Thursday, 4 October 2012

Stealing into Winter

In case you have missed this, get over to Amazon and see what a fine book this is and what a wonderful reception it has had.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Stealing into Winter

First notice that this lovely book is out on 28 September 2012. Watch this space for further news.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Woman On The Bridge

The silence sang. Vast, absolute, compressed beneath the weight of a hot summer sky, the silence sang. Alone in the wide shallow valley, standing on the narrow, raised strip of pebble rich concrete, she listened.
Every time the express had passed through the halt on the voyage out, she had promised herself that she would, one day, take a local train and alight.
Since the train had vanished in the temporal haze, the only movement was the flow of heated air rising from the platform. The languid currents caressed her face with stale fingers.
Dazed, she turned and sought shade, walking along the platform toward the old, pre-cast concrete footbridge. The steel rails shone, spearing the the world beyond to this point. The shimmering distance was heavy with time and the immediate surroundings were filled with the fading traces of things that were once there.
Beneath the uneven sections of the platform a deep ditch lay in the shade. Beyond it, a road, the surface broken and soft, tufts of parched grass erupted through the glistening macadam.
The fields, too, were going back to the wild. Hedgerows spreading, waist high thistles on the margins, and wild grasses dying in the cracked silt. Toward the river, willows grew. Even they stood still.
Beyond all that, heat haze evanesced the chalk downs where trees now put roots into the poor soil.
There was no relief from the swelter in the shadow of the footbridge. She looked up at the overhead walkway. Perhaps, she thought, there will be a breeze up there.

Layers of heat. An archaeology of silence. A wider view of the valley and a sense of the depth of all the time that lay beyond into the ever dark and empty.
A subtle flickering spoke of the swift succession of night and day, hypnotic in its regularity, kaleidoscopic; events and objects shimmered in and out of focus. For brief moments the old buildings of the station, hazy and dreamlike, wavered on the edge of vision, more a vivid memory of something never before seen than a returning reality. They had gone before their presence properly registered, but the revenant form of a woman walking along the platform faded less quickly, disappearing only as she passed into shadow beneath the bridge.

Lost there in the suppressing closeness, isolated, displaced, there was a sense of unparalleled loneliness, of absolute belonging, of her heels pressed in the sand. It had been there since she left death’s room, torn away from the dying part of herself.
Love is not a cement that grafts one distinct entity to another; it is a solvent that melds them. The space left when one is gone is no simple hole to be discerned by the absence, no simple wound to be healed. It is a series of complex and organic multi-dimensional fault lines. We look to others to find ourselves. When they have gone...
A tear rolled down Charlie’s cheek, evaporating to leave a salt track on her flesh.

To be aware of it all is a weight. It stifles. Ennervates. Nothing seems to move whilst all life goes on.
And the silence.
From the bridge, the whole valley was tangible. Ephemeral the aeons as faint creamy flecks settle in the primordial gloom. Swift the ages as the land rose and fell. Transitory the millennia as people scoured its face. Fleeting the lifetimes as they built their empires. Endless the hours in which they touched one another, dancing past, phantoms with familiar faces.
A woman crossed the tracks, upright, permanently startled, down from walking the high grassland and heading for home across the river. Her thread was bright in the tapestry, a shimmering visionary who had, for a moment, seen the world through which Charlie sailed.
She watched as the woman shifted in and out of the wavering day, lost sight of her as the lacework in the blue above was torn.

Childhood memories flashed through from a dark past, like looking from a train at night; glimpses of life in lighted windows. A beam of understanding sweeping across a hidden landscape, picking out places, times, people, incidents. The only way to see them, know them and comprehend the connections between would be to go to the lighthouse and follow the beam from there. It was something she had been trying to do ever since she knew she could move through the dark and into the lighted moments.

She woke her from drowsing over her book - a rare edition of Shelmerdine’s The Oak Tree, open at the final page. Drugged by the heat, she sat cross-legged in the small shadow afforded by the high side of the footbridge, staring blankly at the page.
Crook-kneed, she pulled herself up into the afternoon. The sky was seared to a pale blue, the sun seeking the horizon in a haze. Nearby trees were bowed and weary, limp in the soporific air.
Approaching the bridge across the river, a thin figure followed in the wake of its shadow. Charlie knew the face; long, with eyes that teetered between laughter and tears, light and dark, with all they could not help but see.

A slow, disbelieving inevitability. The vast surge of time flowed in from all directions, sweeping everything up, crushing, mixing, breaking down. Helpless, borne on the waves, carried in four-dimensional vortices, torn, broken, stranded, breathless.

Charlie closed the book and tucked it away safely in a pocket. The years had passed, the storm had gone, and slowly all the pieces had settled into a pattern. Sometimes the step across was simple and smooth. Sometimes...
She walked to the end of the bridge and looked across to the river. The trees were smaller and the view was clearer.

Here now, between the acts, the simple actions. The putting on of the coat, the picking up of stones along the way.
Who is the woman on the bridge?
Behind the scenes?
Trapped in the interstices?
Lost between events?
Drifting between one action and the next?

Moments of clarity are rare, often shocking. Charlie rushed down the steps, almost falling on that late March afternoon. When she reached the river there was no one to be seen.
And between one action and the next, that clarity again. She could no more have saved the woman on the bridge than she had been able to save the woman in blue shoes or the girl with honey coloured hair.
We each follow our arrow no matter how much we weave about in the wheeler’s dance, no matter which position we take. The patterns cannot be changed, no matter how often you turn the kaleidoscope. The elements are always the same, merely observed from different perspectives, traced from different starting points.
Charlie stood on the bridge looking down into the muddy waters of the river; left when she heard voices. In the distance, a train wrote its passage through the valley with steam that faded in the sky blue.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Parts of a circle

“Was there an aspen tree? There. A path. Running across at an angle.”

