My first published work was a short story with a children’s book following after. These are available below
Whilst I have 2 more children’s books to publish “Entrances” is my first adult novel and explores the themes of choices and regrets. It’s still in progress but I have left Chapter One for anyone visiting the site to read. Let me know what you think below. This is also for anybody interested in a sample of my fiction writing
Long grass tickled my cheek, slightly scratchy and irritating where the smooth stem met rough seeds as I laid back on my pack and shut my eyes for a moment. I batted it away with my hand before breathing heavily through my nose and reluctantly opened my eyes again, to resume my quiet vigil. In the semi darkness I could sense rather than see the shapes of my squad all around me. Impaired by that darkness I could only just make out the muted shine of the clouded moon off their rifle muzzles, and gently moving silhouettes as they moved jerkily in the fog of sleep. My other senses felt sharpened by the effects of the night robbing me of my sight, however, and I could hear the gentle hushing of slow, rhythmic breathing, the rustle of a cool breeze through the grass and trees and distant cracks as shots were exchanged across the far off hills. I could smell the musky odour of my soldiers, after a long day on the move with little time to rest, carried across to me on the air. Reaching up to brush the persistent grass away from my face again my fingers grazed rough stubble and I reflected ruefully on how much I missed the simple creature comforts of hot water and a sharp razor.
It had been a long six months since we had been deployed and been transported so far away from our homes. I had but to close my eyes once more and, in my mind, I could still see Maria’s face, the four welts her fingers made, pressed into the condensation on the glass of the bus window. It’s strange that was the image that stuck in my mind of our goodbye. She had beautiful green eyes but her red hair made for blotchy crying so she had just stared hard at me, refusing to let the tears come in front of the other wives. We had said our goodbyes that morning and done that in the privacy of our own bed. Her eyes blazed with the intensity of her determination and it seemed like her fingertips on the window pressed so hard it was a conduit for all that repressed anger and sadness. As the bus had pulled out the camp I had rested back and closed my eyes like I had now and sighed, a long, slow exhalation of breath, a preparation, making mentally ready. I opened my eyes again now and stared up at the sky as a passing break in the dark clouds revealed distant pin pricks of light-unfamilar shapes of stars that weren’t mine. There had been so much unfamiliarity as we had moved through this strange land fighting a war we hadnt asked for against people we did not know. I felt I had aged a decade in less than half a year.
I had joined the army as a young man, so much younger than I was now, not merely phsyically but mentally and emotionally. The toys of my boyhood had told me that being a soldier was a game of heroes, war a theatre upon which plays were spun out with, somehow, everyone returning home safe and whole with tales of bravery and honour. Ridiculous, and yet I had grown up on such tales, the stories of my fathers fathers imbued with the romanticism that only comes with the cloud of years. Throughout my years of school I had been that archetypal boy everybody sought to be. Excelling at sports I had won honours in every competition I participated in and to most people’s surprise I could race through a book of prose as fast as I could sprint across a sports field and I knew it. I carried myself like a king amongst lesser men back then. I smiled to myself now in the semi darkness at my teenage smugness. I suppose only a good unbringing had taught me a gregariousness and generosity that tempered my adolescent swagger. Still, I was only human. Much to my mother’s chagrin and my fathers concealed pride I had never been short of female attention and had never been shy at capitalising upon it.
Eventually I left school with a pocket full of qualifications, a cadre of friends who promised we would be such forever-whatever that means when you are eighteen-and the options to go anywhere I chose. I think it was fair to say I caught everybody off guard when I then chose to announce I was going to join the army. My parents were proud but wary. A long family tradition of military people meant they knew so much better than I did exactly what that choice entailed and tried valiantly to prepare me but I was too caught up in my own glory. I was going to be the hero. I was so young.
