Wednesday, April 25, 2012

AN UNBREAKABLE BOND read the first two chapters








The draughty, stone-walled corridor echoed Megan and Hattie’s walk to the Reverend Mother’s office.  Within feet of it Megan paused and motioned Hattie towards the internal window.  Using this as a mirror they checked their appearance.  Making sure their grey, serge frocks were crease free and their stiff white collars immaculate.

  With shaking hands Megan tried to tuck the stray, unruly locks of her auburn hair under her mobcap.  As soon as she tamed one curl, another escaped.  Hattie giggled at her attempts.  Megan made a face at her, ‘It’s alright for you,’ Hattie’s smooth, dark hair always looked neat for next to no effort.  Giving up the battle, Megan knocked on the door.
Reverend Mother’s tone cracked Megan’s already frayed nerves.  Hattie squeezed her hand.
The small comfort the gesture gave dissolved the moment she trod the deep carpet and smelt the wax polish.  Both a stark contrast to the cold flag-stone floors and the stench of carbolic soap and boiled cabbage of the quarters they, and the other, born-of-sin and orphaned children, occupied.
They waited for the Reverend Mother to acknowledge them.  Megan’s eyes fixed on the butterfly wings of stiff, white linen cascading from each side of the Reverend Mother’s bent head.  The sudden lift of the head made her jump.  She tugged Hattie’s frock to bring her attention back from looking around the room.
‘Well, Megan Tattler and Hattie Frampton, you are now thirteen years of age and you are to leave us.  And, I don’t have to ask to know how pleased you both are, do I?’
Neither of them answered, but Megan thought, if she did, it wouldn’t be to say she was pleased.  Not altogether pleased as both she and Hattie had a lot of sadness in them at the thought of their pending separation.
‘Hattie, you go later today I understand – and, Megan, you are to leave tomorrow,’ The Reverend Mother’s eyes, shrouded by a brow squashed into a bulge by her veil, darted between them.  Her smile pinched her face, ‘Now, Hattie, I see you have a very fitting placement, a scullery maid in the household of Lord Marley’s country residence.  Very good!  Are you prepared?’
‘Yes, Reverend Mother, but…’
‘No buts, Hattie.  Lord Marley is one of our benefactors and has given many of our girls a good start in life by providing them with jobs.  It’s up to you to make something of yourself.’
‘Yes, Reverend Mother.’
‘Good!  So, Megan Tattler, it seems to me you think you can take up a placement far above your station.  It is unheard of, someone of such low status becoming an apprenticed seamstress!’
The insult and the look that went with it froze Megan’s hopes.
‘However, Sister Bernadette has been very persistent on your behalf.  And, though aware of the sinful circumstances of your birth, Madame Marie is still inclined to give you a chance.   Therefore, I have had to give the proposal due consideration and am persuaded to agreeing after seeing what Madame has put in her letter to me.  She states she is taking you on merit as you show exceptional talent in the drawings and the sample of stitches shown to her by Sister Bernadette.  But, she makes it clear you will be expected to know your place and to keep it at all times. You are not to try to engage with any of the young ladies who are training there and you will have a room in the attic away from the others. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, Reverend Mother.’
‘I hope you do.’
Megan struggled to hold down the joy surging through her.  She stood still, head held high as is befitting and polite.  Knowing, Reverend Mother, aggrieved at having allowed her to take up the apprenticeship, would take it away from her if she gave her an excuse to do so.
The wings of the veil crackled as the Reverend Mother inclined her head, ‘You are dismissed.  But remember, whatever you make of yourselves is up to you.  If you work hard and stay true to the teaching you have received here you will prosper.  If you don’t...’ The pinched smile reached her eyes, ‘The gutter is where you will find yourselves as many have before you.’
They turned to leave.  The woman whose care they had been under since birth did not venture to say goodbye.  Megan didn’t want her to and knew the same feeling would be in Hattie.  She did turn as she reached the door, but only the top of the stiff veil remained visible.  A feeling settled in Megan that she and Hattie had never existed in the Reverend Mother’s eyes.  She closed the door, glad to be free of the tense atmosphere.  Now she could give a release to her feelings.  But, before she had time to, Hattie’s words dulled her joy, ‘Will we ever see each other again, Meg?’
‘Aye, we will.  We’ll make sure of it.  We’ll write regular. As soon as we get our first wage we can get paper and stamps…’
‘I’m not for working in service, Meg.  I’ll be off from there just as soon as I can.’
‘What – why?’
‘’Cos, I’m scared of ending up like Daisy.’
‘Daisy?   I didn’t know she’d been in touch, doesn’t she like her placement?’
‘I saw her on the day I had to go into Leeds to have me tooth pulled.  Sister Bernadette made me wait outside a shop. I wandered up the street and bumped into Daisy.  She told me she’d left her placement.’
‘You didn’t say…’
‘I know, I couldn’t think how because of what I found out, and you had worries enough over what would be happening to you.  Anyroad, Daisy’s working the streets. She hadn’t eaten for two days so I gave her me cab fare as Sister’d pinned to me coat in case we got separated.  I told Sister it must have come unfastened.’
‘Oh, Hattie, is that the gutter as the Reverend Mother spoke of, this working the streets?’
‘Aye, I reckon it is by the looks of Daisy.  But she said things’ll get better for her.  She’s being accepted on the patch and has a couple of customers of her own.’
‘But, what is it she has to do, is it cleaning or something?’
‘Oh, Meg! You daft ha’p’orth!’  Hattie’s giggling infected Megan and they both doubled over, but she couldn’t help feeling Hattie was party to something she didn’t know of.
‘They sell themselves.  You know.  To men.  They let men do things to them. Things as men do to make you have babbies.  Only they don’t keep having babbies ’cos they have ways to stop that happening.’
‘How do you know of such things, Hattie...?’
‘Daisy told me everything as a sort of warning because she knew I’d most likely end up in service.  She wanted me to watch out for meself.  She told me her master forced her to do it with him so she had to run away. She made her way to Leeds and looked for a job, but no one would take her on as she had no reference.  She met this girl who tried to help her, but in the end all the girl could do was to take her to the house where she lived.  Daisy said she had no choice after that.  There’s this bloke who owns the house and he made her work the streets or she’d be for it.’
‘Oh, Hattie…’
‘I know, it's why I’m scared, Meg.  The girl said it happens a lot.  Some top-drawer folk seem to think they have a right to do it, and him as did it to Daisy is known for it.’
‘What will you do?’
‘I’ll sort something.  I'll work hard until Christmas and give them no reason not to give me a reference and then make up a story about having to leave.  I don’t know what, yet.’
‘You know, Hattie?  I don’t even know how – Well, how babbies happen.  I’ve been on with thinking about it since we started our bleeding and Sister Bernadette sent us to Mrs Hartley.’
‘Aye, I know.  I was the same.  It was with Mrs Hartley saying we had to watch ourselves and not let boys have their way with us or we’d end up pregnant.  It set me thinking on it too, but I know now.  I could tell you if you like?’
Megan said nothing, wanting to know, but not wanting to say so.
‘Well,’ Daisy said, ‘the man…’
A tickly feeling in her private part, as Sister Bernadette called that part of them she never allowed them to expose, shocked and embarrassed Megan as she listened to Hattie.  And all she could think to say was, ‘Does it hurt?’
‘Daisy said it did the first time, but it isn’t bad after that.’
‘I suppose it can’t be ‘cos women keep having babbies, don’t they?  Anyroad, happen as poor Daisy was unlucky in the placement they sent her to.  Where was it?’
‘I don’t know.  With the shock of what she told me I forgot to find that out.  Still, I shouldn’t be going on.  Your placement doesn’t sound that good either, not with that Madame woman thinking of you as she does.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll be right.  It’ll be worth it. Just think. I’ll be learning to make frocks and gowns. And, maybe something’ll come of me drawings. Wouldn’t that be wonderful, eh?  To see me drawings being made up, out of satins and such like…’
‘Ahh, Megan, and Hattie, here you are.’
Megan held her breath.  Being caught in idle chit-chat was one of the deadliest sins. She hadn’t heard the chinking of keys or the dull jangle of huge wooden rosary beads. Sounds, warning a nun approached.  She peered into the dim corridor. The outline of a plump figure, hazed by a flowing cream habit, came towards them. 
‘Eeh, Sister Bernadette, it’s you.  You gave us a fright.’
‘I expect I did, Hattie,’ the twinkle Megan saw in Sister Bernadette’s eyes belied the strict retort, ‘I have been looking for you both this good while.  Tell me, my wee ones, is it your placements Reverend Mother has been confirming with you?  And are you happy now you know for sure where it is you are going?’
Megan and Hattie nodded, but the feeling that had taken Megan on hearing of Daisy’s plight and Hattie’s fears, deepened.  Sister Bernadette was the only person they could share their worries with.  But she couldn’t talk to her about this.  Not with her being a nun, she couldn’t.
‘And you, Megan.  Are you pleased to know at last you can go to Madame Marie’s?’
‘Oh, yes, Sister.  I can’t believe it! Ta ever so much.’
‘It is the Good Lord you have to be thanking for giving you such a talent, Megan. Not that He missed out giving you something when He was at the making of you, Hattie dear. You have many virtues, your kind ways and a willingness to help others, amongst many others. You will do well, too. I'm sure of it.’
Tears rolled down Hattie’s cheeks as she nodded her head and Megan knew her own eyes to fill up at the sight.
Sister Bernadette patted Hattie on the shoulder, ‘The house you are going to, Hattie, is beautiful, so it is.  Lord Marley’s Country residence is on the outskirts of Leeds on the road to Sheffield. And, Megan, Madame Marie’s is in the centre of Leeds itself and her salons are wonderful…’ 

The journey to and from the station on the motor-bus, a new experience for Megan, didn’t lift her.  The suffocating nearness of the strangers travelling with them, the rumbling and vibrating of the engine and the discomfort of the jolting over cobbled roads, intruded on her feelings.
Sister Bernadette held her hand throughout the return journey but didn’t speak.  Megan didn’t want her to.  Never had she felt so miserable.  She’d known the parting with Hattie wouldn’t be easy, but hadn’t expected to feel the utter desolation she did.

