Introducing ‘LAUNCH PAD’ a new monthly feature here on Luna’sonline.
It’s a ‘First Fridays’ spot for writers with something to say about their new books by way of a guest blog. All mainstream genres are welcome be it fiction, poetry, memoir or even non-fiction – am I the only person who reads cookery books cover to cover? I’m particularly keen to support fellow Indie Authors, although by no means exclusively.
As many of you know I’m an avid reader and I’m always keen to discover new books. So let’s give it a go! If you’re interested, just drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org in response I’ll explain what I’ll need from you and when. I already have the first spot in May filled, but if you’d like to book a First Friday from June to November, let me know, especially if you have a book release lined up in the coming months.
And whilst you’re all here, it’s time to break out the bubbly and celebrate myfirst novel‘s 9th book birthday last week!
Back in my corporeal form, my sense of self reasserts itself. I pick my way through the detritus of another ruined city, the remnants of a multinational conflict: the world’s leaders have destroyed each other and, in a mad orgy of annihilation, almost the whole of humanity has perished. My world has been burnt to a crisp and I take no pleasure in the part I have played.
Am I the only one left? I long for my home, my uncle and our secret pact with Gaia – but where is she?
Abandoned, alone I trudge the blackened back-roads seeking redemption.
Let’s hop on the tour bus today and leave the big city behind. Our latest stop on the literary tour through the pages of my novels takes us to Delamere Forest in the heart of the Cheshire countryside. If we’re in Cheshire, we must be Following the Green Rabbit, which seems appropriate for this Easter weekend.
Delamere Forest, in the north-west of England, is also known as the ‘forest of the lakes’. It is the largest area of woodland in the country and it’s an ancient woodland too: the remains of the great forests of Mara and Mondrem, hunting areas which date back to the 11th century. It’s still an important recreational site, although now for walking, hiking and cycling rather than chasing down deer and wild boar.
It’s also on the way to Beeston Reclamation, a large architectural antiques retailers, which we visited several times when we were renovating our last house in Liverpool. One time, we were looking for some quarry tiles to replace the broken ones we found under the hideous green carpet we took up in the lounge-dining room. What a happy find that floor was! Happier still, while we were looking at the tiles that were available, we got chatting to someone who was looking to off-load a pile of the very same tiles – all for free so long as we went to fetch them – which, of course, we did.
But back to Delamere Forest. The narrow country road which cuts north-south through the forest has the feel of an old Roman road. The trees rise on either side giving you a feeling of being in a great green tunnel, especially in summer.
I remember visiting Delamere Forest one late spring day and coming upon a glade of bluebells. It was a magical site. One I took away with me and eventually incorporated into the creation of Bluebell Wood, the small woodland which lies just beyond the orchard belonging to the house where Bryony and Bethany from Following the Green Rabbit live. Geographically speaking, Delamere Forest is not so far from Daresbury, the Cheshire village which, in my imagination, became the principal backdrop to the novel. I just had to drag a little piece of forest about 10 miles north-east. The Forest’s ancient nature also fuelled my imagination for the story and, of course, for heroines Bryony and Bethany, living so close to a ‘forbidden’ woodland makes for a great start to an adventure.
Now let’s hop off the bus and feel the warmth of the breeze on our faces. Let’s walk a little way and find a perfect patch of grass, lie down and look up at the clouds. What can you see?
Excerpt from Following the Green Rabbit
“Come and look at the clouds with me,” Bethany shouted. She was sitting on the soft grass, legs stretched out, leaning back on her hands, her golden curls tumbling over her shoulders. “Come on, Briney.”
Bryony gathered her things and went to join her sister. They lay on the grass, heads touching, staring up at the blue summer sky. “Look, there’s a squirrel,” she pointed at a fat round cloud, dragging a wispy plume behind it.
“I think it looks more like Celia’s cat. Tom said we might have one of her kittens when they’re old enough.”
“If Hodge lets us.”
“She will if we ask her nicely.”
Bryony was pointing again, over to the left. “Doesn’t that one look just like Clara?” Clara was Bryony’s favourite hen, a little round bantam with snowy white feathers and frills on her feet. She closed her eyes and listened to the insects buzzing around the fruit trees. Tom was pleased with them and a bumper crop of apples, cherries and plums was anticipated.
Bethany sighed. “I wish we could stay like this forever.”
“With no Mr Eyre.”
