Author Archives: Polly Cullen

About Polly Cullen

Polly Cullen is a pen-name I use for writing fiction. I have long held the dream to become a writer having grown up watching my mother both write and review books. My passion for words grew at school, but it is not until recently that I have given myself time to sit down and write, and now it seems I cant stop. I hope others will like the stories I create& the memories that I share.

A Problem with Virtual Friendships

What to do when you don’t hear from a ‘virtual’ friend

We are more than a year into the pandemic that is Covid19, and sentenced to being housebound for months, many of us socialised virtually. Talking to friends through DM chats or using our screens and smart speakers to both see and hear friends and family from whom we were socially distanced filled a gap.

But what to do if you ONLY know this friend through social media and they go quiet, what do you do to find out how they are, if they are have caught the virus or become unwell in another way?

Some people do not even use their real names on social media – Penguin44 or Book_crazy (fake examples). How do you check on them when your regular conversations suddenly stop and everything goes quiet?

This has happened to me 3 times this year and it’s pretty worrying. Each time I tried every avenue through which I had ever communicated with my virutal friend (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp). When I received no responses I had to cast my net wider still – begging information from others who might know them as well as or better than me. I shrugged on my Miss Marple cardi and twinned that with some creepy stalker tendencies and pumped their other friends and social media home pages for information.

The first friend who went silent, I’ll call Buzz. When I tracked him down it turned out that he had indeed contracted Covid19 because someone in the family worked in a hospital. Eventually Buzz felt well enough to answer e-mails and replied to me that he was recovering – that was a huge relief, although the poor guy seems to be suffering long covid, because he’s still not up to full energy.

Going AWOL at the same time as Buzz was another good friend I’ll call Meredith. I didn’t push quite so hard with e-mails to Meredith, because she had previously told me that social media sometimes got too much for her so then she just left it alone for a while. Eventually I heard through a mutual friend that Meredith was fine, so I assume she has cut a lot of her previous ties with virtual friends to maintain good mental health. It’s a shame to lose contact with her, but she must do what is best for her survival.

A more recent concern has been a transatlantic friend who I value greatly. One minute he was posting pictures and cheeky tweets, next minute silence. It was so out of character for Harry that others slid into my DMs to ask if I knew where he had gone and if he was ok.

I know Hal’s real name so I had the advantage of 2 different e-mails I could use to try contacting him, but the silence went on a long time. I looked back to when we had last spoken: I was suggesting a writing prompt to him and he said “maybe later, I’m very busy at the moment.” Now I wanted Hal to be too busy to speak to me, or to be visiting family without such good internet connection as when he was at home. I invented innocuous reasons why he was incommunicado.

Unfortunately Hal had been taken seriously ill. He’d been admitted to hospital and was surrounded by family but not yet well enough to use a tablet or other technology to chat with friends. I struggle to remember all my different logins and passwords, don’t know how well I’d manage if my health had taken such a sideswipe. That’s when I began to send him get well cards & cheery letters, thinking perhaps someone could read them to him.

Despite the dire news, small comfort was gleaned in having the facts about why he was off line. Thank goodness I knew someone who had been trusted with his mobile phone number to keep me up-dated.

Now from FB I can see he is making gradual, but steady progress. He is working towards regaining the range of movement he lost and Hal sent me a message of emojis in the other day. A tiny thing like that made my heart soar.

My friends are very important to me, especially the close ones in whom I confide and who know about my writing and my pen name. I like to support and cheerlead them and they, likewise, have my back. Lets continue to be kind to one another, keep in touch and hopefully now that the vaccines are rolling out to all age groups we can look forward to seeing those friends who live within reach in person very soon!

You’re my best friend

Lean on Me

Mr Postman

A True Romantic

Pamela

Memories of My Mother

It is a fact of life that we will encounter death. Before our own time is up, we have to deal with losing people around us and it is a bitter pill to swallow. The loss of someone who you have loved, who’s been an positive influence and a cornerstone in your life is particularly hard, but your happy memories will buoy you up. Cling onto those memories, look back on good times and funny things they did or wise advice they gave to help move forward, gradually you’ll pull yourself out of the quagmire that is grief. You won’t forget and the gap that signifies their absence doesn’t close, but it becomes easier to bear.

At this moment in time, the house where my mother and father lived for the last phase of their lives, is up for sale. My siblings and I have taken away what is precious to us, pictures and papers and furniture to hold their memories safe. It has been hard to dismantle their happy home and consign it to boxes, especially as the Covid lockdowns have meant that we could not always be together during the process, but when we could the oral history was rich. We talked about incidents from our shared past and enjoyed looking back at our younger selves and the care and love our parents bestowed on us.

In the deep-clean of possessions that’s been forced on us, things have come to light which were forgotten or perhaps not even known by us. Some unpleasant, but many were good. I have now taken custody of my father’s scrapbooks and my mother’s diaries and photo album – their rich history will be safely stored.

I came across this message and an account in my mother’s words, shared with Jennifer Crusie‘s “Cherries” – a group of romantic writers – about how my parents met. I want to others to read it, because it holds so much positivity – we can all benefit from that.

— * — * —

Hey, all you youngsters of 50 and 60, I’m here to tell you that in your seventies, love and romance don’t stop – at least they haven’t stopped yet for me. (This was shared with the goup only a couple of weeks before she died).

— * — * —

Ok, this was back in the 50s, I was invited to a 21st birthday party, ball gowns and black tie. I wasn’t keen to go. In those days I was very shy and thought I wouldn’t know anyone. My mother urged me to go. I put on my favourite ball gown and the zip up the back broke.

“There you are, I can’t go,” I said to my mother.