The pebbles crunched under her feet as they walked across the courtyard of the convent, Sister Bernadette squeezed her hand, ‘Megan, dear, I have things to tell you of, so I have, and ’tis as I am having something to give you which belonged to your dear mammy.’
The words spoken softly and in the lovely Irish lilt of Sister Bernadette, jolted an instant shock through Megan’s body.  Her mam had never been spoken of.  Questions had always been suppressed.  All she knew of her birth was that it had taken place in St Michael’s, a convent for sinful, unmarried, pregnant girls.
Once they were inside the convent doors Sister Bernadette took her to her room, ‘Sit yourself down, wee one, whilst I am getting for you what I know will be very special to you.’
No thick carpet hushed the nun’s footsteps, or dulled the sound of her keys bouncing on her hip as she crossed the room to her desk.  Megan sat on the cane chair next to the brass bed which, along with the desk, was all the sparsely furnished room, held. Square shaped and with only one small window, its flagstone floor resembled the ones of the children’s quarters except these had a shine on them as if painted with lacquer. 
Tension, set up in her by the revelation she was to hear about her mam, fidgeted her, making her feel over-warm.  She watched Sister Bernadette sort through her keys and insert one into a drawer before putting her hand inside.  A panel to the side of the desk shot open making her jump.  The sister pulled something from the opening, ‘Megan, what I have here is a locket.  Inside is a picture of your granny and granddaddy,’ she paused and made the sign of the cross. ‘To be sure, ’tis sorry I am to have to tell you, dear, but…’  She crossed herself again and looked heavenward, ‘’tis as your poor mammy died just after giving you your life.  I helped at the birth of you, so I did.’
The pain Megan had held in her chest since saying goodbye to Hattie expanded into her throat and threatened to strangle the life from her, ‘She – she can’t be.  I have to find her. She…’
She had been about to say her mam had been the daughter of rich parents who’d turned her out of the family home and only allowed her back if she gave her babby away – but that had been the make-believe she’d lived along with Hattie, who'd always imagined her mam had been a princess shipped away in disgrace leaving her 'sin' behind.
‘Now, now, my wee one...’
The urge to shout: ‘I’m not your wee one.  I’m nobody’s wee one,’ fought with the part of her that could never hurt Sister Bernadette.  But though she didn’t utter the words she knew them to be a truth.  The child she’d been, had gone.  How could it not with all she had learned today?
Cold in her warm palm, the locket seemed to mock her.  She clamped her fingers closed. She didn’t care that the clasp dug into her flesh, just as long as she couldn’t see it. 
‘It will be better you look at it later, if that is what you have a mind to do, my wee Megan.’

The night hours ticked by with Megan lying awake, her mind in turmoil, wracked with emotion and confusion, and her hand never letting go of the locket.  When the feeling came to her that she wanted to look at it she sat up.  No one questioned her.  She waited. If any of the girls she shared the dormitory with woke, they would whisper something.  Nothing happened.
Cold shivered through her as she tip-toed towards the door leading to the corridor.  Once there, she opened her cramped fingers.  The light from the gas mantel shone through the window of the door and lit up the locket.  Anticipation heightened in her, but she hesitated, almost afraid.  Opening the locket would reveal her grandparents.  Did she look like them?  Had her mam looked like them?
Sister Bernadette had said her grandparents had died long before she came into being.  That thought gladdened her.  It meant they hadn’t abandoned her mam when she’d most needed them.
Turning the locket over, she read: ‘To Catch a Dream’ inscribed into the tarnished, dented silver.  Had her granddad had that done for her granny?   So many questions…
A tiny click and it opened.  Two people looked up at her and though neither looked like a grandparent, the feeling within her as she gazed at them gave her a sense of belonging to someone.  Her heart filled with tears.   
Taken when they were young, her granny’s huge, smiley eyes, held love, and her granddad, though not smiling, had a twinkle in his expression.  Both were beautiful.  The tears dried and a warm feeling filled the space where they had been, taking the fear and coldness out of her as she saw she had some likeness to both of them. Granny had unruly, wavy hair, just like her own and the freckles on her nose were identical.  Granddad had the same high-cut cheekbones as she had, and her eyes, with their slight slant upwards giving them a near, Oriental look, mirrored his.
The shades of brown of the images didn’t hide her granddad’s complexion having a darker tinge to it than her granny’s did.  People often remarked, she had an olive skin, so in this too, she took after her granddad.
Sister Bernadette had said she couldn’t remember their names.  She hadn’t written them down and she’d hesitated over her mam’s name as if she’d forgotten that, too, “I think her name was, Br…Brenda, that’s right, Brenda Tattler,” she’d said.  Then she’d told her, her mam hadn’t been wicked and the conceiving of her had been the result of an attack by someone she’d trusted.  She’d gone on to say: “Everything isn’t for being straightforward in life, Megan, and ’tis better you are not after dwelling on things how you would like them to be, but to get on with how they are.  Just be thankful, your mammy left you something to hold on to.”
Getting back to her bed and laying her head on her pillow, Megan mulled the words over in her mind.  She would do as Sister had said.  She wouldn’t dwell on the sadness inside her of parting from Hattie, nor of finding out her mam was dead, or think on her fear of being alone in an attic and not being good enough to talk to the others at her placement.  Instead she would think of her family and talk to them.  You could do that with dead people.  They watched over you and helped you.


The stagnant view of the symmetrical lawn bordered by a tall, tailored hedge epitomised what life had become for Laura Harvey as she gazed out at it from her window.  Beyond, lay the view she wanted to see: fields coloured with crops, chimneys releasing the gasses from the bowels of the earth, where the men and boys sweated long hours to bring up the coal, the mainstay of hers and Jeremy’s income.  And yes, the stables, once the centre of her life, but now a painful memory since her dream had been ended.

