Saturday, 30 July 2011

In Hindsight (Chapter 1)


Ellie Morgan’s coffee mug slipped from her fingers, dropped onto the floor and smashed. Her other hand squeezed her apartment’s door handle so tightly, that her knuckles stood out on her fist like four pale pebbles.

Kate stood defiantly in the doorway, as the gentle strains of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas played in the background. She blinked calmly, unmoved by what she’d just revealed.

“He wouldn’t. I don’t believe you,” continued Ellie, the shake of her head barely perceptible.

Kate tilted her head a fraction to one side and raised her eyebrows. “Don’t you?”

Ellie had been on her way to the kitchen to take some baking out of the oven when a knock on her front door had disturbed her. Now the sweet spicy aroma of cooked mince pies was wafting from the kitchen. She didn’t know whether to rescue her pies or continue to listen to these ridiculous accusations. She decided to stay and listen.

“Why are you doing this?” Ellie frowned. “You said you understood why I’d asked you to leave. I’m sorry if I upset you…”

“Upset me?” Kate laughed, her mouth stretched wide but her eyes remained cold. “You threw me and my daughter out into the street just before Christmas. What would Tom have said about that?”

“Stop bringing Tom into this. You know why I asked you to leave and you know that I gave you time to find somewhere else. Besides, it doesn’t give you the excuse to come here and make up stories about my husband.”

The insincere smile slipped from Kate’s lips. “Tom’s dead.”

Ellie reeled at the venom in her voice. “Do you really think that I need reminding?”

“Yes, I do.” shouted Kate.

“How dare you, after all the chaos you’ve caused.” Ellie let go of the door handle and pointed at her. “I’ll tell you why you’re making up this rubbish. Because you had a crush on Tom and couldn’t stand the fact that he wasn’t attracted to you.” She gripped the handle again for support. “He was professional at his job and you couldn’t handle the reality that he was married and not interested. You might have men falling at your feet every day, but I don’t believe for a minute that Tom was weak enough to fall for your fluttering eyelashes. You models were all just part of the job; props to be dressed and photographed. You’re lying because I asked you to leave – because you’re jealous of what we had. It’s so easy to accuse him of sleeping with you when he’s not here to defend himself, isn’t it?”

Bizarrely, as Ellie was ranting, she’d noticed that her lanky Poinsettia was wilting over the side of its pot, just outside the doorway on the landing. Inanely, she made a mental note to water it.

Kate stared impassively back at her. “I have proof.”

Ellie didn’t believe for a minute that she had proof. She was just looking for a reaction and she wasn’t going to get one. How had it come to this? They’d been friends for the past year and now they couldn’t bear the sight of each other “I’m not interested in hearing any more lies. I’d like you to leave.”

The telephone rang inside the apartment, causing Ellie to momentarily turn. In that instant, Kate pushed past her and walked into the lounge.

“What the hell are you doing? Get out.”

The telephone continued to ring as Kate walked towards a framed photograph of Tom which was sitting on the coffee table. She picked it up and studied it. Tracing her fore-finger around Tom’s profile, she kissed her fingertip and touched his lips with it.

Ellie felt the bile rise in her throat, but took a calming breath, held out her arm and pointed towards the staircase. “Get out!” She rotated her hand so that her palm was facing upwards. “Give me the front door key first. I don’t want you ever coming back.” Her hand shook visibly as it lay upturned, hovering in the empty space between them.

“Look at him,” ordered Kate, turning the photograph.

Ellie continued to glare at Kate.

“Look at him!”

Ellie glanced at the picture of her husband. His kind almond-shaped eyes held her gaze, making it impossible for her to look away immediately. The photograph had been taken in Aubeterre, a small hamlet in France they’d often visited. It’d been awarded a sign which stated that it was a village of outstanding natural beauty. Tom had joked that she should be awarded a badge which read those very same words. He’d asked her to marry him in Aubeterre Square, kneeling on one knee beneath one of the Linden trees which grew around the Place Trarieux. The dappled light had patterned his earnest, smiling face. She could almost evoke the sweet aroma of the trees, just by envisioning them.