She went to my cupboard and got out another dress, threw it over my head and zipped it up quite viciously.

“Yes, you can. You are to GO! If you hate it after half an hour, ring me and I’ll come and fetch you.” So I went. And stayed.

When I got there, this handsome guy was surrounded by a bevvy of giggling girls who obviously fancied him like mad. I did too, but I wasn’t going to let him see it. I asked someone who he was and was told he was the most fun guy in the room. I was determined not to be impressed.

When he asked me to dance, I said, “I hear you’re great fun, so scintillate.” Wind taken out of his sails. He grinned ruefully, and we kept on dancing.

Later in the evening he asked if he could take me home. Damn, I thought, I had already agreed to let someone else take me home so I turned him down. I was really disappointed because I would have liked to have gone with him. But as it turned out it was a good move. He had an old fashioned sense of honour and respected the fact that I wouldn’t go back on my word.

We started going out together and he was everything I ever wanted in a man. We married when I was 22 and he was 23 and have been together through thick and thin ever since.

— * — * —

My mother was evacuated from London to Exmoor to avoid the bombing in WWII. She was lucky enough to go with my grandmother and they lived on a dairy farm. Once my father retired my parents chose to settle in a very rural part of Norfolk and, with us four children grown up and making families of our own, she had more time to pursue her writing. This poem she wrote in 1993 celebrates the joy she found in this simpler life. We read it at her funeral in 2005.

I am a Country Child Again

Here in a rustic house I live

The summit of my dearest hopes.

Years did I dwell ‘mongst brick and stone

My children’s welfare my concern

But now they’ve gone – I am released,

I’m free to live howe’er I wish.

The country’s mine as ‘twas in youth;

The green grass gilded by the sun,

The fresh air free from toxic fumes.

My nostrils now nose sweeter scents –

New mown grass and fresh baked bread

Birdsong’s my blessing all day long.

The rain is gentle on my face,

When cold winds blow I do not care.

And though I’m wrinkled now and old

I’ve vigour as I had when young –

I am a country child again.

The evening air is soft and sweet

And still now after daytime blow.

I walk in fields thickset with grass

Waist high, seeds ripened by the sun.

We’ll make it hay ‘ere cuckoos leave.

Then sheep will come and gently graze

Reminding me of times gone by –

I am a country child again.

As each day ends I thank the Lord

That I, unworthy, have such joy.

The house I live in, thatched and pink

Is what I dreamed of while I lived

The rat-race life from morn to night.

From those to whom the Lord gives much

Much is required, the Bible says.

What will be required of me?

And can I pay the needed price?

I doubt it but I still enjoy

I am a country child again.

Pamela in her Riding Clothes

Teeny Tiny Tyke ~ A Fairytale

Image by LLorensen on Pixabay

Lucy and her family lived on a farm. One market day, Lucy was in town to sell their eggs. Once she’d sold them, she tied up the money carefully in the corner of her handkerchief. She was on her way home when she overheard two farmers talking near the butter-cross. One of them was holding, in the crook of his arm, a very small grey dog, with tightly curled hair. It’s eyes had a knowing twinkle, but one was bigger than the other. In spite of this, Lucy liked the puppy right away.

“I dunno what to do with this wretched little tyke,” the farmer said to his friend. “He’s the last one in the litter and much smaller than the six others. I sold them as easy as kiss-me-hand.”

His friend laughed. “He’s too small for herding sheep or guarding the house, he’s too ugly for anyone to want him as a pet. You’ll have a job getting rid of him.”

“Well I don’t want to keep him,” said the first farmer. “I’d give him away, but I doubt anyone would want him.”

Lucy could hardly believe her ears. “Please mister,” she said shyly, “if you don’t want him, can I have him?”

“You want him?” The farmer was surprised. “Right then Missy, the little tyke’s yours. Take him and good riddance.”

Lucy thanked him. She tucked the little grey dog under her arm and ran all the way home in case the farmer changed his mind.

“Mum, Mum!” she cried, bursting in through the kitchen door. “See what I’ve got – a teeny, tiny dog called Tyke.”

Lucy’s mother looked doubtful. “He’s so small Lucy, and his eyes are crooked. What good’ll he be? How will he earn his keep?  he’s too small for herding or guarding the house.”

“Please let me keep him,” Lucy pleaded. “I’ll work twice as hard to make up for him.”

“We’ll see,” said her mother. “I can’t worry about dogs now. The witch has put a spell on the well. I can’t get any water for cooking and the boys can’t get water for the stock to drink.”

Their farm was in a valley, on the hill above lived a horrible witch. Although Lucy’s family were poor, they were happy. This made the witch sick with envy.

Tyke had been sniffing around the kitchen. When he heard about the witch, he sidled up to Lucy and whispered, “I can deal with the witch.” But Lucy was too busy helping her mother to listen.

Lucy’s father stamped angrily into the kitchen. “That cursed witch put a spell on the gate. It won’t let me through to pen the sheep and it’ll be dusk soon.”

Tyke stepped forward, and spoke a little louder this time. “I can deal with the gate,” he said, but no one took any notice.

Lucy’s big brother Tom came into the kitchen, his cheeks flushed with frustration. “The cows won’t give milk, they’re too thirsty. Old witch has put a spell on the well.”

Tyke swaggered forward. “I can deal with the well,” he boasted, but everyone was too busy to listen.

Lucy’s little brother Peter came in looking sad. “Not one egg in the henhouse,” he showed his empty basket. “They’re so thirsty there’s no cackle from the hens nor a crow from the cock.”

“I can deal with the well,” shouted Tyke, having climbed on a chair. “Leave it to me.”