How often she’d wanted to have the hedge chopped down.  But Jeremy had laughed at her. Thinking he knew better about what privacy she would need in her own little sitting-room, as he called it. He never referred to it as her study.
Yes, she’d had the two Queen Anne, carved sofas brought in, smothered them with soft cushions, and placed them each side of the ornate fireplace, making a comfortable sitting area.  But the mahogany desk on the opposite side of the room, huge in its proportions and flanked on each side with floor to ceiling shelves stacked with all manner of books and files, told of the real purpose of the room.
Her father-in-law’s death whilst Jeremy still served as an Officer in the army had necessitated her running the estate and had been the original reason for commissioning this room.
The hedge hadn’t bothered her, then.  The room had been a hive of activity.  After all, the whole of Breckton breathed life from the Harvey Estate.
Her mind went over how she’d had to learn the ins and outs of the running of the colliery, the farm, and the stables as well as continuing to manage Hensal Grange, this grand twenty-bedroom house, she and Jeremy now rattled around in.
On top of all of that, overseeing the maintenance of the tied cottages had been her responsibility, as had the shops, the leased farms, and the buildings housing businesses, such as the blacksmiths.
The work involved in administering it all had been an immense task.  Especially for her, a woman who had never worked in her life up to that point.
Every day had presented her with decisions and she’d risen to the challenge. Revelled in it, even, but now her life had become tedious.  Household accounts she could do with her eyes shut and listening to the whining of the senior household staff were hardly riveting tasks. Even her marriage held nothing for her. Not since – No. She’d not dwell on that. Her loneliness would crowd her. Suffocate her. 
Oh, how one hoped Emily Pankhurst would win through. Not that one altogether agreed with the woman’s methods, but to be liberated enough to have the vote would help towards being seen in a different light.
Turning away from the window she decided it best to sit at her desk to carry out the task facing her. Observing a certain formality would be less of an intrusion on the woman’s feelings. She allowed herself a moment of dread.  Meeting with Tom Grantham’s widow wasn’t something she looked forward to doing.
The realisation of how much Tom’s death had shocked and hurt her, pulled her up. She’d always thought of staff as dispensable commodities. But then, Tom had been different. He had been an expert horseman and the best damn groom in these parts. His death had made her realise he’d become a kind of friend, a father figure of sorts.
‘God!  What has one become when one has to seek companionship from one’s groom – and now, I’m bloody talking to myself!’
She would have to do something.  Write to Daphne. Yes, that would be the thing.  It wasn’t often she envied her sister.  Daphne’s life as the wife of a Lord, the adorable Charles Crompton, meant she had a full social diary and had to embroil herself in charitable work.
The charitable work wouldn't suit at all, but she could do with socialising more. Jeremy just wasn’t interested since… Anyway, she’d ask Daphne to come to stay for a few days.
Daphne would probably insist she visited her in York, instead. She wouldn’t say so, but Laura knew Daphne found the cold, polite atmosphere of Hensal Grange embarrassing, to say the least.  Still, it didn’t matter which.  Just to be with Daphne and to talk silly talk, gossip about the latest goings on and maybe a dinner party, where young men would flirt with her and tell her she is beautiful, or just notice her even…
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts.  Hamilton announced Isabella Grantham. One glance told this was a homely woman used to eating copious amounts of her own cooking. She had the appearance of one who had scrubbed her face until it gleamed, but this didn’t hide the sadness and apprehension in her eyes.
Laura knew the words of condolence she uttered sounded empty. She knew from experience they made no difference; they helped the speaker rather than the bereaved. She supposed she should offer the poor woman a chair, but thought she’d probably refuse.
‘I held Mr Grantham in high esteem and as a very valued member of my staff, Mrs Grantham. Consequently I want to do all I can to help you. The accident was most unfortunate. There being no warning the horse would kick out in that manner. I am very sorry. It is sad too, to think this has come at a time when your daughter is to leave to take up the placement I found her at Tom's – Mr Grantham’s, request.  Are you still of the mind to let her go?’
‘Yes, Ma’am, I can’t see her waste a chance like this. I am grateful to you for getting it sorted for her. She leaves this afternoon.’
‘A good decision. Such placements are not easy to come by. I hope your daughter doesn’t let me down. Madame Marie took her solely on my recommendation. The type of employee she usually takes on are educated and from middle class families. Vicar’s daughters and the like…’
‘My Cissy is as good as the next one, I’ll have you know.  Oh – I – I beg yer pardon, Ma’am…’
Although the woman had apologised, the outburst had shocked Laura, aware she had alienated her she had no idea why!  Better to ignore it.
‘Now, about your own future, I understand you work at the local shop?’
‘Aye, I do, Ma’am, I do three days and some cleaning for Manny’s wife.’
‘Well, Mr Harvey and I have decided you may stay on in the cottage.  There will be a rent of one shilling, three farthings per week and you will be expected to help out in the house from time to time to cover for staff sickness or any social events. We are not looking to employ a new groom in the foreseeable future so your tenancy is safe for some time to come. The new enterprise Mr Grantham and I were working on, the building of a stud farm, is not to go ahead at present.’
The act of telling someone gave her the reality of it. Jeremy had been adamant. Was it just another way to punish her? Or does he really believe war is imminent? She took a deep breath. If the woman noticed her pain she didn’t show it. She only showed a relief for her own position.
‘Ta.  Oh, ta, ever so much, Ma’am.’
‘If we decide in the future to hire another groom we will inform you in good time and will re-house you. In the meantime, Henry Fairweather and Gary Ardbuckle are going to manage the stable. Henry hasn’t lost his skills. He taught your husband, as you know.’
‘Aye, Ma’am, he did.  I can’t grasp yet how someone like my Tom could be killed by a horse. Not with him being best in County with horses and him being so strong.’
‘Yes.  It is unbelievable…’
‘Me and my Tom thought as we had a lifetime together.  We didn’t count on that being until I was forty-five and him just on fifty. We…’
‘Yes of course, I am very sorry. Do let me know if there is anything more we can do for you.’
She didn’t want or need to hear about how this woman’s hopes and aspirations had disappeared.  She had enough of her own dashed hopes to contend with.  Reaching behind her she tugged the bell cord. Hamilton appeared immediately.
‘Do wish your daughter good luck in her position and remind her not to let me – us, down. Goodbye, Mrs Grantham. Hamilton, take Mrs Grantham through to the kitchen. Give her some supplies…’
‘I don’t need none, ta very much, Ma’am!  I have plenty in me pantry and me pot’s still full. Full enough for me own care anyroad, and I’ve no-one else to care for now, have I?’
‘Come along, Mrs Grantham,’ Hamilton ushered her out.
Laura looked at the closed door in bewilderment.  She shook her head. Whatever had she said to alienate the woman in that manner? Surely she didn’t blame her for the accident?
Opening her silver cigarette case released the tang of fresh tobacco.  Her hands shook as she placed a cigarette in her holder and lit it. The smoke stung the back of her throat. Coughing brought tears to her eyes. Good God!  She was going to cry! Damn and blast the woman!  Damn and blast everything!

The Vital First Chapter - Conflict

You don't need me to tell you how important the first chapter is - it is your taster - your tool to draw the reader in - your selling pitch - it is everything. 

So, why do so many writers begin with mundane events like the weather, a description of the place or the character, or an everyday occurrence such as having the character carrying out a task while sharing their thoughts - Ugh  - sharing thoughts, boring. 

What should be your opening lines, how should you construct them, what 'lead' into your story do you need - one word - conflict.  Hit your reader in the face with something happening, or about to happen that pique's their interest and makes them want to know more.

Let's suppose you are writing a murder mystery.  The main character is going to find the body and be accused of the murder.   You could start with the weather and a gentle run into the finding of the body..

The clouds rolled above, one moment the sun bathed her in warmth the next a chill shivered her.  Vanda paid no attention to it other than to pull her jacket round her slim body or undo it when called for.  Her mind had other avenues to travel, why was it her marriage had failed, they still loved each other, didn't they?

But then, she knew why, Tom's eye for the ladies.  And, he'd stopped looking and had touched.  Touched in a big way.  His affair had lasted two years.  Two years!  God, how come she didn't find out about it sooner?  Angelina Brooks, the bitch with stunning looks and a body to die for, and supposedly her own very best friend - she hated the cow to distraction! 

Taking a left she could see Angelina's apartment block.  Her anger rose up.  Knowing it wouldn't do any good, didn't matter.  She had to tackle her.  Had to tell her just what she thought of her.  Drag her through something of what she'd done, make her realise how it hurt.

Okay, there is a small amount of conflict there, we know Vanda is upset and is going to tackle the cause of it.  But three paragraphs in and all we have are her thoughts and the weather.  No hint of what she might find when she got to the flat.  Our own imagination might give us a cat fight, but not much more. So, who is going to be murdered?  This is a thriller isn't it?  Or is it a chic lit?  Here is the same scenario we intend for our opening scene, but haven't yet got to, but this one plunges us straight into the action:

Blood dripped from Vanda's temple and on to her hand.  Reaching the top of the stairs she could see Angelina's flat.  Hate welled up in her.   Shaking from her fall, and with fear, she moved forward.  The door swinging open compounded her fear.   She stood a moment before entering and looked back down the spiraled steps.  The hooded figure of the man who had knocked her over disappeared.  A clattering echo of the banging of the door behind him shuddered through her.   

Stepping inside froze her in a capsule of time she knew she would never forget.  Her scream stuck in her throat. Vomit choked her, stinging and burning as she swallowed it back.   The carpet squelched with the ever increasing blood surrounding Angelina.   Staring at the still, twisted body shattered the very core of her, tangling her emotions, leaving her stranded between love and hate for this woman, her one time, best friend, who had stolen her husband,  Oh God... 

Aware of a sore place when she knelt, Vanda ignored it and bent over Angelina.  The once beautiful face masked with horror.  Dead, unseeing eyes looking back at her.  There was no pulse.   Leaning back on her legs released the breath Vanda had held.  With it came a moan holding all the pain of what had happened between them, and of now.  The black pit of her despair reached up to her taking her into its bottomless hole.  Her hand dropped onto a cold steel rod...

Which one has you wanting to read more? 

Well, that is what it is all about.  Dragging your reader by the scuff of the neck into your novel.  Make them want to click the button to 'buy now'.  Don't waste time setting the scene, giving background information, or introducing anyone.  All of that can come later. 

Look at your own beginnings.  Have you immediate conflict?  No?    Then re-write.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


One of the most difficult tasks for an author is the editing of the completed novel.

You have reached the final scene, you create it, and it is finished.  You cry, you laugh, you feel a sense of achievement.  Depending on your genre - the mystery is solved, you have tied up all the ends, come to a satisfying conclusion, the lovers are together at last, the good guy has triumphed. 

You type 'The End'  And it's done!

Sorry, it isn't.

The most difficult process is about to begin.  In all articles to do with editing your manuscript, you will read: 'Now, put your MS away for at least three weeks and do anything and everything you can other than think about or look at your work. 

Well, you won't read anything different here.  It really is the very best advice you could follow.

Coming back to your work after this time you will see it in a different light.  Things you thought were there, won't be.  Mistakes will glare out at you.  Parts of it you thought brilliant when writing it will not appeal anymore.  Flowery, over-writing will make your toes curl.  This list isn't exhaustive, but you get the gist.

So, what do you look for when you edit?  How do you begin?  It is a slow progress, so begin with time to devote to it.  It is a very important process, so don't rush it.  Take it one step at a time.  The author's steps are scenes.  Yes, it really is as critical as that so, edit scene by scene. 

Look at each scene with these points in mind:

Is the scene really needed?  Yes, that sounds odd, but some may not be.  They are irrelivant to the story, but we think they are good.  Our best writing in the whole story in fact.  But if it does not move the story along, giving vital information, link a scene to another, or build more depth into a character, it will only serve one purpose:- to slow the pace.  So cut it.

