The other evening my husband went out cycling. Yes, it’s November. Yes it was dark. But he and his friends do this weekly after work whenever they can. At nine-thirty, it started to pour with rain as forecast. At ten p.m., just as he returned, the whole town had a power cut.
I heard with relief (since he’s the only one of the cycling group who hasn’t broken a bone on one of these jaunts) the screech of our garage door and went to look out for him, shining my phone torch into the rainy darkness.
My drenched husband said it was like being guided into the house by Florence Nightingale.
My nursing skills boil down to ‘here’s a kiss and an aspirin and/or a plaster and/or a blanket and/or soup and I’m sure you’re fine really’, so this was the first time I’ve been likened to any medical professional let alone a nursing heroine, and got me thinking.
Did Florence Nightingale really did carry a lamp? Or was this a myth long since debunked along with Napoleon being short and Marie Antoinette saying ‘Let them eat cake’? (He wasn’t and she didn’t, and for other historical myths click here.)
At a talk a while ago I was asked if I was ever tempted to write a novel based on a real character. So far my answer is no.
The first reason why I haven’t is that doing so is complex and can be controversial.
With real historical people a novel can only capture the elements of their life that the author wants to focus on, and since real lives don’t follow a story arc, or narrative pattern, real events might have to be moved about or omitted. Then readers complain about inaccuracy or bias.
Going back to Florence, yes she did have a lamp, but surely the nurses working for her in that Crimean hospital carried them too? Yet the image of the Lady with the Lamp popularised by the Times, and Longfellow’s poem ‘Santa Filomena’ turned Florence Nightingale into a celebrity. In the 1970s, I was taught that she was the only pioneering nurse in the Crimean War. But in the 2010s, my children were taught about Jamaican born Mary Seacole who was also there nursing injured soldiers, but without government support or newspaper fame presumably because of views on her race (which may have been a factor in my not learning about her sooner too).
And while Florence radically transformed nursing and reformed the running of hospitals, she was also a firm believer in the right of British Empire colonisers to interfere with the culture of the native people, because Western beliefs and customs were superior and ‘correct’.
Anyone novelising her life would have to include this. Yet there would still be those readers who’d say the focus of a novel should only be on the positive, and anything negative should be brushed under the carpet on the grounds that Florence ‘was a product of her generation’. She was, of course, but there were people of her own race/nationality in the same generation who thought it was wrong, and the native peoples suffering were also of her generation. Do they not deserve a voice? Whatever interpretation you put on it, leaving negative things out surely means the fictionalisation doesn’t reflect the real person at all.
My second reason is that I like to use my imagination.
All my historical books are set in a real historical setting. The Margaret Demeray series also includes or refers to real events and people. ‘Death In The Last Reel’ includes the Siege of Sidney Street and Winston Churchill (film footage here); ‘The Treacherous Dead’ refers back to the Boer War, Emily Hobhouse and ‘Breaker’ Morant. The forthcoming ‘Dying To be Heard’ has my (fictional) characters witnessing the real actions of militant suffragette Emily Davison at the 1913 Epsom Derby (film footage here)
But I like to dig about in the British Newspaper Archives for less well-known things to provide a flavour of the times, because the third reason I prefer to create fictional characters is that I want to imagine ordinary people like my ancestors and perhaps yours, put them in extraordinary situations and see what happens next.
The rich and famous have plenty of books and films written about them. Let’s see what an ordinary person might do.
In 1913, the newspapers headlines were mostly about suffragette militancy and the Balkan crisis. But there was frivolous celebrity news including the Royal Wedding of a German princess – the last time European monarchs met in peace, and before many monarchies disappeared forever. (Not that anyone knew that then.) I also found reference to a moving picture ‘comedy’ about hot-headed suffragettes in which one (played by an actor in drag) was ‘hilariously’ force-fed champagne; a German dentist in Portsmouth who turned out to be a spy (both getting a brief mention in ‘Dying To Be Heard’into the book); and something I’m keeping back for book five.
I discovered advertisements for a folding baby car (pushchair/stroller) priced five shillings and a vacuum cleaner priced forty-two shillings. (In context, a housemaid might earn twenty shillings per week.)
This is what gets my imagination going. Were ordinary people worried about suffragette attacks? Or irritated? Did they lap up the celebrity news and discuss what the rich ladies wore to the wedding?
The German dentist spy was captured in a sting operation and sentenced to five years’ hard labour. But what happened to him when World War One broke out? And what happened to the man who informed on him (who was also German but loyal to Britain)?
What does a maid wielding a vacuum cleaner that’s worth two to four weeks of her wages think of something that might put her out of a job?
How does a woman in the medical profession who desperately wants the vote feel about a suffragette bombing campaign that might kill someone?
And finally – what happened to the person who thought a vacuum cleaner was a perfect Christmas gift in 1912? I know what would happen to anyone who gave me one now…
Words copyright (c) 2023 Paula Harmon. Not to be used without the author’s specific consent. Advert for baby car from Daily Citizen (Manchester) 26th April 1913 and advert for vacuum cleaner from Illustrated London News 30th November 1912.
When I was young, when my maternal grandmother addressed me, she would often go through my sister’s name, our cousin’s, her own sisters’, her nephew’s and my mother’s, until she got to Paula.
These days I do the same, swapping my son’s name for my husband’s (my excuse is that they start with the same letter), my daughter’s for my sister’s (my excuse is that they have similar personalities) and recently my brother-in-law’s for that of the mutual male friend’s who was hosting us all for dinner (my excuse is that they both have Scottish names… OK that’s no excuse).
Very occasionally I suffer from face-blindness. E.g. once in a blue moon, I don’t recognise someone even if I know them very well. This usually happens when I’m deep in thought and/or daydreaming.
I regularly suffer from name-blindness, which is possibly linked. This means I can look at someone I know very well, recognise them, know who they are, but absolutely blank their name. Completely. It’s just gone.
This particularly traumatic when I have to introduce people to each other and can only recall some random irrelevant fact in lieu of a name (‘This is M’s mum’ or ‘This is my friend who makes great cupcakes’ or ‘This is my friend, the wife of another friend who cycles with my husband’).
Perhaps it happens in social situations or introduction scenarios, because I find both very stressful and they take up most of my ‘pretending I’m confident and sociable’ resources. An article called Is This Normal? “I Can’t Remember Names or Faces.” | The Swaddle, give reasons for this phenomenon that make sense to me at least. But it doesn’t stop it from being mortifying.
