Broken Wings and Wall Clocks: A Collaborative Short Story.

Merry Christmas everyone!  We are nearing the big day, counting down until we get some time off work, battling our way through crowded shops and snow laden streets and sickening ourselves of mince pies!  This is my favourite time of year, because everyone is just that little bit more generous and thoughtful, and generally kinder.  Whilst this is a season for joy and happiness, it can also be a struggle for some.  I try to be open and honest about my mental health issues, having suffered from depression and anxiety for several years, and I know how stressful, and sometimes lonely this time of year can be as a result.  There is an overwhelming pressure to be happy, and that forced merriment can sometimes have the opposite effect.  If you are struggling with your own issues, I would encourage you to speak out and talk to someone…it genuinely helps.  With that in mind,  for tonight’s blog post, a collaborative short story and the next in my ‘Inspired’ series, I have written a story about my own experiences, inspired by a painting by the very talented artist Lyle Schultz.

Lyle is an artist based in Canada, and a man of many talents.  As well as creating incredible mixed media works of art, which you can find here, he is also a writer, you can check out his writing here, and even a fashion designer, check out his clothing here!  How to describe his work?  I will use the artist’s own words, because he is infinitely more qualified than myself and also has a far more extensive vocabulary:

My paintings are a maelstrom of images and scratches, furious and open, the pictures a window into a mind that is furiously working, a plethora of cartoon madness and pop art motifs running rampant in vibrant colours and bold mark making.  This is a life laid bare, the expression of an artist living to a rhythm of his own making, a riff that sucks in everything contemporary culture throws its way; film, comics, advertising, graffiti, and reinventing it, re-appropriating it, creating a new pictorial language that echoes the work of De Kooning, Basquiat and Grosz, all artists who railed against the status quo, took the outsider in, never moved an inch, fought for their space and demanded to be heard.

My paintings reflect a modern world in which visual saturation is at breaking point, my work is a distillation of the tsunami of images that hurtle through our screens, from the pages of magazines. Everything is here, everything is for sale, our lives imprisoned in a gonzoland of farce and materiality, it is a place that I frenetically describe over and over again, each mark a wake up call, a realisation, an indictment, an attempt to strip away the artifice and indulge in a little bit of magic.

I couldn’t have put it better myself (I genuinely couldn’t).  I was immediately drawn to his vibrant and edgy pieces, and was honoured when he agreed to collaborate with me.  I chose one of his many paintings, which trust me was not easy, and created the story below based on it.  The image inspired me to look inwards at my own struggles and chaotic mind, and to write a story filled with issues and problems, but also hope.  And on that note, I sincerely hope you like it!

Broken wings and wall clocks.

lyleThere are two wall clocks in this office, one directly facing me, and one behind my head. Time is inescapable here, and the ticking away of every passing second, is in surround sound. Sometimes, when I’m not in the mood to discuss my feelings, I stare hard at the little black hand, making it’s way around the clock’s face, willing it to go faster. It never does. In fact, time slows down within these walls, every second dragging and limping by.

“Laura?”

Oh shit, she’s looking at me. Did she ask a question? I suddenly wish I could read minds.

“Yes?”

“How does that sound to you?”

“It sounds, fine, yes. Fine.”

I have no idea if this is the correct response, but I figure I’ve got a fifty fifty shot of getting it right, so it’s worth a punt.

“Excellent. I’ll get those printed off for you then.”

Result! Just another one of Doctor Ferguson’s little exercises, designed to make me change my ‘thought patterns’. I fucking hate the exercises. How can a person change the very way they think? Our thoughts, are as much a part of us as our limbs. I think therefore I am.

The Doctor gets up off the threadbare seat, and leaves the office to locate the printer. I relish these little moments alone, with no questions or analysis. There is a faded poster hanging above the filing cabinet, a ginger cat, hanging from a branch and the words ‘Hang on in there.’ written in bright yellow lettering. I don’t find this particularly motivating, in fact, it pisses me off. If you see a cat in distress, dangling from a tree branch, you go and help it, not take a picture. Dumb fucking poster. The door opens again, before slamming shut of it’s own accord. It is designed to do this, to prevent the spread of fire, but it always gave the impression of being sentient, or perhaps controlled by an invisible presence.

“Here we go.”

Dr Ferguson always falls into her chair, rather than sitting in it. It’s a low piece of furniture, and she is a fairly heavy woman. She always dresses the same, wearing some hideous pastel coloured

cardigan, despite the broken radiators in here producing sauna like temperatures. There’s the same cameo brooch and pearls, as if she is dressed up as a therapist for halloween. The worst part is her lipstick, always the same garish pink, and always smeared on her teeth. Doesn’t she own a mirror?Maybe it’s some kind of test, to see if I’ll notice, to see if I’ll say something. I won’t. After shuffling the papers, she hands them to me, pointing at the boxes marked with the days of the week.

“Just fill in what you do each day under the appropriate heading. Try to include everything, but no need to go into minute detail. I don’t need to know your toilet habits for example.”

She laughs at this. She often laughs at her own jokes. I don’t laugh, mainly because they’re never particularly funny. Sometimes, as in now, I smirk in return, out of pity rather than actual amusement.

“Wait until you see just how much you get up to each day. I am willing to bet you accomplish far more than you give yourself credit for.”

I don’t.

“Even getting dressed and washed is an accomplishment in your circumstances, so think of it like one.”

She always called it that, my ‘circumstances.’ I suppose it sounds better than calling me mental, crazy, broken.

“Will do.”

“Excellent, well that’s the end of the session today. Do you feel like you benefitted from it?”

“Yes, of course.”

I don’t.

“Excellent. Well, then I’ll see you same time next week.”

She walks me to the front doors and buzzes me out. You aren’t allowed to walk about this place unattended. I often wonder what happened to create the necessity for that rule. The building was beautiful once, all red brick and stone roses, but it has been painted and repainted so many times

over the years, that it gives the impression of having some kind of disease, the flakes of paint flaking off like scabs, exposing the red brick flesh beneath. It looks sicker than the patients within.

I start walking, pulling my jacket tighter in a feeble attempt to keep out the cold. The hospital was built long before the need for car parking spaces, and so I was forced to abandon my car a few streets away on a single yellow line. I’ve been over an hour now. I hope I don’t get a ticket. I wonder what the place looked like a century ago, and what those Doctors and nurses would think if they saw it now. I often let my mind wonder this way. It’s easier to think about pointless nonsense than think about the ever increasing anxiety at the thought of a parking ticket, or the many other possible scenarios which regularly clog up my mind. The Doctor says I focus so much on the ‘what ifs’ that I miss out on the here and now. No shit.

