Trigger Warning (a Jade Camel out-take)

a jade camel figurine

‘It’s about your Six Sentence Story serial, Ms Hall’, says Gina, plonking a steaming mug of coffee in front of me; she takes a little detour around the perimeter of the cramped kitchen, peers into the sitting room, then closes the door and sits down next to me, ‘I think you should let your readers know exactly what the Jade Camel can do: show them that scene in our book with Gary and me, you know the one,’ she glances meaningfully at the kitchen wall, ‘make them understand the danger it poses.’

‘You really want to go through that again? – all those readers picturing that scene at once… and what about Gary, wouldn’t it be better to use the later scene when you show the camel to Cynthia?’

‘That’s not nearly so powerful,’ Gina huffs.

‘It wouldn’t involve Gary though; he said he didn’t want to relive it all again,’ I feel my face flushing with a mixture of annoyance and guilt, ‘does he even know we’re having this conversation?’

‘But don’t you get it, Ms Hall?’ says Gina, ignoring my question, ‘if enough people read the scene and feel empathy for Gary, which I’m sure they will, Gary will finally stop blaming himself; I forgive him every time, but I hasn’t got the same impact as having readers involved in the scene… please Ms Hall?’

‘All right, Gina, just so long as you’re sure.’

~~~~~

This has been my second offering this week for Denise’s Six Sentence Story Challenge where this week’s prompt word was detour. It also serves to show that certain characters of mine are more than happy to offer their opinions outside the confines of their book.

You can find this week’s #SixSentenceStories here.

~~~~~

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone – [trigger warning: domestic violence, sexual assault]

All was quiet in the flat when Gina and Gary headed upstairs having explained the events of the past few hours as best they could to a sceptical Connor and an incredulous Cynthia, who sat stroking Asmar while he regarded them both with bright golden eyes.

Lucy’s door was closed and no light was showing under the door. “She must be exhausted,” said Gina. “And what about you, Gary Marshall?” She took his hands and examined the bruised knuckles. “That was quite a fight.” She let go of his hands and walked into the kitchen to switch the kettle on. Gary followed her. She turned to him. “Do you want some toast or something?”

Gary grasped her around the waist, pulling her towards him. “I want you,” he said kissing her hard on the mouth and pressing her up against the wall. Gina struggled, but Gary didn’t stop. He pinned her wrists above her head her with his left hand while his right hand pulled up her skirt and clawed at her tights. Gina wrenched her face away. “Stop it Gary, you’re hurting me.”

“Come on G, you didn’t say no last night.” He nudged her face back towards his and covered her mouth with his, kissing her roughly and pulling at her underwear. Gina heaved herself forward, knocking Gary off balance. Arms now free, Gina pulled his hand away and fled into the living room.

Gary pursued her, grabbing her by the shoulder before she reached the bedroom. They fell to the floor. Gary pulled her around to face him and rolled on top of her, pinning her to the carpet. “What’s wrong? Don’t you want me now?” He grasped her by the wrists again and started to undo his jeans.

“Stop it! Stop it, Gary. Not like this!” Gina fought against him, trying to lever him up with her hips, but he was too strong. Gary wrenched her blouse open and tore at her bra; buttons popped across the carpet. “No, Gary!”

Lucy’s door flew open. She stood there, her golden hair like a halo around her head, staring at them in horror. “What are you doing?” Her voice rose to a scream. “Gary!” Startled, Gary let go of Gina’s wrists. She shoved him away and wriggled from underneath him. Gary sat up and turned his back on her. As he did so the little jade camel rolled out of his pocket and across the carpet.

No one spoke. Gina pulled her torn blouse together and looked up at Lucy, who crouched down beside her putting her arms around her. Gary had his head in his hands; he started to shake. His shoulders convulsed as he let out a loud sob.

Gary’s shoulders continued to shudder. Gina nodded at Lucy who tiptoed away to her room. She crawled across the carpet and put her arms around him. Gary turned to her, wiping his hand across his eyes. “I’m sorry babe; I don’t know what came over me. You know I’d never…”