What about my book characters’ names? After all, I invented the characters (shh – don’t tell them). I waded through lists of potential forenames for the right era, or unusual British surnames (I’ve managed to get five of these into my books so far), and even researched how common certain surnames were in certain parts of London in the 1881 census.
So are their names easier to recall? Nope. Apart from main characters, I quite often can’t remember what I’ve called some people after writing a book at all. Sometimes I can’t remember what they’re called while I’m writing it, because I’ve changed their name halfway through.
For example, in one of my more recent books I realised that I had five female characters with names starting M and about four with surnames starting T. One of the female characters was called Mary (which was the number one name for girls in England and Wales for decades if not centuries). I decided to change it to Lois and did a search and replace for Mary throughout the document, happily ‘accepting all’ without thinking. This resulted in a lot of action taking place in Loislebone, and someone providing a sumlois of information etc. One of the T surnames had to change but in my head, the character still has the original name, which means nine times out of ten, I have to dig about for what I changed it to when thinking of them.
To avoid this sort of thing, also avoid duplicating names within the same series, and to keep a series bible of background info on characters whether or not it would ever be used (birthdays, details of parents and children and pets etc), I called upon my clerical career and started a card index system.
Fortunately I didn’t need to buy anything. When my daughter was studying for her GCSEs, she asked me to get her some cards to help with revision and a storage box to put them in. She obviously inherited my tendency to create revision schemes but lose interest before actually doing anything, because there were plenty of blank cards for me to use.
Then I found another set of index cards in a drawer.
Only they weren’t blank, and they didn’t have random facts about English Literature or The Cold War or Spanish verbs or whatever else my daughter had been studying on them. They were written in my father’s writing and furthermore, they were the details of characters he’d written stories about!
I still have boxes of Dad’s writing – typed, handwritten in notebooks large and small and on floppy disk. I have one ready to edit, and others I remember him reading aloud to me when I was a child (including a science fiction novel which if he’d published at the time, would now be reality). I have no idea what I’m going to do with them all. But seeing those index cards so unexpectedly brought a moment of serendipity, surprise that I could read his writing for once and of course a pang of what’s called in Welsh hiraeth and in Portuguese saudade – missingness, nostalgia, loving reminiscence.
I wish I could show Dad what I’ve written and help him do something with what he wrote. I can’t and he wouldn’t want me to fret that I can’t. But his characters’ index cards are now stored with mine as a reminder of the things he and I had in common: a love of storytelling, words, names, random facts and near illegible handwriting. And while I have no idea who Dad’s Janine Bex (below right) is, I do know that Roderick Demeray (below left) is based, with love, on Dad.
Maybe in some alternative universe, our characters hang out together and complain about us. ‘Look what she made me do!’ ‘Why would he call me that?’ ‘What’s going to happen to me next?’ ‘Why can’t she ever remember my name?’
After all, who’d blame them?
Words and pictures (c) Paula Harmon 2023, not to be used without the author’s express permission.
Am I alone in seeing stories everywhere? I can’t remember when I didn’t think ‘what’s their story?’, ‘what if X happened next?’, ‘why are they/is this/am I like this? What led them/it/me here?’
I dealt with long boring journeys by imagining the lives of the people we passed in the car, or what might be behind a high wall/hedge (lots of Cornish trips), or why a castle was in ruins. I coped with bullying by imagining situations in which I managed to express my feelings and the bullies changed their ways (biggest fiction exercise of my life). I enjoyed subjects where there was a story (English, History, RE), or patterns (Maths, Physics) or a challenge deciphering a pattern (Maths, Languages). If I’d spotted the stories in Geography and patterns in Chemistry, I might have enjoyed much them more than I did. If I’d been taught art differently, perhaps I’d have got to grips with that at school too. I stopped taking art at fourteen, in what was then called the Third Year, and is now called Year Nine, and in both eras called ‘Options Year’. This was when you study a million subjects at exactly the point of adolescence when you have become really truculent and know all adults are idiots, yet have to decide what you’re going to do for your first set of public exams (in my case, O levels). Long story short, I dropped art at fourteen.
Ever since I could create a word, I have been by nature a writer. But Liz Hedgecock has been encouraging me for some months to do art challenges with her giving me the chance to play catch-up on those art lessons I put to one side. I’ve found it really freeing, tapping into the part of me that writes short stories rather than novels. It’s a chance to try a narrative in a few lines rather than huge number of words. When she suggested we try Inktober, I was happy to give it a go. But when I looked at the prompts, I knew almost immediately that at my skill level I was definitely going to look for a ‘story’ for each one, not only to cover up my inadequate skills but to keep me motivated.
I think that largely Liz did the same, although with a different approach. You can see what Liz did here. But if you don’t follow me on Instagram – here is what I came up with and a summary of the background behind the stories that came into my head. to help me make sense of the prompts.
Dream, Spiders, Path, Dodge, Map
To start with I dug out a bottle of ink I’ve had forever and a lovely fancy glass ink dipping pen and did what I could with them.
I used the ink and pen for the first three and found myself sketching in a fluid, free-form way which tapped into my subconscious quite nicely.
As a vivid dreamer, it was hard to know where to stop for Dream. I included all my recurring dreams and nightmares but tried to make sure my bed was heading into happiness, even though I remembered too late that pictures should read left to right, not right to left. Ho hum.
I don’t like hurting Spiders, but prefer them at a distance, so looking at photos of them to draw from made me feel queasy. I decided to turn our treatment of them on its head which sort of coincided with our daughter (home for a break during peak house-spider season) talking to us through the Ring doorbell in a husky voice ‘Hello! I’m Simon the Spider. I just want to be friends. Please let me in.’
Path – the last I drew with ink and dipping pen for a bit, depicts me at some point in my life in my early twenties, deciding between the risky route of chasing my creative dreams where the dragons were (left) and the sensible career route (right). I picked the latter but am now in a position to go back to that fork in the path and change direction.
However, that’s not to say it’s all easy running and Dodge, the first one I drew with a fineliner (can’t remember why I changed, but it changed how the drawings turned out) has me trying to get to my happy place while being attacked by household duties, work/writing deadlines and to-do lists.
By the time I was drawing Map, I was away from home and had a mini art kit, so it was drawn with a fineliner and is perhaps the last one digging into my subconscious for all the things that prompt or hinder creativity. I wasn’t terribly happy with Map, but that’s how it goes. On the other hand I was an avid map drawer as a child, so it was good fun and I just wish I’d had a bigger piece of paper and fewer distractions.
