Dragon Rider – Part Two

Dragon Rider

Chapter Two

The Flaming Truth

With Pyro in sight, Drake pulled his Zephyr guitar from his back and ran his fingers over the ice cold strings.  The guitar sprang to life, pulsating like it had its own heart beating deep within it.  It begged him to play; to let its magick loose on the City.

And so he played; a quiet, haunting melody, magick to anaesthetize the soul.

‘NO, NO, NO!’ screamed the Fire-djinn as he danced frenetically upon the ground, his blazing hands stuffing chunks of cotton wool into his ears.  ’NO, NO, NO!  Not again!’

Drake shook his head and continued playing.  They’d been through this routine twice before, so you’d think even a stupid djinn like Pyro would know when to give up and stop fighting it, wouldn‘t you?

The music took effect almost instantly, racing through Pyro’s veins like a fast acting poison, making him incapable of anything except sleep.  Pyro fell heavily to the floor, his skin crusting over like the dying embers of a fire, although the smell of petrol still lingered in the air.

Drake stopped playing as Falkor landed beside Pyro’s body.  The dragon leaned forward and nudged Pyro with his bearded snout but the djinn didn’t move.  Falkor nickered softly but his body remained taut beneath Drake.

‘It’s okay,’ soothed Drake, as he slung his Zephyr across his back.  He slid off the dragon and ran his hand along the silky scales lining the side of Falkor’s neck, just below his crest.  The dragon nickered again and stretched out his front paw, clamping his green claws around the middle of the djinn’s body.  It was only then that the dragon relaxed his stance and allowed Drake to crouch beside Pyro.

Drake knew it wouldn’t be long before Pyro came to; the music’s influence was stronger on certain beings than others and for some reason this djinn was a tricky little guy who woke up almost immediately.  He had found this out the first time he had took him in for setting fire to a bin; Drake had gone to tie his hands together and had received a nasty burn on his wrists.  Luckily it was nothing that the healers couldn’t fix but Drake would never make the same mistake again.

Pyro woke up, saw Falkor’s deep blue eyes staring back at him, let out a shrill scream and fainted, his head flopping to the side with his long tongue hanging out.

Drake sighed.  ‘Now, now Pyro, you know the drill,’ he said leaning in closer, slapping Pyro’s cheek with his cold hand.

‘Huh?’ said Pyro, his red eyes struggling to focus.  His face was struck with fear as he caught sight of the dragon again, ‘Just get it off me!’

‘Sorry, can’t do that just yet.’  Drake stared hard into Pyro’s red eyes.  ‘You’re going to tell me what you’re doing here.’

‘I…I was just out for a walk-’

The dragon’s foot began to constrict.

‘Tell me the truth Pyro.’

‘I am, I am…I…’  Pyro’s eyes began to bulge in their sockets.

Drake shook his head.  ‘See Pyro, I don’t believe you,’ he said tapping his lips with his index finger.  He pointed at Falkor.  ‘My friend here wouldn’t be trying to squeeze you like a sponge if you were telling the truth.  He knows Pyro, he knows if you are lying.’

‘Okay…okay…’ gasped Pyro, struggling for air, ‘ just get the djinn-eater to ease up, please…’

Falkor loosened his grip slightly.  ‘Now talk,’ demanded Drake.

‘Thank you.’  Pyro took a deep breath.  ‘Okay, I wasn’t just out for a walk, I was feeling a bit hot under the collar, just lost a serious amount of dough on a job I was gonna do, needed to vent my frustration and I just happened to be close to the museum-’

‘Why the museum Pyro, you’ve never gone for anything that big before?’

‘You have done your homework on me, I’m impressed.  What can I say?  I can’t help it, I love fire!  Besides, thought I needed a challenge.’

Falkor began to squeeze down on Pyro‘s body, the bones crunching under his muscular foot.

‘STOP!  STOP!’ cried Pyro, ‘I CAN HEAR MY BONES…AH…POPPING!’

‘There’s no point lying.  He will kill you if you continue to lie.  Just tell the truth and he’ll release you.’

‘Okay, no more games…please…get it to stop.’

‘Go on.’

‘Alright, I wasn’t here by accident and I wasn’t here to set fire to the place, not this time anyway.  I was supposed to steal an artefact for some geezer who summoned me.’

‘Artefact?’

‘In my pocket’ said Pyro flicking his head to the right.

