Still early days and quite rough and ready, but here is a taster of the opening to the next novel.
The Anguish Pear
The unsteady farmer was dressed in the apparel of someone who had taken everything they owned, either off the battlefield’s dead or from their rigid hands. The most obvious military items were a slung rifle over a grey greatcoat and a khaki satchel hung low beneath one arm. Against the wind and blocking the snows path, the figure within was being obscured; carrying its own miniature drifts over pleats and crevices with pockets full of ice. There was a general sense that nothing was made to fit. The main garment had either come from a very short man or a tall man with a short coat. On the petite farmer it still draped to the heel and almost touched the floor.
Above the coat and half encased in the collar, a comforter scarf wound around the face below a pair of cracked, leather and brass aviator goggles that almost kept out the lash of the sharp shrapnel shards of frosted flakes. Perched on top of all this was a thick green woollen hat frozen as hard as its peak, which rested over the goggles. This completed the outer shell to a point where, if the farmer stayed still for long enough you saw only a statue, enamelled in hardening sleet, with nothing bar the faint wisps of exhausted breath to render a sign of life from within.
The farmer twisted with a violent shiver, raised a fingerless gloved thumb and ran it over the glass to clear her view. For the briefest of moments in the fading sunlight, she looked out clearly over her land and then closed both eyes.
‘It must be my land,’ she concluded to herself, somewhere inside the darkness. When she opened her eyes again, the view had almost disappeared.
Her family had farmed this region for at least five generations. She remembered in that moment that there had been an inscribed bible on the kitchen dresser. It had contained all their names with dates of birth scrawled down its inner cover. Scrawled at first, but with the legibility flowing through the family tree’s roots with increased ability as time had passed.
As her arm went down again it brushed past the satchel and she thought about some of the bags contents. This included four inadequate death notices in the names of Sophie, her older brother Paul and their parents Edith and Ronald Dupuis.
In reality these were no more than a few pencil scribbled words and dates on tattered scraps of paper. All that remained of her loved ones and yet the documents looked less important than the receipts her father had kept for bags of grain and fertiliser. It was a sad thought, but these scraps proved that she was now the sole heir to what had been their land.
Sophie had another thought right there and then. It was a thought that had been with her ever since the death notices had arrived at her maternal grandmother’s cottage.
‘If I am still alive,’ she considered, ‘then maybe my brother and parents are still alive too?’
Today though, this thought was tainted and drained of hope, leaving her heart as empty as her stomach. Today was different because she had finally returned and there was only land now, if you could still call it that. It stretched as far as Sophie’s eyes could see, but through the regrouping white flakes on her goggles, that was not very far at all. She struggled to wipe away more and then gave up and pulled the goggles down.
A puff of steam escaped through the gap above her scarf as Sophie decreed, ‘Merde,’ and started to cough.
Sophie swore a lot of late, some days offensive language was the only thing to pass her lips as she struggled over the smashed landscape of post war France, heading for home.
Without the white filter of the frosted glass she could see the valley was completely covered in a film of snow, a sheet over a corpse with ridged ribs, flattened breasts and smashed knuckles as the only landmarks. It was not pure white when viewed in more detail. There were patches of fluid that floated above the snow like stains from scars beneath. Split barrels of fuel, other chemicals and effluence were seeping to the surface here and there in orange, blue and gold blemishes that caught the light of the setting sun.
In between these colours there were no more standing buildings, no trees left above the stump, no vehicles, telegraph lines or roads. There were only ripples and mounds where all these things had once stood and nothing left to harvest apart from the dead and their spent shells.
LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK, AS ALWAYS PLEASE…
This is the opening to chapter 17 of ‘Misconception’ which features the pig tunnel we cleared all the rubbish from today in Brierley Hill; as stage one of trying to preserve the historic site. What is below is fiction, but the place and its history, its legacy are very real. Obvs. you may not have read the book, this is not going to be any real spoiler, but suffice to say, yes, Jarli is an Indigenous Aboriginal Australian soldier and yes he is in Brierley Hill England in 1941. You will have to read the whole book to find out the how and why…
Chapter Seventeen (opening)
Near the pig tunnel Noah and Jarli followed their noses over a wall and saw an opening below the road. To their left there were steps leading down beside a red brick enclosure. A pair of six-foot high iron gates hung open twenty feet from the tunnels entrance. They were elegant and beautifully decorated in an Art Deco style that didn’t fit with their purpose. One had the word “MOORS” intricately cast into it, the other said “MEAT”.