If it is to stay:

Look at it objectively:
  • Have you told / described this scene or did the action happen on the page?  If the first, rewrite!
  • Have you used an active voice or passive?  
  • Is there too much description of setting? - could slow the pace!
  • Have you started the scene with a weather forecast? (try to avoid this if poss as it does slow the pace)  

  • If the scene involves dialogue, does it 'sound' right, yes, you do need to listen to it, so read it out loud.
  • Have you used too many speech tags? (he said, she said, he turned as he said, she grimaced and said etc)
  • Is the conversation relevant, does it give information, move the story along, add to the character's personality in any way? If not cut it!
  • Have the characters blabbed on and on, could they put across what you want them to in a better, shorter way?
  • Is there a question and answer session going on between characters?  If so, give your reader a break and cut to the chase.

 Repetition needs to be kept in mind at all times as you go from scene to scene.  We often say the same thing twice, give the same information again but in a different way, or use a word over and over.

  • Repeated Information:  This often occurs when an event has happened and one character wasn't present but needs to know of it.  The reader finds themselves reading the whole scene over as it is related.  Or, you may have already said that a character doesn't like children, but you get the point over again later, and maybe again further still into the novel.  If the scene you are looking at contains this kind of repetition, cut it, or if something has to be related, just say, John described to Ian what had taken place - something of that nature, but don't have John giving a blow by blow account of what the reader already knows.
  • Repeated words: Look out for how many times you use a word in the same sentence, paragraph or scene, it can irritate.  For eg:  James traced his fingers over the smooth contours of her body, the smooth texture of her skin awakened his desire.  One 'smooth' should go. Use a thesaurus to find an alternative, or rewrite or just cut one:  James traced his fingers over the contours of her body, etc (the smooth has gone)  James traced his fingers over the smooth contours of her body, the satin texture of her skin, etc (smooth changed)
  • Repeated phrases: We come up with a great phrase and use it over:- this is called the 'dreaded, diminishing returns'.  It is us using something fresh and good, but if we use it again, it has less impact, and again, even less.    - As an example of diminishing returns, I read a book recently by a very famous author.  She had the phrase:- 'Her body fragmented with the intense pleasure'  I loved it so much I admit to using the word, 'fragmented' myself in my own book and in a sexual scene.  Problem was with this author, she used it again in a later scene and yet again, but by then it had lost its impact on me and I felt like saying, 'okay I get the picture,' instead of enjoying the fresh sounding description of the feeling after good sex.  
Flowery writing, or writing that isn't 'tight'

This describes writing where you have over described, or used unnecessary adverbs. 

  • Over description could go like this: The sun kissed her rosy cheeks blushing them with a hue which suited her so well, painting her otherwise pale complexion as if it had been brushed with the delicate strokes from an artists pallet. Beautiful, but not in a modern day novel, so cut the crap and tell it as it is: She had more colour in her cheeks than usual and it suited her. 
Adverbs, or 'ly' words

Search these out and get rid.  They are not needed.  Verbs can stand alone and have a lot more impact by doing so.  Adverbs also get in the way of pace and dampen down tension.

Here is an example: 

Walking towards his office he heard a noise, he crept stealthily along the corridor, convinced someone was in his office.  A shadow eerily passed over the window of the door.   A torch light flashed.  He hurriedly pulled out the gun he'd shoved into his pocket and kicked open the door.  Shakily he pointed it at the intruder.  His heart beat greatly increased.  Could he hold his nerve and pull the trigger?   The man slowly moved away from him, his hands held in front as if to ward off the threat he'd  found himself under. (Yes, authors do compose scenes in this way!)

So, what if you want to put over the feelings of the situation as well as the actions, how to do it  without telling the reader a thing was done hurriedly or stealthily, eerily, shakily, greatly or slowly or any other 'ly'? 

Rewrite the scene, change it around, introduce atmosphere, stop telling what is happening, let it happen on the page, and name the 'He'.  Here is an example of tighter writing of this scene:

The muffled sound of movement stopped Jack's progress.  Fear clogged his chest.  Sweat stood out on his brow.  He waited, fingering the cold metal in his pocket.  Light flashed on the glass door of his office, then danced away leaving an out of proportion shadow of a man in its wake.  Jack made his decision.  He moved forward along the corridor, taking his time.  Once level with the door he pulled out the gun, cocked it ready, aimed his foot at the frame and kicked hard.  The shock of the impact vibrated through his body.  His heart thudded against the wall of his chest.  His hands shook, but he fought his nerves and pointed straight.  The intruder backed away, his hands out in front as if to ward off the threat.

So, same scene, but tighter, more tension, more atmosphere and yet all the feelings are there without one adverb.  This is after just one try, sometimes, as I would with this scene, you need to write it many times over until you find the one that jumps off the page at you, then you can move on to line edit the scene.

Line edit: The best advice I could give you here is to engage a professional proofreader.  I would say this task is too difficult for an author to do. Especially if, like me, you find punctuation a mystery.  Creative writing, like above, yes, I can advise on that and edit work to inject it.  But unless you are very good at spotting mistakes in your own work and excellent at punctuation, then give this stage to someone who can once you have completed your edit as above. 

 Just in case you decide to go ahead, here's what you should be looking for - good luck:

Have you placed commas correctly?  Kept sentences short when the scene is tense?  Any typos or mispelling - don't rely on spell check, you may have put a correct word, but the wrong one.  Take the scene above, supposing you had put: Sweet stood out on his brow.  The checker would glide over it leaving you with a typo.  So read each word with care.

Look for the over used word, 'that' often it isn't needed at all.  Do a 'find' check on it and each time it is highlighted see if you can cut it or change the sentence around.

Check for 'left in words' these are random words we left behind when we deleted a sentence to change it.

Look to see you have used the right word when presented with two or three version:- there instead of their or they're, or vice-versa.  Always make sure you have used the correct one.  This can happen with many words, here - hear, bare, bear, etc...

Okay?  Happy?  Right move on to the next scene: - told you you need time, Good luck, hope this helps.

This is how I do it, but if you read it and can add other things to check please leave a comment.  I will update it as I go.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

To Catch a Dream - first two chapters of my new novel









Bridie O’Hara – County Cavan in the North of Ireland


‘Will you shut your mouth, woman?  Haven’t I enough on me plate without your constant whining?’

A fear tickled the muscles in Bridie’s stomach and tightened her throat.  The eruption of her pappy’s anger grated the already tense atmosphere coating the very walls of their home. 

‘Tis as I’m worried to the heart of me, Michael…’

‘Whish, woman, you’d drive a man insane so you would. Would you have it any different?  Would you have that traitor free to do further damage? It has to be done.  Sure, the cause depends on it.  We must rid ourselves of those who would betray us.’ 

Torn between staying to see her mammy was all right and delivering the loaf she’d been told to, Bridie hesitated, but she knew, her disobedience would only add to her pappy’s agitation.

The argument taking place in her parent’s bedroom, quietened.  Her prayers, begging for her mammy not to keep protesting at whatever pappy referred to, seemed to have been answered.  Though she knew, if her pappy came out and found her there, listening, it could all start again.  She couldn’t risk that. 


‘Is that yourself, Bridie?’

‘Tis, Mrs Finney.  Mammy sent me with some bread for you.’

‘Aye, that’s good.  Your mammy is kindness itself.  Is she keeping better?’

‘She is.  She’s been grand these last weeks,’ it wasn’t easy to keep the tremor from her voice, but Mrs Finney didn’t seem to notice it.

‘Come away in, then, my wee lass, and let me get a proper sight of you.’

Disturbed from his peaceful grazing the piebald tethered nearby, snorted.  His nostrils flared.  His cream, silky main fanned out with the annoyed movement of his head, ‘whish now, ginger, tis only me.’  One more defiant huff and he settled down.

Catching up the hem of her muddied, rust-coloured skirt Bridie climbed onto the ladder. The familiar creak of the Vardo steps enhanced the excitement in her.  She loved it when the travellers arrived.  They visited her pappy’s farm twice a year, once in springtime to help with the planting, and as now, in the autumn, to lift the potato crop and turn the soil ready for winter. 

Going into the semi-darkness of the interior blurred her vision.  It took a moment to adjust after the bright sunshine outside.  Once she could focus she saw Mrs Finney lying on the bed at the back of the caravan, her swollen legs supported by a block with a soft fleece thrown over it.  The old lady peered at her, ‘You’ve grown; is it fourteen you are now?’

‘Yes, I’m not for having to go to school any longer, I left just after your last visit at Easter time.’

‘And is it you have to work at the castle like the rest of the girls around here?’

‘No, the priest tried to get me a place in service, but pappy would have none of it.  He says there is enough for me to do around here.’

‘Aye, Michael’s always looking for the cheap labour, so he is.  But you should be finding yourself a fella by now and settling down, all my girls did by your age.  They’ve all caravans of their own and are off around the country, some have even crossed the water.’

‘You know that isn’t our way, Mrs Finney.’

‘Aye, we have our differences.  Put the loaf on the shelf next to the tea chest, my wee one, but wrap it first.  Use one of those cloths from the pile in the corner.’ 

The aroma of fresh-baked bread as Bridie wrapped it in the crisp, white muslin mingled with the smells of the small wood-burning stove, the canvas of the arched roof, and the sheepskin rugs.  This, and the clinking of the jars containing jams and preserves as she slid them along the shelf to make room, settled a feeling of homeliness in her and calmed her tangled nerves. 

