She’d always wanted to be the perfectlady, all glossy hair and high-heeled shoes, smiling graciously behind flawless make-up, while people marvelled at the poise of her bearing and her chic couture.
But nature was cruel. The golden-haired baby girl grew into a spotty awkward teenager. There was no extraordinary mutation from ugly duckling to elegant swan for her; no amazing transformation in her teens nor late-blossoming in her early twenties.
And so she became a writer, acclaimed for her literary accomplishments while sheltering beneath the camouflage of the well-turned sentence and gorgeous prose.
‘Another new book? I say, Ms Hall, that is admirable.’ Connor raises his whisky glass in my direction and takes a long pull. ‘And you’re already onto the follow up novel. You’re becoming almost as prolific as The Poet!’ He strikes a dramatic pose from his position by the fireplace.
I smile politely as my eyes travel around Cynthia’s sitting room. Cynthia is lounging languidly on the battered silk chaise-longue. Her eyes are shining over the large glass of red wine she’s sipping. ‘Song of the Sea Goddess; it’s a lovely title,’ she smiles at me encouragingly. ‘Do you have a copy for us?’
I’m still waiting for them to ship from the printers. ‘Next time,’ I promise.
Gina is sitting in the armchair opposite her. Her left hand rests on her knee and the light is catching the diamond in her ring. She sees me looking at it.
‘We decided to put the wedding off for a bit.’
‘I hope you weren’t waiting for me to…’ I stop in mid-sentence, feeling awkward.
Gina laughs. ‘Only Ma and Auntie Marie are bothered. You know what they’re like!’ She shakes her head. ‘No, I’m concentrating on my career.’
‘Good for you,’ I say, raising my glass and taking a sip. The pleasant taste of the cheap Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon takes me straight back to the early 1980s. A sudden thought occurs to me. ‘Where’s Gary?’
‘Oh, he and Bob have gone to the match, nursing their New Year hangovers.’ She grins. ‘Fingers has become quite a celebratory at Anfield.’
‘I can imagine,’ I say, smiling back.
Gina’s expression darkens. ‘Your new book’s set in South Africa, isn’t it? She raises a disapproving eyebrow. ‘You do know we’re boycotting everything South African*.’
Connor clears his throat but says nothing and Cynthia shifts awkwardly on the chaise-longue.
‘Yes, I know. I did the same.’ I reply, remembering short supermarket dilemmas. ‘But things have changed. The country celebrated 25 years of democracy last year. Apartheid is over. Nelson Mandela became the first president.’
‘Well I never.’ Connor stares thoughtfully into his glass. ‘But I suppose we’re part of history now.’
‘I’m afraid so.’ Strange as it still seems, the 1980s are history. It feels to me like only yesterday.
‘Oh, but Ms Hall, you bring us to life.’ Cynthia casts a theatrical gesture in my direction.
‘Which is what’s happening to us now,’ says Gina determinedly. She shifts in her seat and pulls a crumpled postcard out of the back pocket of her jeans. ‘This came from Lucy last week. She and Pierre are working on a cruise ship now. He’s a DJ and she’s a croupier in the casino.’
That makes perfect sense.
Connor interrupts my thoughts. ‘As a fellow writer, I understand you have to go where the muse takes you, as it were.’ He strides over to the sideboard to top up his glass. ‘But I thought there might be at least one more historical fiction book in you.’
‘Our sequel?’ Gina waves the postcard at me.
I glance down and see my notebook has fallen open on my lap. I look up at their expectant faces. I guess there’s no harm in jotting down a few more notes…
*For a long time, Nelson Mandela and the issue of South Africa under the Nationalist apartheid regime weren’t widely discussed in the UK. When this song hit the UK charts in 1984 more people started asking questions, which contributed to the issue rising to national prominence. The rest, as they say, is history.
Side Note: I vividly remember my flat-mate, who makes a tiny cameo appearance in ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone, dancing round our kitchen singing this!
