Monthly Archives: June 2012

Day 43: Derby to Birmingham

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My location: East Midlands Airport

Okay, so the route from Derby to Birmingham doesn’t go *that* close to East Midlands Airport, but it’s within 15 miles or so, so close enough, I reckon. 😉

I also live fairly close to this area, but unfortunately I won’t be able to see the torch relay because I’m in the Lake District as we speak, so I’ll miss it! Grr!

Anyway, the link isn’t that I live nearby, it’s that one of my stories has part of the action taking place in East Midlands Airport – although it’s never actually mentioned by name. My characters also live in the Castle Donington area.

Off the ShelfOff the Shelf is a het erotic romance novella, about a travel writer and a bookseller. Here’s the blurb:

At 35, travel writer Annalise is fed up with insensitive comments about being left on the shelf. It’s not as if she doesn’t want a man, but her busy career doesn’t leave her much time for relationships. Sexy liaisons with passing acquaintances give Annalise physical satisfaction, but she needs more than that. She wants a man who will satisfy her mind as well as her body. But where will she find someone like that? It seems Annalise may be in luck when a new member of staff starts working in the bookshop at the airport she regularly travels through. Damien appears to tick all the boxes; he’s gorgeous, funny and intelligent, and he shares Annalise’s love of books and travel. The trouble is, Damien’s shy and Annalise is terrified of rejection. Can they overcome their fears and admit their feelings, or are they doomed to remain on the shelf?

So if you want to read something set in the area around Day 43, then check it out! More info, excerpt and buy links are at my website.

Day 42 – Derby

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Day 42 – the Olympic Torch passes through Derby
Although I grew up in Cheshire, the border to Derbyshire was only just up the road. Literally ‘up’ in this case. We would drive into Alderley Edge (where – if local legend, and the author Alan Garner is to believed King Arthur lies sleeping under the cliff. I have drunk from the Wizard’s well there, but I can’t confirm or deny this possibility.) Then out again, through Alderley and up into the Peaks, where the countryside changes from gentle farmland to rugged hillside covered with gorse and moss and standing stones.

In Anglo-Saxon times this bony, inhospitable landscape was the home of the Pecsætan – the Peak Dwellers – and perhaps it’s they who have left the tumbled roundhouses and the stone circles. Or perhaps it’s the elves – it’s a landscape that disappears often into mist and fog, where it’s easy to be lost and alone, and ramblers still die of exposure, when they overestimate the power of humans over nature. Easy to believe there are other intelligences out here, watching us with very little love.
At the same time, these high, wild moors give way to little tourist towns of charming grey stone houses and hanging baskets full of flowers, of ice-creams and tea-shops and village fetes. Everything is terribly cosy there, though the hills look down on all of it.
I love this part of the world – the contrast of sweet, tamed towns with the mystery and threat of their setting. I couldn’t think of a better place to set a tale in which the uncanny powers of Elfland invade the smugly safe realm of mankind, to the bewilderment and improvement of both. Although my Under the Hill books, Bomber’s Moon and Dogfighters are set in Matlock and Bakewell rather than Derby itself, I like to think there’s enough of my love of Derbyshire in there to count.

Excerpt from Bomber’s Moon

 

Ben bolted out of sleep, halfway to his feet before he realised he was awake. What was that noise! Something was wrong—he could feel it pressing under his breastbone. He thought he’d dreamed of a subterranean groan, felt again the rush of sticky re-breathed air and then the smoke. God! The smoke, pouring through the shattered windows of the train…
But this was his bedroom. Look, there—the alarm clock cast a faint green light on the claret duvet and gold silk coverlet, familiar as closed velvet curtains and his suit trousers hanging on the back of the bathroom door. 3:14 a.m.
His breathing calmed slowly. Was that what had woken him? Just another flashback? Or could there be an intruder downstairs?
Tiptoeing to the wardrobe, he eased open the mirrored door, slipped on his dressing gown and belted it, picking up the cricket bat that nestled among his shoes. The closing door showed him his determined scowl—not very convincing on a face that looked as nervous and skinny as a whippet’s. Licking his lips, weapon raised, he seized the handle of his bedroom door, eased it down.
And the sound came again. All the doors in the house fluttered against their frames, the ground beneath him groaned, tiles on the roof above shifting with a ceramic clatter. A crash in the bathroom as the toothbrush holder fell into the sink. He jumped, crying out in revulsion when the floor shuddered and the carpet rippled beneath his bare feet as if stuffed with snakes.
Earthquake! An earthquake in Bakewell? Home of well dressing and famous for pudding? The sheer ludicrousness of the idea flashed through his mind even as he raced down the stairs. You… What did you do in an earthquake? Stand under a door lintel, wasn’t it?
As he reached the living room, it happened again. He clutched at the back of the sofa while the entire house raised itself into the air and fell jarringly down with an impact that threw him against the wall. Bricks moving beneath his fingers, he pulled himself along the still-drying wallpaper into the hall, flung open the front door.
There was blackness outside—the streetlamps all guttered out—and silence, a silence so profound that the pressure began again inside his throat. It was so much like being buried underground. As he strained his ears for something friendly—a barking dog, a car alarm—a wind drove up from the Wye, filling his ears with whispering.
No stars shone above. But in the neighbour’s windows, he could see something silver reflected, something that moved with liquid grace.
No way!

