Book Review: The Watch House by Bernie McGill.

Book Review: The Watch House by Bernie McGill.

Happy Sunday fellow bookworms.  For this week’s blog post, I will be reviewing The Watch House by Bernie McGill, a fellow Northern Irish writer.  So before we get started on what I thought, let’s find out what the book is about:

watch house review pic‘There are messages in the air, a closeness like the kind that comes before a storm, a listening, a holding of breath.’ It is summer, 1898, on the small Irish island of Rathlin and the place is alive with gossip. A pair of strangers has arrived from the mainland, laden with mysterious radio equipment, and the islanders are full of dread. For native Nuala Byrne, abandoned by her family for the New World and trapped by a prudent marriage to the island’s ageing tailor, the prospects for adventure are bleak. But when she is sent to cook for Marconi’s men and is enlisted, by the Italian engineer Gabriel, as an apprentice operator, she becomes enthralled by the world of knowledge that he brings from beyond her own narrow horizons. As Nuala’s friendship with Gabriel deepens, she realises that her deal with the tailor was a bargain she should never have struck.

The Watch House is a gripping story about the power of words to connect us, and the power of suspicion to drive us apart.

Set on the small and isolated Island of Rathlin, not too far from where I type, the story centres around the  real life use of the Island by the Italian inventor Marconi and his new wireless morse code technology.  The main character, Nuala Byrne, is our guide for the island along with its suspicious and superstitious residents, who finds herself falling for the Italian engineer Gabriel, sent to set the equipment up on the Island.

This wouldn’t normally be the type of book I would pick up…I’m not a huge historical fiction fan, nor am I big into romance, but I’m very glad I did.  Bernie is an incredible writer.  She is a word smith, a poet who has such an artful way with language, giving every sentence an almost lyrical quality.  There wasn’t a chapter without some beautiful or profound quote you would happily have embroidered on a pillow.  She is the type of writer which makes me very jealous due to her uncanny ability with the written word.

The book is incredibly well researched, with every historical detail accurately depicted and every square inch of the island and its caves brought to life.   I found myself genuinely interested in the Italian inventor Marconi and his Morse code technology to the point that I lost an hour googling him online.  It even made me want to visit Rathin island, somewhere which despite its closeness, I have never had reason to visit.  It is obvious to the reader, the time and effort Bernie put into writing this book and it is very much appreciated.

The characters themselves are incredibly real and believable.  From the curious, adventure seeking Nuala to her vile, spinster sister in law Ginny, I found myself genuinely engrossed in their lives and individual stories.  I enjoyed the switching of perspectives between these narrators, to see the world through their eyes and from their own perspectives- it really helps the reader connect with Nuala and to root for her happiness, no matter how futile our hopes for a happy ending appear.

The central themes of this book are well explored and carry as much importance and relevance now as they did a century ago.  The theme of communication is explored deeply in the book and is just as relevant today in our world of ever evolving communication technology.  The clash between the old and the new, the struggles of some to come to terms with sudden modernity is something else which we still see today, as many struggle to keep up with this constant evolution.  Indeed, even the idea of the corruption and interception of communication is explored, with devastating consequences for the lead character.  Whilst this book involves wireless morse code rather than the super computer I call my smart phone, the implications of messages being intercepted and corrupted, the power of communication and the benefits it can bring, reaches across time and raises the same questions and issues now as it did then.

Whilst I had some issues with the ending and the decisions made by certain characters, albeit with the best of intentions, I recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction.  I would give it four stars out of five!

 

 

 

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.

Book Review: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.

Happy Sunday fellow book worms…for this post I will be reviewing Into the Water, the eagerly anticipated second novel by bestseller Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train.  Before we delve into my thoughts on the book, let’s take a look at that trusty blurb to find out what it’s about:

Just days before her sister plunged to her death, Jules ignored her call.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules must return to her sister’s house to care for her daughter, and to face the mystery of Nel’s death.

But Jules is afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of this small town that is drowning in secrecy . . .

And of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

This book centres around a small English town called Beckford, through which there runs a river, affectionately known as ‘The Drowning Pool,’ where “troublesome women” are drowned.  Many women seem to have lost their lives to its waters.  There were young women accused of being witches drowned there, women who committed suicide there and, as the blurb suggests, women who were murdered there.  The drowning which is at the heart of the book is that of Nel Abbott, a local woman who happened to be writing a book about the drowning pool and the many women who met their end there, much to the chagrin of the local residents who would prefer to leave the past in the past.  Nel’s teenage daughter Lena believes her mother committed suicide, but her estranged sister Jules is convinced it was murder, but which one is correct?

My first and biggest problem with this book is the sheer amount of narrators.  There are ELEVEN narrators (yes you read that right) all of which give their own perspectives and theories on Nel’s death as well as the various other secrets which come to light throughout the book- It is beyond confusing.  Each one throws out their own reliable accounts and red herrings into the mix and worse still, none of these narrators have different enough voices to truly set them apart from one another, and after a while, they all blend into one another.  At points, I found myself flicking back to previous chapters to clarify who was who and who did or said what.  As a result, storylines are rushed and characters left undeveloped and any suspense or mystery is lost.  Whilst I admire Hawkins’ ambition, sadly the whole thing fails to come together and makes for one confusing read.