Many of you will know that the characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone are frequently tugging at my sleeve. One day, I will give them their wish and write their longed for sequel. They’ve certainly come up with a few good ideas to start to shape the plot. Meanwhile, my new novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, is coming very soon.
And finally, a Happy New Year to one and all. Keep safe, keep sane, and let’s hope for a better 2021!
The Tardis door bursts open and Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor bounds over to me. ‘Jemma! Thank goodness you’re safe!’ He looks around the ship and spots the two droids. ‘Don’t I know you..?
Cee-Threepio and Artoo exchange glances. Artoo emits a series of excited whoops and beeps, while Cee-Threepio raises a golden arm to his forehead as if he is searching his memory banks. ‘Sorry, sir, I don’t quite…’
Artoo mutters something in beep-talk.
‘Okay, never mind that now,’ the Doctor turns back to me. ‘The Tardis has detected a quantum disturbance in this galaxy and it seems to have something to do with your ship, Jemma.’ He looks around, puzzled. ‘Where are the boys?’
I explain as briefly as I can.
The Doctor taps his sonic screwdriver against his head. ‘The Millennium Falcon, eh? Always wanted to have a go on that,’ he says with an envious grin.
‘That’s right,’ pipes up Cee-Threepio. ‘That’s where we’re waiting to go, isn’t it Artoo?’
Our surroundings flicker like they need re-tuning again.
‘This doesn’t look good,’ says the Doctor.
Artoo’s head spins agitatedly and he emits a stream of tech-babble in beep-talk.
The Doctor obviously understands. ‘Golly,’ he exclaims. ‘The ship has divided into two, you say!’ The Doctor whirls around, brandishing his sonic screwdriver in Artoo’s direction. ‘That would explain a lot.’
Artoo scoots over to the console and inserts his scomp link. He projects an image of a starship docked in the familiar cargo hold of the Millennium Falcon. If that’s our ship, it doesn’t look quite how I imagined it, but then I’ve never seen it from the outside. Even so, a bright red fighter was not what I’d envisaged.
‘Are you sure that’s right, Artoo?’ asks Cee-Threepio. ‘I was under the impression that Miss Jemma’s starship was a rather pleasing shade of blue.’
The flight deck suddenly becomes less gloomy and comes more sharply into focus. Was it something Cee-Threepio said?
I look more closely at the image the little droid is projecting. The boys are on the ramp at the rear of the spacecraft and Han Solo is standing on the cargo deck holding something in his hand. All three of them appear quite animated.
Two ships, multiple dimensions…Harris’s version and mine…
The comms device in my tunic pocket buzzes urgently. Han Solo’s picture appears on its screen. ‘Jemma? Jemma are you there?’
‘Yes, Han, Jemma here.’
‘Look, kid. I don’t know where you’ve gone, but you need to get back to this ship of yours. Right now! There’s some sort of…’
I return my gaze to Artoo’s projection. Han is running anxious fingers through his hair, while Harris and Stevens cling to the sides of the hatch. The bright red ship is flickering, like it’s about to dematerialize.
‘Look, Doctor!’ I gasp, pointing to what’s happening. Artoo whistles loudly and cuts the image. The little droid turns to the console and starts to wave his clasper arm over the controls.
‘This really isn’t good at all, Jemma. We need to get the two versions of your ship back in sync.’
I turn my attention back to the comms device. ‘Don’t worry, Han, the Doctor’s with me. We’re on our way.’
Doctor who?’ I hear Han ask, but I leave the question hanging.
Cee-Threepio peers over my other shoulder. ‘Yes, sir, don’t worry, we’re coming!’
The comms link goes dead.
The Doctor starts to pace around, tapping his teeth with his iconic implement. Suddenly he stops. ‘That’s it!’ He waves the sonic screwdriver with a flourish. ‘Come on Jemma, there’s no time to lose!’