I pass two men wearing hard hats and high vis vests, sipping from steaming paper cups. They stop talking, watching me pass. Do they know? I can feel their eyes on the back of my head, boring holes deep and inescapable. I hate that feeling of judgment, the idea of people sizing you up and deciding you have come up short. Dr Ferguson told me, ‘No one is thinking that about you. They have their own battles to fight.’ I think that’s bullshit. Everyone judges everyone else, all the time. Hell, I’m guilty of it often enough. No, it’s easier to retreat and withdraw, than risk rejection.

It starts raining. The entire colour of the sky seems to change in an instant to a dark and foreboding grey, casting a dull filter over everything. Bloody Irish weather! There’s a large oak tree nearby, and I make a b-line for it, taking shelter under its thick canopy. I hate the feeling of water hitting my face; it makes me shudder. I won’t even let it land there in the shower, choosing instead to bend and twist at odd angles while washing in order to avoid it. I try to think of things like this as personality quirks or cute little foibles, but they aren’t. They are dumb and annoying, and they make everything harder. Sometimes I feel like my own mind is against me.

Huddled against the trunk, I hear a faint noise, a kind of chirping, nearby. I look around, and near the tree, under a bush, I find a small bird. It’s brown and mottled, with little flecks of green throughout. Is it a greenfinch? I’m no ornithologist. It’s looking right at me, still chirping, flapping just one wing in a panicked motion, causing it to bob and thrash but not actually go anywhere. It’s other wing stays against it’s little body, and it’s breathing heavily. It must have hurt it’s wing poor thing. I step towards it and it flinches, backing away.

“It’s ok sweety, I won’t hurt you. I just want to help.”

What am I doing? I’m talking to a bird, as if it can possibly understand what I say. All it knows is that it’s small, and I’m big, and I could kill it easily if I were so inclined. It’s a familiar feeling to me, that overwhelming helplessness. I’m not sure what to do. If I leave it here, it would inevitably be killed by a cat, but if I take it home what exactly can I do for it? I’m not a vet. I have no idea what to do with an injured bird. Shit…I’ll have to leave it.

“Sorry.”

Now I’m apologising to it. If Dr Ferguson could see me now, she would probably have me committed. The rain has become a slight drizzle now. I should make a dash for it before it picks up again. When I was little, I thought rain was God draining his bath water. Mental illness aside, I have always been a bit odd. I get three or four feet before I stop. I can just make out the little cheep cheep of the bird now, and the sound causes me physical pain; that familiar stabbing pang of guilt. I can’t leave it, I’m a vegetarian for God’s sake.

It’s further inside the bush now. I have to get down on my hands and knees to reach it. It takes me four attempts, but I manage to catch it with my leather jacket. I’m now mucky and dishevelled. I look like I’ve escaped from the hospital. This is quickly becoming one of those days.

I don’t know how to hold it. I need to hold it tight enough to keep it trapped within the fabric, but I’m afraid if I squeeze too hard, I’ll kill a bird and ruin my favourite jacket in one go. It’s getting colder. Without my jacket, goose pimples appear all over my outstretched arms, little droplets of rain clinging to the hairs like spider webs. I begin to do a half walk half run towards the car, but stop when I realise how ridiculous I must look.

When I finally reach my car, I realise my keys are inside my jacket pocket. Great! I just about fish them out, almost dropping the bird, and climb inside. I don’t have a bird cage or cardboard box handy, but I do have an extensive collection of rubbish lying about, including a brown paper bag from yesterdays sandwich. Better than nothing. I keep meaning to clean my car, but it inevitably gets put off; too much self pitying to do. There’s bird shit on my jacket and I know the little bugger did it deliberately. I’m beginning to think Hitchcock was right.

I start her up, and edge my way out of the space. Thank God it’s not too busy. Heavy traffic gives me anxiety. In fact, most things give me anxiety, that’s who I am now: Miss Anxiety. Some kind of

mental illness pageant winner. Heaters turned full blast, I flick through the radio channels until I find one playing music. I hate radio DJs; they talk so much shit and expect people to jump through hoops for the privilege of a mug and pen. No thanks. I like music, especially something I can sing along to. It offers temporary relief from my thoughts. Intrusive thoughts, that’s what Dr Ferguson calls them. Involuntary thoughts which are often unpleasant and are always difficult to eliminate. I call them Dick head thoughts, because thinking them makes me feel like a dick. If people could hear what was going on up there, what insignificant, meaningless thing I was panicking about today, they would try to avoid eye contact and walk very quickly in the opposite direction.

We are on the carriageway now. I keep looking over at the bag, I’m not sure why, it’s hardly going to fly off. But I need to know it’s still there, still safe. I do this with people sometimes too, reaching out to my boyfriend in the darkness, checking that he hasn’t left me. There is a small fear, ever present at the back of my mind, that everyone will some day realise what I already know about myself; that I’m worthless.

It takes longer to get home than usual. Despite Northern Ireland being perpetually damp, every driver seems terrified of a little rain water on the road, and slows down to the speed of molasses. I get road rage, yelling obscenities at people who can neither see nor hear me. It makes me feel better; regular, small releases of pressure are better than one sudden explosion. By the time I get home, it’s beginning to get dark.

I carry in the bag and carefully place it on the kitchen counter. What now? I didn’t think this far ahead. A quick google search brings up various unhelpful pages, plus the number for the USPCA. I don’t understand how people survived without google. I read once, that we are losing our ability to retain information, because it is so conveniently located at all times, in our pockets. I am guilty of this. I have a memory like a sieve and without my phone telling me where to go and when, how to get there and what groceries I need to get, I dread to think where I would be. Lost and hungry I assume.

“Hello USPCA, my name is Jack. How can I help you?”

“Um, hi, yes, I’ve found an injured bird and I was just wanting some advice on what to do.”

“What kind of bird?”

“What?”

“What kind of bird is it?”

“I dunno, a small one.”

“Well, what does it look like?”

“It’s small with a kind of browny, greyey greeny coloured body and a little fat beak.”

“Hmm that doesn’t really narrow it down does it?”

He sort of scoffs at this, as if he is being incredibly witty. I’m losing my patience.

“Does it matter? I just want to know what to do. Surely the advice is the same whether I have a blue tit or a bald eagle?”

“Well bald eagles are native to America.”

Seriously? Could this man be anymore of a pleb? I don’t suffer fools gladly. I’m not overly fussed on people in general, but I am particularly averse to condescending jerks. I don’t want to say something I might regret, and I still need the information.

“It’s hurt it’s wing. I’ve managed to catch it, but I’m not sure what I should do now.”

“Oh dear, well more often than not, being caught by a person or animal actually kills the bird. Shock you see. You should have left it, and just observed it.”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

“Well I didn’t provide remote observation, I caught it. What do I do now?”

