Short Story: God Comes Calling

‘What’s for dinner?’ says Terry, shrugging off his donkey jacket. His knee clicks as he sits at the formica-topped table, and he swears and rubs it hard.

‘Hurting again?’ says Angie, slipping a fried egg on to a pile of chips.

‘Aye. Bloody thing.’

‘You should get to the doctor then.’ She hands him the plate, sits across from him and lights up a cigarette.

‘You not eating again?’ he says through a mouthful of chips.

‘I’ve got another five pounds to lose. I’m going to smoke myself slim.’

‘You look all right to me.’

‘Not in my bloody bikini I don’t.’

‘You’ve got three months before we go away.’

‘I’ve got two months, twenty days and’—she looks at her watch and inhales deeply—‘half an hour if we leave at teatime. Cleethorpes here we come!’ She looks over to me and winks.

He laughs. ‘Daft cow. Well, leave a bit of lard on those bones. I like something to hang onto.’

She swats at him across the table. ‘Crude bugger. The kid’s got ears, you know.’

He turns to look at me and quickly looks away. ‘Like he understands.’

‘He’s eighteen. ’Course he understands,’ she says. ‘Don’t you, Mekki?’

And I do, thanks to the cardboard walls in this shit house.

There’s a knock at the front door, swiftly followed by two rings of the bell. Neither of them move.

‘You going to get that?’ asks Terry.

‘Nah.’

Terry gets to his feet with a sigh, his knee clicking again. He crosses the hallway—three steps, heavy on the right foot. The door sticks: bottom left-hand corner.

‘Yes?’ says Terry. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Can you help me?’ says a voice. A young man’s voice.

‘What do you want, mate? We don’t buy on the doorstep.’ Terry is jabbing a finger at the sticker on the bay window; it’s a dull thumping sound.

‘What do I want?’ says the young man.

It makes me smile, inside my head. The man’s inflections are funny. There is silence from the front door and I can picture the scene. Terry isn’t renowned for good humour. He’ll be taking a threatening step forward right about now. The other man doesn’t sound like the type to back off. There could be a stand-off.

I feel a frisson of—something. Excitement? I’m not generally fond of strangers. First they stare with horror, then with pity; then they try to pretend they’re not staring; and then they just forget I’m there. I’m the invisible boy.

When I was little, about five or six, Angie decorated me all up with fairy lights and tinsel. It might have been Christmas. I hope it was Christmas. She wrapped the lights around the wheelchair and the rods that approximate my spine. She wrapped the tinsel around my head brace. It itched my face something awful but, of course, I couldn’t tell her that. I sent my fury blazing out of my eyes but by then she was already immune to fury—mine, her own, anyone’s.

She probably thought the decoration would make me look more approachable, but mothers still crossed the road to avoid us, clutching their kids to their side.

To be fair to Angie, she only tried it that one time. There really isn’t much you can do to make my kind of disability look friendly.

And yet, here I am, trapped inside this broken body in a rundown kitchen, slowly dying from passive smoking, one minute suicidal with boredom—not to mention the pain—and the next minute feeling excited.

‘Who the bloody hell are you?’ demands Terry.

‘I’m God,’ says the man.

There is a beat of silence and then the smash of a slamming door.

‘Who was that?’ says Angie, exhaling smoke with every syllable. It’s not that Angie can’t hear; it’s that she doesn’t listen.

‘Jehovah’s Witness,’ says Terry, slipping into his chair, and swearing as his knee clicks again.

After that, Terry goes out drinking and Angie and I watch the soaps until he comes back. He is, once again, too drunk to carry me to my bed.

‘I’m sorry, love,’ says Angie, tucking a blanket around my chin and popping a kiss on my forehead. ‘He doesn’t mean to be unkind.’

She turns out the light and leaves me in the corner, in the dark, upright in my chair with a thin blanket to keep out the chill. The smell of grease lies heavy on the air. I hear her trudging up the stairs. She pauses outside her bedroom door, then turns the handle and steps in.

He’s on her the moment she enters the room, as always, and as always she pretends to like it. Christ, he’s stupid. Even I can tell she’s faking it. She has to time the orgasm right; too quick and she’ll have to go a second round. Too long and—well, it’s just too bloody long. Get it right and his manhood is served, every which way.

Christ. No son should know these things about his own mother.

There she goes. Spot on; his cry mingles with hers: ‘I love you, Ange!’ Then he swears, and then he snores. A stupid man at peace.

I hear her get up and start to move around between the bedroom and the bathroom. Then the house falls silent.

I can see the digital clock from here. Seven hours and eighteen minutes until daylight. The fridge hums. I need a fag; I get withdrawal symptoms at night.

* * * *

‘Face it, Ange, he won’t know any different.’

But she is adamant. ‘I won’t do it.’

He gets angry. ‘I’m bloody sick of it! I sit here day after day watching you wipe up his spit-sick-and-shit. He’s a millstone around your bloody neck—and mine! There’s not many blokes would put up with it, Angie. Not everyone’s like me. Most men wouldn’t do for him what I do. I’m just saying.’

Her eyes narrow. ‘And what is it you do for him?’

Don’t do it, Angie.

He is hurt, outraged. ‘What do I do for him? And who the bloody hell carries him up to bed every night? Hauls that bloody wheelchair from here to kingdom come?’

‘He spends every other bloody night in the bloody kitchen because you’re too bloody drunk to carry him upstairs!’ she shouts. ‘Most of the time you pretend he’s not even here!’

Mum. Don’t.

‘He should be in a home! He’s like a dumb fucking animal. He doesn’t know you, you daft bitch! He won’t know the difference!’ He storms out of the house, slamming the front door.

Angie lights up a cigarette. ‘It’ll be all right,’ she says. ‘We’ll leave him soon. He’s not much use anyway. I’ll find someone else. Don’t you worry.’

She’s talking to herself.

* * * *

At teatime Terry comes home as if nothing has happened. The fact is, as much as he loathes living with me, he loves living with my mum. She takes good care of him. She feeds his appetites—of which he has many, all of them voracious. His definition of happiness is a good meal and a good fuck, preferably three times a day. And he calls me the dumb animal.

There’s a knock at the front door, swiftly followed by two rings of the bell. Neither Angie nor Terry makes a move.

‘You going to get that?’ says Terry.

‘Nah.’

Terry gets to his feet with a sigh, his knee clicking. He crosses the hallway—three steps, heavy on the right foot. The door sticks: bottom left-hand corner.

‘You again!’ says Terry.

‘Indeed,’ says the young man from last night. He sounds pleased with himself; again, an impulse of excitement runs through me.

‘What do you want?’ I’m surprised to hear a note of civility in Terry’s voice; I wish I could see the man on the doorstep.

‘I want to come in,’ says the man. ‘I want to see Angie and Mekki.’

‘You what?’ says Terry.

And then, somehow, the young man is standing in the kitchen, beaming at Angie and me. ‘Hello!’ he says. ‘I’ve been looking forward to seeing you two again.’

‘Who are you?’ asks Angie. She’s smiling. Perhaps it’s the sight of Terry’s outrage.

‘I’m God,’ says the man, and he puts out his hand.

‘Pleased to meet you, God,’ says Angie, and she shakes his hand.

He has very blue eyes but is otherwise completely nondescript. He has an air of childish delight about him, as if everything is thrilling. But there’s something more. Terry is an idiot but even he has some basic instincts and has understood that our stranger is not a man to mess with.

‘Mekki,’ says the man. He looks me straight in the eyes and he takes my hand and shakes it. Then he looks around for a tissue and wipes the spit from my chin. ‘What’s for tea?’

‘You’re not staying for tea,’ begins Terry.

‘Egg and chips,’ says Angie.

The man is sitting at the table. He eats tentatively, as if he has forgotten what food tastes like. He catches my eye often. ‘What about Mekki?’ he asks Angie.

‘What about Mekki,’ says Terry. He has been astonished into silence. This oaf, my mother’s latest boyfriend, who can be turned into a fist-flailing maniac at the slightest provocation, has no idea how to handle the stranger’s confidence. The stranger expects to be here, sitting at the table; Terry can find nothing to argue against.

‘Mekki’s already eaten,’ says Angie. ‘Terry doesn’t like to watch him eat.’