All the family turned to stare at the teeny, tiny dog.

“You!” they cried. “You’re a scruffy grey ball of fur, what can you do? You’re too small to fight and you’re not clever enough to deal with the witch’s spells. Get out! Get away from here.”

The teeny, tiny dog’s boasting had amazed and angered everyone except Lucy. She picked him up and looked into his mis-matched eyes. 

“Could you, Tyke? Would you?”

“I could and I will,” he said firmly.

“All right,” said Lucy, “prove it.” She opened the door and let him out. Tyke ran to the gate.

“You can’t go through, the bewitched gate said importantly. “No one belonging to this farm can pass through.”

Tyke threw back his scruffy grey head and laughed, his little pink tongue hanging out. “But I don’t belong here, they told me to get out.”

“Then I’ll have to let you pass,” squeaked the gate grudgingly.

Tyke scuttled through, ran up the hill, rounded up the sheep and penned them in the fold. Next, he ran to the well.

“No water, no water!” cried the well. “No water for anyone belonging to this farm.”

“That’s all right then, because I don’t belong here,” said teeny, tiny Tyke. Then he hauled up the water bucket with the rope held between his teeny, tiny teeth.

Big brother Tom took water to the cows, little Peter carried a bucketful to the hens and Lucy took water to her mother so she could cook. In no time there was milk and eggs on the kitchen table and a stew bubbling on the stove.

Lucy picked Tyke up and gave him a hug. “Isn’t he clever?” she said to her mother. “Now he can stay, can’t he?”

Just then they heard the gate calling. “Look out, here comes the witch!”

Lucy was still hugging Tyke when her father, Tom and Peter ran in.

“Put me down, I have work to do,” said Tyke. “I’ll deal with the witch.”

“You!” said Lucy’s father scornfully, “you couldn’t outwit her – not in a million years.” But Lucy believed in Tyke and let him out.

The witch was so angry, she was spitting. Her temper had changed from sour jealousy to burning fury. Her broomstick knew better than to dawdle when she was in this kind of meed, it had brought her down so fast that the earth scorched where she landed. She began to walk around the farmhouse waving her arms and chanting a spell to keep everyone inside until she released them. 

“And that’ll be never!” she cackled at her own cunning plan.

“That’s where you’re wrong!” said teeny, tiny Tyke. “I’ve followed behind you every step of the way, brushing your footprints out with my teeny, tiny tail. I’ve broken the spell.”

The witch’s face went rigid with fear. “You’ve ruined it, you horrid little grey mutt,” she cried. “Shoo, scat!”

“No – you go or I’ll bite you and drain all your power.” He began to run after the witch, snapping his teeny, tiny teeth.

The witch was furious, but she knew she was beaten. Muttering and grumbling, she leapt back on her broomstick and flew away.

“And that’s the last time she will trouble you,” said teeny, tiny Tyke.

“Well done, you clever dog, come indoors,” said Lucy.

“You said I don’t belong,” said teeny tiny Tyke.

“We want you to live with us,” said little Peter.

“But I’m ugly and scruffy, said teeny, tiny Tyke.

“A stout heart’s worth more than a pretty face,” said Lucy’s mother, “come, sit by the hearth.”

“But I’m too small to be any use,” said teeny, tiny Tyke.

“Good things come in small parcels,” said Lucy’s father. “You proved that.”

“I need a friend,” said Lucy, “please stay Tyke.”

“Oh, very well,” said the little dog, “I’ll stay for Lucy’s sake, and in case the witch tries to come back.”

But she never did. Teeny, tiny Tyke lived on the farm and made himself useful.  He was Lucy’s best friend. He followed like a shadow when she was at home, he walked her to school and was always waiting when she came out. At night he slept curled up at the foot of her bed. He and Lucy were very content.

“This is the life for me,” said teeny, tiny Tyke. 

This was piece of fiction created by my mother with editorial input by me

Don’t Mess with this Mermaid

BookReview : To Kill a Kindom by Alexandra Christo

I’m a fan of YA novels, I enjoy the fresher viewpoint and the additional turmoils that are experienced by a younger, less experienced protagonist.

This novel is based on a traditional fairytale but it takes a different direction from the outset. Mermaids are portrayed as calculating and vicious, to build their power they benefit from stealing human hearts. Using their mesmerising siren song, they lure their prey.

The Sea Queen is feared and revered by her subjects, choosing to channel her toughest challenges and most cruel punishments at her daughter, Princess Lira. When she transforms Lira to human form, robbing her of the ability to sing, Lira questions whether her agenda is to make her daughter the most feared Siren or to prevent her from becoming a rival?

Prince Elian is highly reluctant to shoulder his royal duties, preferring his life on the ocean with a motley crew whose loyalty is balanced by its ferocity. Despite being heir to the throne of the most powerful kingdom, he’s in his element hunting sirens, and despite the danger he uses his blue blood as bait.

This book’s plot is thick with political intrigue and danger, a challenging quest for an item which might only exist as legend. The Prince must barter and bargain; deciding who to trust will not be easy when most creatures he encounters have their own agenda.

Lira, in the hated body of a human, has much to learn about our values of loyalty and love. If she intends to be returned to her original form, she has a task she must complete before the winter solstice, which involves an impossible choice for which the clock is ticking.

I listened to this book on Audible, a 2-voice narration of the male and female protagonists really brought the story alive. I’ve downloaded another by this author, because I particularly enjoyed their treatment of the original folk tale.

The Dance Contest – Next Steps

A continuation from Ted’s story where we meet Madge and her new partner Ronnie entering a dance marathon- read it 1 here and inspired by some family photographs I recently found – the lady is my Great Aunt.