“Place it somewhere outside, where it can leave if it wishes, but where it is also safe from cats. If it is fit, it will fly off of it’s own accord. If not, take it to your local vet. There isn’t much you can do with wild birds if their wing is damaged, so it would probably be euthanised.”

“Well that hardly seems fair, can’t they splint it or something?”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that for birds.”

He scoffs again and I immediately hang up. Smug bastard. I stand a moment, staring at the bag, still unsure what to do exactly. Could I have killed it with good intentions? I peer inside. It’s moving, but it looks scared. I feel like shit.

Without anything else to go on, I take the bag outside to the garden, along with a shoe box, in which I place a few pairs of socks in lieu of saw dust or straw, and a bottle top filled with water, and I place the bird inside it. I leave the lid off, so it can fly off if it wants to, if it can. Then, I sit down beside it, keeping guard. I can’t leave it. I’ve basically boxed up a packed lunch for one of the

neighbourhood cats. At least the rain has stopped.

We sit watching each other, sizing each other up. I wonder what it thinks I am? A predator? A friend? I don’t want it to be frightened. If it does die, I want it to die knowing some kind of kindness. I lean in and gently stroke it’s feathers, “Shhhh, it’s ok. You’re ok. It will be fine.” I speak softly, like a mother reassuring a crying child. I hear words coming out of my mouth that have been said to me so many times over the years; words I never believed. “It’s ok, you’ll be fine.” I suppose that’s just what you say to someone when they’re sick or upset, even if you don’t necessarily think it’s true. It’s kind.

It closes it’s eyes, and it’s breathing steadies. I watch it sleep. I know it’s just a bird, it’s not even my bird, but I genuinely feel upset at the thought of it dying. Sometimes, I imagine things which are unrelated, are signs or signals from the universe. Dr Ferguson calls it ‘magical thinking’, like those people who think if they don’t flick the light switch on and off fifteen times before they leave the house, their family will die. I think, everything is a sign that I’m a failure, that things will always be this way, and they’ll never get better. I want the bird to get better. I want to get better.

I hear my mobile phone ring inside the house. It will be fine for a minute. ‘Mum’ flashes on the screen. I take a deep breath.

“Hey mum.”

“Did you go to the Doctor today?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“Are you feeling better?”

I wish it was that easy. I’m the only person in our extended family who has suffered from mental health issues. My mum is used to applying plasters and administering medicine. She doesn’t understand how long this process could take to work, if it works at all.

“I feel the same, but it was only my third session. You have to give these things time.”

“Are you taking your tablets? You know what your memory is like.”

“Yes mum.”

I’ve lived away from home for years, but she still treats me like a child, checking I have clean clothes and I’m eating right. I hate it and crave it at the same time; it’s comforting to know a safety net exists. As I listen to her unsolicited advice, I see movement from the box outside. A small flutter at first, before the bird manages to jump out of the box. I watch it try out it’s wings, moving them back and forth, hovering a foot into the air before coming back down, then two feet, then onto the glass table. I can’t hear my mum now. I hold my breathe, and stand as still as a statue, terrified I’ll spook it and ruin it’s recovery. After a minute or two, it simply flies away. I run outside, but it’s already gone, a black dot in the sky.

“…but you know that right?”

“What’s that mum?”

“You know you can get through this? You’re going to be alright.”

I smile, “Yeah, I’ll be alright.”

My Once Upon A Book Box Has Arrived!

book box

Hello readers!  It’s almost the weekend, which is awesome enough, but today I got the best book mail ever!  Not only is it the first book box I have ever received, it is the ‘Once Upon a Book Box’, which has the most amazing concept.  If you are unfamiliar with this amazing company, it works like this…not only do you get a fabulous new book, hand picked by the Once Upon team, but you get a selection of gifts, all individually and uniquely wrapped, with a page number on them.  When you reach the page number in question, you open your gift.  Each gift is tailored to the book, and to that specific point in the book, so it creates a completely immersive experience.  Great idea right?

Plus it gets better…the book is a spooky read, perfect for Halloween!  The book in question is, ‘The End of Temperance Dare’ by Wendy Webb.  What’s it about I hear you say?

When Eleanor Harper becomes the director of a renowned artists’ retreat, she knows nothing of Cliffside Manor’s dark past as a tuberculosis sanatorium, a “waiting room for death.” After years of covering murder and violence as a crime reporter, Eleanor hopes that being around artists and writers in this new job will be a peaceful retreat for her as much as for them.
But from her first fog-filled moments on the manor’s grounds, Eleanor is seized by a sense of impending doom and realizes there’s more to the institution than its reputation of being a haven for creativity. After the arrival of the new fellows–including the intriguing, handsome photographer Richard Banks–she begins to suspect that her predecessor chose the group with a dangerous purpose in mind. As the chilling mysteries of Cliffside Manor unravel and the eerie sins of the past are exposed, Eleanor must fight to save the fellows–and herself–from sinister forces.

I cannot wait to get stuck in!  If you fancy giving this amazing book box ago, you can get 10% off by using my exclusive discount code MARIE10.  To celebrate getting to rep for this awesome company, I have written a story inspired by the box itself, which will be released in two parts over the coming weeks!  It’s my take on a traditional fairy tale, in which a mysterious box transports our young heroine to a strange and dangerous land, where she must face challenges armed only with the gifts inside the box, and her own strength!  Follow me on Instagram, to see each gift being unveiled, and check back here in a few weeks to get a full review of the book, as well as the Once Upon a Book Club Box itself.

In the mean time, have a great weekend!

The Walking Dead: The Official Cookbook and Survival Guide review.

wd2

Happy almost Halloween readers!  I love this time of year…pumpkin carving, trick or treating and all things horror!!  And in the spirit of that, tonights blog post is a review of ‘The Walking Dead: the Official Cookbook and Survival Guide.’  That’s right…the people over at AMC and cooking writer extraordinaire Lauren Wilson, have collaborated to bring you the ultimate guide on how to survive a plague of Walkers, along with some recipes to prepare for your fellow survivors!  This book has it all, a how to guide on hunting, fishing and gathering, what essentials you need to keep handy in the event of a zombie apocalypse (or any apocalypse for that matter) and of course recipes inspired by the show and its characters.  But how do those recipes taste?  After all, if it’s the end of the modern world, you need to find home comforts when you can, right?  I decided to try one out for myself and give my official verdict.