The phone stopped and for a few seconds the room was quiet, as the Christmas tree lights flashed on and off to the rhythm of Ellie’s pounding heartbeat. She blinked as a bird screeched an alarm call outside the window, its dark shadow flitting past the glass.

“How can you just move on?” asked Kate. "What’s the point of having photographs sitting around the place if you intend to exchange him like faulty goods?” She replaced the photograph and walked towards the window, her breath clouding the glass. “I could have made him happy you know?” she said quietly, almost to herself.

The sky had a metallic quality to it. Heavy grey clouds hung low in the sky, laden with snow which was promised for later that afternoon. Kate peered into the street below and watched the opposite neighbour dragging a wheelie bin towards the pavement. Another was strapping a child into their car seat before setting off. Perhaps the little girl would visit Santa in the shopping centre before being dragged around the supermarket. Mundane tasks maybe, but a life which Kate had daydreamed about since meeting Tom.

Ellie stood with her arms folded, wondering if she was capable of physically removing Kate from her apartment. She doubted it. It was taking all her self-control not to run to the bathroom and retch.

“For your information, Tom was happy, not that it’s any of your business. You seem to have invented a set of circumstances which are all in your head. We were happy, Tom wasn’t a cheat and I am not seeing anyone else.”

Kate turned, tears balancing precariously on her eyelashes. Ellie let out a sigh as she felt her shoulders relax a little, with relief. Surely Kate was now regretting coming round and had come to her senses. Surely she now realised that making up lies about Tom wouldn’t help her feelings of loneliness.

“It’s okay Kate,” soothed Ellie. “It must be lonely being a single mum but…..”

“I hate you,” spat Kate. “It should’ve been me living here with Tom. I wouldn’t be running round after another man only a few months after he’d died if he’d been my husband. I don’t know why you don’t just ask James to move in, instead of all the ridiculous flirting that goes on. It’s sickening to watch.”

Ellie’s jaw dropped in shock before she regained her composure. “I’m not running around after another man!” shouted Ellie. “James is a friend. He understands it’s too early to think about…besides, how dare you tell me how to live my life. Tom died a year ago, and he would understand that friendships are important for support.”

“Friendship?” Kate mocked. “Come off it! We used to talk, remember?” She pointed at the sofa. “Sitting there. I’d listen to you giggling over what James had done or said. You told me how you felt about him. It made me sick to listen to how quickly you’d forgotten about Tom. How easily you’d moved on.”

“I’ll never stop loving Tom and you know it. James and I are just good friends.”

“That’s pathetic! Don’t insult me by using that old cliché. The only reason you’re not an item is because he doesn’t feel the same way about you.”

Ellie was shocked at how deeply those words had hurt. The notion that James didn’t think that they had something special growing between them, made her feel incredibly sad and isolated; as if she’d lost something very special. She tried to remember if James had ever shown her any affection; given her any hint that he might be interested in getting to known her more intimately. Yes, they’d shared some recent lingering looks, he’d held her hand when she’d been tearful and he’d always been so attentive. But what if Kate was right? What if friendship was all that was on his mind?

Kate continued, with Ellie only half listening. “Yours couldn’t have been a great marriage could it? You say Tom was happy. Why would he stray if he was happy at home?” She swept her hand in a semi-circle in front of her. “It should be us living here. I can’t sleep at night. I miss him. And you! Call yourself a wife? Have you no respect?”

Ellie was determined not to cry in front of Kate, even though she was screaming soundlessly inside. “For the last time, get out.” Her drained face was the only outward sign that Ellie’s memories of her beloved Tom had been shaken as violently as a child’s snow globe.

The sound of someone running upstairs from the apartment below stopped their conversation. James appeared in the open doorway.

“I just phoned you. I heard something smash.”