The curve of a horse’s neck traced in quicksilver reflected in a driving mirror. A stamping hoof—drawn out of lines of living frost and spider web—splashed in a puddle. Drops spattered cold over his bare ankles.
Coming up from the river, across the bridge, up the sleeping suburban street they rode, knights and ladies. Glimmering, insubstantial shreds of banners floated above them like icy mist. Harps in their hands, hawks on their fists, and now he could hear the music; it was faint, far away, wrong as the feeling that had driven him out of bed. Alien and beautiful as the moons of Saturn.
“No way!”
He clapped both hands over his mouth, but it was too late. The words were out, full of blood and earth and inappropriate, human coarseness. Their heads turned. He caught a glimpse of armour, shadows and silver, as one of the knights reined in his horse, glided close, bending down.
The creature smelled of cool night air. Its inky gaze raked over Ben from head to toe, like being gently stroked with the leaves of nettles, a million tiny electric shocks. His skin crawled with the prickle of it, ecstatic and unbearable, and he gasped, held on the point of a pin between violent denial and begging it to do more.
Long platinum hair slid forward over a face drawn in strokes of starlight. “Which eye do you see me with?”
“I…” croaked Ben, his mouth desiccated, his lungs labouring. “What? I…”

Something in the garden—something huge, covered in spikes, lifted up the house, foundations and all, and shook it like a child’s toy.
“Fuck!”
Terror goaded him into action. Lurching back into the hall, Ben slammed the door, locked it, shot the bolts top and bottom, fumbled the chain into its slide and reached for the phone. Nine-nine-nine got him a brisk, polite young woman saying “What service please?”
Outside, crystalline laughter tinkled in the starless night. The walls flexed like a sheet of rubber. “Police please! I…” …think I’m being attacked by fairies.
And everything went quiet. Down the street a burglar alarm brayed into the night. He opened the door a crack to see the streetlamps shining vulgar yellow-orange over a score of double-parked cars. There was, of course, no evidence the creatures he’d seen had ever been there at all. He took a deep breath, decided against setting himself up for a charge of wasting police time, and let it out in surrender. “Never mind.”

-- 
Alex Beecroft
http://www.alexbeecroft.com/ 
"Swashbuckle with a bit of swish."

Day 41 – Lincoln to Nottingham

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Given those two cities I bet you can guess what I’m going to write about! A hint – who wore Lincoln Green clothing and detested the Sheriff of Nottingham?

Five points to anyone who said Robin Hood. Gentle slap on the wrist to anyone who said Kevin Costner.

So Robin Hood – a subject chosen purely because while I don’t know anything about Lincoln or Nottingham – my bad because I’m certain they are lovely cities and well worth the visit – the thought of a bunch of hardy and healthy young men hanging out together merrily in the greenwood is a gift to any m/m writers imagination.

Mmm, men in tights. Click on the link for a reminder of how the story goes.

Read the rest of this entry

Panic mode and tenuous links

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Carrying the torch – Day 40

Grimsby to Lincoln.

When I finally got my arse in gear and decided to take a stint in carrying the GLBTQ torch around this fine country of ours many of the spots had already been filled. The area I live in. Gone. Several places I visit on a regular basis, areas full of interest and history from the Romans through to WW2. Both snapped up.