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To me, Halloween is synonymous with apple pie.  Every year since I can remember, my mum would make an apple pie, and place coins inside for us to find.  So, when I found the recipe for ‘Maggie’s formless apple pies’ I knew I needed to try them.  The recipe is inspired by season 7, episode ‘Hearts still beating’ when a pregnant Maggie was presented an apple pie by the people of Hilltop as a thank you.  To make it even more apocalypse friendly, this recipe is for ‘forkless’ apple pies, so you can eat them without a fork, say while running from a pack of hungry Walkers.

wd4I am not the most skilled baker in the world; that being said, I found the step by step instructions easy to follow.  In line with the theme of the book, the list of ingredients for this recipe doesn’t involve anything exotic or rare, just things you probably already have knocking about in your cupboards.  I also appreciated that the recipe was done in an almost ‘real time’ way, i.e. as opposed to simply telling you what you needed to mix and how long to cook it for, it told you when to begin each stage, and in what order, to help save on time.

wd5

Once cooked, I taste tested them myself, along with my hubby and our little girl, and it was yummy noises all round…a unanimous ten out of ten and a resounding success (even if I do say so myself).  I don’t normally add any spices to my apple pie (that may shock some people, but I am following my Grandmother’s recipe) but I loved the taste of these, and think the addition of the various spices really added to the moreishness of the flavours.  Overall, I can’t fault it!  It was an easy to read, easy to complete recipe with clear instructions and most importantly, it tasted delicious!  Having a flick through it, there are definitely a bunch more recipes I want to try, and having read the survival guide chapters, I am now tempted to start hoarding bottled water and create my own bug out bag…because you never know, right?  Especially the way the world is going these days!

If you are a fan of the show, then you simply need to own this.  It is the ultimate piece of wd6fan merchandise, and would make a fantastic Christmas present or stocking filler.  It is chock full of recipes, both sweet and savoury, like ‘Dixon’s deer stew,’ ‘Foraged berry cobbler’ and ‘Carl’s biscuits’ and even includes a moonshine and cocktail chapter at the back (because in the event of the dead rising up and trying to eat our flesh, I am pretty sure we would all need a drink).

The Bridge: A short story.

Hey everyone, I hope you had a lovely weekend!  For the latest edition of Inspired, my series of collaborative short stories, I have collaborated with the incredibly talented John Watson.  John is a print maker from Edinburgh, Scotland, who uses linocuts and wood engravings to make his stunning, one of a kind images.  If you love his work as much as me, you can check out more on his website or Instagram.

Because he is from just across the water in Scotland, I was inspired to create a story featuring the Giant’s Causeway.  For those of you unfamiliar with Northern Ireland, The Giant’s Causeway is a world heritage sight in Antrim, made up of a collection of hexagonal rocks created by a volcanic eruption 50 to 60 million years ago.  It’s a beautiful natural wonder, steeped in legend.  According to the legend, the causeway was a road built by a giant called Fionn Mac Cumhaill (pronounced Finn McCool), creating a bridge across the North Channel, between Northern Ireland and Scotland in order to allow him to fight a Scottish giant called Benandonner.  It is said, that when Fionn realised his foe was much larger than him, he hid from him, disguising himself as his own baby.  When Benandonner sees how large Fionn’s baby is, he flees back to Scotland and destroys the Causeway so Fionn can not follow.  I hope you enjoy my spin on such a well loved story…happy reading.

The Bridge

In Northern Ireland there is a legend; the legend of the Giant’s Causeway. It is said, that these geometric rocks used to cross the Sruth na Maoile all the way to Scotland, creating a bridge between the two Gaelic lands. The story goes, that the causeway was built by giants, but really, a volcano created them, millions of years ago, long before either shore was claimed by man. Beth sat on one of the rocks now, tracing the hexagonal edges with her finger. She wished the bridge did exist, and she could simply walk off the land’s edge, away from this place, away from her life. But her body betrayed her dreams, and she remained stuck, stranded, alone.

She was allergic to almost everything. Some things brought her out in rashes or made her sneeze, others hospitalised her, or almost killed her. Ordinary household items were like weapons against her, and she lived in constant fear. Growing up, to prevent her becoming sick, her Mother would clean obsessively, washing every surface with bleach until her hands were raw. She could smell it on her clothes even now. She felt caged, by her body, and by her mind.

It was beginning to rain, tiny droplets forming all over the surface of her coat. She stared out at the water. She wondered if there was another girl, sitting on the same rocks, on the other side. Perhaps she wished to come here, escape Scotland and her own troubles. Maybe they could swap places, this girl and her.

“Beth.”

It was her Mother calling from the pathway. She pretended not to hear, continuing to stare out at the water.

“Beth. Beth are you deaf?”

She sighed, before pushing herself off the cold rock. She stood a moment, a foot in a separate hexagon, and marvelled at how nature could create such perfect shapes, like the honeycomb in a bee hive or the smooth curve of a bird’s egg. She read once, that bees made their perfectly formed honeycombs in the shape of hexagons because that was the most compact and efficient shape, and used the least resources to build. She liked the idea of a bunch of bee scientists and mathematicians getting together and experimenting with different shapes, trying to work out which was best.

“Beth, for God’s sake, hurry up.”

Her Mother sounded shrill now. She began to walk towards her, watching her step as she went. It would be a long car journey home, and she didn’t feel like listening to her Mother ranting. They walked in silence up to the tourist centre, where her Mother would browse the pointless knick knacks in the gift shop and inevitably buy something pointless. She loved her very much, but sometimes she wished she could have a holiday from her and her good intentions. Her Mother was determined to take care of her, and often her version of ‘taking care’ was tantamount to suffocation.

Her mother browsed while she read the exhibits about how the causeway was formed. It seemed bizarre to her, that something could have been there for so long. Humans had such a finite amount of time on earth, and her time could well be shorter than most if she were to come into contact with the wrong thing. These perfectly formed shapes had been here for 60 million years. They had seen animals now long extinct, and would be around to watch humans meet that same fate.

“Shall we?”

Her Mother stood beside her, gift bag in hand.

“Got myself a lovely wooden spoon and tea towel set. It will be a nice reminder of our day.”

She wondered why her Mother wanted to think about rocks while she cooked, but thought better of asking. The car was stuffy, and the air conditioning smelled musty as it blew tepid air into her face. Generic pop music filled the car from the radio, disguising the sound of the engine. After a few miles, she felt her head bobbing, and her eyelids becoming heavy. She could hear her Mother singing along to the music as she drifted away.

the bridge 3There was fog, all around her, so thick she could see nothing beyond her own nose. It felt cold on her skin, her hairs rising up, it almost muffled sound. She felt like she was under water. Her coat and shoes were gone, and she was wearing a simple silver dress, knee length, with straps. Her bare feet rested on the cold hexagonal rock, worn almost smooth by the elements and it’s many visitors. She was afraid to step forward or backwards, unsure where on the causeway she now stood, nor which direction she now faced. One wrong step and she could fall, breaking her bones, opening her skin like a ripe orange, or perhaps she could fall into the cold waters and drown. So, she just stood there, entombed in the mist, praying it would clear.