He looked down as he crunched on the shattered mug underfoot. He paused before raising his eyes to the two women facing each other across the coffee table. Ellie’s face looked ashen. It was instantly obvious that they’d been arguing.

“What’s going on?” He looked from one to the other.

“Well talk of the devil,” said Kate. “Were your ears burning?”

“Ellie?” he asked, looking at her.

“Kate was just leaving,” she replied. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, unsure of what to do with her hands as The Little Drummer Boy, rum-pum-pum-pummed from the speakers.

“Oh but we’re having such a lovely time,” cooed Kate, sarcastically. “Come and join us James. We’re just getting to know each other a little better.” She beckoned him into the room.

James didn’t move. “I don’t know what’s going on, but if Ellie wants you to leave, I think you’d better.”

Kate sauntered towards him and stopped an arm’s length away. “What Ellie wants, Ellie gets, is that it? Who are you, the perfect hero on a white charger? Have you come to rescue poor Ellie from the evil mistress? Her husband’s lover.” She laughed in his face. “Thought that would shock you.”

The bitter-sweet smell of burnt pastry drifted into the room as James looked at Ellie. She was chewing her bottom lip nervously and didn’t look up.

“It doesn’t matter why you’re here Kate, but I think it’s best if you leave now.” He stood to one side of the doorway.

Kate sneered. “Oh you do, do you?” She laughed whilst shaking her head. “It’s pathetic. You’ve no idea have you? Well if you think that piece of news shocked you, wait ‘til you hear this.”

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Chocolate Cake and Tarmac

I love to invent characters, imagine settings and create plots. But one of my most favourite aspects of writing, is adding detail and description. I believe that including sensory details, pulls the reader into the scene and helps to bring characters and situations to life.

It's a bit like an artist adds colour and texture. Our words are our paint.

I have a little note book (well I have about 50 to be honest) into which I write my own similies, metaphors and analogies. I know that one of my writing weaknesses is that I can include too many similies into my writing. A few can be great; too many and you're over egging the pudding as they say! I usually re-read my work at the first edit and find that my flow is disrupted with too many comparisons. This is where I hit the delete button most often when editing!!

Description can be great fun to work on and can be a welcome break from working out the plot and dialogue. Rather than have my character eat a cake, I'd rather she inhaled the sweet smell of baking as she bit into the rich moist chocolate cake, licking her fingers clean of the butter cream which had dribbled down them? I don't know about you, but I can almost smell that chocolate gateaux!

I've added a extract of my second novel, In Hindsight. I think it shows more clearly than explaining, how I colour my story. It's still a work in progress, so please let me know if you think I've gone over-the-top! I know I have to sometimes rein myself in!

June’s heat-haze danced and twitched as it levitated above the broiled pavements. Shiny black slugs of melted tarmac dribbled lazily into the gutter, smelling as sickly-sweet as a bag of pineapple chunks. Aircraft droned above them, leaving white streaks slashed across the bare blue sky, criss-crossing existing contrails. This month was a melting pot of sticky days.

Ellie and Tom Forrester stood in front of the neglected weather-worn house in Clapham, looking up in disbelief. A flaking central front door didn’t bode well for the rest of the building. The sash windows looked rotten where paint had peeled and rain had drenched the exposed wood. The low parapet which was built around the edge of the roof was crumbling in parts and missing in others. Its only redeeming feature was a mature Magnolia tree standing in the diminutive front garden.

Ellie opened the paper she’d been carrying and re-read the advertisement which had caught Tom’s attention over breakfast the previous morning.

“It says here, 'Elegant three-storey semi-detached Georgian town house. In need of some modernisation to bring it back to its former glory. Full of original features. Pretty courtyard to the rear of the property. Dated decor requiring attention throughout.'”

“Dated! I think they mean delapi-dated.” Tom frowned as he rubbed the stubble on his chin. It was a nervous habit he’d developed since establishing his own photographic business, The Bigger Picture.