Drake reached down and rummaged in Pyro’s right pocket.  ‘Damn it Pyro, what have you…eugh…’ he said, fetching out a small pickled hand that clutched a stub of candle wax.  ‘What the hell is this?’ said Drake, his face scrunched up in disgust.

Pyro looked at Drake like he was a leg short of a cauldron.  ‘It’s a Hand of Glory.’

‘A what?’

‘A Hand of Glory, basically a pickled hand with a candle stuck in between its fingers-’

‘Yeah Pyro, I can see that.  What does it do?’

‘Lots of things; it lights the way for thieves, it unlocks things -’

‘It’s a key?’ asked Drake, his eyebrows arched.  He turned to look at Pyro.  ’Who were you stealing it for?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What?’  Drake looked at Falkor but the dragon didn’t move an inch.  ‘You must have had contact with someone.’

Pyro sighed.  ‘Well, this morning I was lying in bed, dreaming about a holiday I was gonna take in Sicily, after I’d off-loaded the stash of Yash Chetana movies me and Tappo had managed to get our hands on, when I was woken by a pain in my gut like I’d been punched by an eight foot Troll.  I knew immediately what was happening; I was being summoned.’

‘Summoned by magick?’

‘No, by the Enforcerer’s Office.  What d’yez think?  Of Course magick,’ said Pyro rolling his red eyes.  ‘Anyways, it comes with the job, being a djinn and all that.  No way of stopping it once it starts.  You just get sucked up,’ he said finishing with a strange sucking noise.

‘Like you say, you’re a djinn, you should be used to it.’

‘True.  But this was different.  I never saw the geezer’s face, just a shadow and a bright green light, then this voice, all distorted like on those really bad horror movies, commanded me to obey.  I was told what to steal and when, and I was under strict instructions to keep it safe until it was needed.  It said that if I put so much as a finger wrong I would be found and put in a chest freezer for all eternity, imagine that, a pyromaniac encased in a freezer.  The cruelty of it!’

Even in the dragon’s tight grip Drake could see Pyro shudder.

‘Yeah, my heart bleeds for you.  When were you supposed to give them the Hand?’

‘I don’t know, I was told I would be summoned again.’

Drake gave Pyro a sharp look.  ‘Did you recognise the voice?’

‘No.’

Drake studied Falkor with a furrowed brow and sighed, before stuffing the Hand of Glory back into the djinn’s pocket.  ’Well, the Enforcerer’s Office can deal with that,’ he said, wiping his hand on Pyro’s trousers, ‘and now I must deal with you.’  He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small glass vial.

‘Oh Drake, come on…no.’  Pyro shook his head, ‘Please not that, oh come on, there’s no need for that, I’ll be good, go in quietly, like a good boy, just not the sleeping draft, it makes me dribble.’

‘Sorry Pyro, my friend,’ said Drake, his face lit up with a devilish smile.  ‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone about your problem.’  The stopper gave a loud pop as Drake pulled it from the vial.

‘I hate you, Devil‘s spawn!’ spat Pyro, just as two drops of the grey liquid touched his lips.  His body fell limp and he immediately began to snore.

Drake scooped up Pyro and laid him on Falkor’s back, ready to be handed in.

Eugh!  That smell…

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Death’s Apprentice – Part Nineteen

The Daily Herald

27th March 2017

Nation in Crisis – No deaths in 67 days

Experts are baffled by the lack of deaths in England over the past sixty-seven days. The phenomenon – which has no precedent and therefore has yet to be identified – began straight after the death of one Edith Shanks of Dursley, Staffordshire. She died at 11.59pm on the 19th January and there have been no deaths since; people who should have died, simply haven’t. Instead, they remain alive like living ghosts. This has prompted some to make comparisons with zombies.

Zombies have become popular in recent years due to television series such as The Walking Dead, and films such as World War Z. However, these living ghosts are not like the zombies of pop-culture since they don’t appear to eat human flesh.

There was a report two weeks ago of a man eating his own foot but this was quickly dismissed from being part of this new phenomenon by experts. It was later reported that the man in question had taken Spice, also known as The Zombie Drug.

However, this hasn’t stopped some people calling these living ghosts, Zombies or Eternalists. According to our resident television and film critique AND Zombie expert, Dan Brown, Eternalists are a particularly nasty type of zombie as they just won’t die, not even if you cut them up and destroy the brain.