Time passed, but the fog remained. She yelled out, but no answer came. She began to feel panic rising. It was then she realised she was not alone. A figure stood beside her, taller than any man she had ever seen, in fact he was so tall, she could not see his head through the thick fog. The feet beside her were so big, instead of shoes, they wore rowing boats secured with rope. She was surprised to find that she was not afraid. It sat down with a thump, the very rocks shaking under it’s weight. She could now see his face, staring down on her, smiling. He had pale green eyes, and long hair tied back into a pony tail. He was surprisingly handsome for someone so huge. When picturing giants, she had always imagined them as grotesque, something to fear, inhuman, but he simply looked like an ordinary man who had been enlarged.

“Hello there.”

His voice was booming, but friendly, and had an almost melodic quality to it.

“Hello.”

“What’s your name?”

“Beth, what’s yours?”

“I’m Fionn.”The bridge 1

“Are you the Fionn from the story?”

“That I am. That I am.”

“Is it true then? Did you really dress up as a baby to avoid a fight with another giant?”

“I did, outsmarted him. Sometimes you have to fight, stand your ground, but the rest of the time, you have to use your head; live to fight another day.”

“That’s good advice.”

“Thanks. Why are you here all by yourself?”

“I don’t know, I just sort of found myself here. I had been visiting, and I wanted to stay. Perhaps that’s why I came back.”

“Perhaps. Why would you want to stay here? It’s fearsome cold.”

“I don’t want to go home. I’m sick of it there. I hardly ever get to go out, because there are things which make me sick. I want to leave.”

“That’s not right. You can’t stay hiding all the time.”

“But I might get sick.”

“And you might get struck by lightening. No point dwelling on the what mights and what ifs.”

“But…”

“No buts neither. Like I said, sometimes you have to fight. No point living another day, if you never live at all is there?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“So…live.”

He reached down to her, something contained within his massive fist. She held both her hands together, forming a kind of bowl, fearing it would be something huge, but it was simply a thistle flower, the purple petals providing the only colour in their foggy blanket.

the bridge 2“It’s to remind you. Thistles, are fragile things really, just a plant which can be picked or chopped or eaten, but it protects itself, see? It doesn’t stop growing, afraid of these things, it just grows. It even finds ways to grow in the barren places, where other plants are too weak to survive. And if it does fail, and wither, it just grows somewhere else. You got to be like it.”

“Thank you. It’s lovely.”

“You’re welcome Beth. Better be getting back now, can’t be staying here too long, it’s no place for your kind. Swallows you after a while.”

“I don’t know how.”

“Yes you do, you just wake up.”

Beth awoke, slouched awkwardly in the car seat, her neck stiff from the position she had been in. She looked at the moving landscape around the car, and realised they were almost home, she had slept most of the way.

“Hey there sleepy head. Thought you’d never wake up. Been out cold for well over an hour. Are you feeling ok? Should we ring the GP maybe?”

“I’m fine Mum, just tired.”

“Well, let me know if you start to feel ill won’t you. You know we have to catch these things early.”

“I know Mum.”

They pulled into their driveway, her Mother continuing to tell her all the symptoms she needed to look out for, as if she was unaware of her own body. She went to get her phone from her pocket, and felt something stab her finger. She smiled, as she pulled out a thistle flower, purple and lovely.

“Oh God Beth, why would you pick that? It’s a weed and it’s probably covered in all sorts of germs and pesticides. Give it here, I’ll chuck it out.”

“No.”

She turned away from her, protecting the flower within her cupped hands.

“But Beth, it’s a weed.”

“No it’s not. It’s a fighter, like me.”

 

The Creatures of the in betweens: A Short story.

For the eleventh instalment of the Inspired series, I have collaborated with the supremely talented Ricky Romero.  Ricky lives in California, and has an amazing ability to combine the cute with the creepy!  He is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for the awesome ‘Awful Words’, a dictionary of sorts, containing the definitions of some aweful words, and lots of Ricky’s amazing illustrations.  I have already made a pledge, and if you would like to as well, head over to  Kickstarter. You can also check out more of his work, at his Instagram.  If you are an artist and you would like to collaborate, get in touch, and happy Reading!

in between image

The creatures of the in betweens

They live in the in betweens, the halves, the almosts, these creatures of tricks and pranks, these makers of mischief. They live in shadow, in between the light and the dark, and watch their victim’s, patiently waiting for the perfect opportunity. Perhaps, they will strike as you pass through a doorway, the divide between one room and the next, and make you stub your toe, or drop your cup of tea. Maybe, they will see your hand bag, sitting in the shadows, and remove your car keys so they can watch you huff and puff as you scramble around your house, tearing up furniture to find them, only to place them exactly where they had been, causing you to doubt your own sanity. On the most part, they are harmless. They move objects, trip and nip, spill and break, and drive your pets mad. But, every blood moon, they become suddenly thirsty for more than misbehaviour for their own amusement. They have a blood lust of sorts, a need to hunt and kill, to suppress a sudden urge for violence and evil. It’s as if they are possessed by the night sky, and it is then that children go missing.

They hunt at midnight, the moment between one day and the next, an entire minute of in between in which they can quench their thirst for blood. They will choose a small child, no older than four, and steal him away right from under their parent’s noses, quiet as a door mouse. Sometimes, the children go willingly, believing the creatures to be the fairies from their bed time stories. Either way, they are never seen of heard of again, only a gaping hole left behind in a parent’s heart and a room of toys without an owner.

The only reason I know this, is because they came for me once, long ago. I awoke to the sound of laughter, small and distant, but growing closer and more menacing. I did as all children do, and hid beneath my blankets, as I saw the shadows move and objects fall from shelves. I wanted to scream, to cry out, but something stopped me. Perhaps, I myself doubted my own senses, or perhaps they could do something, some magic to paralyse you with fear. So, I sat there shivering beneath my cover, weeping silently, as the midnight hour, and the creatures, grew ever closer. I was so young, perhaps only three years old, but even then I knew that these things wished me harm. I would have died that night if it hadn’t been for Bernie, our German Shepherd.

They were so close to me at that point, and I could make them out in the increasing shadows, their huge black, shiny eyes staring at me, reflecting the light like wet stone, and the rows and rows of tiny sharp teeth. They were no bigger than an action figure, but there was so so many of them. I could see them everywhere, and I knew I was surrounded. One reached it’s little clawed hand towards me as midnight approached, a forked tongue darting around, tasting my scent. It was at that moment Bernie began to bark and thump against my door, with such force and such violence, that my mother got up to scold him. When I heard her, my senses returned and I began to scream. It must have sounded like a wail of genuine pain and fear, for my mother practically broke the door in to comfort me. When the light was switched on, they were gone, all of them.