Golden, Drop, Toad, Bounce, Fortune, Wander
A dragon was the first thing that sprung to mind for the prompt Golden. I went straight back to being six and the teacher reading from the Hobbit about Smaug the dragon in class, though my dragon of course is less murderous and mostly understood. I’ve always wanted to draw a dragon but thought I couldn’t, but I decided to give it a go anyway and found all those scales rather therapeutic to draw.
Drop – I regret to say that the word ‘drop’ just made me think of a running nose, so I had to do a bit of lateral thinking. I knew what I wanted to draw for Toad, so it seemed logical to draw what happened before… It nearly ended up with being a potion to turn a man back INTO a toad after a regretable spell. You’ll just have to decide whether it’s his fault for dabbling or the soup-maker has a naughty intent.
As for Bounce – I thought of the bounciest thing I could think of and tried not to remember the Spacehopper my father ran over when I was seven. I was very fond of it, and it never recovered. It gave my Dad a fright though.
Fortune was difficult for a number of reasons. I couldn’t think what to draw at all – or rather I could, but it was too complicated. It was difficult day at work and I wasn’t really in the mood that evening. I decided to go back to the ink and dipping pen and then regretted it. Everything went wrong! But what I was aiming for was the idea that there’s definitely a rich man in the seeker’s life but it’s at her expense. No idea if that comes across.
Wander was easier and is based on two photos of my daughter in different forests in different years, wondering which way to go next. (Bless her, my daughter ended up as an unwitting model and doesn’t look anything like the way I’ve portrayed her but I’m pleased that she’s braver at trying different routes than I was at the same age.)
Spicy, Rise, Castle, Dagger, Angel, Demon.
I could have drawn my husband’s numerous chilli plants for Spicy, or the contents of our spice cupboard, but of course ‘spicy’ has another meaning and I decided to have fun and go down that route as well! It took me four attempts to write ‘chipotle’. I could type it, but I couldn’t write it with a pen. This is one that I’m planning to do again and/or colour.
Likewise Rise – I suppose I could have saved this idea for Fire, but a phoenix rising with hope from disappointment and fear of failure seemed apt that particular day.
By the time I was drawing Castle, I was away from home again, and trying to deal with the intricacies of a real castle didn’t appeal. A sandcastle while more manageable felt a bit dull, so guess what – a story came to mind. My daughter loves octopuses and in a story world, one would come to her rescue if she needed it. (in reality she’d probably just biff anyone stomped on her sandcastle).
Despite writing murder mysteries which occasionally involve daggers etc, and despite thinking that daggers can be very beautiful and nearly drawing the one from Murder Dunovaria, the news being what it is, I didn’t fancy drawing a Dagger. The phrase ‘beating swords into ploughshares’ came to mind so I decided to draw (not very well as you can tell from my having to redraw the hammer) daggers being turned into doves.
The Angels in the nativity play come from the disappointment of never having been one as I described in Advent Calendar and also from remembering when my son was a shepherd in a nativity play aged five. He had his crook confiscated after rehearsals because he kept tripping up the primmest angel. When the day of the public performance came however, somehow he’d managed to get hold of a crook again and guess what he did? The primmest angel flat on her face as she walked down the aisle. He swore it was curiosity not malice but… I was the one dealing with her cross mum.
I didn’t want to draw a Demon for a number of reasons, so decided to do the sort of thing I’d have done at school and re-interpret the brief. So instead of demon, we have demonise. It was close to National Black Cat Day apparently, so that’s what I went for. Poor black cats. They don’t deserve the bad press. It’s time for them to fight back.
Away from home again with a simple art kit, I was wondering what on earth to do for Saddle, then remembered a story I had in Weird & Peculiar Tales, itself prompted by a dream, in which a hapless goblin cross breeds a werewolf with a chihuahua and went from there. (Admittedly my husband asked why I’d drawn a chicken being put on a dog, but hey.)
Plump coincided with the launch of Booker & Fitch omnibus of books 1-3 so here I am being plump (I’m plumper in real life) plumped down on plump cushions in Hazeby-on-Wyvern reading the book.
Frost was easy in theory, although I was in a very hot place at the time, so it was hard to imagine, and I found it hard to draw with black on white and wished I were home with black paper and white or silver pen, but I wasn’t. So here I am as a child, when I didn’t have a radiator in my bedroom with the view of mountains from my window obscured by frost as happened quite often.
Chains was a horse who was waiting, poor thing, to cart tourists around in a sort of cab in 30+ degrees Centigrade (86+ Fahrenheit). It didn’t seem too bothered, but it was happily chewing on the chain attaching it to a railing. I don’t think it was trying to get away, but it was hard not to imagine it (I would have been).
Scratchy – this is the cat we had when I was a little girl, scratching on a piece of wood which we’d brought back from the New Forest after a camping trip. Why? Because I’d spent several days pretending it was my motorbike (give me a break, I was about four or five years old) and I talked my dad round into bringing it home (Mum was not so keen). At home, the magic dispersed and it became the cat’s scratching post. But I like to think she was clever enough to know it was a motorbike really.
Shallow – again, I had something quite ‘deep’ in mind, but didn’t have the skills (or time) to draw it, so instead, here is a nod to all those summers when I (or later my children) thought they’d actually catch something in a rock pool but never did because the creatures were too clever to be caught.
And Celestial (by now I was back at home with black paper and silver pen) speaks for itself – or does it? All astronomists should look away, but there are the Pegasus and Draco constellations together (possibly unlikely) waiting for me to fly amongst them.
Dangerous, Remove, Beast, Sparkle, Massive, Rush, Fire
Finally we’re into the last week of October/Inktober. By now I was getting tired of working out what to draw, and was, once more, away for a couple of days (it really was that sort of month). By now, the prompts seems even harder to draw. Even though I’d taken photos to help me, it turned out they didn’t. So I had to dig down a bit.
For Dangerous, I remembered when my husband bought a Shun knife and kept telling me (the person who does most of the cooking), every time I cooked (e.g. generally) how sharp it was. One evening, while considering that he should be glad I wasn’t seeing how sharp it was on something other than onions, I rolled my eyes… and sliced into the end of my finger. Glad to say that it healed up fine. Sorry to say that onions aren’t improved by being pink. Will honestly say that my husband and I do not look this young although the expressions are broadly accurate.