These living ghosts might not be zombies, but, like the Eternalists, they seem to survive, even after being torn apart. Our Crime Reporter, Roger Galbraith, was at the Crown Court recently when the living corpse of Tom Harrington was able to give evidence to the court about the attack on him despite his head being completely separated from his body.

“This is a national emergency,” stated the Prime Minister, Boris Buchanan as he strode into number ten today. He is due to chair an emergency meeting of COBRA to determine what can be done about the dead that aren’t dead. We will keep you updated on developments as we get them.

Dragon Rider

I’m probably getting really boring now but I’m going to start serialising the first novel I ever wrote, Dragon Rider, on here. In some ways, it’s my favourite book I’ve written; it was my first baby and took nearly ten years to write. So why am I sharing it? Well, it’s a good book (I know, I’m biased!) and it’s languishing at the bottom of Amazon’s rankings and I thought, sharing it here will mean a few more reads (hopefully).

Also, I thought it would be good to use it as a case study, so we can maybe discuss what is good about it, the bad points, the weak points. Let’s rip it apart and see what happens. As I’m sharing it, I thought I could also add some helpful tips for when you’re writing and also discuss method and character development and other things like that. So, let’s see where this journey take us (corny, I know :)).

I’m going to share it in cut up chunks, but not whole chapters. I thought it would be easier to break it up into easily digestible pieces.

Dragon Rider

It is said that a man with revenge in his heart should dig two graves; one for his enemy and one for himself.  Perhaps this is true, but I’m not ready to take to my grave.  Not yet.

I ask you; what do you do if there is no justice?  If the law itself is rotten and corrupt.  What then?  Should we let those who do wrong get away with it, turn the other cheek to their crimes?

Chapter One

Hunting Dwarves

A scream exploded somewhere in the distance but broke off before it reached its terrifying conclusion.  Another life sucked dry, thought Drake, as the bitter smell of blood rolled in on the mist, along with the dead leaves and the smell of decay.  He pulled his black hood over his head and slunk back into the shadows like a black panther stalking its prey, his vivid green eyes alert, his body pumped for action.

There was movement in the alleyway opposite, a slight rustle of paper, a scraping sound.  He stopped breathing momentarily, his hands curling into tight balls at his side as he listened harder.  Had his senses failed him, were the Shadow Walkers really that close?

A rat emerged from the darkness and scuttled across the road.  It ran halfway, stopped, sat up on its back legs and sniffed the air.  Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it fled back to where it had come from.

Drake silently exhaled and allowed his body to relax, but only a little; no, his instincts hadn’t diminished, they were as sharp as the tip of a dragon’s tail; the full-bodied stench of the blood told him the Shadow Walkers were about four blocks away.  And if he stayed here much longer they would smell him too.

A distant clock chimed midnight.

The witching hour.  His informant should’ve been here half an hour ago.

He searched the shadows, tracing his eyes along the graffiti-covered wall and the overflowing bins that ran down the length of the narrow street.  It had started to drizzle; he could see it falling at an angle in the light pooling around the streetlamps, like tiny shards of sparkling glass.

It was then he noticed a cloaked figure step into the light at the foot of one of the lamps.  The figure stopped, glance behind briefly, then turned and walked towards Drake, the tip-tapping of their hurried footsteps on the wet pavement cutting through the silence of the brooding city.

Drake stepped forward, emerging from the shadow.

The footsteps stopped.  ‘Drake, is that you?’ asked the figure.

Drake removed his hood and nodded.

The figure hurried forward, greeting Drake with a smile as she came to rest beside him.  He could smell the floral notes of her perfume, it was fresh, only recently applied.  He smiled to himself.

The woman removed her midnight blue hood, letting her auburn hair cascade down around her shoulders, the drizzle catching in it like diamonds.  ‘Sorry I’m late, couldn’t get away,’ she said, taking a small white envelope from her silver handbag and giving it to him.  ‘This is what you wanted.’

‘Thank you,’ he replied, taking the envelope from her and placing it in his coat pocket.  He fetched out a small roll of green notes and handed it to the woman.

She took the notes and placed them in her bag, before clicking it shut.  ‘I thought that you might like to know that the dwarves are out looking for the offender too,’ she said, through thick red lips, her pale blue eyes scrutinizing his every move.

‘Well, we’ll have to make sure we get Pyro first then, won’t we?’ he said smiling; a cool smile that said he’d had enough of talking.