Madge felt she could sleep for days, and perhaps she would’ve if she lived somewhere else; instead she was brought rudely to wakefulness by the clanking sound of the plumbing, protesting at her neighbours’ requirement for water with which to flush, shave, bathe and cook. All around her, apartment doors were opening and closing, feet clattering on the winding staircase. The street door slammed frequently as those living hugger mugger, having made their morning ablutions, set off to work.

She threw an arm over her face, shielding her eyes from light streaming in through her narrow window, but even that limb felt leaden. Madge’s legs were worse, her knee and hip joints screamed from overuse while her feet were throbbing as insistently as when she’d slipped off her dancing shoes the night before.

But we won! She reminded herself, then rolled stiffly over to check the money was still stashed safely under her mattress, folded into her winter muffler.

Now she was wide awake, her mind began gnawing at the problem of their next competition. White City Amusement Park was a step up, but pretending to be married – that didn’t sit easily with her. Ronnie was a dreamboat, for sure, but what did she really know about him except that he came from Cleveland?

They were meeting at the diner for lunch, she could put him through the hoops then, find out his intentions and prospects. Pulling the thin blanket over her head to cut out the light, Madge was determined to grab another hour of rest now the building was more or less empty and the water tank was silent.

*  *  *

Yeah he was cute. Madge smiled at Ronnie as he approached her and slid into the booth.

“Morning,” he smiled, acting as bashful as she felt. 

Strange, they’d danced together for nearly four days, held each other close, offering support to one another as fatigue made their limbs sag like cooked spaghetti. Now they were giving each other sidelong glances and there was a silly grin on her face she couldn’t wipe off.

“What can I get you?” Their waitress looked tired, her apron bore a splash of gravy from today’s special, Irish Stew.

Ronnie looked expectantly at Madge, ladies first his eyes said, and she awarded him points for politeness.

“A plate of the stew please.”

“You want that with potatoes or cornbread?” 

She chose potato, mopping up sauce with bread seemed unladylike, and she wanted Ronnie to think of her as a lady.

Ronnie ordered the same, but with bread and collard greens. 

“Coffee?” the waitress asked, and when they assented, she brought them large white cups which she filled to the brim.

Adding creamer and sugar, Madge found sipping at the hot drink revived her. It also gave her a chance to study Ronnie, to notice the velvet depths of his brown eyes and a cheek dimple when he smiled.

“So – what next?” she asked.

“Find a job I guess,” Ronald shrugged.

“What do you do?” 

“I was training to be a butcher,” his eyes flicked to hers, gauging her reaction.

“So you’re planning to stay?”

“Why not? We’re good together, we got another competition coming up. We could make a go of this.”  

He lowered his cup, leaning back as the waitress set wide brimmed bowls in front of them. The rich gravy steamed and settled round slow cooked carrots, beef and onions. Madge’s stomach growled loudly, and both of them laughed.

“So you plan to stay in Chicago?” she asked once she’d swallowed a few mouthfuls.

“Sure,” he nodded, “Can’t exactly travel back and forth.”

“What about what the promoter said – better if we were married?”

Ronnie chewed his mouthful maddeningly slowly, Madge’s toes curled in her shoes. Finally he raised his eyes to hers, dark brown meeting green with gold flecks.

“That wouldn’t be so bad.” 

Her stomach gave a swoop worthy of a ride on the big dipper.

To be continued on Ted’s blog. This post submitted to MindlovesMisery’s Sunday writing prompt : Light

The Deadly Game

Picture from Unsplash

The sun was already at its height, yet they had put only 5 miles between them and danger.

Peelo, the dwarf, was beginning to tire: his short legs were not designed for running. Lisette was bronzed and fit but the scene at the stone sacrifice had shaken her badly and impaired her ability to think, she was relying on Peelo and Mikal to lead her to safety. Peelo knew the way to the castle and had promised he would take her there, Mikal had offered the protection of his sword. They all knew that on the way there would be many hazards.

“Let’s stop a minute,” Lisette said. “I’ve got a stitch.” She had seen the strained expression on the dwarf’s face and knew he needed a respite, but would be too proud to ask.

Mikal looked up at the sun doubtfully. “We ought to press on if we’re to reach the castle before nightfall.”

“Only a moment,” Lisette pleaded. She rested against a rock and watched the dwarf drawing deep breaths. What a fool she had been to get caught; although she knew that there was an ever-present danger of Trogues jumping out and stealing unwary maidens for sacrifice, she had never thought it would happen to her: it was something that happened to other people. But this morning she had been captured and carried to the stone of sacrifice before she had time to give more than a few frightened squeaks of horrified protest.

The sun had shone on the glinting knives of her captors, and she could smell the blood of the previous sacrifice, making her believe her last hour had come. She had found herself regretting all the things she would never do, all the sights she would never see, when Peelo had flung himself into the midst of the gloating Trogues. In spite of his tiny stature, he had wrought destruction among them with his burling stick and thrown the ceremony into confusion.

While the Trogues’ attention was concentrated on Peelo, Mikal the warrior had sneaked up to cut her bonds and pulled her off the stone. At that, the Trogues had set up a fearful outcry but, between them, Peelo with his burling stick and Mikal with the two-edged sword, had cleared a path, leaving a heap of dead Trogues. Mikal had pulled her along in Peelo’s wake as the dwarf led the way full pelt towards the mountains.

Peelo had got his breath back. “Come on,” he said, “we’ve got to go. We’ll take this path,” he pointed to a narrow ledge that ran round the side of a rocky outcrop and seemed to lead to the summit of one of the major peaks.