The brass key of the small, wooden tea chest, a legacy from the days when it had lived in a much grander place, swayed back and forward as if to remind her it had once locked out anyone not allowed to touch its contents.  Now it no longer housed expensive, real tea, but a blend of herbs and nettles.  These brewed into a delicious, refreshing, hot drink and held properties to heal you of all manner of illnesses. 

Bridie didn’t give thought to how it came to be here or how any of the rich looking, jugs with funny faces, and the inlaid boxes found their way into the Finney’s possession.  She just liked to admire them adorning the shelf around the interior of the Vardo arranged amongst the colourful plates she had watched the gypsy girls paint.     

‘Sit yourself down,’ Mrs Finney waved towards the trunk opposite the stove, ‘Just look at you, Bridie, sure it is you are turning into a beauty.  In just these short months you have blossomed into a young woman.’

Bridie blushed, but her embarrassment tinged with a little pride.  She had noted herself, the changes in her body.  And her  mirror reflected the truth of what everyone said:  “Sure, it is, Bridie, you feature your mammy.”  Her unruly, long, red hair, falling into ringlets around her face, and her large blue eyes, replicated those of her mother.  As did her height and shapely figure.  Already she had breasts bigger than all of the girls of her age from the nearby town, and most of the older ones too, as it happened.  Not that she found this something she admired or wanted.  For weren’t they the cause of her attracting stares from the lads and looks of envy from the girls?  These she coped with, but how older men leered at her repulsed and disgusted her.  Sometimes, when going into the town she would resort to tying a band from one of her frocks around herself to flatten her chest and pin her shawl in such a ways as to cover herself.  

As if reading her thoughts, Mrs Finney said, ‘Tis, Bridie, as you’ll be for having problems with the men-folk. God made you for them, so He did.  And, you will find a burning need in you for what they have to offer.  But don’t be giving into it, my wee Bridie, as it will be your downfall.’

The tone of this caution lay heavy on the dread still lying within her concerning the worries of her pappy and she was glad as Mrs Finney’s voice changed and she made light of the warning, ‘So, mind you take care, but don’t be for hiding behind your cape.  Tis their sin not yours if they have bad thoughts at the sight of you.  Hold yourself proud and give off an air of, you can look but don’t be touching, that should sort them out,’ her cackle of amusement held a naughty tone to it, ‘that is unless it is your choosing to have them touch,’ she laughed louder at this and the sound filled the space in the Vardo.  Bridie stared at the one tooth hanging in the front of Mrs Finney’s open mouth, but the embarrassment she’d felt at her words dissolved as the laughter got to her.  And though she hadn’t been for understanding what Mrs Finney had said, her easy sense of fun had her giggling until the tears rolled down her face. 

But then, Mrs Finney sobered her and nudged the trepidation inside of her as she changed the subject, ‘Eeh, it’s good, so it is, to have the crack.  Now, will you be around when the stars are up as we plan on having a sing-song round the camp fire?  That is, if Seamus gets home from the dealings your pappy sent him on.’

‘Do you know what it is pappy has asked Seamus to do, Mrs Finney?’

‘No, he didn’t tell me as is the way of it with the men-folk, why, what has caused the powerful look of concern you have on your face?’

‘I hear things, Mrs Finney, pappy has visitors, and they hold their meetings in our parlour.  He doesn’t know it, but sometimes when they rant and rave their voices come through the wall to my bedroom.’

‘And what kind of things are you hearing?’

‘I know pappy is a member of the Fenians, and from what they are saying I think they have a hand in some of the bad goings on.  Not the killings, to be sure pappy could not take part in those, but the torching of buildings and the movement of weapons, and last night Seamus attended…’

‘Aye well, don’t be worrying.  These are troubled times, but as daft a job as the men will make of it we women have to leave the politics to them.  Besides, that grandson of mine can take care of himself, so he can.  Now away with you and leave me to me rest.’

This sudden dismissal came with a weird, intense look, which shuddered through Bridie, ‘are you out of sorts with me, Mrs Finney; is it as I have…?’

‘No, you haven’t done anything, tis me all seeing-eye troubling me.  I need to have time on me own.  Will I see you the night?’

‘Aye, you will, Mrs Finney.’

‘Good, and Seamus will be here, to be sure.  But, Bridie, afore you go, listen to me.  You have to let go of how everything used to be.  Don’t be for hanging on to how things were when you were little.  You are a grown woman now.  What you dreamed of as a child must remain that - a dream.  Are you getting my meaning?’

A blush crept up from inside Bridie’s chest.  Unable to hold Mrs Finney’s gaze, she said her goodbyes and left.

Taking care to avoid the water filled ruts the wheels of the gypsy caravans had gouged, she picked her way along the muddied lane leading to her home.  The uncomfortable, prickly feeling visited on her by Mrs Finney’s words remained with her as she realised her inner secret had been seen by others.  But then, it is the way of Mrs Finney to be knowing of all things so she would not have missed the adoration Bridie had of Seamus.

As a child she’d spent many hours playing with the traveller children of her own age and following the bigger ones around, especially, Seamus.  Seven years older than herself, he’d fascinated her with his knowledge of the land and the animals.  When she’d tired he’d lift her up, calling her his little red-haired girl.  She would fall asleep on his shoulder twiddling his dark curls between her fingers.

Sometimes she longed for those days.  Now, Seamus had other things on his mind and on the last couple of visits had spent little time with her.  At twenty-one, he’d become one of the main men of the clan and had serious duties to attend to.  She didn’t like to think of him mixed up with her pappy’s lot.  And, like her mammy, she wished her pappy would leave things alone, too.

Although her parents tried to shield her from the politics of Ireland, she understood more than they thought and knew where her pappy’s sympathy lay.  When in drink he always toasted the bravery of Michael Barratt, a lad from the next county, who had gone to the gallows for trying to blow a hole in the wall of Coldbath Field Prison over in England.  Her pappy expressed condemnation of Michael’s public hanging and spoke of him as a hero for trying to release the Fenian prisoners.

Mammy always said pappy had changed after that event.  He’d started going off on his drinking bouts.  He’d be gone for days and they had to cope on their own, but worse than that, on his return the rows would start.  Many days went by with her mother not leaving her room.  Muffled cries of pain sent hurt and loneliness through Bridie, cringing her body into a corner with her hands covering her ears.  But pappy would say it was just one of mammy’s turns, and off he would go again.  Always without warning an end would come.  The whistling signalled it.  Pappy would come in heralded by a cheery tune and without a care in the world.  He’d send her off on some errand or other, but she never minded as on her return, home would be home again and mammy would greet her looking beautiful, smiling at pappy and snuggling into him while he teased her and planted kisses in her hair.

A tenanted farmer, her father had a lot of worries.  How he would meet the rent, how to get the fields hoed when he couldn’t afford the labour, what would happen if Gladstone didn’t get amendments to the Irish Land Act, and what would happen if he did.

All of it confused Bridie.  It seemed there was a need for an Act to restrain the landlords from putting up the rent, but her father talked as though this wouldn’t happen.  She’d heard him say to one of his friends, “The British government won’t interfere in matters of private property, to be sure they won’t.”

When she came up to their small cottage built of grey stone, her mammy stood in the doorway, broom in one hand and holding her back with the other.  A different worry crept into her.  Her mammy suffered from many bad pains and her body seemed to bend over more everyday.  And yet, her radiant beauty returned the moment she smiled and like a miracle running through her, the life of her came back into every part of her.  That transformation came about as she caught sight of Bridie and called out, ‘you didn’t stay long, Bridie, you needn’t have hurried back, I have everything done now.’

‘No one was about, Mammy.  No Petra or Rosalee… 

‘Oh, that’s right, didn’t they say as they may have their betrothal in the summer?  It must have happened, did Mrs Finney not tell you?’

‘No, she only talked about the changes in me and it wasn’t long before she seemed eager for me to leave her.  Mammy, are you for thinking she can see things?’

‘I don’t know.  She’s a funny one.  She did predict the blight back in ’45, when my own father was alive and running this farm.  But then, tis the way of things as travellers pass through many counties so she could pick up on things along the way.  Why is it you are asking?

 ‘She knew a secret I had held and she had an awful look on her just before she said she needed her rest.’

‘Aye, I know what it is.  Haven’t I had the dread in me at times when she gives me one of her looks.  Don’t be worrying, me wee lass, she’s only getting her fun at our expense.’

‘Well, I wished she wouldn’t, anyway, they’re for having shenanigans tonight and I said I would go.’

‘Oh, that’s good.  Tis just what we’re all needing, a little fun and laughter in our life.  Now, away with you, go for a walk, see if there is anyone around to chatter to, Pappy has gone to the village so he has and there’s nothing to keep you here.’

‘Is it sure you are, Mammy, as that would be grand, I might meet up with Amy, she should be leaving the castle just now.’

With a lighter heart she waved to her mammy.  It wasn’t often she had the freedom to roam.  When she did she gave way to the child still lurking inside her, for more often than not the confusion of growing up left her not knowing which person she wanted to be.  The one with longings she wasn’t for understanding or the carefree, full of fun young girl.


The night, crisp and moonlit, turned into a swirl of colour and fun, dampened only by the knowledge Seamus and his grandmother had made a hasty decision to move off on the morrow.  No one would say why and her father verged on anger with her when she asked.  In an effort to try to put it out of her mind Bridie let the excitement take her and threw herself into the moment.  She danced as well as any of the traveller girls.  Her bright, emerald-green frock, made by her mother from some old curtains once hung in the dining room of the castle, and bought at the jumble sale, swished round her feet.  The fitted bodice showed just a hint of her cleavage, but enough to allude to the passion burning inside her.  Like a princess she captivated everyone’s attention.  The concerns of earlier drifted away from her.  The rhythm of the mouth organs and the fiddles filled the air and she twisted and twirled in the heat generated by the bonfire.