What’s happening back on the Millennium Falcon? Will the Doctor get Jemma there in time? And what exactly was Artoo up to at the console? Tune in next week for episode 9…
And if you we’re wondering what on earth (or off-earth) is going on, you can catch up with the entire first series of Space Cadetshere
The floor is weirdly spongy underfoot as I make my way to my seat at the ship’s console. I strap myself in and grasp the arms of the chair. They seem solid enough. Calming my breathing, I close my eyes and focus. The ship is part of my imagination; the ship exists by the power of my mind. I hang onto these thoughts, visualizing the surroundings with which I’ve become so familiar.
Gradually I steel myself to open one eye. The ship has ceased shimmering and the walls are solid once again. I open the other eye and stamp my feet on the floor. All seems as it should be. The ship has stabilized. I let out a long sigh of relief.
I remind myself I’m in a cargo hold on the Millennium Falcon. I stare at the blank monitor in front of me, trying to piece together what it looks like. I see racking and boxes and a chocolate bar wrapper. I’m looking down at Han Solo, Chewbacca and my two crew-mates. I watch as they disappear through a hatch at the far end of the cargo bay.
I flick the switch for the outside monitor, only to find it’s already switched on. Why is the screen blank? I flick the switch repeatedly, while behind me I hear the swish-thud sound of the outer hatch closing. Then it occurs to me.
It wasn’t my imagination that created this particular voyage. It was Harris’s. Right from the start. I was just a passenger. What if…?
I cut off the thought and feel in my pocket for the communication device that Han gave me before he took my crew members on their tour of the his iconic ship.
… if Harris’s imagination is busy filling in the details of the Millennium Falcon and Stevens is busy sustaining them, where does that leave me? I’m not part of that story-line anymore!
The screen flickers into life. The cargo hold has gone. The Millennium Falcon has gone and I’m on the surface of a barren planet. The same barren planet where we first found ourselves on this ship?
Have Harris and Stevens been left behind in a galaxy far, far away..?
Then two figures appear on the edge of the viewing screen. As they get closer to the ship I recognise them. It looks like I’m still in the same Universe as the boys after all.
What’s happened to Jemma’s crew-mates? Are they still on board the Millennium Falcon? Will Han Solo come to her rescue? Or will it be up to her new friends to try to help her?
Tune in next week for episode 7…
And if you we’re wondering what on earth (or off-earth) is going on,
you can catch up with the entire first series of Space Cadets here
Image credits: Md Mahdi on Unsplash and thefactsite.com
Without warning the Stormtroopers break ranks. Their faces are hidden behind their helmets but they’re clearly confused. The grey-uniform shakes his head in disbelief. ‘Where did it go?’ he calls out, waving his clipboard in exasperation.
Then it dawns on us. Our ship has cloaked itself like it did once before. They can’t see us!
‘We need to get out of here,’ says Harris, starting to push buttons on the control panel in front of him.
The viewing screen goes blank and I feel the ship start to move, but strangely I can’t hear the engines firing.
‘What’s happening?’ shouts Stevens, grabbing the arm of my seat.
All around us the ship begins to shimmer as if every particle is separating from its neighbour. I glance down; my body is becoming insubstantial too. My stomach heaves and I reach out to clutch Stevens’s outstretched hand. Air rushes past me. I grit my teeth.
Then with a jolt, everything stabilizes and comes back into focus. I hurriedly let go my grip on Stevens’s hand.
We hear an explosion coming from somewhere behind us and the ship judders. The sudden force flings us back in our seats.
‘Hyper-drive!’ yells Harris excitedly.
The ship continues to accelerate, but we’re blind. The viewing screen remains blank.
I struggle to turn my head in Harris’s direction. ‘Where are we going?’ My mouth moves in slo-mo and my words are elongated, drawn out by our superluminal speed.
A moment later the ship returns to sub-light speed and the viewing screen blinks into life. Expecting to find ourselves out in the enormity of space, we exchange puzzled glances. We appear to be crammed into a cargo hold. Inside another ship?
‘What the..?’ Harris removes his cap and scratches his head. ‘I wasn’t flying the ship?’
We hear running feet outside. ‘Get this damn thing open!’ an exasperated voice shouts.
We spin around in our seats as we hear the rear hatch of the flight deck open. A perplexed looking man, brandishing a gun appears.
