This is just so good. Alice Hoffman is still probably my favourite author of all time. The story is set during the the second world war and follows the lives of three young women – Lea, Ettie and Marianne and the two brothers Julien and Victor. There is also another main character in the form of Ava – a golem (from Jewish folklore) – created from earth and clay by Ettie (daughter of a rabbi) at the behest of Lea’s mother Hanni. Knowing that as Jews they would soon be taken by the Nazis and sent to a death camp, Hanni asks Ettie if her father would create a golem to protect 12 year old Lea. Ettie knows her father will not do it but says she can do it herself in spite of being a woman. So Ava is created. Lea escapes to Paris (from Berlin) with Ava and stays with Julien and Victor’s family. Marianne is their housekeeper but Victor is secretly in love with her though she is not Jewish and is five years older than him. And so their lives become entwined forever. Some of what they have to endure, carry out and be party to is heartbreaking, yet the strength of the human spirit is also uplifting. For some people – those who do not like magical realism or anything supernatural – this may not be for them. But for me Ava is the star of the show and her transformation is wonderful. I totally forgot that she a a mythical creature from folklore. Just accept it and see the beauty in the story.
‘I’m not like other men,’ said Dan. ‘I’m not even like other werewolves.’
‘I don’t understand Mr Shaffer,’ the psychiatrist shuffled his papers and coughed. ‘…like other werewolves. There is no such thing as a werewolf or lycanthrope as it’s really called. It exists only in myths and legends. Please explain further.’
‘I can do better than that,’ Dan was slowly sipping a blended cappuccino laced with sugary hazelnut syrup. ‘I can show you.’
He licked some syrup off his designer stubble and bared his teeth. They seemed to be growing as he spoke. His voice was distinctly becoming lower, more like a growl. ‘It’s the sugar in the drinks.’ He was twitching as he spoke. Long black hairs began sprouting from his face and the backs of his hands. ‘No-one believes me you see. And that has a tendency to make me angry.’ He slipped off the couch and squatted on his haunches, still holding on to his coffee with his claws. He took another sip through his elongated fangs. ‘I wouldn’t mind so much if it was triggered by the full moon like in the stories. That at least would be predictable. Once a month and all that. But I have to be so careful. Checking the labels of everything I buy. Looking at the sugar content. Sucrose, fructose, it doesn’t matter. It all has the same effect.’
With which he leapt at the hapless psychiatrist, his teeth bared and jaws slavering.
‘I guess you believe me now,’ he said, leaping through the open window.
For Jan it was a night like any other. A nice dinner of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, peas and gravy. Followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard. All washed down with a large glass of cola. That was Dan’s version. For Jan it was a low fat sugar free yoghurt instead of the pudding and sparkling water instead of cola. She allowed herself only two tiny roast potatoes and passed on the cauliflower cheese even though it was her favourite. She had to stay in good shape for her job. She worked as a rep selling diet shakes and nutritional supplements and though she didn’t actually use the products, she needed to look as though she did.
Dan had popped out for a walk as he did every night after dinner. He was usually out for a good hour but she didn’t mind as it gave her time to do the washing up, watch EastEnders and get in some practice in front of her Pilates Weight Loss Workout DVD. She would have preferred to exercise on an empty stomach but Dan’s nightly absence gave her some privacy. And the opportunity to create a new menu that would subtly knock a few pounds off her portly partner. She set to work. It was time to start making a few changes. First of all, she would secretly replace the cola with a sugar free version. He wouldn’t notice so long as she poured it into a glass and threw away the can. Then she would start preparing low calorie desserts like fresh fruit with a single cream alternative or a sugar-free lemon sorbet. Just these two changes would make such a difference. Little did she know just what a difference it would really make.
There are three ways to become a werewolf. Be born a werewolf because your parents were both werewolves. Be bitten by one, or be ‘cursed’. So legend would have us believe. Dan on the other hand knew different. He was the exception to the rule. He never really believed that he was the only one but even though he had been told he would instantly recognise another ‘sugar-induced-werewolf’ as he jokingly called himself, he hadn’t so far. At least not in Bromley.