My second problem is with the characters themselves and the fact that they are all wholly unpleasant.  I did not empathise or connect with any of them and as a result, when they revealed some tragic or traumatic incident from their past, I read it the way I would read their lunch order- with complete disinterest and detachment.  There are also parts of the book which feel clumsy, with important plot points and pieces of evidence sandwiched into chapters which might as well have read, “remember this, this is important to Nel’s murder.” Then there is the killer, whose identity is blatantly obvious from the second you are introduced, despite the dozens of red herrings presented by all of our unreliable narrators.  I have never read an author go to such pains to point out what a “good guy” someone was before.  There might as well have been a neon sign above their head reading “Killer here.”

But there are positives to this book.  I thoroughly enjoyed the excerpts from Nel Abbott’s own book and the glimpses into the witch trials, peppered with hints at the paranormal, I just wish this had been explored more.  There are also a number of interesting subjects touched upon within the book: the unreliability of our own memories, familial relationships, feminism and patriarchy, but because there are so many things going on, so many secrets revealed and narrator’s stories to follow, none of these topics are fully developed or explored.  It is also obvious from reading this book that Paula Hawkins is a good writer, with some beautiful imagery and descriptions which set scenes beautifully and left clear images in your mind.  Whilst I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, I have bought The Girl on the Train, so she has obviously left an impression.

Overall, it’s not a bad book, it’s just not a great book either.  I admire the author’s ambition, but think the whole thing falls rather flat and makes for a confusing and forgettable read.  I have no doubt however, given the huge success of Paula Hawkins and her debut novel The Girl on the Train, that this book will sell millions of copies, and it will find many fans.  I would give it 3 stars out of 5.

Have you read this book?  What did you think?  Leave me a comment and let me know.  Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date on all my latest posts.

Edwin The Black: A Short Story and Artist Collaboration.

Happy Monday readers!  For this evening’s post, I have collaborated with an incredibly talented artist and super sweet person, Lauren Shepherd.  I first came across her incredible illustrations on her Instagram page and immediately fell in love.  Lauren is a motion graphics designer, illustrator and dachshund mom based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.  Her work features wildlife, wildflowers and bones and is both romantic and macabre…check her out and I bet you will love her work as much as me!  I wrote a short story inspired by her body of work and her unique style and she in turn created these stunning images inspired by my story.  I hope you enjoy it!  If you are an artist and would like to collaborate, get in touch and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with my latest posts!  Happy Reading!

 

Edwin the Black

edwin 2Edwin watched the child with curious detachment.  They were such odd-looking creatures, all exposed, pink flesh pimpling at the slightest sign of cold.  They looked naked.  This one was female, and what little fur she possessed was a fiery red, like that of his fox friend Orla.  She was called Lana, for that is what the child’s mother had yelled when the imp had wondered too close to the edge of the forest.

Edwin sat above her in his evergreen, only the tuft of red hair visible as she turned in circles over and over until she fell, dizzy and unsteady on her feet.  He could not fathom the purpose of such an action, perhaps it was some form of mating ritual?  Regardless, the child seemed to have tired of her games, and now lay still amongst the fallen pine needles, the deep red of her hair vivid against the brown, dead forest floor.  Within minutes, her breathing steadied and her eyes closed, a peaceful look passing over her freckled face.

Curious as to these large, cumbersome creatures, which had encroached so much into his home, he decided to get a closer look.  His black wings reflected the afternoon sun, as he swooped down beside her tiny sleeping form.  He landed without making a sound, and all that was audible in that moment was the slow and steady breathing of the fleshy lump which now lay mere feet from him.

He walked slowly around her, his yellow eyes absorbing every detail.  He could see she was well fed, her flesh coating every limb in lumpy, pink flesh.  Her skin was paler than others he had seen, and her eyelashes were the same red as her hair, thin enough to seem almost transparent in the sun.  He knew she was a child, as the adults of her kind towered above her, carrying her here and there and showering praise on her when she did the most rudimentary things.  Edwin scoffed a short quiet squawk.  He could never understand their pride at their young ones doing, in a year or more, what creatures such as himself did in a matter of weeks, perhaps less. The adults of this species seemed to be very easily pleased.

There was so much about the humans which perplexed and at times, disgusted himself and his kin. They took more than they needed, and often left destruction in their wake, and more than once he had witnessed their kind hurting each other for no discernible reason.  Yes, his brothers and he killed, but it was for survival, for food.  The humans seemed to them to be so needlessly destructive.  Someday, it would surely be their end.

Suddenly, the child shifted, her chubby arm moving towards Edwin, startling him from his quiet contemplation.  He jumped backwards without thinking, and without warning, felt a sudden and painful tightness around his left leg.  Looking down, he saw a thin wire attached to a wooden stake in the earth, and he knew it was one of the human’s traps.  They didn’t hunt like animals, they used tools and weapons.  They cheated.

Panic clawed at his flesh just as much as the wire hands, and he began to desperately edwin 1flap his wings, trying to fly free of the vice like grip he found himself in, but each movement only seemed to tighten its hold on him, and he felt his flesh slice as his blood oozed free.  Frantic, he looked around him for something he could use to free himself, and instead saw two large brown eyes staring at him.  She was awake, the human child, his desperate squawks of fear and pain had made sure of that.  It would only be a moment before she raised a rock above her head and used it to crush his tiny skull.  His short life flashed before his eyes, his nest, his Mother and the squirming, fat earth worms she would bring him as a chick.  The first time he fell from the nest, fear of death being replaced by the freedom and exhilaration of his first flight.  He wished he had mated, settled down and sired some young, but it was too late for regrets now.