Lying here in the murk of night’s dead time now that seemed a far off period of my life. I had endured the rigourous breaking in of basic training as they disassembled us piece by systematic piece through hard work, physical exhaustion and unbending discipline to build us up in the mold they wanted. It had been hard and I had worked for every moment of it. However, I had run and played sports from a young age and was physically ready for the challenges that lay ahead and, growing up in a family of military men, I was used to the authoritarian concepts of discipline being thrust upon me now and it felt familiar rather than coercive. I quickly cottoned on that by not fighting this new way of life, but embracing it I bent like a branch in the wind with it rather than breaking down trying to push against it. Eventually that way of life had become so ingrained in me I knew nothing else and I became a leader of sorts amongst our small group of painfully raw recruits. Finally I was showing some signs of growing up. It didn’t happen immediately and I was screamed at and disciplined more than once for my cockiness and swagger but eventually I began to find it did not matter to me so much anymore to be the best I could be at the expense of others. I do not think I would ever lose my fiercely competitive streak but it had become tempered somewhat with the knowledge that by helping my new friends to become the best they could be would help me in turn better myself.
We had been thrown together by the vagaries of fate. You were assigned a bed and a locker and the man next to you and above you the same. There was no rhyme or reason to the people you met other than names on a list. I could still bring those bunks around me to mind now, the coarse scratchiness of the dark green blankets, almost grainy, rough under your fingertips like ripples on sand, stretched tightly across a blazing white sheet. The sheets themselves were shined smooth in places from years of handling, that sweep of the palm across cool soft cotton, tightening a corner here or a seam there for absolute perfection. The bunks were a flat grey steel, chipped in places, darkened patches of reddish brown like islands in a murky sea. The metal was always cold even in the height of midday warmth when we came in, the moisture irritating between our shoulder blades, to change our sodden t-shirts before we ate. Leaning on them for a moment to catch our breaths and exchange a few bantering words with our bunkmates was a short but sweet pleasure. Lying in the darkened room as I laid in the grass now, then running my hands across the brushy softness of my shaven scalp and trying to get used to the feeling after years of long blond hair, you would hear creaking of metal on metal as dreaming bodies shifted, fabric whispering as sheets, pulled loose from their tidy moorings, wrapped themselves around legs like errant ropes and the occasional incoherent mumble as someone’s dreams would spill over into our shared room. I could make out the smell of the man above me or beside me as I breathed in and out slowly, the sprays he would wear on his body or the gel in his hair, very different from the comforting smells that made me recall my home but somehow in time becoming as familiar to me as the sweet fruity smell of my mothers perfume that would float past as she moved around the house or my fathers shaving soap still bubbled and damp on the bathroom ledge. In time I came to know these men I shared this small room with as well as I knew my own family. We became brothers of a sort, bonds forged by our shared experiences and a need to have someone close to us when all the family we had spent our young lives knowing unconditional love and protection from had been ripped asunder from us for the time being.
“Dan?” A muffled whisper and I was back in the grass again, my water bottle digging uncomfortably into the back of my neck, “Danny? Dya need a break Sarge?” Turning my head to the right I could make out the shape of my Corporal and closest friend Seth Greenway, his large bulk blocking out what little light came from the moon, and the whites of his eyes vivid in the blackness. His voice, surprisingly soft and gentle for a big man came from slightly above me as he sat rotating his neck and shoulders trying to chase away the last of sleep’s heaviness from them. “I’m not sleeping Seth, just thinking.” I murmured ” Remembering the barrack room at basic. Funny where your mind takes you eh?” He snorted, a sharp exhalation of amusement. “Ain’t that the truth? Damn we were kids then.” I nodded, “Aye that we were Seth. Anyway since you are up now you can take over, Im gonna try and get some shut eye. Not long left and we will have to move before it gets too light.” He grunted an assent and shuffled himself a few metres to the right, settling himself upright against the rough trunk of a nearby tree. I watched him for a moment adjusting his posture as a hard wooden knot dug into his shoulder, dropping his torso slightly to avoid it and wiggling his hips in the springy turf until he was sure he was comfortable before tipping his helmet ever so slightly forward to better lean his head back. He laid his rifle between his knees, sighed slightly and stared into the middle distance. I knew better than to disturb him when he was in that pose, gazing at the few visible stars overhead, doubtless calculating complex equations of distance, speed and time I could never hope to comprehend. Always the same since the day I met him. He had the brains of an astro physicist. So strange I had always found it he chose the life of an Army man.