The stranger starts to laugh. ‘I don’t think Mekki much likes watching Terry eat either.’

My eyes widen; the stranger has lifted that thought straight out of my head.

‘Call me God,’ says the…says God. I smile inwardly; God smiles back.

Angie puts down her knife and fork. ‘God,’ she says. ‘You mean…the God?’

‘The one and only.’ He smiles at her. He is kind.

‘If you’re God, I’m the bloody Pope,’ says Terry and he laughs.

God looks at him closely. ‘No,’ he says at last. ‘You’re not.’

‘So what’re you doing here then?’ says Angie, pouring him another cup of tea. ‘I’d have thought you were much too busy running heaven to come down here making house calls.’

God smiles. ‘House calls are my speciality.’

‘And what do you want, exactly?’ says Terry. ‘Mister God.’

Terry is not good at sarcasm. Angie grins down into her lap. My eyes are swivelling from one face to another. I am enjoying myself.

God shrugs. ‘It’s your turn,’ he says.

Terry is taken aback. ‘My turn? For what?’

God smiles at me.

When dinner is over, Terry wants to go for a drink, but God is showing no sign of leaving. So instead, Terry helps Angie with the dishes. He teases her, and kisses her on the lips several times. He is marking his territory.

God sits quietly at the formica-topped table. When the cleaning is done, he gets to his feet. ‘Let’s take a walk!’ he says. He does not wait for a reply. He pulls my chair out of the corner and easily manoeuvres me into the hallway, into my coat, into the cool evening air.

‘Now wait just a bloody minute,’ says Terry.

‘Ooh lovely, I need a walk,’ says Angie.

I breathe in deeply. I haven’t been outside since Angie made Terry take me to the corner shop for a packet of fags two and a half weeks ago.

‘Cigarettes are bad for you,’ says God. ‘You should get out every day. We’ll go to the park.’

It’s twilight, so there is no one to gawp at me. I’m warm inside my coat. The trees are budding and I can hear things rustling in the undergrowth as we pass by.

‘Don’t you just love the spring?’ says God.

Terry snorts. ‘Mekki wouldn’t know a season from a sledgehammer.’

That’s surprisingly…

… ‘poetic of you, Terry,’ says God.

I’m filled with a sense of wonder. This God person knows I’m in here. We’re on the same wavelength.

‘Did you ever consider getting Mekki any tools to help him communicate?’ God asks Angie.

Angie shrugs. She has never doubted that I’m in here, and that’s enough for her. She doesn’t need proof, even if she thought that proof were possible.

I, on the other hand, am desperate to have my voice heard, and I know exactly how possible it is. I’ve seen it on the television: head-control mouse emulators. They use ultrasound or eye movements to control the cursor on a computer. Of course, I’ve never been able to tell Angie about it.

‘Don’t worry,’ says God, and he tells Angie.

At home, we go on the Internet, and he shows her a clip of a man in a wheelchair just like mine, wearing a headpiece and looking at a computer screen. Words appear on the screen, as if by magic, and an electronic voice reads the words.

‘Bollocks,’ says Terry. ‘Look at that. The lights aren’t on because there’s no one at home. Don’t fall for it, love. It’s a gimmick. God’s trading on your hope.’ He looks across at me. But there is something new in his look. I can almost hear his thoughts: what if the kid isn’t a dumb animal after all?

That’s right, Terry. Think of all the things I’ve heard and seen. Every arse scratch, every private fart, every time you’ve called in sick and gone back to bed; every time you said you’d mind me and then spent the day in the pub. I’m the watcher in the corner. Think on that!

‘How much does it cost?’ says Angie.

‘Like we’ve got any money,’ snorts Terry.

‘We’ve got holiday money,’ she tells him.

* * * *

My first coherent words are fuck off terry. Angie cries but God laughs. I am very proud. Also a bit dizzy and sick with excitement.

Animals are nice. I am an animal. I am not dumb.

Look at that. Punctuation and everything. And they say watching television is bad for you.

‘My boy has a voice,’ says Angie.

I hate eggs, I tell her. Prefer your hair brown not blonde.

Terry sits in the background, speechless and horrified, like it’s the wheelchair talking. I am almost sorry for him.

Been here all along, I tell him. Ta da!

* * * *

We become comfortable together, Angie, Terry, God and I. I cannot move, and remain entirely dependent on others. I am in constant, unrelieved pain and always will be. But I have a voice. I can interact. I can agree, or object, or complain. I can tease and laugh and play. I can whine, and I do, quite a lot.

It’s not just me that’s been re-born. I always knew what a star Angie was. She never gave up on me, never put me in a home, never treated me like a burden or an empty vessel. She’s put up with some pretty horrible men over the years, either because they were big and mean enough to lift my wheelchair, or because they were willing to put up with me.

I always knew Angie was a star, but she didn’t. Discovering how right her instincts have been—it’s given her a whole new confidence. She glows, honestly, she does, like she’s finally got something right. She’s stopped the whole bleached blonde thing that Terry loves so much, and has gone back to her natural brown. It suits her. She’s only thirty-five, and now she looks it. When I hear her now, at night, I can tell it’s the real thing. And when she’s had enough, she says so. And Terry takes it.

I thought Terry’s days were numbered. I thought he’d leave, or she’d kick him out. But her new-found confidence has been a good influence on both of them. He’s more careful. He’s kinder. I think, maybe, he’s always been a nice bloke inside. He just acted up because he could.

We all have a new voice.

God is the one I can’t work out. Why do you stay? I ask him at last. Don’t you have other worlds to run?

God looks sad. ‘Do you want me to leave?’

No. Just thought you might be busy.

‘The other worlds are as broken as this one,’ he says. ‘Heaven too.’

What does that mean?

‘It means exactly what it sounds like. Nobody believes in anything any more. Everything is broken.’

I was broken, I say. You fixed me.

God shakes his head. ‘You’re not fixed.’

Yes I am. I was a broken doll. You saw inside me. You joined up my inside with my outside. I am not broken anymore.

‘Really?’ says God.

Really.

‘Hold onto that thought,’ he says. ‘I know I will.’

He moves out the next day, although Angie tries to persuade him to stay. I am sorry to see him go.

* * * *

Angie is dead. We’d been shopping and she was pushing me home when a boy-racer in a souped-up mini mounted the pavement and hit her. She’s a small thing, my mum, but she’s strong and she’s determined. She pushed me clear before she flew up into the air and landed on the road, breaking her spine.

How stupid. My spine is already broken; why waste a perfectly good one like hers?

I am back in the kitchen. I have been alone for hours. My computer is on but the screen is black. It’s all very well having a voice, but pointless if there is no one to hear it.

The funeral was this morning. Afterwards, Terry brought me home and then he left. I don’t know if he’s coming back. I am trapped. I find myself wishing that mum had put me into a care home. Instead, I will probably die of starvation—if grief and despair don’t get me first.

It is one in the morning. I have soiled myself. I am hungry and in pain.

And then—miracle of miracles—there is a sound from the front door. The door sticks, bottom left-hand corner, and then there are three steps in the hallway, heavy on the right foot. I hear a knee clicking.

Terry flicks on the lights. ‘I’m sorry, lad,’ he says. His voice is thick with alcohol and emotion. ‘I forgot the time. I’m so sorry.’

He lifts me gently, carries me upstairs. He cleans me up, gives me a warm bath. When I’m tucked into bed, he goes downstairs and reappears fifteen minutes later with a meal. It’s rudimentary, but it does the job. He cradles my head as he feeds me.

‘There you go, son. I’m sorry I was so late. I shouldn’t have left you like that. I was in the pub having a drink. With God.’ He hesitates. ‘Do you want to talk?’

I blink twice, our new signal for ‘no’. I don’t want to talk, but I want to listen.

Terry says, ‘Do you know, that clever so-and-so lived with us rent-free for almost three months! We housed him, we fed him—I think your mum even bought him some clothes. And now he’s living off some other poor sucker! He’s shameless, even for God.’

I smile inwardly; Terry smiles back. Then we both cry.

