Breakout

Here’s another of the little stories I write now and again – this one at Holmfirth Writers, I think.

 

The little boy had been staring out of the window for some time.

“I want to go outside,” he shouted. “I want to touch the trees, to smell the flowers, to walk up the mountains. Why do you keep me in here all the time? It’s not fair.”

“You know very well why we keep you inside,” his mother replied. “Outside there are germs in the air that would kill you if you breathed them in. When the Great Plague came, people came out in horrible lumps all over their bodies and they went blind. Their lungs filled with water and they died. That’s what will happen to you if you go outside. In here we are safe, and we have all we need.”

“But look,” said the boy, “there are birds outside, and squirrels – see, there’s one on that tree over there. Why don’t the germs hurt them?”

His mother gave an exasperated sigh. “Because they are germs that cause a human disease. There are different germs that cause bird diseases and squirrel diseases. Perhaps they will have a great plague of their own one day.

“I hope not,” said the boy, reflectively. After a few moments, a thoughtful look came into his eyes.

“Are there no people outside any more, then?”

“Not that we know of, Michael. Not alive, anyway.”

“How long has it been since we came inside?”

“Twelve years and seven months.”

“Well then, if there are no people outside, and the germs can’t eat birds or squirrels, won’t the germs have starved to death by now?”

Another exhausted sigh. “I don’t know, Michael. Germs can live a very long time. If anyone went out, the germs might come in here and that would be the end of us all. Listen, Michael. At least you can see the trees and the mountains, and the birds and the squirrels. Sometimes you can even hear the wind blowing through the trees. Isn’t that a lot better than nothing. A lot better than being dead?

He made no answer. She kissed him on the forehead and left the room.

Michael looked through the window again. A heron was fishing in the stream that flowed through the forest. How sweet that water must be compared with the horrible stuff he had to drink. It was all so beautiful. He could not believe there was anything bad out there. A little storm of anger welled up inside him. ‘I will get out, I will!’ he chanted to himself. Taking off his shoe, he banged it repeatedly against the glass.

There was a slight tinkling sound. What had he done! A spider web of cracks radiated from the site of his last blow. Then a jagged triangle of glass detatched itself and fell with an ominous crash onto the window ledge. He began a scream, then stopped dead. In the place where the glass had been there was no hole, just wires and bare grey concrete.

An Update

I’ve had a few people asking me how my new novel is coming along, so I thought I’d just say a few words about where things stand.

The novel is about a woman’s relationship with her father as he starts to lose his memory and starts to relive his traumatic experiences as a tail gunner in RAF bombers in World War Two as if they were happening in the present.  It’s been a few months since I finished a first draft, but it was quite clear when I read it through that a few things needed to fleshed out, which meant there was more writing to be done. And then, when I’d finished that, I needed to take stock of the whole thing and do some editing. At about that time, as sometimes happens, other things in my life had to take priority over writing (see my post Life Imitates Art from last month).

However, the good news is that I do now have a complete second draft which I’m reasonably pleased with. At this point it is time to bring in a new perspective.  I find that you develop a kind of blindness to your own work, because you’re so familiar with the characters and the plot.  It’s easy to miss things that might not work for the reader who is new to the story.  Also, there were a few bits I wanted to run past someone who knows more about certain things than I do.  So the novel is currently with a couple of good friends who have agreed to read it for me an offer their thoughts.  I am waiting, slightly nervously, for their comments.  What more, if anything, needs to be done to the book before I can start thinking about sending it off will depend largely on what they say.  One thing I do know is that I need to come up with a title!

So there we are!  I’ll provide further updates in due course when there’s more to say.

Strange Reunion

I’ve always been a little bit phobic about the transporter machine, the way other people are phobic about spaceflight or cryogenic preservation, or spiders. Funnily enough, those things have never bothered me – the risks of going into space are real, but so low that they are not worth worrying about, and cryo-sleep is just like normal sleep only deeper and longer. And spiders – well, I used to have one as a pet.

Unfortunately, the reality is that, in my line of work, space travel just takes too long – way too long – if you’re doing business over long distances. I can hardly spend four years in suspended animation and then expect the deal I was chasing to be still on the table when I arrive at the far end, can I? So transportation it has to be. I know the stats – that it’s safer than space flight (no matter how safe that is) and much, much cheaper. All the same, every time I’m sitting in that booth, waiting to be digitalized and recreated in another place, it feels creepy.