The child reached her hand towards him, and even at her young age, he could see how easily they could wrap themselves around his fragile body and simply squeeze.  He thought about fighting, about pecking and clawing and spilling a little blood in exchange for his own.  But, he knew this would only bring the adults, and they would bring with them an even worse death.  He cursed at himself for his stupidity, his arrogance at sitting so close to such a dangerous being, as he felt the hand move around him.

He waited there for the pain, and the darkness that would surely follow, and he waited, and nothing came. When he opened his eyes again, he saw her there still, her eyes wide and curious, studying him as he had studied her. She sat so still, her hands by her side, and in one he realised, sat the stake, the wire noose.  Confused, he looked down at his leg to find it free. He was free.  She had freed him.  But why?  Why would such a blundering creature care about some bird which fell prey to its trap? No doubt, he would make a meagre meal, but why trouble herself with helping him when she could have ignored his cries and left him for another predator of these woods?

Some moments passed, the two studying each other, before she smiled at him, her eyes bright and wide. He wished he could have smiled back, but beaks do not allow for such gestures, and so he simply bowed his head and hoped she would understand it as thanks.  Then he flew to the highest branch he could reach, thankful his wings were unharmed.  He heard a voice yell the child’s name, and she emerged from the trees into the clearing, waddling towards it with eager excitement.

He watched her walk away hand in hand with her mother, and he thought hard about the days events, the information swimming amongst the other information he had collated over his life time.  These humans, they were feared, they were violent and destructive, and yet, this one had saved his meagre life for no rhyme or reason.  She had showed him kindness and for that, he was filled with an emotion he had never before experienced; something akin to loyalty.

And so, he flew, high above the two red haired creatures, one grown, one young, and followed them home. He would watch the child, and he would protect her as she had protected him.  He would be her guardian, for he owed her his life, and all debts in nature must be repaid.  He was Edwin the black, and now he was protector of Lana the red.

Wildest Dreams Book Box: Unboxing and review of a Comic Lover’s Dream.

Wildest Dreams Book Box: Unboxing and review of a Comic Lover’s Dream.

For todays blog post I am super excited to unbox and review August’s Wildest Dreams book box.  I was privileged to become an official Wildest Dreams rep and this is the first box I have received as part of my rep period and I cannot tell you how excited I am!  This month’s theme is ‘Comic Legends.’  I love a good comic book film, so I am intrigued to find out what’s inside, and if you like it as much as me and fancy grabbing your very own box, you can use my discount code MARIE!% for 15% off!

WDbox 1First up, the featured book is ‘Catwoman: Soulstealer‘ by Sarah.J.Maas:

When the Bat’s away, the Cat will play. It’s time to see how many lives this cat really has. . . .

Two years after escaping Gotham City’s slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. She quickly discovers that with Batman off on a vital mission, Batwing is left to hold back the tide of notorious criminals. Gotham City is ripe for the taking.

Meanwhile, Luke Fox wants to prove he has what it takes to help people in his role as Batwing. He targets a new thief on the prowl who seems cleverer than most. She has teamed up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, and together they are wreaking havoc. This Catwoman may be Batwing’s undoing.

I always love a book where the protagonist is an anti-hero or flat out villain, so I am excited to read this.  I have also never read a comic book character novel, but I always like to be pushed out of my comfort zone and so, I am interested to see what it’s like.

WDbox 2Along with this book, there are a few bookish goodies.  First up, is a set of four comic themed candles by Taken Moons.  Candles are one of my absolute favourite things to find inside a book box so to find FOUR makes me very happy, plus they smell like heaven!!  There are four distinct scents: ‘Warbringer’ a Wonderwoman inspired candle scented with desert breeze, ‘Nighwalker’ a Batman inspired candle scented with jasmine, ‘Soulstealer’ a Catwoman inspired candle scented with cherry chocolate (and good enough to eat) and finally ‘Dawnbreaker’ a Superman inspired candle scented with sandalwood.  I wish that it was possible to embed scent on a blog post, because they smell delicious.  I also love glitter and sparkle so I just love these!

Along with the candles, I have received a bag of Gotham City tea by the fabulous Rosie Lea Tea company.  I have collaborated with this wonderful company before on a giveaway, so I am super excited to taste this tea, especially when I find out the flavour: blackcurrant balanced with Sri Lankan black tea and hints of vanilla!  Can anyone else say yum?  You even get some tea bags to use with the loose teas should you not own a diffuser, which I really appreciate!

Finally, to match with the badass Catwoman book, I have received a badass Catwoman bookmark featuring that awesome tag line, “When the Bat’s away, the Cat will play.”  I look forward to using it to mark the pages when I read the book (because dog-earing is a sin!! lol).

So that’s the box and I really love it!  I plan on burning my candles and putting my feet up with a sumptuous cup of Blackcurrant tea and my Catwoman book (keep an eye out for the review down the line).  As I said before, if you like the box and fancy grabbing your own, you can use my discount code MARIE15 for 15% off.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with my latest posts and if you like my photos, head over to Instagram and follow me for more (my handle is @mariemcwilliamsauthor).  Thanks for reading guys and have a great week!!

 

My Chronicles Book Box: Unboxing & Review.