It will be hard without Angie, without my mum. I love her and I miss her so badly I can hardly bear it. But I am good at bearing things. For now, at least, Terry and I will muddle along. When we both feel better, chances are that we will move on. I will end up in a care home, I know that. I know that, but I don’t mind. I lived with Angie for the rest of her life, and that mattered to her. She never had to give up on me. I don’t think she would have survived having me in a home. I’m not sure I would have survived, either, then. But I have a voice now, and I am not alone, what with Terry and God who, I suspect, will come calling again some time when I most need him and least expect him.

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The Perfectionist

I’m the bow of a speedboat
Cutting through the dense deep green
So politely, so clean
That the water never dreams
It’s been riven and  dismissed.

Nothing clings; my smooth sides repel attachments
For their own sake.
Nothing slips in the way of my merciless elegance.
I abandon my own wake.

I am steel in the fire
Drawing the energy into my heart
Taking on the power and might and light
Without commitment,
Unaffected, not diminished one whit.
When the fire dies I am no less myself,
Nothing to do with it.

I am glass in the rain,
Unwet although soaked,
Blinding the world with its own smeared reflection.
I am pain
That sends you scurrying to your comfort zone,
Taking cover in your own imperfection.

I am effortless ease
(And bleeding knees beneath the hem).

I’m the diamond in the ring,
The glittering symbol of love
That cannot love
Any (because imperfect) thing.

The Benefits of Merciless Respect

Vulpes Libris

imageJanet Allison Brown

A few years ago, when my husband was travelling and the kids were becoming self-sufficient, I finally finished a novel I was proud of: The Walker’s Daughter, about spirit walking and body-snatching and a rock band and falling in love. Full of hope and optimism, I began the business of finding an agent.

Not far into my search, I came across an agent’s site which offered a beguiling proposition: join our writer’s club, throw your book into the pool, and participate in a mutual crit-fest (aka piranha feeding frenzy). The agent will be watching and, on an ongoing basis, he will fish out the best of you.

In fact, to my knowledge no one was ever fished out of the pool, but it mattered not: the mutual critting and the generous sharing of tips, advice, energy and information were worth their weight in gold. I immediately…

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Love letter to my daughter: an interview

The wonderful Louise Cole, writer, friend and editor at Firedance Books, interviewed me for the launch of the second edition of my novel The Walker’s Daughter. Here’s what she wrote:

I was privileged recently to have a long chat with one of my favourite writers, Janet Allison Brown, author of The Walker’s Daughter, about writing, belief, magic… and birds.

How did you come to write The Walker’s Daughter? Where did the story come from?

I was a dreamer as a child, convinced that the reality I could see and touch was only part of a whole, and that there was another energy buzzing underneath.

I wondered: how did I know I was me? What if, at night, I became somebody else, and they became me, and when we both woke up in the morning we were none the wiser, and went about our business thinking all was as it should be?

And I used to play this game, particularly on long bus journeys, where I would stare at the back of someone’s neck until they turned around. I was always certain I could make them turn around, by sending my thoughts out to tap them on the shoulder.

The Walker’s Daughter plays with the meanderings of my childish mind. It assumes, as a matter of fact, that there is a spirit world behind the material world, and that some humans are able to separate their soul—their Self—from their bodies, and experience this spirit world at will. It’s an urban fantasy—my characters live in a very real, contemporary world; they just happen to have this extra dimension to them.

But it’s also a story about a woman, Cora Bloux, finding the courage to truly be herself. As a little girl, Cora is wholly herself. Early experiences teach her that she’d better become something else, and quickly, or suffer the consequences, so she transforms into an alien thing, pretending to be ‘normal’ so she’ll fit in. As an adult, a whole new set of experiences jar her into becoming herself again. I think this is a journey we all make, whether consciously or not.

But you know what? This whole explanation is really only so much guff. I wanted to tell an entertaining story about people who can fly, like I can in my dreams, and who discover that love is really all that matters. That’s all.

How much of your own background influences what you write? Is it homage or therapy?

I hope it’s neither homage nor therapy, although I do think writers generally tend to write out their own experiences and preoccupations. I went through a long period of trying to write like all the authors I admire. Even after I’d found a ‘voice’ of my own, and had learned some of the technical craft of writing—even then I struggled for something to write about, something that amounted to more than just describing a feeling or an experience—a story, in other words. It took me a while to have the confidence to stop trying to write “Something Important” and just write something entertaining.

We interpret the world through stories. You can never have too many of them. When all else fails, we light the fire in the darkness, gather around, and tell each other tales that show us where we’ve been, who we are, and where we might go next.

You have distinctly magical and paranormal elements in your books. Would you prefer to live in a world with magic?

Ah, you see, I already do! I think we all do. It’s all about perception. I read an article in National Geographic (my favourite mag) very recently. Scientists were curious about why, in some species of bird, the female was so plain and unadorned, while the male was gorgeously plumed. They discovered that the female is only plain in human eyes. The birds themselves see through a different lens: colours and shades and iridescence that our brains don’t register. Isn’t that fantastic? For humans, imagination is the lens that makes all things possible, and gives us a way to see things differently. Over the years, things we thought incredible in the past have been explained by science, and that process is likely to continue.

It’s a tricky path, obviously; you have to keep a firm hold on mainstream reality in order to safely navigate your way through the imagination. For me, that’s the beauty of urban fantasy: the urban keeps you safely anchored, and the fantasy sets you free to explore any possibility.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I loved writing the relationship between Cora and her daughter Grace. That relationship is my love letter to my own daughter. And I really enjoyed imagining what my characters would see when they spirit-walked—how that would feel, the insights it might give you.

What drew you to your MC? What qualities do they possess that made them fun to?

Cora is very cautious and covert and has to learn how, and who to trust. What I like best about her is that she has all these wonderful qualities—she can spirit-walk, she paints, she can really love—but she remains down-to-earth and real. Just a normal woman going about her business. I’d like to think we’re all a bit like that.

What’s most difficult about being a writer?

Well, writing isn’t brain surgery or coal mining. But it takes tenacity. Everyone has a story inside them, but sitting down to write, day after day, with little hope of reward or even readers when you first begin—that’s an act of faith. It’s a little microcosm of life: you get up every day and do your best, and sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it really isn’t, but you keep going, because… that’s what you do.

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

I’m working on an early draft of a new walker novel, about a walker in the nineteenth century, and making notes for a third story about walkers, in which all my protagonists will come together.

In the meantime, I have a very different novel coming out towards the end of 2014, called Tales of the Revolution. The style of the story is influenced by my love of manga and Korean drama, and looks at the fine line between myth and history. It’s about a schoolgirl, Hana Takahashi, who lives half a life: between sunrise and sunset the world is hers, but at twilight her nocturnal mirror takes her place, dressed in Hana’s clothes and wearing Hana’s perfume. Everyone lives this way: this is the system of government rigorously imposed for generations by the City Fathers. In the end individuality, curiosity and opposition are eradicated, so no force is required to keep the system going. Then Hana falls in love with a charismatic nocturnal boy, and suddenly the ‘other’ becomes the same, and the theoretical becomes personal. When she ventures into the nocturnal world, Hana discovers broken people, wasted by the darkness, brittle-boned, underfed and ripe for revolution.

In this story, I wanted to play with some big themes: is love enough to change the world? And it’s all very well to tear down a repressive society, but what are you going to put in its place? And when you’ve done your best and paid the price, what will history make of you?

The Walker’s Daughter is available at Amazon and other major outlets, in Kindle or paperback. http://amzn.to/1rV7SAa (USA) or  http://amzn.to/1mS4e4S (UK).

Tales of the Revolution will be released later this year.

May all your journeys be sweet…

The Walker’s Daughter: published 28 July 2014!

It’s almost here: publication date for the second edition of my novel, The Walker’s Daughter, on 28 July 2014! This event might not make the international press, but it’s a pretty important date in my calendar, and I hope you’ll make it a date in yours. http://amzn.to/1klRSpY

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a friend (given that I’ve never yet met a stranger). And if you’re a friend, I’m not ashamed to ask for your help. If you like my writing, please buy a Kindle copy of The Walker’s Daughter on, or shortly after, 28 July 2014 and help me get some visibility! http://amzn.to/1klRSpY

I’ll buy you a drink next time we meet.

What’s changed in the new edition? Firedance Books has added a new cover; we’ve sharpened the focus of the story in a few places; and we’ve added a Questions for Book Clubs section.