‘Nice doing business with you,’ she said, placing the velvet hood carefully back over her head, ‘until next time.’  The woman nodded once, turned, and headed back into the night.

Drake waited until she had disappeared from sight and her footsteps had finally faded away, before he took the envelope back out from his pocket.  He tore it open, took out the piece of thin copier paper and unfolded it carefully.  Inside lay a small silver dot, no bigger than the head of a drawing pin, which Drake carefully peeled off the paper before placing it on his forehead.

Immediately the picture of a familiar djinn rotated in front of him, a crooked smile upon his brown face, as he turned, again and again, holding an Enforcerer’s crime number under his chin.

A recording of the woman’s voice began to speak to him from the Memory Spot on his head.  ‘This is Pyro,’ she whispered, as though she were recording the message in secret, ‘our intell is telling us that he is hitting the Museum of Magickal Artefacts this morning, at around one o’ clock.  Be safe.’  Then suddenly the voice and the image of Pyro disappeared along with the Memory Spot that had dissolved into Drake’s skin.

Drake grinned; he knew this job was going to be easy as he’d took Pyro into the Law Department on two other occasions already in the short while he’d been back in Devilsgate.  The guy was a nuisance; a pyromaniacal low-life, but he was no criminal mastermind.  The intelligence was strangely specific  – but Drake put this down to the djinn’s stupidity; he wasn’t the brightest spark in the box and he had a tendency to spout his mouth off so it wouldn’t have surprised Drake if one of his associates had dropped him in it.

For once it was all good news, the specific timing of the intelligence meant that there was plenty of time to put the dwarves out of action before he picked Pyro up.  He hated the dwarves and one day they would pay for their crimes, but for now, he’d have to be content with outsmarting them and claiming the bounty on Pyro’s head before they did, for he had other, greater, things on his mind at this precise moment. Their time would come, of this he was sure.

Drake cupped his hands around his mouth and called once into the night, a short deep rumbling call, like that of a lion marking its territory, and then he waited.

Within seconds an identical call answered him and Falkor broke his cover, swooping out of the thick cloud that had been asphyxiating the City for as many years as Drake could remember.  Just like Fenrik.  The dragon silently landed on the pavement beside Drake, shook his huge head to dispel the beads of water clinging to his thick turquoise beard, and snorted.

Drake found a tight grip in Falkor’s shaggy crest fur and hauled himself up onto his bare back, tucking his legs in either side of the dragon’s body, just behind his wings.

Falkor stretched out his azure wings and the light from the street lamps diffused through his paper-thin skin, highlighting the network of dark blue veins and bones that knitted them together.  He arched his muscular tail, pushed his back legs hard into the ground and propelled himself into the night.

It was time to hunt.

For now, Falkor would keep low to the ground:  The rain had sent the Shadow Walkers fleeing for cover and the smell of blood was fading fast as the rain washed the streets clean.  For a while, at least, Devilsgate would be a little safer.

They glided over the sleeping streets full of the remnants of the day’s festivities; brightly coloured confetti, Devil’s masks and fat orange pumpkins with grotesque faces carved into them; the people’s attempt to appease the evil forces that had Devilsgate on its knees.

Suddenly Falkor gave a short warning growl and Drake felt the dragon’s body tense under him.  Drake flicked his eyes over the area below and immediately he was drawn to the sight of two dwarves standing beside a racing-green motorbike with a sidecar.  A third dwarf, slightly taller and far uglier than the other two, straddled a gleaming Harley Davidson his squat body struggling to keep the bike upright.

As Drake drew nearer, he could see the smaller dwarves were huddled around a small black box from which a sharp female voice was screaming at them to turn right.

‘Stupid box!’ snapped the dwarf with fuzzy grey hair and a red Rock City t-shirt.

‘Give it ’ere,’ said the other dwarf snatching it out of his hands and giving it a good shake.  ’Nah, it’s no good.  I can hear something rattling inside it.  We’re gonna have to get another one Scarface -’

‘I don’t think so,’ cut in the dwarf on the Harley.  He looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger but in miniature, with the addition of long fuzzy hair and a blonde beard.

‘Look, Boss, it’s telling us to go right but as you can see there’s a blinking great big canal there!’

Drake tightened his hand in Falkor’s crest fur and the dragon shifted position; his head pointing towards his target, wings folded back.  Drake leaned into him, their bodies forming a living bullet hurtling towards the dwarves.  Then, just before impact, Falkor extended his back legs, opened his azure wings and silently landed behind them.