“Must we?” Lisette asked fearfully. “I’m terrified of heights.”

“Peelo is right,” said Mikal, “if we take the lower road, we’ll be waylaid by the helio-monsters. I’ve used all my magi petards and only have my sword. It isn’t much defence against a helio-monster, and neither is Peelo’s burling stick.”

“But the high road goes through the Blurdles’ lands,” Lisette protested, “they’re almost as savage.”

“This is not the time to argue,” said Peelo, “just follow me. You ought to be thankful Mikal and I were passing and saved you from the Trogues. Rest assured, Mikal’s sword and my burling stick are equal to most hazards we could meet on the high road.”

Mikal turned to her. “Have you no weapons for attack or defence?”

“I’ve a cloak of invisibility here in my pouch. It can only be used three times before it loses its power, so we must save it for a real emergency.”

The journey along the high road was as difficult as Lisette had feared.  A lightning bolt came down but luckily missed them. Twice they were attacked by marauding Blurdles, but Mikal’s sword was more than a match for their tiny darts.

At one awkward place, the ledge dwindled to almost nothing. Lisette was struck rigid with fear and took a careless step which nearly caused her to fall, but just in time Mikal’s strong arm bore her up.

Light was beginning to fade but the castle was in sight when Peelo, who was leading, turned and put a finger to his lips. He whispered that there was a sharp-eyed Mindeldrayg lying across the path which, if it saw them, would certainly sting them to death.

Lisette produced the cape of invisibility from her pouch and handed it to Peelo. The dwarf donned it and crept past the Mideldrayg. Once safely out of reach, he removed the cape, carefully wrapped it round a stone and threw it back to his waiting companions. It was deftly caught by Mikal who repeated the manoeuvre and then threw the cloak back to Lisette.

The dwarf and the warrior watched in horror as Lisette fumbled the catch. The cloak flew past her and floated away, down the side of the mountain. Lisette panicked. She tried to rush the Mindeldrayg, but it was no good. As soon as she came within the grey scaly creature’s sightline, she was done for. Its long tongue flicked out, puncturing the skin of her upper arm, injecting venom. She staggered and fell, crashing down the mountain to her death.

“It’s not fair,” Ellen whined at her brother once the die rolled to a stop showing a score of 1, which meant her health dropped to zero. “You always make me be the rotten maiden and it’s really hard for her to win.”

“Don’t be a sore loser,” he said scornfully, “you were Peelo as well. I was only Mikal.”

“And game master,” Ellen sulked. “It’s about time we tried another adventure. I’m sick of this one. Let’s start a campaign with different characters – and this time I refuse to be the damsel.”

Guest Written By Pamela Cleaver

Reviewing The Garden of Lost & Found

Book Review : The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans

The strongest influence over every element in this book is an appreciation of beauty. Its inextricably woven around the passions of the people who live within its pages and it bursts out of the beautiful, vivid descriptions of art, horticulture and architecture which are intrinsic in telling the story.

It’s a rolling family saga, which begins at a pivotal, dramatic moment; feted artist Ned Horner, struggling with grief and the Spanish flu (which was sweeping the country) destroys his most famous painting, The Garden of Lost and Found, to the horror of his wife Lydie, and renders them bankrupt.

It leaps from early 1900s to 2014, introducing Juliette, Ned and Lydie’s great granddaughter. She’s a fine art expert whose life is made chaotic by the juggle of motherhood and work within the confines of a failing marriage. Barely keeping her own head above water, she is ill equipped to support her eldest daughter who is struggling with her own issues.

As the book continues, rolling back to Edwardian times so that the Juliette’s ancestry can be explored, it reveals a tight knit family bond is between two Desart sisters and their brother, pitting themselves against abuse at the hand of their twisted, vengeful governess. Yet despite some desperate moments love blossoms and their lives are touched with its beauty. Young artists and architects cling together, forming a supportive network, gradually eking out some success to enhance their lives.

Returning to the present, Juliette’s life changes quite dramatically as the result of events out of her control. On many occasions it’s unclear if she’s made sound choices for herself and her young family. However returning to the ancestral home seems to have a draw she’s powerless to resist, the house itself seems to possess healing properties for Juliette’s family, as does the gradual sweeping away of anything which conceals the real truth.

I loved the author’s descriptive passages relating to the beautifully detailed arts and crafts interiors and the gloriously vibrant borders and lawns which surround Nightingale House, finding them both soothing and uplifting to read. A counterbalance to witnessing Juliette’s struggles with choking weeds, heating bills and stopping tiles sliding off the roof in her efforts to restore the place to some of its former glory. What secrets will be uncovered and which relationships will survive the transformation?

This was an epic saga told with great pace and appreciation for setting as well as characters and action. I always enjoy stories which take the reader back in time to shed light on the present. This had plenty of likeable players with twists and turns to keep me entertained: giddy highs and crushing lows. However, with relatable inevitability, life moves on, love supports and secrets never remain entirely hidden.

Content Warning: This book contains themes of child abuse, social media bullying, and tragedy.

I listened to this novel on Audible but it can be purchased from booksellers too.

The Harmony Aggro [4]

Image from Pixabay

Continuing a Sci-Fi tale written by Pamela Cleaver in the 1970s, originally published in Space 2, an anthology featuring new writers. While the technology and style references have become out-moded, the plot is intriguing. In a new-town, acts of violence have occurred involving 2 unusual looking groups of males. Inspector Deeping has apprehended the lads in silver clothes. Interrogating them, he must keep a open mind because their story involves time travel – read on to find out more.

“For what purpose is time travel used in your era, Lant? Surely not to visit other centuries and work off your frustrations?”

