Part 4 of our literary journey through my novels takes us far, far away from my former Liverpool home, the principal setting of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, to the gritty and exotic island of Jamaica.
Liverpool has had a small, but significant Caribbean community since at least the early part of the 19th century. Concentrated in south-central Liverpool, a vibrant social scene is associated with it, which includes a number of night clubs and dance halls. Some of these only just survived into the 1980s, following the infamous Toxteth riots of 1981, like the fictitious New Jamaica Club where Gina finds the first clue to the whereabouts of her missing father, Godrell Clark.
The occasional late night drink in my student days at one or two of those surviving social clubs is as close as I’ve ever got to Jamaica though. Of course, it would have been wonderful to visit the country in the ‘interests of research’, but that wasn’t going to happen.
Keen to hit a note of authenticity, I spent some time on Mr Google, but that didn’t really give me the feel for the country I was seeking. So what was I going to do to get under the skin of the place?
Well, it probably won’t surprise you to discover that I turned to the world of fiction. I’ve always enjoyed reading novels set in places I’ve visited, or wanted to visit, so that was the voyage of discovery I took. The books I found were these.
Augustown by Kei Miller is a superb book! Just what I was looking for. It gave me the real essence of the people and the place and is a wonderfully engaging, yet gritty, story. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James is a much more challenging read, both in terms of the language and content. I regret to say I abandoned it about half way through. I could have persisted, and the reviews it’s received suggest that I should have. But life’s too short… and I had a book to write.
One final piece in my journey. How to get the sound and rhythm of my Jamaican characters’ speech? Well, it just so happened that an early series of the British-French TV series, ‘Death in Paradise’ was being aired on TV here. Policeman, Dwayne Myers, played by British actor, Danny John-Jules, provided the perfect voice for me to play back in my mind as I was writing.
Now, will you feel the sun on your face and the heat rising from the dusty ground?
Excerpt from ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’
The afternoon sun beat down on the dusty road outside C&J Motors where Dixon Jones was polishing the bonnet of a boxy blue Volvo. He hummed along to the song on the radio, which was playing inside the workshop. He wiped the sweat from his face with the sleeve of his overalls and stood back to admire his handiwork. Alerted by the sound of an engine, he looked around to see a shiny red MG pull up in a cloud of dust. The door opened and the driver got out.
“Hey Dixon man, what you doin’ workin’ in all this heat?”
“Hey Godrell, what you doin’ drivin’ up like that, stirrin’ up all the dust?”
The two men greeted each other shaking hands, gripping thumbs and bumping fists three times before crossing their forearms across their chests. Dixon extended his arm around his friend’s shoulder. “So, let me get you a beer and you can tell me what brings you all the way out here from old Kingston Town.”
Godrell sat down on the bench in front of the workshop in the shade of the old mango tree while Dixon went through to the little back kitchen to fetch two bottles of Red Stripe. He handed one to Godrell before sitting down beside him. They chinked their bottles together.
“Seriously though,” said Godrell. “Why are you workin’ when you don’t have to? That’s what we employ the boys for.” He looked around, “Hey, where’s Jimmy and Crazy anyway?”
“Oh, they’re deliverin’ a car we just sold. Over on the other side of the island,” replied Dixon. “The ’64 Chevy. Nice price we got too.” He looked over at the Volvo. “I just like to do a bit of tinkerin’ and polishin’ now and then.” He laughed. “You is the real sleepin’ partner, but I like to keep my hand in here and there,” he said. He punched Godrell’s shoulder. “You just concentrate on makin’ a fortune wit’ those modern records in that shiny new studio of yours.”
“Sure, man. It’s the music what makes the world go round, eh?” Godrell did a little shimmy, making the gold chains around his neck rattle together.
“So, anyway, what do I owe the pleasure of your company, this fine afternoon?”
“Ah,” Godrell nodded, “just you look at this.” He pulled a folded up copy of the Kingston Gleaner out of his back pocket. He unfolded the newspaper and turned to the overseas news. “Look here,” he pointed to a small article and handed the paper to Dixon.