This new ‘shape-shifting’ syndrome he assumed, was the result of decades of sugar rush and over-indulgence in sweet foods and drinks from coffee chains. He was addicted. Cappuccino, latte macchiato, mocha and luxurious hot chocolate, all served with extra syrup and those cute little marshmallows on the top. For most people it resulted in being overweight (he knew he was too) but for him it had an added ‘curse’. Except he found it rather fun. He could induce it at will with little more than a large chocolate bar, but he could also be easily tricked. Hidden sugars in so many things. He had to take a packed lunch to work at Altered States Tailors in Bluewater. He didn’t dare to pop into his local peri peri chicken in case the BBQ sauce made him start howling at the moon-shaped overhead lights in the Build-a-Bear shop. That would frighten the little buggers! How hilarious that would be but he would instantly get the sack. There would be no verbal or written warning for spontaneous lycanthropy. It would be out on your furry butt sunshine or should I say moonshine.
So Dan waited till he got home. He was starving. Maybe it would be sausage and mash tonight or spag bol followed by chocolate pudding and raspberry ripple ice cream (his favourite). Then it was a pint of full-fat cola and out for a walk. The transformation wouldn’t take long if he had enough sweet stuff. He hadn’t decided yet where he would go. Somewhere he could freely howl and chase a few squirrels in the churchyard maybe, or perhaps he would aim a bit higher tonight. A night club was always fun. Most of them too pissed to acknowledge his existence.
Horror of horrors! Tonight’s dinner was a tuna salad (yuk!), light on the mayo and even worse there was no pudding. Only fruit and 0% fat free yoghurt and Jan had already replaced the cola with the sugar-free variety. That’s it, he thought, I’ll take a walk through the churchyard to the One Stop Shop and get myself a bar of chocolate or two. Because I’m hungry. The cola will trigger the ‘other thing’.
He’d been walking for a good 15 minutes before he begun to realise something was wrong. No hair on the back of his hands or all over his face. No elongated fangs. No growing fingernails. Something was up. This couldn’t be happening or not happening in this case. He was standing in the middle of the churchyard shivering. He hadn’t worn a coat because once he was covered in fur he wouldn’t need one. And that’s when he saw him. Another werewolf. Drinking a chocolate mocha cappuccino in a paper cup. He recognised it instantly. He could even see the marshmallows. Dan tried to howl but his throat dried up. He tried to growl and snarl but it came out like a whimper. Then he tried to run but wolves can outrun a human without even trying.
‘But I’m the only one in Bromley,’ he cried as he went down in a mass of teeth and hair and saliva.
When they found him the next day he was lying face down in the churchyard with his neck torn open. In his hand he was clutching an empty cup of chocolate mocha cappuccino. He had tried to grab it and take a swig but he never stood a chance. Jan had thought she was doing him a favour. Little did she know.
Do you believe we have all been here before? The Bottom of the Well takes Emily back to a past life that will change her future forever. http://www.amazon.co.uk/…/B01…/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_eos_detail …
Emily was happily ploughing her way through a new anthology of sonnets one damp afternoon in September when everything changed. She vaguely heard the bell over the door chime to introduce the arrival of an elderly man in need of a haircut and a new coat. He wore fingerless gloves and sported a grey-white goatee. He headed in Emily’s direction, greeting her as if she were an old friend. Then he handed her a crinkled manuscript. It was yellowed and bedraggled and was called simply A Ghost Story by Serena Sparks.
He said, ‘I believe you’ll enjoy this Emily my dear,’ and walked out, leaving the door to close slowly behind him. Emily watched him leave, wondering how he knew her name, looked briefly at the faded document, went into the kitchen, sat down and began to read.
“The girl awoke with a start. There was no-one in the room yet she knew she was not alone. Her teeth chattered with the cold and her breath could be seen like a white mist as it left her mouth. She hugged her arms around herself and wished she was at home in her own bed.
“It’s just a dream, she thought. If I lie down and go back to sleep it will all go away. But it didn’t. She got up to close the window where the cold must be coming through, but it wasn’t open. The curtains were moving, but there was no draught. The door was ajar but it wouldn’t let her pass….”
Serena’s past is buried so deep in her subconscious – in a place like a bottomless well – so deep that if you dropped a stone you couldn’t hear it when it hit the water beneath. Dominic Sparks must find the only woman who can help him to uncover it. But Serena is dead and Emily doesn’t yet have the power. After all she’s just a thirty-something mother of two who works in a bookshop in Totnes.
“You have great awareness and sensitivity and a talent for writing, just like my late wife, you just haven’t discovered it yet,” Mr Sparks had told her.
Now Emily must go on a journey to learn what her part is to be in all this, so that together she and Dominic can solve a mystery that has remained buried for almost 40 years.
The Bottom of the Well is my first novella.
