Book Covers for Manifold Press

Recently I’ve produced some new book covers for Manifold Press. I’ve been a graphic designer for more years than I can count and working for the Press has been, and continues to be, a joy.

After an in-depth month or so, I came up with various designs and through a process of elimination and tweaking, the Press chose the final design. Variations were created there upon to identify the book title’s genre – contemporary has a photographic background and historical has an illustrative background. The colour band indicates blue for Fiction or red for Romance. To date we have produced four covers plus a fifth for their new imprint Espresso Shots.

I’ve also produced a cover for Julie Bozza’s re-released The Fine Point of His Soul.

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Across Your Dreams by Jay Lewis Taylor. This is in the historical genre so has an illustration as the front cover image. The painting is called Gas Chamber at Seaford by Frederick Varley. The colours the artist has chosen are muted, tonal, and haunting. It has a blue band for Fiction. See it here.

COVER IDEAS 3

Caravaggio’s Angel by Chris Quinton. This is in the paranormal genre so has a photograph as the front cover image. This is a shot of gardens in Malta. The ghostly figure amongst the arches and his shadow with wings is photoshopped, unless of course he was really there…? It has a red band for Romance. See it here.

COVER IDEAS 4

Under Leaden Skies by Sandra Lindsey. This is in the historical genre so has an illustration as the front cover image. The original painting was very blue but because of the title, the author requested the sky to be darkened. It has a blue band for Fiction. See it here.

COVER IDEAS 3

Eleventh Hour by Elin Gregory. This is in the historical genre so has an illustration as the front cover image. This is a poster from a collection from the London Transport Museum. I love this atmospheric painting with the splash of red that is the underground sign. It has a red band for Romance. See it here.

ESPRESSO SHOTS

Like People by R.A. Padmos. This is the first book in the new Espresso Shots imprint. The cover will remain the same for following titles creating a suite of books. See it here.

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COVER IDEAS 4

The Fine Point of His Soul by Julie Bozza. This book cover was produced for my good friend Julie Bozza. I love the colours in this illustration and the look in his eye. See it here.

Manifold Press is here.

Julie Bozza is here.

 

The Living and the Dead preview plus Q&A.

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On Tuesday 15th of June, almost a year since after Humans preview, I indulged in another mad dash to London to see the episode one preview of The Living and the Dead at the BFI. The reason I spent a combined eight hours on six trains in a twenty-four hour period – Colin Morgan of course.

Directed by Alice Troughton who I believe has a fantastic eye for the artistic aspect of film and written by Ashley Pharoah who wrote the incredible Life on Mars plus the amazing Colin Morgan (Nathan Appleby) and Charlotte Spencer (Charlotte Appleby), The Living and The Dead certainly had the oomph and it showed.

The cinematography is sumptuous, beautifully coloured, and rich. It reminded me of sunshine, long summer days and carefree times, but… there’s a darkness lurking at the edges, crows cawing, and a single black cloud which makes one uneasy. The opening scene was simple but beautifully shot and set up the depth of the relationship between Nathan and his young wife.

After the strange death of Nathan’s mother, the highflying socialites inherit her run-down farm. Their sense of duty is powerful enough to make them take on the responsibility of the land and their workers livelihoods with no prior knowledge of farming. There’s a lot to learn but they’re both intelligent and energetic and all seems idyllic. That is until Harriet, the young daughter of the local vicar, starts to hear voices and the young couples nirvana quickly becomes filled with fear and confusion.

The Living and the Dead is creepy, disturbing, and weird. There’s creaking floorboards, shadows moving, flickering lights with no source, movement in the corner of your eye, darkness, blood, and two, possibly three, occurrences, which I cannot spoil but just didn’t fit with Victorian England. I am terrible with anything deemed as horror and fully expected to have my eyes shut most of the time, but even though there is some ‘horror’, it is more implied and in the imagination of the viewer. I’m pleased to say that my eyes remained open. However, after saying that Ashley insisted that the drama is more fantasy than horror and after seeing episode one there is definitely fantasy elements.

A Q&A with Charlotte, Colin, Ashley, Alice, and Katie McAleese (Exec Producer) followed the preview. Members of the audience asked a few questions about the acting skills involved and how the actors prepared for their roles – Charlotte said that she listened to music that she thought summed up her character. They ended up with a The Living and the Dead playlist. I, for one, would like to get hold of that.

Colin was asked about his character choices citing that Leo in Humans was far removed from Nathan. He said that he was drawn to disturbed and complicated characters and that drew him to Nathan. Think Jake in The Laughing King, Leo in Humans, Calum in Island and Cathal in Parked.

Colin and Charlotte rehearsed together for two weeks before production to fine tune their chemistry. Charlotte said you can’t just turn up on set and say, Hi, I’m your wife and then get on with the kissing and bedroom scenes, they needed time to get to know each other. Alice Troughton replied that Colin and Charlotte got on very well in ‘real life’ and when they did a chemistry test at the casting stage, she said there was an immediate chemistry between them. I’m sure at this point I heard a few sighs from the audience.

Talking about a sighs, there was a definite low rumble of voices when Nathan walked the corridors of his creepy house topless. It seems our Mr Morgan has been working out. Very pleasing.

Alice Troughton said that the title sequence for The Living and the Dead is taken from some old footage of a moth’s irresistible attraction to a flame. She akined Nathan and Charlotte’s lives to this analogy.

I am mindful of spoilers, as I personally dislike them so I will conclude by saying that this is probably not one to watch with your Nan, or children, or anyone of a nervous disposition!

In the second row, sat next to Alice, was Katie McGrath – Morgana in Merlin. She was spotted and mobbed, or should I say, shown a lot of love. Apparently, she had a cold and that morning was feeling under the weather, the autograph and selfie requests brightened her day. I was, and am, far too English to move from my seat and request such things.

It was a pleasure to see Colin Morgan ‘in the flesh’ once more; his live appearances are few and far between. To me he always looks as if he wants to be anywhere else apart from in front of so many roaming and probing eyes.

My photos, taken on my three-year-old mobile, are terrible at best. The one below is the better of a bad bunch. I love the looming still of Nathan hanging above them.

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Another satisfying mad trip to London was topped off by the sheer amount of familiar faces in the audience. All members of the splendid and loyal Merlin family and it was great to chat to many including Sabrina (Cuddle) who I sat next to. I had dinner with the very lovely Julie Bozza and drinks afterwards with some of the Merlin Meet Up gang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parked Locations

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One of my favourite films is Parked by Darragh Byrne and starring Colm Meaney and Colin Morgan.