Dixon read the headline: ‘New Jamaica Club opens in Liverpool.’ There was a picture of the building with a man standing in the doorway at the top of the steps. The article went on: ‘The former Jamaica Club opens its doors again, with an exhibition of photographs and documents relating to the Caribbean community in Liverpool. People are invited to come and tell their stories and trace their past.”
Dixon turned to Godrell, “My, oh my, in our Liverpool home. I remember that building.” He smiled. “That whole scene…” his eyes glazed over for a moment. “And all those things we got up to when we were off the boat,” he grinned, hugging himself, his eyes dancing.
“Well, when you’re in a band…”
“…it’s only to be expected.” They both laughed.
“You remember the girls?”
Dixon looked down. “I remember that one girl,” he smiled. “But she had already fallen for somebody else.” He sighed, “Marie… that was her name. I suppose she married him and lived happily ever after.” He took a long pull from his beer and shook his head. “It was long ago, eh? Another time, another life.”
“But there’s more,” Godrell tapped the photograph. “See that man standing outside?” Dixon read the caption again and shrugged. Godrell continued. “It was Gracie Lloyd who showed me this. She’s the man’s sister. She came around this morning, hammering on the studio door and kicking up a ruckus, just to tell me that her brother here’s been trying to get hold of me.”
“That man’s Gracie’s brother is he?” Dixon peered at the photograph. “Devon Lloyd,” he shook his head. “I can’t say I remember him.”
“No, I don’t either. But I didn’t even know Gracie had an elder brother ‘til she showed me this.”
“And he’s a-wanting to get in touch wit’ you all the way from Liverpool, eh?” Dixon chuckled. “Maybe your past is catching up with you finally!”
“And what past would I have to worry about?” said Godrell, his eyes widening in an imitation of innocence.
Dixon raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
“Anyway, it got me thinking. About the band,” said Godrell. “I thought maybe we could get the boys together one last time; have a reunion of the famous Kingston Jazz Cats. What d’you say, man?”
Dixon thought for a moment. “Those were the days,” he muttered to himself. He looked up to the left, then up to the right, pursing his lips. Finally he nodded and said, “I think it’s a damn fine idea, Godrell Clarke. I think it’s a damn fine idea.”
You’ll Never Walk Alone: available in paperback, ebook and on KindleUnlimited. Also available from other online stores.
Image credits: Wikipedia, Goodreads
Sinead thrust the now useless Prophesy Book back into Moonsprite’s saddlebag. The light was fading and the temperature was plummeting with it. The same thoughts formed in both Sinead’s and Moonsprite’s minds. Had they been betrayed again? First by the Sisterhood, now by the so-called Gatekeeper?
At least they still had all the remaining artifacts.
The Crystal of Nor began to pulse.
Sinead snatched it up and held it aloft, but its glow could not penetrate the gloom ahead. Surely their only course was to return to the Garden and confront the Gatekeeper. Moonsprite snorted in agreement, nudging at Sinead to mount.
Guided by the Crystal’s light, Moonsprite thundered sure-footedly down the snow-covered steps. Soon the great iron gates came into view. Sinead dismounted and hurried forward. She gripped the gates and pulled, but they remained stubbornly shut.
In the snow-clad garden beyond, they heard a great beast howl.
Image credit: deviantart.com/yggdr4zill
Previous episodes of Sinead’s Final Quest an epic tale, unfolding in tiny 150 word increments.
Leave it now, my love
I’ve had my three score years and ten
Soul mates, we’ll meet again
Don’t reach out, my love
Leave me be, let me go ahead
I’ll see you there, you know
Let me rest, my love
My heart may still, but not my soul.
You and I will be one
Preston, in the north west of England, is not the loveliest of towns, although it has some hidden gems. Too much 20th century development has trampled over the heart of the place, which dates back to Roman times. Preston came to prominence as far back as the 12th century, but the city’s history is not why this location is important to our literary journey today.
Once again, we’re delving into some of the background to The Silver Locket.
I was working in Lancashire County Council’s offices in Preston when I started writing the novel, and working in that public sector environment somehow led me to Laura’s occupation: a translator for the EU in Brussels (remember we’re back in 1989). It was my daily commute there from Liverpool through Rufford that really kick-started the novel. Driving fifty miles each way gives a writer lots of thinking time, in between listening to Radio 4, and I wrote many scenes in my head whilst on the road. Naturally, I couldn’t resist a little nod to the city in which I was working.