I’m immensely proud of what my little family of spirit-walkers has achieved since the book first appeared two years ago, and I have high hopes for them in the future. Fly, Cora, fly!

Here’s that date again: Monday 28th July. To buy a copy, click here: http://amzn.to/1klRSpY

Author and columnist Lisa Lieberman calls this novel “enthralling” and says: “Elements of fantasy existing alongside everyday reality, a riveting plot, evil rooted in all-too-human weakness. And writing that takes flight into pure poetry.”

Fantasy review site Fanboys Anonymous says: “Religion and urban fantasy mesh together in harmony. Janet Allison Brown is a fine author. She has fabricated an authentic new idea and given it to her soul to pen. Read up; you won’t regret it.”

DESCRIPTION:

In the most extraordinary circumstances, it’s the ordinary human attributes that count for most.

Laura Bloux is just about keeping her head above water. She and her two little girls might not have much in the material world, but they share a secret: all three are walkers—spirit-walkers, able to slip the bonds of their physical bodies at will.

Then Magnus enters their lives, and everything changes. For Magnus, too, is a walker—and a body-swapper, an adrenaline junkie, and more besides. As Laura’s life spirals out of control, she splits up her girls and sends them to safety in separate countries with a stark warning: Terrible things will happen to you if you ever walk again. Never, ever walk again.

Twenty years later, Cora, the youngest of Laura’s daughters, is still holding fast to that instruction. Haunted by the memory of her mother’s lover—flash of silver, silver and black—she stays resolutely hidden inside her own body, denying her own self in an attempt to appear normal. Only once does she allow herself to walk, when her own daughter, eight-year-old Grace, is hit by a moving car.

Once is enough. A flare goes out to those that have been waiting: Cora has been found!

Suddenly Cora’s life is anything but normal, as a parade of new characters enter her life: a teenage au pair; the enigmatic songwriter, Charlie Tam; a rock band; and her estranged sister, Magda, who might not have paid enough attention to their mother’s instructions all those years ago…

As the pressure mounts Cora realises that her enemies can get to her any time, any place and in any body. Because when a body can’t be swapped, it can always be stolen. The race is on for Cora to work out who to trust, who to fear—and who she really is.

To see the world as it really is, sometimes you have to close your eyes and … walk.

The Walker’s Daughter is published by Firedance Books. Find it, and read the opening pages, here: http://amzn.to/1klRSpY

short story: Firedance Fairytale

This story appears in The Firedance Anthology published by Firedance Books and available here: http://amzn.to/1kEoWUw

A lovely review by Lyndsey Davies said: “Janet’s Firedance: A Fairytale drew me into the sadness and left me giggling in the joy of life. Fanciful and endearing, the story explores the lives of each character as they shift from wretched households, suffering silently in their corners, to the shared joy of a bit of seaside splendor at the moment when the sun’s fiery reflection dances on the water offering a rare magic. Janet writes simply, elegantly and moves me to tears, which transition to a Mona Lisa smile over a few pages. I can’t wait for her next volume.”

Thank you, Lyndsey! Here’s the full story.

 

Firedance: A Fairytale

There was no mistake. Out there in the sea, far out, too far for safety, there was a child in the water. She or he — the distances were too great for clarity — appeared to be swimming towards the horizon along the great sparkling path laid down by the setting sun.

‘It can’t be,’ she murmured, shading her eyes with one hand. With the other hand she stroked her chest with the habitual, soothing gesture of a mother to a fractious child.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Ellie had seen children everywhere. Now she wore her detached serenity like a steel girdle.

The child laughed — Ellie heard the sound tinkling on the breeze, and her heart gave a painful leap, despite the soothing hand.

Laughter?

Ellie moved gracefully outside onto the verandah, trying not to rush. But the sun, a perfectly round, orange ball just a moment ago, rested now on the rim of the world; a small arc of its circumference had sunk below the waves. As the sun set, her panic rose; she ran down the wooden steps onto the sand, hurried to the water’s edge and, still shading her eyes against the glare, scanned the water, straining to hear what she thought she had — couldn’t possibly have — heard.

There! That sound again! Laughter, high and tinkling, carrying over the waves.

‘Come back!’ cried Ellie in the cracked voice of a woman twice her age. ‘You’re too far out! Come back!’

The child laughed and turned. Ellie could just make out the pale moon of a girl’s face. And then, without warning, the child rose up out of the water, turned to the horizon, and went dancing away on the waves along the flaming path of the setting sun.

‘Come back!’ screamed Ellie. ‘It’s getting dark! You’re too far out!’

The sun was a semi-circle; it was a sliver; and the child was gone.

* * * *

Ted Baker had been here before; only the fine detail had changed. Once, Ellie had reported a child on a hilltop. Another time, she’d been convinced she heard a baby in the marina, and they’d had to search every boat. Every single boat. But there hadn’t been an incident for over a year now. As local law enforcement, he had to take every case seriously but, well; he couldn’t look Jim in the eye.

‘So,’ he said, aiming to sound business-like. ‘The boats have been out for an hour now. There’ve been no sightings and no one’s reported a missing child.’

Ellie stood wrapped in a blanket, glassy-eyed and still. She’d refused to move from the beach, despite her husband’s best efforts. ‘I saw her,’ she said, without expression. ‘There was a child in the water. No mistake.’

‘In the water? I thought you said on the water.’ Ted pushed back his cap and shifted from one foot to the other. He had calls to make and plans for the evening.

‘Ted,’ said Jim, putting his arm around his wife. ‘Could you just take one more sweep of the bay?’

Officer Baker stood with his arms akimbo and jerked his head towards the water. ‘Now you know there’s no point. We won’t see a thing out there in the dark.’ He caught Jim’s eye at last and changed his tone; he’d known Jim all his life. ‘Don’t worry, Ellie. Everyone sees things in the water sometimes, especially in bright, clear weather conditions like today’s. It could have been a seagull, or a piece of plastic. Hell, it might have been a seal.’

He looked to Jim for confirmation. ‘You’ve lived here as long as I have. You know the drill.’ His voice faltered; he knew he was see-sawing between his two roles, personal and professional. He cleared his throat. ‘When children go dancing out to sea, there are always frantic parents following hot on their heels. I get them waltzing into the office with all kinds of stories. But not this time.’

Dancing out to sea, waltzing into his office; that was a good one. He’d have to write that one down. He’d like to have taken out his pad and pen right now, but it didn’t seem appropriate.

He put a hand on Ellie’s arm. ‘Take it easy, old girl.’

She jerked away from his touch. ‘Don’t patronise me, Ted. I know what I saw.’

He gave up and retreated into his uniform. ‘There’s nothing to be done until daybreak. Jim. Ellie.’ He walked away, murmuring, ‘Danced out to sea, waltzed into my office, danced out to sea…’ so that he wouldn’t forget. One more phone call and he would go home to Sarah. Tuesday night was chicken night.

Damn; it was also maths homework night and Barney, his youngest, always struggled. Still, he could be at his desk by nine, which would give him three straight hours of writing. He’d have to be disciplined tonight and get to bed by midnight. If Ellie persisted with this fairytale of hers, he’d need to launch the boats again at daybreak.

He sighed. It was too bad for Jim. They’d all been jealous when he went away to university and brought home the cracker with the red hair. Lucky Jim; the woman was gorgeous. Even now, after fifteen years in the bay, they all stared when Ellie went by — men, women and children too. Hers was a regal beauty of Biblical proportions, and not the kind that faded with age either. If anything, age enhanced it; each year that passed laid a new depth on her.

Ah, but he’d take his homely Sarah any day of the week. Sarah and the children. He felt bad that he’d been sharp with them that morning. He was lucky to have children.

Damn, what was it again? Something about a waltz. Waltzing on the waves, was that it? Crap. He should have written it down, pretended to be writing case notes. Now he’d never remember.

He glanced back. He could just make out two dark, still figures on the beach, one frozen and fixed on the sea, the other leaning over her protectively, in defiance of whatever this night might bring.

Ted shivered and hurried home.

****

Ellie spent the night on the verandah, wandering down to the shore with a lantern every few minutes, then every half hour, then every hour, calling out, ‘Are you there?’

‘There’s no one there,’ said Jim. ‘Come to bed, sweetheart. You were probably mistaken. And even if — hold it, I didn’t say I didn’t believe you. All I’m saying is that if you are right, Ted’s right too: there’s nothing we can do in the dark. Wait until morning.’