Jarli ran down first to get a better view.
Noah held back. ‘That would hold about a wagons worth of pigs at a time,’ he suggested as he took in the scene. Then, leaning over the wall he described in some detail how they would probably be enticed into that smelly square with a single fat cabbage.
Jarli stepped into the pen, breathed in deeply and imagined the drove of beasts grunting around him. In his mind the ghostly pigs scurried past to squabble over a leafy ball, then ran off with it, following the cabbage smell into the tunnel. The corporal moved amongst the remaining apparitions towards the opening, then leaned on its rusty industrial shutter to duck his head beneath. He considered the sounds of the herdsmen, first closing the main gates behind him and then eventually releasing a rope or lever as the last hoof chased the other pigs inside. Then the shutter would have clattered down and cut off the hungry hogs decision making abilities, for the rest of their lives.
‘Smells all kinds of wrong down there mate,’ Noah choked out as he reluctantly descended the steps.
Jarli cautiously crept into the tunnel mouth, looked back at Noah and said, ‘Captain Dreyer told us to check if some German blokes is hiding down there.’ Crouching down he poked at the ground with a finger and examined the results. ‘So that’s what we do.’
‘You’re the bloke who finds people, then I shoot at ‘em, right?’ Noah did a similar ground inspection and added, ‘So I think I’ll just wait here to challenge any one that gets past yer.’
Jarli came back out and sucked his teeth at Noah. ‘We both goin’ in mate, with you thirty yards back. Like you say, just in case they is sneaky.’ Jarli handed over his rifle to Noah and took out his trusty revolver. Before going back in he added as an afterthought, ‘No shooting mind, less you sure it’s a white fellah.’
‘Right-o, and should I check he’s German too?’ Noah asked sarcastically.
There was no reply.
Noah suddenly remembered the equipment he’d scavenged on the way over and shouted after his Corporal, ‘Here, you need these.’
A second or two later a hand reached back out into the daylight. Noah placed a helmet containing a small metal box into Jarli’s pale palm.
‘What’s this?’ Jarli quizzed with a strange echoing voice.
Noah crouched down and pointed inside the helmet, ‘That box of tricks is a torch, mate.’
Jarli switched it on hopefully, but the objects nameplate was about the only thing it illuminated. ‘LAMP ELECTRIC NUMBER ONE,’ Jarli read out slowly.
‘And that’s a helmet mate,’ Noah tapped the upturned hard hat with his fingernail. ‘Made of Duperite.’
‘Sounds duper-wrong,’ Jarli suggested with dissatisfaction.
Noah shrugged, ‘There ain’t enough tin hats to go around blue. Captain Dreyer won a crate of these beauts in a warehouse poker game before we boarded ship,’ Noah explained. ‘And this, is the only one left in town.’
The helmet was handed back. ‘Them is for dispatch riders mate, I don’t want it,’ Jarli insisted as he moved further inside.
‘Fair enough, you wouldn’t fit yer fat frizzy head in there anyways,’ Noah grunted.
As his corporal moved deeper inside, the private remained to sort out their remaining kit. It took him a while to get Jarli’s rifle comfortable on his back and re-sling his own weapon up in front. Eventually he tugged the helmet on himself, counted to thirty and headed off into the hillside hole.
Thanks for this great piece Bev, I’m looking forward to seeing it in print next week. View feature here >>>
i have just been told that the article about my new book will be in this weeks Wednesday edition of the Express & Star. I have some great images from them, which I am dying to show you all, but for now you will have to make do with this little cropped shot.
Picture supplied courtesy of the Express & Star.
Been around Dudley today to meet up with my old mate and do a photoshoot.
Ended up at BCLM in the 1930s street to take some shots of the book. Thanks to Black Country Living Museum for letting us in, to use their wonderful buildings as a backdrop. More later…
Thanks also to you; to everyone who has purchased a book and for all the great feedback on the streets.
So the paperback version of ‘Misconception is available to buy on Amazon now. It costs £8.99 and comes in a really nice 6″ x 9″ format. I am really pleased with the size and print quality, which makes it easy to handle and read. I think it is a very tactile object and you should love it.
“So many unanswered questions from the beginning you have to continue. Started reading, but had to put it down as today I worked from home so needed to step away. The first chapter had me riveted. As an English teacher I would use this in my lessons for descriptive writing and use of language. I can’t wait to read it all. Congratulations, so creative.” Kerry H.