I told my mother, as best as I could in my childish way, about the tiny monsters and their evil intent, and she dismissed them as the manifestation of an active imagination, or the result of too much television. She comforted me, and let me sleep with them that evening and for several evenings subsequent. A night light was purchased as bribery, the only means to get me back into my own bed. After days passed without incident, even I began to wonder if it had in fact been a nightmare. But when I saw the tiny claw marks, scratched into my bed post, and heard of the disappearance of my neighbour’s Jack Russell, I knew it was real.

You may not believe me of course, you may dismiss it as childish fantasy or perhaps you think me the type to make merriment from causing fear in others, but I leave you with one last warning. Tonight is the blood moon my friend. Beware the in betweens. Beware the midnight hour.

Bloodstained Silk: A short story.

In this, the tenth instalment of my series ‘Inspired’, I have had the privilege of collaborating once more with the incredibly talented Lelya Borisenko.  For those of you following the series, I have previously collaborated with Lelya on ‘It’s just a Story.’  Head back to my blog post on April 30th if you would like to see it.

Lelya was born in Ukraine, but now resides in Russia.  She studied academical painting, easel graphics, etching and engraving at the Kharkov State Academy of Design and Fine Arts, and her work has been exhibited all over Europe.  If you love her work as much as I do, you can see more at her website or her Instagram.

Once again, I wrote a shorty story, which I sent to Lelya, who in turn created this stunning image inspired by the story.  Thank you Lelya, for bringing my work to life so perfectly!

blood stained silk pic 1

Blood stained silk

The joint was beginning to fill up now, the sound of laughter and chatter building along with the cloud of cigarette smoke which hung heavy in the air. I stared at the bottom of my now empty glass, the ice cubes inside melting in the heat of my hand. She was late.

“Can I get you another?”

I look up to see one of the waitresses, a leggy blonde with wide eyes and a tight black uniform, carrying a tray with the grace of a dancer. She probably was one, either that or an actress, they all were in this town. Every gal who served you a drink or showed you to your table had stars in their eyes. Most of them would end up all the worse for their dreams, pregnant or penniless. This place swallowed girls like her whole.

“Scotch on the rocks.”

She smiles, and carries away my empty glass. I check my watch again. Where was she? She had sounded so desperate on the phone, yet here I am waiting around like some schmuck. It had been three days since she walked into my office, tears filling her deep, dark eyes.

“You Lawson?”

“That’s what it says on the door lady.”

She looked at the glass then, the words etched and painted gold, ‘Rick Lawson, Private Investigator.’ I took that moment to drink her in, and boy, was she one tall glass of water. She had auburn hair, styled neatly with a black fascinator in the front, a small black veil over one brown eye. Her skin was a perfect porcelain, and it made her lips stand out all the more, cherry red on white. She wore a black dress, cut in a V low enough to see her breasts heave as she breathed, but not low enough to give the wrong impression. The dress was expensive, as were the shoes and the fur stole over her left shoulder. This dame had money, which made me wonder what she was doing in this part of town, darkening my door with her curved silhouette.

“Sit down. Drink?”

I gestured to the beat up leather chair in front of my paper strewn desk. She eyed it suspiciously before gracefully lowering herself into it, the split in her skirt opening as she crossed one long leg over the other.

“Please, whiskey if you have some.”

I poured her a measure, along with one for myself, and set the glass in front of her. Her hand trembled as she reached for it.

“Thank you.”

She sipped at it, and I stayed quiet, letting her compose herself. She was scared, that much was obvious, painted in the expression of her beautiful face. Of what, I wasn’t sure, and part of me wondered if it would be worth the pay. After a moment, setting the empty glass down, she seemed to find her voice.

“How do I ensure your discretion?”

It was one hell of an opening question. Evidently, we weren’t going to be skirting around.

“It’s in my contract. You hire me and sign on the dotted line, and I keep your secrets. My job wouldn’t work without that trust. Blabbing would be career suicide, besides, I ain’t no snitch.”

She raised a perfectly arched eyebrow at this, and seemed to accept what I said. She insisted on hiring me then and there, providing a crisp twenty dollar bill as a retainer, and placing her elegant signature at the bottom of the page. As I signed my own name, I read hers, ‘Eleanor Montgomery.’ My eyes darted to her face. How had I not recognised her? Her face was splashed across every society page in that town, she was the ‘it’ girl whose entire life was newspaper fodder. Daddy owned most of the city, and half the politicians. He was a very powerful man, and one you did not cross unless you were prepared to meet your maker a little sooner than planned. She must have caught my look, and seen the sudden recognition written all over my dumb face.

“I see you know me then.”

“Everybody knows you Miss Montgomery.”

“Please, call me Eleanor.”

She spoke so sweetly, I could feel myself colour slightly at her words.

“Whats a dame like you doing all the way down town? Surely, whatever problem you have, daddy can take care of. Hell, he would have the Police chief himself take care of it.”

Her face reddened and her mouth tensed as angry tears filled her eyes. `I had upset her, and I chastised myself for it.

“I didn’t mean any offence Miss M…Eleanor. I just meant, you have a lot of resources available to you. I’m not sure how a low level guy such as myself, can help a gal like you.”

Her face relaxed a little, and she seemed to accept my ham fisted apology.

“I’m here because my father can never know about it. I need someone outside of his circle, and as you can imagine, that list is very small. Truthfully Mr Lawson, you were my only option.”

It was nice to know I came so highly recommended as a last resort. I had started to feel impatient.

“Well, you signed, and I work for you now. What is it you want exactly?”

There it was, that eye brow again. Obviously, she wasn’t used to people talking to her like that.

“I need someone to investigate my father. To find something on him that he can’t bribe away or make disappear. I need him holding a smoking gun, a body limp in his arms. I need blood on his hands, and I need it photographed for everyone to see. There are honest cops in the force, not many, but some and if such material fell into their hands, they would make sure it found it’s way to the right people. They would be able to take him down, for good.”

I laughed, I couldn’t help it. Take down Malcolm Montgomery? The richest, most powerful man for a hundred miles? The man who owned every crooked cop and shady politician in the state? The man who murdered as easily as a person would brush their teeth? It was suicide. Clearly Miss Montgomery had daddy issues, and she was taking it to a dangerous place. She might be willing to go down in flames, but I would be damned if she took me with her. In response, she burst into desperate and frenzied tears, black lines snaking their way down her cheeks.

