Today, on our literary journey through the pages of my novels, we’re back in Liverpool outside the Royal Liver Building, one of the most recognisable buildings in the city and the setting for a meeting between local Triad leader, Albie Chan and nightclub owner, Alan Green, two of my favourite supporting characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Back in the 1990s, I considered myself fortunate to receive the instruction to carry out an insurance inspection of the building, so I’ve had the privilege of poking around all the nooks and crannies of this historic building from the basement boiler room to the feet of the famous birds that perch on top of the two clock towers!
Completed in 1911, coincidentally the same date as the house we visited last time we were in the city, the building was constructed as the head office of Royal Liver Assurance. It was one of the first buildings in the world to be built of reinforced concrete, and its design has much in common with early American skyscrapers. Thirteen floors high, looking out over the river Mersey, it is an impressive part of the Liverpool skyline, especially when viewed from the opposite bank. Two huge clock towers rise from the building, where two mythical Liver Birds perch (liver rhyming with fiver), each bearing a branch of seaweed in its beak. Various legends attach to these 18ft high birds and one of these is mentioned by Alan Green in the excerpt below.
After hours, the car park on the river side is deserted and rather desolate; the ideal location for Messrs Chan and Green to meet to discuss a bit of business. Let’s join them now…
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone
The late afternoon sunlight sparkled on the surface of the murky River Mersey. The fresh-smelling breeze, blowing from the estuary, almost masked the odour of the nearby tannery. Big Al and Joe were leaning on the polished burgundy paintwork of Big Al’s Jaguar XJ6. Big Al looked up at the clock on the Liver Building. It was almost half past six and Chan was late.
“What’s that chinky bastard up to, keeping me waiting like this? Our Pauline said she’s doing something special for our tea tonight. She’ll give me down the banks if I’m late home.” Big Al started to pace about.
Joe shrugged. “Dunno boss.” He looked around. “Eh up, this must be him,” said Joe pointing at the large black Mercedes rounding the corner of the Liver Building.
Big Al watched as the car cruised up to them. The driver got out. Big Al noticed he was limping. The driver opened the rear door and Albie Chan got out. He was immaculately dressed entirely in black, the only decoration being two tiny dragon heads facing each other on the mandarin collar of his shirt. Big Al was wearing a rather lived-in sports jacket and shapeless cords. Despite his wife’s protests, Alan Castle was a man who dressed for comfort rather than style.
Chan spoke first: “Mr Castle.”
“Albie, mate!” Chan flinched, unnoticed by Big Al, who continued, holding out his hand. “Call me Al, you know, like in the song?” Chan gazed at him blankly, ignoring the proffered hand. “Never mind.” Big Al clapped his hands together. “You know the story about Bella and Bertie? You know, the Liver Birds up on the towers there?” He pointed at the Liver Building behind them. Chan raised an eyebrow. “Well Bella’s the girl, looking out to sea for a sailor; and the other one, Bertie, he’s the fella, and he’s looking to see if the pubs are open yet, which they have been for the last thirty minutes.”
“Mr Castle, are you referring to the fact that I am a little late? I regret to say that I have had some unforeseen business to attend to. That business concerned the two individuals you spoke to me about last night, one of whom I had expected you to bring to me.”
Big Al frowned. Before he could say anything, Chan went on: “You telephoned me last night to say that my men had caused some disruption in your establishment. I explained the reason for the disturbance and you said you would handle it. After we spoke, I assumed that you would intervene and get hold of the man I was seeking straight away. You did not. Since you did not intervene, my men continued their pursuit. Later, there was an altercation involving the gentleman and his lady friend, which included Ju-long here,” Chan indicated his driver. “Unfortunately,” he went on, glaring at the hapless employee, “Ju-long and the two men with him were outmanoeuvred. Then this morning, when you still failed to deliver, I put out some feelers. Information led to Ju-long attempting to apprehend the target at The Adelphi Hotel, but I am disappointed to say that once again he failed.” Chan paused and gave Ju-long a sideways glace. “Ju-long knows precisely how disappointed I am.” Big Al looked at Ju-long, but his face remained impassive behind his dark glasses.
