I fall through a shower of effervescent light particles and land with a jolt, my nostrils filling with the simple scent of sandalwood overlaying the smell of decay. My uncle’s kindly face comes into focus, he sits in his library, surrounded by his cherished possessions; the lines on his face are entrenched, his shoulders stooped; he has aged – a decade or more. I glance at my hands, the still-smooth skin suggests I have not.
‘Hasten to the Stones,’ he commands. I rise and approach him, but I’m dismissed.
Megaliths murmur: On the Eve of the Dawning Gaia greets your return.
Why I think I’m a feminist – a personal perspective on feminism
I am, without doubt, a feminist. I have subscribed to the belief in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes for almost as long as I can remember. My attitudes have been shaped by my upbringing, influenced by societal expectations and honed by life experience.
I was brought up to believe in equality and in women’s rights.
I grew up in the UK and as a child of the 70s and a young woman of the 80s, my generation’s older sisters had laid the foundations of feminism. Underpinned by new legislation in the 1970s, the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, women were set on a more equal footing than ever before, but perhaps the biggest trigger for change was the widespread – and free – availability of the contraceptive pill in 1974, which…
Today on our literary journey through the pages of my novels we’re returning to the beautiful Berg River where it meets the wonderful West Coast of South Africa, one of my favourite places. This time we’re going a little way inland from our previous visit to Laaiplek where the story of ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’ first seeped into my imagination.
The Berg River rises in the mountains almost 200 miles to the south east, flowing north then west, disappearing and reappearing from a second mountain range, having joined up with a handful of seasonal streams from where it meanders towards the Atlantic Ocean through mudflats, reed beds and sandy scrub. In the summer at low tide careful navigation through the riverine channels is required.
Just a mile or two before the estuary at Laaiplek, the Berg River flows through Velddrift, where we find numerous little jetties reaching out into the river to which the local fishermen moor their little boats. One small section, Bokkomlaan, is particularly delightful. Bokkomlaan (Bokkom Lane) is named for ‘bokkoms’, small whole dried and salted fish (mullet) which are caught in this area. There are lots of little eateries to choose from, river trips and even an art gallery, all packed into one little lane by the banks of the Berg River. Let’s drop in for a spot of seafood and a lot of birdlife!
Bokkoms are something of an acquired taste in my opinion, but the fresh mullet, called ‘harders’ here, are delicious sprinkled with coarse salt and cooked over the braai (barbeque). Bought from the local fish shop, they are incredibly cheap and absolutely delicious, especially if helped down with a chilled bottle of one of our local wines.
Now, if you’ve finished licking the salt off your fingers, let’s join fisherman Sam as he takes his little boat up the river – a man on a mission with something to hide and a rumbling belly.
Excerpt from ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’
Sam slows Porcupine’s engine. This part of the river can be tricky to navigate, especially when the water’s low. It is now well into the dry summer season when all the upland waters have already flowed down from the mountains. There is no more left to replenish the river until the rains come again. Sandbanks lie just beneath the surface of the water, waiting to catch the unwary, and Sam has no wish to run aground and risk becoming stranded. It gives him an idea though. He remembers there’s a tiny island a little further upstream. It’s only accessible by boat and it’s unlikely to be visited by anyone. There are no roads leading to this part of the river and no farms or dwellings near the river’s edge. Only the soggy reed beds. Sam smiles to himself and presses on. Birds dip and dive into the water in Porcupine’s wake, and Sam can see eddies where fish are being stirred up as the little boat progresses. There are plenty of them here. Sam’s stomach rumbles. A tasty river trout would be perfect for his supper.
The island comes into view around the next meander. There’s nowhere to tie up, so he drops the anchor.
Sam looks around. Up and downstream, and across over the open, empty marshland either side of the river. There is no one about. All is deserted apart from the insects that hover and the birds that stalk among the tall reeds. Beyond the marsh, cows graze on a strip of green, and in the distance, the purple and ochre of the distant mountains rise on either side of the wide river valley. The headland where Jannie found the cave, looks down on him. It dominates the landscape and looms over the ocean beyond. It too is deserted.
He listens. Only the sounds of nature and the water gently lapping against Porcupine’s hull reach his straining ears.