Nearby church bells chimed half past the hour as the estate agent fidgeted impatiently next to the front steps. She’d felt a trickle of sweat run down between her shoulder blades and was worried that the damp patch would show through her new summer shift dress. The news channels were proclaiming that it was going to be the hottest June on record for the past twelve years and the damp skin on her back, lay testimony to that fact. She silently urged the dithering couple to make up their minds.

“Do you still want to take a look?” Ellie asked.

Tom pulled a face and shrugged. “We’re here I suppose.”

She folded her arm through his as they joined the red-faced agent.

“Tom and Ellie Forrester?”

“That’s us,” Tom smiled.

“Great. Let’s get in out of this heat.”

The woman turned a key in the lock and the door squeaked open. Ellie noticed that a line of perspiration had seeped through the back of the agent’s olive dress, staining it dark green. Once inside the cool hallway, they gave a collective sigh of relief. The smell in the dank entrance hall propelled Ellie back to the many hours she used to dig in the damp earth under the shade of a huge silver birch as a child. Almost like a perfume, it smelt musty and sweet

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Prophecy

I entered this short story into a competition which had a word count of 250 and the theme, The Darkness Came.

Mauve clouds bruised bi-polar skies, now grumbling miserably having been bright and sunny an hour earlier. Bird song hushed as rain began to dimple puddles.

It wouldn’t be long now.

The captain shivered, fear unravelling in his veins like a skein of wool. Would the prophecy come true? He was prepared. He couldn’t take the chance.

“Hurry up,” he called to his sons. “Have you checked that the food supply is secured?”

“Twice,” his eldest replied.

“Good. Help me get everyone on board. We’re running out of time.”

Father and sons hurried the couples along, their feet click-clacking upon the deck.

The captain looked skyward, his eyes widening in horror. A dark curtain of rain raced closer, muting colours and beating a faster rhythm. Thunderous skies unleashed a deluge, staining stones a shade darker and painting a glistening patina on the wooden hull. Bubbling bulimic brooks spewed debris into the rising waters, as a white-forked tongue licked the sky. The clouds grumbled in reply as the water began to take the weight of the giant hull, causing the boat to rock gently to and fro.

“Close the doors,” yelled the captain, his brow furrowed with anxiety. “Fasten the windows and secure all on board.”

The darkness came, dampening colour and form. The captain peered through the gloom at his cargo, as sounds echoed around the vast interior. Startled eyes stared back as hooves stamped, nostrils flared, wings flapped and paws scratched. The ark broke free.

“It begins,” cried Noah.

By Angela Barton

Monday, 11 July 2011

A Hero By Any Other Name

We imagine a hero to show great courage or ability, to have performed heroic acts, to be admired for his qualities and regarded as an ideal. Not forgetting of course that he must be devilishly good-looking to boot!

Can you imagine just how boring the books we read and write would be, if our pages were filled with white-toothed, grinning, muscular, handsome men? The phrase ‘nice but dim’ springs to mind, along with images of asexual cartoon characters.
As writers, our choice of hero is a very personal thing and speaks volumes about ourselves. We reveal our individual values and preferences. We comment on those we perceive to be lacking or deficient in some way. For me, a hero has to have flaws. The truth is that bad things happen to good people. The best heroes in my mind are male protagonists who have a failing, an imperfection or a weak spot.

Achilles was a handsome Greek hero of the Trojan War. He was the central character and the greatest warrior in Homer’s Illiad, but had one weakness – his heel, an injury to which ultimately led to his death. Although this mythological story refers to a physical vulnerability, we can use this weakness metaphorically in our writing. It will make our hero seem more three dimensional and ‘human,’ as opposed to robotic and boring. Having said that, I believe a handsome or rugged face and an attractive body are important for a fictional hero. We want the reader to ‘fall in love’ with the male protagonist in order to keep reading! After all, if sexual attraction was solely based on inner goodness alone, we’d all fancy the Pope instead of Johnny Depp!