“He can’t be worse than Miss Calderbridge.”
“With her stupid pointy nose and her silly stuck up voice.”
Both girls giggled. Bryony rolled over on her stomach. “Mama hasn’t been very good at picking our tutors so far, has she?” She plucked a daisy from the grass and examined it. “I suppose it’s harder when you’re so far away.”
“What’s it like in India?” Bethany turned on one side and looked at her sister.
“Well, the garden with all those roses on that postcard Mama sent looked a bit like ours didn’t it? But it’s much, much hotter there.”
They had been silent for a little while, when suddenly they heard something rustling in the bushes by the fence behind them. They looked round to see an enormous rabbit emerge, nose twitching. His fur was grey-brown with a slight tinge of green. He nibbled on a piece of long grass and then hopped past them. He was so close that Bryony could have stretched out and touched him. He stopped by the first tree and sat up on his hind legs. Then he turned and looked directly at them.
“That’s the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen. Look at his fur.” Bryony whispered.
The rabbit’s ears twitched. “Do you think he wants us to follow him?” Bethany whispered back.
Bryony laughed. “You’re not Alice.” It was only last year that Bryony had read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to her.
“But look, Briney.” The rabbit had raised a paw in their direction. “I’ll just go a bit nearer.” She stood up slowly so as not to alarm the creature, then took a few steps towards him.
The rabbit hopped off as far as the next stand of apple trees. He stopped and turned, looking up at Bethany with his dark brown eyes. His left ear bent quizzically. She looked back at Bryony. “I’m going to follow him.”
Bryony watched her sister scamper off after the rabbit. At twelve, going on thirteen, she felt she was a bit old to be running after rabbits, even if it was an exceptional-looking animal. She rolled over on her back and resumed her contemplation of the clouds. They formed pictures in her mind; pictures which she would later turn into stories. Miss Calderbridge had not approved of her work. Far from it. ‘Too fanciful’, she’d said in that prissy high voice. Fortunately she’s left soon after that particular pronouncement. That had been more than two months ago and Bryony’s note book was more than half full now. She hoped Mr Eyre would be more sympathetic and not try to force useless mathematical problems down her throat. She was going to be a writer. What possible use was algebra?
Bryony was distracted by thoughts of Mr Eyre. How old was he? Might he be young and handsome? Mama’s letter hadn’t mentioned these things. Her eyes refocused on the sky. She let her imagination run free, then struck by a burst of inspiration, she sat up. After a few minutes’ thought she snatched up her note book and pencil and hurried over to the bench under the oak tree, one of her favourite writing spots. Starting on a new page she wrote the words, Bethany and the Great Green Rabbit. She sucked the end of her pencil for a moment then began to write.
Bryony wrote five pages in her closely written script as her story unfolded. Eventually she came to a halt and closed the note book, a satisfied smile on her face. She looked up through the rich canopy of oak leaves which shielded her from the summer sunshine. The shadows had shortened. She’d better go and find her sister. Bryony leapt to her feet and stowed the note book and pencil in her pinafore pocket before setting off through the orchard.
There was a small woodland at the far side. The girls weren’t really supposed to go in there, but they often had, although only as far as the first clearing. No doubt Bethany would be picking bluebells there.
When Bryony reached the clearing, sure enough, there she was sitting on a fallen log. Her long, golden hair obscured her face. She was looking down, examining something she was holding in her hands.
“What have you got there?” Bryony asked as she sat down next to her sister. Bethany held out a tiny wooden object. It just fitted into the palm of her hand. It was a carving of a little bird, which had once been painted; brown feathers on its back and red on its breast. A robin. “It’s lovely, Beth, where did you find it?”
FOLLOWING THE GREEN RABBIT ~ a fantastical adventure
Gaia’s mantle shifts; I gear up for another astral transformation. I multiply, the same being, my very essence, replicates exponentially. Shimmering but not silent, the words of suggestion well up in my mouth as I creep into the consciousness of the rich and powerful that govern so-called humanity; the privileged who instigated their own rescue from the Great Wave that destroyed lesser mortals.
I unleash insidious whispers; spilling into seductive thoughts, temptation floods their avaricious hearts. Now’s the time to strike: the world can be mine!
Hypnotised by greed they’ll unleash the dogs of war: which one will strike first?
Today, we’re just a stone’s throw away from our previous stop on our literary journey through the pages of my novels, but this time we’re catching up with Laura from The Silver Locket.