Remove was tricky. I had a few ideas including someone removing hate from their heart and being ready to replace it with love, and someone pinching a piece of someone’s jigsaw just as they were about to finish it (sorry – that’s my brain – goes from sentimental to mischievous in the blink of an eye) and then remembered I was going to be drawing while on a train and I couldn’t face trying to draw a jigsaw. Something someone said made me think of masks or make-up and that’s what I decided to draw. I don’t wear much make-up and certainly haven’t worn this much for years, but am really fascinated by make-up artists’ skills and occasionally wonder if they could improve me. Sadly though, at the end of the day it would come off and the real me would be there underneath. The train-ride wasn’t exactly smooth and that’s my excuse for any errors (cough).
Beast was potentially as hard to draw as Demon, but by this point in the challenge, both Liz and I had decided that hands were ‘a beast’ to draw and so I went for the image above. In the pencil sketch I have the right number of finger joints. Somehow when drawing in fine liner, I added one in. This proves the point about drawing hands.
I knew from the outset that I wanted to draw my lovely daughter’s lovely eyes for Sparkle. I categorically didn’t do either the exercise or my daughter justice, but will definitely try it again. I was, by this point, really missing the opportunity to use watercolours or acrylics to add colour, or just use various pencils, but there you go. It’s all a learning curve and I’m glad I can do it without a teacher marking my efforts.
Massive was another where I didn’t quite know what to draw, then we passed a group of tourists queuing to have a birds of prey experience. The birds of prey looked as bored as the horse waiting to cart tourists around (though the temperature was more manageable where I was then). I wondered if they were thinking ‘why do the tourists get all the fun? What if we were big enough to carry them instead of the other way around?’
I had some photos of people on the underground to use as inspiration for Rush, but then thought back to when I was a child and spent time watching nature – the driven clouds, the busy insects, the running river, the the little creatures in the river marching about, oblivious (thankfully) to the adult world of being so head down rushing from A to B. Somewhen I stopped doing that, and am only just starting again.
Finally, for Fire, this is another from Weird & Peculiar Tales – or rather it’s what might happen one day. I have a sort of myth-story in there about when dragons and humans were friends – the humans providing friendship, the dragon providing warmth and protection. Then, because humans are involved, it all goes wrong. This is imagining a future which I think we’d all love – -when we stop fighting and pointing fingers and just sit down together and enjoy friendship and warmth.
So there you have it – a bit of my soul laid bare. As I said before, I’m proud of some of my drawings, not proud of others at all, may retry some, may not with others. But I had a go. It’s back to the writing now, but I’m not going to stop the art. I’m going to keep doing it. Tapping into that part of my brain that likes to tell a quick story and isn’t worrying about judgment feels like going back to a freer, less disciplined me. And that’s not a bad place to visit now and again.
Words and Images (c) Paula Harmon 2023 – not to be used without the author’s express consent.
Start work in earnest on a recipe book I’ve been planning for a while.
For one reason and another, I only managed number three, and my long suffering (his words not mine) husband has been playing guinea pig again.
My first proper job involved working in a bookshop/coffeeshop. My then manager/friend/housemate, properly trained in catering college, was mesmerised by the way I cooked while muttering to myself, ‘I’ll bung some of that in, then throw in a bit of this and taste and see what happens’. She suggested I ought to write my recipes down and call it ‘The Bung and Throw Cookbook’.
I never did of course, partly because I never measured anything, and it seemed like too much work to figure things out. Besides, after twelve months, I left to work in an office and never had the urge to return to a job in catering, Nevertheless at home, I continued making up and collecting recipes. For a good length of time, cooking was my main creative outlet, whether making something complex or simply trying to produce something quick and tasty from what happened to be in the cupboard or fridge. I still think it’s a wonderful way to relieve stress – as my mind has to leave troublesome things aside while it concentrates and creates.
Then I started writing historical fiction and wondered ‘what would my characters eat?’ as I explained here. From that point, I wondered if I could create a cookbook re-imagining what Lucretia (2nd Century), Katherine Demeray (1890s) and Margaret Demeray (1910s) might have eaten (that I might like to eat too).
The books I’m working with are The Roman Cookery Book which includes recipes from nearly two thousand years ago under the name of Apicius (translated and compiled by Katherine Rosenbaum and Barbara Flower), The Best Way published in 1909 and The Women’s Suffrage Cookery Book published in 1912.
It’s harder to re-imagine the food than you might think if you don’t know old recipe books, which are all written for people who fundamentally just needed ideas, not techniques. E.g. all three books are pretty much a forerunner of the ‘Bung and Throw Cookbook’ my friend suggested I wrote all those years go.
Would I eat any of the recipes? Yes (though not all).
Can I cook them easily from the information provided? Well…
Working out recipes from The Roman Cookery Book is the hardest. Are all the herbs safe? (Or easily available?) What can I substitute for the ubiquitous garum (fermented anchovy paste)? How do I decipher some of the recipes? They mostly simply list ingredients and vague instructions without quantities or timings.
Some things are hard or undesirable to do: ‘cool in snow’, ‘remove the spines from your sea-urchin …’, ‘take your jellyfish …’, ‘best served with peacock’.
There are a lot of chicken recipes in the Roman book, but since until relatively recently a young (e.g. potentially tender) chicken was most valuable as an egg layer and hard to mass-produce, do they mean chicken or some other fowl?
The simplest way I’ve found to decipher some of them is following the wonderful Tavola Mediterranea website, but otherwise, I’m on my own.
The Suffrage Cookbook and The Best Way are more comprehensible to a modern cook. The ingredients can be easily bought (with the possible exception of brains which I don’t want to eat anyway). But some of the instructions are just as much ‘bung and throw’ as the Apicius book. ‘Enough of…’ ‘Some…’ ‘A bit…’ ‘The usual amount…’ There aren’t many chicken recipes but a fair amount for meat which is nowadays comparatively more expensive. There are more vegetarian and spicy recipes than people might think. Timings, when given, would turn most vegetables, pasta and rice into mush.
My idea is to take a selection of these recipes, work out the instructions and cook them as if Lucretia (or more likely her cook) or Katherine or Margaret would do with access to modern equipment (and less inclination to boil things for hours).
I’ve shared some deciphered recipes before here, and I’m ploughing ahead. It’ll be a long process, involving working the recipes out when necessary and then trying them on willing volunteers (mainly family).
On Saturday evening I cooked Chicken stuffed with Saccotosh (sic) for my husband and mother. Until recently, not being American, I’d honestly thought that ‘Succotash’ (along with sassafras) was a mock swearword made up by Looney Tunes, so it was interesting to find out what a British woman in 1912 – who obviously knew otherwise – had come up with.