‘Still using Satellite technology?  I would’ve thought that with all your successful bounty hunting you could afford to buy something a little more up to date?’ asked Drake.

Scarface ran a leather gloved hand over his garnet studded beard.  ‘Look what’s just turned up boys,’ he spat, ‘I thought I could smell something rotten.’  He put his hand up to his nose as if to emphasise the point.

Ozzy and Elvis, the two dwarves with the GPS, were now staring at Falkor with hungry eyes.

‘Better watch your dragon,’ said Elvis fingering the dragons’ teeth strung around his neck on a black cord, ‘we lost him once and we won’t do that again.’

Ozzy, his pot belly bulging over his scuffed leather trousers, looked at their battered motorbike and then back to Falkor, his eyes wide with longing.

‘Looking for Pyro?’ asked Drake.

Scarface sat motionless on his bike, his face cold and passive.

‘Pity you haven’t got wings!’ said Drake, digging his heels into Falkor’s scaly side.  The dragon responded by launching himself rapidly into the inky sky.  ‘See yah!’ shouted Drake over his shoulder as they glided over the canal’s murky water.

Behind him, Drake could hear swearing as the dwarves raced to get their bikes started.  ‘I don’t know why they bother,’ said Drake, shaking his head, ‘they don’t stand a chance.  Falkor, let’s play!’

The dragon tilted right, turning into a square lined with smart Victorian buildings.  He stopped mid-air, his wings beating slowly, silently, like a Hover-copter.

Drake scanned the area for their quarry.

But he wasn’t searching for Pyro.  Not yet.

A dull throbbing sound began to draw nearer.  ‘Any second now Falkor…GO!’ shouted Drake, as Scarface, closely followed by Ozzy and Elvis, shrouded in a cloud of smoke, burst into the square below them.

‘YOU WON’T WIN FAERY-BOY,’ bellowed Scarface to the sky, ‘THIS ONE’S OURS!’

Drake dug his heels into Falkor’s side and the dragon swept out of the square, the growling of the motorbikes a few seconds behind.

Falkor tore down the broad streets lined with towering apartment blocks and glass-fronted offices, he flew so low that his three-inch claws brushed the tops of the bare-branched trees that decorated the sides of the road.  Drake could see the lamplight bouncing off the pavement like millions of little diamonds, the day’s newspapers and confetti clogging up the stinking drains.

Drake gently pulled on Falkor’s fur so that the dragon swept right onto New Street.  He knew that the dwarves were following them as planned; he could hear the low drone of their machines, but now he was getting bored of his parasites.

Falkor knew the drill; he threw himself at the end of the road and straight towards the Council House sitting directly at the end of it.  Then, just when it looked as if he would collide with the building, Falkor extended his azure wings and stretched out his feet in front of him like brakes.  The dragon stopped for a quarter of a second before tucking his wings back into his body then propelling himself skywards like a missile.

There was the screeching of brakes, the smell of burnt rubber and the usual thick clouds of smoke.

Drake chuckled.  Yes, dwarves were really that stupid.

Falkor turned a sharp right into a small square, surrounded by the extravagant architecture of the University, and dived towards the ground, heading for the narrow road on the other side.  At the end of this short road the dragon banked left and then, almost immediately, he turned right and headed straight for the multi-storied car park.

As they drew closer Falkor folded his wings into his body and aimed for the small mouth of the car park.  They burst through the entrance, Falkor’s azure head narrowly missing a chunky concrete support, and over the roofs of the expensive cars and ultra-fast motorbikes, until suddenly they were exploding over the top of the concrete barrier at the end of the building and flying into the open space beyond.

Time seemed to stop as Drake and Falkor hung in the air before the dragon flicked his agile body around and reared up like a horse.

Drake saw Scarface jumping from his bike and then racing over to the barrier, his face as red as the blood-soaked mouths of the Shadow Walkers.  ‘YOU WON’T GET AWAY WITH THIS FAERY-BOY!’ he shouted.

‘Pardon?’ said Drake, holding his hand to his ear, ‘I can’t stop to talk, need to find Pyro before he causes too much damage and as you’re not going to get there in time…’  Drake shrugged, his broad smile clearly visible.

‘Come on Falkor, let’s stop teasing the little mice,’ he said turning back to the dragon and patting the side of his head.

