Side Effects

31 October, eh?  That sounds like a perfect excuse for a certain sort of story ….


“Eye of newt and spleen of rat … ”

The old crone cackled demonically as she added yet more selections from the anatomy of the local wildlife to the foul-smelling liquid simmering away in her cauldron.

The face of the much younger woman sitting before her bore an expression of great agitation.

“How much longer is this going to take?”

“Just a few minutes, dearie,” replied the witch. “That’s all the ingredients done. Now if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I need to have a quick word with His Nibs.”

At this, the old woman shut her eyes and threw her head back, raising her spindly arms to the heavens.

“Lord of damnation, I summon you to this place and command you to infuse this elixir with your elemental power.”

She began to shudder and foam at the mouth, and for no apparent reason it suddenly got darker and random flashes of lightning could be seen in the distance. Although the witch – now writhing and uttering low moans – was no longer stirring the cauldron, its contents began to bubble and seethe so violently that some of the liquid spilled out and fell, hissing, onto the fire.

Then, all of a sudden, the sky became light again and the liquid returned to normal. The old woman opened her eyes and, taking a brass ladle, decanted some of the cauldron’s purple contents into a small glass bottle.

“There you go, dearie. Old Mother Black’s constipation remedy. Also effective for colds and flu. Half a teaspoonful twice daily. That’ll be three and six, please.”

The younger woman thrust some coins into her hand. “Now give it here, I’m desperate!”

“Just a minute. I need to give you the safety instructions. Do not take while pregnant or breastfeeding. Should not be taken with alcohol, invisibility potions or human blood. May cause drowsiness. Also, the potion …”

“Enough!” The young woman was adamant. Without another word, she snatched the bottle, and immediately downed the entire contents.

The witch simply composed herself and resumed speaking.

“ … may cause explosions if taken in large doses. You know what, dearie? My work here is done. I’ll be seeing you. Put the fire out when you go.” At this, she mounted the broomstick that was parked nearby and took to the air.

Not a moment too soon. As Old Mother Black reached 500 feet, the sky lit up for an instant and there was a very loud boom.

Welcome. Chris!

Today I welcome Chris (Christina) Longden, fellow member of Holmfirth Writers’ Group and the author of Mind Games and Ministers, a humorous novel with a political edge, whose heroine Rachael Russell fights to save the women’s shelter she runs and becomes romantically involved with a government minister.  On 29 October Chris and I, along with Crooked Cat author Angela Wren (also a recent visitor to this blog), will be reading from and discussing our novels in the Gallery, Britannia Road Slaithwaite HD7 5HE.  Today Chris is here to discuss her second novel, Cuckoo in the Chocolate.
cover Cuckoo in the Chocolate smaller
Welcome, Chris!  Tell us all about your new novel.
It’s drama. With humour. Tackles north versus south prejudice. Plus class bias and socio-political assumptions. Slightly anti-literati – but remaining tongue in cheek. Strong appeal to both male and female, so I am told. Sorry – I’m not selling this very well, I am – BUY IT – IT’S BLOODY HILARIOUS – EVEN MY DAD SAYS SO, AND HE HATES READING BOOKS!
How does it relate to your first one, Mind Games and Ministers?
Same characters – written from Rachael Russell’s point of view as the main protagonist – but ‘Cuckoo’ is about a different excerpt of her life. I spent a long time drafting and editing ‘Cuckoo’ in order that it would appeal to someone who had no idea who ‘Rachael Russell’ is – but that they would truly ‘get’ where she is coming from. I actually found it pretty easy to churn out the words themselves; but the constant re-writing was a much bigger challenge.
To what extent do the novels draw on your own experience. And how much of your protagonist, Rachael Russell, is you?
My early career was in social housing, so every scene that takes placen in a hard-bitten council estate – and juggling the issues that are invariably connected with bureaucracy-filled local authority led politics – felt a tad bit familiar. Similarly, I’ve also spent rather a lot of time with politicians (although not in the ‘clothes off’ dynamic, that Rachael experiences. Honestly!)
I also enjoy arguing a lot as a pastime. Usually with my children, or my husband – if he’s lucky. So I always like to chuck a load of dialogue into my writing.
Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?
There are dozens of writers who influenced me to *want* to write, when I was growing up. But I was never told that it could be a viable opportunity, or even a healthy pastime to engage in. I learned that ‘non fic writing’ – that writing from a business angle – was acceptable. That writing ‘as outreach’ to others, was a wonderfully rewarding and important thing to do. But that ‘creative/imaginative’ writing was not something to think about seriously.  So, it was only when I moved to live in the Kalarhari desert, working and living with the San Bushmen, that I suddenly realised that all of these desires and gifts, could be put into good use.
The best writers that moved me the most to pick up my pen, are not household names – and yet they deserve the kudos and awards more than most. I am thinking of the Quaker writer Jan Arriens, of San bushman activist Willemien le Roux and South African apartheid-era journalist, Peter Younghusband. I”ved loved Margaret Atwood for decades, and Barbara Trapido and Elizabeth Jane Howard encouraged me on a personal level – I was very priveleged to receive personal direction from them. Ditto from Bill Bryson and Jon Ronson – a broad church of incredible writers who took the time out to read my stuff and to advise me.
Aside from writing, what other interests would you like to tell us about?
– Writing to prisoners; For 2 decades, I’ve written to prisoners in the UK and in the USA – plus death row prisoners. I had the privilege of meeting Sister Helen Prejean, many years ago – plus Jan Arriens (above) who revolutionised my thinking about crime and redemption.
– Anti-islamophobia; my dearest family members are converts to Islam, or are born into this faith. The horrors and prejudice that muslims in our society face is outrageous. For the sake of my younger relatives, I feel strongly that much of my work should combat this sort of prejudice.
– Poor farmers overseas; I run a charity that helps support them – the Lorna Young Foundation
– Literacy; my daughter is dyslexic, but I have worked hard to get her to fall in love with reading. It *can* be done – and I love to do talks that tell others how to make this happen with kids, or with themselves.
– Running; I just love to run. Never with other people though. I’m rather solitary when it comes to a lot of things.
– Coffee; my family joined with 2 other families a couple of years ago, to set up the now-famous ‘DarkWoods Coffee’  – a high-end roastery based in Marsden.
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
What is the one thought that you think of, more than others?
And what is the answer?
Why can’t I live more than one life? This one is wonderful. But I have so, SO many more that I want to try out…
Thanks for dropping in, Chris. Look forward to seeing you on the 29th!
You can find out more about Chris and her books via the following links:

