Molly just wants to sleep at night, but the dreams won’t leave her alone. The light goes out, while distant echoes of thunder diminish into the night. Molly has dreamed of it before, but this time her eyes are open and she’s wide awake.
The man is bending over her but she can only see his shadow.
Then everything changes. It is a world of buzzing chatter, markets, the calls of birds, bright sunshine and the cobbled alleys of old London.
But when Molly turns and blinks, everything dissolves into shadows once more. And she hears the siren of police cars, and they are coming closer.
An identical murder in the distant past of her dreams joins the two worlds in equal danger. Molly travels time but is followed by some horror which kills and mutilates at will.
And the man, his voice the rustle of dead leaves, is always there. Yet Molly discovers far more than fear and misery. She discovers a whole new life, and a love she could never have imagined. she no longer wants to return – but she must.
Vespasian Fairweather introduced himself into my head without permission. I saw him very clearly, and I heard him too.
He was not an easy visitor, he disturbed my dreams and pushed in whether I was ready or not. There were times when he was clearly more of a villain than a hero.
I was already fascinated by the period in history where the Norman conquerors were finally accepting that their throne in England was worth more than the dukedom in France, while further antagonism and rivalry increased between brothers. The most famous dispute was between Richard the Lionheart, who spent so little time in England that he barely understood a word of the language, and his younger brother John who was more present but also more disliked. Intrigued by the period in history, I had planned to set my next novel then, but had no real plot until Vespasian came striding into my head, angry, arrogant and smelling of deep magic.
The plot grew from there. England was not a comfy place at the time and my storyline twisted the circumstances to seem less comfy than ever. Meanwhile Vespasian introduced me to early alchemy and the ancient (partially fictitious) cult of Lilith.
And so my first time-slip novel was born. Switching between modern times and the start of the 13th century, this is not basic time-travel but pure magic, and it is Vespasian who marches those dangerous roads between. He is no average hero. He is dark and troubled, but the power he wields is not evil. He understands evil and fights against it, but he is no tame or easy friend. This is a man who has long been a warrior to fear, but he is also capable of great love.
My delight in history is always part of my inspiration, but with Fair Weather, a book which does not in any manner introduce weather which could be described as ‘fair’, could be said to have inspired itself. Vespasian made his own plot, and told me what to write. I had no choice whatsoever.
Available from Amazon June 2nd
Like the Marquis de Sade, Winnie the Pooh and many others, I had my own secret place to go to.
But escapism is not always so easy. The mind does not always create an escape into joy or sunshine. Mine wasn’t a happy place, no shining pool for lotus dreaming nor garden of perfumes. Yet I slid often into its shadows, asleep or awake, when life’s expected attractions failed all their promises. Then my secret world sucked me in. I had not invented it for pleasure or meditative snooze. It had invented itself. Ever since I was born it had been there, whispering at me from the back of my head. Secrets, and my secret place, were in the background of all my daily routines. Sometimes, cuddled alone in my small bed, I heard voices. I smelled, when least expecting it, the stench of mould, of dirt, blood, sweat, and putrefaction. Believing them dreams, sometimes I even feared my bed. Of course, they weren’t dreams at all but I didn’t realise that at the time.
The haunting of my imagination turned me, once I grew old enough to choose, into a writer of sorts. But it took me a long time before I understood.
Every reader, in some small sense, writes the book he is reading. Now I, the author, found I was being written by the book I was writing. Perhaps I had been unwise to set my new novel in medieval London’s dark alleys. I soon recognised my own nightmares. Perhaps I had always known there were greater threats to come.
It wasn’t always ugly. Now when I slept, I wandered the forest paths that looked down from their clearings onto the sprawl of ancient London and its shining ribbon river. The girl I saw there was very young, with huge grey eyes like bruises in a small narrow face and she was a lot more scared of me than I was of her. The woods around her were sun spangled. No conifers darkened the leaf flutter. Oaks, hazels and beeches entwined arms over gentle rises of moss, flower sprigged and mulched in old tangles of root and briar, raggy fern and many autumn’s rotted leaf fall. The scuffle of small animals crept deep as I passed. It was not a peaceful place but it was beautiful. How could I know then, that this distant past would one day be my home and that I would love it as I had never loved another?
The girl was just a child that first time I saw her, a bedraggled waif, wretchedly thin. She was sitting on a stone amongst the bracken. Her feet were bleeding. I thought she had probably walked a long way and I knew she was hungry.
That particular night I stood in the shadows and smelled the cool pungency of damp bark. Because I was asleep, I did not expect her to see me. Then she looked up and stared straight into my face for a moment. She gasped, her eyes widened and her hands twisted into the threadbare wool of her cloak. I smiled, to reassure her. She thought I was a ghost. I left her still running through the forest and I woke to a winter’s midnight and the sudden call of an owl outside my bedroom window. I was sweating but my nose above the quilt’s feather embrace felt like ice.