The boy smiled. “No indeed. The Guardians have it under very strict control. The only people who are allowed to use the machines are researchers. During the great war at the beginning of the 21st century, the last of the wars, many important historical records were destroyed and we know little of what happened before the 20th century. The historians need the time machines so that they can build up their records. We should not have used the one we came in, but when we missed our harmony therapy, we felt all sorts of strange desires hitherto unknown to us and we wanted to steal something. A time machine is what we stole.”

Inspector Deeping breathed heavily and sighed. “All right constable, take him down to the cells and put him with the others, I’ll see him again later.”

He walked from the interview room and out of the station. He did not want to talk to anyone for a while, he needed time to think, to decide what to do. He was still slightly incredulous about the whole thing, but he knew that he had no alternative but to believe Lant’s story. And if he did that, he must decide what to do with them. He could not take them to court, he could not punish them in the here and now. Equally, he did not feel it would be right just to send them back to their own time, letting them get off scot free – they might come back again. And the scarlet-robed Pelleans were still at large, which presented another problem. He toyed with the idea of making them hand over their time machine and using it to go forward into their time to have a sharp word with their Guardians about an appropriate punishment, but there would be all sorts of difficulties and he knew he would never have the nerve to do so.

Then it was that he had his idea. It was a gamble, but if it worked, it would solve all his problems. Briskly he walked back to the station, went into his office in a high good humour and sent for Lant.

“I have been thinking over what you have said,” he told the boy. “Under the laws of this time and this country, you deserve a severe punishment. If I take you to court, you will probably be sent to prison which you will not like, but as the circumstances are very unusual, I am ready to make a bargain with you. You understand what a bargain is?”

Lant nodded his head, shaking the blue and green locks of his hair vigorously.

“I want to rid this area of all time travellers and go back to my ordinary everyday life.”

Lant said, “I think we too would like to go back to our ordinarr, everyday life. We are a little tired of this adventure now we have achieved what we came for. That fight we had with those boys was marvellous.”

“Right,” said Inspector Deeping, “you can go back if you will do something for me first. I want you and your companions to find the Pelleans and persuade them to go back to their time too. I don’t care how you do it, you can persuade them peaceably or you can fight them. Now, can you do that? Will you be able to communicate with them?”

Lant nodded. “I can speak 21st century Pellean a little, enough to do what you ask. But how can you compel us? Once we have left this building, how can you be sure we will seek out the Pelleans and not just get into the time shuttle and go back to our own time?”

That, as Deeping knew, was the sixty-four dollar question; this was where his gamble came in, he had no means of enforcing his will. He took a deep breath. “I can’t,” he said. “I can’t make you do it, but I trust you. I believe that you are the sort of person who, if he gave his word, would keep his bargain. Am I right?”

Lant’s face was transformed from pale seriousness by a brilliant smile. “You are right, if we give our word, we will do it and I give my word.”

“Right,” said Inspector Deeping, “and when you get home, perhaps you’d better go back to your therapy sessions again, although self-control is really better, you know.”

Lant looked at him wistfully. “I should like to be able to learn discipline myself,” he said, “but although we managed to outwit the Guardians once, we shall not be able to do so a second time. They will make us report to them daily and give us extra therapy.” He sighed. “After a while, I expect we shall forget this ever happened.”

“It’s more than I shall,” said Inspector Deeping heavily and he pressed a bell on his desk and arranged for the boys to be released.

The next day, a series of unusual reports landed on Inspector Deeping’s desk. Late the previous evening, there had been a curiously inept gang fight on one of the housing estates at the end of the town. Four boys in silver gear with green and blue hair had been seen fighting with three boys with shaven heads, dressed in scarlet robes. One report had not even been sure it was a fight, more like a strange, new ritual dance, the witness said. Another report said that a strange craft had been seen in the moonlit sky, not exactly a flying saucer, more like a monster sewing machine shuttle.

As Sergeant Peel brought the reports in, he looked more and more puzzled. “Do you think the whole of Everington is suffering from illusions?” he asked.

Inspector Deeping received the reports with evident satisfaction and put them in the file he had made for the unusual crime wave of the past two weeks. When yet another report came in from an excitable woman who had seen a silver shuttle in the sky just before midnight, which had suddenly vanished rather than flown off, he heaved a great sigh of relief and marked the file “closed“.

“You can put that away now,” he aid to Peel, “we shan’t have any more trouble from the silver mob or the scarlet robes.”

He told Sergeant Peel the rest of the story. Peel found it hard to accept the fact of time travel, but grudgingly went along with the Inspector. “How did you get rid of them all, then?”

“I simply set a thief to catch a thief,” said Inspector Deeping, “and I killed two birds with one stone. They may be old fashioned ideas, but they work.”

This concludes the story, but look out for more Guest Posts by Pamela Cleaver.

The Harmony Aggro [3]

A Short Science Fiction story by Guest Author: Pamela Cleaver

Continuing a Sci-Fi tale written in the 1970s, originally published in Space 2, an anthology featuring new writers. While much of the technology and style references have become out-moded, the plot is intriguing. In a new-town acts of violence involving 2 groups of youths have occurred. Inspector Deeping is keeping an open mind, enlisting his teenage son to assist in the apprehension of the lads in silver clothes. When questioned, the story they give is mind-bending – read on to find out more.

Peel thought about it. “I suppose that’s possible; if there’s nothing to overcome, nothing to strive for, nothing to stimulate them into action, people do get bored, especially the young ones. But all that stuff about time machines, you don’t believe that, do you?”