“An Irrational Fear of Dogs” is a collection of short stories that is sometimes funny, sometimes dark, always entertaining:
An Irrational Fear of Dogs
The dog was staring at her with small red eyes, its slavering jaws ready to clamp around her small thin arm.The children are coming, the children are coming, look out, look out! Phoebe felt safe here in the bushes for now, but did they?
The Sweet Smell of Lilies
Lilies always reminded her of funerals. But then Grace was inclined to let her over-active imagination run away with her. Only this time, however, she couldn’t have imagined the real truth about her family.
Goodbye Sarah. I bet you thought we would be friends forever. How wrong you were.The two of us were going to stand here and watch as Bill’s coffin was lowered into the ground. But things don’t always turn out as you expect them to…
‘How long have you been dead?’ asked the angel. ‘About 30 years,’ she replied, ‘is that my time?’ Tess was becoming impatient, ‘What’s my indulgence, are you going to tell me what it is?’‘Tomorrow’, the angel told her…
Believing in Fairies
‘Help us,’ I hear you say. ‘If they stop believing in us, we’ll vanish forever.’Mia’s world was one of waking dreams, but no-one believed her, not even Dr Williams. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars,’she told him.
‘It doesn’t matter you know, any of it,’ said Jack. ‘It’s all rubbish, global warming, climate change, holes in the ozone layer, all that stuff.’Or is it? Martha though otherwise and the result would come as a bit of a shock.
Stage of Fools
‘It is a simple tale. What begins in love and jubilation ends in hate and misery. And revenge is so sweet.’ The opening night of Peter’s Medea would be a spectacular performance if it all went to plan, but not as spectacular as Justine’s parting shot….
Click here to buy An Irrational Fear of Dogs for Kindle
In a world where for some people reality is too painful to bear and dreams are as fragile as eggshells, Mia was happy to float between the two. Her world was one of waking dreams.
‘I dream with my eyes open’, she said to the doctor, who was rapidly making notes and tutting a great deal. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars.’
‘I’m sure you do Mia, I’m sure you do.’ The doctor was putting away his notebook and closing his brown leather bag. ‘I’ll give some more sleeping tablets, but only for a few days. They are addictive you know.’
Back at the surgery, Doctor Williams shook his head and spoke to his secretary in a quiet voice so as not be overheard by the usual plethora of sulky kids with buttons up their noses, pensioners who faked illness just so they could have someone to talk to and pregnant women having their blood checked for anaemia.
‘She really believes everything she says, that poor girl. I’d love to get to the bottom of what it is that is keeping her in this floating reality…something traumatic that she won’t face,’ he said.
‘Drugs I expect,’ Julia Fisher replied, ‘She’s on something. Has to be.’
‘Definitely not, I’ve examined her, talked to her, there are no track marks down her arms, I’m sure she doesn’t smoke marijuana, she’s not suicidal. No there’s something else. Something I need to get to the bottom of. Maybe I should regress her….’
‘Then she’ll tell you she was Joan of Arc or Cleopatra in a previous life or some such nonsense.’ Julia was always dismissive of anything slightly spiritual or scientifically doubtful.
‘Not that kind of regression. Not to a ‘previous life’ as you call it. Just to her childhood so we can find out what is hidden there.’
‘A couple of bodies, I expect. She probably murdered her parents and hid them in the cellar.’
‘Now who’s the fantasist?’ Dr Williams laughed.
Mia’s eyes are lightly shut but she is not asleep. ‘They don’t believe in you anymore,’ she says aloud. ‘But it’s no matter. I see you. Like little stars you shine for me and only for me. You sparkle in the night sky and fall to the ground one by one in tiny gossamer droplets of light.’
‘Help us,’ I hear you say. ‘If they stop believing in us, we’ll vanish forever.’
‘I love you,’ she replies. ‘I love you as if you were my own children.’ And the world is shining around her and there are tears in her eyes.
‘I’ll help you, I promise. Trust me.’
‘Everything that has ever happened in your life, Mia, is stored deep in your unconscious mind. Your conscious mind, however, may block these memories because they are too painful. This can give rise to mental illness and emotional disturbances. But I’m here to help you.
‘I am going to take you back to your early childhood.
‘Your eyes are closed and your eyelids are starting to relax. In a few moments, I will count rapidly from ten to one and with each number, your relaxation will increase. 10… 9… 8… Stored deeply in your unconscious mind are memories of other times and other places. 7… 6… 5… Soon you will be able to retrieve those memories and recount them…4… 3… 2… 1.