Our friendship had begun that first day of basic training. They had lined us up by height as they strolled up and down barking at us about what lay ahead and passing personal comments on our ability to weather it. At six foot two I always thought of myself as tall but Seth managed to top me by a clear three inches. However, years of competitive sports meant I stood six foot two and lean, maybe a slight hint of muscle but carrying no spare fat. As amusing as it seemed to me now back then I had blond hair that fell to my shoulders, until an army barber had his wicked way with me. My eyes were then as they have been since the day I was born a piercing blue that darken to grey with extremes of emotion and I sported a small blond beard, grown at great effort in those late teen years and mourned for some time after it was callously and thoughtlessly removed from my face by a man with a scar over his left eye, an electric razor and a gleeful smile. That beard was no mean feat for a young boy who struggled to muster much in the way of body hair. So I stood in line in my clothes with labels emblazoned in every possible area smelling of expensive aftershave and hair products with the slightly cocky posture of someone who had never really struggled with an iota of life before that point. I looked to my left and inclined my head slightly upwards to take in the behemoth who stood beside me. Even at that age Seth looked more like a man than a boy though his entire affect cried otherwise. He stood nearly six foot six in scuffed and battered black boots, ripped jeans and a scruffy red and black plaid shirt. His hair was shorter than mine but wild, dark brown and styled less with gel and more with absent minded mussing while deep in thought. Incidentally that never left Seth. Once his hair was shaved he replaced that errant tousling with rubbing his hand back and forth across the stubble left behind when he contemplated whatever was passing through his big brain at the time and once it grew back in his fingers returned inexorably to running themselves through it like coming back to see an old friend. His eyes were darker brown than I have ever seen on anyone before or since but when the light shone on them faint golden flecks gleamed in their intense depths. Like myself he had a beard but no mere trainee goatee but a full black beard grown less through design than the absence of a razor and he carried a lot of extra weight. He stood like a shambling bear slightly self conscious and nervously rubbing long fine fingers, at odds with the thickness of the rest of his body around a gold ring he wore on his right hand ring finger. We could not have been two more different people at that stage in our lives and needless to say, I liked him instantly.
As basic training progressed we came to lean upon each other somewhat. For all his size he was no athlete and struggled to pull himself over high nets and walls his chest heaving and his face a deep scarlet, though from exhortation or embarrassment I could never tell, as Seth was no more likely to show his despair than anger, public displays of negativity being completely alien to him. All I ever saw from that man was a rueful smile when a situation wasn’t going his way and a beaming one when it was. As I grew to know him I learned to pick out the slight knotting of his eyebrows or a line between his eyes that belied his good nature and slipped the mask downwards somewhat to show some of the turmoil he would feel within. Watching him one day trying to wriggle his vast body under nets that would pin down a man half his size into choking slimy mud, dredged up by the toes of the boots of the man in front and spitting out mouthfuls of muck with every juddering breath I came to realise I respected him utterly for his sheer dogged refusal to give up. I had cleared the net and was crouched preparing to run to the next task but I turned and wriggled my shoulders and head back under it, offering him my hand. He looked at me with some confusion for a moment, as if trying to work out if he were about to become the butt of some obscure joke, before extending his own tentatively. Grabbing his hand with mine I hauled backwards as he scrambled his limbs desperately into the mud and with a few sharp tugs he was free of the netting. Crouching beside me exhaling sharply through his nose, trying hard not to display the weariness he undoubtedly felt, he looked me up and down for a moment, that single line carved deep into the mud on his face like a plough had cut through it before giving a slight shrug of one shoulder and saying ‘Thanks’ in that soft shy voice. I smiled and shrugged back, ‘No problem’. He laughed slightly and started running. As I took to my heels after him I sensed that our friendship had been cemented.
As time went on Seth became less cumbersome. He never lost his sheer bulk. If anything the ascetic training and diet wrought his muscles into solid blocks while melting the fat off his bones and he came to be an imposing figure. He struggled less with the walls once the extra pounds were gone being able, rather, due to his sheer size to vault them with a degree of ease and excelling at the contact sports we practiced in our spare hours. He never did grow to like the ground nets though.