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Fred Daly returns to Ireland with nowhere to live but his car. Then dope-smoking 21-year-old Cathal parks beside him, and brightens up his lonely world. Encouraged by Cathal, Fred meets attractive music teacher Jules. Growing closer, these three outsiders are set on a course that will change their lives forever.

On a recent trip to Ireland, I grabbed the opportunity to visit the various Dublin filming locations. Armed with directions printed out from the wonderful Merlin Locations we drove off the ferry and towards the main filming location, which is the car park off Pigeon House road and next to the dominating chimneys of the Poolbeg Generation Station.

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Car park location from Google Maps and courtesy of Merlin Locations.

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Poolbeg Generation Station taken from the ferry as we arrived in Dublin port.

We negated the toll bridge and headed into the industrial area looking rather conspicuous in our large white motorhome. We found Pigeon House road but also found the first of our many adversaries throughout the holiday—the height barrier! We were still a mile away from the location but couldn’t proceed any further and with nowhere to leave the motorhome we reluctantly gave up and vowed to return sometime in the car!

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This is the car park (with another height barrier!) courtesy of Merlin Locations and Aggy.

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These photos are courtesy of Merlin Locations and Aggy.

NORTH BULL ISLAND

We headed towards North Bull Island where the bridge and bathing shelters locations are situated.

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Google map of Bull Bridge and the bathing shelters courtesy of Merlin Locations.

As we drove down Clontarf road and past the palm trees that the main characters walked past in the film, I heard my husband mutter under his breath. Wooden planked Bull Bridge which Fred and Cathal walked down and which I, with many, presumed was a pier had a height barrier! Cursing overzealous local councillors, we shoved the motorhome in a side street and walked towards North Bull Island.

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Shot from Parked.

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Bull Bridge.

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Bull Bridge.

It’s a fair walk from the bridge to the bathing shelter but the views of the Irish sea and the striking silhouette of the power station make it worthwhile. If you’re in a car you can park on the beach right next to the bathing shelter.

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Poolbeg Generation Station.

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The third bathing shelter along is the one they used in the film.

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Official shot from Parked.

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Shot from Parked.

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The bathing shelter.

KILAKEE ROAD

The next location was the lookout point on Kilakee road in the hills above Dublin.

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The Captivating Colin Morgan.

‘Have you ever seen a leaf fall off a tree? I mean, have you ever seen the actual moment when a leaf breaks from its branch? … It’s a beautiful thing.’

Using Julie Bozza’s excellent directions we found the car park opposite the lookout (with a height barrier) so parked the motorhome rather precariously on loose scree.

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Shot from Parked.

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Lookout location is the between the middle two trees and the parking area in front of them.

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This is Julie’s shot of the car park on Kilakee road with the lookout behind her.

 

After an exciting afternoon we went on to have a wonderful two week holiday in beautiful Ireland.

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Using a Pen Name

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Sat in my favourite café with my friend who’s a successful writer of erotic romance, a conversation sparked up about the pros and cons of using a pen name, a nom de plume, a pseudonym.  Here is the conversation, which you may find useful.

What was the reason you decided to use a pen name?

I use a pseud because I have two teenagers under eighteen so felt the need to separate the erotic fiction and them. Also my novels would not sit well with certain older members of my family.

I know an author who was fired from his job when it was discovered that he wrote erotica, so I also decided to keep my family life separate from my erotic romance writing life.

My mainstream books are under my real name but I have an unpronounceable surname so I wished I’d used a pseud for them as well.

How do you avoid tricky situations like people asking you what you do for a living?

I judge the situation, time, and place. If I deem it acceptable, I tell them I write erotica, if not I tell them about my mainstream books. However, I am very careful not to mix the two worlds and that can be tricky. Normally the conversation halts after the word erotic.

Does it ever become confusing between your writing name and your real name?

No, I keep it all separate. The only issue is social media—I have two Twitter accounts, two Facebook pages, two blogs plus Pinterest and Instagram. It’s hard work and a fine balancing act—sometimes I drop the ball!

So it’s not easy maintaining multiple social platforms. Any advice?

Building a following is done by frequent postings under whichever name you’re using at the time. However do not constantly promote, nothing puts people off more than that. It takes work to build a convincing alter-ego and I use tricks like using a different computer (laptop and desktop) to keep me in the ‘right zone’.

Your pen name hasn’t changed gender, why is that?

If you’re found to be a different sex, fans of your work can feel misled at the deception.

My surname is also a shocker to pronounce. Do you think that alone is a good enough reason to use a pen name?

Absolutely. I know how annoyed you get when not one single person can pronounce your surname properly. Eliminate the trauma! Also if your name is similar to another author or a famous actor, I suggest changing it.

How did you choose your pen name name?

You need a name you can live with but also one that’s memorable. I chose my great Aunt’s maiden name and my middle name shortened. And choose something that’s easily pronounceable!

So to conclude.

Using a pseud is working for me now. It may change in the future and I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

 

 

 

 

Physical Pain Descriptor

 

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For the last six months, I have endured an agonising shoulder injury, which is as yet undiagnosed.  I’ve decided to use the experience to list the sensations and emotions. If you have a character in physical pain, maybe it will help you to define their movements and thought patterns.

  • Constant nagging pain like toothache or backache.
  • Agony as if an animal is gnawing at your bones.
  • Fierce pain like an electric shock.
  • Slicing pain like a hot knife through your skin.
  • Sharp stabs that momentarily disable you.
  • Decreased brainpower – simple tasks become difficult.
  • Wishing one could complete everyday tasks.
  • Fighting the darkness that threatens to consume you.
  • Pain accompanying you like a parasite and feeding off your strength.
  • Waiting for the next pain attack and that waiting becomes your day.
  • Afterwards you’re left with a pain hangover – aching, numb, and fazed.
  • Increases in anxiety as you create worst-case scenarios.
  • Feeling as if the world is turning but somehow you have stopped.
  • Clenching and unclenching ones jaw and hands.
  • Constantly seeking answers and the reason for the pain.
  • Heightened awareness of other health issues.
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Anger.
  • Irritability.
  • Frustration.
  • Confusion.
  • Restricted movement leading to altering your daily pattern.
  • Shock on waking up, remembering, and then feeling heavy.
  • Inability to think straight.
  • Inability to participate in normal goings on – sporting activities, sitting for a long time in a cinema or meal out etc.
  • Unable to drive for long distances or at all.