The ingredient quantities are vague, the cooking instructions even more so. The main warning was ‘chicken should be sewn up to prevent the corn bursting out’. Anyway, I worked out what the missing details probably were, and without sewing anything or having the chicken explode, it proved delicious and was eaten to great appreciation.
On Sunday night, I made a Curry Pie. In terms of instructions, there’s sufficient filling information, but no explanation as to why it’s called pie when no pastry is referred to. But it does say to cook it in a pie-dish. So I sort of assumed the pastry and went for it. It was tasty too, but needs a bit more tweaking before I’m happy with it.
In the meantime, my husband remains the main recipient of all this experimentation. Do you think he’s insisting on cooking tonight to give me a rest, or because he’s worried that one day he’ll end up like the guy in the drawings below? Well, he’s going to make jambalaya using the leftover chicken from Saturday’s Succotash/Saccotosh recipe, so he can’t be too worried about my recipes.
Words and pictures (c) Paula Harmon 2023, not to be used without the author’s express permission.
At the moment, after finishing work (for the moment) on two books simultaneously (listed at the end), my Muse is tempting me from what I’d been planning to write next, towards writing a ‘contemporary’ novel set in an alternative world where there’s also magic and might just include A Novelty, in a slightly different format. Is this something I should do next? Tempting.
It’s also tempting to have some time off. Or at least, to ease up on the drive for creative perfection (or as close to perfection as it’s possible for me to get).
For me, this is where what I shall loosely describe as ‘art’ comes in, because with ‘art’ – I just let my imagination do whatever it fancies without worrying about the end result, even more than I do with cooking (because after all, no one is going to die if I get the art wrong).
We’re obsessed with perfection these days. People compete on television in virtually every field from sport to dressmaking to Lego modelling. Doing something just for itself without anyone getting first prize would not make good TV perhaps, but it’s good for the spirit, and something we seem to have lost the knack for as a culture. I think we should bring it back.
I stopped studying art at school aged fourteen. Years later I tried to learn water-colouring from a book and a few years after that dabbled with acrylics. I sort of stopped again until this year, when Liz Hedgecock suggested we do some art challenges, starting with ones we made up ourselves before moving to ones found online.
I’ll be honest: I’ve enjoyed some challenges/prompts more than others; I’ve been pleased with some results more than other results; I’ve sometimes been more in the mood than other times; other people have liked some things more than other things. But none of those have really been the point. Not for me anyway.
The point for me has been simply having fun in a task where I just enjoy the process, sometimes more than the end result.
There’s always a mental fork in the road as I read the prompt and decide whether I’m going to try and reproduce accurately or make something a little more of an impression; whether it’s going to be serious or quirky. This may depend on subject or time. It may also be something to do with mood as much as subject. But each technique seems to bring out something different.
The soft sounds of a pencil when I’m sketching are calming, and there’s a relief in being able to erase a line that’s gone very wrong.
Watercolours sink into the paper, they build in hue, they’re delicate, dreamlike. The very act of applying them is relaxing. If they go wrong, maybe I can add some ink or other media, or just live with it or decide to try again sometime. Or not.
Acrylics are fun, bold, risky (also hard to get out of a carpet).
Ink is a commitment. It also seems to bring out a slightly surreal side of me which reminds me of my father’s sketching and cartooning.
It’s the process that does me good. My brain switches from all the things that are bothering me, the plot ideas that are fighting for the surface, a desire for perfection. Not all the ones in the image below are that I like or that I think are the best of what I’ve done, or the best I could do.
One – the dark picture with the woman in a long dress – was created to a prompt ‘paint out of your comfort zone’. I had no preliminary sketch as I would do normally, I just painted. I wanted to conjure up some of the contrasts of Edwardian London in the Margaret Demeray books but couldn’t really get across what I was aiming for due to lack of knowledge/skill/time. Do I think it’s good? Nope. Did I find some release in being less disciplined? Yes.
Likewise, the picture of the inside of my writing shed is not even close to what it looks like or how I wanted it to turn out. Everything from perspective to accuracy is wrong, but you know… it captures a moment I guess, and it was fun to bung all those colours down.
The one with the four quadrants is supposed to be an acrylic abstract. I do like that. In my head it represents the four seasons without me really planning it at all. For a control freak, that’s not bad going.
In one stressful week in June, when it was impossible to do any of the writing work I’d planned, the best way I found to centre myself was the ten minutes I spent each day messing about with pencils and/or paints. For a while I just switched off. The street scene with the bunting is one of those paintings.
Last week was even more stressful than that with no art time at all. It was nice yesterday to dig out an ink pen, switch off, tune out of the world and start messing about for the Inktober challenge. So far, it’s tapped straight into perhaps the more surreal side of my subconscious.
If you’re feeling stressed, why not have a go at some art yourself? The back of an envelope and a ballpoint will do if you’ve nothing else to hand.
Or do it in the sand or the mud or some flour on a work top. You don’t need to show anyone. You can destroy it if you want. The important thing is not to judge yourself or let anyone judge what you’ve done.
It’ll just be for you. I promise you, if you turn off your inner critic, that it’ll do you the world of good.
If you want to know where Inktober takes me next, feel free to follow me on Instagram. Just watch out for spiders!
The two books ready for pre-order are Death On The Towpath – book 4 in the Booker & Fitch series written with Liz Hedgecock (releasing on 30/11/23) and Dying To Be Heard – book 4 in the Margaret Demeray series (releasing 14/12/23)
Words and pictures (c) Paula Harmon 2023, not to be used without the author’s express permission.
Within the wrapping was an antique cigarette lighter. It was attractive: engraved, simple. But I didn’t smoke.
‘It’s a time machine,’ said Beth. She was eccentric, but she was my best friend. I raised my eyebrows at her.
‘It’s true,’ she insisted. ‘I found it in the Christmas market.’
Oh, a novelty present. I peered a little closer. Presumably it made a display or played sounds or something. I couldn’t even work out how to take the top off and there was no igniter. It was just a small oblong of silver with squiggles on.
‘Enlighten me,’ I said. ‘If you’ll pardon the pun. Have you tried it?’
Beth’s gaze faltered and she shook her head. ‘I haven’t had the nerve. I thought if I gave it to you, you’d be bound to try it.’
I prodded at the carving and thought about spaceships. Nothing happened.