My Chronicles Book Box: Unboxing & Review.

chronicles 4Hello readers!  For this week’s blog post, I am super excited to bring you an unboxing of this month’s My Chronicles Book Box.  If you haven’t heard of this book box, it is a British based book box available as part of a subscription or as a one off purchase.  They come in various categories, including ‘Crime and Mystery’ and ‘Science Fiction and Fantasy’ as well as one off boxes themed to particular books or book series.  I of course, chose the Crime and Mystery box…I am a crime fiction writer after all.

First of all, can I just say how stunning the packaging and wrapping for this book box are.  Upon opening the box, I discovered a beautiful envelope addressed to myself at my favourite reading nook, sealed with a Chronicles book box wax seal.  Inside, was a letter explaining the contents, along with a ‘newspaper’ style article with an interview from each author featured.  Each book was beautifully wrapped in it’s own brightly coloured paper tied up with string, which meant that it was like a present within a present! The whole thing felt very luxurious and special.  I really appreciated the attention to detail, so I wanted to note that before getting into the box’s contents.

chronicles 1Ok, now for the all important contents and the best part about that?  This box contains not one, not two, but THREE books!  Two of which are hardbacks, and two of which are signed!  As a book worm and book hoarder, I cannot describe how happy I felt to unwrap three new books.  The three books inside the box are:

‘A Different Kind of Evil’ by Andrew Wilson: In January 1927 – and still recovering from the harrowing circumstances surrounding her disappearance a month earlier – Agatha Christie sets sail on an ocean liner bound for the Canary Islands.
She has been sent there by the British Secret Intelligence Service to investigate the death of one of its agents, whose partly mummified body has been found in a cave.
Early one morning, on the passage to Tenerife, Agatha witnesses a woman throw herself from the ship into the sea. At first, nobody connects the murder of the young man on Tenerife with the suicide of a mentally unstable heiress. Yet, soon after she checks into the glamorous Taoro Hotel situated in the lush Orotava Valley, Agatha uncovers a series of dark secrets.
 The famous writer has to use her novelist’s talent for plotting to outwit an enemy who possesses a very different kind of evil. 

I am particularly excited by this one as a massive Agatha Christie fan, so this will be promptly moving to the top of my to be read pile.  And can I just say, I love this cover.  This book came with a signed plate from the author, and as you know, us book worms love nothing more than a signed book.

‘A Shot in the Dark’ by Lynne Truss: After the notorious ‘Middle Street Massacre’ of 1951, when the majority of Brighton’s criminals wiped one another out in a vicious battle as the local police force enjoyed a brief stop en route for an ice cream, Inspector Steine rather enjoys life as a policeman. No criminals, no crime, no stress. He just wishes Sergeant Brunswick would stop insisting that perhaps not every criminal was wiped out that fateful day.
So it’s really rather annoying when an ambitious – not to mention irritating – new Constable shows up to work and starts investigating a series of burglaries. And it’s even more annoying when, after Constable Twitten is despatched to the theatre for the night, he sits next to a vicious theatre critic who is promptly shot dead part way through the opening night of a new play.
It seems Brighton may be in need of a police force after all…

This is the first in a new crime series and is a more light hearted take on a crime novel.  The reviews I have read say it has a great sense of humour, so looking forward to reading this one.

Finally, ‘The Dead Ex’ by Jane Corry: Vicki’s husband David once promised to love her in sickness and in health. But after a brutal attack left her suffering with epilepsy, he ran away with his mistress.  So when Vicki gets a call one day to say that he’s missing, her first thought is ‘good riddance’. But then the police find evidence suggesting that David is dead. And they think Vicki had something to do with it.

What really happened on the night of David’s disappearance?
And how can Vicki prove her innocence, when she’s not even sure of it herself?

This wouldn’t normally be the kind of book I would reach for, but it sounds interesting and I like the premise a lot.  This book is signed as well, which makes my inner book worm very happy!

Along with these three books, I also received some bookish goodies.  First of, an amazing chronicles 2print inspired by the famous Hercule Poirot, designed by Teddy from TeddyandGoo.  I already mentioned how much I love Agatha Christie, so this print is 100% going up on the wall of my office.  Next, we have a set of story teller pencils by UStudio design.  They feature such well used literary phrases as ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘It was a day just like any other.’  I really like these, and plan on using them to write with.  Hopefully they bring me some inspiration.  Next, we have a gorgeous pin brooch inspired by the ultimate detective Sherlock Holmes, designed by Bonita at Nabu online.  The brook features a tiny silver scarf, violin, spy glass and of chronicles 3course his trade mark pipe, and will be adorning my jacket shortly.  Finally, there is a ‘Discovery of Witches’ print, designed by Beth from Eyes of a Fangirl exclusively for My Chronicles Book Box.  This print is a teaser for a book box themed around the ‘A Discovery of Witches’ series by Deb Harkness, available to order soon.

All in all, a really great box, packed to the gills with crime fiction goodies.  I have to recommend to highly and plan on ordering myself one in the future.

Bejeweled: A Short Story & Artist Collaboration.

Bejeweled: A Short Story & Artist Collaboration.