Here we are at one of the entrances to Princes Park, another of Liverpool’s urban oases, and a location mentioned in both You’ll Never Walk Alone and The Silver Locket. Time-wise, the books are set a few years apart, with You’ll Never Walk Alone being set sometime in the mid 1980s and The Silver Locket in 1989. Maybe one day, the paths of some of the characters from the two books will cross!
In the excerpt below, we join Laura who’s travelled from Rufford on the train to Liverpool to meet the reclusive Ceridwen, who is something of a specialist in strange objects like the locket that Laura’s found under the floorboards of the house she’s inherited. I decided to put Ceridwen in a flat overlooking Princes Park, based on a place I’d have loved to have lived in and so fictionally I could go back and spend a little more time there.
Back in September 1984, I was looking for a new place to stay after I’d graduated and left the house I’d shared in my final year. Of course, back then there were no online sites on which to seek a flat, nor were there any mobile phones, so I was armed with a copy of the Liverpool Echo, folded to the ‘flats for rent’ section, and a pocketful of 10 pence pieces for a public phone box.
I’d already decided I wanted to move across the city to South Liverpool, where a number of my friends had flats. I’d been kipping on the ‘imprompu chaise-longue’ in a friend’s house for a week or so and it was high time I moved on. Having narrowed down my search, the first flat I viewed that afternoon was on the first floor of a huge high-ceilinged converted house on Devonshire Road, right next to Princes Park. The large bed-sitting room, with its curtained-off kitchen, was at the back of the house. The bathroom was down the hall, but only shared with one other flat, which was across the landing. But what really impressed me was the view over the Park. It was stunning! And the room was even within my price range (just).
I still had another place to view, which wasn’t far away, so off I went, telling the landlord I’d phone him straight afterwards, because I was very, very keen on his place. Sadly, however, by the time I found an unvandalised phone box, the ‘room with a view’ had already been taken by someone else. The flat I ended up in was that second one. It was, of course, in the house that belonged to a Chinese landlord – my Tony Wong, from You’ll Never Walk Alone. Who knows what would have happened to that novel without him in my head!
But back to Princes Park and the view from Devonshire Road. From here you can almost see the grave of Judy the Donkey, who was buried on the site of her favourite grazing spot back in 1926. Judy worked in Princes Park for 21 of her 26 years. Not just a donkey for children’s pleasure riding, she was a working animal helping the gardeners by pulling a cart for them.
It’s such a lovely little memorial that couldn’t resist mentioning it in the book. A tiny reference to Judy’s grave appears a few pages further along from today’s excerpt where we catch up with Laura on her visit to the mysterious Ceridwen in that lovely ‘room with a view’.
The following afternoon Laura was in a black taxi cab heading from Lime Street station to the southern suburbs of Liverpool, clutching a local address in her hand. The locket and an envelope containing forty seven pounds, were tucked into the inside packet of her handbag.
The taxi slowed and turned into the broad driveway of a large double-fronted Georgian house. Laura paid the driver and walked up to the front door. The house had been divided into six flats; she pressed the buzzer for Flat 4. Laura still didn’t know the name of the woman she was about to meet. The jeweller’s friend had arranged the appointment for three o’clock, but had only passed on the address. The woman was apparently very nervous about giving out any personal information.
“Yes,” a low voice answered the intercom.
“It’s Laura Peterson; I have an appointment at three o’clock.”
“Come up, Laura. My flat’s on the first floor landing, on the right.”
The front door unlocked and Laura went in. The entrance hall was rather grand, if somewhat dilapidated. There was a large table to the side of the door with the usual mixture of circulars and uncollected post, common to shared houses. A bicycle was chained to the iron balusters at the foot of the stairs.
The door to Flat 4 was standing slightly ajar. Laura knocked gently.
“Come in,” said the low voice.
Laura pushed open the door. The room was large with a high ceiling. The blinds were closed and the room was warm and rather stuffy. Laura closed the door gently and peered into the gloom.
“Come, my dear.” The voice came from a chaise-longue which stood next to the empty fireplace. Laura saw a slight figure, dressed in flowing garments, rising to greet her.
Laura crossed the room, the heels of her shoes noisy on the wooden floor.
“Hi, I’m Laura,” she said holding out her hand. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
The woman made no attempt to take Laura’s outstretched hand.
