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

Location, Location, Location #23

Location No 23 – Basements and tunnels beneath Liverpool

Welcome to the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. This week you’re going to need your hard hats as we venture into the mysterious network of tunnels and basements built beneath the fine city of Liverpool. These fictional tunnels from You’ll Never Walk Alone, are partly based on fact, although I embellished the extent of the network for the sake of the story.

When I was initially rummaging around in rabbit holes researching the background to the book, I came across this article which talks about a basement areas under Bold Street in the city centre, where Pierre and Lucy do some of their Sunday Shopping. In fact, I’ve referenced the before – you might even remember it if you were following the unfolding novel back in October 2018! One of the comments in the thread provided me with a big chunk of inspiration for my fictional tunnel network:

“I worked on a refurbishment prog (sic) in 1980 at the Adelphi hotel. A tunnel was found at the front of the hotel, it’s now covered over by the back bar in the night club. It was heading in the direction of Lewis’s or Central Station.”

Many of you will remember that I was once employed as an insurance surveyor, and in the course of some of my building inspections I tramped through many of the dusty, disused and fascinating parts of Liverpool’s panoply of historical edifices.

One of these was the Cotton Exchange. Remember how Liverpool was built on the Far Eastern trade of cotton and silk? Even in the distant days of my insurance career not much was left of the cotton trade in Liverpool and, at the time of my visit, this beautiful old building had fallen into disrepair. I remember being shown the old sample room where the quality of the merchants’ cotton was once assessed against the samples contained in a large beautifully crafted chest of drawers. But the basement held many treasures. Take a look.

Around the perimeter of this massive building there were a number of intriguing metal-clad doors which led from the pavement down into the basement storage level and it was this that captured my imagination for Pierre’s little bolt hole:

“I have just the place. Come, Lucy.” He held out his hand. Lucy took it and followed him as he ducked around the next corner and down a short flight of steps leading to a basement area. There was a heavy door at the bottom of the stairs and the window next to the door was boarded up. Pierre reached down and drew out a key from a recess under the bottom step. He fitted the key into the lock and turned it. The door swung open silently on well-oiled hinges...

A few paragraphs later, they finally make their escape through the basement and into the tunnels. Lucy is understandably unnerved when she and Pierre first enter…

.

Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone

“This way,” Pierre took Lucy’s hand and guided her out of the room into a dimly lit corridor. The heels of Lucy’s dancing shoes echoed on the tiled floor as they hurried past the closed doors on either side of the corridor. At the end there was a larger metal door with a plate which read ‘boiler room’. Pierre pulled the thick metal handle towards him and they stepped over the threshold. The door clanged shut behind them. They climbed down a short flight of metal steps and crossed the floor of the boiler room to another metal staircase which led to a sub-basement. At the far side of the lower basement there was a smaller unmarked door. Pierre pushed against.

“Okay, Lucy, through here.”

“It’s so dark. Where are we going, Pierre?”

“Hold on, just stand there a sec,” he said letting go of her hand and feeling along the wall. Lucy heard a click and a torch beam shone on the ground in front of her. Pierre shone the beam around revealing a tall, brick-lined tunnel.

“Where are we?” asked Lucy. “It’s not a sewer is it?

“You’d be able to smell if it was. No, this is part of a whole network of tunnels under the city.”

“How did you know about..?”

“Come on, Lucy,” just a bit further. “You’ll like where we come out.” Pierre sounded as if he was enjoying himself now.

“Okay, you’re the boss.”

Hand in hand they strode along the tunnel. Lucy focused on the torch beam, shutting out all thoughts of what might lurk beyond the pool of yellowy light. As they followed a branch in the tunnel which led off to the right, the gradient increased and a little further on, Lucy could make out the faint outline of a door. Pierre clicked off the torch and placed it in a small alcove alongside the door.

“Okay, Lucy, let me just check the coast is clear.” Pierre ducked inside the doorway and looked around. He gestured Lucy to follow.

Lucy stepped into another corridor and followed Pierre through the door opposite where they had come in. The room beyond was shrouded in gloom, but Lucy could make out a row of steel barrels and shelves containing cardboard boxes and bottles. They crept through the storeroom and found themselves behind a bar counter, looking out into a room containing an assortment of tables with chairs piled up on them. Pierre looked at Lucy and smiled.

“I know where this is. It’s that little bar at the side of the Adelphi Hotel.” Lucy said triumphantly.

“It certainly is,” Pierre held out his hand. “Follow me, let’s see about a room.”

We’ll likely be visiting the Adelphi Hotel another time!

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: Liverpool Echo, Britannia Adelphi Hotel

Breakfast at The Adelphi

Chapter 12 of my work-in-progress novel, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
Visit https://lunasonline.wordpress.com/wip-novel/ to read from the start.

Much later Lucy was awoken by the bright morning light shining through the open curtains. She sat up and looked over at Pierre who was staring up at the ceiling. He turned his head and smiled.

“‘Hey, sleepy head,” he said, reaching for her hand and caressing her fingers.

“You went somewhere last night,” Lucy murmured.

“I had to pop out. I brought back a surprise for you.” He let go of her hand and leant over the edge of the bed. He plucked the leather case from the floor and laid it on the bed beside Lucy. “Let’s see what we have in here,” he said as he sprung the catches. He opened the case and took out a document holder and a large, fat envelope. “Well, go on, have a look.”

Lucy picked up the folder and leafed through the contents, her eyes widening. She looked at Pierre. “You’re going to the Isle of Man?”

We’re going to the Isle of Man,” Pierre emphasised. “Look it’s all arranged. Ferry tickets, hotel reservations and…” he picked up the envelope and opened it. “A whole stack of cash,” he announced triumphantly.