‘Who the hell are you? And what are you doing on my ship?’
My heart misses a beat.
What next for our gallant cadets? Are they really on board the Millennium Falcon?
Will the Force be with them? Will Jemma swoon at Han Solo’s feet? Or will she remember her training and regain her composure? Tune in next week for episode 5…
And if you we’re wondering what on earth (or off-earth) is going on, you can catch up with the entire first series of Space Cadetshere
If you’re new to the series or want to catch up and remind yourself where we left off, the previous series is here:Space Cadets Series 1
How the last series ended:
‘Fascinating,’ observes Spock. He puts the tricorder down. ‘Let me try something, Captain.’
Spock reaches across the console. He presses three keys, one after the other: Ctrl-Ale-Delete. Everything goes black.
What next for our gallant Space Cadets? Tune in on Friday!
Alys was admiring the flowers which Agatha of Agador had sent to thank her for sorting out the shoddy builders who’d made such a mess in her house. The flowers were still as fresh as when they’d arrived several weeks ago. The young witch was wondering why Agatha hadn’t come for her monthly cosmetic order when the Retired Cauldron burst into a fit of coughing.
Alys hurried over. The Retired Cauldron spluttered and coughed up a crumpled note. Sparky flew across the room and scooped up the note, handing it to Alys.
The diminutive dragon perched on her shoulder as she read: ‘Agatha of Agador has vanished. Please come quickly!’
The note turned itself over revealing Agatha’s doormat address.
‘Why ask us?’ asked Alys.
An excited puff of steam issued from Sparky’s nostrils. ‘Only one way to find out.’
Giving the Retired Cauldron a farewell pat, Alys stepped onto the doormat and announced the address.
‘Hello? Anyone here?’ called Alys hopefully. But there was no reply.
The room was dominated by an expensive cauldron standing between a huge book case and a large wooden table. Assorted ingredients were strewn over the tabletop where a golden ladle had spilled its contents across a well-thumbed spell-book.
Alys peered into the still-warm cauldron while Sparky hovered over the mess on the table craning his neck to read what Agatha, presumably, had been working on.
‘Look at this, Alys.’
Alys read the title: ‘Vanishe Away:for Prettie Youthefull Hands’. Alys frowned. ‘Why didn’t Agatha come to me? I could have easily made something like this.’ She shook her head. ‘I wonder what happened.’
‘Maybe she overdid the vanishing bit,’ suggested Sparky.
‘But she’s such an experienced spell-mistress.’
At that moment the curtain over the doorway to the next room started to flap wildly.
‘Is that you, Agnes?’ Alys called out.
The curtain flapped again.
Alys and Sparky exchanged glances. ‘What happened, Agnes?’
The curtain stopped moving.
The curtain dangled unresponsively.
‘I’m sure that was her, Sparky.’
Sparky blew out a little cloud of purple smoke in agreement.
‘But what can we do?’
‘Undo the spell?’
‘But Sparky, undoing another witch’s spell…’ Alys shook her head. ‘I wouldn’t know where to start.’
‘You could ask one of the Sisters…’
The curtain flapped violently.
Alys shook her head. ‘No, we have to find a way. Maybe that’s why Agnes asked us. She’d be mortified if other members of the Western Coven found out that she’d vanished herself.
The curtain nodded in agreement.
‘Okay. Let’s think.’
‘Could we go back in time and stop her?’ asked Sparky.
‘Hermione used a time-turner in one of the Harry Potter books.’
‘Sparky, that’s fiction. It’s not real.’
‘There are real things in the Harry Potter books… like dragons,’ replied the diminutive dragon through a shower of indignant sparks.
He flew up to the bookshelf and began examining the titles, while Alys fingered the sticky spell-book.
Tucked away on the top shelf, Sparky found what he was looking for. He tugged at the leather-bound volume with his claws. It teetered on the edge of the shelf before Alys came to the rescue.
‘Tweeking Time, a beginners guide,’ read the title.