 “Shush,” she said holding him against her. “It’s all right.” Her eyes fell on the jade camel. It wasn’t winking at her this time.

~~~~~

You’ll Never Walk Alone
available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
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Little Inspirations: a gift

An enlarged view of my ‘Silver Locket’

This little pendant was given to me by Emma, my lovely mother-in-law, many years ago. It’s a pretty piece, which might have originally been a broach. I’ve worn it on a chain a few times but the loop which it hangs from is so worn that I’m scared of losing it.

It’s about the size of my thumbnail, very light and it tarnishes ever so quickly. There is no hallmark, so it’s probably not actually silver. It looks like a locket, but it doesn’t open, although it looks as if it might. Don’t you think that one, or maybe a particular combination, of those decorative pins around the edge might spring it open? But sadly, no.

However, it did spark my imagination.

Spool on a couple of decades and my little pendant was transformed. Now a fully functioning locket with a strange little face engraved inside, it became the eponymous star of my debut novel, The Silver Locket which I wrote under the pen name, Holly Atkins. My pendant even took pride of place on the cover, flanked by photos of family members on Emma’s side, whose identity has disappeared in the mists of time.

I often say, ‘never let a good character go to waste’, and followers of my most recent micro-fiction series, The Jade Camel, will discover a bit of backstory to two of its characters who first entered my literary world in the scene below.

.

Excerpt from ‘The Silver Locket’

“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 inside intently.

On the window sill, 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 hurrying away from the station.

Cullen continued to growl.  The woman turned and hurried away.  Cullen sat back down on the window sill 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 sees 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.

“Why?  What is it?” Laura looked at Ceridwen.  “The little face inside… it’s starting to scare me.”

“Well, let me tell you a little about the charm within the locket.  Please don’t worry. I’m quite certain that there is no need for you to be afraid of the locket or its ‘little face’, as you call it.”

“You say it’s a charm of some kind.  That’s what the jeweller told me yesterday.  A charm or a talisman, he said.  What does that mean exactly?”

“These little pieces are very rare, although long ago they used to be quite widely made and circulated amongst the Roma peoples of Eastern Europe.  It is said that charms or amulets of this kind actually originated in Ancient Egypt and were part of their magical rituals or heka.  The oval shape certainly does resemble the cartouches from Egyptian hieroglyphs.”  Ceridwen paused.

“But that need not concern us.  Your locket with its hidden amulet doesn’t date back quite that far, although it could be as much as two hundred years old.  Who knows where a young gardener would have obtained such a precious object.  He can’t have known what it was, or paid the true value.”

Ceridwen went on: “An amulet is essentially something which is designed to bring good luck or to offer protection to the wearer.  It need not be made specifically for the wearer, but the wearer will benefit from the powers imbued in the amulet.  From what you’ve told me, and what I can feel from holding it, his amulet is a special one, known as a ‘reflector’.  A reflector amulet not only gives the wearer protection, it also mirrors emotions, usually from its wearer, but also from people around her, particularly if they are antagonistic or threatening towards her.  This amplifies the power of the amulet, offering the wearer even greater protection.  It is said that the expression on the amulet’s face will change according to the prevailing emotion.  I’ve never seen a one before, but I believe that is what you have here.”

“Oh,” exclaimed Laura, “do you think I have upset the amulet by finding it?”

“I doubt it, but tell me, Laura, have you been wearing the locket.”

“Only for a few days.  I started wearing it after I first found it, because it kept disappearing.  It fell behind the dresser and then between the cushions of an armchair.  But I haven’t worn it since I took it to the jeweller’s and he opened it.  I guess I’ve been a bit wary of the expression on the little face.  I’ve kept it close to me though, either in my bag, or on my bedside table.”

“May I take your hand now, Laura?  Please, come and sit by me.”  Ceridwen patted the seat beside her.

Laura perched on the chaise-longue and Ceridwen took her hand in hers.  She closed her eyes, gently massaging Laura’s hand, much as she had done with the locket.

Opening her eyes she said gently: “I sense that there is some turmoil in your life.” Ceridwen smiled.  “I detect that you doubt someone close to you.  You also have some important choices to make.  Am I correct my dear?”

“How you would know that?”  Laura pulled her hand away.

“I am sensitive to people’s emotions.  I can feel things just from a touch…”

~~~~~~~~~~~

The Silver Locket in paperback and ebook with the quote 'I enjoyed it so much that I read it in a day'.

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Ten Years a Novelist!

http://bit.ly/2WTizJZ
Quote from my interview with Jean Lee in April 2020

It’s exactly 10 years ago today that I took the plunge and published my first novel. April 1st 2012 saw me press that big ‘submit’ button and launch The Silver Locket into the world. A momentous moment about which I basically told no-one. So lacking in confidence was I back then that I published it under a pen-name.

I’d started bits and pieces of the book during the mid-noughties, but I hadn’t come up with anything very substantial. Then in April 2010, the ash cloud from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull delayed my flight back to the UK from a holiday in South Africa and resulted in me being AWOL from my job for a week. Rules around unauthorised absence in the council where I worked dictated that I must make up the time, leaving me a chained to my desk for 2 hours every day after everyone else had gone home for (I can’t remember how many) weeks.

It was not even as if I had sufficient work to fill the time. My risk management role had been scaled down due to governmental policy changes, and the work that I took over from other members of my team hardly filled the the normal working day.

So what to do? Twiddle my thumbs? Bring in some knitting? Nobody much seemed to mind as long as I made up that oh-so-important missing time.

And so I began to work on the novel which I’d been composing in my head during my daily commute. Apart from the time I happily spent chatting to our cleaner, there was only one occasion that I remember being disturbed. One of the field staff phoned and I was so wrapped up in my writing – see that quote at the top of the page – that it took me a minute or two to come ‘back to earth’.

Six months later, we’d emigrated to South Africa. It took us a little while to settle in, but soon I was back to writing a couple of afternoons a week between the various voluntary activities I’d signed up for. Fast forward a further eighteen months and my finger was hovering over that submit button.

I sometimes wonder whether I would ever have got down to serious writing had it not been for that volcano, but now I’ve been well and truly bitten by the writing bug and I’ve never looked back.

Five novels, three published as audiobooks, and one tiny short story collection later, what’s next? Well, here’s the nearest I get to an outline for a new novel:

Revenge of the Rain Bull, third in my Weskus Series, is about to begin…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Image credit for the unpronounceable volcano: National Geographic

Little inspirations: why monkeys?