Falkor snorted his approval and took off again into the black sky.  But this time he climbed higher so that they could scan a wider area.  Not that they would have to look too hard; Pyro was usually easy to spot whenever he was up to no good.

Drake could make out the outline of the Museum in the distance; its grand burnished copper dome, the clock tower that adorned the west wing and the luscious gardens that surrounded it.

And there, in the gardens, a speck of orange glowed in the darkness.

Pyro.

 

Wanna buy Dragon Rider for £1.99? Buy it here. Or read it on Kindle Unlimited for Free here.

 

 

 

Death’s Apprentice – Part Eighteen

‘Jesus!’ shouted his mother, clutching at her very ample bosom.

Mrs Crow bolted upright and as she did so, her false teeth that had been protruding from under her hairy grey lip, popped back in her mouth.

‘Jesus?’ she asked. ‘He won’t be able to help you, not after what you’ve done.’ She threw her head back and cackled.

Lola, who had, up until this point, been lying quietly across Mrs Crow’s lap, sat up and began to howl in accompaniment. It sounded like an orchestra from hell. Joe noticed that the hairs on the back of Lola’s neck were standing on end but there was no aggression in the dog as her tail was waving enthusiastically.

He looked over to his mother who looked like she was about to have a heart attack. Joe suddenly started feeling very cold. He remembered something from the night before, at the cemetery, when Mrs Crow seemed to simply step out of the darkness. Like Death. Death? Was he going mad, or what?

But what if? What if she was Death and she’d come for his mother? That wasn’t why she was here, was it?

Not that he loved his mother. He didn’t. But then, that feeling was reciprocal. He just didn’t want her dead.

Mrs Crow stopped laughing abruptly. She looked up at Joe and said, ‘Don’t be stupid,’ almost as if she was answering his unspoken question, ‘it’s not time. Yet. No, I’ve come for you.’ She pointed a long crooked finger at him.

‘Me?’ he said, taking a huge step away from her. He didn’t want to die. Not yet. Not even with his shitty life.

‘Of course, you! Who else would I be here for? No one else is trying to get a job with me, are they? And as you had a very late night last night…’ Her eyes snapped shut again, she flopped back onto the sofa, and she began to snore loudly. Again.

‘Are you sure you’re working for her?’ asked his mother. ‘Only she doesn’t look very -‘

‘What?’ screeched Mrs Crow, jerking awake again.

‘Er…nothing,’ said Joe’s mother taking in the murderous look on the old woman’s face. Joe was impressed; it was the first time he’d ever seen his mother short for words.

Lola jumped from Mrs Crow’s lap. The room darkened.

‘And,’ said Mrs Crow, suddenly appearing right in front of Joe’s mother, ‘it’s a live-in position, so he won’t paying you rent.’ She added, under her breath, ‘Or money for fags and booze or for your good-for-nothing boyfriend.’

‘What did you say?’

Mrs Crow placed her hands on her hips. The top of her head only just came to Joe’s mother’s chin. ‘I said, you won’t be stealing no more cash from Joe. He’s leaving. TODAY.’

‘How dare you -‘ She stopped. Her breath was escaping from her mouth in wisps. The room had turned to ice. And Joe’s mother seemed to shrink as Mrs Crow expanded and seemed to impossibly take up half of the room. The living room went as dark as the look on Mrs Crow’s face.

Mrs Crow towered over her.

‘Joe,’ she said, but never taking her eyes off his mother.

‘Yes?’

‘Get your things. You’re leaving.’

‘But…But what about the trial?’

‘No trial. I’m taking you out of here,’ said Mrs Crow, finally looking at him, ‘besides, we’re desperate.’

Book Review – Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss

Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss (Granta Books, 2014)

I put this book on my Christmas list after seeing it recommended on a literature page on Facebook. I can’t remember why it piqued my interest now because it’s not a book I would usually choose for myself.

Bodies of Light is a historical novel set in Victorian Manchester and revolves around the two Moberley sisters, Ally and May and their parents, the evangelical “Mamma” and their painter father.

It’s a difficult and thought-provoking read about family and familial abuse. We start the novel with the marriage of Elizabeth to Alfred Moberley and the domineering presence of Elizabeth’s mother who likes to assert control by doing things such as putting a stone in boots and lacing them up tight so that “each step will remind you how you have disappointed us.” She even keeps a basket of stones in the hall just for the purpose. “Mamma’s methods,” remarks Elizabeth, “are not exactly violent but she does believe in the salutary effects of pain.”