“So what happened?” asked Big Al.
“What has happened is irrelevant. What is important is that the man known as Pierre Bezukhov got away. I have unconcluded business with him, which I am anxious to complete. I thought I had explained this to you already. Clearly you did not understand the urgency of the matter. I need to apprehend him and I am reluctant to leave it in the hands of incompetents.”
There was a pause. Big Al said: “Well now, no worries, I’ll just get on the blower and ask whatshisname? New DJ…Joe?”
“Mark,” supplied Joe helpfully.
“Yeah, get on the blower to Mark. We’ll get hold of him, find the girl, and she in turn will lead us to your guy. Simple. You don’t need to have people running around town beating each other up. Although I’m surprised a big guy like him,” Big Al pointed at Ju-long, “couldn’t take on a couple of dancers.”
Joe detected a twitch on Ju-long’s otherwise inscrutable face.
“Bezukhov has displeased me and I want him found. I am inclined to leave it to you on this occasion since I have a temporary personnel problem.”
Big Al rubbed his hands together. “So this guy owes you money? What’s the deal? And more importantly, what’s my cut?”
“Let us see if you can come up with the goods first,” Chan said. “After all, it was your offer and at this stage you have failed to deliver.”
“Eh, I’m not just doing this outta the goodness of me heart.”
“Well you would not want anything untoward to happen to ‘The Pink Parrot’, would you? Even the stupidest of my men can torch a place.”
Big Al held his hands up: “Alright, alright, leave it with me.”
“Very good, Mr Castle, I will give you until the end of this week. Now run along, I wouldn’t want your supper to get cold.”
And finally, a little music to play us out. ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ written by the late Gerry Marsden. This version, sung by Liverpool band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood was in the charts at about the time the novel is set. The accompanying video is more recent, but gives you a feel for the location.
As an aside, I once had to take the ferry across to Birkenhead in my slippers because I’d locked myself out of our student house popping down to the corner shop for some milk. My three housemates had all gone home for the holidays and that was were the landlord stayed. Happy days!
My uncle warned me of the hallucinatory effect of smouldering henbane, but it is the essence of my initiation. Surrounded by the maze of megaliths, my body floats. I round up the shrill cacophony of chanting voices, which buck around my head like wild horses at a rodeo, and corral them in a corner of my mind.
My head is clear and I am ready; the only sound I hear is the sweet voice of a nightingale singing.
The message is within me and I am the message.
To this modern world which ransacks Gaia’s riches I bring her revenge.
humankind turned upside-down keeping safe’s what matters all around the world economies in tatters scientists in overdrive to keep one step ahead corruption, disruption stop now, keep your head mixed message, fake news sops to the masses governments in disarray staying put’s what matters
Image credit; Lance Anderson @ Unsplash The image shows tall skyscrapers lit in the evening light. In the front there is a small pale-coloured house resting at an angle on the ground, one side of it raised from the ground.
This week’s stop on our literary journey through my novels takes us to the town of Northwich in Cheshire, on which I based the fictional town of Greaton, where the Ruling Council meets in my historical fantasy fiction novel for younger readers, Following the Green Rabbit.
Established in Roman times, Northwich is an attractive small town with many historic, half-timbered buildings, located in the middle of the Cheshire Plain, where the book is set. The town is most famous for the production of salt, which has been carried on since its establishment. However, a list of tolls for crossing over Northwich bridge in 1353 shows goods coming into the town including carcasses, fleeces, hides and skins, cloth, fish, alcoholic drinks, dairy products, building materials, household goods, metals, glass and millstones, so it would have been a busy little place.
Like Daresbury, I first travelled to the Northwich on a canal boat holiday. Of particular note for canal enthusiasts is the Anderton Boat Lift, a 50 foot vertical lock, which connects the Trent & Mersey Canal with the River Weaver. Sadly it was out of operation when we took our canal holiday in the late 1980s, but it has since been restored. It would be quite a thrill to take a boat up on it!