Exchanging emails with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, she commented that she’d recently finished reading my novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, which I’m pleased to say she enjoyed. Knowing this part of the world, she commented that she could see how my trips up the west coast of South Africa had inspired me. She also said she found it interesting that a monkey should appear again. Was there a reason for this?

Good question! I had to think about that.

Fingers and Toti, my two monkey characters are very different creatures and have different roles and functions in the stories in which they appear.

Fingers provides some of the comedy in my earlier novel, You’ll Never Walk Alone. He also helps to reflect wheeler-dealer, Bob’s character, showing a softer side to a character who might not otherwise be perceived as such. Through Fingers we are shown elements of Bob’s relationship with his Nan and learn about her character, since we never actually meet her. Right from the first time Fingers is introduced we are shown his naughty side and his thieving tendencies (scouser-trope alert!) although he’s never malicious, in fact he turns out to be quite the hero thanks to his light-fingered antics.

Toti, who appears in both Song of the Sea Goddess and Spirit of the Shell Man, provides a means of reflecting some of her fellow cast members’ characteristics and personalities by the way that they react to her and interact with her. But mainly she’s the bookish Professor’s little companion; in particular, she provides a foil for his thoughts so that he isn’t talking to himself all the time. Toti actually crept into the book as a male monkey called Felix, but he didn’t fit. The gender switch and the African name worked so much better. Now in her second novel outing, Toti’s character has developed and she’s becoming a player in her own right.

Subconsciously though, I think there might be another reason for the appearance of monkey characters in my novels. Meet ‘Monkey’ (and Luna, of course).


Beta reads and re-writes

the images shows a sharpened pencil on the pages of a notebook
Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