“I keep an open mind – who knows what will be possible three hundred years from now? Even a hundred years ago, did people think men would ever get to the moon, apart from Jules Verne, that is?”

“I suppose not, but even if his story were true, it doesn’t hold water. You told me they had harmony therapy or whatever it’s called to overcome their aggression, so how come he and his friends are aggressive?”

“I asked him that and it seems that they just did not report for treatment – it’s some sort of electric impulse which is applied to the brain cells. I suppose it was a bit like playing truant- you know how at that age youngsters are almost automatically against authority.”

“But why pick on us to relieve their tensions?”

“They chose the 1970s, if you please, because they read in their history books it was a lawless age. What do you think of that?”

Peel snorted. “Why didn’t they choose one of the many times when a war was on, or Chicago in the twenties for instance?”

“Their knowledge of history does not go back much before the 20th century and he says they did not want to kill people, just to act tough and destructive.”

“Well, I don’t want to believe it,” said Inspector Deeping, “but there’s a strange sort of logic about it. I’m going to have another talk with Lant. Leave the others for now, put them in the cells and we’ll see what else he’s got to say. Look, you’re off duty now, aren’t you? You push off and I’ll tell about it tomorrow.”

Deeping thought that Peel was looking at him as if he were quite mad. Perhaps he was. But the story he had heard was not quite as fantastic as the one he had thought up earlier when he had wondered if the silver-gear buys were visitors from space. If Lant was making this up, he ought to be writing science fiction, not mugging old ladies and destroying telephone kiosks.

When he went back to the interview room, past the impassive constable standing just inside the door, staring straight ahead, he saw the strange boy Lant sitting calmly at the bare table, his long legs in the silver trousers and boots stretched out, quite relaxed. Now he saw all the gear together, Deeping was not surprised the lab had not been able to analyse the scrap of material. It was obviously something made by a technology far more advanced than anything the 1970s could produce. The inspector felt that Lant’s very appearance bore out his story, but there were still a lot of things he wanted to know before he could be completely convinced.

He asked the boy about the crimes. To his surprise, Lant did not deny them but seemed rather proud of them. He admitted to taking part in three muggings and four of the cases of vandalism.

“Why did you choose old people to attack, not ones your own age? Don’t you think it was cowardly?”

“But it is the old we hate, not the young,” said Lant as if it was self-evident truth.

“But why?”

“Because in our time, people live to very great ages through drugs and skilful treatments not known in your times; the old ones are in charge, they make the laws, they tell us what to do and we may not argue. When we missed our harmony therapy session, we realised we hated them. Hate was a new emotion for us and we found it exciting.”

Deeping was repelled but he had to admit to himself that there was something in what Lant said.

“What about the telephone boxes and automatic vending machines?”

“Please?” said Lant, puzzled.

“Those things you broke up, why did you do that?”

“Oh,” he said, “the teleport stands and the informers.”

It was Inspector Deeping’s turn to be puzzled.

What did you think those things were that you destroyed?”

“I am having a little difficulty with your speech,” said Lant. “I learned as much late 20th century English as I could from a hypno-educator, but seem not to have it all just right. The red boxes I took to be teleport stands where you materialize and de-materialize when the Guardians summon you, no? And the others, where you press buttons, were for reporting to the Guardians, no? We attacked those because they symbolize the authority of the Guardians. The devices were primitive examples, but we thought we recognized them. Were we not right?”

Inspector Deeping began to be sorry he had embarked on this conversation; he did not like the glimpse of the future it showed. He explained telephones and vending machines as best he could, but felt Lant was very contemptuous of such simple concepts of communication. He tried another tack.

“Who are the Guardians?”

“I think in your time they were called the police,” said Lant, “or maybe soldiers, I am not quite sure which. I have not understood quite perfectly the difference between the two.”

“The Police see that the laws of the land are carried out,” he said, “and I am a policeman. Soldiers are to protect a country from its enemies.”

“You are then a Guardian?” asked Lant. For the first time he seemed apprehensive. “We have broken your laws? What then will you do with us?”

What indeed? It was a good question – Inspector Deeping was beginning to wonder that himself. How could he take these people to court? Even if he believed this strange story, who else would? And there was still another question unanswered. “Are some of your friends dressed in red robes with shaven heads?”

“No,” said Lant, “that is not the way we Lemnians dress, it sounds to me like Pelleans of the 21st century. Are they here too? It was in their era that time travel first began and they may be here to investigate your time.”

“But why did you come to Everington, our town here?”

“The co-ordinates we used to choose a place to land are those of a great city in our time and it was too in the time of the Pelleans. To us and to them it would be an obvious choice.

Inspector Deeping marvelled that the dull little town in which he lived would one day be a great city. It was almost harder to believe than anything that had gone before.

To be continued (here)

The Harmony Aggro[2]

Image from Pixabay

Continuing a Sci-Fi tale by my Guest Author Pamela Cleaver. Written in the 1970s, it was originally published in Space 2, an anthology featuring writers new to the genre. While much of the technology and style references have become out-moded, the plot is intriguing. In a new-ish town, acts of violence have been happening, involving two groups of youths unfamiliar to the culture, which has Inspector Deeping baffled.

Next day, Inspector Deeping sent Sergeant Peel on a tour of Everington’s trendier shops that catered for the tastes of the young, to make enquiries as to whether they sold many silver suits or scarlet robes. He then read the reports through again and tried to assess an analyse the crimes. He thought about his conversation with Tim the previous evening and smiled to himself about the new vogue word “intergalactic”. He knew “way out” and “far out” – he even new that “near in” was sometimes used as an alternative, but “intergalactic” tickled his fancy. He had been a science fiction addict since he had come across his first copy of Amazing as a boy, which was probably why he liked the word.