I think it comes down to a bad experience I had once, in 2162, when the machine malfunctioned. I was off to Titan, planning to move there for a few years to set up a spacewear business (Titan was a booming market for that stuff at the time). I had that tingly feeling you get when the probe is reading your quantum states, and then, as usual, I blacked out. But instead of waking up on Titan, I emerged from the machine to find I was still on Mars. Equipment malfunction, they told me with profuse apologies – not something that could be fixed quickly. I was fine, but it got me thinking: if the machine can go wrong in the way it did, maybe it could go wrong in other ways too.

I never did make that trip to Titan. By the time the transporter was serviceable again, the moment had passed and I’d decided to pursue different avenues. But I’d always wanted to go there, to see the methane lakes, and to put on a wing suit and fly through the thick atmosphere in the low G they have over there. And I’d put away enough to afford a good holiday. It was time to put that jinx behind me and take the plunge.

So now I’m sitting in the booth again. It feels creepy, as usual. There’s that tingling feeling, then nothing, then …

“Welcome to Titan, Mr Jones”

“Whew, made it!”

It takes me a few minutes to adjust to the lower gravity, but otherwise this place feels fine – just like home. It’s too late today to do any ambitious exploring, so I drop my bags off at the hotel and go for a wander around Titan City.

It’s a pleasant enough place, under its big plastic dome, but a lot smaller than the cities we have on Mars. It has a rather provincial feel to it, though there’s a frenetic buzz around the little bars and cafes, as if everyone is trying a little too hard. Eventually, thirst wins over the desire to explore and I turn into one of the bars. I order a drink, and head for the nearest vacant table. I sup my drink and look around me, people watching. These Titanians, what is their style, what are their quirks?

A face catches my eye. It seems oddly familiar. Were it not for the long hair, the bleached moustache (both pretty common on Titan, it seems), that man would remind me of … me! Then I realise he is looking at me in the same way. He comes over and offers me his hand.

“Look at us two,” he jokes. “We must be twins separated at birth. The name’s Jones. Theodore Jones.”

“But I’m Theodore Jones,” I exclaim, “from Olympus City on Mars.”

“No way! Perhaps we really are twins. I was born there too. But I’ve been on Titan since 2162.”

An awful realisation is starting to creep up on me.

“You didn’t by any chance come over by transporter, did you? With the intention of setting up a spacewear business?”

“Yes, but how the hell could you know that? I met my wife here and decided to stay.”

“Tell me, when you got out of the transporter, did they tell you tell you there had been a problem?”

“Yeah. They said there had been some difficulties at the far end, so they had to give me a medical checkup. I was fine, but it kind of put me off transporters for good. One of the reasons I’m still here, I guess.”

“Funny, that. I got told the same thing when I got out of the transporter too. But I was still on Mars.”

“But … then, you’re …”

“Yes, that’s it. I’m you, and you’re me.”

Homage to Catullus

It’s been a little while since I posted a poem on here, so I thought I’d share this one today.  It was inspired by a poem by the Roman poet Catullus (one of my favourite poets), from which I took the title – it means, roughly, ‘evil Troy’.  Just across the straits from Troy is Gallipoli, which saw more slaughter millenia later, prompting me to wonder what the dead of those two wars might say to each other.

Troia (nefas!)

Do they wander unseen among the hordes

of tourists in the crumbled ruins of Troy?

Those shades of Trojan and Achaean lords,

of noble Hector, fearsome Achilles

and the unnumbered wraiths of lesser men

culled as the harvest of the heroes’ spears.

And are they glad that still, time and again

their deaths are re-imagined for the screen;

romanticised, as if each stolen life

was taken in a worthwhile cause, and not

a pointless struggle over someone’s wife?

And do they turn their dead eyes to the west,

where in another age, across the strait

another generation spilled their blood

in someone else’s symphony of hate?

Do those men in their turn look to the east

and see their ancient kindred? Do the two

lost armies speak in strange tongues of the dead

of what has changed between the old and new

and what has not; and see for what they are

the hollow mask of glory on the face

of war; the curse of history that binds

resentful souls forever to this place.

 

Troia (nefas) is published in In the Company of Poets, by the Holme Valley Poets.

The painting is Achilles Displaying the Body of Hector at the Feet of Patroclus, by Jean Joseph Taillason, 1769.

 

Angela and Jacques

Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Angela Wren onto my blog.  Her second novel, Merle, will be published on 5 July.  Welcome, Angela!

Thanks for inviting me to your blog today.  I’ve brought my lead character, Jacques Forêt, with me and I hope you don’t mind if we take this opportunity to talk about his new case.