I am indebted to my beta readers for their careful consideration of my work. Our discussions come in many forms. This was part of a whatsapp conversation between me and my loyal and gifted friend, Laurette as she burned the midnight oil reading the draft MS of Spirit of the Shell Man, the sequel to Song of the Sea Goddess, a few weeks ago.

~~~

Laurette: I just wanted to mention that it is unsafe to feed a dog grapes or raisins. I know that Toti is a monkey and wouldn’t know that.😔

Me: Oh, I didn’t know that either. I don’t want to poison the dog or lead anyone else to. I’ll have to think of something else.

a little later

Me: Are bananas okay for dogs? (asking for a monkey friend) 🐒🍌

Laurette: Bananas are safe for dogs to eat in small amounts and could help with gastrointestinal issues. However, too much banana can lead your dog to having an upset stomach and diarrhea due to the amount of extra fiber and sugar.

Me: So Toti sharing a couple of slices is fine then. Great!

Laurette: 👍

Re-write time!

Before🍇🍇🍇🍇🍇

Andreas serves up the two breakfasts and puts a dish containing a small bunch of grapes by the stool where Toti’s sitting. She gives him a long blink then grabs the grapes from the dish. A moment later she drops to the floor and scurries out of the back door, the bunch held delicately between her teeth. The Professor spins in his seat, the fork speared with a piece of sausage half way to his mouth. ‘Where are you going, Toti?’ he calls anxiously after her.

Andreas, who can see through the open door from where he’s standing, is quick to reassure him. ‘Don’t worry, Professor, she’s sharing her breakfast with my little skeelo friend. The Professor cranes around the edge of the counter to see Toti plucking a grape from the bunch and offering it to the scruffy little dog that Andreas has been feeding each morning for a year or more. Grinning, the Professor raises his eyebrows and returns to his breakfast.

After🍌🍌🍌🍌🍌

Andreas serves up the two breakfasts and places a banana on the counter. ‘Shall I peel and slice it for you?’ he says, grinning down at Toti. She gives him a long blink then carefully picks up the banana. A moment later she drops to the floor and scurries out of the back door with it. The Professor spins on his seat, the piece of sausage speared on his fork half way to his mouth. ‘Where are you going, Toti?’ he calls anxiously after her.

Andreas, who can see through the open door from where he’s standing, is quick to reassure him. ‘Don’t worry, Professor, she’s sharing her breakfast with my little skeelo friend. The Professor cranes around the edge of the counter to see Toti breaking a piece from the now-peeled banana and offering it to the scruffy little dog that Andreas has been feeding each morning for a year or more. Grinning, the Professor raises his eyebrows and returns to his breakfast.

Phew! no animals injured.

Location, Location, Location #28

Wide angle view of the Gare du Nord, Paris
Location No. 28 – Gare du Nord, Paris

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.

Place du Tertre, Montmartre

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 in paperback and ebook with the quote 'I enjoyed it so much that I read it in a day'.

The Silver Locket
(written under pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

USA UK ~ ESP ~ CAN ~ AUS ~ IND ~ the rest of the world

Image credits: Gard du Nord – MarcusObal (Wikimedia Commons); Louvre – Irina Lediaeva on Unsplash; Mona Lisa – Werner Willmann (Wikimedia Commons); Montmartre – talktraveltome.com

Location, Location, Location #26

photo of castle street in Liverpool showing the town hall at the end of the street. Cafes and restaurants occupy the ground floors of these impressive 19th century buildings
Location No.26 – Castle Street, Liverpool City Centre

Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages of my novels. Once again, we’re in the centre of Liverpool, with a fine view of the Town Hall in front of us. The insurance office where I started my first ‘proper’ job is just around the corner on Exchange Street East. The building has been converted into a Travelodge, which I find rather weird. You can take a peek at it here – see the old company logo carved into the stonework over the front door? How strange to stay in a building in which you once worked!

Anyway, that’s not why we’re here. We’re just going to pop through one of the doorways on the right of the picture into a warm and slightly stuffy basement café, and take a peek at one of my favourite scenes from You’ll Never Walk Alone. The café will have changed beyond all recognition now, but the way I describe it was pretty much the way it was when we used to pop out from the office for a lunchtime tea and toasted teacake, long before the time when central Liverpool became a trendy, ‘go-to’ destination.

All done? Well, let’s jump on the No 82 bus and travel out to the leafy suburbs of south Liverpool.

1 Aigburth Vale, Liverpool 17

This rather sad-looking building is where my husband and I first rented a flat together (it was a little bit smarter back then). The house is at the end of a long driveway and there was a rambling woodland garden on one side, long gone now. The area is occupied by some rather nice retirement flats. You can just make it out in Google Maps Street View.

The house originally belonged to Sir Ronald Ross, the man who discovered that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes. Later the building was sold and it became a nightclub, and so it gets a passing mention in my book excerpt below.

Now, onto the story – look out for my little ‘Hitchcockian’ cameo too!

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gina had almost finished her coffee. Mollie, her mother, was late as usual. She fiddled with the teaspoon in her saucer and stared around the gloomy interior of the subterranean cafeteria, at its brown banquettes and Formica-topped tables. Dreary pictures of sad-looking landscapes lined the walls. The place was stuck in the 1970s. Not a good decade for Liverpool, (not that the 80s were turning out to be much better so far). Gina wondered what it was about this particular establishment which made it her mother’s favourite lunchtime meeting place. Maybe some tie from the past. Well, that was apt, Gina thought, as she took the photocopied photo from her bag; the one with her mother, her long-time friend Marie and various members of the Kingston Jazz Cats, including Godrell Clarke, the man Mollie claimed was Gina’s father.

The sound of Mollie’s voice preceded her as she tottered down steps from Castle Street in her high heels. “Oh Marie, you know who I mean, the one with the face like a robber’s dog.” Gina rolled her eyes, glancing at the woman at the next table, who had been sitting pen in hand, gazing at the notebook in front of her. The woman looked up at the two women as they made their entrance and suddenly started writing.