Now, I’m not a stay at home lazy daisy, when time and money allow I like nothing more than to hop in my car and see some sights. I was bound to find one of those areas free, surely. South Devon. Gone. South Wales. Nope.York and Whitby. Nuh huh.

In the end I chose Day 40. Grimsby to Lincoln. After all, Lincoln is on my list of places to visit, even if I haven’t been there yet, and maybe writing about the area would encourage my wandering feet to head that way sooner rather than later.

So which part of the route did I settle on to wax lyrically about?

Grimsby

By the 1950s Grimsby was the world’s largest fishing port.

Hmm. Fish.

Not exactly what I was trying to go for in the tone of my piece. Although, I did find an intriguing snippet on the legend surrounding Grimsby’s origin. Apparently, a fisherman named Grim, was ordered from Denmark on a mission to drown the young Prince Havelock whose three sisters had already met their fate at the hands of wicked Earl Godard. Grim could not bring himself to kill the child but, unable to return, he landed and settled on the Humber estuary, his home becoming known as Grimsby.

I moved on, past Cleethorpes, Louth and Tothill.

Ah hah.

Mablethorpe.

Sea side town with a bracing North seawind, where the young Lillian Francis once rode a donkey across miles of sandy beaches. This is undoubtedly a cue for a photo of me in bad 70s fashion astride a donkey, but there’s no way that’s going to happen!

Nothing exciting there then—apart from me in dodgy yellow and orange striped dungaree shorts–let’s skip to the very end of our journey.

Lincoln.

Now, this–to quote one of my heroes, Francis Albert Sinatra–is my kind of town.

The glorious Lincoln cathedral, complete with a Medieval Library and books dating back to the 10th century.

The cathedral has been on this site since 1092, destroyed and rebuilt on more than one occasion; first by fire, then an earthquake and later the collapse of the central tower which resulted in extensive alterations.

It is a stunning building, even without the snow.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a castle. And there is a fine example at Lincoln.

A castle of sorts occupied the site from 60AD but it wasn’t until 1068 that William the Conqueror began building Lincoln Castle as we see it today. To enlarge the original site, 166 Saxon houses were demolished to clear the area. So, not much different to the sort of thing that happens today—anyone remember a little village called Heathrow?

For 900 years the castle was used as a court and prison. The coffin like pews in the chapel, were to remind prisoners of their fate and to ensure that they could not see each other. Many prisoners were deported to Australia, those less lucky were executed on the ramparts.

The Lincoln Magna Carta–often thought of as the corner stone of liberty–is housed here. It is one of the four surviving originals sealed by King John in 1215.

And if that wasn’t enough there is Lincoln Medieval Bishop’s Palace.

There has been a palace on this site for not much short of 1,000 years. From here the medieval bishops ran the huge Diocese of Lincoln, which at that time stretched from the Humber to the Thames and from Cambridgeshire to the edge of the West Midlands.

You can just see the Cathedral in the background of this photo.

So, is that where we end our journey? Well, actually, no. A town caught my eye as it traversed the route for maybe the tenth time. A town I didn’t even know existed but it gave me tenuous link to something I’m working on. Although when I looked into it further it appeared the link wasn’t quite as oblique as I had first thought.

Boston is a town and small port in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England.

For such a small town it has some items of historical interest.

The Boston Stump (aka St Botolph’s Church) contains the tallest parish church tower in the world. It was also the holder of the record of the tallest building to roof (not spire) in the world until the mid 19th century.  The tower is open to visitors who can climb 209 stairs to approximately two thirds of its total height. Blasphemous graffiti, using satanic crosses from as early as 1731, is still visible today. Many of the stained glass windows around the porch and site of the Charnel House were damaged by rioting puritans in 1612.

Hussey Tower was once the impressive manorial home of Sir John Hussey, a member of the court of Henry VIII. Built in around 1450,the tower was constructed entirely of hand-made red brick produced using local clay and was originally part of a large manor house, including a great hall, servants quarters, kitchens, stables and a large gatehouse. The tower was reserved for the accommodation of the Lord and his family.  Lord Hussey was executed by Henry VIII for treason in 1536 after the unsuccessful Lincolnshire rebellion.

Hang on a minute! Go back to the Stump and the rioting puritans.