‘It’s not doing anything,’ I said. Grinning, I went to put it among the Christmas decorations above the fireplace.
‘The vendor said it works with things,’ said Beth.
‘Things?’ I tapped it against a glass ornament. Nothing happened.
‘Not those sorts of things,’ she said. ‘Things with memory – bricks, stone, wood sometimes – not tables, I mean beams, mantlepieces. This is such an old house, I thought it would be interesting.’
‘Well, you should know if it’s interesting or not,’ I retorted. I was her housemate, but the Victorian villa had been in her family since it was built.
‘He said you can’t go forwards other than to return to the present,’ she added. ‘And you can only observe. Go on, give it a go.’
I laughed. I could always rely on Beth to be different. I was more interested in the future than the past but I looked around the room, the old fireplace, the moulded ceiling and out into the garden.
‘Let’s go outside,’ I said. A moment later, we stood shivering. The veranda which ran along the back of the house needed repairing. It was the only part of the house that made me sad, the paint peeling, the roof leaking. There was a statue of a nymph under the hedge at the edge of the garden, weather-beaten and grey. Whenever I looked at her, even in summer, I longed to put a blanket round her, she looked so cold and forlorn. Now, in the near dark, lit only by the glow from the kitchen and the fairy lights I’d put on the trees, I had an overwhelming urge to bring her inside to warm up.
‘I wonder what this looked like in its heyday,’ I said. Beth hugged herself and shrugged. ‘I suppose,’ I continued, ‘if this thing works, it could show us how to repair the veranda to make it authentic. Who knows how many layers of paint is on it.’
I held a support with one hand and gripped the object. There was second’s hesitation before Beth uncrossed her arms and laid her hand on my shoulder.
‘Christmas 1840,’ I said and for reasons I can’t explain, closed my eyes. I expected nothing to happen. The air felt the same, the world smelled the same – a little damp, wintery, wood-smoky. Beth was shivering but it felt like trembling. I opened my eyes and it was so very much darker. There were no lights on the trees. The glow of the kitchen was much softer and fell shorter making the garden little more than shadows on shadow. The nymph… I couldn’t see her. She must have been a later addition. And the bushes where she would later stand were moving in the breeze.
It took seconds for my eyes to adjust and for me to realise there was no breeze. The bushes weren’t moving but a person was. People. They were embracing, a woman in a long dress held tight in a man’s arms; passionate, close, her head back.
And then he dropped her.
There was the shortest of pauses. In the fields beyond the garden, a fox barked. And then the man started digging.
‘So that’s where she is,’ breathed Beth.
‘The great-great-something aunt,’ she said. ‘They said she’d run away. Let’s go home.’
A moment later we were back in the present. The garden twinkled under fairy lights; the nymph hid in the shadows exactly where the woman had been dropped.
‘We need a spade,’ said Beth. ‘And then, as soon as we can, we go back and find out who killed her.’
Being a bit behind, I’ve only just seen the new Barbie movie. This isn’t a review or critique as I’m still sort of processing what I think (although I found bits very funny and I bet they had a blast making it). It’s just a reflection on something raised by an article on it.
My younger sister and I never had Barbies. This may have been to do with expense, although I think my parents possibly thought Barbie a little too grown-up looking and stereotypical.
One of us possibly had a passed-down Sindy, and we definitely had Pippa and Marie (more tweenager in shape, more diverse in skin tone at the time – Pippa having fair hair and skin and Marie having brown hair and skin). At some point, our Marie even obtained a horse.
They never had many spare clothes so my main involvement with them was making things. I made Marie a wardrobe out of a shoebox for the few clothes she had (semi-success), attempted a stable for the horse with lolly sticks (epic fail) and I learned to sew clothes that fitted by designing and making some for my sister’s bigger dolls.
I didn’t like dolls themselves much as you can read here, but I coveted pretty clothes in which I planned to sit around looking elegant. My sister loved dolls, but didn’t particularly care about clothes, since she thoroughly liked getting grubby while making dens. Yet she got the pretty clothes made for her, and I got the sensible ones. The memory is so firmly wedged, that her frilly Alice in Wonderland dress even got into a story ‘Ice Cream On Monday’ which is in Kindling, about an incident in a South Welsh chapel when we were eight and five, in which it played a key part.
Don’t be fooled into thinking I knew about fashion. I didn’t. I just knew I wanted to be elegant. Spoiler Alert: I’ve never succeeded.
When I had my own children, a boy and a girl, I bought them some second-hand Barbies at a toy sale. I possibly felt the same as my parents had about her general shape but the kids were oblivious. The Barbies hung out with a slightly scary edition of GI Joe (who had a rather lethal grappling hook that ‘accidentally’ disappeared before it took someone’s eye out) which my son had been given, and all three drove about in a jeep, occasionally taking death-defying leaps off the landing and down the stairs. My daughter was just as lacking in doll nurturing urges as I was and less interested in doll clothes. So the poor Barbies were generally nude, or had their clothes on their heads as hats, and my daughter gave them rather uneven haircuts. (If you’ve seen the movie, then you’ll know what this means.)
Anyway, going back to the article mentioned above. It had been prompted by the film, and talked about how girls are expected to leave behind their toys as they move into the adult world. It’s assumed that boys, however, will continue playing with them forever, no matter how old they are.
I thought about it and remembered that when I was a child, there was definitely a point, between ages ten and twelve, when girls just stopped cycling, running about, playing chase, making dens, etc etc. Being a bit behind the loop on the maturity front, I dropped out of Girl Guides early on, because while I wanted to talk about woodcraft, when the other girls seemed to be more interested in pop stars. However, by the age of twelve, without gaining much interest in pop stars (except for David Soul who wrote ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’ just for me), I stopped playing in the same way as I had as a child. I learned how to cook and sew – sensible pursuits, even if pastimes. I stopped making plasticine and papier-mâché models of characters from the stories in my head. I stopped climbing trees and making dens. I didn’t ride a bicycle again until I was nearly twenty. But the boys never seemed to stop.
One morning at a toddlers’ group many many years ago, some of the mums (including me) had sat down with our children and tried to engage them in colouring-in, partly because we were all shattered and wanted them to calm down a bit. The children weren’t remotely interested. There were toys to play with, they didn’t want to sit still. We gave up on them, but decided just to sit there, colouring in some Princesses and animals with stubby crayons. We chewed the fat and had an immensely chill time, before it was time for tea/coffee and homemade cake (which was usually the best bit of toddlers’ group). That was perhaps the first time for many years that I’d done something ‘pointless’ (unless you count unrequited love).