In the end he slept on the verandah too, on the hammock they strung up every spring and had to replace at each summer’s end because the salt air ate away at the strings. He couldn’t count the number of times in his life that he’d fallen through the bottom of a hammock. Ellie had fallen just once; after that, the hammock was replaced, like a seasonal marker, every year without fail.

He woke at a shout from the beach. ‘She’s there! Look, Jim!’

The sun was cresting the hills behind the house, promising another of those exceptionally clear, pure days; you could see for miles. Jim fell out of the hammock, picked himself up and stretched.

‘Come on!’ yelled his wife. ‘Hurry up, lazy bones!’

She sounded happy; didn’t she just say she’d seen the child again? Jim hurdled the verandah railings, landed heavily in the sand — damn, that used to be easy — and ran to his wife’s side.

She stood barefoot, with her toes in the water, pointing out to sea. The sun behind them was kissing the water into a milky shade of aquamarine. Jim looked into Ellie’s face; she glowed. He dutifully followed her outstretched arm and hand, looked out across the water and —

‘Good God.’

At that moment, a path of light sprang to life between Ellie and the horizon. The sea shimmered with early morning haze except in the path cast by the sun; there it flashed a vivid gold and silver and orange. And clear as day, clear as that day’s vaulted sky, a child swam in the new-born sunlight.

Jim stared. He stared and stared, and then he turned to his wife. ‘She’s still there?’ he said incredulously. ‘She’s…what, she’s been swimming all night?’

His wife shook her head and the sun tangled in her red hair, turning it, too, into flames. ‘She’s not still there, she’s there again,’ she said, laughing.

‘She must be exhausted. She’ll drown!’ cried Jim. He turned and ran for the house.

‘No, wait!’ called his wife. ‘Jim, it’s okay. I think I understand now.’

But Jim would not be stopped. He phoned Ted and within twenty minutes the boats were re-launched and a helicopter, too, sent out from the nearby rescue centre. They spent the morning scouring the bay, and the two bays either side, and then further out into the open sea.

There was nothing to be found.

‘Of course there wasn’t,’ said Ellie gently. It was her turn to put her arm around Jim, his turn to pace fretfully between shore and verandah.

‘Damn it, I saw her, Ted,’ he told his friend. ‘Don’t give me that about buoys and seagulls. I know what I saw, and it was a girl.’

‘In the water or on the water?’ said Ted drily.

Jim stopped his pacing. ‘In the water, Ted. What do you think I am, a moron?’ He glanced quickly at his wife; only yesterday evening she had told them the child stood on the water. But now she just laughed.

‘We can’t keep the boats out any longer,’ said Ted. ‘I’m sorry Jim. Call me when you’ve got something more solid.’

‘And you call me when some frantic parents comes waltzing into your office demanding to know why you didn’t rescue their drowning child!’ stormed Jim.

Waltzing — dancing — that was it! That great phrase from yesterday. Officer Baker took out his pen and notebook and hastily scribbled a note. ‘That should do it,’ he said.

‘What are you smiling about?’ demanded Jim. He looked at his wife. ‘What are you both smiling about? Ellie, you were worried sick all night and now you’re smiling?’

Ellie wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck. ‘It’s okay, Jim. It’s okay. Don’t ask me how I know. I just know.’

He didn’t go to work that day. In the afternoon he took a nap, and later Ellie persuaded him to barbecue. He felt in no mood for it, but it had been such a long time since she had asked him for anything — anything he could give her. They ate in the shade of the verandah; holiday-makers might forgo protection in pursuit of a tan, but when you lived here all year round you didn’t mess with the UVs.

The sun hung low in the sky, preparing to set. Jim kept glancing at his wife, and she looked back at him serenely.

‘Shall we?’ she said at last.

He sighed. ‘I don’t know what you’re playing at, Ellie.’

She gave him a look of breathtaking love and compassion. ‘This isn’t about me, darling. It’s about all of us. Come with me. You’ll see.’

She stood up and held out her hand. He hadn’t seen her so hopeful in a long, long time. Not since; he winced. He could smell the clinic. He’d walked with her hand in hand, like this, down a corridor lined with notice boards covered in photographs of babies and toddlers, and cards.

Dear Dr Soud. Here is a picture of our lovely Emily, aged two months. We can’t thank you enough… Dear Dr Soud. Heartfelt thanks to you and your team for our beloved twins, Amy and Joshua … our delightful son … our triplets! Thank you, thank you, for giving us our children. Without you and your team…

They had tripped down the corridor full of hope, and that hope carried them through the daily injections, the little room in which Jim has been required to perform his grim solo task, the harvesting of the eggs, the waiting…

IVF. Three little letters, thrown around like confetti. The first time he watched the enormous needle pierce his wife’s ovaries to suck up the multitude of induced eggs — the first time, he’d thought he was watching a miracle. It got harder each time, as the scar tissue from the last attempt impeded this attempt’s needle, so that it required force to puncture the ovaries and reach the eggs. Ellie, poor lamb, doped up but not unconscious, screaming at the pain she wouldn’t remember afterwards.

IVF. The easy solution…

‘Come on!’ said Ellie, dragging him through the sand. ‘Hurry!’

They reached the water’s edge in time to watch the sea catch fire. They couldn’t see her, at first, but they heard her: a silvery laugh, high and wild and beautiful.

And then they saw her, bobbing around in the water. She waved — did she wave? — yes, she was waving at them! Ellie waved back enthusiastically and Jim, in a daze, began to raise his arm.

‘Look at that,’ said a voice beside them. ‘There’s a girl in the water!’ Barney Baker, Ted’s ten-year-old, squinted into the sun. ‘Dad told me about your girl. I thought I’d come out and take a look.’

Jim stared at Barney. ‘You see her, right?’

Barney reluctantly tore his eyes away from the water and frowned at Jim. ‘Of course, Jim. She’s right there, in the water. What’s she doing?’

‘Dancing, of course,’ gurgled Ellie, still waving. ‘Hello sweetheart! Hello my darling! How are you?’

Did she know the child? Jim strained to see the face clearly, to make out identifying features. He couldn’t, the distance was too great. And yet he had the strongest notion that he knew her…

‘Look!’ breathed Barney. The child, the girl, slowly rose up out of the water. She waved gaily at them, and then she stepped over the gentle waves, gingerly holding the hem of what might have been a little summer dress, as if to keep it dry. She turned away from them, laughing, and skipped and danced over the path of fire towards the setting sun.

‘Good night sweetheart!’ cried Ellie. ‘God bless, my darling!’

It wasn’t right. He should stop it, make it stop, do something. But what could he do? The sun had set, the sea was just the sea, darkening quickly in the fading light, and his wife stood beside him serene and breathtakingly lovely — and happy.

‘What was that?’ demanded Barney, shaking his head. ‘What was that?’

‘That,’ said Ellie, ‘was my daughter. That was our daughter, Jim.’

‘We don’t have a daughter,’ he began, and stopped dead. He had recognised her.

****

In the two weeks of waiting, the time between inserting the dividing cells into Ellie and taking the pregnancy test, they had followed Dr Soud’s advice.

‘Act pregnant,’ he’d said. ‘Believe you’re pregnant. Do the things pregnant couples do.’

‘Will it help?’ Ellie had asked hopefully, ready to believe anything.

‘It won’t hurt,’ he’d said, looking at Jim.

Jim understood. Act pregnant, because then, if it fails, at least you will have had the experience of being pregnant. It will be one less thing denied to you, one small thing to cling to for the rest of your life. Once, I was pregnant; there was life inside me, for a moment.

So they’d pretended. They’d acted pregnant and then, when it failed, it killed them. It made it ten times worse because, each time, a child had died — not some cells that failed to divide, not an idea, but a child, fully conceived in their imagination.

This child, this fire-dancing girl in the sea, was one of their imaginings. She was their daughter.

****

Ellie lay fast asleep in the hammock, a little smile on her face. From time to time she muttered something, but these were peaceful, contented sounds, not the pain-filled cries of earlier times, the times before the girl in the sea.

Jim sat awake staring out at the dark waves. The moon was tiny, a small sickle in the sky, but the stars were voluminous, swirling like a Van Gogh canvas come to life.