© Copyright Dave Hitchborne and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

There is a memorial stone in a little park in Boston, its inscription reads:

‘NEAR THIS PLACE IN SEPTEMBER 1607 THOSE LATER KNOWN AS THE PILGRIM FATHERS SET SAIL ON THEIR FIRST ATTEMPT TO FIND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACROSS THE SEAS’.

So, it was from here that one local puritan priest, John Cotton, was amongst those who sailed from Boston, Lincolnshire to Boston, Mass. and was instrumental in the founding and naming of the city after his home town.

And finally we get to the tenuous link that will finally find this post in some way related to my writing.

Lovers Entwined, is my next novel which is currently in the editing stage.

It is set in Boston, Massachusetts (see, I told you we’d get there eventually). Incidentally, Boston is considered to be ‘the birthplace of American genealogy’. I can see you all throwing your hands in the air and cursing. “Why has she mentioned that?” “More tenuous links!” “WTF!?”

Maybe my unofficial blurb will help.

Lovers Entwined

Ewan Matthews is one of Boston’s leading genealogy experts despite his tender years. He knows how to get the best out of all the records available to him, be they paper or virtual. But when a would-be bridegroom comes looking for confirmation that there are no skeletons in his ancestral closet, Ewan finds himself delving into records he never expected to access. His own dreams!

You can find out more about me at my blog  or on Goodreads

Day 39 – Sheffield to Cleethorpes

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Today, the Olympic torch makes its way from Sheffield to the Lincolnshire seaside town of Cleethorpes, passing through my home town of Rotherham en route – though you have to be up nice and early to watch it go past. Rotherham is one of those towns that has become a byword for a lack of glamour among certain writers and broadsheet journalists (Grace Dent, I’m looking at you), because – well, everything Northern is grim and post-industrial, isn’t it?

It didn’t help that the town also achieved a certain notoriety a few years back when the story hit the national news that a couple of mums had been buying fast food for the children at Rawmarsh Comprehensive and passing it through the school gates, since the pupils weren’t allowed out at lunchtime. The story prompted chef Jamie Oliver, a passionate supporter of the concept of nutritious, quality school meals, to set up Jamie’s Ministry of Food in the town centre, with the aim of inspiring Rotherham’s residents not only to learn how to cook, but to pass on what they’d learned to others. Oliver recruited some of the participants for his project at a Rotherham United home game – and it’s a brave man who can stand on the pitch and ask for volunteers while a couple of thousand people chant “You fat bastard” at him. But the project thrives, and now has bases in a number of English towns and cities, spreading the message that eating well is possible for everyone, even with limited time or a low budget.

You’re still probably taking away from this the impression that I come from some post-industrial wasteland with little to recommend it. It’s true that the centre of town no longer rings to the clanging strikes of a rolling mill in action (a sound you’ll also hear at the beginning of Billy Joel’s Allentown, about a town which could, spiritually, be twinned with Rotherham) and there’s almost nothing left in the way of mining throughout South Yorkshire, the area still produces specialist steels, and Sheffield’s society of Cutlers continues to uphold the standards of quality in cutlery and steel (and has recently elected its first ever female Master Cutler – and you have to love anyone with Master in their title, man or woman…).

The Chapel of our Lady Bridge

The centre of the town is currently undergoing extensive regeneration, though it’s always had sites of historic interest to recommend it. Rotherham Minster, still more commonly known to those of us who were brought up there as All Saint’s Church, has stood in its current form since the 15th century and has been described in the Pevsner Architectural Guides as “the best perpendicular church in the country”. Of equal significance is the Chapel of our Lady Bridge, one of only four bridge chapels remaining in England (the others are in Wakefield, Bradford-on-Avon and St Ives in Cambridgeshire).

A little way out of the town centre is Thomas Rotherham College, the former boys’ grammar school, is named to commemorate Thomas de Rotherham, archbishop of York in the 1480s and 90s, and ambassador to France during King Edward IV. The school was founded in 1483, and celebrated its 500th  anniversary while I was taking my A-levels there, in a stunt which involved a bunch of us being rounded up and photographed standing on the lawn in front of the college, positioned to form the figures 500. Hey, whoever said the 1980s were sophisticated?