Going back to Barbie (again), I shared the article about the film among my friends, and the responses, all from women, mostly professional, were very interesting. Whether they’d loved dolls or not, there was an outpouring of nostalgia and affection not only for long lost toys, but for the freedom to play make-believe. Or is it that we all longed for permission to do it again?
I think that part of the reason why I’ve started dabbling with art this year, is to give myself permission to just do something with no particular purpose. No one is going to give me space in the National Gallery. I doubt they’ll be heirlooms. Some of the paintings/drawings are quite good, others are awful. But no one, including me, is marking them out of ten, so it doesn’t matter. I’m just having fun.
This morning, while trying to make some space on top of a wardrobe, I came across the kids’ box of Lego. Should it go into the attic? Maybe not. Wouldn’t I love to spend some time working out how to create a fantastic model? You bet ya. Will it matter if it’s rubbish? Nope.
Now I wonder if there’s enough to make a dragon.
Words and photo (c) Paula Harmon 2023, not to be used without the author’s express permission.
All right, when Murder at Midnight starts, it’s just dark, but then it’s set in midwinter! Could that be why the local standing stones are a bit spooky? Or could it be something else?
Murder At Midnight is now out, and if you’re in the northern hemisphere and want an escape from summer, here’s your chance. It’s late December in Hazeby-on-Wyvern. Jade’s son Hugo is visiting her flat for the first time – whatever will he make of it? And Fi’s parents are staying with her in-laws for the festive season – how will she and Dylan cope with a double dose of grandparently expectations? But getting ready for family Christmases is only a tiny part of Jade and Fi’s worries.
When Jade decides to branch out and diversify her business at the winter solstice, things take a peculiar turn
And this time the police may not be on her side.
Here’s the blurb:
Ritual sacrifice, or planned murder?
Jade’s new-age shop is thriving. But when she decides to photograph the winter solstice sunrise at the local stone circle she finds something much less attractive: a dead body, badly beaten, on a stone altar.
The body is identified as that of Richard Bain, a local with his own IT business. But who killed him, and why?
Suspicion immediately falls on the local pagan community, but something about the body bothers Jade, who confides in her friend Fi. Is everything what it seems?
The pair have their own ideas, but the police are less than interested – and as the case remains unsolved, Jade’s involvement puts her under suspicion and her business at risk.
Can Jade and Fi uncover the truth – and convince the town they’re right?
Murder at Midnight is the third book in the Booker and Fitch cozy mystery series, set in and around the English market town of Hazeby-on-Wyvern.
According to an article, Dorset farm workers had eight meals a day: dewbit, breakfast, nuncheon, cruncheon, lunch, nammet, crammet and supper.
Admittedly, a Dorset farm worker probably needs more calories than a Dorset writer/office worker, and I’m generally happy with a mere three meals a day, but even so, I really want to know what they all consisted of and give them a go, possibly because I’m on a diet at the moment.
Dieting isn’t remotely new, as you can read in this article (hey – I have one vital statistic in common with the Venus de Milo! No, I’m not telling you which). It’s worth a read, if only to confirm that there’s nothing new under the sun, why William the Conqueror fell off his horse, and why you should never tighten a 16th century corset too much (assuming you have one on).
My Victorian and Edwardian characters don’t seem to eat as well as my second century ones somehow. I suspect they’re too busy.
Margaret frequents suffragette tea-rooms one of which serves vegetarian food. Many suffragettes were keen vegetarians and some were teetotal. Margaret is neither but likes vegetarian food, only she’d never get it past Fox at home, so has to eat it while out. While Margaret is fictional (don’t tell her) suffragette tea-rooms weren’t.
Poor woman, I’m editing the fourth book at the moment and realise she only has one large meal and a sandwich over the space of about three months. I’m going to have to add at least an afternoon tea somewhere.
Afternoon tea as a tradition is not as old as you might think and nowadays it’s a treat rather than normal event for most of us. The closest we get at home is periodically having scones with cream and jam instead of a pudding on Sunday. (With reference to the jam first/cream first debate, living in Dorset and unsure if Dorset has ‘rules’, I do one half with jam first and the other with cream first, but my Welsh husband goes Devonian all the way.)
Which brings me onto scones versus biscuits. I read all the Laura Ingalls books as a child and while a little baffled by references to biscuits and gravy, had in my head a sort of oat biscuit smothered in the sort of rich, brown, meat/chicken gravy the British have with roast dinners.
Years later I mentioned it to a Texan friend who said ‘Oh no. A biscuit is a bit like a scone without sugar, and the gravy is milk gravy.’
I decided that the biscuits must be a bit like ‘cobblers’ (savoury scones cooked on top of stews) and have since worked out that the milk gravy is similar to what my mother would call white sauce. One day I hope to try them in the States, and in the meantime, when back eating carbs I might try and make some. If you have favourite recipes, I’d be delighted to see them.
British scones can be savoury too. My normal recipe for cheese scones is here.
British people can argue for hours about how to pronounce ‘scone’ (does it rhyme with ‘gone’ or ‘phone’?). This is not a regional argument and I don’t think it’s a class one either. I think it’s just from family to family.
There is more than one biscuit in the UK (and they’re not all sweet) and we can debate/argue about the best type for even longer than how to pronounce ‘scone’. Scientists have even worked out which is best for dunking (I favour a ginger biscuit myself).
We can argue even longer about dinner and tea. Is dinner a lunchtime or evening meal? If you call the evening meal ‘dinner’, is ‘dinner’ exceptionally a lunchtime meal on Sundays and at Christmas? Is tea a mid-afternoon snack or an evening meal/either/both? It was raised within my team at work one day and continued, after work, in our WhatsApp group. Despite at least four of us coming from broadly the same part of the country, two born in roughly the same place and most of us coming from similar backgrounds, we still couldn’t agree.
And don’t get us started on what to call a simple bread roll (I call it a bread roll or bap for the record).
Since being told to lose weight, I risked my English and Scottish baking ancestors haunting me by doing some experimenting into low carb recipes for scones made with almond flour and coconut flour. Were they nice? They weren’t bad. Were they the same as the real thing? Not at all. Will I bake the real thing when I’ve lost some weight? You bet I will. Partly because I recently missed out on afternoon tea inadvertently.