I’m certainly very eager to hear what he has to say and I’m hoping that he might, perhaps to give away one or two juicy pieces of info about what has happened to him and Beth…

AW  Welcome back Jacques, and you’re not in uniform I see.

JF  Yes, that’s right.  I’ve left the rural gendarme service and I now work in investigation in Mende.

AW  So, just to recap on your career thus far.  You joined the police force in Paris as a detective until you were injured whilst on duty and then came to Messandrierre as a rural gendarme.

JF   That’s correct.  It was after I recovered that I came here.

AW  So why the further change?

JF  I found I missed the intricacies of handling major investigations along with the thrill of solving such complex crimes.  My last case in Paris involved breaking a drugs cartel and I’ve worked on cases involving people trafficking.  All very testing with many and varied leads to follow.  My current case means that I can use those skills again.

AW  And can you tell us anything about your new case?

It’s very different from my previous cases and involves commercial sabotage, but some the evidence is pointing to other types of crime.  The more I delve the more complex this case is becoming.

AW  How interesting.  Any suspects yet or dead bodies?

JF   It’s early days.  I only picked up the investigation a week ago, but there are a number of suspects that need to be narrowed down.  There are also some lines of enquiry that are leading me to believe that there are other malpractices that need to be investigated which might mean there is fraud to be uncovered.  There are no dead bodies at the moment but… if the evidence does lead me where I think it might, then yes, someone might have the motive to commit such a serious crime.  Naturally I will do all I can to ensure that doesn’t happen.

AW  Of course.  Working in Mende, has that meant many changes for you here in the village of Messandrierre?

JF  Not really.  I’m still the Policeman from Paris to everyone living here and I still seem to be the first person they come to when there’s trouble.  Gendarme Thibault Clergue has taken my post here in the gendarmerie.  I don’t want to tread on his toes so we work on things together when necessary.

AW  Back working in investigation, does that mean you’re working with Magistrate Bruno Pelletier again?

JF  Not at the moment. I do sometimes bump into Bruno in the city, but if my case develops as I think it might, then I may need to involve him.  And I will do that as appropriate.

Road to Langogne02

AW  When we first met I seem remember you saying that you would like to ‘have ‘someone to share your life with.’  Those were your precise words, I think.

JF  Ahh, I was wondering when you would get around to that!

AW  And you can tell us… what?  The Readers do need to know, Jacques.

JF   I also remember telling you that it was complicated.  It still is… But I know what I want… Beth just has to make the right decision for her.  Moving to another country requires a lot of consideration.

AW  Are you saying that you’ve asked-

JF  Non!  And before you ask, I didn’t say that I was moving to England either.  What I am saying is that, if Beth and I are to move forward then we both need to consider very carefully how we achieve that.

AW  Well, you may no longer wear uniform, Jacques, but you are ever the policeman!

JF   Perhaps.

AW   And that smile of yours tells me everything.  Thank you, Jacques, for being here today.

You can read more about Jacques’ new case, the village and Beth in Merle: book 2 in the Jacques Forêt mystery series published on July 5th.  Find it on Amazon here: http://authl.it/B0728BMD96.

Thank you Angela (and Jacques!) for sharing your conversation with us.  I hope that Merle is a big success!

Merle CoverArt.jpg

Merle

Jacques Forêt, a former gendarme turned investigator, delves into the murky world of commercial sabotage – a place where people lie and misrepresent, and where information is traded and used as a threat.

The Vaux organisation is losing contracts and money, and Jacques is asked to undertake an internal investigation. As he works through the complexity of all the evidence, he finds more than he bargained for, and his own life is threatened.

When a body of a woman is found, it appears to be suicide. But as the investigation takes another turn, Jacques suspects there is more to it.

Who is behind it all…and why? Will Jacques find the answer before another person ends up dead?

Merle – the second in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.

 

You can learn more about Angela – and her first book, Messandrierre – via these links:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Angela-Wren-1658361137787550/

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

 

Poetry Day – Thomas Wyatt

After a hard week I’m very much looking forward to the monthly Poetry Day at Huddersfield University tomorrow.

We spend the morning hearing about the life of a poet (or poets) and reading their poetry, then write something of our own inspired by what we’ve heard – it might be something about the poet’s life; a theme that crops up in their poetry; we might try out a form or technique the poet is associated with, or just run with whatever random thought springs to mind.  Then in the afternoon we read and discuss poems of our own that we’ve brought along.