Hello my lovely readers!  For today’s blog post, I have collaborated with another amazing artist on a short story.  For those of you unfamiliar with this project, I have been teaming up wit artists and photographers from all over the world.  I write a story or poem inspired by their artistic style and body of work and they in turn create a piece inspired by that story.  The idea is to inspire and be inspired in return and so far it has had some wonderful results.  For this collaboration, I have teamed up with the lovely Tula Posy, a book illustrator and crafter from Poland.  Tula creates the most beautiful and unique images, which she sells as prints in her shop, along with badass book marks (all my fellow book worms will understand the importance of a pretty book mark).  If you love her quirky art as much as I do, you can check out her Instagram here and her Etsy store here.  I hope you enjoy it, happy reading…

Tula 3

Bejeweled

Magic is real.  There are many books and stories which declare this already in existence, but I am now adding my voice to theirs in order to emphasise the fact: Magic IS real.  On the most part, it is something you are born into, something you inherit like an old clock from that Great Aunt you hardly visited, or your Grandad’s rare coin collection.  But, on the occasion, magic can be something you stumble upon blindly and without any warning.  Magic can simply enter your life and cause chaos, before leaving just as abruptly and mysteriously.  But before we get into all of that, let me introduce myself.  My name is Eleanor.

Tula 1Before this little incident, I was just your average teenager.  I was anti-social, a little moody, or perhaps a lot moody, and I pretty much hated everything.  My school was simply a red bricked prison for the illiterate hockey jocks that filled its corridors with incessant noise and inane chatter.  My home was a veritable battle ground, with me versus my parents in a verbal smack down on an almost daily basis.  They couldn’t understand why I was so irritable all the time, or why I wouldn’t try out for the cheerleading team.  I couldn’t understand how spelling letters with your arms could be considered anything but a huge waste of time.  It was, in a word, exhausting.

The truth was, I hadn’t withdrawn from everyone because I woke up one day and decided I disliked every other human being on the planet intently, it was because I had all of a sudden and without explanation become painfully aware of myself and my own body, and I was constantly terrified of embarrassing myself.  I suddenly gave a crap what everyone else thought about me, and I hated that about myself.  I hated ME. I decided, it was better to withdraw and surrender, than to battle forth and risk humiliation.  So, I did just that.  I withdrew and became invisible.  I discovered that disappearing was a hidden talent of mine. I was an expert at blending into the background.

But on one stuffy, June day, that all changed forever.  It was a day like any other to begin with.  Wake up. Brush teeth.  Change clothes.  Catch bus to school.  Avoid eye contact with the popular kids with their tanned skin and overly white, bleached smiles as I make my way to the back, well you get the idea.  At lunch, there was to be a sale of sorts, to raise funds for new Basketball team uniforms, or for some extra footballs, or something along those lines, I really wasn’t paying attention.  There would be baked goods of all varieties, made lovingly by the cheerleading team, or more accurately their house keepers.  There was to be some kind of skit by said cheerleaders, to be avoided at all costs, the band were playing something and they were selling off everything from the vast and cobwebbed store room.

You know how every house has that one drawer filled with old batteries, foreign currency and Chinese takeout menus?  Well, this was the High School equivalent.  Everything and anything that was located within its walls, which had no designated place to go, was shoved in here to be forgotten.  There were old instruments, damaged text books, chairs with missing limbs, and the lost property cupboard, filled with every discarded school jersey or dropped hair tie.  I didn’t know what I expected to find, or if I expected to find anything at all, but I found myself excited by the prospect of this sale.  It would be, in my view, an opportunity to see the school from a different vantage point.  After all, what says more about the person than the garbage they throw away? It was a time capsule or fifty years’ worth of teenager’s junk, and I wanted to have a hoke and see what forgotten treasure I could find.

I regretted my decision to attend almost immediately.  Everyone in the school had crammed themselves into the sports hall.  It was too warm, claustrophobically crowded and smelled badly of BO.  But, I was there, so I might as well do what I went there for.  I passed the cake stand and paid one dollar for a cup cake with a large dollop of pink icing.  It was sickly sweet and made my teeth hurt whilst I ate it, but it gave me the necessary sugar buzz to carry on with my mission.  When the skit started (some God-awful footballer/cheerleader/basketball player love triangle which made me vomit a little bit of undigested cupcake back into my mouth), most of the school moved to the end of the hall with the makeshift stage, so I finally felt able to breathe.

When I made my way to the sad little lost property stand, marked by a banner reading Tula 2‘Crap for sale’, something immediately caught my eye.  Just there, underneath a very faded school PE t-shirt with yellow stained arm pits, and a tattered copy of a Biology text book, I saw something green catch the light for a moment.  A diamond in the rough, the very rough. It was a necklace, but one unlike anything I had ever seen before.  It was a black chain, with a single green stone hanging from it.  The stone was not polished or shaped but looked as it must have looked when it was dug from the earth, and a thin black snake coiled around the stone and became the loop at the top in which the chain threaded through. As it caught the light, it reflected a small green blur onto the table below.   It wasn’t beautiful exactly, just unusual and a little rough around the edges.  I immediately took a liking to it and paid the requested five dollars without argument.

Now, as you have guessed from my opening lines, this necklace was no ordinary trinket.  I don’t know how it came to be in the lost property box, or where it came from.  I don’t know how old it is, who it belonged to or why the owner never sought it out once it was lost.  So, if you are looking for the answers to these questions then you will be sorely disappointed.  What I can tell you, is what the necklace does.

The first time I wore it, I was home alone with my Dad, a man older in mind than in body, who shouted at sports on TV and insisted on wearing socks with his sandals no matter how many times he was told how unfashionable this was.

“Elly?”

My Dad calls me Elly. It bugs the Hell out of me and is the cause of many a fight.