Journey’s End

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My amateur dramatics group, Adel Players, are performing Journey’s End by R.C.Sheriff this week. The play is set over four days in 1918 in the claustrophobia of a dugout, there we follow the lives, and deaths, of a small section of brave men.

Sheriff served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the First World War, his service lasted ten months, and he wrote Journey’s End as homage to his comrades. He said of the play that writing the dialogue was easy as he just wrote down what people said and the characters came in uninvited. I’m writing a short story at the moment of which I’m following the characters around with a pen and paper writing down what they say and do. It’s satisfying.

With a front row seat, I waited with my family for the play to start well aware of the nerves backstage, the checking, and rechecking of props, the tightening of belts and dusting down of trousers, the reading, and re-reading of scripts, followed by the pacing and silent mouthing of words, and the many keen eyes watching for potential hiccups. The play started with Captain Hardy (Chris Andrews) trying to dry his sock over a candle. Sat there while the audience eventually took their seats and the hubbub died, Chris remained in character the whole time, a feat I have to applaud.

Last year I saw Testament of Youth in London. I admit the main reason for the trip was my favourite actor, Colin Morgan, but soon loved the film in its own right. Also set in the trenches, Testament of Youth saw young men who were well bred and eager to join the much talked about war. They set off, clean uniformed, chatty, laughing, waving, and with no idea of the horror that awaited them. That’s what I saw in 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh (Will Andrews) he was keen as mustard, excited, and gung-ho. The war didn’t take long to break him. Will played the young man who was all chipper on the outside but petrified on the inside beautifully. Talking about broken men, Captain Stanhope (James Willstrop) was as damaged as they come. Three years in the trenches had messed with his mind, he no longer knew who he was anymore, and found solace in a whiskey bottle. Today we call it PTSD, in 1918 one pulled ones socks up and set off into certain death with a tally-ho. James played the tortured soul with perfection, to the extent that sometimes I just couldn’t look at him, his distress was tangible and I certainly didn’t want it.

Interjecting the scenes and offering some light relief was Private Mason (David Pritchard) the company cook. His deadpan delivery of the fact that there were onions in the tea and tea leaves in the soup was priceless. Mason’s concern that he’d failed to obtain pepper for supper was genuine and David played Mason with judged understatement. I wanted to cry at the end when he came out of his kitchen dressed for battle with recognition of his situation on his face.

Matthew Newby played 2nd Lieutenant Hibbert, a frightened man whose desperation to leave the trenches was so palpable, it was weaved into the very fabric of his uniform. When the tensions between Stanhope and Hibbert came to a head and Hibbert breaks down, I stopped breathing. Matthews’s performance of Hibbert’s distress was powerful and commanding. I wanted to watch him but had to wrench my eyes away from the suffering. I’ve seen Matthew in many plays but have never seen him as raw and open as he was in that moment.

The man who appeared to be the calmest amongst the chaos was Lieutenant Osborne (Robert Colbeck) an older and more experienced solider who followed the rules. Rob played Osbourne with an acceptance and stillness of a man who knows his inevitable destiny.

Set in the round with only a table and two beds for furniture Journey’s End is obviously very character driven. One such character is the Colonel played with a brilliant effervescence by Mike Andrews. The Colonel was a larger than life character, loud, boisterous, and backslapping. Mike, born to play the Colonel, chewed him up and spat him out.

Gavin Jones’ study of 2nd Lieutenant Trotter was well observed. Trotter, food obsessed and more than likely not a full basket, added another light note to the proceedings. With his uniform stuffed with a cushion and a fork permanently in his hand Gavin took Trotter and firmly made him his own. Trotter was my favourite character.

Both Chris Andrews and David Lancaster played more than one character, with Chris playing three different people including a captured German solider.  David played the Sergeant Major who carries an injured Raleigh down into the dugout. Will looked like a child cast over David’s shoulder and I think that only drove home the fact that the vast majority in World War One were just kids, barely away from their mother’s arms.

The light and sound were the icing on the cake for this production. Without the simulation of flares and the sound of war outside the dugout the play would’ve have been in danger of being lifeless. At the end when the booms, bangs, and flashes escalate and Stanhope walks out towards his certain doom were skilfully done. I have to shout out Robin Peart (Light) and David Newby (Sound).

Throughout the play, I observed the audience; many mouths were agape, many a tear was wiped away, and everybody sat stock-still. They were absorbed, captivated, and transported.

I contributed in a small way to this play, helping with the scenery and publicity, but I’m well aware of the hard work that goes into a performance like this. I take my purple beanie hat off to the cast and crew.

In the car on the way home, my daughter asked a hundred questions: Why did the war start? Was Hitler there? Who was the man who shouted loudly? What happened to the German solider? Why didn’t the men just say no and not go to war? The play had fired her imagination and we tried our best to answer her. Children should learn history through sight, touch, sound, and smell, not words on a whiteboard and a droning teacher.

I may be biased; hell, I am biased, but if you’re ever in the north of England go see an Adel Players play. They really are the cream of the crop.

www.adel-players.org.uk

Three Days in the Country

Three Days in the Country at the National Theatre in London.

Three Days in The Country

Patrick Marber distilled Three Days in the Country from A Month in the Country written by Ivan Turgenev who also wrote Fortune’s Fool, which I had the pleasure of seeing at the Old Vic last year.

Accompanied by my fellow writer, Merlin fan, and theatre goer friend, Julie, our seats were in the Gods but afforded a really decent view. The set was minimalistic so no real distraction (see Hamlet). However, an annoying red door hung at eye level through the first half and then during the second half, sat on the floor serving no purpose. People just walked around it as if it were the remaining door in a game of Musical Doors. Where were the imaginary walls? At this point, I blame Adel Players for my obsessive examination of sets.

The story, set over three days in the Russian countryside, is of love and misunderstanding. The object of everybody’s affections is a young man, Belyaev, played by Royce Pierreson, who is the tutor to the son of Natalya, the lady of the house played by Amanda Drew. It seems everyone fancies him—the wife, the daughter, the maid, and he fancies them in return! Except the doctor, Shpigelsky, played by Mark Gatiss, who produced a wonderfully crafted character who in reality wasn’t a very good doctor and would prefer to send his friends elsewhere for medical assistance. My favourite scene is when Shpigelsky drops on one knee to propose and puts his back out. The comic fallout of a man in pain stuck on all fours is priceless. His crab impression skittering across the stage was worth the ticket price in itself.