Together they pored over the contents page. Spotting a promising description, Sparky turned to page 288. They read in silence for a moment. Alys started to nod. ‘Sounds like a plan, Sparky.’
Alys looked up from the flowers she’d been admiring to see Agnes of Agador standing on her doormat smiling at her.
‘Alys, darling, thank you for the wonderful cream. It works like a dream!’ She admired her hands. ‘You know I almost cooked up a hand lotion from my old spell book. I know you’re busy and I didn’t want to trouble you, but then before I could start your little pot arrived…’
Alys looked over her shoulder at Sparky and winked.
Alys waved her wand with a flourish. ‘Ceiling reparo!’
Sparky, her diminutive dragon, looked up as several stray flakes of plaster dislodged themselves.
Alys waved her wand again. ‘Plaster mendaro!’
The cracks in the ceiling made by the bogus dragon inspector stubbornly remained.
Alys lowered her wand. ‘I don’t know, Sparky. I’m no good at these DIY spells.’
‘Maybe we should call someone.’ He flew over to the bookshelf and pulled out a thin volume with a bright yellow cover. Sparky started leafing through the flimsy pages.
They were interrupted by a loud thud on the doormat heralding the arrival of two stocky little men wearing blue overalls. One held a large bucket and the other carried a ladder. ‘You called, Miss?’ they said in unison.
Alys turned to Sparky. ‘Did we?’
Sparky shook his head.
‘Aha,’ the two little men pointed at the ceiling. ‘We see your problem, Miss.’
‘Can you repair it?’ asked Alys hopefully.
‘Of course.’ Fred rubbed his hands together. ‘We’ll have this done in a jiffy.’
Alys returned to the kitchen where a hair preparation ‘for constantly flowing locks’ was gently simmering in her cauldron. Sparky followed carrying his new copy of Dragon Detectives’ Monthly which had arrived by doormat that morning. He’d only just settled down to read when a loud hiss of crimson steam issued from his nostrils.
‘BEWARE THESE COWBOY CONTRACTORS!’ the heading screamed. Sparky hastily silenced the article with a swift pat of his paw.
‘What is it, Sparky?’
Sparky put a purple claw to his mouth. He beckoned to Alys and pointed at the photograph. The faces of the two stocky workman stared out from the article. ‘Wanted in two counties for preying on the unwary, these practitioners of make and mend have been wreaking mischief and mayhem on unsuspecting clients’ homes. They extort money on the promise of rectification and then disappear without completing the work. Their most recent victim was Agatha of Agador…’
Alys looked up. Agatha was one of her best clients. ‘Poor Agatha!’ she exclaimed.
Alys ladled a couple of spoonsful of the preparation from her cauldron into a glass jug and muttered an incantation. The mixture fizzed and bubbled, then slowly cleared to a pleasant lemony colour.
She poured it into two glasses, winking at Sparky. ‘Refreshments, gentlemen,’ she called out cheerfully, carrying the glasses into the next room and putting them on the table.
The two men seized the glasses and drank. ‘That really hits the spot,’ said Bob.
‘Just as well,’ said Fred. ‘This job is trickier than we thought. We’ll need to come back tomorrow.’
Alys eyed the ceiling where there was now a gaping hole.
‘We need more materials,’ Fred rubbed his hands together, ‘and an advance on the payment.’
Sparky snatched up the Dragon Detective’s Weekly and flew across the room, dropping it on the table in front of the two men. A threatening shower of sparks spurted from his snout.
Fred put his hands on his hips. ‘So? D’you want the job finished or what?’
Bob nudged him. ‘Your hair, it’s… it’s green and it’s growing!’
Fred turned to him. His jaw dropped open. ‘So’s yours!’
Within seconds grisly green hair was pooling at their feet.
Alys glared at the two men. ‘Put my ceiling right and your hair will go back to normal.’ She twitched her wand and the hair began to curl and tighten around their bodies. ‘And finish all those other jobs,’ she pointed at the article.
‘That’s blackmail!’ Fred mumbled indistinctly through a forest of green beard.