Then a strange thing happened. He realised that Mia was floating about two feet above the couch. She was surrounded by twinkling lights of silver and gold. They circled her body and then began to circle his head. Round and round they went. They played games like an aerial hide and seek, up and down they flew, now left, now right. They were making him dizzy.
‘Free us,’ they said. ‘Help us….believe…’
He remembered his conversation with Mia only the other day. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars,’ she had told him.
He hadn’t believed her. ‘It’s just a dream, a nightmare or even a hallucination,’ he had told her. But here they were all around him. And he was talking to them.
‘How can I help you?’ he asked them.
‘By believing in Mia,’ they replied.
‘I believe,’ he said and in an instant another believer had been converted and he knew that his life would never be the same.
I’ve been sitting on my story Miss Havisham’s Ghost for over two (or even three) months, unable to go anywhere with it, so I decided the best thing to do was to give up. Not give up on writing the story but on trying to combine the two stories into one.
I have done this – bring in something autobiographical – before in a story and one of my friends thought the real person I was talking about was the grown up version of the child in the story. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would, but I thought if that story was confusing then this one would be even more so! So this morning I split them up.
And now I have two stories – each one almost 4,000 words. One is a traditional (so far) ghost story without a title, while the other is mainly autobiographical. All I need to do is progress the ghost story without the added complication of weaving in the other. The challenges of course, remain the same as ever!
About a year ago I wrote the first chapter of a novel for an assignment. It was called Miss Havisham’s Ghost and was loosely based on my own childhood but was intended to be a work of fiction. To be honest it didn’t get that good a mark so I shelved it.
Then a couple of months ago (or more) I started writing a ghost story. The story is really two stories which come together about half way through. At some point I decided that the original assignment could be stripped down, rewritten and incorporated into the story along with some other real life incidents I wrote about for a life writing project.
Unfortunately I’m struggling with the bringing them together part. I’ve been stuck on 7,600 words for so long I don’t know where to go with it now. Should I give up at 10,000 words and call it a long short story or keep going till I get to however long a novel has to be? It’s still called Miss Havisham’s Ghost. This is the last bit of the first chapter (the ghost story) and the start of the next chapter (autobiographical):
…In the middle of the room a coffin was laid out on the oak dining table. She had never been in this room before; it was dark and strange with old dusty books lining the four walls. It smelt a little like the school library. She had also never seen a coffin before or a dead body, if there was a body. There must be someone inside or why would it be here? Her breath came in shallow gulps as she moved closer. The lid was open and she could see the satin lining around the edges, pure white like her skin in winter. She didn’t want to look inside. It was bound to be someone she knew. Someone she knew and loved.
She was not prepared for what she saw inside. At first she could see only a small pair of feet encased in gold pumps sticking out from underneath the white gossamer dress, with its pink sash, like the one she had worn for her first communion three or four years ago. Then she saw the flaxen hair spread out like a fan on the small rosebud-embroidered pillow, the cold pale hands pressed together, as if praying for forgiveness. A tiny golden crucifix on a slim chain was wrapped around them. Then finally she saw the face – her face. The body in the coffin was hers. As dead as she was alive, the lips were slightly blue and there was a tiny trickle of blood in one corner of the mouth. She tried to scream but no sound came out. And then everything became blackness as she fainted.
In 1978, when I was in my twenties, I went to Poland with my father. He hadn’t been there since before the war so it was both a treat and a surprise for him. Even when his mother died in 1966 he had been unable to return. Then just when we were about to leave he received a message from his younger sister Frania that Halce, the second oldest, had passed away. The funeral was arranged for the day after we arrived and we were told that we could pay our respects beforehand.
Oh the shock! I had never seen a dead body before that day. My first impression and most lasting memory was of a small coffin (she was only about five feet tall) with its lid open and a pair of feet in laced up boots sticking out from beneath a calf-length black dress. I went in a little closer. She can’t harm me. What was I afraid of? I saw that her cold pale hands were pressed together, as if praying for forgiveness. A tiny golden crucifix on a slim chain was wrapped around them. She was at peace….
In one corner of the church a group of widows dressed in black sat huddled together, wailing and crying and crossing themselves. Such was their custom.
‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus, et dimissis peccatis tuis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.’
‘May Almighty God have mercy on me, forgive me my sins and bring me to everlasting life.’
Of course. That made everything alright then.