The slow pace of travelling the canal on a narrow boat and the silence of the flat, open Cheshire countryside stayed with me, and I drew on that memory when I came to write the description of journey that Bryony takes to Greaton, travelling over that same terrain at that same slow speed. The look and feel of the town seemed right, and although I don’t dwell on any description in the novel, the bustle of a busy market town plays in the background, contrasting with Bryony’s isolation as she sits in the intimidating atmosphere of the Court House waiting to submit her supplication to the Ruling Council in order to free her friends from the clutches of the evil Lord Childecott.
Excerpt from Following the Green Rabbit
Bryony was astonished at the noise and commotion which had greeted them on entering the town. There were people and animals everywhere. Thank goodness John knew where they should go. He reined Rosie in and they came to a halt opposite the Court House, outside the appropriately named Court House Tavern. Bryony slid off the horse, stamping the life back into her legs as John dismounted and patted Rosie’s neck.
“I need to get Rosie some water and let her rest up a while,” said John. “I believe the Ruling Council meets in the building over there,” he pointed at the Court House. “Do you want me to come with you?”
Bryony considered for a moment. “No thank you, John. You and Eliza have been so kind to us already. I wouldn’t want you to get into trouble with Lord Childecott by delivering the supplication with me.”
John nodded. “I’ll be waiting for you right here. He smiled at her encouragingly. “Good luck, Bryony.” He touched his hat. You’re a brave young lady, he thought as he watched her plod determinedly across the muddy track and up the steps to the Court House.
Bryony felt little of the confidence she shown outwardly to John but, as Hodge always said, if there’s something difficult to do, confront it head on and don’t delay. And so Bryony let her feet take her through the wide entrance to the Court House and into a large vestibule where an attendant was sitting at a tall desk. Bryony took a deep breath and approached. The attendant looked down his long bony nose at her.
“What business have you here, girl?” He squinted at her with obvious contempt.
“Sir, I have a supplication to offer to the Ruling Council.” Her voice echoed around the empty room.
“Council is already in session. No disturbances are permitted. You may wait for the secretary to the Chief of Council.” He pointed at a long bench on the other side of the room.
“But please, sir,” Bryony held up her supplication. “This is urgent.”
“You will wait.” The clerk waved her towards the bench with a bony hand.
Bryony crossed the stone floor and sat alone on the hard wooden bench next to the imposing doors which presumably led to the chamber where the Ruling Council was meeting. She glanced at the clerk who was busy writing in a heavy ledger and fingered the edges of the supplication, smoothing down the creases it had suffered from the journey. She stared around the high-ceilinged room then focussed on the door, willing it to open. She sighed. Her hope was ebbing away.
Following the Green Rabbit available in paperback and ebook from Amazon
We assemble at sunset. Goose-bumps cover the bared skin on my back, still tender from the previous pricking of the needle, which has marked me indelibly and for eternity.
Henbane and yarrow scent the air; charms and enchantments encircle the glittering granite standing stones, in a kaleidoscope of crashing consonants, while my uncle, a comfortable presence in the growing darkness, heralds the start of the ceremony with a single beat of an unseen gong.
Blindfolded, I am led to the centre of the circle. The ceremony begins.
In moonlight’s sphere runes on ancient stones ignite; the Mark of Gaia tingles.
On today’s stop on our literary journey through my novels we find ourselves outside the house in Liverpool where my novel writing journey began. It was here that I started writing The Silver Locket. Built in 1911, the house was pretty run down when we moved there in November 2000. It didn’t even have a kitchen, although it did have a ghost.
It had been rather a grand house in its time, owned by a widow of the Irish Free State and then by a master mariner, prior to the family we bought it from purchasing it in the 1950s. It even had a flagpole out the back. One of the upstairs rooms still had a push-bell to summon the housekeeper. She would, no doubt, have lived in, and the attic rooms at the top of the house would have been the servants’ quarters at one time.
I believe our ghost was that of the former housekeeper.
There was no ghostly apparition, but there was definitely a presence; a warm, benevolent presence that I would sense when the house was quiet and I was upstairs, usually in the day-time. She’d descend from the attic, traverse the landing, passing the two front bedrooms, then turn to go downstairs, at which point the feeling of someone being there would evaporate. The cats were aware of her too. If one of them was in the bedroom with me, they’d look up and follow her progress. Even my husband couldn’t deny that there was ‘something’.