Man on the Moon

In this little piece written at Meltham writing group a few weeks ago, I exclusively reveal an important scientific discovery about the moon …


There was a slight thud as the lander hit the surface. Mason grabbed his helmet and carefully screwed it into position. It took him at least a minute to be sure it was properly fixed to his suit, by which time the other three occupants were already waiting at the airlock.  ‘First time I’ve used one of these,” he said into his microphone, embarrassed. The others were astronauts, professionals. He was an engineer.

As he stepped out onto the lunar surface, waves of sensation and emotion passed over him. The utter blackness of the sky, and within it the fat blue hemisphere of the earth. The weight of his body in the Moon’s gravity – a change from the weightlessness of space, but still odd. And ahead, the impressive bulk of the mining facility, testament to the effort and billions of dollars spent in getting all that steel and glass through a quarter million miles of space.

And now it was ready. Ready for him, Sebastian Mason, to begin in earnest the process of extracting resources from this giant ball of rock. As he inspected the equipment, it was clear that those who had come before him had done a good job setting it up. All seemed well. Time to start the first exploratory borehole, he told them. Let’s drill!  A huge metal rod began to rotate, emitting at first a low hum, which gradually built up to a high pitched roar as it gained speed, then rapidly changed to a brutal grinding sound as it bit into rock.

Mason watched the depth gauge creep upwards. Three meters, then four, then seven. Already they were deeper into the Moon than anyone had ever drilled before. Another ten metres or so and it would be time to extract the first core. Then, to his surprise, the grinding noise subsided, the drill speeded up and the depth gauge rose rapidly. Fourteen metres, sixteen, eighteen …

“Stop it there,” said Mason. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”  They raised the drill and allowed it a few minutes to cool. Then the men removed the long metal cylinder that had followed the drill bit down.

“Open it,” ordered Mason.  At one end of the long rod of Moon stuff was the surface dust and rock they were already familiar with. After that, they had expected granite and, with luck, metal-bearing ores.  But instead – he scratched his head in disbelief – the core was pale yellow, smooth, with spherical air pockets.  In places it seemed almost liquid. The other engineers looked at each other, as confused as he was.  And what was that smell?  On a hunch, Mason picked up a small fragment of the yellow core and put it in his mouth.

“Cheese,” he said.

An Event – 29 October

Some news hot off the press about an exciting event coming up at the end of the month!  On Sunday 29 October, from 2 to 4pm I’m going to be doing a reading event with two other authors, at The Gallery in Slaithwaite.

I’ll be reading excerpts from Revolution Day and talking about the inspiration for the book. Sharing the limelight will Christina Longden, author of Mind Games and Ministers and A Cuckoo in the Chocolate, romantic comedies with a political and satirical edge (and a friend from Holmfirth Writers Group); and fellow Crooked Cat author Angela Wren whose crime novels Messandriere and Merle are set in France (Angela has visited this blog a couple of times).  So there will be a good mix of fiction – politics, intrigue, crime and romance – with some synergies between the different books.  You can find out more about Chris and Angela via the links at the bottom of this post.

The Gallery, run by furniture maker Wendy Beattie, is an amazing space, full of beautiful and interesting objects (see pic), and has its own café, so there’ll be plenty to eat and drink at the event.  And I know from experience that the coffee (which coincidentally is roasted by Christina’s family business, Dark Woods) is excellent!

All in all then, I’m getting very excited about this event, and hope to see lots of my friends there.  The Gallery is on Britannia Road, Slaithwaite HD7 5HE – go through the Emporium to the door beyond.


IMG_4706 cover Cuckoo in the Chocolate smaller Merle CoverArt


Revolution Day web page

Chris L Longden Facebook page

Chris’s blog

Angela’s blog

Angela’s website