No; wrong way round. The sky didn’t represent the picture; the picture represented the sky. Jim wondered why art so often informed his response to nature, and found the answer right there in front of his eyes: because the sky was too vast and the ocean too deep. Nature needed to be tamed, on a canvas or a page or a screen, or no one was really safe

He heard footfalls across the sand. For a moment he froze, genuinely afraid at what might be coming at him from out of the sea; and then he jumped a mile as Ted Baker’s ample figure and gentle, deep voice came out of the soft night.

‘You awake, Jim?’

‘Jesus, Ted. I am now.’

Ted chuckled. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you. Thought you’d see me a mile off, what with this starlight and your extrasensory perception.’

‘Very funny. What’s on your mind?’

Ted sat down heavily beside him. ‘What do you think?’

Jim nodded. ‘Barney told you, huh?’

‘He was surprisingly calm about it. Told me he’d seen your daughter dancing on the water.’

‘On the water or in the water?’ asked Jim, and Ted gave a gentle laugh.

‘Well,’ said Ted. ‘Are you going to tell me about it?’

‘How’s your book coming along?’

‘All right, I suppose. It’s a long time coming, but it’s coming. Some days it just flows right out of my pen. Other days, it’s like pissing kidney stones.’

Jim took his turn to chuckle. ‘When are you planning to finish?’

‘It’ll take as long as it takes.’

‘Sarah’s a patient woman.’

‘Yes she is and you’re changing the subject.’

‘Yes I am,’ said Jim. He nodded towards the gently snoring form of his wife, and the two men got up off the verandah steps and began to walk along the beach.

‘I don’t know what to tell you, Ted. There’s a child in the water, at sunrise and sunset, and she’s my daughter.’

‘You mean like a fantasy thing. A shared fantasy between you and Ellie, the daughter you always wanted.’

‘Is that what Barney said?’ demanded Jim.

Ted sighed. ‘No. He said she was real all right. He just about scared his little sisters half to death. Something about her rising up out of the water and dancing towards the sun.’

Jim raised his eyebrows and nodded slowly. ‘That’s about the long and short of it.’

Ted stopped in his tracks. ‘Really, Jim? Is that really how it was? Because if you ask me, what we’re looking at here is hysteria, a sort of auto-suggestion thing.’

‘Barney — ’

‘Barney’s a child and like all children he’s suggestible. Now don’t get all upset. I don’t think you’re lying or anything. I just — well, listen to yourself, Jim.’

‘Come at daybreak,’ said Jim. ‘I don’t know what to tell you. Just come at sunrise, and see for yourself.’

****

Jim came at sunrise, and he brought Sarah with him. Sarah said that if Jim and Ellie were misguided or, worse still, if they were being haunted, then it was her and Ted’s business, as their closest friends, to be misguided or haunted right alongside them.

She meant it, too. Alone among their friends, Sarah understood the never-closing wound, the humiliation and grief that Ellie suffered every day. As she often told Ted, you could have all the emancipation you liked: female behaviour was as old as the hills and not about to change any time soon. When grown women got together they talked about kids. Schooling them, raising them, cuffing them; having them too young or too late or just plain having them. Children were the tomorrow that justified today.

And Ellie had to stand by and listen, hunting the moment to contribute some small comment to hide the fact that she would not be accompanying them into the future, her story lay in the past.

So Sarah came too, to stand beside her friend while her friend looked across the sea to watch her never-born daughter dance in the sunlight. That’s what friends were for. ‘And if you ever put this in one of your stories,’ Sarah told her husband, ‘I will divorce you and take the children with me.’

They arrived with minutes to spare. Ellie and Jim were already standing on the shore. ‘We brought Barney along,’ said Sarah, squeezing her friend’s arm. ‘He wanted to see the child again.’

Ellie smiled at her, and Sarah drew an astonished breath. She’d grown used to Ellie’s beauty, as used to it as one ever could be. But this was something new. Ellie was vital, more physically present than ever before. The grace and serenity were no longer otherworldly; they were entirely human.

They lined up on the shore, Ted and Jim, Sarah, Ellie and Barney, and waited. The darkness intensified; the stars faded and all was silence and anticipation. And then a milky blue invaded the black, grew paler, lighter, a piercing line of light appeared on the hills behind them, like a shot of metallic thread through a navy scarf, and suddenly it seemed as if the whole of creation shouted out at once. All of them, afterwards, swore that they heard something loud and joyful.

After that it all moved quickly: the sun crested, laid out a path between the little group on the beach and the horizon, and then set fire to the waves.

‘There she is,’ said Ellie in a whisper, taking a little dancing step on the sand. ‘Good morning, beloved.’

‘Dear God,’ breathed Sarah.

The child raised an arm, waved to them. And then there were two children. There was no mistake. Two children rose out of the water and stood, half-way between the shore and the horizon, looking back at the beach, squinting into the sun, laughing.

‘Johnny?’ said Ted, and he sank to his knees in the sand. Tears streamed down his face. ‘Johnny!’ he cried, reaching out towards the dancing figures.

‘Who?’ said Barney.

Sarah pulled him towards her, put her arms around him. ‘Our first child,’ she said, resting her lips on Barney’s head, but still gazing out to sea; she would save her tears for later, when they wouldn’t disturb the view. ‘You would have had an older brother, but I miscarried. We named him anyway. Johnny.’

****

The clear days were over. The clouds gathered all afternoon, and although the small, hopeful party huddled along the shore that evening, the rain pocked the sand around them and watered the sea. No path of fire, no discernible sunset.

It might have been the light. It might have been the clarity. It wasn’t plastic, or buoys, or even seals. First there had been one child, then two, and then a dozen or more. They rose up out of the sea and they danced along the flaming path of the sun to the horizon. But first they waved at the spectators on the shore; and always they laughed.

‘I don’t understand,’ said Ted roughly. ‘Why would God let those kids live in the sea like that? All alone.’ There had been soft bedding in a cot for Johnny, and a room with fluffy clouds painted on the ceiling. Instead, Johnny danced on watery flames forever. And not just Johnny. ‘I don’t know how Ellie and Jim can stand it.’ Ted shook his head and turned his face away from Sarah.

‘That’s because you’re thinking about it all wrong.’ Sarah dropped her hand on his shoulder. ‘The children were happy, Ted. We didn’t give them flesh to wear or a life to live but they were happy. They were safe. I don’t have to worry about Johnny any more. Ellie can sleep nights knowing her girl isn’t lost in some dark forever because her mother never came for her.’

‘You know that makes no sense,’ said Ted, fumbling for his wife’s hand.

Across town, in their house on the beach, Ellie and Jim sat whispering and giggling like children, making plans for the future.

What we see

True,
I remember you.
But you remember me?
Unlikely.

At school you were cool.
Never mind the good looks,
You had hooks into everything going:
Running. Throwing.
Pitch, catch, kick,
Bat, racket, stick.
Kind, too. And clever.
We were always in a group together
But did we ever exchange two private words,
Boy to girl,
In that endless, sunny in-between
When we were teens?

The day I kissed ice—
Literally, kissed an icicle
I found, broken and hurt
On the ground, in the dirt—
On that day I saw what hums behind
The glowing mind of reality.
And earnestly believed I’d never be
Normal again.
I was ten.

I became all thought.
And you were all sport.

Yeah, I remember you:
Speed and muscle and sweat,
Style and smile…
Like I’d forget.
But why would you remember me,
Who only existed corporeally
In order to get from A to B?

Seriously.

But this is what happened:
We grew up, you moved away,
I stayed.
Both adventured in our different ways.
And then I wrote a story, a book.
You took a look, a glance
Became entranced.
You read straight into my head
And this is what you said:
Ah, there you are.
Here on the page is the you that I knew
Back in the days when you were a star
And I was cool,
At school.

So this is what I didn’t see
(Me, with my visions and clarity!):
That you, with your physicality,
Saw, and remember, me.

Blog Hop: The Writing Process

I’ve been blog-tagged by a lovely, interesting new friend, fellow writer and reviewer, Andrew Baker. Andrew is the author of “Heaveny Convalesce to Light State”, and gives indie authors a platform via his book reviews for Fanboys Anonymous (@FanboyAnonymous). His blog-hop appears here: http://t.co/sjUFFt0Ani

Blog-Hope Rules

Answer the four questions below. Link back to the person who invited you to join in, and tag five writers who must answer the same questions in their blog next week, linking backwards to you and forwards to five more writers.