Over time, I came to think of her as Hodge the Housekeeper, who graced the pages of The Silver Locket. Subsequently, as a younger women at an earlier time, she turned up as the housekeeper in Following the Green Rabbit (you can’t waste a good character).
We spent several years doing up the house, finishing with the little attic room with the dormer window (top left in the photo), which had a little white-painted fireplace, very like this one. It was this old, untouched room that I translocated to the house, 20 miles away in Rufford, which Laura inherits at the start of The Silver Locket.
The Prologue begins: “The silver locket hides beneath the loose floorboard in a small attic room. Sunlight streams through the window pointing towards the tarnished trinket which waits patiently for its secrets to be unlocked.”
There was, indeed, a loose floorboard by the little fire place, but sadly there was no tarnished trinket to be found in that hidey-hole. I was so disappointed! But where my locket came from is a different story.
Now, let us join Laura who, having settled back in the old leather armchair and closed her eyes, has the first of her mysterious dreams, which seem to be connected to a little locket she’s found.
Excerpt from ‘The Silver Locket’
Laura is in the little attic room. Sunlight and birdsong stream through the open window. She looks around. The room is simply furnished, with a table and chair in one corner and an overstuffed couch facing the window. A large chest has been placed under the window and a small silver framed mirror is propped against the wall on the mantelshelf over the fireplace.
She approaches the fireplace, intrigued by the metal fire surround. Someone has started to decorate the raised sunflower pattern in yellow and green paint. Then she notices that she has a paint brush in her hand. It is she who has been carefully painting in the flowers on the dull metal.
She looks in the little mirror and is surprised to see another face reflected in the glass, the face of a young girl, her long dark hair drawn back in a thick plait. She is wearing a white cotton pinafore and the front of it is stained with yellow and green paint.
“Miss Cathy! Miss Cathy! Are you up here? What are you doing?”
The face looks guilty and turns toward the door.
The woman appears in the doorway, her face flushed from climbing the stairs.
“There you are… and look at the state of you,” she says. There is an Irish lilt to her voice and although she is frowning, she doesn’t seem cross.
Laura feels the girl’s guilt and puts the paint brushes in their water jar, which is balancing on the narrow mantelshelf.
The woman is well-built and dressed in a stiff white blouse and long black skirt, Laura judges her to be in her thirties. She advances into the room and stands next to her, viewing the newly-decorated fireplace.
“That looks much more cheerful, so it does. This little sitting room of mine could do with a spruce up, not that I have time to use it.” The woman turns and smiles. “Now come and get cleaned up. Your mother’s ready for her afternoon tea.”
As she is gently escorted from the room, Laura catches sight of her reflection in the little mirror. The face looks pleased, but her eyes look sad.
Obediently she follows the woman down the narrow stairs onto the landing. The house is familiar, but the furnishings are different and the layout wrong in some way, which Laura can’t identify. The woman takes her into a bedroom and pours water from a heavy-looking jug decorated with dark blue roses into a matching porcelain bowl.
“Now wash those hands while I find you a clean pinafore. You know how a mess upsets your mother.”
The Silver Locket (written under pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.
My uncle is ebullient this morning, remarkably so. He is a man transformed; overjoyed outpourings spill from his lips as he beams at me across the breakfast table.
I, however, having ploughed through piles of obscure texts and ancient tenets from the towering oaken shelves of my uncle’s library (previously off-limits to me), am less so. The taste of the delicious food on my plate is spoiled by the knowledge I have swallowed down over the weeks since my discovery.
I am to prepare for my initiation, he declares.
Passing the baton gladdens the master’s heart; yet the burden remains.
Beauty transcends reason Eloquence reaps her just reward.
Take a moment to tiptoe past your worries Recall tributes, triumphs and tenderness Augment your vessel of contentment Negate all negative thoughts Quelling the armies of anxiety Under a big bright blanket of hope Infuse yourself with inner strength Life’s about the journey; go now, walk in peace today.