Charlie looked for a moment at where her hand had sketched the space in the chill air. She frowned as she turned, laying an arm along the back of the curved stone bench where she sat. The mullioned windows were dull in the weak winter light.

Whether she found what she sought could not be discerned by looking at her. There was no shrug or other sign of disappointment. Equally, she did not smile or seem satisfied. Simply sat searching as her breath clouded the air.

Having examined the entire four-storey fa├žade of brown stone, she turned back to face the sundial at the centre of the garden. Its thick coating of ice crystals unnerved her and she fussed with the skirts of her long black coat by way of distraction before tucking her hands into the opposite sleeve ends for warmth.

The broom had paused in mid-sweep, thin snow piled against the worn bristles.

“Not in my time,” the old gardener replied. He studied his hands grasped about the time darkened handle, stubby fingers emerging from the frayed wool of his gloves. “It was a plain circle of grass afore this. Holy Acre, they called it. You weren’t supposed to walk on it. But that was a long time since.”

They both looked at the shabby rose garden half-concealed by the snow. There was a small circular bed at the centre surrounding the sundial. Around that a broad path where Charlie’s feet rested in a section cleared by the gardener’s broom. Eight curved benches of stone faced the centre, each standing at the narrow end of a wedge shaped flower bed, each sector separated from the others by the eight paths that radiated out to the paving around the edge of the courtyard.

When she had first seen the garden from one of the small windows at the top of the corner tower, she had been delighted. Today, all the brittle, glassy memories made the garden feel like a place of torture, a spinning wheel with no way off.

The scrape of bristles on frozen paving slabs resumed for a moment, pushing the snow to one side.

“There’s an old photograph,” said the gardener, leaning on the broom again. “In a book. Saw it once. That’s from before my time. Long before. Is that what you mean?”

Charlie huddled into her coat and wove a smile over her misery. “That must be it.”

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Waiting For The Wind

The heavy doors beat out their irregular, echoing tattoo in her memory as the train came to a stop. Confused layers of recollection and reality shimmered in the curved space; the sulphurous stink of steam, the acrid stench of diesel and dust, the clattering flap of pigeons, incomprehensible tannoy announcements and the sound of hundreds of voices, hundreds of feet.

Hanging back from the crowds, she strolled along the wide platform, trailing slow, twisting whorls of misty chaos. The grey and grimy past spread out, dissolving into the hard light of the present. She pushed through the automatic ticket barrier and looked for somewhere to sit. She told herself she needed a moment to let the memories settle and the layers of time to synchronise. She told herself everything would be all right. It was a mistake she always made.

As soon as she sat, she accepted the journey had been a mistake. Ghosts crowded the concourse. She watched them filling the space, surging back and forth, pushing through one another, fraying the edges of reality.

Accretions of time piled up like dust in the station; the detritus of centuries accummulated from all the moments lost, the anxiety, the attempt to hurry, swirled across the concourse and deposited in corners. They were all the same. From the monorail station at Srinagar that she had never since been able to find to the remote halts in the middle of all those nowheres; small, large, decaying, brand new, open air, enclosed, empty, full, they were polyps strung out on a network of steel connectivity, islands of frutration and dreams, places of greeting and parting, steeped in emotion.

Dangerous places where she had no control.

She pushed herself up from the bench and crossed to the departure board, looking up at the old mahogany structure that had once stood there. An old, cold wind tugged at the long skirts of her coat. Long past light filtered through dust. Silence fell. It would be years before there was another train.

Vague echoes drifted beneath the high glass canopy.

With a shiver, she turned from the board and walked out through the abandoned ticket hall. The station forecourt had that ‘70s Sunday morning feel. The whole length of Queen’s Road stretched before her, empty of ghosts, people, movement. In the chill, hazy distance was the sea.

“Bugger.” She pushed a finger under her glasses and wiped away a tear. The ‘70s really was the last place she wanted to be right now.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Stealing into Winter - a fragment

With all the grace of a drunken dancer, the ghost teetered about the empty square. It would lean and move off in one direction, picking up speed until it righted itself. Spinning on the spot for a moment or two, faint in the painfully bright sunshine, it would lean in another direction and be on its way again, sinuous, trailing pale peach wisps of nothingness and a faint hiss.

Jeniche watched the erratic ballet from the deep shadow of a cellar doorway. Dust ghosts were rarely seen in the city. It was rarely this quiet. Most people would be sitting or lying in a shaded room, waiting for the afternoon heat to abate, especially at this time of the year. But there were normally some people about; luckless servants mostly, sent on the errands of the fools for whom they worked.

The square and the roads leading to it, the shops and stalls. All were quiet beneath the weight of the heat, sunlight shimmering from the hard baked mud walls. Quiet except for the ghost that skittered across the open space, spinning toward Jeniche and then changing direction. She pulled her keffiyeh up over the lower half of her face, squinting as dust drifted into the stairwell. Childhood memories drifted in with it, just as unwanted. She blinked the dust from her eyes, wiping away a grimy tear with the back of her hand.

Turning in the dark, she watched the ghost swithering for a moment before gathering new energy. It dashed along the main road out of the square, picking up more dust as it went, twisting, hissing, and taking on a more solid form. Without warning it collapsed. Mute sunlight pressed down into the silence.