My desk at County Hall overlooked the Lancashire Records Office, which Laura visits to find out more about the family who lived in the house she’d inherited. It’s a strange building, elevated on stilts. I never did find out why. Nor did I actually visit the place. My knowledge of its operation came from a friend of mine, who was training as an archivist at the time. That’s Jo.
Real people, or sometimes just their names, do occasionally find themselves recreated fictionally in my books. The surname of the Reverend who married Cathy’s parents was borrowed from a colleague. He was rather pleased when I told him.
But back to our setting and the jeweller’s shop that Laura visits. Conveniently, there is (or at least was) a tiny jeweller’s shop, almost exactly as described in the book. Rather dark and mysterious, it had just the kind of owner who’d have the right connections to point Laura in the right direction to solve the mystery of her locket. More about where that takes her another time.
You’ll also notice I make references to the weather. Preston must be the wettest and windiest place I’ve ever encountered!
Excerpt from ‘The Silver Locket’
Twenty minutes later, the train pulled in at Preston. The station was larger and grander than Laura expected, with its curved wrought ironwork and glass roof supported on ornate columns which harked back the Victorian age of steam. From what Laura could see, Preston itself was rather less impressive than its railway station, although she was pleased to see a large Debenhams store on the corner. She might call in on the way back. Now she’d decided to stay on at the house for a while, she could do with a more extensive wardrobe than the suitcase-full she had brought.
Laura followed the directions given to her by the archivist she had spoken to at the Records Office on the phone the previous day. As she passed the solid square building of the county council offices, Laura imagined the staff inside scratching away at piles of bureaucracy, much like their counterparts in Brussels.
The Records Office was as described: an oblong building on stilts. Maybe the building was so strangely elevated to protect the records from flood, although despite the volume of the recent rain, it seemed unlikely that flood waters would ever reach such a height.
The archivist, Jo, who she’d spoken to on the phone, was an attractive young woman with long blonde hair. She was a great help, setting her up with the microfiche records of baptisms and burials from St. Mary’s church. Laura scanned through the records. It didn’t take her long to get used to navigating through the closely written text. Laura knew that the date of Cathy’s baptism had to before 1912. If Peter had been 22 when he’d died, as it said on the gravestone, he would have been born in 1890, just over a hundred years ago. Cathy was obviously his younger sister, so she should start looking at the entries after 1890.
And there it was: Catherine Emily Martland, baptised 31st March 1897. Her parents’ names, Thomas Edgar and Sarah Elizabeth, of Rufford, Lancashire. The ceremony performed by the Reverend Josiah Blackburn.
At last, here was the proof that Cathy had existed. This had to be the Cathy who experiences she had lived out in the two dreams, she’d had. Dreams that had been so vivid, it had been as if she was Cathy herself. Laura had never had dreams like these before. She wasn’t exactly disturbed by them, but it was strange. Maybe it was as Helen had said. She was just so immersed in the house that she was bound to dream about it. But still, why wasn’t she dreaming about her aunt? Why were the dreams taking her back to an earlier period in the house’s history?
Laura exchanged the baptisms sheet for the burials one. There was no record of the burials of Thomas or Peter. The woman in the churchyard had said that they never found Thomas’s body. Maybe Peter’s body had been lost too. Sarah’s burial was dated 18th July 1916. She and Cathy had already moved out of the house, of course, as Lucy’s husband had purchased it in 1913. Laura wondered where they had gone. She continued to scan the records, but she could find no entry for Catherine. Her eyes were getting tired, and anyway she had found out what she really wanted to know. One final scan and her eyes found the name James Clayton, Lucy’s husband. He had died in 1925. Poor Lucy, though maybe if he had been so badly shell-shocked, it had been something of a relief.
Laura returned the microfiche sheets to their box and took them back to the counter.
“Any luck?” asked Jo.
“Yes, thanks,” Laura replied. “I found what I was looking for.”
“Well, if you need anything else, you know where we are.”
