summer seasons of wet sandy children and dripping fish and chip suppers and was not to be trifled with. ‘If you don’t ask your fella,’ Eileen tried to explain the current gender that Death was presenting, but it seemed to be beyond Lorraine’s compass, ‘I’ll be forced to tell people what you do.’
Which normally meant nothing as there was no proof and a high degree of scepticism amongst the relevant authorities as to Death’s existence, at least as any form of corporeal entity, but Lorraine had managed to capture an image of Eileen and the mysteriously-enormous cloaked figure as she struck with her scythe. It wasn’t a risk worth taking.
Death tapped the butt of her scythe on the promenade and looked out to sea. ‘IT’S A STRANGE ONE, EILEEN, I’LL GRANT YOU THAT. ALIVE YOU SAY?’
‘They’re convinced. And they do seem to proliferate over night. When I arrived, Thursday there were about 120. This morning when I pulled back the curtains, it was nearer 150 and they’ve nearly encircled the whole of Viking Bay. It can’t be British workman building them, can it?
‘A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULD SAY THAT’S A GOOD THING.’
‘It’s a bit sinister, though, isn’t it?’
‘Erm, before we go any further, what’s your price? Sorry, quid pro quo?’ Death hated being thought of as mercenary.
‘FOR THIS ONE.? IT’S A FREEBIE. I WANT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS. I FEAR THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES IS LURKING NEARBY.’
Eileen and Death fixed on a time. There was a lull in corporeal terminations about 7 on a Saturday during Strictly as the elderly and infirm hung on for a last glimpse of Anton before giving up the ghost. A small party set sail from the jetty to witness this unusual harvest. The atmosphere was excitable, anticipatory. Lorraine stood in the prow, channelling her inner merperson as she stared ahead. The skies were clear and the fields of wind turbines glimmering in the moonlight, blades turning slowly. As they approached and cut the engine the whomp whomp of the turbines created a somewhat sinister back drop to proceedings.
‘When…’ Lorraine had turned to check with Eileen when she was aware of another passenger next to her, a tall, cloaked figure who’d not been on board when they left the jetty.
‘A COUPLE OF MINUTES. CHILLY ISNT IT?’
‘HMM.’ Death pulled open her cloak and extracted from the Stygian interior a large golden hourglass. Everyone watched as the final grains slipped into the base and she put it away. ‘WELL, I CANT JUST CHAT, WORK TO DO.’ Without sound she stepped off the deck and strode across the roiling seas. As she did so the water stilled around her, her feet, such as one could see of them barley making a ripple. Having reached the nearest turbine, she tuned back to the boat, a scythe having appeared in her hand. ‘RIGHT HO. YOU STILL WANT ME TO…’
‘Yes, everyone, bar Eileen cried.
‘WE CAN STOP IF…’
Death shrugged, shouldered the scythe and faced the Forest of turbines. ‘HI HO HI HO, ITS COOKING BY GAS FOR YOU,’ she intoned, somewhat sadly and swung the blade.
There was a swish, a clunk, a grinding sound of metal being ripped apart and… a plop as the head of the turbine fell into the sea.
Everyone waited but that seemed to be that. Death turned and moved off to the next turbine, singing as she went. On board the citizens of Broadstairs hugged each other, Lorraine especially.
Only Eileen continued to stare out to sea. The mayor began an off the cuff prepared oration about the benefits to tourism and artists painting the seascape but stopped when Eileen coughed.
‘I think you might want to see this.’
The passengers turned to stare at where she pointed. In the distance, Death’s tall if somewhat stooped figure continued her work while next to the boar, just where the first head and sunk, the water had begun to boil and froth. In moments five small turbine heads appeared, hanging off a supersized stalk. Even as they climbed above the sea, the the heads began to grow.
The silence was profound and finally broken by Roger the cabin boy. ‘It’s like they’ve seeded themselves.’
Beyond the first sign of regrowing more multiheaded turbines were sprouting from the sea. Everyone was transfixed and didn’t notice that Death had slipped back on board.
‘THATS A BIT OF A TURN UP.’
Eileen nodded. ‘You’d better go. I’m not sure either of us will be very popular right now.’
‘LETS PUT IT THIS WAY. ILL SEE YOU AGAIN IN ABOUT TWENTY MINUTES… IN MY OFFICIAL CAPACITY.’
‘I’m going to die?’
‘YEP. FRAID SO. AND THE PHONE?’
‘I could keep it?’