But the newest site of interest in Rotherham is the New York Stadium, the new home of Rotherham United, which the club will be moving back to after spending four years playing at the Don Valley Stadium, a few miles down the road in Attercliffe and the venue where today’s torch relay begins. Though it might seem a pretentious name for a football ground on first hearing, the area in which the stadium is built was historically known as New York. Not only that, but the Guest and Chrimes foundry, which used to occupy the land, was responsible for making some of New York’s iconic fire hydrants. The new season kicks off in August, and I for one can’t wait to step inside the stadium for the first time.

Howard Webb

So that covers the town; what about the people? Rotherham’s best known current exports include children’s TV comedy duo the Chuckle Brothers (“To me!” “To you!”), Dean Andrews (Ray Carling in Life on Mars and Ashes To Ashes), top Premier League referee Howard Webb and Muse bassist Chris Wolstenholme – and we can also boast a successful Olympian from the town, Peter Elliott, who won silver in the 1500 metres in Seoul, back in 1988.

So that’s Rotherham in a nutshell – maybe just another Northern town, but one that will always in my heart, however long I spend away from the place. I’ve just used it as the setting for a story, Looking Out For Trouble, which will be appearing in Xcite Books’ forthcoming Bad Boys anthology. The story of a bouncer who finds himself having to play the hero for a cute young man with no immediate sense of personal danger, it’s an attempt to show you can find the right guy even in the least promising surroundings. Here’s a short extract:

Though it’s been a quiet night – Rotherham on a Friday night may never be quite the screaming, puking, knicker-flashing war zone some town centres can become when the drink starts flowing, but the bad weather’s either keeping people at home, or they’ve settled on their favourite club and stayed there, rather than hopping from one venue to the next as they otherwise might. When you’ve spent an hour getting your hair just right and you haven’t bothered with a coat to save on cloakroom charges, you’re not going to ruin your look by stepping out in a rainstorm.

Not that I mind. Some nights, it’s nice not to have to intervene and separate two beered-up lads spoiling for a fight while they wait to get inside, or fend off the attentions of girls who think they can flirt their way to the head of the queue. Sometimes, it’s more than just idle chat: I’ve had more than one phone number pushed into the pocket of my overcoat, or scrawled in eyeliner pencil on the back of my hand, so many promises of a fuck I’ll never forget if only I respond. Gaz and the lads laugh when I tell them, and claim it’s down to this bad boy vibe I give off, with my close-cropped hair, diamond ear stud and stubbled chin. I don’t see it myself, but then I’ve never really been too concerned about the image I present to women.

Checking my watch, I see there’s still more than 40 minutes till I come to the end of my shift. Already people are beginning to stagger out of the club in twos and threes, calling their farewells to each other in slurred voices, louder than they’d usually use, not yet adjusted to the difference between the thumping music inside and the silence on the street out here. Girls’ heels clack in staccato rhythm on the pavement as they dash down the hill in the direction of the nearest minicab office. A lone car drives past, tyres hissing against the wet road surface, pulling to a long, frustrating halt at lights still set to control the flow of daytime traffic. The odd person wishes me goodnight as they leave, but most of them don’t even see me; they ever only notice the door supervisor on their way inside. I can never decide whether or not I like it that way.

Elizabeth Coldwell lives and writes in London (and plans to cheer the torch on when it reaches Newham in July). She can be found at The (Really) Naughty Corner – http://elizabethcoldwell.blogspot.com

Remembering Your Roots

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Day 38: Leeds to Sheffield

Today, the Olympic Torch wends its winding way from Leeds to Sheffield. Roughly halfway down, it passes through Pontefract.

Pontefract is a historic market town in the North of England. Its name, first mentioned in documents from 1090, derives from the Latin for broken bridge (it makes you wonder why they didn’t just fix the thing, rather than naming the town after it!)

Coming, as I do, from the deep, deep South (that’s the Isle of Wight, not Alabama!) the first time I ever heard the name was in connection with Pontefract Cakes.

These are not, as you’ll guess, the sort of cake you have with your afternoon tea. They’re sweets—flat, circular liquorice sweets, traditionally hand-stamped with an image of Pontefract Castle. The sandy soil around Pontefract is ideally suited to growing liquorice shrubs, the roots of which produce the juice that’s made into the sweets.

Local children used to chew and suck the roots for a free taste, which was probably a lot better for their teeth! Having once been given a present of a liquorice root as a child, I can tell you the flavour’s milder and it lasts pretty much forever. Also, you feel a bit daft if anyone sees you chewing on a twig.