“Please, I have no one else to turn to. He’s a monster, don’t you understand? He killed my mother because she tried to leave and he murdered the man I loved simply because he loved me. I have tried to run away a thousand times, but he always finds me. He won’t let me go. Please, please..”

Her voice grew fainter, until I couldn’t make out what she said. She sobbed for a little while more, before she finally stopped, her head bent and her face cradled in her hands. The room fell silent, but the words which had just been spoken, seemed to shout louder than anything I had ever heard.

My heart broke for the dame. She was obviously so desperate, so afraid,and here I am laughing in her face. I’ve never been good at the whole emotions deal, and for once, I was speechless. Without knowing what to say, I had just poured her another measure and handed her my dirty handkerchief, both of which were accepted gratefully.

I must have been a fool, to agree to help her, but aren’t all men fools in the presence of a beautiful woman? Perhaps I had said yes just so I could see her again, or perhaps for once in my stinking life, I wanted to do something right, something important. Following cheating husbands and wives might put food on the table, but it’s poor sustenance for the soul. Either way, she had agreed to pay me ten dollars a day, plus expenses, and I had agreed to stick my neck out for some broad I barely know.

On the way out of my office that day, she had kissed me, right on the cheek. The softest, sweetest kiss I had ever known.

“Be careful.”

As if he would do otherwise. He stroked his cheek now, the memory almost as tender as the kiss itself. I snapped myself out of it. Someone like her would never be interested in the likes of me. There’s a pecking order to life, and I’m near the bottom.

I had been doing the rounds since that day. Following the dogs body on the very bottom rung, to the next guy up, and so on, trying to suss out who were the people to follow. She had provided me with names and photos in a dossier, along with any pieces of information she had learned or snippets of conversations overheard, about her father’s businesses, legitimate and illegal. Hell, it was better than most Police reports I’d seen, and it was a good start to my investigation. I told her it would take time. Getting dirt on people like her father and his inner circle wasn’t like catching some husband on top of his secretary. This was a complicated network which had taken decades to build. She had accepted this, and I had got to work straight away. I was making pretty good progress, when she called.

She sounded terrified, her voice shaking, her sobs audible between each desperate word. There was a reason I had agreed to drop everything and get down here pronto, and there was a reason I felt the weight of my revolver in my inside jacket pocket. I was afraid for her.

“He knows.”

She hadn’t said hello, or who it was, she had just launched in.

“Eleanor? Who knows?”

“May father. He knows I hired you. He’ll kill me.”

“Calm down. What’s happened?”

“I overheard him talking to Vinny this evening. He knows, and this time I’ve gone to far. It’s not like when I ran away. This time I’ve stood against him, I’ve betrayed him. He’ll kill me.”

Vinny was Malcolm’s second in command, and a real piece of work. He didn’t just do the guys dirty work for the money and the broads, no, he did it because he enjoyed hurting people.

“Get out of there now. Meet me and we’ll work this out.”

“I can’t come to your office. He’ll definitely have me followed. We need to meet somewhere public, somewhere he can’t…”

She trailed off at that point. Nothing further needed to be said. We both knew what could happen if her father had discovered her betrayal. She had hired and investigator, found the names of the clean Police officers in her father’s files, the ones who would not sway to money but who could perhaps, down the line, be blackmailed or worse. She had dug up as much information as she could, about his businesses, the people who came and went, hell she had included car registrations and everything. She had handed all of that over with the hopes of destroying him. If he had found out, she would die, and she would be lucky if it was quick.

“Ok, meet me at Judy’s place in an hour. I’ll bring my gun.”

“Ok, ok…one hour.”

“You need to calm down. If he realises you know, you’ll not even make it out of the house.”

I could hear her her trying to slow her breathing.

“Rick?”

“What?”

“You know he will kill you too right? He knows what I gave you, what I hired you to do.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m bringing my gun.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet, we need to survive first.”

“No, thank you, for trying to help me.”

I could feel heart strings tugging inside my chest that I thought had snapped and withered years ago.

“It’s going to be alright.”

“Ok.”

And then she had hung up. She had sounded almost resigned at the end of the call. I hope and pray she hasn’t done something stupid. She was really late now, and visions of a bloated body washing on shore, start floating through my mind, tearing at my guts. People never disappeared when they crossed Malcolm Montgomery. They were always found, always publicly, by some poor kid or a guy walking his grey hound. He liked to make an example. I fear, it will be all the more public when it comes to his own blood.

Just then, I saw her, in fact, so did the whole room. Every man in there ignored the floozy they were with to watch her glide across the floor. It was like art in motion. She wore a white silk dress which clung to her body in all the right places. She looked like a lily, or a white rose, all delicate petals and stems. She was breathtaking. I could see goons coming in behind her. She had been right to request the meeting somewhere private. Lots of witnesses here, and if there was one thing Malcolm didn’t like, it was witnesses.

She smiled at me, just a half smile, with closed lips. I could see she was relieved, she probably thought she wouldn’t make it here, or if she did, she would find an empty seat where I should be. This was the easy part, losing the goons and slipping out the exits to the car I had stashed in the alleyway behind Judy’s, that would be the hard part. But for now, they were alive, and they were together.

I didn’t even hear the shots, nor the screaming that followed, or the noise of men and women scrambling to get out of the line of fire. All I saw was her smile fall, and two red dots growing and spreading across white silk. I didn’t even think, I just acted, pulling my gun and taking aim at the guy on the stairs, one, two, three shots and he crumpled and fell down the stairs. I grabbed her and dragged her behind the bar, as further shots rained down on me, sending glass splintering and booze raining down. I felt warm spread across my arm, and I knew I’d been hit, but I felt no pain, adrenaline kicking in.

“Hang on baby.”

I stuck my head above the bar. There was still two, both firing blindly at the bar. One stood below a large fabric banner, hung to hide the spot lights above. Two shots broke the chain and sent it down on him. He was blinded and one shot was all it took to make him fall. Problem was, there was still one guy, and I was out of ammo.

But the sirens came then, like the songs of angels, and I heard him rush from the bar, sending a table over as he went. I pulled her towards me and knew immediately she was in a bad way. Her breathing was shallow and laboured, and small bubble formed in the blood escaping one the bullet holes. It had penetrated her lung, and she was drowning in her own blood. I used my mac to stem the flow, applying pressure with one hand, and held her head in my lap with the other. Her eyes were wide with fear, and her skin was almost drained entirely of colour. Her white dress was almost entirely red now. It matched her lips.

“Hang on, the ambulance is coming, just hang on,”

She reached one of her hands to my face, and touched it gently, then she smiled at me before her hand fell limp and her eyes closed. There were no bubbles now, no more blood flowing or wheezing breathe. She was still and I was broken.