‘For sure, you are a regular travelling lass, Bridie.’

She stopped dancing and fell against Seamus laughing up at him, ‘I love it.  It is so exciting.’

‘It is as though you were born to it.  Here, let me join you in a jig.’

He caught hold of her hand and together they reeled around egged on by the younger ones enclosing them in a circle and clapping to the music.  Seamus never took his eyes from hers and the look she saw in the depth of the dark pools his enlarged pupils made, stirred feelings in her she couldn’t understand, tightening her throat and sweeping a heat through her body.

Without warning the world she’d allowed herself into splintered with the words of her father, ‘Right, that’ll be enough of that.  Come on, Bridie.  Your bed time has passed this good hour since.’

Not wanting the moment to end, she begged of him, ‘Not yet, Pappy, sure the night is early and I am having a good time…’

‘I said, now!  Will you disobey your pappy?’  The music stopped.  His grip on her arm bruised her, ‘Get yourself away, girl.’ 

Seamus stepped forward, but she saw the look on her pappy’s face stay his protest.  When he turned back to her, he’d become the Seamus she’d always known, the magic had gone, ‘Do as your pappy bids, Bridie,’ he told her.

‘I don’t need your help with the discipline of me daughter, Seamus.  Come now, Bridie, I will see you to your bed, meself, so I will…’


Bridie held her breath as he looked round at her mammy.  His face held a dark warning, ‘And you get yourself in, too.  We’ll speak of this later.’

Something about her father frightened her more than she’d ever been frightened before.  Once in her room he flung her onto her bed.  His teeth clenched in anger.  He bent over her.  ‘You disgraced your mammy and me, flinging yourself around with that gipsy as though you were no better than them.  I’ll not stand for it.  You remember; you’re not the child you were!’

‘Pappy, tis sorry I am.  I did not know I did anything wrong, I…’

‘You must think of the consequences of your actions.  You cannot behave with Seamus how you were used to doing.  He’s a young man and his needs are different to what you understand.  His kind has no respect,’ His voice thickened, ‘Bridie, Bridie, you’re still Pappy’s little girl…’ 

His stroking of her hair sent an unwelcome chill through her body, ‘Pappy?’  His hand stayed.  His eyes bore into hers.  Then he turned and left her room.  


Andrew Harvey, Colliery Owner, Tarrington House, Breckton, Yorkshire, England,

Two years later

The autumn colours enhanced the view Andrew Harvey had from the window of the sitting room of Tarrington House.  Acres of fields like a patchwork quilt spread out before him to his right.  In some he could see men with shire horses ploughing straight lines, in others sheep, or cattle grazed on the green pasture.  

A thin spiral of smoke rose from between the trees of the bottom meadow, telling him Seamus Finney still camped there.  Funny to find an Irish traveller on their own.  Seamus had appeared for the first time a couple of years ago and been very useful giving a hand with mending fences, digging out ditches, and any other odd job his own men hadn’t had time to do.  No doubt he’d be off soon.  He’d once told him he went back to Ireland for the winter months joining up with his own clan when they made camp in the Southern Counties.

The loud crack of a hunting rifle made him jump.  The gamekeeper no doubt, busy culling the grouse, they’d been a rook of them this year and the August shooting parties hadn’t anywhere near lowered the numbers enough.  The flutter set up in his heart by the sudden disturbance made it harder for him to calm the fear he held of one day all this may not be his.  He turned away and faced his mother.  She sat on the purple and gold striped chaise longue, placed next to the fire.  How many hours in his childhood, his grandfather, her father, had sat there with himself knelt on the rug at his feet enthralled by the tales he told and the pictures he’d drawn.  It hadn’t mattered to him how many times they had gone over the same ground.  He’d loved watching the piece of charcoal bringing to life the workings of the pit and listening to his grandfather explaining how the mineral came to be in the earth, how his family mined it and what happened to it afterwards, “One day, my boy, it will be your responsibility, just as it is your father’s today, to see everything runs smoothly and our fortune is protected,” he’d say, and then he’d go into detail of what the future held.  What it didn’t hold, he knew now, was the great fortune.  Many mistakes on his father’s behalf had reduced their wealth.  

His mother looked back at him with a steady gaze.  She held her slight figure taut as if ready to fight her corner.  The extra hair she’d had woven in with her own beautiful, golden locks gave her height.  He had to look away.  Always she presented as vulnerable, and even though he knew she wasn’t, it undid him when he needed to take her to task.

Take her to task!  God, how futile that was when she had her mind made up and now he had to haggle with her over what should rightfully be his!

Mother, this is awkward.  Oh, I don’t mean you shouldn’t look for happiness.  But, well…I mean…’

‘Andrew, I know perfectly well what you mean.  That is why Edgar is coming to dinner tonight.  This isn’t just one of his usual visits.  I have only told you about his proposal to me so you are prepared.  I had hoped it wouldn’t come as such a shock to you.  After all, we have shown how close we are, and your father, God Rest His Soul, has been gone over ten years now…’

‘Is Jeremy coming, too?’  It wasn’t that he didn’t like Edgar’s son, he did.  Even though older by a year than himself, they had played in the same sporting teams at Oxford and had become good friends.  Their parent’s liaison, or whatever one would call it, had seen them acting like co-conspirators as they had poked fun.  But, this marriage mother talked of, well it changed things.

‘Yes, he is.  He has to hear what we have to say just as much as you do.’

‘Mother, have you considered how, when you marry, everything you own will belong to your husband?’

‘How could I not?  It happened once before.  I have never told you, Andrew, but your father married me because of my money and the Mine, which I stood to inherit.’


‘I am not speaking out of turn, dear, it is the truth.  Your father was a second son.  His father before him had devoted his life to the army as his own father had done and had little of the family wealth left.  They had property, some land, but no business to back it up or replenish it.  So, your father’s prospects were to either marry into money, become a vicar or take up the military life.  He had no inclination or intention of going into the church and, he kicked against taking a commission in the army, but as it happened he had no need to do any of them.  My father and his were lifelong friends and a deal was struck between them. My father wanted me to marry into a good family line, and the Harvey’s certainly had that.’

He couldn’t believe what she was saying, he knew of course his Uncle Bernard, his father’s older brother had died leaving very little to his children, and those who hadn’t gone into the army worked for a living in the law or accountancy, but that his mother had been effectively, sold, for no more than to keep a good line in the family!

‘Don’t look so horrified, dear, your father and I came to love each other dearly and rubbed along very well together.  You children were born out of that love and I miss your father, still.  But, it happened and is a fact of life for us women.  And anyway, you can consider yourself lucky, as I do, that no other heirs of the male line were born before you in my family.  If they had been everything we have would have gone to them when your father died.’

‘That is all very well, Mother, but you are putting one in the way of me now!’

‘I am not.  No one can take away what is yours.  You inherited the Mine and that is that…’

‘But, this place…  This house and the land, the estate…’

‘I hope you are not suggesting Edgar is marrying me for what I own?’

‘No, of course not, he could buy and sell us, I know,’ How could he not know?  After all Edgar owned everything one could see beyond their own estate, apart from the cottages and the farmlands to the west, ‘but, Mother, your marriage to him will mean what is ours will become his too, and he has an heir whom, I might remind you, is older than me and will take precedence…  Oh, Mother, I can’t bear to think of losing all of this, Grandfather would…’

‘My Father would not bat an eyelid I can assure you!’

‘He would, he…’

‘I’m sorry, dear, of course he would.  You are a male and were the apple of his eye.  I was thinking about me and what I owned, and how he married me off to someone with a good name to give me, and nothing else!  Well, not at first…  Look, this is all pointless.  What you fear won’t happen.  Edgar is seeing to everything.  He thinks like you.  He is fair minded and he wants to make sure you are secure in the future.  Please wait until you hear what he has to say.’ 

Rising, she walked towards the door.  When she reached it she turned to him, ‘Please don’t spoil tonight, Andrew.  Your sister is coming, and if she gets started it will all be horrible.’

It shocked him to see tears glistening in her eyes, ‘Of course not, Mother.  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.  I will listen to what Edgar has to say.  Oh, and by-the-way, congratulations, old thing, I shouldn’t have put my own worries before your happiness.  I am pleased for you, really.  I just…’

‘Yes, dear, I understand and thank you.  I will be happy.  I know I will.  I know it is hard for you to think of it, but I love Edgar very much and he loves me.  But, I am not just thinking of my own happiness, I want you and Agatha to be happy, too.’ 

The door closed behind her leaving a million questions hanging in the air, ‘was Edgar going to live here, or was she moving into his much grander place, Hensal Grange?  Funny that, the Mine he owned and which had been in his mother’s family for years, had the title of, Hensal Grange Mine.  He’d once asked his mother about it.  She had said some ancestor or other had lost the twenty-bed roomed mansion and moved his family to this smaller house.  He’d kept some of the land which they still owned and hadn’t changed the name of the Mine, neither had anyone else down the line.  Once the Mine had prospered again under her father, he hadn’t seen the need for more land or a bigger house.   