“Here she is!” Marie started waving at Gina as she bustled her way through the tables. She was hard to miss in her bright pink coat. “Gina, love, sorry we’re late.” Marie plonked a couple of carrier bags down on the floor before easing her way between table top and banquette to sit opposite Gina. “Bargains,” she announced proudly, “you should get along to T J Hughes’s and have a look. I got a smashing skirt and a few little tops, all for a tenner.”

Mollie arrived more sedately and sat down next to Marie. “Ouch, my feet are killin’ me.” She slipped off her shoes under the table and flexed her stockinged toes.

“You didn’t walk from TJ’s in those new shoes of yours, did you, Ma?”

“No, love, of course not, we got the bus, but it’s still a tidy walk from the stop in Dale Street.” Mollie reached down and rubbed her left foot. “I think I’ve got a bunion coming.”

The waitress hovered beside the table. “What can I get you, ladies?”

“What’s the soup today?” asked Mollie.

“Mulligatawny.”

Mollie pulled a face.

“We’ve got sandwiches: cheese and ham, cheese and tomato, ham and tomato. Or there’s scones or toasted teacakes.” The waitress reeled off the limited menu.

“Toasted teacake and a tea, please,” said Marie.

“Same for me,” said Gina.

Mollie paused, screwing up her eyes in an effort of indecision. “Yes, I’ll have that too,” she said eventually. “And make it a pot of tea, for three.”

The waitress nodded and scribbled on her pad before wandering back to the serving counter.

“How’s Gary, love?” asked Marie, leaning across the table.

“Fine, thanks,” Gina smiled, remembering the wicked look on his face as they’d tumbled into bed the previous evening.

“Oh look at that. Isn’t that just the cat that got the cream last night,” said Mollie loudly,

“Ma, shush,” Gina said, glancing at the woman at the next table. Her head was bent over her notebook, busy writing.

“What’s the matter, love?” said Mollie innocently.

“You’re embarrassing me.”

“No ring on your finger yet?” Marie put in.

“Not yet, Auntie Marie,” Gina smiled sweetly, covering her irritation.

“Oh, I wish you’d drop the ‘auntie’, Gina,” said Marie, “you make me feel like a hundred years old.”

Gina laughed. “Okay, I’ll try to remember.” She picked up the photo and slid it across the table. “Now, look. Here’s what I wanted you to see.”

Both women leaned forward and peered at the grainy photocopy. There was silence for a full two minutes, probably a record for those two, thought Gina. She looked over at the woman at the next table; she was gazing into space again.

‘Well?” said Gina, impatient for a reaction.

“Oh my word,” said Marie. “Don’t we look young?”

“We were young. Younger than our Gina is now.” Mollie stroked the face of the man holding the saxophone. “Here he is, my Godrell.” She had a dreamy look in her eyes. “He was so gorgeous, and he fell for me.”

“…and then left you.” Gina put in.

Mollie ignored her. “What were the others’ names, Marie? This one with the trumpet?” Mollie tapped the photo with a red-painted nail, “Deon something…”

“No, Deon was the guitarist. That’s Dixon. Dixon Jones played the trumpet.” Marie smiled. “He had a bit of thing for me, remember?”

There was a pause while the waitress set out the cups and saucers. “The teacakes are just coming,” she said as she set down a large stainless steel teapot before heading back to the serving counter.

“Where was the picture taken?” asked Gina.

“It was a dance hall,” said Marie, “near Sefton Park somewhere, wasn’t it?” she turned to Mollie.

“I don’t remember…” Mollie shook her head.

The food arrived. Mollie poked her teacake with a knife. She looked up at the waitress and smiled. “Lovely. Thanks, love.” The waitress mumbled something as she turned away.

Marie continued: “It was up this long drive. A big white building, with French doors to the garden outside. You must remember. You’d disappeared outside with Godrell that time…”

Mollie’s face lit up with recognition. “Oh yes…”

Gina noticed a red flush travel up her mother’s neck. “Really, Ma?”

“You can mind your own business, my girl,” said Mollie. Although she spoke sharply, she had a twinkle in her eye. She busied herself buttering her teacake.

Gina took a bite of her own teacake and decided to change the subject. “What about you and the trumpet player, Marie?”

“Oh, that never came to anything, love. I’d met my Jimmy by then.” The three women cast their eyes down. Jimmy had been killed in an accident at the docks when Gina was nine. He and three other men had entered the cargo hold of a ship which was full of logs. One of the others had slipped and fallen into a gap between the logs. Jimmy had tried to rescue him, but he too had disappeared into the narrow spaces between the logs. When the two men were eventually brought out by the shore fire brigade, both had died of suffocation.

Gina smiled sadly. Her uncle Jimmy had been a great favourite of hers, always cracking jokes and bringing her sweets.

Marie rubbed her hand across her face and turned her attention back to the photo. “Just look at what we’re wearing… and your hairdo, Mollie.” She turned to Gina, “you know, your mother was the first girl to have a beehive in South Liverpool.”

Mollie laughed. “All that lacquer, it set hard like a bloody helmet.”

“You know why our handbags are all lined up on the table like that?” Marie looked at Gina. Gina shook her head. “We had those miniatures of gin behind them, but all you can see are the tonic bottles.” She threw back her head and laughed. “What a time, we had.”

an old photo taken c. 1960 showing four young women all dressed up sitting at a table with their handbags in front of them. You can see little bottles of tonic water, but the accompanying gin is hidden.
‘Hiding the gin’. Emma, my lovely late mum-in-law is the one winking at the camera.

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You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback, e-book & on Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

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Photo credits: liverpool.echo.co.uk, boomin.com

Location, Location, Location #25

Location No. 25 – Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club

Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages on my novels and, in case you didn’t realise straight away, we’re back in Liverpool, so we must be dropping in on the characters of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Look up, the words are written above these wrought-iron gates, right by where we’re standing!