“What?”

“Could you take the garbage out please?”

“But Dad…”

“No buts missy.  If you want your allowance, you’ll take out the garbage.  And don’t forget to sort the recyclables.”

“Eugh fine.”

This is a typical example of our exchanges.  Blunt, brief and usually involving me doing something I don’t want to do.  I walked, or should I say stomped, my way down the stairs and out into the garage to do the needful when he spoke again.

“I’ve gained at least twenty pounds.”

“What?”

“What?”

“Did you say something?”

“No, I didn’t.  Don’t try and wriggle out of garbage duty Missy.”

He called me Missy when he was in a bad mood.  This also irritated me greatly.  I was halfway across the kitchen now, closing in on the door to the garage when…

“Twenty pounds at least.  I can barely get my pants closed.  I’ve tried everything, weight lifting, dieting, even running but nothing, nada.  You’re old and fat Carl.  Old and fat.”

I had never heard my Dad talk like this before.  He mostly talked about work, or whatever team in whatever sport was playing at that time, but I had never heard him talk about himself or his appearance.  He sounded sad.  I decided he must be talking to himself, the way we all do when we feel a little low, so I snuck into the living room and hid behind the arm chair so I could listen.

“Keep going like this and Jen won’t look twice at you anymore. She’s so beautiful, she’s always been beautiful.  She could have had any man, but she chose me and my fat ass.”

Jen is my mum, and she is indeed beautiful in that older woman kind of way.  She has always eaten well, always drank plenty of water and worn sun screen, and so she aged gracefully.  But no matter how pretty your mum might be, you don’t want to hear your Dad gushing about it.  Parents fancying each other is gross.  I was about to sneak off again, when I my breath caught in my chest and my heart skipped at least three beats, because suddenly I realised as my Father continued on about his appearance and his concerns about my Mum not fancying him anymore (eugh), I realised his mouth wasn’t moving.  I checked and rechecked again and confirmed it.  He was NOT speaking.  No words were being shouted, spoken, whispered or otherwise uttered. But that’s impossible I hear you say, because I could hear him speaking as plainly as I speak to you now, but dear readers it was true.  For what I was hearing was not my Dad talking to himself, but the very thoughts inside his head.  In five minutes of hearing my Dad ‘s mind whirling, I learned more about him than I had done in sixteen years of living with the man.  I learned that he had been privately going to the gym with a personal trainer, how he had traded his old musky aftershave for a new one he had seen advertised by a twenty something hipster on TV in an effort to appear younger, and how he was considering dying his hair to hide the ever-growing number of greys.

My Dad had always seemed happy enough in himself, but apparently, he worried about his appearance just as much as his self-conscious teenage daughter.  This made me feel a connection with him for the first time since I had stopped wanting to play catch with him at six years old.

The truth was, my Dad looked great for his age, and much as I loathed to admit it, my mum was still pretty into him.  I wanted him to know this, to feel better about himself.  So after my garbage run, and mild freak out in my bedroom over my new found ability to read minds, I did just that.

“Have you lost weight Dad?”

“What? Have I?”

“Yeah, definitely.  I would say at least ten pounds.  You look good.”

“Ok, what do you want?”

“I don’t want anything, I just noticed that’s all.”

“Yes!  That PT finally paid off!” 

For the rest of the day, he walked with a distinct spring in his step, and I even saw him grab my Mum’s butt.  Yes, it made me vomit in my own mouth, and yes I will be telling a therapist about it for years to come, but it was nice to see him feeling more confident in himself.

After my little episode with my Father, I couldn’t wait to try the necklace out at school.  As someone on the outside, someone who was not privy to the thoughts and motivations of the inner echelon of High school popularity, it was an intriguing prospect to in a way know them, and perhaps understand them.  I felt like Jane Goodall, readying myself to study the apes.  But in truth, what met me was such a cacophony of noise, a mass of bodiless voices all yelling at once, it was basically white noise.  As I ripped the jewel from my throat, I could understand why someone never claimed the charm.  It seems the necklace has no filter.  There was no remote, no way to point at the person you wanted to read and press click, it was simply an antenna, picking up every signal within a 100 metre radius.  It was deafening.

Taking a different tact, I began to seek out opportunities to study my peers in isolation, or at least with as few of them around as possible.  As you can imagine, that was more difficult that initially thought. We humans tend to be a social bunch, and the cliques within my school have long been established.  It was as if even the most popular amongst us sought the security of a group or crowd.  Even the loners and oddballs like me had our own little groups for support, misery after all does love company.  But after a week of trying unsuccessfully, and weirding several students out, I finally managed it.

It was a warm and humid Wednesday, and whilst most of the school poured out into the yard and playing fields, I sought the quiet of the library.  There were few people there, and I took the opportunity to put the necklace on, and walk amongst the stacks, studying the occupants of the room like the books on the shelves.  Much of what I overheard was relatively unremarkable.  The librarian, Mrs Cooper, a friendly faced elderly woman who smelled of soap and wore her gold rimmed glasses on a chain around her neck, was making a mental shopping list of what to purchase from the store after school.  Apart from hearing she suffers from haemorrhoids, I learned nothing there.  There was a boy called Ben, whose last name escapes me, from a year or two below me.  He was working out the math problem before him with a level of intensity reserved for nuclear physicists on the brink of fission.  There was Sarah Caplin, the mousey band girl who constantly ate her own hair, thinking about whether Joshua Elliot, the violinist to her double bass, fancied her as much as she fancied him (I made a mental note to try and find out) and finally Thomas Rodgers, a stoner and constant class disrupter, who seemed to be singing Nirvana in between debating whether he should ‘get the band back together.’  All in all, rather slim pickings and not the insights I had been hoping to discover.