“Oh, but…” Lucy hesitated.

“No buts, my beautiful Lucy, it’ll be fun.” Pierre paused and looked up at her with his large brown eyes. “Come on, what d’you say? It’s just a couple of days… and we’ll be able to really get to know each other.” He watched her frown and then as she stroked the ruby, her expression changed.

“I say…yes. Yes, I want to go. I really want to go,” she laughed. “Why not?”

“Right, well, first things first, let’s get some breakfast.”

Lucy was frowning again. “But where did all this come from?” she asked, pointing at the case.

“I have contacts.” Pierre touched his finger to the side of his nose.

“In the middle of the night?”

“Hey, don’t worry about it.”

“Well, okay, fine.” Lucy shrugged.

Pierre was already on the bedside phone ordering half the breakfast menu from room service. Lucy threw back the sheets and padded over to the bathroom. “…and we’ll be staying another night…” she heard Pierre say as she closed the door behind her.

Lucy removed her necklace before stepping into the shower. She closed her eyes and let the hot water cascade over her shoulders. As she reached for the shower gel she stopped. What have I got myself into? Those men…? She finished showering abruptly and flung one of the thick, fluffy bathrobes around herself. Lucy wiped her hand over the steamed up surface of the mirror and stared at her reflection. Everything had happened so fast. She noticed a dark bruise on her wrist and remembered how she had felled one of their attackers. She shuddered. Suddenly, Lucy was full of doubt and alarm. Heart pounding, she gripped the edge of the wash basin tightly, trying to calm down.

The bathroom door opened and Pierre’s face appeared behind hers. He picked up the necklace and held it around Lucy’s neck. A beam of sunlight from the bathroom window fell on the ruby. Its reflection glowed in the mirror bathing both their faces in a warm red glow. Lucy smiled. All her worries melted away. She felt Pierre pressing himself against her.

There was a knock at the door. “Room service,” a man’s voice called from the corridor. Pierre let go of the necklace and grabbing the other bathrobe, bounded to the door. Lucy pulled her robe tightly around her, tucking the necklace into the pocket, and followed him back into the bedroom.

Pierre opened the door to find a large, balding man beaming at him from behind a laden trolley. “Breakfast is served, sir,” he announced, wheeling the trolley over to the table by the window. “I’m Harold by the way,” he said as he busied himself laying the table for them. Table laid, he paused with his hand on the trolley ready to go and looked deliberately at Pierre. Pierre strode across the room and opened the bedroom door. Harold tutted loudly as he wheeled the trolley into the corridor.

Pierre closed the door and joined Lucy at the table. “I think he was expecting a tip,” Lucy said as he sat down.

Pierre shrugged. “I leave him something later,” he rubbed his hands together then picked up his knife and fork. “Well, let’s dig in.”

Lucy hadn’t realised how hungry she was until her breakfast was in front of her. Pierre was the same, judging by the speed at which he was putting his food away. As they ate in silence, Lucy’s mind started to race and she lost her appetite. She put her knife and fork down and pushed her plate away.

“Pierre,” Lucy hesitated.

Pierre looked up. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m just…I don’t know…those men last night. The one I hit, I don’t know what got into me. All that blood on the floor. What if I killed him?”

Pierre stood up and walked around the table. He crouched down beside her. “We were running for our lives Lucy.”

“But why, Pierre? You said they were following you. Who are they?”

“Come and sit by me,” he took Lucy’s hand and together they went and sat on the bed.

“One of them said they were after the necklace?” Lucy’s hand went to her neck.

Pierre turned to her and took both of her hands in his. “Lucy, from the first moment I met you I knew you were special.” He took a deep breath. “And now I need to tell you the truth.” Or some of it, he thought to himself. “Those men work for someone I’ve done a bit of business with now and then. Your necklace…and it is yours…I gave it to you,” he looked at her earnestly before continuing. “I originally got it for him, but when I met you I knew it should be yours.”

“So he wants it back?” Lucy freed her hand from Pierre’s and took the necklace out of the pocket of her bathrobe.

“Listen, Lucy. I gave it to you and I want you to keep it. It’s special. And I told Chan…that’s his name…that I’d get him something else. I have people working on that now,” he finished grandly.

Lucy looked at the glowing ruby, at how it caught the light and how the six-pointed star moved over its surface when she tilted it. “You could give it back to him?”

“No way,” Pierre said, taking the necklace from her and fastening it around her neck. “I told you, it’ll be sorted by the time we get back from the Isle of Man, we just have to lie low until tomorrow. In any case, I’m sure we’ve lost them by now.”

Lucy stroked the stone, feeling less anxious. “This Mr. Chan, he knows you.”

“Sure, but he doesn’t know where to find me. And now we’re going away.”

Lucy frowned. “I’ll need to go home and get some stuff.”

“No need. I’m going to take you shopping.”

“But Pierre, nothing’s open on a Sunday. Besides, you just said we should lie low.”

“That’s where the tunnels come in handy. Come on, get dressed,” he said, pulling her to her feet.

Ten minutes later they were outside the door to their room. Pierre had put most of the contents of the leather case in the safe. Lucy had wondered whether she should put the necklace in there too, but had decided to wear it after all. She was overdressed anyway, not that anyone was going to see them, Pierre had assured her.

Hand in hand they made their way to the foyer. A whole crowd of people were checking out so no-one noticed them as they ducked through the side door into the bar beyond. As Pierre and Lucy disappeared into the tunnels, a Chinese gentleman approached Harold in the busy foyer. He said something before tucking a five pound note into Harold’s top pocket.

©2018 Chris Hall

Go to Chapter 13