Although the liquorice fields have now disappeared, the town is still proud of its, ahem, roots. If you’re in the area on Sunday 8th July, why not pop along to the Liquorice Festival?

Fun (and temporarily blackened teeth) for all the family!

When I wrote Pleasures With Rough Strife, an m/m novelette set in the 1920s, I used Pontefract much as the Australian soap Neighbours used to use Melbourne – as a place for people to disappear to!

It was still dead dark in the forest, hardly a scrap of moonlight to find your way by, but Danny knew his way through these woods better than he knew his own face, and he recalled a big old oak tree set in a clearing that had a grand patch of mistletoe growing on it. It hung down from the branches like—well, Danny wasn’t much good with poetic descriptions and the like, but what it reminded him of most was the time he and Billy Wainwright had broken into the abandoned cottage next to the orchard for a lark. They’d crept into the pantry and found a wasp’s nest that was bigger around than both of them put together. They’d stared at it open-mouthed for a moment as the wasps started to swarm angrily on being disturbed. And then they’d both yelled out loud and run like buggery.

Danny grinned at the memory, though regret twisted in his gut just a little. Billy wasn’t around anymore. He’d gone off to Pontefract to train up as a stonemason, and he’d met a local lass there and married her. Two kids already, though he wasn’t but a couple of years older than Danny himself. Of course, the first one had been the reason they’d wed so quick. Danny had been hurt, at first, when he’d heard the news, but it weren’t like Billy could’ve married him, was it now?

–          Pleasures With Rough Strife

Writing the sequel, provisionally titled Iron Gates of Life, I decided the place deserved a bit of page time. I’d give you an excerpt but unfortunately it’s a bit spoilery!

Researching the story, I was indebted to this website: http://www.pontefractus.co.uk/index.htm which contains a wealth of information, chiefly in the form of personal recollections by Pontefract residents.  Some of the memories of early poverty in the days before the welfare state are particularly moving.

Stone breaking at Pontefract workhouse, 1920s.

JL Merrow

Writer of (mainly) m/m romance, and fearless killer of bunnies.
Find me at: www.jlmerrow.com

Day 37: Salford to Leeds

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Mention Salford, and my first thought is L.S. Lowry and his Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs. Today, though, I want to concentrate on some creative types a little further along the route (or justoff it) in the town of Hebden Bridge.

  Houses and Barges by The Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge: Bernard Rabone

Houses and Barges by The Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge: Bernard Rabone

When I was but a youngster, I knew of Hebden Bridge as the place where pupils doing English A Levels went for their creative writing weekends. Then I got a little older and learned that not only is it home to other creative and New Age types, but it also has lots of lesbians. I went there for a job interview in 1995, and while the job itself didn’t inspire me, the town did.

It’s also inspired various of my friends, and two of them will be moving there later this year. I have grand plans to go and stay with them as soon as they’re settled.

Back to writing. The wonderfully diverse population for such a small town, along with the beautiful Calderdale scenery, inspired my story ‘The Woman Who Hatched a Fairy’s Egg’ in A Series of Ordinary Adventures. Cynthia inherits a large, rather run-down house up above the town from her partner, Sophie, who in turn had not long since inherited it from her grandmother. Not wanting to stay in London by herself, Cynthia moves into the house and starts on a plan to renovate it.

View towards Todmorden, West Yorkshire: Alastair Wallace

View towards Todmorden, West Yorkshire: Alastair Wallace

She also rediscovers her talent for weaving, which she decides to turn into a source of income, as well as renting out rooms in her house to visiting artists and craftspeople, just as soon as she gets the place in order. Then, one afternoon, she finds an egg…

At first glance, the egg looked like a confection, one of those solid chocolate sweets with the hard sugar shells that seemed to appear in the shops earlier and earlier each year. Those were generally a little smaller, perhaps two-thirds the size of this one. When Cynthia poked gently at the egg with one hesitant finger, it rocked as if it weighed little more than a handful of feathers. She lifted it carefully with her thumb and forefinger. It was faintly warm, its surface chalky, its contents moving slightly in much the same way as those of a raw hen’s egg.

Cynthia decides to incubate the egg, with no real idea what it might hatch into, and so her adventure begins. Along the way she meets various of the townspeople — locals and incomers — as well as becoming very good friends with Matthew, the local Wildlife Officer, and the widowed father of an estranged son.