These are the famous Shankly gates, erected in tribute to Bill Shankly, the manager who brought huge success to the team in the early 1970s. It was during his reign that the club adopted its famous anthem, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Hearing the fans sing the song at the start of a match or after a hard-earned victory, sends a shiver down the spine. It is that feeling of togetherness and belonging which really what inspired the title of my novel, as my ‘players’ stand together and support each other throughout the narrative. In fact, the book isn’t about football or Liverpool FC at all – just a few passing references and one character’s obsession.

Bill Shankly is famous for the quote: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.So it is for some in the city but not all, especially Gina, although Gary, her boyfriend is the die-hard football fan.. Here’s his view of the ‘beautiful game’.

Gina rolled her eyes at Gary. Well, what exotic location are we going to tonight?”

“Go for a couple of pints, chippy and back in time for ‘Match of the Day. My ideal night!” Gary turned to Tony Wong. “Here, Tone, have one of your crackers.”  Gary proffered the bowl to its owner.

Tony Wong giggled and took the bowl. “Two left, which will you take, Miss Gina?” he said, holding the bowl out to her.

“Mmm, which one predicts I’m going to do something other than watch football on the telly tonight?” She pointed to each of the cookies in turn. “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.”  She picked out one of the cookies and chewed it open. “‘Your passions sweep you away!’ I think that should’ve been Lu’s.”

“Hey, I’m passionate about footy – you should be too.” Gary broke into song: “We’re on the way to Wembley, on the way to Wembley…”

Liverpool – South Africa Connection

Back in 2005, we were entertaining a little group of teachers from South Africa who were on an exchange visit to my husband’s school. As part of their visit we took an organised tour around the LFC ground. Our guide was explaining the importance of the Kop, the stand behind one of the goals occupied by the ‘Kopites’ – the home team supporters. At the time, I didn’t know what the Kop was named for. However, one of our party did. Carmen held up her hand and pre-empted him. You can’t keep a good teacher down!

The Battle of Spion Kop

Spion Kop (Spioenkop) literally means ‘Spy hill’. During the Second Anglo-Boer War, the town of Ladysmith, which was being held by the British, had been besieged by the Boers for a couple of months. The Spioenkop, which was occupied by the Boers, offered a view from the summit for hundreds of miles all around, so the British considered it important to attack and hold it. The British prevailed in the end, but they had lost 340 soldiers before they ended the four month long siege. The new Anfield stand, opened in 1906, was named the Kop as a tribute to the many local men who died during that battle.

It was that exchange visit and the friends that we made, that sowed the seeds that would lead to us moving to South Africa 5 years later.

The Other Team in Town

Before we get swept away by an outpouring of love for Liverpool FC, I must mention the other local soccer team, Everton Football Club, whose ground is only a mile away from where we’re standing. It’s another fine football club, with a long history which goes back even further than LFC’s. Obviously, there is strong rivalry between the two clubs, although it is genial for the most part. In the interests of balance I did introduce a Everton-supporting character: Bob’s Nan. It’s pretty clear where her loyalties lie, even if we never actually meet her.

It’s in the scene below that we first meet her little monkey, Fingers.

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Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gary and his mate, Bob, had evidently come into the sitting room as the sound of the pre-match build-up on the TV started blaring out from the other side of her door. Liverpool were playing away to some team or other deemed by the boys to be too far away to attend midweek. It was a regular ritual: Bob would always come round when Liverpool were playing away because followers of Liverpool FC weren’t tolerated at his Nan’s where he lived, his Nan being an ardent armchair Everton fan.  On these occasions Lucy and Gina would usually go to the local wine bar or spend the evening downstairs with Cynthia. Tonight they were planning a quiet drink at the nearby Alicia Hotel as Cynthia was out with Connor at some ‘poetry slam’, whatever that was.

She heard the door to the flat open.  Even above the sound of the TV Lucy couldn’t mistake the characteristic squeal of the hinges.

“All right, Gina!” Lucy heard Bob’s voice, loud and cheery as ever.

“G, luv!” (Gary) “We got any more crisps?”

There was a pause.  Lucy visualised Gina’s expression.

“Fingers ate them.” (Gary again).

Just then Lucy heard something crash to the floor

“What the..?” Gina’s voice rose an octave.

Lucy opened her bedroom door to see Bob plucking a small monkey dressed in a grubby red waistcoat from the coffee table. The large metal bowl which they habitually used for snacks was upturned on the floor in front of the TV surrounded by a halo of crisp fragments.

The creature in Bob’s arms struggled and shrieked in alarm. “Shush lad, easy now.” He turned to Gina, “you’re scaring him.” He stroked the monkey’s head, who’d calmed down considerably in the safety of Bob’s grasp.

“Meet Fingers, girls!”  Bob looked from Gina to Lucy and back to Gina.  “Sorry about that. Bad manners. Gets excited over food, like.”

“You have a monkey?” Asked Gina, eyebrows raised.

“He’s me Nan’s. She found him down Paddy’s market. She was off to the bingo, like. Couldn’t take him, cos he’s been banned.”

“I wonder why,” said Gina, picking up the bowl.

“It’s a long story, like.”  Bob looked down at Fingers and chuckled.

Lucy leant over the back of the couch and stretched a hand out towards the monkey. “Oh, but he’s sweet.”

“Sort of.”  Bob grinned at her.

Fingers wriggled a paw from beneath Bob’s grasp and reached towards Lucy’s outstretched hand. He gently grasped her finger in his little paw, looking up at her while chattering softly.

“Looks like you’ve made a friend.” Bob winked at Lucy.

“Can I hold him?” Lucy stretched over to take Fingers from him.

“Okay, but be careful. He bites.”

“I’m sure he won’t bite me.” She took Fingers who snuggled in her arms, his delicate little paws playing with her long hair.

“Why’s he called Fingers?” Gina asked.

“Me Nan named him.  I wanted to call him Robin.”

“Why Robin?”