John Simm played Rakitin, best friends with the man of the house and a person who has loved and lost but is still in love. It took a while to recognise him, as his hair and beard were as grey as sooty chimney. He was magnetic to watch and even though he was grey-haired and dressed in country house attire I still saw Sam from Life on Mars with echoes of the Master from Doctor Who.

I felt the running time of two hours fifteen minutes was just right, any longer and I would have drifted off as the story wasn’t strong enough to keep my attention. A few times I had to refocus and it didn’t help that seated across the back of the set were actors in waiting, literally, actors waiting their turn to perform. I found myself studying them instead of watching the… I was going to say action but it wasn’t really action just gentle goings-on.

Apart from the snotty woman to my right, it was an enjoyable way to spend a Tuesday afternoon and a real pleasure to witness the acting capabilities of Messer’s Simm and Gatiss.

Today, I have mostly been catching three trains and four tube trains, walking over two bridges, eating in two restaurants, and sitting in one theatre.

Thank you for waiting.

I had the joy of seeing Simon Armitage at the Ilkley Literature Festival. The Yorkshireman is a delight to listen to with his wonderful take on the world and dry wit. He opened with Thank you for waiting, which I have posted below for your reading pleasure.

“Thank you for waiting.

At this moment in time, we’d like to invite First Class passengers only to board the aircraft.

Thank you for waiting.

We now extend our invitation to Exclusive, Superior, Privilege and Excelsior members, followed by Triple, Double and Single Platinum members, followed by Gold, Silver, Bronze card members, followed by Pearl and Coral Club members.

Military personnel in uniform may also board at this time.

Thank you for waiting.

We now invite Meteorite customers, and passengers enrolled in our Rare Earth, Metals points and rewards scheme and thank you for waiting.

Accredited beautiful people may now board, plus any gentlemen carrying a copy of this month’s Cigar Aficionado magazine, plus subscribers to our Red Diamond, Black Opal or Blue Garnet schemes.

We also welcome Sapphire, Ruby and Emerald members at this time, followed by Amethyst, Onyx, Obsidian, Jet, Topaz and Quartz members.

On production of a valid receipt, travellers of elegance and style wearing designer and/or hand-tailored clothing or flaunting individual pieces of jewellery including wristwatches with a minimum purchase price of 10,000 US dollars may now board.

Also welcome at this time are passengers talking loudly to cell phone headsets about recently completed property acquisitions, share deals and aggressive takeovers, plus hedge fund managers with proven track records in the undermining of small to medium-sized ambitions.

Passengers in Loam, Chalk, Marle and Clay may also board.

Thank you for waiting.

Mediocre passengers are now invited to board, followed by passengers lacking business acumen or general leadership potential, followed by people of little or no consequence, followed by people operating at a net fiscal loss as people.

Scroungers, malingers, spongers and freeloaders may now step forward.

Those holding tickets for zones Rust, Mulch, Cardboard, Puddle and Sand might want to begin gathering their crumbs and tissues ready for boarding.

Passengers either partially or wholly dependent on welfare or kindness, please have their travel coupons validated at the quarantine desk.

Sweat, Dust, Shoddy, Scurf, Turd, Chaff, Remnant, Ash, Pus, Sludge, Clinker, Splinter and Soot, all you people are now free to board.”

Thank you for waiting from Paper Aeroplane by Simon Armitage

Hamlet

Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch

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Written by William Shakespeare, Hamlet follows the journey of the Prince of Denmark as he seeks revenge on his uncle, Claudius, for the death of his father.

The Barbican is a relatively small and I have to say ugly building above, with a warren of orange-lit chambers and corridors below. The centrepiece is the theatre itself with each seated row having its own entry door and a good view over the head in front. I enjoyed the snapping shut of the many doors before the performance; it was like being eaten by a giant beast.

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A vast corrugated copper curtain lifted to uncover a hoodie-wearing Hamlet sat quietly amongst crates and an old record player. Close behind him, a plain wall with a door spanned the width of the large stage. Hamlet’s friend, a rucksack carrying, mountain climbing, fell walking, Horatio, comes in and insights Hamlet to follow him through the doorway. The backdrop then lifts to reveal an immense sea-blue mansion house with gilded balcony and staircase, portrait-lined corridors and masses of ceremonial flowers. Capping the main multi-purpose chamber was an enormous chandelier and under that an extensive banqueting table.

In future scenes, when Hamlet was in reflective mood, the lighting changed to give an impression that the mansion had spent the last hundred years under water with dripping walls and decaying woodwork. After the interval, earth, slag, and rubble, representing a battleground, filled every nook and cranny. I spent far too much time wondering how they’d managed to do that in twenty minutes and that was a problem for me. The set was so consuming that it took my attention away from the actors and I had to fight to return to them.

Another problem I found was nearly all the voices were so low that even though the auditorium was deathly silent, I had to strain to hear their words. Also the costumes were confusing, were they 1970’s, 1940’s, backpackers, Victorians, soldiers, graffiti artists, or gentry? Was it set in the past, present, or some fantastical future? Were they going to an anything goes fancy dress party round their mates’ house? It seemed as if each actor said, I want to wear this, and the director said, yeh, whatever. This didn’t help to ground the play as I wasn’t sure what time period I was in.

Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, played by Benedict Cumberbatch was eye-catching, skittish, and restless. He is all arms and legs no matter what you watch him in, but his energy was real and his character true and believable. I engaged with him and he had my full attention whenever he was on stage. This was nothing to do with the fact it was Cumberbatch, it was to do with the fact he was the best actor there.

I wasn’t too keen on Ophelia, Hamlet’s lover, I had an image in my head of a sylph-like character with flowing locks, drifting in a pond, surrounded by flowers. The actor that played her was none of those. This was the choice made but it wrenched me out of the story somewhat as I tried to connect to her. On the other hand Polonius, Ophelia’s father, was fantastic—engaging, funny, likeable and most importantly, loud!