In June, Liz Hedgecock and I met up for a couple of days in Bristol and Bath, as we celebrated Murder For Beginners being highly recommended in The Write Blend Awards and she gave me the trophy for the time-being. Despite my diet, we’d intended to go for afternoon tea, but in the end we were frankly too hot after clambering up and down hills being cultural in 30°C/86°F heat.
We even forgot to have the sparkling wine we’d planned, which shows how bad we are at celebrating.
Guess what’s on the agenda for the next time we meet apart from me giving the trophy back to Liz? Just see the left hand photo below for a clue in case you hadn’t guessed and in case you’re wondering, the silver-plate tea-pot next to the award was a wedding present of one of my Scottish great-grandmothers.
I gather she was a little terrifying, so she’s the one I fear may yet haunt me for making carb-free scones…
Welcome to an interview with author Chantelle Atkins and news about her latest book.
Chantelle has just released the first in a brand new young adult post-apocalyptic series ‘The Day The Earth Turned book 1: Summer’. Here’s the blurb: The adults are all dead. Society has collapsed. Two groups of teenagers emerge on either side of a rural village, traumatised, bereaved and determined to survive. As tribes form and territorial lines are drawn, can they overcome their differences and find a way to rebuild? Or will gang warfare end this emerging new world before its even begun? Each of them have their theories about what killed the adults and as the dust settles on the old world, a far bigger, darker, and angrier threat is bursting to life all around them.
You can read my 5* review below but first, let’s find out more about Chantelle and what inspired this book and her writing.
Welcome Chantelle! First of all – please introduce yourself.
I’m a writer, mother of four, director of Chasing Driftwood Writing Group, dog lover, and avid reader! I live in Dorset, UK and write in young adult and adult genres.
What prompted your latest novel/story?
‘The Day The Earth Turned Book 1: Summer’ was inspired partly by where I live – a semi-rural village with a four main roads and a river running through it. Hurn is very beautiful if you get away from the roads but a lot of the land is currently under threat of development. When I heard what they wanted to do to parts of this area, threatening wildlife and changing the character, widening roads and felling trees, I felt absolutely devastated and helpless and angry. As I walked the quiet lanes and listened to birdsong I felt so guilty for what humans have done to the natural world and I felt like nature itself ought to be furious with us. I started thinking about Mother Nature as a conscious entity – one that must kill us before we kill her. And that’s where the idea for this series came from.
Were you encouraged or discouraged to write as a child/teenager, and if you were discouraged – how did you overcome this?
My English teachers and my mum encouraged me but I felt like everyone else was negative about writing, as a career and as a hobby. They just didn’t understand it and even today, barely any of my friends and family are interested or supportive. I’ve found that to be very common, sadly. But other authors are the best and the indie community, in particular is a great source of encouragement. As for overcoming the discouragement – as a child and teenager, I just kept at it and did it anyway. It was always my favourite thing to do. As a young adult, with the pressures to get jobs and make money and move out, I did end up putting writing aside. In fact, I didn’t write for ten years, while I went to University, started work and had children. I completely lost that side to myself, and I do blame the lack of encouragement. I viewed it as a waste of time and something that I would never do well at so why bother? But that changed and I clawed it back and I would never let it go again!
How do you keep yourself motivated when your writing doesn’t flow?
I never get writer’s block. If anything, I get the opposite problem of having too many ideas. But there are times when I don’t like what I have written, and it’s not gone as well as I hoped. I try and write through it, knowing that I can make it better another day. Or I go for a long walk and that usually clears the block or sparks off new ideas.
How much of yourself is in your stories?
More than I realise a lot of the time! I think that whatever genre you write in, whatever stories you come up with, you can’t escape yourself or your own life, thoughts, etc, so they creep in somewhere, inevitably. Sometimes it might be within a character. I wouldn’t say any of my characters are totally like me, but there are bits of me in all of them, if that makes sense. There are also bits of people I know or who have known, sometimes even strangers in the street. Writers absorb and observe and collect information, images and emotions from the world around them. I also seem to like writing about characters who are viewed as outsiders; a bit quirky, or odd in their own way, and that’s definitely something I can relate to!
What is the biggest challenge the characters in your latest book face?
The biggest challenge these characters face is survival. The adults are (mostly) all dead and the kids are surviving as best they can in a new, and hostile world. They have to find food, learn how to grow it, make the water safe, deal with first aid situations and more, plus there is another threat coming to life all around them. Nature is still angry. The adults have been culled but the children could be next!
Will there be a sequel?
Yes, it’s a four-book series and the second book Autumn will be out at the end of September!
Where can we buy ‘The Day The Earth Turned – Summer’?
My debut YA novel ‘The Mess Of Me’ deals with eating disorders and self-harm. ‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’ is a coming-of-age crime thriller series. Also available; ‘This Is Nowhere’, ‘Bird People and Other Stories’, and the award-winning dystopian, ‘The Tree Of Rebels’. In 2018, ‘Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature’ was released followed by the gritty YA trilogy: ‘A Song For Bill Robinson’, ‘Emily’s Baby’ and ‘The Search For Summer’. I have since released a short story and poetry collection, ‘The Old Friend’ and a YA paranormal trilogy co-written with Sim Alec Sansford. I run my own Community Interest Company, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group.
Thanks so much Chantelle. Here’s my 5* review of ‘The Day The Earth Turned – Summer’
Maybe you’d think this would compare to Lord of the Flies, but it’s so much broader and more terrifying.
The setting is a quiet English village in a pretty rural setting. But the teenagers and children in it are surrounded by dead adults, and a normal life which has completely disappeared.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted, there is plenty that’s gruesome and terrifying as the teenagers in particular work out how to deal with the dead and survive. However, this is only part of the story.
What I loved about this in particular are the characters, who are so well drawn I felt I knew them straight away. Chess – dealing with her grief not just for her parents but for the future way she saw her life that will never come – having to put her feelings aside to care for her little sister. Reuben – loner, victim of bullies but standing strong, bubbling with anger, but practical and compassionate. Gus – glad the adults have gone, but choosing to take control as soon as he can. George – independent, determined to go it alone, forced into a situation he couldn’t have envisaged.
Having grown up in a village in a rural community, I could believe the way that the children and teenagers all behaved. What will the school bullies, without adult restraint, actually do in a crisis? How soon will shops run out of food? When will fear and grief turn into violence, and how far will that violence go? And underneath it all, what is happening with the animals? And why has the situation come about in the first place? Who or what has killed the vast majority of adults? Could it be more than a laboratory accident or just a freak of nature?