Not that this house was small by any means.  It had ten bedrooms, a large withdrawing room, and dining room and a study, besides servant’s quarters and a more than adequate downstairs kitchen etc.  It stood in its own grounds, and had a something of a majestic beauty.  But Hensal Grange boasted a ballroom and three grand drawing rooms besides several dining rooms.  Palatial in setting and with sweeping, mile long drives it came with acres and acres of land encompassing the small town of Breckton, a thriving place central for York and Leeds.  The only part of the town remaining in his own family estate was the cottages known as ‘The Miners Row’, where his work-force lived.  

Weighing it all up though, he’d thought himself very fortunate and secure but now his future lay in the hands of Edgar, what could his plans be?  Oh God!  Why had father invoked an ancient law, which allowed him to leave the property and estate to his wife whilst leaving just the business to his son! 

Mother would always have had a home with him.  Nothing would have changed for her.  But now there was a threat he should not have had to face and what about Agatha?  She had always hoped their mother would leave the house to her, saying he could sell some of the land and build a house on what was left.  Even though she must know such a thing would not happen, this new turn of events would really put her out.  Married, with no issue and none looking likely, he doubted with her mean-minded way if she ever obliged her poor, long suffering husband.  But apart from that, her ambitions of living back in Tarrington House were ludicrous.  Her husband, Teddy Wilmsmith, a lawyer, was a nice enough chap and he had reasonable means.  Agatha never wanted for anything and mixed in the best of circles.  She just hated living with Teddy’s mother and didn’t care for his ancestral home enough to want to live there for the rest of her days, or to fill it with heirs.   

His irritation with his mother’s plans and his sister’s notions caused him to run his fingers through his dark brown hair, ‘Oh, bother it all,’ he looked with disgust at his hand.  The oil he’d sleeked his hair with now clung to it.  Taking out his handkerchief he wiped it off as he crossed the room to the hall where a long mirror hung by the door.  He stood in front of it trying to repair the damage.  His frowning face stared back at him.

Thirty two years old and with a degree in engineering and the arts, and owner-manager of one of the largest collieries in Yorkshire, he knew it was time he looked to finding a wife.  But even that quest would be jeopardised with this new development.  He was handsome enough, he thought, as he twiddled the ends of his fine moustache, and turned his body to admire his trim, tall frame.  His morning clothes of grey trousers and dark jacket, worn over a wing-collared shirt with a four-in-hand knotted tie, suited him well.  All in all he presented as a dashing, young, fashionable man of the day, but what had he to offer?

Yes, he owned a Mine but it had problems, he needed to modernise.  He’d recently complied with the law and provided wooden hats for all the workers, but he needed to install a steam winding engine and open up another seam.  A project which would need money and take years of toil to complete.  He had some investments, but the economy at the moment rendered them of a lot less value than when he inherited them from his grandfather. 

Going back into the living room he went over to the window once more.  Feeling unsettled he glanced out over to where the roof of the stable block just showed above the high hedge surrounding it.  With a sudden intensity, the urge took him to go for a ride.  He had to clear his head.  And, he needed to do so before Agatha arrived.  He called out to the butler, ‘Granger, get a message sent to the stables to Henry, tell him to have a ride ready for me in fifteen minutes, then come and help me change.’  Poor Granger, in this house he had to double as many things and acting as his man-servant was one of them.

The gentle trot of his grey mare soothed him; she always knew his mood and how he wanted to travel without him having to prompt her.  Riding at this pace across the fields, his body releasing tension with every step, he took in the scenery around him.  Gentle hills gave way to more rugged ones aspiring to mountainous height in the distance.  The stream snaking its way through the fields reflected the Autumn golds and mustard-yellows turning the area into a picture worthy of a Constable painting. 

The crisp air refreshed his lungs and a sense of well-being came into him.  He enjoyed the loneliness of it all.  As he reached the flatter surface next to the road leading to the Mine he gave his horse rein and let the rush of wind on his face blow away his cares. 

Coming over the brow near to Carson’s farm, one of his family’s only two remaining tenanted farms, he met a gang of Miners making their way home after their shift.  They took off their caps to him.  Their blackened, weary faces tugged at him.  He pulled up, ‘Good afternoon, lads, everything going well?’

Mick Harman, the shift supervisor and usual spokesman, answered him, ‘Aye, Sir, we had a good shift, but I’ve been intending to speak to you, we could do with some more hurriers, Alfred Goodright and Toby Grossing have outgrown it and I’ve moved them on to the lower seam.  There’s a couple of lads I know of reaching the age of twelve, both are small for their age so ideal.  I’ve spoken to their dads, and they seem keen to get them started.’

‘Well, have them brought to me on Monday.  Are the fathers working down the Mine?’

‘One does, but the other is on the land, he works on your farm, sir’

‘And you say he is keen for his lad to go down?  It isn’t often that happens.  Once a man has the taste of the open air it’s usually what he wants for his son.’

‘He says he asked of the farm manager and nothing was doing.  He needs the lad in work.’

‘Yes, since they raised the age for lads allowed down the Mine there has been a rook of younger ones applying to work on the land who wouldn’t normally.  Well, see to it for me, Harman.  I’ll trust your judgement, but you know I like to see everyone before they are set on.  By-the-way, how are things with you?  I heard from Mrs Harman some time back you had managed to get your daughter in service, is it going well for her?’

‘Oh aye, she loves it, she works over at Hartington House as a cook.  She’s a good girl is Issy…Isabella, I mean.  She and young Denny Leighton have a fancy for each other; I don’t think it will be long afore he comes knocking and asking for her hand.  In fact, we passed her a while back; she has a day off and was on her way to meet him off shift.’

‘Well, she couldn’t do better, he’s a good lad.  And if Isabella takes after her mother, who is the best cook we have ever had at our house, she’ll do well.  You’re a lucky man, Mick.  What about the rest of you?’  Andrew looked at each of the men, he had no intention of keeping them long, he knew all they wanted was a good wash, a hot meal and a jug or two of ale.  They didn’t want to stand talking to a man they thought had no idea of how they felt. 

Mick Harman once again spoke for them, ‘Alf here has a chest, he could do with seeing the doctor, and Jimmy and Fred,’ Mick pointed out each man to him as if he didn’t know them, but he did.  He prided himself in knowing all of his workers and most of their families.  Mick finished by saying, ‘They’re doing alright,’

‘Good, I’ll get the doctor to see you all before your shift on Wednesday,’ He nodded towards the men.  Alf Cummings nodded back, but then, went into a fit of coughing.  The sound hacked the peace of the lane and sent birds fleeing up into the trees, ‘Cummings, you shouldn’t be at work.  You need to rest…’

‘I have to, sir, I couldn’t see me family starve…  Sorry, sir, I spoke out of turn.’

‘No, you didn’t, man.  How many times do I have to tell you, you can all come to me with your problems?  Take a few days off, I’ll get the doctor to come over to your cottage to see you.  Your wife works in the kitchen at the house with Mrs Harman, doesn’t she?  Well, I’ll get some supplies sent home with her.  I don’t want to see you in work until I hear from the doctor you are fit.  Now, good day to you all, it has been nice to have this few moments with you, but I won’t detain you any longer.’

Not feeling at all uplifted, Andrew turned the horse and rode away.  He hadn’t gone far when he saw Harman’s daughter, Isabella with Denny.  They looked well together and were engrossed in each other’s company as they strolled across the field.  Thinking to have a bit of fun he called out, ‘And what do you think you two are doing?’

They jumped round, Isabella, a young woman in her late teens, he wouldn’t call beautiful, but very pretty, with her golden, curly hair and huge blue eyes, put her hands on her hips, ‘It’s more like what you think you’re doing, you near frightened me out of me knickers…’

‘Issy!’  Denny sounded mortified.  Andrew wasn’t sure if it had been Isabella’s crude language or the fact she’d spoken to him in such a manner.  Poor Isabella’s cheeks blushed as she dropped her indignant stance, ‘Oh, I beg your pardon, sir, I didn’t mean…’

‘She didn’t mean it, sir; you startled us …’

Andrew’s laughter rang in his own ears, it seemed Isabella had a turn of phrase to match her mother’s, which was a source of great amusement to him when he visited the kitchens, ‘Don’t worry, I deserved it.  Get yourselves home.’

Still smiling to himself he cantered towards the bottom meadow.  Seamus sat by his fire, a clay pipe, not lit, hung from his lips.  He looked up on hearing him approach and stood to his feet removing his cloth cap, ‘Mr Harvey.  Is there something I can be doing for you, sir?’

‘No, no, I am just out riding, trying to clear my head a little.  Has it been a profitable trip for you, Seamus, I see you have packed your wagon for travelling?’

‘It has kept me going, sir, thanks to you and the other land owners, and yes, I’m starting out on my journey before dark, Leeds first, then south to Liverpool.’

‘Well, we will miss you.  Umm smells good, your last supper, so to speak?’

‘Aye, gamekeeper gave me a brace so I have them in me stew, not quite an Irish dish like me Grandmother makes, but it will sustain me on me journey and for the fight tomorrow night.’

‘Oh, you’ve entered the bare knuckle contest in Leeds, then?  I might come along and cheer you on.  If not, have a good fight, remember to keep your head guarded and I hope you win the prize money.’

‘Thank you.  I am of the mind to have a good try.  The purse is a good one and will see me through the winter, if not there are a good few to have a go at on me route home, so there is.’