I thought this first section of the novel was slow and rather drawn out but, it is rather important as we see the cycle of abuse continue when Elizabeth has her first child, Ally. As Ally grows we see Elizabeth transform into her mother and in turn, inflict pain upon Ally. I was slightly troubled that Elizabeth is shown to have post-natal depression – not because I think we shouldn’t talk about it (we definitely should!) but because I didn’t want it to seem as if the depression was an excuse for the violence inflicted on Ally. It wasn’t used as an excuse and Moss handled the subject brilliantly.

Alexandra Harris states, in her review of Bodies of Light, (in the Guardian, 19th April 2014), “Moss is too challenging a novelist to allow us simply to despise Elizabeth. We must respect her tough commitment to her work as she pushes into the brothels and asylums of mid-Victorian Manchester’s dismal underworld.” I don’t agree. Whilst I admire Elizabeth’s work, I despise Elizabeth more for knowing that she can show more kindness, more generosity to those who aren’t of her own flesh than to her own children. Not to say the “fallen” shouldn’t be helped, of course, just that to not show your own children love and affection and then to show it to others is something I have a great deal of difficulty with. At one point, Elizabeth takes in a child who has been exploited as a prostitute, but then Elizabeth seems completely oblivious to the fact that her own daughters could be in danger. One of them is even coaxed into taking her clothes off by her father’s painter friend so that he can paint her. As you can probably tell, this novel messed with my head in several ways!

Ally manages to escape Manchester and moves to London to study as a doctor. This section was riveting for me, as a woman, seeing how Victorian women had to fight to achieve anything. Although, the ending did seem a little rushed as she meets and marries, Mr Cavendish. Ally still has intentions to study as a doctor, but, it just didn’t sit right with me for her to marry quite so easily (not that there’s anything wrong with marriage). Perhaps it was just the way it was slotted in at the end. It does give the novel a “coming full circle” feeling as it begins and ends in marriage. I just hope Ally doesn’t go on to transform into her mother!

Even at the end, Mamma casts a shadow over the marriage proceedings even though she doesn’t attend. There’s an over-arching sadness that broke my heart in this novel. A child, even as an adult, still desperate for her mother’s affection and acceptance. I have a particular interest in the motherhood myth and the way mothers are presented in society and what happens when a mother has a personality disorder. I have written about it myself in my Bones, Ashes and Dust Trilogy. It’s also the subject of another novel I’m working on.

And yes, these types of mothers do exist!!

Overall, I’d give Bodies of Light 3.5/5. The historical detail is fabulous and even taught me a few things I didn’t know about the plight of women in Victorian England (and Paris). The subject of family and familial violence was handled well, although, sometimes it was drawn out a little.

Good for those who don’t mind thought-provoking literature and discussions on familial abuse with a great dollop of historical fiction. Not so great for those who want a little bit of light reading.

Further Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/19/bodies-of-light-sarah-moss-review-hard-working-novel-hard-working-women

Death’s Apprentice – Part Sixteen

Joe’s body was tired. Very tired and it felt like stone. He didn’t want to move from his comfy bed. It was warm and soft and like a little bit of heaven. He didn’t want to move. He didn’t want to face the day. He felt like he’d only just gone to bed, like he’d been up all night.

That was one hell of a dream, he thought to himself as he rolled over and pulled the duvet in around him so that he resembled a giant caterpillar. Almost. He could feel the cold air on his feet that were sticking out of the bottom of the duvet, so he pulled his legs up to his chest. That was what tended to happen when a seventeen-year-old was forced to use the duvet of a small child. It still had the same cover on from when he was seven. Paw Patrol. Yes. Paw Patrol. It might have been pushing it for a cool seven-year-old to have a Paw Patrol cover, but at seventeen years old?  Yep, that was truly pathetic. As you can imagine, no friends had ever visited his room or his house.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t asked for a new duvet and cover. He had. The duvet itself was that old. It smelled that old as well. Joe didn’t really want to think about all the bugs nestling in it. He had tried to wash it once but it had dried funny and had become all lumpy.

It was better than his bed though. Actually, Joe hadn’t technically got a bed, just a single mattress on the floor that his shit-head stepdad had saved from a skip. It was, at least, a full-size single, although Joe didn’t like to think too much about where it had come from. He also didn’t like to think too hard about the stains, in various shades of brown, that covered it or the little holes that were peppered over its surface.