How about a slightly longer excerpt, in which Matthew and Cynthia are on their way to Leeds to look at new furniture for Cynthia’s house…

“I tried phoning Martin last night,” Matthew said, just as Cynthia was about to turn the radio up after all. “He wasn’t in, but I left a message with one of them as he lives with.”

“Have you managed to speak to him recently?”

“Not since Christmas. He was at his grandparents’ but he phoned me on the day. I suppose we spoke for all of five minutes then.”

Looking down to Pecket Well & Hedden Bridge from Oxenhope Moor: Mat Overton

Looking down to Pecket Well & Hedden Bridge from Oxenhope Moor: Mat Overton

Cynthia waited for Matthew to overtake three lorries before making her reply, but Matthew spoke again before she could say anything.

“I just don’t know what I’ve done wrong. It’s been eight years. He can’t be holding a grudge after all that time, surely? The accident wasn’t even my fault. I was at home.” Just as he had been when Sarah died, he seemed to imply.

“I wouldn’t know,” Cynthia admitted. “My father hasn’t spoken to me in a lot longer than that.”

“Because you didn’t want to work for him? Dad wanted me to be a gamekeeper, but he came round once he saw I was happy doing my own thing.”

“It wasn’t that.” Cynthia was unsure how much Matthew knew: how much people had told him, and how much he had figured out for himself. “He was proud of me when I worked in the City. He was always far more keen to boast about what I made at bonus time than anyone else I knew did about their own money.”

“He didn’t like that you quit it all?”

“Partly. He didn’t want to tell people about my…” Her breakdown. “About how I dropped out, and sold all my status symbols. About how I was living in a tiny flat on the tenth floor of a tower block, and seeing a therapist three days a week.” She took a breath. “The last straw was when I went home to tell my parents that they didn’t have two sons and a daughter, they had two daughters and a son.”

“That’s not right.”

Cynthia hardly dared look at Matthew as he wrenched the truck off the motorway and through a series of roundabouts leading to an industrial estate. He slowed the truck, and pulled off the road into a car park.

At the far end of the car park, Cynthia spotted the first of the furniture stores on her list.

“It’s not right,” Matthew repeated. “You share something like that with them, they should try to understand.”

“He didn’t try. My mother might have, if he’d let her speak to me about it.” Cynthia unfastened her seatbelt. “But he threw me out, and told me never to darken his door again.” He’d called her every name she’d ever heard people use about “her sort,” and found even more on the one occasion that she’d tried to introduce Sophie to him. Perhaps her father would have accepted her in the end, if she and Sophie had been able to produce grandchildren for him.

The door beside her opened, startling Cynthia out of her train of thought.

“It just makes no sense to me.” Matthew was standing at her shoulder, even though she had no memory of hearing him get out of the truck. “You can’t help who you are. I’d never turn Martin away for something that wasn’t his fault. I wouldn’t turn him away for something of his own choosing, either, but we’re not talking about choice here.” He held out his hand.

Cynthia let him help her down, then kept her fingers loosely entwined with his.

“I’m trying to picture it,” Matthew said slowly. “You went home, and said ‘Dad, I’m not—whatever your name was before—I’m Cynthia,’ and then he threw you out? He’s never got in touch, and said ‘Sorry, Cynthia, it was me that was in the wrong’?”

Cynthia shook her head. “Never.”

“If Martin… Well, I might be angry at myself for not seeing it without being told, but not in a way that might make him think I was angry with him.”

“He’ll come round one day.” How could he not? Matthew was obviously a good father, despite his faults.

“I hope you’re right.” Matthew looked down at their joined hands. “Can I ask you one thing? Just so I can get my head around it all?”

***

You can read more about Cynthia and Matthew, as well as a whole host of other, highly diverse characters in A Series of Ordinary Adventures from Candlemark and Gleam. But for now, some other fun facts about Hebden Bridge, which is sadly suffering right now from the worst floods in 30 years.

Little Blue and Red Barge on the Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge: Bernard Rabone

Little Blue and Red Barge on the Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge: Bernard Rabone

It’s on the Rochadale Canal. They don’t hold with supermarkets or plastic bags. The houses are built on top of each other, because of the steep hills.It used to be known as ‘Trouser Town’ on account of all the mills. Feel free to add more facts of your own.

All photographs from 123RF Stock Photos