He toyed with a pencil and stared out of the window. He began to think of intergalactic in its SF sense and a wild thought occurred to him. The silver-gear boys couldn’t possibly be from another planet could they? The first wave of an invasion from space who had landed in Everington? He let his imagination fun free for a few minutes, then laughed, shook off his fantasies and went back to his paperwork.

When Sergeant Peel came back from his tour of the boutiques, he was tired and frustrated and no further forward with the case. There was no call for silver gear or red robes, he had been told by the shop keepers.

“That means they haven’t got any – they always try to tell you things are unfashionable if you want them and they haven’t got them.”

He stretched and poured himself a cup of coffee from the electric percolator in the corner of the office.

“There is one thing, though,” he told the Inspector. “Constable Hobbs has been over the last telephone box they smashed up and he found this caught on a nail.”

He threw a piece of silver material onto the Inspector’s desk. Deeping picked it up and examined it. It was most unusual, not quite like anything else he had ever seen. It was soft and flexible but it was not woven. He crushed it in his hand experimentally and then opened his fingers. The material sprang back at once to its original shape without a crease or mark on it.

“One of these new, man-made fabrics, I suppose. It looks expensive. Better send it down to the lab to see what they make of it and tell them we want some answers quickly. It’s the best lead we’ve had so far.”

Sergeant Peel picked up the fabric with a sigh and went out with it.

The lab rang back the next day, apologetic and chagrined. They were completely baffled. Analysis had not been able to identify the components of the material which answered to none of the known tests. They could only think it was some new, experimental cloth recently, or not yet, marketed. Sergeant Peel got the dreary job of ringing round the fabric manufacturers to see if they could help. Inspector Deeping began to wonder if his “visitors from space” theory was not so wild after all and then told himself severely that if he did not stop thinking on those lines, he would have to give up reading science fiction. He went across to the pub opposite the police station for a beer and a sandwich for lunch.

At about half pat two that afternoon, he received a phone call from Tim.

“Dad, get down here quickly!” said his son, “your silver-geared boys are in the club. They’ve smashed a television set and are trying to pick a fight!”

“Don’t let them get away, Tim,” he said urgently, “even if you have to fight them until we get there. Do you think you could hold them?”

He could almost hear Tim’s grin over the phone. “Yeah,” he said, “they haven’t much idea about fighting and it just happens that most of the rugger team is in here at the moment. Okay, burn down as fast as you can and we’ll hold onto them.”

Inspector Deeping left his office quickly, gathering up Sergeant Peel and Constable Hobbs on the way. When they arrived at the Youth Club, it was quite obvious a fight had taken place; there were overturned tables and chairs, the television set was, as Tim had said on the phone, well and truly smashed and everyone in the place looked ruffled. But Tim and three of his friends were sitting on the chests of the silver-gear boys, holding onto their wrists. The faces of the captives, framed in blue and green locks, were neither angry nor disconsolate as the Inspector had expected, but triumphant and pleased with themselves.

The boys did not resist arrest nor make any fuss when they were taken down to the station. While Constable Hobbs was booking them, Inspector Deeping had a quick word with Sergeant Peel.

“We’ll question them separately,” he said, “you and I will question each one for half an hour and then compare notes, before we go onto the other two, okay?”

Peel nodded and he and Deeping went into separate interview rooms with a boy in each, while Hobbs kept a watchful eye on the other two.

After half an hour, Inspector Deeping returned to his office with a glazed look about his eyes and waited for Sergeant Peel, who joined him within a few minutes looking thoroughly angry. Peel sat down heavily in a chair and said, “I think I’m being conned. I’ve never heard such a load of codswallop in my life.”

Inspector Deeping looked at him carefully. “Tell me what he said.”

Peel was disgusted. “It was trash, you don’t want to hear about it.”

“I do,” said his superior, “because I want to compare it with what I was just told.”

Peel sighed heavily, poured himself a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. “Would you believe he told me he came from the 23rd century in a time machine, and nothing I could say or do would make him change his story?”

“I would believe it,” said Deeping grimly, “because I was told the same thing.”

“Ye gods, they must think we’re green!” said Peel. “Kids like that make me sick. They’ve been caught now, so they might as well tell us where they live, who they are and all that so we can get on with charging them. They must know we’ll find out the truth eventually.”

Inspector Deeping tilted his chair and put his feet on the desk. “Did he tell you why he came here from the 23rd century?”

Peel looked at him curiously. “I didn’t ask him, I just told him not to be such a fool and to start telling me the truth. We never got beyond his first statement.”

“Well I tried a different tack, I played along with Lant, as this chap tells me he is called, and asked him why he came here. It was a remarkable piece of fiction, if fiction it was. He says that in his time, everything is peaceful and beautiful. War has been abolished, there is no crime because everyone’s needs are provided for and there is no aggression because everyone is given harmony therapy.”

“You don’t believe any of it, do you sir?” said Peel anxiously.

“I’m not sure yet,” said Deeping slowly, “but let’s suppose for a minute I do. Wouldn’t you have thought that those conditions would make for an ideal world? I would, so I asked him, if everything is so marvellous, why would he want to leave such a wonderful time and come back to our era?” His pipe had gone out, so he relit it as he waited for the Sergeant’s reaction.

“I bet that foxed him,” said Peel, “if life was like that, stands to reason everyone would be contented.”

“It didn’t fox him at all, he said that was just the point. Life in the 23rd century, he says, is too perfect. There is no friction, no challenge and in spite of all the entertainments provided, he and his friends are bored to screaming point.”

To be Continued (here)