Easy, right? I remember when this game was played with a cup-full of banana cake mix. Or a letter: pass this letter on to five friends and your true love will love you back. Or something like that.

But I digress. Here are my answers to the blog-hop questions.

What am I working on?

I’ve just finished writing my next novel, “Tales of the Revolution”, and passed it to my editor at Firedance Books. Firedance Books is a cooperative of writers who are also editors, artists, designers and marketing execs. We work for free and publish original books that we love.

With “Tales of the Revolution” I’ve tried to marry literary values and a social/political agenda with my love of Korean drama and Japanese anime. I’ve always been interested in myth-making and the way we use stories to navigate a path through our lives.  Here’s the blurb:

In response to the Western Wars, the City Fathers have devised a plan to conserve resources. ‘Double Up and Manage’ is simple but effective. The population is split into Diurnals and Nocturnals. Every life in the Cities is a twenty-four hour life shared by two people. Days are no longer counted into weeks and months; there is only Time. No one knows how long the system has existed. Or when it will end.

I’m also working on a second edition of my novel “The Walker’s Daughter”, which was first published in 2012. It’s about spirit-walking, a concept I plan to revisit in future stories; I’m fascinated by it as an imaginative idea. Andrew Baker’s review at Fanboys Anonymous is here: http://t.co/CRw8uy8FaQ.

How does my work differ from other works in the same genre?

It’s story and, above all, characters that I’m interested in, whether they’re stumbling through a dystopian future or doing the dishes in rural Cumbria. Or sending their souls flying through the stratosphere.

Everything I write holds love and connection at its heart. When all else fails, it’s the connections you make that matter; that’s what we live for, whether we live in space or on the ocean floor. It’s all about the love, baby.

Why do I write what I write?

I’m always consumed by one idea or another. Ask my husband. Or my kids. A sticky point in my faith, the smell of a colour, unexpected kindness, what causes dis-connection, a great turn of phrase. Metaphorically speaking, I like to take things apart and find out how they work. What’s the story? What does it tell me about life, my life, life in general?  My writing is a synthesis of the things I find fascinating—which is most things. It’s also a bit of wish fulfilment, a way of living a dozen different lives in a dozen different worlds.

How does my writing process work?

My stories don’t always say what I plan. My characters don’t always do what I want. But I guess that’s my subconscious doing its thing. I’m 70% total control, 30% go-with-the-flow. I trust my instincts, but mostly I believe in planning, practice and hard work. You don’t wait for inspiration; you set deadlines and then you meet them.

I usually begin with an idea, an obsession, usually a theme or a situation. Then I work out the plot around that. I used to make things up as I went along but, increasingly, I’m a planner. I plot every scene and character entry and exit. When I’m happy with the framework, I begin writing. You’d think this would dampen the creative flow but, in fact, I’ve found it to be a completely liberating way to work.

When I’m writing, I need to be free to ‘vanish’ from the real world and imagine myself elsewhere. So generally I write late at night, when my family is asleep, or during the day when everyone’s at work or school. Each scene unfolds in my head. Apparently, I pull a lot of faces; my kids love to catch me unawares. Very occasionally I’ll run to a mirror and check what a face looks like when it’s alarmed, delighted, etc—how do the eyes move, what happens to the creases of the face. I reckon if I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye, I can write it.

You have to take writing seriously if you plan to have any readers, but you also have to not take yourself seriously. It’s storytelling, not medicine. But, at its best, a story is a tiny road-map that someone else might follow. Or a new relationship with a stranger. And that’s a pretty serious business.

Tagging forward!

Would the following writers please report for duty at your blogs on 28 April because you’ve been tagged!

@GaryBonn: Gary is the author of Expect Civilian Casualties, and The Evil Fear, both fresh and original YA novels. He’s also a hugely kind and supportive friend.

@TheBoopadoo: Boops is an inspired book designer, a thoughtful, accomplished writer, and a quietly powerful presence in my writing-life.

@TerriNixon: Terri is the author of historical, mythical and dramatic fiction—including Dust of Ancients which I’m greatly enjoying. She’s a new friend and proof of the power of Twitter.

@rj_mirabal: RJ Mirabal is the author of The Tower of Il Serrohe. Currently a Twitter acquaintance;  hopefully to be a Twitter friend.

@GraemeBrownWpg: Graeme Brown calls himself ‘artist, musician, math and computer programming geek’—what’s not to like? A review of his book “The Pact” appears here: http://www.fanboysanonymous.com/2014/04/graeme-browns-pact-book-review.html#.U1Qa5P9OWM8

poem: The House

Wounded pride; I crept to sleep to hide

And returned to the home I knew as a child.

 

The old place was as then

Every nook, every known creak sang silk to my soul

I heard mother, and father, and siblings, and friends,

And those gone to where I cannot dream them back.

 

I ‘d thought my heart hurt by the day just lived;

Far truer struck the hopes recalled

Fresh as the day first made and stored for future completion.

 

But as I wondered up stairs, through halls and rooms

That knew my caterpillar youth,

Something strange:

Something humming through walls

Something plunging through floors

Some deep sleep smell of mother’s neck,

And in the centre of the house a tree

Whose top vanished into sunlit sky.

 

Awake, I see:

The tree is me, earthed in that home.

The present cannot change what’s been

Or hurt the me transported back

By time-machine of dream.

 

I dreamed last night of the house where then dreamed the me now dreaming,

And awoke, and resumed becoming.

short story: Janus Pride

It’s an awkward thing, meeting a stranger at a water hole. Do you greet him? Do you place a knife between his ribs? Will he place one between yours?

My camel didn’t care either way. She smelled water and it had been days. It’s true what they say about camels: nasty temper, evil breath. But in a sandstorm, when you’re pressed up against her side and she’s the only thing between you and destruction; or in one of those cursed moments when reality eats away at your very soul and you understand that there is nothing behind you, or ahead of you, or all around you but the beautiful, blasted sand—in such moments who cares about temper or bad breath? Then she is little short of salvation. So if she needs water, you stop, stranger or no stranger.

No one threw knife or spear as we approached, which was a good sign. Of course, if you don’t kill each other, you have to share food. But that works both ways; I’ve had some good meals this way. And a stranger is only a stranger until you learn his name; at which point you become companions, and ever afterwards banish loneliness by remembering one another with kindliness and nostalgia.

This companion’s name was Khaldoon, and he was a good companion. When we greeted one another he took my hand firmly and did not loosen his grip, even when his fingers made contact with my warts. If anything, he squeezed my hand tighter, held it for longer. A good companion, as I said.

We made a fire and shared food and when we had eaten our fill we stretched out and, under the light of the moon and the stars, we swapped tales.

‘Have you heard the tale of Ameer?’ I asked.

‘Ameer of the Negev? I have heard his name,’ said Khaldoon drily.

‘His son was kidnapped.’

Khaldoon whistled between gapped teeth. ‘The little boy? Such times we live in.’ He settled back, the better to enjoy the details.

Ameer’s son was captured by the sons of another tribe; old enmities—no one remembers the cause, but the insults traded and wounds inflicted over several generations made sure that no reconciliation would ever be possible.

The kidnappers sat back, waiting for the offer of a ransom. The first day, Ameer offered one hundred coins for the return of his son.

The kidnappers rubbed their hands with glee. ‘We will wait,’they said. ‘If it’s one hundred today, imagine what he will offer tomorrow!’

The second day, Ameer offered fifty coins.

The kidnappers were puzzled. ‘What madness is this?’ they asked. But they consoled themselves with the certain promise of a bigger offer the next day.

The third day, Ameer offered ten coins and on the fourth day, no offer came.

The kidnappers went to Ameer. ‘We have your son,’ they said. ‘What will you give us for his safe return?’

Ameer had eyes like a hawk, and the bearing of a prince—which is exactly what he was. ‘It has been four days,’ he said in a voice like the rustling of dry leaves on a hot wind. ‘I will give you nothing and I do not wish for my son’s return.’

A son is worth more than camels. A first-born son is worth more than gold. An only son—well, he is of greater worth than water in the desert.