Tomorrow Chris Huck will be talking to us about the tudor poet Thomas Wyatt.  I’m vaguely aware of him as a historical figure – an ambassador, courtier and alleged lover of Anne Boleyn, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London for a while but managed to escape the grisly fate of the other men who were similarly accused.

I must admit that I know very little about Wyatt’s poetry, other than that he translated Petrarch and had an important role in the development of the English sonnet, and am looking forward to learning much more about his life and work tomorrow.  Poetry AND History – what a treat!

For anyone in the Huddersfield area who’s interested in coming along, Poetry Day is in Room HWG 06, Harold Wilson building, Huddersfield University from 9.30 till 3-ish.  There is a charge of £5 to cover the cost of the room.

I’ll leave you with a sonnet of Wyatt’s that I found on the internet:

Farewell love and all thy laws forever;
Thy baited hooks shall tangle me no more.
Senec and Plato call me from thy lore
To perfect wealth, my wit for to endeavour.
In blind error when I did persever,
Thy sharp repulse, that pricketh aye so sore,
Hath taught me to set in trifles no store
And scape forth, since liberty is lever.
Therefore farewell; go trouble younger hearts
And in me claim no more authority.
With idle youth go use thy property
And thereon spend thy many brittle darts,
For hitherto though I have lost all my time,
Me lusteth no lenger rotten boughs to climb.

An Inspector Calls

Here’s a little story I wrote at Holmfirth Writers on Monday.  Hope you enjoy it!

 

“Are you done, then?”

The Inspector – a wiry, sharp-suited man in his late 30’s – finished writing and put his notebook in his pocket.

“Not yet. I need to look at your yard.”

The two men walked round the corner into an alley, which broadened out to form a yard behind the building, lit only by the pale glow that filtered through the window blinds.

The Inspector looked at his companion, a bearded, rotund man with indeterminate stains on his Motorhead T-shirt.

“This belongs to your establishment, yes?”

The other man grinned uneasily. “Well, yeah, but other people are always dumping their rubbish here. Bastards!” He moved towards the assortment of bin bags and dustbins occupying the far side of the yard.

“No! Don’t touch anything. This is all potential evidence relevant to my investigation.”

“Right you are, Inspector.”

The Inspector spotted a dark, viscous liquid dripping from a drainpipe attached to the corner of the wall. He opened his briefcase and produced a small plastic bottle, which he held under the pipe to collect a few drips, then sealed it and put it in a transparent bag.

“For testing later,” he said. “This pipe seems to emanate from your property. Neighbours been using your sink too, have they?”

The two men now moved towards the dustbins. The Inspector picked up the first loose bin bag and began to open it. Then he stopped dead in his tracks. Stretching out from behind the nearest dustbin was a human hand. Quickly, he moved aside the bins and bags surrounding it to reveal a prone male figure, its curly brown hair stained with blood. It was quite still. The Inspector examined it briefly, but it remained limp and motionless. He turned to the other man.

“Is this man known to you?”

“Never seen ‘im before in me life.”

“Really?” The Inspector pointed to the body’s left hand, in which sat a half-eaten burger wrapped in paper. “I believe that’s one of yours, isn’t it?” Sure enough, the logo on the paper matched the one above the door of the building.

He glared at the other man. “Stay where you are, and don’t touch anything. I need to collect more evidence.” With his phone, he took a couple of dozen photos of the body, the drainpipe and the rest of the yard. From his case he retrieved some more plastic bottles, into which he put samples from various bin bags and the ground around the body. His notebook reappeared, and he filled several pages with writing.

“This is nothing to do with me,” pleaded the other man, a look of desperation on his face, “people are always wandering in here and dumping things. Don’t blame it on me.” The Inspector studiously ignored him.

As he was working, a seagull flew into the yard and landed on the head of the prone figure. It began to peck at the remains of the burger.

“Oi!” The noise came from the hitherto motionless figure. Its right arm now flailed wildly at the gull, which flew away. The head now lifted itself from the ground and stared at the other two men. “Who are you?” said the man on the floor, then an expression of horror came over his face and he vomited copiously on the ground. He staggered to his feet, looked at the burger in his hand and threw it into the nearest bin. Then he stumbled away, groaning.

“Well, that’s all right, then,” said the bearded man, hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” replied the Inspector. “Judging by what I’ve seen on this inspection, I’m not surprised your customers are throwing up. Your food is a hazard to human life. I’m closing you down.”