The insect army parted as Beetle-Queen Florigia led Bethany, flanked by Greta and Lobelia, onto the emerald-green lawn, where they were bathed in the unforgiving brightness reflecting off the pink walls of the Owl-King’s palace.
Seeing her sister, Bryony dashed from the poplar grove, followed by Mr Eyre and Hildebrand, to be greeted by Florigia, beaming in all directions from her multi-facetted eyes. Their reunion was interrupted by a blare of trumpets emanating from the palace, as the massive front doors swung open to reveal a towering figure, wearing golden robes and a richly-decorated helmet in the shape of an owl’s face.
Florigia advanced on the palace; perhaps it was a trick of the light, but she seemed to grow in stature with every stride, ‘Owl-King, we have had enough of your unwarranted acts against those who use words.’ She beckoned to Bethany, ‘we present the golden-haired child, who has returned to reclaim her queendom!’
The Owl-King swept his arm forward as though swatting a fly; a shrill whistle signalled the advance of a swarm of blue-clad troops clutching sinister-looking spray cans; Mr Eyre’s eyes widened, wishing he had a plan in reserve which might save them from the Stingers.
Paperback book sale on lulu.com – Monday 30th November
My recommendations: ‘Fallen Star Rising’ and ‘Four’ by Tara Caribou, and the ‘Creation and the Cosmos’ anthology, edited by Tara, and including 5 of my poems!
Dear friends, I hope those of you who celebrate the US Thanksgiving holiday had a great day. Hopefully with friends and family and good food and better company. Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. Not only is it a time of food and friends, it’s a time where we set aside a few moments or hours to just be THANKFUL! Being grateful is so good for our minds, our attitudes, even our bodies. I am super thankful for each and every one of you who reads my website, buys the books that Raw Earth Ink publishes, comments, and supports with all your love. YOU are the reason that this website still exists, because there have been many days I’ve wanted to give up and disappear. It is the continued kindness and friendliness and art that keeps me here. So, truly, Thank You.
Once they’d reached the apparently unguarded exit from the dungeon, Mr Eyre and Bryony introduced themselves to their fellow prisoner. Hildebrand explained that she’d been arrested for Word Singing, something she did every afternoon to entertain her husband’s elves while they plugged away assisting him in his shoemaking business, ‘Without my singing, all concentration will be lost and production will cease,’ she lamented, rubbing her red-rimmed eye sockets.
Peering around the door, they surveyed the empty yard and beyond it, the entrance gate which swung on its hinges as though someone had just departed. Mr Eyre beamed at his two companions then, taking their hands, he propelled them across the open space and through the gate.
Soon they were standing in a grove of slender poplar trees which led to the Owl-King’s palace; the ground began to shake to the rhythm of marching feet and a few moments later the palace’s emerald-green lawn was filled by an army of assorted brightly-coloured insects.
‘Perhaps you were thinking I did wrong in letting them go? said Captain Stinger to his lieutenant as they emerged from behind the dungeon’s walls, ‘but now we’ll take all the dissenters by surprise and exterminate the lot!’
Welcome to Paris, where we find ourselves just outside the Gard du Nord, the imposing railway station in the north of the city, for another stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. You may remember that we previously visited the ‘city of lovers’ almost a year ago, when we caught up with Laura and Greg from The Silver Locket in the Père Lachaise cemetery.
As I explained then, Paris was as special to Laura, as it is to me, and I drew heavily on my own experiences of visiting that wonderful city when I was writing the book. Paris was the first overseas location to which I travelled with my husband, back in 1985, when we were very, very young. We visited the city during the Easter Weekend, travelling by ferry and train, and stayed in the two hotels mentioned in the excerpt below – for the very same reason.
Laura was just opening a tin of soup for her lunch when the phone rang. It was Greg.
“Hi, Law, what are you doing next weekend?”
“I’ve nothing planned, Greg. Why?”
“Come to Paris with me. I’ll send you the plane ticket.”
“What, Paris, for the weekend?” Laura had to admit she was excited at the prospect. This was more like the old Greg. “That’s a bit extravagant, isn’t it?”
“The thing is, I’m down to go to a conference there the following week, but I thought if I arrived early, you could come over and we could make a special weekend of it. I know you love Paris, we could stay in that same hotel by Gare du Nord.”
“That would be fabulous, really, Greg.”
“Okay then, it’s settled, I’ll sort out the tickets now. You should get them mid-week. Just make sure you get yourself to the airport in good time.”
“Yes, Greg, of course, listen I…”
“Sorry, Law, gotta go, duty calls.” He rang off abruptly.