Laura headed back towards the station, passing the entrance and heading for the ugly Fishergate Centre which housed Debenhams. A quick coffee and a slice of cake fortified her for some proper retail therapy. Although not a particularly keen clothes shopper, Laura was happy enough browsing the displays and picking out some practical additions to her currently sparse wardrobe. She also splashed out on a duvet and a pretty cover, since she was missing the comfort and ease of a quilt, being no longer accustomed to the sheets and blankets she was using now.
As she left the Centre she noticed a small jeweller’s shop on the opposite corner. She still had the locket fastened around her neck and it would be the ideal opportunity to have it examined. The bell on the door rang loudly as she entered.
“Be right with you,” called a voice from the back room of the shop. Presently, a man emerged.
“Could you take a look at this for me?” Laura asked unfastening the ribbon and handing him the little necklace. “I think it should open, but I’m afraid of breaking it.”
He turned the locket over in his hand. “I’m a bit busy just now, but I can certainly look at it tomorrow if you want to leave it with me.”
Laura hesitated. Somehow she didn’t want to part with the locket. But that was stupid. She could easily come back on the train tomorrow. She nodded and took his card.
Fortunately the train wasn’t crowded and Laura was able to secure sufficient space to accommodate her purchases. As the train pulled into Rufford station, she recognised the woman in the brown coat again. She had just left the platform and was heading over the level crossing. Laura was keen to speak to her. She hurried off the train, dragging her carrier bags with her. The woman turned into the churchyard. Laura tried to quicken her pace, but the wind which had replaced the rain, caught the unwieldy bags and slowed her down. By the time she reached the church the woman had vanished. Maybe she had gone into the church? Laura went to look, but the door was locked.
The Silver Locket: available as a paperback, ebook and on KindleUnlimited
Image credit: visitpreston.com
Sinead and Moonsprite began to climb the shallow steps. All they could see around them were the tall hedges on either side and a bright patch of clear sky in the far distance, where the endless steps were leading them.
The air grew increasing chilly. Frills of frost appeared on the hedges and visible tendrils of breath spilled from Moonsprite’s nostrils. Flakes of snow began to fall. Sinead shivered and drew her cloak around her.
On they climbed through the ever-thickening snow. Sinead placed her hand on the hilt of her sword. This time Moonsprite sent no calming message to her, as she had back in the Garden. Sinead placed her other hand on Moonsprite’s neck, urging her to stop. The snow-white unicorn halted, stamping her hooves on the icy stone, while Sinead opened the saddlebag. She took out the Prophesy Book and opened it.
Every single page was blank.
Previous episodes of Sinead’s Final Quest an epic tale, unfolding in tiny 150 word increments.
Standing on the threshold, your future unmapped
who knows what adventures lie ahead?
which paths will you take?
which avenues will you dawdle down?
what rewards will you seek?
Everything lies before you
the big world beckons.
Choose wisely, my son
but not too wisely.
Life’s not a dress rehearsal.
In the second of my series discussing the settings for my novels, come with me to Alderley Edge, in Cheshire, NW England.
“Alderley Edge is an abrupt and elevated ridge, formerly the site of a beacon, which bears the appearance of having been detached by some great convulsion of nature. … The sides are varied with cultivated land, wood and rock; and the entire mass presents a striking object to all the surrounding district over which it commands a most extensive prospect.” The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, George Ormerod (1819).
This looming escarpment provides the backdrop to my third novel, ‘Following the Green Rabbit’, which I began writing during NaNoWriMo in 2018. By this time, I’d been living in South Africa for eight years, so I was drawing heavily on my carefully stored memories of the English countryside for the setting.
Alderley Edge still towers over a patchwork of fields and farmland and small villages. It has an ancient, timeless quality. I drove past it numerous times when making the journey home from North Wales to Liverpool, and I can still see it clearly in my mind’s eye: a massive stark shape hunched over the surrounding landscape, dark against the glowing afternoon sky. This, and the open countryside beyond, the wide Cheshire Plain, peppered with old villages that still hold the essence of the past, was the perfect setting for the novel.
This location also provided the setting for two of my favourite childhood novels, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel, The Moon of Gomrath, written by British novelist, Alan Garner. Garner lived locally and the timeless quality of the place and the legends associated with it, inspired him too. It’s a place where anything might happen at any time in history.