Then he appeared. Matt Johnston, the school quarterback, boyfriend of the head cheerleader, most popular boy in school and all-round heart throb.  He wasn’t really my type, all brawn and no brains, but I could see his appeal with his strong jaw and dark eyes.  He reminds me of the members of those boybands, singing inane songs about falling in love and breaking up.  I was surprised to find him in there, he didn’t strike me as the bookish type, and frankly the fact that he knew where the library actually was made him stand out from his thick-headed peers.  He chose the farthest corner of the library, placing his books on the table in front of him and immediately clasped his head in his hands while he read, as if the written word instantly gave him a headache.  I put the necklace on and shuffled over to the stack nearest to him.  He didn’t even notice me, nothing new there then.

Come on, concentrate.  You can do this.  It’s just Maths for God’s sake.  Focus and keep your eye on the prize.”

 Eugh, even his mind thought in motivational sports expressions.  But then something changed, a noticeable shift.  He became upset.  The voice inside his own head changed, almost breaking, increasing in volume until it must have been bouncing and echoing around inside his own skull. Even outwardly, his body language shifted, from nonchalant coolness to awkward and sad.

“Why are you so stupid?  Why can’t you do the simplest things?  You fail this and you’re off the team.  No football, no college, no escae from this crappy town.  You’re worthless, worthless.”

 I had always looked at that group with a sort of cool headed detachment.  They were nothing like me.  They had everything handed to them, no effort required.  They were beautiful and popular and everyone loved them.  I was awkward in my own body and no one noticed me.  They were getting a free pass through life while the rest of us struggled on.  It had never occurred to me, not even once, that they would worry about the same things I did, like failing a class or not getting to leave and explore the world.  Well, what could I do?  I went over to him (unthinkable I know) and asked if he needed a study buddy.  I gave him some BS about struggling with that particular part of the curriculum (I actually rock at maths) and before you knew it we were chatting and laughing and getting along fine.  Then he surprised me.

“Why are you helping me?”

“Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, help each other.”

“But I’ve never even spoken to you before, my friends and I, well we, we…”

“You run in different circles?”

“I was going to say we’re dicks.”

“Oh, well, yeah I suppose you can be.”  I laughed at his honesty.

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“That’s ok.”

“How have I never noticed this girl before?  She’s so funny and smart and beautiful.”

Beautiful?  I nearly died right in front of him.  I never thought of myself that way and to hear someone who looked like he belonged in a Sports Illustrated say that about me, well think it at least, well I’m not ashamed to say it put one hell of a spring in my step.  After that, we would meet twice a week for study in the library and when we passed in the halls he would say hello, stop and chat with me. I hate that it took someone else to make me feel a little more confident in myself, because truthfully nothing changed.  I wore the same clothes, I had the same hair style, but I just stopped beating myself up as much.  I was a little more at ease with myself, not just because someone said I was beautiful, but because I realised I wasn’t the only one putting myself down all the time and more importantly I realised how stupid this mental self-harm was.  No one is a harsher critic about you than yourself. You are inherently biased.  You only see the bad and ignore the good.  I know now that we all do it.  Even the most beautiful people I know hate something about themselves, despite me and everyone else thinking their perfect. Why do it?  Why beat yourself up so much over things that don’t matter anyway? I know it’s easier said than done and I still find myself doing it sometimes but try to remember that happiness doesn’t come from a bottle of hair dye or a cosmetic store, it comes from within. Cheesy, but true.

Every section of the school, every student, from every walk of life, had something they hated about themselves, something they worried about and stressed over until they felt sick. There was the cheerleader I found crying in the bathroom, who genuinely believed all she had going for her was her looks, so instead of trying to expand or improve other areas like her intellect or skills, she focused entirely on retaining an impossible standard of beauty resulting in an eating disorder.  She is now in our study group.  There was the smartest kid in school, the one everyone just expected to go to Harvard and become some big shot lawyer, but whose parents put so much pressure on him to perform, he was driving himself into the ground.  He had no fun, no life, no friends, just his books and his exams.  We met for coffee last week and side note, I kind of like him, as in like like, but that’s another story.

I heard people fretting over their appearance, the fact that they couldn’t afford the latest clothes designated as cool by magazines and bloggers, the zits on their face or the weight they put on over the summer.  I heard them panic about exams and job prospects, even though they were just sixteen.  I heard them get upset about teachers who pushed them too hard and I heard the teachers worry about their car payments or letting their students down.  I realised in just a few short months, that every one, no matter how old they were or where they came from, was dealing with their own crap, their own issues and I realised what a difference I could make in people’s lives with the smallest and simplest of gestures.