‘IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT, DOES IT?’
‘I suppose not. How, erm, do I die?’
Death turned away. As she did so she waved a hand dismissively. ‘YOU REALLY DONT WANT TO KNOW.’
The previous hex called on by the denizens of Broadstairs involved the eradication of certain antisocial types, mostly those who avoided the tennis club and drank instant coffee. It was a significant cull, put down by the authorities to an unannounced sewage outflow and a mussel speed eating festival. In fact it was engineered by Madame Alphonse, the mystic, tarot reader and fulfilled of wishes for a fee.
Madame Alphonse, aka Eileen Pentangle had begun her life in the spiritualist world as a humble if reasonably skilled charlatan. She toured small market towns and seaside resorts, setting up her stall wherever she could and turning a small, corrupt and largely tax free profit for thirty-seven years. Until one day, one of her competitors, a far more successful if nervous practitioner called Madame Foresight, aka Mildred Drool dropped in. She brought good and bad news: she was likely soon to be dead – she estimated she had about twenty minutes depending on traffic – and she had a skill she wanted to pass to Eileen.
Eileen made suitably soothing noises about her imminent demise but Mildred hushed her. ‘That’s the good news. The bad is what I’m giving you.’
Stunned Eileen waited, while Mildred continued, ‘I’m going to teach you to talk to Death.’
‘Talk to the dead?’
‘No, to Death.’
‘He… it… they don’t exist.’
‘Oh but she does. You interested?’
Eileen wasn’t especially ambitious and was happy travelling around, but she did crave a little more financial stability and a little more recognition. ‘What’s the catch?’
‘She’ll tell you when it’s your turn. If you ask.’
It was a no-brainer. ‘Do it. What do I do?’
‘Nothing just use this.’ Mildred handed her an old Nokia 5520. ‘Keep it charged.’
‘There’s only one saved.’
‘Will she ring me?’
‘You’d better hope not.’
‘And I can ask about upcoming deaths?’
‘You can ask for favours, though she’ll want a quid pro quo.’
Mildred glanced anxiously over her shoulder. ‘She’s coming. I’ve gotta go. My bloke’s hankies need a rinse before I’m done.’
The above is a picture I took on Friday. We’ve been at a civil partnership ceremony and weekend party for some old friends in Broadstairs in Kent. On Friday morning, we checked into our B&B and took in the marvellous view. Our host made an aside that stimulated this three part short story. Any ideas I saw!?
Eileen Pentangle sniffed the sea air, took in the cawing of the gulls, tried to ignore the temptations of the scent of a thousand double fried chips, shivered at the autumnal bite on the breeze and knew she’d arrived. Every year for the last 41, Eileen had caught the train out of London, extracted her knitting and sat back. One hour forty minutes later, she alighted from the train and let go her senses. Those sounds and smells told her she had reached her destination. Broadstairs on the Kent coast, holiday resort and mini Victorian marvel (in Eileen’s humble view).
Taking her time, she wheeled her luggage with its precious paraphernalia to her base in the Victoria B&B and checked in.
Lorraine Thwackgerbil twitched nervously. She had looked out for Eileen all day, fearing, with no good reason that she might fail to arrive. But here she was, in her usual attire of lace, chiffon and work boots, looking distracted and smelling like her old granny’s wardrobe. Lorraine relaxed. The town’s saviour was here. Eileen would see them right.
The two women had formed that uniquely close bond that is the way of relationships forged over countless years between the owner of a seaside B&B and her guest. They were frosty, snarky and passive aggressive. While Lorraine emphasised the importance of her many rules (‘no boots on the counterpane, all stool floaters to be flushed away, breakfast ended at 8.30 sharp’) Eileen challenged the quality of the toilet paper, the cleanliness of the windows restricting the promised sea view and the sad inadequacy of the front door lock which meant the inevitable incursion of uninvited interlopers.
When these rituals had been observed the two women withdrew to the guests withdrawing room for tea and Lincoln creams.
Lorraine began before they’d sat, an unusual if minor bruising of the accepted etiquette. ‘Madam Alphonse…’
Eileen coughed, a sweet if rather poisonous smile playing havoc with her dentures, ‘My dear, I am not in character yet. I need to prepare.’
Lorraine wasn’t listening. Her worries were too intense. Indeed the town was relying on her. ‘We need your help.’
Eileen settled back, her comfortable if oddly asymmetric bosoms wrestling themselves into a defensive alignment. ‘Pray, tell…’