“Please sit down, Laura,” she said, indicating a low armchair on the opposite side of the fireplace. My name is Ceridwen. I must apologise for not taking your hand just yet, but you will understand why presently.”
Laura sat down.
“Can I bring you some tea, Laura?”
Laura nodded. Ceridwen disappeared behind a curtain on the far side of the room. Laura heard her filling a kettle. Something brushed against Laura’s knee. She looked down and saw a green-eyed cat looking up at her. She stroked the cat’s soft grey head.
Ceridwen returned carrying a tray which held a painted china teapot and two matching mugs. “I see Cullen has introduced himself to you.”
The cat stood up, stretched and walked off. Laura watched as he jumped up onto the windowsill, nosing his way behind the drawn blind.
“Keeping a look out, eh?” said Laura.
Ceridwen said nothing. She poured the tea and handed a mug to Laura. The brown liquid had a pungent, slightly antiseptic smell.
“A herbal mixture of my own. It aids precision of thought and clarity of understanding. I think you’ll find it refreshing.”
Laura sipped the tea; it actually tasted rather pleasant.
“So,” said Ceridwen, pushing back her long red hair, “you have something to show me.”
Laura reached into her handbag and drew out the locket. She slipped it out of its wrapper and held it out to her.
“I found it…” began Laura.
Ceridwen held up her hand. “No, don’t tell me anything about it yet. May I hold it please?”
Ceridwen took the locket, as she did so she avoided touching Laura’s hand. She drew in a sharp breath and closed her eyes, running her thumb gently over the face of the locket. She sat there, motionless for several minutes, then clasping the locket in her fist, she opened her eyes, leant over and switched on the lamp which stood on the table beside her.
“Now Laura, I’d like you to tell me all you can about the locket. Where you found it, what you’ve observed about it, what it means to you.”
Laura paused. “It’s complicated.”
“Take you time, my dear. Start with the facts. Don’t worry if your story seems strange or fanciful. That’s why you’re here with me now.”
Laura recounted all she could from finding the locket to the most recent dream in which the little face had been different from the one Laura knew. While she was speaking, Ceridwen was carefully examining the locket. As Laura finished speaking, she was studying the oval mark intently.
On the windowsill, Cullen uttered a low, menacing sound. Laura could see his silhouette through the blind, his back arched, head erect.
“Would you mind going to see what he’s growling about? It must be something in the park outside.”
Laura went to the window and raised the edge of the blind. A solitary figure in a brown coat was looking up at the window. The figure was too far away for Laura to make out her face, but it looked awfully like the old woman from the churchyard; the same woman who had appeared outside the jewellers and whom Laura had seen leaving the station earlier.
Cullen continued to growl. The woman turned and hurried away. Cullen sat back down on the windowsill and was quiet again, his fur settling back into place.
Laura returned to her seat. “It’s strange; I keep seeing this woman in a brown coat. It’s as if she’s following me. But when she realises I’ve seen her, she rushes off. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I’m sure that was her again, just standing there looking up at the window. I couldn’t see anything else which might have disturbed your cat.”
“She could be following this.” Ceridwen held up the locket.
The Silver Locket (written under pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.
Threaded with trails of ruby magma, blackened viscous air enfolds me; far beneath me the ocean seethes and thunders, rising up in gargantuan walls of water and yet, all the rage passes through me, washes over me. I am immune, while fun-filled bars and sun-kissed beaches are obliterated.
The devastation spreads. Coastal conurbations, north, south, east and west are drenched with deadly, dripping force. Forests flatten, creatures flee; my only thought is for them.
The human infestation is weakened, badly damaged, yet not even decimated; I am still not done.
In Gaia’s service as rival to Pandora: her jar is emptied.
My characters often chat with me, usually in that sleepless hour between three and four in the morning, when they worm their way into my consciousness and strike up a conversation. Some of the principal players from my second novel, You’ll Never Walk Alone, are the most insistent. This recent conversation went the way they usually do, starting with a few flattering comments and then… well, you’ll see.
I’m sitting with Connor and Cynthia in the patch of garden behind Cynthia’s flat. It’s late summer and bees are buzzing lazily around the neglected rosebushes, echoing the hum of the traffic circling Sefton Park.
Connor fills our glasses and places the almost empty bottle on the peeling wrought iron table. He sits back, takes a large mouthful of wine and beams at me. ‘I believe congratulations are in order, once again, Ms Hall.’