Laura looked at the receiver. Well, that was a surprise, a very nice one too. Laura did love Paris, and it was special to her and Greg too. Their first trip away together had been to Paris. They’d gone for a week. They’d spent the first two nights in the Hotel Apollo, opposite the station, but couldn’t afford to stay there longer, so had moved to a cheaper hotel round the corner. She couldn’t remember its name, but she did remember the very squeaky bed. Laura shook her head in embarrassment, her face feeling flushed even now. Everyone had stared at them smirking at breakfast, or at least that what she’d thought at the time.
Ahem. On with the tour…
The glass pyramid outside the famous Louvre Museum hadn’t been built when we first visited Paris, although it was finished by the time that Laura and Greg went there in 1989, several years before Dan Brown made it really famous in the Da Vinci Code.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting museums and galleries, but one of my biggest disappointments in the Louvre was the size of the painting of the Mona Lisa, which we, like Laura, found was surrounded by a tightly-packed crowd of tourists. As I remember, Leonardo’s La Giaconda was encased in a thick glass cabinet, making it even more difficult to see. Still, there were many, many other wonderful exhibits to appreciate, as well as the gift shop!
Laura showered and dressed. There were still several hours before she was due to meet Greg, but she was quite keen to have another look around the Louvre, particularly since Greg’s attention span for such places was considerably shorter than her own. She remembered she needed to get a present for Helen; there was sure to be something suitable in the museum shop and if she still had time to spare she could always wander around the nearby gardens.
Laura drifted around the museum. Normally in a place of this size she would be systematic and plan a route around the things she really wanted to see, but today she was too preoccupied with her feelings about Greg and whether she really did want to go with him on this new posting. He’d not really convinced her about the job she’d be doing, although it had to be better than the one she had in Brussels. No one seemed to miss her from it anyway. There had certainly been no problem extending her leave of absence. The decision was really about her relationship with Greg. Yesterday, up on Montmartre, she’d convinced herself that she they had a promising future together,but now he’d gone off to this urgent meeting, and she’d had time to reflect on her own, she wasn’t so sure.
She found herself behind a group of Japanese tourists. Laura smiled to herself. They would be jostling for position to view the Mona Lisa. Laura mingled with the crowd, moving gently through them to the thick glass cabinet which contained the famous portrait.
And so to ever-so-romantic Montmartre, with its galleries, artists and cafés, and probably the most expensive gin and tonic in the world.
In June 1993, budget airline, Easyjet started flying from Liverpool to Paris, and with Liverpool’s John Lennon airport just down the road from where we lived, we decided to treat ourselves to a weekend in Paris. On this particular trip, we decided to enjoy an afternoon drink after visiting the wonderful Salvador Dalí Museum and Gallery. We naïvely selected a pavement café on the edge of the main square above, ordered two G&Ts and discovered the cost was €12 (about $13.50) – pretty pricey now, extortionate then!
We made our drinks last, and it was suppertime before we moved on. I can’t remember where we ate, nor specifically where we finished our evening, but it was in a small, softly-lit bar where a pianist serenaded us, the only customers. He played several songs we recognised, including one of those ‘our tunes’. Some of you might recognise the Tom Robinson version, ‘Yuppie Scum’, but listening to the tune being played on the piano in that Parisian bar that night makes this clip seem far more appropriate for me to share with you.
That concludes our little tour for today, but even though I may never return, my memories of that wonderful city will continue to be a source of inspiration to me, for like Bergman and Bogart, We’ll Always Have Paris.
The Silver Locket (written under pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.
Bethany scanned the length of the rickety bridge which crossed the Owl-King’s Great Divide, grateful for the blanket of fog cloaking the craggy depths below; Greta nodded her encouragement and together they stepped onto the first of the wooden slats as Lobelia, her anxious wings beating, led them forward.
Alighting unscathed on the other side, they entered a towering woodland, buzzing with insects; moments later a small shower of bright beetle-like creatures descended from the orange-red canopy. One, larger than the rest and clearly their leader, scuttered over and stood before them: ‘My sisters and I welcome the golden-haired child.’ Her fellow creatures bowed their heads, then brought out a succession of leaves, laden with ripe berries, and placed them at their feet.
Bethany looked at her companions in astonishment; Lobelia stepped forward, dropping a deep curtsy, her wings fluttering delicately: ‘Greetings to you, Florigia, we thank you and your sisters for your hospitality.’
Florigia inclined her head, ‘The Owl-King’s activities have been a disappointment to us all; she turned to Greta, ‘we received Hans’s message from one of the Wandering-Wasps, the three prisoners have been freed and should be joining us shortly; then we will march on the Palace.’
Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages of my novels. Today we’re returning to South Africa where we’re just about to enter a place called Lwandle. It’s not a usual stop on the tourist trail, although it boasts an important little museum – we’ll take a little contextual detour to it in a moment – but as far as our literary tour is concerned, it is here (or in an invented place very like it) that my character, Albertina first steps into the pages of ‘Song of the Sea Goddess‘.