Suddenly Fingers wriggled out of Lucy’s arms, dropped onto the couch and started rummaging between the cushions, chattering away to himself. He had almost disappeared when he popped back out again. With a loud whoop he skittered under the coffee table and disappeared behind the TV. Bob frowned. Moving surprisingly quickly for his sizeable build, he rushed to the TV. Pulling it aside on its casters he grabbed Fingers by the waistcoat and hauled him out. Wrapped around his neck was Lucy’s necklace.

“Because he’s a robbin’ bastard!”

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You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook & Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

Image credits: playupliverpool.com, lfhistory.net, Mike Pennington

Little Inspirations: animal characters

Asmar and Fingers from You’ll Never Walk Alone

If you’ve read any of my books you’ll know that animal characters feature somewhere in all of them. Sometimes they just hop in and hop out again, like the baby rabbit in The Silver Locket, or Astra, the small back cat with the white star on her forehead, who wanders in and out of Following the Green Rabbit. Others play a much more prominent role, like little Toti, the Professor’s small sidekick in Song of the Sea Goddess or these two, pictured above.

You can always rest assured that no animal in any book I write will ever come to any permanent harm. And, fellow authors, I’ll tell you, I become deeply distressed if you kill off one of your animal characters, never mind the fact your story might demand it! If an animal appears in a book I’m reading, I start to fear for its safety and I’ll frequently page though the book to find out whether it makes it to the end.

I write for my own pleasure and that, I hope, of my reader too. None of my novels are particularly serious. All are spattered with at least an element of fantasy, and a handful of quirky characters, especially clever animal characters, tend to come with the territory. Or at least they do in my writing. All my principal characters have a responsibility to contribute to the plot and to move the story forward; they have a duty to draw each other out and offer one another opportunities to demonstrate different facets of their personalities. The non-human players are no exception.

My animal characters frequently feature in my favourite scenes and I particularly enjoyed writing those which included Asmar and Fingers in my Liverpool-based book, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. These for me are the superstars of my pages, but from what part of my imagination did they spring?

Asmar the cat belongs to Cynthia, a charming and independent woman ‘of a certain age’. Her cat is the perfect match for her, an exotic Abyssinian, both beautiful and intelligent, with an instinct for tracking and a sense of adventure. The ‘real’ Asmar, both in name and appearance, was a cat that belonged to the chef-patron of a tiny restaurant in a village in northern France where we stayed on holiday, many years ago. With a gentle nature and an enigmatic bearing, he stepped delicately into the role.

Fingers is the naughty young monkey who accompanies Bob in his transit van, doing errands and striking slightly dodgy deals for his market-trader gran, with whom he stays. Both characters might well be referred to as ‘scallies’ in scouse (Liverpool) slang: ‘rascal or miscreant, scallywag.’ But these two aren’t malicious or wicked, they just do a bit of ‘dodging and weaving’ to get by. They represent many people of the time: the book is set in the 1980s, when the city was at its lowest and jobs were very hard to come by.

The excerpt below, is one of my favourite chase scenes. It also includes a potential cameo appearance for my husband, sitting in a battered red Ford Capri, which he used to drive back in the late 1980s – just in case the book is ever made into a movie😉.

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

Gary pounded down the road following the sound of Bob cursing. He soon caught up with him. Bob was clutching a lamp-post by the entrance to Princes Park. He was breathing heavily. Bob nodded to the road opposite. “He headed off up Princes Road there,” he gasped, “following that cat of Cynthia’s.” He caught his breath and shook his head, “I dunno what’s got into him.”

Gary scanned the road in front of them. A movement caught his eye. “There he is,” he pointed to a bench on the central area between the two carriageways which formed the once elegant boulevard. “The cat’s there too.”

The two animals perched on the graffitied bench, watched as Gary jogged towards them. Bob followed a little way behind. Gary slowed down as he neared the bench, then suddenly Asmar leapt down and scurried away further up the road. Fingers chattered excitedly and followed, loping after the cat.

“They’re off again,” Gary shouted over his shoulder to Bob who was already lagging behind him. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch the little blighter.”

“Right behind you,” Bob called out breathlessly.

Gary set off at a run this time. He’d been a good sprinter in school and was determined to catch up with the little monkey who would surely tire soon. Asmar, no doubt, could keep this up for a while, but then he could look after himself. As Gary narrowed the gap between them, Fingers changed direction and headed for the trees which lined the pavement on the left-hand side of the road. Swinging from branch to branch, he continued after Asmar, who’d also crossed the roadway and was hugging the low wall below the swaying branches.

Gary raced on keeping both animals in sight. As the trees came to an end, Fingers dropped down onto the wall below. Asmar changed direction and headed down a side street on the left. Fingers was now on the other side of the wall and Gary lost sight of him, but he could see Asmar trotting along the pavement. The cat looked purposeful, as if he knew exactly where he was going, and there was no doubt in Gary’s mind that Fingers was following him. He would just have to do the same. He turned to see Bob some way behind, he waved and pointed where they were heading next.

The wall ended and Fingers emerged just behind Asmar who shot across the road. Gary heard the sound of an engine and turned to see a car coming around the corner. Fingers was loping across the road following the cat, totally unaware of the danger from the oncoming vehicle. Gary stepped off the pavement waving his arms in the air. The car driver slowed. Gary could see the driver was mouthing something at him. He glanced the other way to see Fingers safely across the road, then turned back to the driver who was shaking his head at him. Gary shrugged and mouthed ‘sorry’ at the driver. As the car drew level with Gary, the driver continued to shake his head, mouthing an obscenity before accelerating away.