In his turn he helped me out. For all that I never struggled with sports or words I was the worst kind of slob. I had always had a mother to care for me and was as slovenly as they came. Seth taught me to care for myself. He told me early on he had no mother, she had died giving birth to him and he struggled into the world, a baby of 12 pound on the nose with no warm gentle soft hands to hold him, only the rough and calloused ones of his father, an iterant drunk who cared for Seth in his own way but could never relinquish the purchase of alcohol long enough to be a true role model for his son. A succession of aunts and friends cared for Seth when his father could not and by the age of only six he was able with no small measure of success to run his father’s house and manage to hide enough money for food and sundries.
At the end of our basic training we were both pleased to be told we were to be assigned to the same platoon and with the rest of our comrades hit the local town hard, drinking hard and laughing harder at jokes that probably were not all that funny but in the light of the first freedom we had known in weeks sounded like they came from the mouths of comedy geniuses. I regretted it instantly the following morning. Lying on my front in my bunk, my right arm numb and deadened from hanging off the bed all night I could feel the saliva running from my mouth in a clear stream pooling in a viscous puddle under my left cheek. Turning to my side I tried to swipe my useless right arm across my cheek but gave up when even that gentle clumsy buffeting caused explosions of stars behind my eyes and I cursed, my voice and throat rough and coarse in my ears. From the bunk above me I heard laughter. I rolled from my side to my back, realising as I did I had been lying on my left arm all night and it felt as useless and heavy as its compatriot and sighing heavily. Once the roiling caused by that one simple movement had settled in my stomach I turned my attention to my eyes. Crusted and sticky I could not open them and, forcing my numb left hand upwards, I picked and scratched at them until I was able to open them a crack to look at the bunk above me. Dear God but it hurt. The light hit my eyes like twin lasers and I groaned. I reached up with my right hand and grabbed the bars of the bed base above me, using it to pull myself upright. Immediately the nausea and dizziness hit me. The room seemed to tilt at a forty five degree angle and I learned forward and vomited in the bin I kept next to my bunk.
Once the muscles in my abdomen and stomach had stopped pulsing and constricting like a basket of angry snakes I rolled back and sat up on the edge of the bunk. Standing up I looked up at the source of the laugh above me. Seth lay on his bunk, his pillow doubled up and stuffed under his head reading a thick textbook. Marking his place in the book with one long, fine finger he looked at me and laughed again. “Feeling the love yet Danny?” I scowled at him. “You drank as much as I did Seth man, what gives?”. He shrugged. “I don’t get hungover. Never have.” I sighed and turned to my locker. “Alright for some”. Suddenly realisation hit me and the snakes in my belly reared and twitched angrily. “SHIT Seth, its pass out today. My uniform, its a state. I’m never gonna be ready”. I groaned. Seth sat up and placed the book face down on the bunk, its spine creasing and cracking. “Don’t worry on it Dan. I’m off to shave”. He jumped down, reached into his meticulously clean locker and retrieved his wash kit while I tried to recover from a state of complete apoplexy. Looking at his retreating back I shouted, “Don’t worry Seth, are you bloody nuts?” He laughed again which only served to enrage me. Reaching into his locker I grabbed his dress shoes and dropped them in my stinking waste paper bin. “Now don’t worry Seth!” Feeling smug I swung open my locker door to see my dress uniform immaculately cleaned and pressed and hanging in clear plastic with a note attached which read “You’re welcome, Seth”. Seth was always there for me both then and now. I knew I could settle and sleep leaving the squad under his vigilant care now and be sure in the knowledge they would be cared for as much as sleeping babies by a watchful father so I rolled to my side and adjusted my helmet and pack to a more comfortable position under my head. Closing my eyes I thought back to that day one more time with a grin then allowed the night to wash over me.
Incidentally I ended up attending my own passing out parade in the most immaculately turned out uniform but in shoes that were a size too big and that, despite my best efforts, smelt vaguely of vomit. I never underestimated my good friend again.
The Sky Painter & Shadows In The Attic are available on Amazon at the URL below