Lwandle is an informal settlement (also known as a ‘location’) about 15 minutes drive from where I stay in Somerset West. It was originally established in the late 1950s to house workers who were brought in from rural areas to work in the farming and fruit canning businesses which had been established in the area. Let’s find out a little more about what conditions were like back then by visiting the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum which is just around the corner on our left.
With the onset of democracy in South Africa in 1994, the ANC-led government turned the hostels of Lwandle into family-type accommodation. At the same time, with the relaxation of the restriction of movement throughout the country, more people arrived from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape. As a result, the area became increasingly overcrowded.
Even now, although some residents live in brick and block-built buildings, many still live in shacks, awaiting government-approved housing projects to be put in place. Those who are working mainly have jobs in the surrounding towns of Somerset West, Strand and Gordon’s Bay, and the roundabout in the picture above, is the place where I pick up Rayno, my gardener/handyman and Primrose, my housekeeper. Primrose came from the Eastern Cape about 20 years ago, but Rayno was born here, his grandparents and great-grandparents having worked on one of the fruit farms years ago. Although their family homes are modest, they have proper sanitation and the security of an enclosed yard. Other residents live in very humble circumstances, much as I imagined Albertina’s shack – no more than a small timber shed, like you might have at the bottom of your garden. But Albertina, with her proud and positive attitude, decides to up-sticks and seek a new place to stay.
Back in February, I wrote a guest post for da-AL’s ‘Happiness Between Tails‘, in which I talked about why I wanted to ‘uplift’ my characters, some of whom, like Albertina, are based on an amalgam of people I’ve met since I moved to South Africa. I explained how the characters that I’d created deserved something more and better, and that’s why Albertina starts her journey standing by the exit to a service station with a twenty rand note in her hand.
Only a couple of weeks ago, I discovered from da-AL that she’d converted and added that post, ‘Imagining a New Place’ to her growing list of podcasts. Note to self: this really is something I should try. You can listen to Imagining a New Place here, the actual post starts three minutes in.
Now, let’s join Albertina as, fed up with the noise and the dust, and the general mayhem in the ‘location’, she packs up her belongings and makes for the N2 highway to hitch a ride in search that new and better place.
Excerpt from Song of the Sea Goddess
Albertina throws the remains of her coffee onto the dust outside the door and stuffs her little tin mug into the top of the bulging holdall which stands by a similarly stuffed canvas bag next to the open door. As she finishes chewing the crust of bread she’d saved for her breakfast, she adjusts her second best wig and looks around the shack which has been her home for the best part of a year: Time to move on.
Albertina snatches up the two heavy bags containing all her worldly goods and strides out into the early morning. She holds her head up and sticks her nose in the air as she walks past the people busy with their cooking fires and washing bowls. She will not miss them and she will not miss the location, with its noise and dust, and people fighting and drinking long into the night. Her son is settled in a farm school and he has a roof over his head. He’s with people who’ll take better care of him that she can, far away from the temptations of drugs and alcohol, underage sex and communicable diseases which seem to be all that life has to offer for young people here.
Fifteen minutes of steady walking bring Albertina to the edge of the freeway. She is aware of the weight of the bags that she’s carrying, but she’s used to it. Used to carrying all her belongings with her; you can’t leave anything in your shack. The traffic is heavy, and the hot dirty wind from the road tugs at her long skirt. Albertina trudges on as far as the service station where she stops near the exit to the parking area. Here she will get her first lift. She takes out a tightly folded twenty rand note from where is has been tucked inside her clothing, unfolds it and carefully smooths out the creases. She holds it up to each vehicle that passes.
It’s not long before a large blue truck pulls up beside her, its airbrakes hissing loudly. The driver leans over and extends a thick brown arm to open the passenger door for her. Albertina looks up at him. For a moment they scrutinise each other. He looks okay, she thinks, but she’s still wary. She tries to read his face. The driver breaks into a gap-toothed grin and asks her where she’s going.
Albertina shrugs. ‘Just onwards,’ she smiles cautiously.
‘I’m going up the coast,’ he replies.
Albertina nods. One direction is as good as another. The coast sounds nice; fresh. Why not? Something will turn up. She hefts her bags into the foot-well and, gathering up her skirt, climbs nimbly into the cab. The driver indicates the seat belt and reaches over to help her. His hand brushes briefly against her left breast. She looks at him sharply but his attention is already focused on the road as he pulls away.