The tin soldier scene was my favourite. Life-sized red-jacketed soldiers guarded a similarly dressed Hamlet in a man-sized toy castle. There’s a moment where Hamlet forgets his feigned madness and delights in the joy of play with his friends. It is brief until the darkness descends again. I also enjoyed the ‘Alas poor Yorick’ scene and loved the gravedigger, which I suspect was the same actor that played Hamlet’s dead father. The comic timing was spot on. I also took pleasure in the fact that Hamlet unceremoniously dumped Yorick into a wheelbarrow at the end.

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After the interval, amongst the slag heaps and destruction, the dark and fear of the destroyed mansion house was where you truly got a feel for the play. As mentioned earlier, my mind wandered onto how they got tons of rubble onto the set in twenty minutes, but I felt immersed in the tension and scared for Hamlet even though I knew what was going to happen.

The scene changes were swift but too many minions ran around the set shifting stuff and dragging furniture hither and thither. I’m a member of an amateur dramatic group and have myself been a scene changer so I know it’s not easy, but I think a dedicated team dressed in black would’ve helped instead of members of the cast.

Benedict addressed the audience at the end of the play, appealing for aid to help the Syrian refugees. He quoted from Home by the poet Warsan Shire, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see your whole city running as well. You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” Benedict was passionate and animated and all breaths were held as people connected to his words. After the performance the red buckets filled quickly with donations.

I wish I could post pictures to show you the mind-blowing set and Cumberbatch’s Hamlet but… spoilers!

To sum up, I have more dislikes than I expected—the all-consuming set, confusing costumes, low voices, strange Ophelia, and too many distracting people changing the scene. But, I enjoyed, the Barbican itself, Cumberbatch’s performance, Polonius, remarkable lighting, slag heaps, Yorick, tin soldiers, oh and seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in the flesh!

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The First Chapter.

The first chapter of my as yet unpublished book.

To the Left of Your North Star.

His heart pulsed blue through transparent skin and his eyes, unblinking, bore into my soul. In my head, he scratched around, feeling for life, searching for information.

I woke shouting into the frigid air. Swinging my legs off the bed, I fought to control my breathing as the door to the crannog creaked open.

‘It is time,’ the native boy said.

Finally, I could get the fuck off this God-forsaken planet.

Unfortunately, my father had neglected to tell me that the best way to the Landing Plains where his heap-of-junk spaceship waited, was by river. The blister-popping trek across what could’ve easily been anywhere on Earth to get to the Fire Glade had been bad enough. It had taken three long weeks to move my father’s scientific team—a biologist, a geographer, a botanist, and an ecologist—plus all their equipment from his ship to the village. It struck me that the most boring people on Earth would fit well into the most boring place on Abaytor.

During that whole time, I think my father and I only exchanged a handful of words as he either had his head stuck in a book or his nose in a flower studying bees. His studies had shown they were resistant to our insecticides and this, apparently, was significant. I’d developed a loathing for the fuzzy little dive-bombers simply because they were important to my father.

Those three weeks were on top of the month long journey in my father’s scrapheap spaceship. There are only so many times you can ooh and aah at the billions of star clusters. Towards the end, with no privacy, no real heating, and fuck-all to do, it seemed preferable to open a hatch and float off into those stars. One particularly boring day when I felt like I was asleep with my eyes open, I pretended to spin the locking wheel and open a door, but nobody noticed what I was doing so I sulked back to my corner.

Stepping out of the crannog, I pulled on a jumper. I wouldn’t miss this odd copy of Earth with its cold mornings and sweltering days, or the smoky fish smell that penetrated my expensive clothing or the God-damn cheerfulness of the locals, or… the list was endless.

The expedition would take six months my father had said. I’d managed two and thought I’d done pretty well considering the brain numbing boredom and my strained relationship with him.

Slinging my bag on my back, I strolled to the end of the rickety walkway that connected the little thatched house on stilts to the land. Shielding my eyes from the sun, I looked for the native boy, Burn. He was by the river stacking wooden crates one on top of the other. The water shone copper in the morning light with little flashes of golden fish darting in and out of the shallows. Jumping onto the sandy bank, I gave the crannog one last glance. Why would anybody build a house that creaks alarmingly when the river rages? As far as I was concerned, these people had a lot to learn.

Burn grinned and waved a long hand. I ignored his greeting, dropped my head, and stamped across the soft sand towards him. ‘Ready?’ I muttered.

He pointed towards his creation bobbing eagerly at the water’s edge. ‘It is all yours.’

‘Lovely.’ I placed a foot onto the wooden raft and immediately stepped back. ‘It wobbles.’ When Burn sniggered, I glared at him. ‘Seriously. It’s not funny.’

‘I am not laughing, Ed.’

‘It’s Ed-ward, you dim-witted native.’

Burn’s cheery face was fucking annoying. ‘Do not worry, I built the raft myself, and it is safe.’

I scowled and turned my attention from the native boy back to the floating piece of junk. It had a broad base of long thin logs knotted together with twine. On this was a triangular structure with a mucky brown canvas slung over it. The whole thing looked like a bad attempt at a Boy Scout’s tent sitting upon a piece of flotsam.

‘Here.’ Burn reached out. ‘If the raft scares you, I will hold your hand.’

‘Sod off, Burn. It doesn’t.’ Yet there was a knot in my stomach as I marched onto the deck. The entire contraption reared like an unbroken horse. Swinging my arms in circles, I had to do a crazy dance to stay upright. I couldn’t fall in, I wasn’t a good swimmer. My father never had the time to teach me and my mother hadn’t liked to get her hair wet.

‘Careful, you will have her over.’

‘Her?’

‘Yes, I have called her The Copper Queen.’

I turned to face the boy again, but as I moved, the raft listed to one side, unbalancing me. I hopped on one foot across the deck, and then with the grace of a new-born foal, I fell into the shallows. Little flashes of gold surrounded me. Batting them away, I stood up in the knee-deep water. ‘For fuck’s sake.’ The water was as frigid as the morning air.

Burn stepped onto his Queen and she remained steady. ‘I was born on a raft like this.’ He reached out a long hand and dragged me aboard. ‘I grew up on the Copper River.’

‘How interesting.’ I sat on a barrel, took off my sneakers, tipped out the water, and glowered at my new transport. Burn’s people were obsessed with living on or over water. The Copper River was a big deal to the people who lived in the Fire Glade. It was their road, their larder and one of their gods. I, on the other hand, hated it—the roar of the water scared me and the colour was worrying. I’d insisted on boiling my drinking water three times over. I heaved a sigh.