For the next two weeks I took my laptop into the kitchen where it was warmer. I even baked bread, not to eat but to breathe in the scent of security and modern affluence. I shoved the instant powder onto a back shelf and unearthed the espresso machine from its bubble wrap, surrounding myself with reminders of success, machinery, and the conveniences of twenty-first century life. So I banished insecurities and continued writing. As proof of confidence, I forwarded the first pages to my agent. He sent me back an optimistic deadline. Then everything started to go wrong.
My divorce was finalised as I began chapter five. I expected a further relaxation of the night terrors and at first daytimes seemed less stressful. Even the weather improved and lurking soft sunbeams hurried out from their late January clouds, burning the shadows sharp edged. The snow drops along the roadsides nodded and I nodded back. The first few early lambs in the fields, black nosed fluff dots across the Cotswolds, nuzzled complacent mothers, discovering after all that life had been worth the agonies of birth.
But instead of dissipating, my night time hauntings darkened. Children crept from the shadows, begging help, whispering of starvation, and of worse. Someone else made his own shadow. He was very tall and very dark, so that I could not tell which was shadow and which was man. When he spoke, his voice was cold and so soft, I understood no words.
Now frightened by the nightmare intensity, I abandoned my book, thinking instead to write a romantic comedy, a Victorian frivolity, a modern adventure. Of course it was too late. My characters were already writing me. Medieval London had drawn me in and I had finally discovered that my secret place, so familiar after nearly thirty years of lurking in its unnamed alleyways, had always been perfectly real.
A few nights later I saw the girl again, though she was a little older now with the pinched face of growing maturity trapped in still fragile youth. She was crying. Someone was bending over her but I still did not see him clearly as once again his shadow preceded him. He was dressed in deepest red and dust-hung black. His hair was shoulder length and very dark, straggled and probably unwashed. I couldn’t see his face. He was talking to the girl and she seemed comforted by what he said. To me, he seemed a threat.
I knew she sat hunched over the kitchen table. There was no food and the barn-like room was cold. The frost swept under the door; the wind rattling and squealing into the dirty straw within. She rested her face on her crossed wrists and I felt her little cold bones beneath my own cheek. I felt the soft dampness of her tears on my own fingers. She sat on a rough wooden stool and I felt it wobble beneath me. I also felt her hunger; a pain so violent that I shuddered. When she looked up at the man who spoke, I knew her hope and her trust.
As it was with me, so it was with them. Winter, and the bitter wind that blew through their draughty windows seemed to be the same gale that blew down my valley with the same angry whine and glowering cloud. There was no fuel for their fire. But the man was untouched by weather and his hunger was just a passing inconvenience to him. As I woke, the faded pink roses on my bedroom walls transposed over the dream’s bleak grey, and for the first time I heard him speak.
“There is nothing,” I heard him say. “Perhaps tomorrow I will find something. Patience, child. I shall do my best.” His voice was as soft as the leaves on the wind, but quite clear. It haunted me for the rest of the day.
I was barely out of my pyjamas when Bertie turned up. Divorcing him hadn’t really got rid of him at all. What he said had rarely ever made much sense but it made none at all to me now. I was still lost in dream fragments.
“She won’t let me stay,” he was saying. “Well, honestly, that’s gratitude for you. But when it comes down to it, better over and done with. So, what about it then, sweetie? Molly, are you listening? You wouldn’t mind, would you?”
Behind Bertie’s rambling clichés the other man’s voice echoed, soft and insistent. He said he’d do his best but there was something wrong, some inherent danger in his words. I said, “But you never really do your best. Or your best isn’t enough.”
Bertie stared at me. “What the devil are you talking about now Mol? Going off your head, I daresay. Always thought you would. Writers are all part balmy to start off with.”
He brought modern reality bumping into garish focus. “Sorry.” I wished he’d go away. “I was thinking of something else. I’m busy. Can’t all this wait until another day?”
"No, it damned well can’t. Want me to sleep on the street? It might even snow tonight.” He glared at me.
I suddenly realised what he’d been saying. “You want the spare room? But we only got our decree nisi ten days ago. We’re officially divorced. Honestly Bertie, I thought you were staying with the skinny one with red hair.”
“Juliette. No, she was last month. This one’s blonde. Buxom Paula. But she chucked me out last night. Says I snore. Well, O.K., a bit more than that. We had sort of an argument. I suppose you could say we more or less split up.”
“Well, you can’t stay here. I couldn’t bear it. Bertie dear, I divorced you for a reason.”
“Just a couple of nights on the sofa, then? Until I find a rental.”
“I’m a spinster again, Bertie. It wouldn’t be proper. And spinster is such a beautiful word. I’ve fallen in love with it.”
Bertie moved his suitcases into the hall after lunch and I disappeared into the kitchen with the laptop. I sat there over the blank screen and the man’s voice from my dream repeated over and over in my brain.
“There is nothing. Perhaps tomorrow. Patience, child. I shall do my best.” I had no idea what it meant but I couldn’t get it out of my head. The voice was deep and low and very soft. I thought he had meant to be kind. But he wasn’t a man to whom kindness came naturally.