The sirens grew louder now, and I could hear screeching wheels and slamming car doors. I had to get out, or they would arrest me, and no doubt I would have some kind of convenient ‘accident’ in my cell. But I was torn, I couldn’t leave her. I placed my mac over her like a sheet, and removed the bracelet from her left hand. I don’t know why. I just needed to have a piece of her with me, I needed to not leave all of her behind. I kissed her head, and then I ran.

I ran out back and took off just as the cops were busting in the front. My car wheels smoked and screeched as I pulled away. I had no idea where I was going, I just had to get away from there. A million thoughts were running through my mind. The cops would be looking for me now, and the ones in Malcom’s pocket would never let me live long enough to see the inside of a court room. Every one of his goons and cronies would be kicking down doors looking for me. I can’t go back to my office, or my apartment. So I just drive, hoping something will come to me.

Suddenly, I see her eyes closing again, her hand going limp. I look down, and I realise I’m awash with her blood, and for the first time in many years, I feel tears falling. I slammed on the brakes and barely came to a stop in time to avoid a plunge down the steep hills which lead back to the city below. I’m losing it, I can’t do this. I scream and punch the steering wheel until my knuckles bleed. When I’m exhausted, and I’ve had a chance to get some of what I’m feeling out of my system, I hunch and cry, my shoulders shaking. Why did she have to die? I never had a shot with her, I know that, but she was the closest thing I’ve ever come to caring about somebody other than my own selfish ass.

I let the self pity wash over me, and then I clench my fists around the steering wheel, and punch the gas pedal. I have an old school friend out East who will put me up, give me time to formulate a plan. Malcolm Mason made a mistake killing her, and he made an even bigger one letting me live. Nothing is more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose. I was going to kill the bastard. I was going to dedicate every waking moment of the rest of my snivelling life to his death. I won’t let her death be in vein. I’ll finish what she started, and then some. I’ll not stop until his head is on a spike in the middle of down town, or I’ll die trying.

I’m coming for you Malcolm…you hear me? I’m coming for you.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and our next Book Club pick.

Hello everyone, I hope you have had a wonderful weekend and have been out enjoying the summer sun!  For the UK, this is a bank holiday weekend, so you guys should kick your feet up and enjoy the long weekend!  For everyone else, commiserations on work tomorrow, but the good news is, I am here to cheer you up with a book review and our next book club pick!  If you haven’t joined my book club already, then you should definitely give it a go!  Just buy this months book, read along and let me know your thoughts!  It’s that easy.

Bear nightingale pic

Last months book was ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden.  For those of you unfamiliar with this book, the blurb reads: In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift- a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter.  Uncertain of its meaning, the father hides the gift away and his daughter, Vasya, grows up a wild, wilful girl, to the chagrin of her family.  But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

As blurbs go, this promised a lot, and the book itself did not fail to disappoint.  On the surface, this is a good old fashioned adventure story.  A young girl facing unimaginable odds and unsurmountable danger, must face her fears and fight to save her family.  The tale has been told dozens of times, in various forms, but with the addition of mythical creatures, Russian folklore and classic fantasy, this book rises head and shoulders above the rest, to produce an exciting and entertaining read.  It takes those traditional tales, and turns them on their head, spins them around, and pushes them over.  In a word, it is magical.

Peel back a layer, and the story is about so much more.  The main character’s struggle for independence and power over her own life in a Patriarchal society, provides a classic tale of feminism and female strength.  Indeed, Vasya is told repeatedly throughout the book that a woman’s ‘place’ and ‘lot in life’ is marriage and children, or the convent.  Those are her only two options.  Both, to Vasya, are worse than death, and so she fights her family, her village, even society itself, for the ownership over her body and her future.  Her refusal to submit to such overwhelming pressure from all directions, makes her all the more heroic to me as a female reader.  Too many fairy tales present the concept of a princess who needs to be rescued, or who gives up everything she is to marry her beloved prince.  Indeed, most of the stories I grew up with as a child, seem to give the distinct impression that finding your ‘Prince Charming’ is the be all and end all.  This story certainly does not read like that, and Vasya is a strong and independent female character. I will definitely be reading this book to my daughter.

On another level, it is about a girl who does not fit in.  She is strange and odd, and as a result, she is ostracised and bullied.  But again, in the face of name calling and isolation, she remains determined to be herself.  She is happy knowing that the people who are most important to her, like her family and nanny, love her just as she is.  Again, this presents such a positive role model for younger readers, and makes Vasya all the more loveable as a main character.

Finally, and more controversially, the book is a damning indictment of organised religion and indeed modern politics.  Vasya’s village once believed in the old ways, leaving food and offerings to the many spirits which occupy their home and the neighbouring woods, and who watch over them and their animals.  When a new priest comes to town, Father Konstantin, an arrogant man who yearns to be loved, he brings with him his charming way with words and his striking good looks, both weapons in his arsenal, which he uses to sway the people towards the ‘New God’ with surprising effectiveness.  He wants to be loved, and to have power, so he terrifies the ignorant villagers, with his warnings of the fiery inferno and eternal damnation awaiting them all in the afterlife, if they do not repent and submit to him.  The villagers change, blindly following him, whatever he says, out of pure fear.  In a society where politicians also wield fear as a weapon, this makes for incredibly relevant reading.  Even as the villagers die, the crops fail and the dead walk, Father Konstantin is unwavering in his faith, simply telling the villagers to pray.  Again, I am struck by similarities to our modern day politics, where people in positions of power, positions where they can make real change, merely offer prayers and empty promises.

In short, this book is simply wonderful, and I found myself, on several occasions, unable and unwilling to put it down.  I can’t find any fault with it and I thoroughly recommend it to all of you!  Have you read ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’?  Let me know your thoughts.

Junes Book Club pick is ‘The 9th life of Louis Drax’ by Liz Jensen.  This isn’t a long one, so we may have two book club picks for this month, I will let you know!  So what is this book about?  Nine-year-old Louis Drax is a problem child: bright, precocious, deceitful- and dangerously, disturbingly, disaster prone.  When he falls off a cliff into a ravine, the accident seems almost predestined.  Louis miraculously survives- but the family has been shattered.  Louis’ father has vanished, his mother is paralysed by shock, and Louis lies in a deep coma from which he may never emerge.  In a clinic in Provence, Dr Pascal Dannachet tries to coax Louis back to consciousness.  But the boy defies medical logic, startling Dannachet out of his safe preconceptions, and drawing him inexorably into the dark heart of Louis’ buried world.  Only Louis holds the key to the mystery surrounding his fall- and he can’t communicate.  Or can he?

If you fancy joining my book club, buy a copy as well, and read along!  Don’t forget to follow my blog for updates on this series of posts, along with many others and happy reading!