He opens the bow end storage compartment and takes out his fishing line and bait tin. There are still a few scraps of dried fish. Enough for him to quickly bait a couple of hooks. He throws the lines over the stern and secures them to the rail of boat, then kicking off his worn takkies, he grabs his spade and jumps over the side into the warm waist-height water. Within a couple of strides he’s standing on the grassy bank of the island.
The island is oval-shaped, no more than four times the length of his little boat. One small, solitary tree stands slightly off centre, its branches spreading low, dipping into the water at the upstream end of the island. He attacks sandy ground with his spade. It’s pretty hard work, since the sand keeps sliding back and refilling the hole, but slowly, slowly he’s making progress. After a few minutes more of steady digging, the spade strikes something hard. Not rock though. It makes the dull metallic clunk of metal on metal. Sam drops the spade and crouches down, scrabbling away at the sand with his hands.
Soon he’s uncovered a square metal box the length and width of his forearm. It’s rusted with age, but still sound. He feels around the edges, his hands seeking a way in. He locates the lip of the box and starts to dig down with his fingers. The sand is damp at this depth and separates from the side of the box easily. He peers into the hole. The lid of the box is a little deeper than his hand and is secured with a rusty hasp and staple. There’s no padlock though. Sam carefully pulls on the hasp and tugs open the lid. He reaches in and finds that the box is deeper than his forearm. He kneels down and peers in. It’s empty apart from a few pebbles and a thick layer of sand. He probes around with his fingertips. The box is sound; moreover it’s the perfect size in which to hide his treasure.
Sam jumps up and wades back out to the boat. Let me get this done quickly, he thinks to himself, as he clambers aboard. He drags the three sacks to the edge of the boat, then jumps back into the water. One by one, he swings the sacks from the deck onto the island then hauls them over the sand to the waiting box. Soon the gold is safely buried and Sam is smoothing the sand back into place. He scatters some twigs and stones over the site. No one would know that the ground’s been disturbed. He fixes the distance from the tree in his mind. He’s confident he’ll find it again.
Sam sits back on his heels and glances over his shoulder at Porcupine. The little boat is bobbing up and down in the water. Noticing that one of the fishing lines is straining, he hurries over to the edge of the island. Sure enough, something’s taken one of the baited hooks. He jumps into the boat and hurries over to examine the line. The river water is murky where it’s just been stirred up, but it must be a fish.
He wraps the line around his hand and starts to pull steadily. The line moves easily at first, but then the fish begins to fight. It must be a big one. Sam lets the line slacken a little to allow him to wrap his other hand around the line. As it tightens again it bites into his flesh, but Sam’s not going to let go. He pulls again steadily, ignoring the pain in his hands. The hook’s holding, so he puts all his effort into the struggle, bracing one foot against the boat’s rail.
Then he tugs sharply on the line. The silvery head of a large trout breaks the surface, but something’s holding on to the fish. Two slender hands appear, the long fingers wrapped around the belly of the fish. Sam gasps: what in the world..?
Then she breaks the surface. Sam is confronted by the face of a pretty young woman with bright blue-green eyes set in a pale oval-shaped face, which is framed with long dark hair that clings to her skin.
‘Let go of my fish,’ she cries indignantly. ‘It’s mine, I saw it first. I’ve been chasing it for ages and now it’s got caught in your stupid line.’
Sam opens his mouth, but words fail him.
‘Give me my fish,’ she says, tugging on the slippery creature, whose mouth is also working now that it’s out of the water. ‘Well..?’ Her eyes flash angrily.
‘I… I…’ stutters Sam.
She glides towards him and his eyes are drawn to the slender body, which is still submerged just beneath the surface of the water. Her hair swirls around her naked shoulders. His eyes travel down her back and, at first, Sam thinks she is wearing a tight silver skirt, but then he notices the glistening, fish-like scales.
Leaving the devastated city behind, the road leads me past pockets of people, scattered across wildernesses where they scratch a living. Their eyes hollow and dark, they stare at me as if I’m a ghost; perhaps I am – I have no hunger, no thirst, I just walk and watch, a dignified presence on the periphery of a broken world.
Time and existence are unravelled; I know not over which continent I travel. A shining figure in the distance beckons. I hasten, knowing she will lead me home.
Rapture transports me out of carnage and decay: bound to be reborn.
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