Stacked on the deck under the canvas tent were a bundle of furs, six wooden crates, and two honey barrels for seats. Heaped at my feet was a leather bag containing what I presumed to be Burn’s personal items and my own rucksack—a top of the range Silverstrak with built-in music player.

Humming an out-of-key tune, Burn gestured towards his village. ‘Are you ready?’

Turning around, I glared at my father. This was entirely his fault—the raft, the annoying native boy, and the backwards planet. He was standing on the walkway of his crannog, fingers gripping the rail and towering above Naylor, the tribal elder. I liked Naylor; he had been kind to me during my stay in the Fire Glade and was one of the few people who’d even talk to the strange alien boy. He had a naughty sense of humour, which I loved, and many partners, which he loved. I had a feeling that most of the kids in the Glade were Naylor’s.

Behind them, the scientific team stood in a huddled group. I knew they were desperate to get on with their studies and were only there to see me off through duty to my father. They never hid the fact that they didn’t like me, referring to me in whispers as Herb’s spoilt son.

My father’s face was weathered and set in a permanent frown, and with his hunched posture, his whole body language said ‘disappointed’. Nothing I did was good enough for him. I could get top grades in all my subjects at college but he’d grill me endlessly about the only subject I didn’t excel in—science. Of course, this was his field of expertise, Herb Kemp the renowned scientist and now famous explorer.

Discovering Abaytor had consumed him. He’d wanted me, his only child, to see what he saw and feel what he felt. Dragging me along on this trip was the result. He said it would be good for us, we could spend quality time together—but he was always too busy. To settle this we were supposed to work together as father and son. I use the word ‘work’ loosely because I ended up spending most of my days under the shade of the cinnamon trees, holding the odd clipboard. My father’s team hadn’t trusted me with anything else. Neither had he.

For my father’s sake, James, the ecologist and bad-tempered one, had tried with me. One day he’d handed me a white plastic tray and an orange net on a long metal pole. ‘Get me some samples,’ he’d grumbled. He had no awareness of niceties. Maybe, over time, they’d been knocked out of him. It was clear he didn’t like me and considered me a waste of space, but that was okay because the feelings were mutual.

I turned the tray over in my hand and stared at him through the net. ‘What samples?’

‘For fuck’s sake, Ed: river life.’

‘River life?’ I repeated.

‘Small fish, insects, larva, that kind of thing, I’m particularly interested to see if there are any river boatman.’

‘River boatman?’ I was beginning to annoy even myself.

He’d clunked the clipboard against his forehead and said, ‘Just waggle the net around in the water, put the findings in the tray, and bring it back.’

I’d felt about three years old as I sulked towards the water’s edge. Within minutes, I’d lost the net. The current was stronger than it looked and had whipped it out of my hand. I put the tray down and tip-toed away hoping James wasn’t looking.

Another one to try with me was Blossom. She was the biologist and her main job was studying the bees. I thought she had a very apt name. She was fresh-faced, bouncy in all the right places, and laughed a lot. I liked her. She didn’t like me.

I had to watch the bees and catalogue the most frequently visited plants, the time of the day, stuff like that. She said I could even sketch the flowers if I wanted. I didn’t want. I fell asleep within the first half an hour of my watch and she never spoke to me again. It wasn’t my fault. The bed in the crannog was lumpy and the never-ending sound of the water made me want to pee all the time.

The problem was, simply put, that I didn’t feel what my father felt. In fact, I didn’t give a fuck about the planet with its backwards and frankly sex obsessed natives and total lack of creature comforts.

My father waved once in farewell. I ignored him, tilted my head back, and rolled my neck in a vain attempt to banish the residue of last night’s dream. My head hurt and the annoying native boy’s humming added to the symphony of pain.

‘Wave goodbye, Ed-ward.’ Burn’s voice rang with merriment as he rammed his push pole into the sandy bank and heaved the Copper Queen into the twisting flow of the river. The raft jolted. I tumbled off the barrel, sprawled at Burn’s feet and looked up into his stupid grinning face. He flashed his eyebrows and laughed. I so wanted to punch him, but I couldn’t get off this hellhole of a planet without him.

I stood and my legs felt like pistons on the twisting deck. I looked back towards the Fire Glade. The sun was creeping up behind the Mountain of Bones, throwing long bronze reflections across the river’s surface. For a second, I forgot about the annoying boy and saw the beauty my father had talked about my whole childhood. A tiny stab of regret prompted me to wave goodbye but he’d already turned towards the crannog. He entered the dwelling and never gave the river, or me, a second glance. Maybe, the famous explorer Herb Kemp was glad to be free of his problem, the embarrassing son. I was no chip off the old block.

Burn steered towards the calmer waters at the edge of the river. My guide appeared to be around my age, perhaps younger. He had a wild look to him with large eyes, cheekbones sprayed with freckles and hair the colour of the river. Long limbed and scruffily dressed, like badly pegged washing, with a bow strung across his narrow frame and an intricate pendant swinging from his neck. I assumed that all the furs in the tent must be the result of his hunting skills.

‘Do you like what you see?’ Burn winked.

‘For God’s sake.’ I curled my fists—fighting was always my go-to reaction. Everyone in the Fire Glade appeared to be bedding everyone else. If the bloody native thought he could try it on with me then he had another think coming. I don’t do, and never will do, boys.

A look crossed Burn’s face as he showed me his open palms. ‘Lighten up, Ed.’

‘It’s Ed-ward.’ I sagged and gestured across the horizon. ‘What do you do on Abaytor? Why is it called that anyway?’

‘Abaytor means second in our language, so that was the word your father chose. We call it Heras.’

Typical. Earthlings conquer and rename whether it’s a tiny island in the middle of the ocean or a whole bloody planet.

Burn jabbed the pole into a shallow reed bed and shoved in the opposite direction. ‘I look after the bees. The ones your father and his companions have come to study.’

‘A beekeeper?’ I gave Burn a pitying look. He clearly didn’t aim high up the career ladder. I, on the other hand, was after the job of my father’s best friend—chief executive officer of the Westcoast Bank.

‘Well, I suppose. They are rare gold-tipped bees only found in the Mountain of Bones. Their honey has healing qualities not found anywhere else on Abaytor or—’

Zoning out, I stared at my wet feet. I missed my friends; they’d agree with me that my situation was pants and I had every right to complain. And my bloody mobile wouldn’t work; this God-forsaken planet hadn’t invented the radio yet, never-mind the telephone.