 ‘And which way do you go, I could maybe pave the way for you, there is a hunt meeting next week when men from many counties come together.   I could have a word and get you some places to stay where you will be made welcome.’

‘That’s kindness itself, so it is, but I’ve not been for having any difficulties in the last two years since I’ve travelled back and forth.  I go on from Leeds to Sheffield, then on to Manchester and follow the ship canal to Liverpool.  In truth I’ve built meself a fair reputation for me honesty, hard work and leaving a clean camp.’

For a moment Andrew envied Seamus.  His life appeared carefree, with only the worry of his next meal to bother him, and even that didn’t seem to pose him any problems, ‘Very good, but I will be in the company of many a landowner on your journey’s route so will put in a good word just the same, or you can mention my name if you have problems.  Good bye, Seamus, I look forward to seeing you in the spring, if I don’t make it to the fight tomorrow.’  He turned his mount and set off at a pace.  The smile in him deepened as he tried to picture in his mind himself leading a gypsy life.  He knew it would never happen but the prospect had its good points.  Feeling much lifted by his two latest encounters, he felt ready - ready to take on whatever Edgar had to say and in a much better mood to do so.


The table glistened with the silver settings gracing it.  Andrew held his mother’s chair until she had sat down and he noticed Jeremy held Agatha’s and helped to seat her, not her husband as one would expect.  Agatha looked up into Jeremy’s face.  A seductive smile hovered around her lips.  Good God, she isn’t going to flirt with him is she?  He had to admit Agatha was a good looking woman, like him she had sleek dark hair, and charcoal coloured eyes.  Just this side of thirty four she held her age well and still had a youthful looking, curvy figure.  When it suited her she could charm a snake from a basket, but her real nature tended to the surly with little time for anyone she thought of as a fool.  Andrew suspected her husband came into this category.

Although he’d already greeted Jeremy, he thought it prudent to engage him in conversation again to cause a distraction, ‘so, how’s things in the city, Jeremy, are you still enjoying your life and work there?’

‘Not so much as I first thought I would, I’m thinking of taking commission in the Army.  I’ve always had a leaning towards it and have several friends from my Oxford days who are officers and having a jolly good time of it.’

‘Really, how interesting, does your family have a military background?’

‘No, I’ll be the first, and it isn’t going down too well.’

‘I can imagine…’

 A meaningful cough interrupted them.  The first course of pigeon in port sat in front of them.  Andrew looked towards Edgar, who had cleared his throat in such a way as to draw their attention, and waited for him to speak.  To his surprise, Edgar bowed over his plate and said grace.  This custom had long left this house and made him feel like a child again as he lowered his head.  The last ‘Amen’ said, Edgar went on to ask, ‘I hope none of you mind us having a discussion of some importance whilst we eat?’  He turned to Granger and addressed him, ‘I would like it very much if between courses, you and your staff left the room.  If you would be so kind as to pass me the bell, I will ring when we need you, thank you.’

Andrew’s indignation at this only half matched Granger’s who looked towards him for confirmation.  Edgar had shown bad manners by assuming Andrew’s place as head of the household without even having the decency to ask.  To save further embarrassment Andrew nodded at Granger to indicate it was all right for him to take orders from this, supposed guest.  As he did so he caught Agatha’s eye, she had an amused look on her face.  She enjoyed seeing him usurped.

Not even bothering to apologise, Edgar continued speaking the moment the room had been cleared of staff, ‘Now, I want us to discuss something of great importance, I have asked, my dear Rosalind for her hand in marriage and she has humbled me by accepting…’

The sharp intake of breath from both Agatha and Jeremy told Andrew neither of them had had the benefit of the pre-warning he himself had.  This annoyed him further.  Just who did this man think he was?  He wasn’t as yet coming across as, ‘fair-minded,’ and mother not bothering to inform Agatha! But then, to be fair, maybe she had expected him to do it instead of escaping into the countryside and avoiding contact until he’d had to.

‘Yes, I know you are surprised,’ Edgar continued, ‘but I had hoped it wouldn’t have come as unexpected, you must have all seen how close Rosalind and I have become?’

Jeremy nodded, his body shifted from one position to the next, his eyes remained on his food.  Agatha looked like thunder and about to explode.  He’d have to do something to save the situation, ‘Of course we have.  We have spoken of it between us.  May I be the first to congratulate you both and to wish you much happiness together…?’

‘Thank you, Andrew.’

‘Yes…Er, yes of course, it is very good news, my congratulations join those of Andrew’s,’ Jeremy flashed a grateful look at Andrew.  Agatha remained silent.

Well, whatever you all think, there is no argument about it.  It is what it is and you have to accept it.  If you could do so graciously,’ Edgar looked at Agatha and waited a moment.

‘Well!  It is just such a surprise.  Mother, how could you let us hear it like this?  Would it not have been better to have told us in private and given us a chance to re-act and get used to the idea?’

‘Agatha, please do not blame your mother for that.  It is down to me.  I thought to give you the news and then to tell you how it will affect you all.  And, I also thought to do it all at the same time would be the best way of handling it.  I have to say, my dear Rosalind felt differently about this approach, but I persuaded her.’

Andrew had a moment of feeling sorry for Agatha.  She looked as though she’d had the wind punched out of her.  Her eyes found his.  He tried to convey to her to take it on the chin by giving a little shrug and an expression which he hoped reassured her everything would be all right.  It seemed to work as she turned her attention back to Edgar and with admirable composure wished them both well, apologising for her outburst.

‘Good, thank you, all.  Now, I have to outline to you how your positions will alter.  Rosalind and I have discussed all of this at length and have come to a complete agreement…’     



All in all the arrangement proposed hadn’t been a bad package, Andrew thought as he waited for Edgar to join him in his study.  It seemed, apart from mother making him her sole heir, which of course is a better position than he had been in, Edgar intended taking steps, if they were both in agreement to the proposal, to adopt him and Agatha formally.  Making him second in line to everything.

  Edgar would secure Agatha’s future by giving her a guaranteed inheritance of several properties he owned in London and an undisclosed sum of money would be put in trust for her.  Jeremy hadn’t flinched at this, but then, the wealth of the remains of the estate would not be jeopardised by losing this small parcel of the London holdings.  

On reflection, Agatha may even do better than himself as two deaths had to take place for him to really benefit, Edgar’s and Jeremy’s whereas Agatha came into her inheritance on the death of Edgar, which was a much more likely, though not a probable happening of the nearer future.  Not that he wished any of them such a fate especially Jeremy, but his sisters elevated prospects rankled him somewhat he had to admit.  As did the fact Edgar had summoned him to this meet in his own home giving orders they were not to be disturbed.  His mind wouldn’t give him the reason, unless he wanted to find if everything had met with his approval or not.

Edgar’s first words on entering the room dispelled this idea.  Andrew was learning Edgar thought anything he decided was acceptable as his words testified, ‘Now then, my boy, I think that went very well, don’t you?’

Not an opening to brook any dissent, ‘Yes, thank you.  You have thought everything out very fairly.  And with a generosity I am very grateful for. Thank you, Edgar.  Please, take a seat; I have had brandy brought in for us both.’  He motioned Edgar to the only comfortable chair next to the fireplace.  After serving him his drink he stood leaning with one arm on the hearth.

‘Thank you, Andrew, I am glad you are pleased.  Now, there is another matter I want to discuss with you.  I think you have the acquaintance of my niece, Dvina Portland?’

‘Yes…’  Oh, God what was coming?  Dvina, a horsey-type with a strong manly figure, inclining to the plump, and a face that missed being attractive by the fact her nose, not only crooked a little to one side, but stuck out to the extent it seemed the only feature one saw. 

‘My Brother-in-law is anxious to make a good match for her...  No.  Hear me out.  Dvina is a wonderful girl, resilient, good fun.  What she misses in the looks department she more than makes up for in her demeanour.  She will make a good wife, skilled in running a home much larger than yours; she is educated and has an intelligent and engaging turn of conversation…’

‘Are you trying to say my offering for her is part of the deal?’  Andrew could hardly keep the anger, and disgust, out of his tone. 

‘Not altogether, but I know you need both funds and a wife not to mention an heir.  This arrangement could give you all of them.  My brother-in-law is offering a very substantial dowry one which, if you take her hand, I will double.  She is also his sole heir.  And, as he owns Tacker’s Mine, your nearest rival, and a huge estate to the North of it, you will be sitting in a very pretty position by agreeing to this match.’

‘Oh, so I am to be sold to the highest bidder, am I…?’

‘That’s childish, and you know it.  This is the way we plan things.  How else do you think we hold our positions in society?  Love may come later, but if it doesn’t, it can be a side attraction if done discreetly, or you may have to wait like your mother and me for true love to have its way.’

Andrew took several deep breaths.  The silence in the room suffocated him.  Like a cornered animal he backed away and sat down heavily on the only other chair in the room, a straight backed one he used for the purpose of sitting at his desk to work. 

‘Look, you don’t have to agree now, but please say you will meet Dvina and give some thought to the proposal.  I have invited you all to stay over at Hensal Grange for an official engagement party in three weeks time.  Dvina will be there.  Dance with her.  Talk to her, and then, see what you think.  But, remember, your immediate future depends on the Mine.  That needs capital.  I understand from your mother, she has very little left and you have even less…’

The truth of his last statement hit hard. 

But, Christ, Dvina Portland…?