A classier and tidier version of the car my husband used to drive

Unfazed, Gary jogged across the road. Up ahead, Asmar had stopped and was sitting on the pavement licking a front paw. Fingers was nowhere in sight. Gary scanned around. Then he saw the little monkey perched on the bonnet of a tatty red Ford Capri which was parked at the kerbside. Fingers had his back to Gary and was peering at the driver through the windscreen. The man was hunched down in his seat as if trying to remain unobserved. Gary walked slowly towards the car, hoping to scoop Fingers up before he noticed his approach. He watched as the man in the Capri sank down even further behind the small steering wheel. Fingers had turned his attention to the car’s aerial and was prodding it curiously, watching as it sprang back and forth. Gary was level with the bonnet of the car; he sprang forward, grabbing Fingers around the middle with both hands. Fingers squeaked in surprise and wriggled furiously, but Gary had him firmly in his grip. Fingers clutched at the aerial trying to resist capture, all the time screeching in protest. Gary glanced at the driver who was furiously gesturing for them to get away from the car. Gary pulled, Fingers held onto the aerial. Suddenly it snapped and Fingers ricocheted into Gary’s chest, brandishing the broken aerial aloft. Gary looked at the driver. His hands were gripping the steering wheel and his head was resting between them. Gary sprinted off clutching Fingers to his chest and ducked into the first back alley he came to.

Gary leant against the rough brick wall. Fingers had quietened down and was sitting calmly in his arms, still brandishing the car aerial. Gary peered around the corner into the street but all was quiet. The driver was still in his car. He sank back onto the wall.

“Gaz! Gaz! Where are yer?” Gary heard Bob shouting as he hurried up the road. “Alright, mate,” he said cheerfully, knocking on the window of the Capri. “Have you seen a fella chasing a monkey? Must’ve come down ‘ere.”

“Come on, here’s Bob now,” said Gary to Fingers. “Over here,” he called to Bob, as he emerged from the alleyway. Gary watched Bob shrug his shoulders at the occupant of the Capri. “Suit yerself,” he muttered.

Seeing Bob, Fingers let out a loud chirrup. Gary set him down on the pavement as Bob held out his arms to the little monkey. No sooner had he done so, Asmar appeared from the other side of the road meowing loudly. Fingers turned towards the cat who immediately changed direction and dashed off up the road.

“Oh no you don’t mate,” said Bob reaching down to pick Fingers up, but the little monkey was too quick for him. Gary almost got a hand under him, but he bolted off after the cat, dropping the aerial in the road.

“Here we go again,” said Gary turning to follow.

“Hold on, Gaz, I don’t how or why, but look,” he nodded his head at the two animals who were now sitting on a low wall at the corner of the street. “They’re waiting for us to go after them. I’m sure of it.”

“So we just follow them?”

Bob shrugged. “Seems weird, but I guess so.”


You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
USA UK ~ CAN ~ AUS IND ~ the rest of the world

Image credits: newworldencyclopedia.org, kidadl.com, classics.honestjohn.co.uk

Little Inspirations: chasing rabbits

Would you follow this rather curious rabbit?

I’m still not entirely sure how this particular creature hopped into my consciousness to become the eponymous rabbit in my historical fantasy novel, Following the Green Rabbit, but it is he, or at least one of his cousins, that leads my two young heroines, Bethany and Bryony, and their tutor, Mr Eyre, through a portal into the past. Somehow he seemed to fit the bill, since I needed an unusual animal to appear in order to pique Bethany’s youthful curiosity and engage the interest of Mr Eyre’s enquiring mind.

Here’s where the two sisters come across the rabbit for the first time:

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.”

(Of course, I couldn’t resist tossing in the Alice in Wonderland reference as the prelude to what was about to happen!)

But back to the actual green rabbit…

I took the two photos of the rapidly retreating rabbit at the top of the page while travelling on a tourist bus through part of the Atacama Desert in Chile on a trip to the El Tatio Geyser fields, some 14,000 feet above sea level, where the air is very thin and very cold.

Here are two more of my holiday snaps from that trip: one El Tatio geyser and two vicuñas in the Atacama Desert.

Since we would be travelling high, high up into the mountains over the 50 mile journey to reach the geysers from our base in San Pedro de Atacama, at breakfast early that morning I’d taken the precaution of consuming several cups of coca leaf tea as a protection against altitude sickness. On the way back from the geysers, when I saw this huge, green-tinged ‘rabbit’, I wondered if I’d actually consumed a little too much of the coca tea, such a curious creature it seemed to be. Actually, although coca leaves are the base for cocaine production, the amount of the coca alkaloid in raw coca leaves is minimal. Still, a green rabbit it a curious sight, even if you’re only suffering a little light-headedness from descending from the breathless heights of a volcano ring.

In fact, it’s not a rabbit at all. Let me allow Mr Eyre to explain:

Bryony came upon Mr Eyre in the library. He was sitting at the large reading desk which had been placed in the window overlooking the small garden. He was slowly leafing through her papa’s ‘Illustrated book of World Animals’.

He looked up as she approached. “I came across this when I was unpacking your father’s books. I thought I’d see if that green rabbit fellow of ours was listed in here. I’m pretty sure it’s not native to the British Isles.”

Bryony sat at the desk opposite him, watching him turn the pages. “Ah, what’s this?” He turned the page towards her. It was a picture of a large, green-tinged rabbit looking animal. The inscription below read: ‘Viscacha, a rodent in the Chinchilla family found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru’.

“It certainly looks like him, but what would he have been doing in Bluebell Woods?”

“I don’t know Bryony. Maybe there’s a doorway to other parts of the world too?”

Maybe Mr Eyre is pointing us to another adventure? I’m sure he’d jump at the opportunity!

In the meantime, I’ve attracted my own little following of rabbits:

You can do some ‘green rabbit’ watching for yourself. The accompanying music is rather splendid too!

Following the Green Rabbit is available on Kindle and in paperback: mybook.to/GreenRabbit