‘What do you do, Ed, when you are not accompanying your father on his trips?’

I ignored him.

‘Edward?’

Good God, the boy was persistent. ‘I don’t do anything and I don’t make a habit of accompanying him.’

‘What is it like having a famous father? I understand he is well known on your planet.’

Fighting an urge to push Burn overboard, I said, ‘It’s just peachy,’ before muttering, ‘My father’s not paying you to ask questions, just to take me to the Landing Plains.’

‘Your father is not paying me at all.’

‘You’re doing this for free? You’re mad.’ Never do anything for nothing, is what my father taught me. Oh, and never let your left hand know what your right is doing. I still don’t know what that means.

‘Having now made your acquaintance, I think I probably am mad.’ Burn smiled and rammed the pole into a nearby bank.

‘Why do you speak without using contractions?’

‘Contract… what?’

Why the hell did I ask that question? I was in no mood for conversation. I sighed and said, ‘You say do not instead of don’t or I am instead of I’m.’

‘I have never heard of don’t or I’m but I understand when you use them.’

Unwilling to continue the conversation, I turned my attention towards the river. The raft had increased its pace in the tumbling flow. I shoved my fingers under the rim of a barrel. Not that it made much difference to my stability.

The landscape changed around us. The mountains shrank from imposing and sharp into forest-covered hummocks and by the side of the river stood gnarly barked trees with umbrella canopies that cast creepy shadows. A dank smell filled my nostrils and there was a metal taste in the air.

I looked at my watch. It said eleven but that meant nothing. Abaytorian’s had no concept of time. It was so annoying. I liked the routine of lunchtime, teatime, or even bedtime.

‘There is a waterstorm coming. If we are lucky we will make the shelter of the Dragon Trees.’ Burn’s arms swung in a wide arc as he wielded the pole. Fucking water again, if I’m not sleeping over it, or floating on it, I’m drenched by it.

Within half an hour, the sky turned from violet to charcoal and icy rain hit the raft with a loud plipping noise. I shivered and dived for the cover of the tent. Sitting cross-legged on a fur, I spied Burn through a crack in the canvas. Streams of water plastered his hair to his face and traced across his cheeks. The wind turned the river into an angry snake, making the Copper Queen pitch and yaw.

‘Hang on,’ Burn shouted as the logs squealed and the raft reared. Out of control, I slithered under the canvas and past a wide-eyed kneeling Burn. Seconds later, I once again found myself in the copper water. But this time it wasn’t the shallows and this time I was afraid.

The cold hit me first; it stole my breath and froze my limbs. I span in the water—rotating so fast that the raft was in view one second, then out of it the next. The river crashed around me, water filled my nose, and my heart moved from my chest and into my throat. By flapping my arms like a bird and pumping my legs as if I were climbing stairs, I managed to keep my head above the surface. Why hadn’t my father taken the time to teach me to fucking swim properly? Now I was going to die in a river on another planet and it would be totally his fault.

‘Edward, EDWARD.’ Burn’s shouts hung above me.

Pushing my legs against the current kept my body in one position until the raft came into sight again. Burn was leaning over, aiming the push pole towards me. I lunged for it, forced my fingers around the end, and kicked the water as he heaved me in.

I sprawled across the deck with my designer clothes soaked and my hair feeling like a crow’s nest. ‘Oh, I would give anything for a helicopter right now. Why hasn’t this backward planet invented flight?’

Burn dropped to his knees by my side. He brought his face level with mine; I could smell something like lavender and feel his warm breath on my cheek, and whispered, ‘Do you think you could stay on board for the rest of the trip?’

I punched the boy hard on the shoulder.

*

That evening we moored in a rocky inlet. I was wet and cold and Burn’s shuffling around the raft was getting on my nerves. He prised open a random crate. I’m sure he’d forgotten what was in any of the six crates that cluttered our living space. In the days before our departure, I’d watched him build the raft with the enthusiasm of a prisoner building an escape tunnel. He’d loaded and unloaded the crates many times before finally deciding on what we needed for the trip. I never offered to help.

He upturned a crate and a grin spread on his freckly face as the contents spilled across the deck. I was hoping for supper; something like stuffed crust pepperoni pizza would have been welcome. Clearly, it wasn’t Chicago Town’s finest. Burn picked up some kind of dried meat strips tied together with twine, and a jar of red jelly that I hoped to God was jam. He unwrapped a cloth bundle to reveal what resembled budgie seed. Then he unpeeled another filthy package to uncover shrivelled fungi of various sizes. He swept his hand across the witches’ pantry. ‘Supper,’ he proclaimed.

Dropping my head back, I groaned.  I was either going to be drowned or starve to death before I reached the Landing Plains.

*

I awoke the next morning to a noise that sounded like half-snoring and half-banging. At first I thought it was Burn but he was gutting fish over the side of the raft. ‘What’s that noise?’

‘A white-eyed beater.’

‘Wide-eyed?’

‘No. White. Their eyes contain so little pigment they are practically blind. Drumming their beaks on objects and reading the vibrations is the way they see.’

‘Oh.’ I didn’t know what to do with that information.

‘Did you sleep okay?’

‘No. The logs stuck in my back, the furs were too prickly, and I don’t believe you could lie still if your life depended on it.’ My body felt eighty years old as I crawled out of the tent.

‘You will get used to it.’ Burn slung the fish guts into the copper water and they hit the surface with a sickening slap.

I had no intention of getting used to anything.

Burn passed me a wooden bowl with slivers of raw fish and leaves the colour of vomit.

‘No, thanks.’

He proffered the food again. ‘You’ll need your strength today.’

‘Why?’

‘You will see.’

I didn’t take the bowl.

*

Standing on a ledge with red dust coating my bare feet, a wave of nausea swept over me. I closed one eye to block out the broiling mass of rapids in front of me and shouted above the thundering water. ‘Are you sure there’s no other way around?’

‘Quite,’ Burn yelled back.

A fat fly buzzed my nose. I batted it away and peered over my toes towards the river. A deep-sided canyon shaped like an egg timer forced the river to buck. The copper water had changed to dark brown with cream tips and twisted around huge boulders like a bubbling cauldron of frothy coffee. A white vapour hanging high above the surface smelt like wet earth.

‘It is known as the Fifteen Flow Chasm,’ Burn offered.

‘Flow?’

‘It is our unit of measuring moving water.’