Ameer had several tents full of daughters. And only one son.

‘Is he mad?’ said the kidnappers. ‘Are you mad?’ they asked him. ‘Your son, your only son, we will return him! But first you must pay us.’

But Ameer could not be persuaded. He would not pay and he did not want his son returned. This is how he explained it.

‘On the first day,’ he said, ‘my son was strong. He would have refused your water and your food. He would not have spoken a word to you, but remained straight-backed and unflinching. That was a son to be proud of. That son was worth one hundred coins. But you would not take my money.

On the second day he would be forced to accept a little water. But still, he was my son, and the future leader of his tribe. He was still worth fifty coins. But you would not take my money.

By the third day he would be forced to accept not just water, but a little food as well. He was no longer a son or a prince but still, he was a man, and a man is worth ten coins.

But now it has been four days. By now he will be begging for his life. He has no value as a son or a prince or a man.’

Ameer looked at them proudly. ‘You should have taken the one hundred coins,’ he said. ‘I have no son, but you have no money and an extra mouth to feed.’

Khaldoon was delighted with my story. ‘An excellent man!’ he guffawed. ‘A worthy leader of his tribe. What a lesson for us all!’

We passed the details back and forth between us for a while, savouring each detail of the crafty prince’s cruel pride.

‘I, too, have a story,’ said Khaldoon at last—as I knew he would. A good story is better than a good meal: a good meal occupies the stomach for a few hours but a good story occupies the mind for a lifetime. It was my turn to settle back in the sand and I did, watching the dying embers of the fire sending small sparks into the stillness of the night.

‘There was a man,’ said Khaldoon. ‘And one day he was invited to a wedding, with his mother.’

‘A man?’ I interrupted. ‘Of the Negev? The Sinai? A great leader, perhaps?’

‘No,’ said Khaldoon. ‘Just a humble man. A fisherman or a furniture maker. I’m really not sure. But wait. Just wait and you will hear.’

I was disappointed. I myself am a humble man. I like to hear of great men, not men like myself.

‘Wait,’ promised Khaldoon. ‘There was a man, and one day he was invited to the wedding of a kinsman.’

Now, the man was a humble man, but some say he had great powers. He was a magician, of sorts. He could change things in the minds of men, so that they thought they saw miracles and wonders. Who knows? Maybe they really did.

At the time of this wedding, he had not yet revealed his magic. He was unmarried, and he attended the wedding with his mother, a widow. It was the usual kind of celebration, many guests and lots of food. The bridegroom was not a rich man, but he was not a poor man either.

‘A good party,’ I said, enjoying the spectacle in the flames.

‘A good party,’ agreed Khaldoon, ‘until the wine ran out.’

‘The wine ran out?’ I said, and I sat up. ‘What kind of a party is that?’

‘Exactly,’ said Khaldoon. ‘Here you are, a stranger in the desert, and you see exactly how bad the situation was.’

The wine ran out and the bridegroom, the host, was about to be shamed. There are rules about these things. It does not matter what this man had achieved in the past, or what great things he would achieve in the future. For the rest of his life, and after he died, he would be known as the ungenerous host.

Now we return to our man, the fisherman or furniture maker, the humble son of a widow. His mother, who knew that he was in fact an accomplished magician, nudged him and said, ‘Son. Your cousin is about to be shamed. Do something.’

‘What can I do?’ said the man, shrugging.

His mother cast an impatient eye on him. ‘Your kinsman will be shamed!’ she insisted. ‘Help him.’

The man became angry. ‘It is not the right time,’ he said.

‘It is the perfect time! Why else would you have great gifts if not to spare those whom you love? Look! Look around you!’

The man looked at the radiant bride and her new husband, who was not so very handsome but whom she clearly loved dearly. They knew nothing of the shame about to befall them, the ridicule that would shortly engulf them—for the rules of hospitality are more important than riches.

The man turned to his mother. ‘I am not here to perform party tricks,’ he said quietly. ‘I am here to change the world. But I cannot let my kinsman suffer. I will help him.’

Then he summoned a servant, and said, ‘Take those barrels and fill them with water. Then fill everyone’s cup. Do it now.’

‘We cannot serve water!’ whispered the servant.

‘Do it,’ said the man.

The servant did as he was told. He filled the barrels with water and when he turned the tap to fill each glass, out came wine. And not just any wine either—it was ruby red and full-bodied and would have cost more than most of the guests earned in a year. Wine like this honoured he who served it and he who drank it; it was a veritable sacrament of hospitality.

‘The magician turned water into wine!’ I said, greatly entertained. ‘What a talent! What a trick!’

Khaldoon nodded. ‘The guests were most impressed. “What’s this?” they cried to the bridegroom. “Most hosts would serve the best wine first but you have saved it for last! What a great man you are!”’

‘And the magician’s mother was happy with him,’ I suggested.

‘I believe she was happy with him. Although the man himself was bashful. He enjoined her and the servant to say nothing of what he had done.’

‘He wanted no praise? No fame?’

‘Not for being a magician.’

‘Ah!’ I said, waggling my finger at Khaldoon. ‘But someone must have told the secret since you are here telling me this story.’

‘Indeed,’ said Khaldoon. ‘You see to the truth of the matter.’

We sat silently for a few moments, both of us viewing the scene in our head, the happy bride, the fortunate bridegroom.

‘What did he mean?’ I said suddenly. ‘The magician. What did he mean about changing the world?’

Khaldoon shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I believe he told a good story. And his tricks grew more ambitious—they say he drove out spirits and raised the dead. The usual.’

I clicked my tongue in disapproval. ‘What times we live in,’I said. ‘Still. It was a kindness to save his family’s honour.’

‘They say he was a kind man. They say that he treated everyone as a kinsman, even when it put his own life in danger.’

I was curious—I can’t say why, exactly. ‘What else do they say?’ I asked. ‘These warts of mine. I sometimes think they are an affliction of the mind, of my loneliness in this great and terrible desert.’ I coughed out of embarrassment and pretended to look for something in the pockets of my robe. ‘I thought I might consult a magician or a healer. Where might I find your man?’

Khaldoon gently shook his head. ‘He died, my friend.’

‘Ah,’ I said. ‘Don’t we all. When did he die?’

‘It was many years ago. His stories seem to be lasting a lot longer than he did, though. I still hear them, everywhere I go.’

‘What kind of stories?’

‘The kind that go into your ear and settle in your heart.’

I looked at him dubiously. Then something occurred to me. ‘That bride,’ I said. ‘She probably has sons running around the place by now.’

‘Grandsons, more like,’ said Khaldoon, and we laughed until the tears ran down our faces; but really I was crying, because the story made me understand how old I had become, and I had never realised it until now.

‘They say a great prophet is coming,’ I said, much later, when the fire was dead and we were both huddling against our camels for warmth.

Khaldoon shrugged. ‘They’ve been saying that for years.’

‘There have been omens.’

He cleared his throat and spat delicately into the night. ‘In the souq there are fifty new prophets a week, each promising more than the last.’

‘We could miss him, this prophet,’ I said. ‘In the crowd, we might not recognise him. He might come and go and we’d never know.’

‘What does it matter?’ said Khaldoon.‘As long as we have food in our bellies, camels in our pen, sons in our tents and friends at our campfire. What could any god want more for us? What could we want more for ourselves?’

We lay back. I have swum in the ocean at night with tiny creatures like pin-pricks of light that caress the skin like a daughter, all softness and trust. The sky was like that, that night, full of stars.

‘Wah!’ we both exclaimed, as a particularly bright star fell from the sky.

‘Somewhere in this huge sandpit of ours there is a pile of these fallen ones,’ said Khaldoon, pointing up, and we chuckled.

‘I am a rich man,’ said Khaldoon. ‘The stories we have shared, these stars in the sky, a camel at my back. I believe in the small things.’ He turned over and slept like a baby in its mother’s arms.

Me? I lay awake for many hours in my cradle of sand, staring into the face of the void, longing for meaning in this life of loneliness and toil.

Note:

The account of the man whose son was kidnapped is very loosely modelled on a traditional folk tale from Arab Folktales in the Penguin Folklore Library.

The account of the man who turned water into wine at a wedding comes from Chapter 2 of the Gospel of St John in The Bible.