Joe decided at that moment that the first thing he would buy with his first pay packet – if he got the job, of course – would be a new mattress. The bed he’d have to save up for, along with a place of his own. A place of safety for Lola. A place of safety.

But then, his heart dropped into his stomach – like the body in his dreams had dropped into the open grave – as he realised that he couldn’t buy a mattress because, if he bought a mattress his shit-head stepdad would know that he had enough money from his job to buy things like that and that would mean trouble. He knew he’d have to pay rent, of course, and he knew they’d bleed him dry for that but if shit-head knew he was bringing in enough money to buy a mattress, shit-head wouldn’t like it. Shit-head wouldn’t want him buying mattresses because shit-head would expect ALL the money for himself. And if Joe didn’t give it to him? Shit-head would attack Lola. Again. And if that didn’t work – it would because Lola was Joe’s life – he’d take it anyway. However, he could. By whatever means.

Joe sighed loudly. The new mattress would have to wait. For now, at least.

‘Joe Bones!’ It was his mother screeching from the bottom of the stairs.

Joe bolted upright in bed. What had he done now?

‘Get your arse down ‘ere NOW!’

He sighed again. Today was going to be a bad one, he could feel it in his bones. And, it had only just started. He swung his legs off the mattress and looked over to the door.

‘What the…?’ There was a pile of muddy clothes on the floor and a pool of dirt on the bare floorboards around his normally clean trainers.

It seemed he had some explaining to do. It also seemed that his dream of burying a dead body in the middle of the night, the coach and horses and Azrail and Mrs Crow, might not have been a dream after all.

Death’s Apprentice – Part Fifteen

‘Ok,’ said Mrs Crow, poking at the security guard with her black booted foot. ‘we need to hurry. His partner will be down in a minute to check on him and although he’s -‘

‘He’s not dead is he?’ asked Joe, taking in the security guard’s lack of movement and deathly pale face.

‘Of course, he’s not dead! What do you take me for?’ screamed Mrs Crow. ‘A murderer?!’

The security guard’s walky-talky began to crackle again. ‘Harry? You there, Harry? I’m coming straight down!’

‘Azrail, get…’ but Mrs Crow’s words disappeared as her eyes clouded over and her knees began to buckle.

‘Not again!’ screeched Azrail running forwards to catch her. He whipped out his long arms and managed to catch her before she fell to the floor. He scooped her up into his arms. ‘Come on,’ he said, turning to Joe, ‘follow me!’

Joe did as he was told and set off after Azrail.

Azrail’s long legs were striding off at a pace despite his old age and the fact that he was carrying Mrs Crow. Although, Joe doubted Mrs Crow weighed that much as she looked even more like a skeleton than when he’d first met her earlier that day. He looked at her skeletal arm poking out from under her black cloak. It looked old, really old, and nobbly and skinny and reminded him of an old gnarly oak branch.

There was a loud noise, like the sound of an aeroplane taking off and then a big pause before the noise started again.

Joe looked at Mrs Crow’s head bobbing up and down and realised she was snoring. He was amazed that such a loud noise could come from such a small old woman.

Azrail was bounding across the cemetery at a great pace and Joe was struggling to keep up, what with the bumpy grass and the tree roots snaking across the ground but, after what seemed like forever, they were back at the entrance to the cemetery.

The horses and carriage loomed tall before them. The first horse scraped his big black hoof across the road impatiently and snorted. His breath escaped in a blast of white against the night’s sky.

‘Get off me!’ screeched Mrs Crow bolting upright in Azrail’s arms. She began to flap her arms at him and he dropped her to the floor.

‘Sorry, but it happened again,’ said Azrail, taking his top hat off and bowing apologetically.

‘That doesn’t mean you get to carry me like a sack of spuds you great oaf!’

‘No, sorry Ma’am,’ said Azrail, bowing low again.

‘You great imbecile, get to the horses.’

‘Yes, of course.’ Azrail disappeared to the front of the carriage.

‘And what are you looking at?’ she screeched at Joe.

Joe stood there, frozen, like a rabbit caught in headlights. Was he having a bad dream? Because he hadn’t a clue what the hell was going on.

‘Well? What are you waiting for? Do you want to be caught here? With a security lying on his back?’

‘No, I…’

Mrs Crow stamped her foot on the floor. ‘Well get to the front of the carriage then!’

Joe did as he was told.