I thought I’d share with you my own personal top five heroes! I’m not going to list the likes of Tarzan, Atticus Finch, Romeo, Batman, Hamlet or Mr Spock – all heroes in their own right, but I’m talking jaw-dropping sexy heroes below. (Although I do have a bit of a thing for Mr Spock’s brooding sexy demeanour. He needs a lady to melt away his….anyway, I digress!)

5th place goes to Mr D’Arcy

Sorry. I know. I can hear some of you groaning, but let me explain. It’s not just the wet clothes clinging like they’ve been vacuum packed on to his taught stomach and thighs. It’s not the droplets of water decorating his face like tribal markings, waiting to be kissed away. It’s not the facts that his damp lips are parted as he catches his breath from swimming. *pauses whilst I catch my breath* It’s that personal preference thing again. I like my heroes to have a brooding, deep, sexy, almost distant character. It’s so much better if the heroine has to win her way into his heart and bed, rather than him turning up, winking at her whilst he flashes his perfect Simon Cowell teeth before beckoning her into the back of his car/carriage/horse. (No, scrap the horse – that doesn’t work!) I prefer the softly, softly catchee monkey approach!

4th place goes to Angel Clare

Thomas Hardy’s hero in Tess of the D’Urbevilles scored a high mark from me. He was good-natured, strong, handsome, jovial character who possessed a sense of humour. He was musical, and I’m a sucker for anyone creative! I also have a penchant for my heroes having long dark shoulder-length hair. Angel also knew what he wanted from life and set out determinedly to get it. I like a man who knows his own mind.
But Hardy was a realistic writer and Angel needed a flaw. Hardy didn’t give him a huge imperfection to overcome, but gave him the poor ability to make the right choices. He fell in love with Tess and married her. When she told him she’d been raped before the marriage, he fled to work abroad without consummating the marriage or even spending the night in the same house as Tess. That callous act eventually led to Tess’ tragic downfall. There was no happy ending for Tess.

3rd place goes to Rupert Campbell-Black

Rupert Edward Algernon Campbell-Black is a rich, famous, Olympic medal-winning show jumper. He’s incredibly handsome, fit and charming. Whereas Angel Clare’s only flaw was that he made a wrong decision (albeit a humongous one), Jilly Cooper doled out a few more imperfections on Rupert! He was a brutish womanizer and an adulterous arrogant cad. The thing about fictional heroes, is that you can have a crush on them safely, secure in the knowledge that you don’t really have a husband/lover who is really that much of a b*stard.

2nd place goes to Edward Rochester

Charlotte Bronte’s Mr Rochester makes a wonderful hero for me. Craggy-faced, abrupt, stern (not to mention he keeps his wife locked up in the attic) you’d be forgiven for thinking he wasn’t your archetypical hero. But he is to my personal ideals for a male protagonist. He’s real – okay, he’s not real, but you know what I mean. He’s doesn’t have perfect handsome features who says all the right things. He has long hair (did I mention I like long hair?) and he’s a little bit dangerous and brooding –not to be mistaken with sulking! He’s intellectual and has an air of mystery. He’s not bad by nature, just finds himself in a bad situation. He needs time, affection and taming. I’m willing to over-look his more glaring flaws in order to indulge the passion he and Jane Eyre share. He’s locked himself away inside Thornfield Hall, and someone needs to slowly and gently unlock his demons…and his heart.

1st place goes to Daniel Cavanagh

“Who?” I hear you say.

I’d like to introduce you to my very own hero. Daniel is the love interest in my first novel, Lies and Linguine. He’s handsome, tall, artistic, sexy, and has a body which makes women silently mouth the word, ‘Wow!’ Okay, so far, not so real – except, he has a flaw which brings him to life.