He eases the heavy vehicle out onto the busy highway, turning the radio up loudly. Albertina is grateful for the music; she doesn’t like to chat to strangers. She looks out of the window watching the sprawl of scruffy buildings give way to a patch of open land, then more buildings, this time huge, bland industrial buildings. She briefly wonders what goes on inside them. The truck driver taps on the steering wheel along with the music, apart from when he jabs at the horn or mutters an obscenity at some other road user. She winces inwardly at the words.
The truck turns off the freeway and onto the West Coast highway. The traffic is calmer and there is only bush and scrub beyond the edge of the tarmac. Albertina gazes out across the open country; the ocean is faintly discernible, a clear azure strip below the wide African sky. She winds down her window a little. The driver turns to her – they haven’t so much as exchanged names – and suggests they stop for a break. He needs to stretch his legs. Albertina nods and leans forward to reach inside the pocket of her holdall.
There is a rest stop a kilometre ahead: three sets of concrete tables with concrete stools surrounding them, set back from the road under a stand of shady trees. There is nobody else there. The driver parks up and jumps out of the cab. He strides round the front of the truck and opens the passenger door for Albertina. Although she is perfectly capable of dismounting by herself, he offers her a hand to help her down. Albertina’s bright pink pumps hit the ground lightly; the driver keeps hold of her hand and pulls her gently sideways, away from the door. Their eyes meet as he takes a step towards her. She takes a step back. He smiles pleasantly. ‘Come now,’ he says, ‘a little something for my trouble.’ He closes in and Albertina is caught between him and the side of the truck.
Quick as a flash, she whips out her little steel knife and holds the point against the side of his neck. The man’s eyes widen. He steps back, holding up his hands up in surprise. It is now Albertina’s turn to advance. She sets her face in a steely glare and, although inside her heart is fluttering with fear, she takes a step forward, knife raised. A long minute passes. A couple of cars go by; a bird shrieks in the tree above them. Then all is quiet.
Loud music breaks the silence heralding the arrival of a bright red sports car. It draws up sharply behind the truck, raising a cloud of dust. The driver looks around. Albertina’s gaze remains fixed on him. Car doors open and the music blares out more loudly. High female voices call out to each other. Paying no attention to the truck or the two people beside it they unload a cooler box from the car and dump it on the nearest table.
The driver holds out his hands, palms upward. ‘Sorry, sorry,’ he says quickly. Albertina glances towards the noisy group of girls. She lowers the knife.
‘I’m getting your bags,’ the man says firmly. Albertina nods. Moments later her bags are on the ground and the truck is starting up. Albertina watches calmly as he drives away. She picks up her bags and goes to sit at the nearest table, looking across at the four long-limbed blonde-headed girls who are sipping from cans of cool drink.
‘Hey!’ One of the girls gets up and walks over to Albertina. ‘Ag, no! Did that guy just leave you here?’ She looks round at her friends and back at Albertina. ‘Shame, man!’ Another girl approaches and asks where she’s going. Albertina gestures vaguely up the road.
‘Lesley,’ the first girl calls out. ‘We can fit another one in the back, hey?’
Albertina now becomes the centre of attention. The skimpily-clad young women gather round, and one of them fetches a cool drink for her; they all mutter darkly about the ‘skelm’ driver. Albertina is a little overwhelmed, but happily accepts the offer of a lift. They can’t take her to where they’re staying, of course, but the nearest town will surely be fine. Albertina nods. It will surely be fine.
And so, after a whirlwind of a drive in the noisy little sports car, with its loud music and louder girls, and the howling wind which forced her to remove her second-best wig, so as not to lose it out of the open window, Albertina finds herself back on foot, carrying her two bulging bags into a busy little coastal town. By late afternoon, she’s found her way down to the harbour. She sets her bags down and stares out across the ocean. She breathes in the sharp, salty air and looks around. She has a good feeling about this place. Something will turn up, she thinks.
Mr Eyre paced the cell slowly, ‘we could use the bracelet to escape,’ he turned to face Bryony, ‘but that won’t help us find your sister, although in our current predicament…’ his voice tailed off as he caught a glimpse of the gallows outside the narrow window of their prison.
Bryony was about to reply when a strange, beetle-like creature came racing down the passageway and skidded to a halt in front of their barred cell. Glancing nervously over its shoulder, it reached under one of its armoured wing cases and drew out a key, which was almost as big as itself, and dropped it on the floor in front of them; then without a word – if indeed it could speak – it turned and scuttled off, back in the direction from where it came.
Bryony swiftly retrieved the key and Mr Eyre applied it to the lock; a moment later the cell door swung open. They were about to follow their strange, silent rescuer, when an ashy-faced woman appeared from the shadows of the cell opposite; the key fitted that door too.
Mr Eyre raised an optimistic eyebrow, ‘now all we need to do is get out of the building.’