Tula 4So, now I come to the moral of the tale, my reason for telling you this longwinded story, the message to take home with you.  Be kind. That’s it, just two words, but what an impact those two words can have on a person.  Everyone you see is fighting their own internal battle so, be kind to them.  Everyone feels lonely sometimes, so befriend them, or just say hi and let them know they aren’t alone.  Everyone falls down sometimes, so help them up.  This isn’t rocket science, it isn’t some magic formula or spell to cast, or complicated process, it’s as simple as helping them carry their groceries or giving them an old coat or blanket.  And when you are kind to people, you find they are kind in return and not just to you, but to others.  They pay it forward because they want someone else to experience what they have.  And the best part?  It makes you feel better about yourself.  You hold your heard up higher, you smile a little brighter, because you know that in some small way, you have made a difference in someone’s life. Confidence shouldn’t be entrenched in how thin you are, or whether a boy thinks you’re pretty, it should come from knowing you give a damn about others as much as you do yourself, in knowing that you are kind.

The necklace disappeared one day.  I know I had set it on my dressing table in the exact same spot I always did, but when I went to retrieve it, it was gone.  I never saw it again or worked out where or how it disappeared, but I had this feeling that it had done what it needed to do with me and had moved on to someone else.  I’m ok with that because I know now that kindness is the most powerful magic of all.

Collaborative Short Story: Onions and Fairy Folk.

Happy Hump Day everyone!  For this blog post, I have had the honour of collaborating with the incredibly talented Mark David Tari, aka FortFrolicArt on Instagram.  I came across his page on Instagram quite by chance, and was immediately drawn to his otherworldly images.  David is  a nineteen year old graphic design student from Hungary.  He has been painting and creating art since his childhood, and began editing a few years ago.  He gets a lot of inspiration from Fantasy tales, particularly The Lord of the Rings and the Bio shock series.  For this piece, I created a short story inspired by his style and body of work, and he in turn created an image inspired by my short story.  If you like his work as much as I do, head over and follow him on Instagram, and if you are an artist who would like to collaborate with me, get in touch.  In the meantime, happy reading…

Onions and Fairy Folk image

Onions and Fairy Folk

The world is like an onion, well that’s how I like to think of it anyway.  It’s built up of layers you see, layer after layer of lives and creatures and worlds within worlds…plus it stinks and it makes you cry, but that’s for another day.  Today, we discuss the layers.  I can see them all you see and move between them.  I was little when I first realised it, maybe four or five, and my mum asked me who I was talking to.  “Them.” I pointed to the space occupied by a small grey creature with two heads having an argument with itself over one of my toys. I wasn’t aware at such a young age, that Dimions, for that’s what the creature was, are in fact spoken about in the singular not plural, but I was only little, so my ignorance can be excused. “There’s no one there sweetie.” I was perplexed.  Of course, there was, I could see it with my own two eyes, a tiny human with grey skin and silver wings and it’s two heads, with three black, oval shaped eyes on each, which blinked one after the other rather than in unison.  “Them, the fairies.”  I remember the look on her face, a mixture of bemusement and concern.

 I didn’t know then, that you shouldn’t tell people what you see.  If you reveal the true nature of the world to people, even if you simplify it, say with an onion analogy, they still look at you like you’re bat shit crazy.  At first, I talked to them, I played with them, I befriended them.  There is the Allgones, small and lilac with large lavender coloured wings speckled with gold.  They steal socks to sleep in, and for some reason, only ever steal one from each pair, leaving mankind scratching their heads over a pile of odd socks.  There is the Briglotts, bright pink in colour with rows and rows of tiny sharp teeth and little sharp claws.  They look like the grand prize at some terrifying fairground attraction, but in reality, they’re harmless.  They mostly eat fish and live inside hollow trees.  Then there are the Tragoys, my personal favourites.  They are dark, forest green with wings like magpie feathers. They live underground, eat earth worms and make marvellous pets.  I have one called Trillock.  That’s not her real name of course, I can’t speak her language, but that’s what it sounds like when she sneezes.  Trillock sleeps in my bed and gives me warm, earth scented cuddles in exchange for a healthy supply of worms from the local bait shop.

 Trillock also has another important function…she’s my guard Tragoy.  Not all of the beings which coexist with us do so peacefully.  Some feed on the misery of human kind, and so they manipulate the world from their layer, unseen but definitely sensed.  The worst are the Dragnauts, small, black shadow like creatures who move and snake together like a murmation of starlings. Whenever one is around, they cause whichever humans are nearby, to feel sad and lost.  They emanate sorrow like a gas, and feed of our tears.  We’ve all been there haven’t we?  Those moments when we feel down for no reason at all, blaming it on hormones or drink, but it’s them.  They have a cousin, whose name I have never found out, so I call them the Ragers for that’s what they do.  They cause sporadic anger in those nearby, bringing hate and bile to the surface before gorging themselves on the rage which follows.  They look like flames, they feel like steam.

I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m nuts, cuckoo, insane in the membrane.  There’s no such thing as fairies.  They were made up as a bed time story, or a cautionary tale for children.  They are myth and legend and fiction all rolled into one.  But they’re very much real.  Children can see them and dogs and cats can see them.  They try to tell us, by pointing at nothing or barking at thin air, but we never listen.  We have a habit, us humans, of ignoring the odd and unusual, of pretending it doesn’t exist until it goes away.  I suppose, people are like onions too, layers of complicated emotions and psychological issues, it’s a wonder we’ve survived as long as we have.

 Regardless of whether you believe me or not, the fairy folk exist.  They live in one of the many layers of our onion world, and they affect us and our onion lives, whether you believe they do or not.  So next time you can’t work out why you have so many odd socks or you feel sad or angry for no reason at all, you can tell them you don’t believe they’re there, and see how far that gets you.