Daniel is a troubled artist. He inherited Larkston Hall following the death of his parents in a motorway accident. He also blames himself for an accident involving his best friend Sean. His guilt over his absence at the time of his parents’ death and his wrong choice which led to Sean’s accident, have left Daniel with a mild obsessive compulsive disorder. He feels that if he focuses on the number three, a third traumatic incident will be prevented. As well as emotional scars, Daniel has a physical scar on his left temple, received in the same accident in which Sean was injured. My heroine Tess, must slowly, gently and thoughtfully win Daniel’s trust, in order to help him start the slow process of recovering. This, of course, whilst she’s trying to get to grips with her own dramas.

I’ve listed Daniel Cavanagh as my number one hero because I invented him. I have a personal attachment to him and literally know what he’s thinking. I’ve embodied all my most personal physical preferences of a man into Daniel’s appearance and given him the personality of all the character traits of my ideal man. Kind and humorous being high on the agenda.

I have to admit, I missed him terribly when I finished my novel and had edited for the final time. I think I’m a little bit in love….

I'd love to know who your favourite hero/heroes are.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Forgotten Scarf

Yesterday, whispers that war was over
Trickled down the wireless, and filled the room with news
As sweet as honeysuckle blooms.
Hopes of my love returning, prodded my eyes through the night,
Keeping sleep as remote as the land in which he fought.
And now I’m running, frightening birds in sallies of flight
As I race, brushing blossoms and dew-laden ferns aside.
Holding petticoats aloft as words escape my lips,
“He’s home.”
I saw him from my window, waving at the gate;
Its five bars, lichen encrusted and pale.
I’m hurrying, across the purple paddock
Infused with scents of lavender and meadowsweet.
I’m skipping through silver flashes of dew
Which sparkle like a bride’s smile on each translucent leaf.
“He’s home.”
I’m jumping, soaring over hillocks
Of lanky wild grasses which sway to the breeze’s melody.
I remember the soft touch of his lips on mine,
His arms which held me tightly, cocooned in love.
And now, raw and bloodied, I must hold him.
“He’s home.”
The sun dims and slinks behind purple clouds
Which slip across the bare blue sky.
I reach the gate and can’t hide the smile upon my lips,
Even though the peeling paintwork stabs my fingertips
As my knuckles clench the wood.
I call his name, but silence greets me like an insult.
The lane is bare beneath arms of sycamore,
A tunnel of boughs through which dreams travel.
Golden rays re-appear, warming my face; but not my heart.
And then I see it,
Tied to the gate post which stands proud and sentinel.
A forgotten scarf waving a frayed greeting in the breeze.
Just a blue tattered yarn, ripped and discarded.
A trick of the light.

Angela Barton

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Skimming Stones

Surely only a handful of summers have passed,
Since I jumped the white chalked squares
On the shiny black slugs of melting tarmac?
Long halcyon days filled with playgrounds and parks,
In which hung a shimmering heat-haze
Which levitated above the hot grainy concrete.
Holidays of sipping iced-lemonade, my skin tinged pink
From the rays which danced in the palest of blues.
Surely only a small bouquet of nights have passed,
Each nocturnal hour filled with scents of blossom,
Since I read of the Famous Five by the landing’s pale glow.

And now my reflection is patterned with lines of middle age.
How did I sink like a painted pebble into these murky depths?
Did I skim that stone before it sank?
Polish it against my hip before hurling it
Seawards, to bounce and pirouette upon the surface?
And why does my mother’s face look back from the mirror?
Is it a trick of the light? Her tired eyes, her lips,
Puckered with a life of conversation.
A private prank played on me by shadows, as
The poised pencil which draws the circle of life,
Rises, tick by slow tock, to meet its starting point.

Yes I’ve skimmed the stone countless times,
And lived, and loved, and laughed.
I’ve born three babies and watched them grow
And skip the hopscotch squares themselves.
I’ve walked on Arabian sand, smiled at Amalfi’s coast,
I’ve prayed in Rome and sailed Californian seas.
Imagined friends lie inside the folios of my novel
Written in captured moments from the hullaballoo,
The hubbub and the topsy-turvy of life’s pages.
Yes, my lines of age tell of a life well-lived.
Happy in my skin, I’ve earned my stripes.

Angela Barton