‘So don’t tell me, we’re fifteen flows down the river—how inventive.’ I scrubbed a hand across my face, spun on my heels, knotted my fingers behind my back, and paced a trail into the dust. That was until I realised I was mirroring my father. He paced when he had a problem to sort. I stopped. As a child, I would try to catch my father’s attention. I would be eager to tell him about the robot I’d built or my marks at school. He would bat me away like a fly—a simple flick of the wrist from him left a deep wound in me.

‘Why don’t we carry the raft over land?’

‘The raft is too heavy. The two of us could not carry it through this terrain.’ Burn waved across the undulating rock-strewn land.

‘Okay, you take the raft, I’ll walk round.’

Burn’s shoulders slumped. ‘I would not make it alone.’

I shook my head. ‘Okay, so what do we do?’

‘We ride.’

‘We ride?’

‘What is it your people say—on a wing and a prayer?’

‘I will die.’

‘If the gods are with us, it is not today.’

‘Gods?’

‘Yes, the god of the Rivers, and the god of Luck.’

‘Right.’ I rolled my eyes.

Burn caught the gesture. ‘You do not have gods?’

‘Yes, but that’s a completely different kettle of fish.’

‘Fish gods?’

I stalked off.

Secured on a small beach, the raft looked woefully inadequate for what we were about to undertake. We set about tying down everything that moved and Burn fastened two rope loops onto the front of the raft.

‘Don’t tell me, they’re for me to hold onto,’ I said and prodded them with my toe.

‘No, they are to put your feet in. I require you to paddle.’ Burn handed me a crude wooden oar.

‘And you will be?’

‘Standing at the back with the pole; I will use it to steer. Are you ready?’

‘No.’

‘Do you want to go home?’

‘Of course.’

I’d never even seen a rapid before, never mind ridden one. Ramming my feet into the loops, I gripped the oar as if my life depended on it. I stared the beast in the face and felt like a sacrificial offering.

Burn shoved off and yelled, ‘Here we go—’

‘Into the arse end of Hell,’ I finished.

At first, the Copper Queen was stable but a sudden lurch pushed a cold fear up my spine and tightened my muscles.

‘PADDLE,’ Burn shouted from the back.

Sticking my oar in, I strived to sweep through the water. It was hopeless. The oar spent a few seconds being useful and the rest of the time flailing in the air.

‘Edward. PADDLE.’

‘I am fucking PADDLING.’ I glanced back. Burn was using his pole to push off boulders that threatened the raft. His hair dripped from the mist and tendons were standing proud on his scrawny neck. I knelt, stuffed my ankles into the loops and facing backwards, I struck the oar into the copper water, and swept.

‘Edward, you are paddling backwards,’ Burn bellowed above the roar of the river.

Backwards, forwards, it was all the same. I changed direction.

The raft heaved to the left. I leaned to the right. The front lifted above a surge of white water, and for a second, we were airborne. My stomach flipped before we plunged into a depression between the waves. The jolt vibrated through me like a hammer striking a bell. ‘HOLY COW.’ We slammed into another wave. I lunged forward and clamped my hands on the edge of the deck. There was no way I was going back into the water.

The Copper Queen screeched as her logs jostled for freedom. A deluge of water swallowed me, and for a moment, I could have been anywhere. No up. No down. No time. No space. A few seconds of tranquillity before Burn screamed. Shaking the water from my eyes, I whirled round. He was gone. I searched the twisting waters, squeezing my eyes to focus and spinning my head in frantic movements. Nothing. My body tightened. He was fucking irritating but I was painfully aware I wouldn’t survive the trip without him.

Panting, I shifted around, dug the oar in, and pulled. And pulled. With my heart knocking hard as flint against stone I rode the Copper Queen through the twisting flow. Chucking my weight around allowed me to steer her around the larger boulders—but most of the time I just held on. The raft rode high like a piece of driftwood and the path she chose turned out to be the best. In the future, I would put down the oar and let the Copper Queen guide me.

The river calmed as quickly as it angered. I silently thanked God—any god and stood up. Planting my feet on the deck and shielding my eyes from the sun, I scanned the water’s edge and searched for Burn. My stomach rolled over. I had to find him.

His hair, still bright even though its owner was in the shadows of a rocky overhang, called to me like a distress beacon. With pole in hand, Burn waved and I expelled a long sigh. I was an only child with an absent father, I’d spent a lot of time in my own company and I didn’t like it. A part of me was glad I didn’t have to do this trip alone.

‘Are your herd animals holy?’ Burn said as he hopped on board.

‘What?’

‘Back there in the rapids you shouted holy cow. Is that a god?’

I gritted my teeth and considered knocking him back into the water. ‘You are completely mad. No.’

Burn examined me with his steady eyes then heaved off from the bank. ‘You did okay.’

He coaxed the Copper Queen into a shale inlet under the shelter of a Dragon tree. Around us, the rusty-red walls curved in like an amphitheatre of rock leaving little room for the sky. The river was calmer here but still rumbled in protest as it bullied past. We surveyed the damage. Everything was soaking but still attached.

‘We have the gods to thank for that.’

There were no gods involved. It was sheer luck. I lay drying out in a narrow slice of sunlight. Should I have stayed with my maddening father and the stupid bees? My life wasn’t in danger sitting under a tree in the Fire Glade. Maybe I could have just put my head down and got on with it?

I let my eyes wander past the high lip of the gorge. Little white puffs hung in a wedge of violet sky; it reminded me of a scarf my mother used to wear—she called it her seaside scarf because she’d worn it once on a rare family outing to the coast. We’d had homemade cheese scones and jam and my mother chided my father when he said jam only went with fruit scones.

She had just collapsed, they said, on her way to the Women’s fellowship. She had been scheduled to talk on coping with fame in middle age. She had complained about headaches for a couple of months. Migraines the doctors had told her. Brain tumour it turned out to be.

The fame that came to our family affected us all in different ways. My mother relished her new ‘wife of the famous explorer, Herb’ status. She stood taller. She spoke posher. She forgot about her only child.

Despite this, I still missed her.

Burn, humming a little tune, settled next to me causing me to tense as he shuffled up. I’d never liked people in my space. A soggy knee jammed into my side. I closed my eyes and hoped that the river, the raft, and the boy would just go away. When I opened them again, they were all still there. I pushed the knee back towards its owner. ‘You’re so annoying. Has anyone told you that?’

‘Yes. Many times.’

A silence fell between us as the river slurped at the Queen.