The towering escarpment, presiding as it does over a flat, low-lying landscape, is a metaphor for the wicked Lord of the Manor in the novel, whose presence looms over the lives of the people who live in the village where my two plucky heroines find themselves.
Excerpt from ‘Following the Green Rabbit’
They stood up, wondering where to run. The sound of the hooves was getting louder. A horse snorted and they heard a man cry out.
“Quick. Behind the house.” Bryony grabbed her sister’s hand and they ran around the back of the damaged building.
Seconds later the clearing was full of stomping horses. The girls cowered under the window at the back of the house.
A man shouted. “Where did he go?” Another voice: “Search the buildings.”
Bethany gasped. Bryony held her tight. Over her shoulder she saw something moving in the bushes. A boy’s head appeared. His eyes were wide-open and startled-looking. He stared straight at Bryony, who froze, clinging on to her sister. Bryony was aware of more shouting at the front of the house. The men were arguing. She focused on the boy’s face. It was scratched and dirty, his hair was sticking out wildly from under his cap and his shirt was torn. He looked to left and right, then beckoned to her, nodding and mouthing words to her.
Bethany twisted around to see what Bryony was looking at. She gasped in surprise. The boy beckoned with greater urgency. At the front of the building the shouting stopped.
Then suddenly, they heard the order. “Find him! Spread out! He’s got to be here somewhere.” The voice was harsh and the accent strange to Bryony’s ears. She looked at Bethany and nodded. They scrabbled into the bushes and followed the boy as he disappeared deep into the undergrowth.
He moved rapidly and the girls struggled to keep up. But they did. The men’s shouts as they rode around the glade on their heavy-hoofed horses spurred them on. Low branches tugged at their hair and their clothes, while brambles scratched their bare legs. They stumbled over roots and crawled over logs for what seemed like ages. The boy glanced back a couple of times to check on their progress, but he didn’t slacken the pace. Finally they came to a steep bank where he stopped.
“Get ourselves over that,” he nodded at the bank, “they’ll not follow. A bit further on there’s a place where we can stop and talk.”
The girls weren’t used to climbing but he showed them how to use the tree roots as hand and foot holds and they soon managed to clamber up. A series of rocky outcrops on the other side made it easy enough for the girls to scramble down.
“Follow me,” the boy said. The girls obeyed, picking their way along the rock-strewn path. Both were grateful to still be wearing their sturdy outdoor shoes from their morning walk into the village. A little further along he stopped again and led them down another dip in the land to a wide flat slab of stone at the entrance to a cave.
The boy flopped down on the ground just inside the cave. The girls followed his example, leaning back against the smooth cave walls. “That was a close call,” he said. “I thought me goose was well and truly cooked.”
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Without another word the emerald-clad Gatekeeper turned on her heel and strode across the lawn to a different path. Sinead and Moonsprite hastened after her. The atmosphere had changed. A cool wind blew across the grass and the trees began to quiver, casting showers of red-golden leaves onto the ground.
The Gatekeeper glanced over her shoulder and quickened her step. When Sinead and Moonsprite caught up with her she was standing before a pair of tall iron gates. A broad flight of steps, edged with tall green hedges, lay beyond.
Sinead took the Freedom Key from her tunic and held it out to the Gatekeeper, but the ageless woman shook her head.
‘These gates are not locked. All are free to pass through.’ She turned and pushed the two gates open with a grand, sweeping gesture. ‘Put the Key away and enter,’ she instructed. ‘I will not be far behind you.’
Image credit: ‘Iron Gate’ by flowerpowerstock on Deviant Art
Previous episodes of Sinead’s Final Quest an epic tale, unfolding in tiny 150 word increments.
Little heart fluttering
in the palm of my hand
what delight to share a moment
with such a pretty little creature!
Won’t you stay awhile?
Scooped from the rail
my tiny bones quake
and now, eyes squeezed shut
I wait for the giant to crush me
in its big, clumsy fist.
Be calm, little bird
do not fear me
allow me to look more closely
admire the beauty
of your bright plumage.
The hand seems gentle
but I shan’t be taken in.
I open a wary eye
prepare for flight
Farewell, little bird
I’ll listen for your song
here by the lake
me, in gentle harmony