Monthly Archives: April 2014

Wednesday Write-In #89

The prompt words this week were:

disown :: doldrums :: narrow :: curse :: assemble

Image: colourbox.com

Image: colourbox.com

The Prodigal’s Return

Aix-en-Provence, 23.III.34
Robinson,

Oppressive times here, old chum. Oppressive indeed. This morning’s post brought a missive from Pater regarding my apparent ‘profligacy,’ ‘throwing away the family coin on women and wine,’ &c., and threatening the dreaded cut-off if such damnable behaviour does not cease forthwith. Blithering old fool. What business is it of his how I conduct myself here, far from his maddening grasp? Curse him. What irks most is how on earth he’s aware. Of course, he doesn’t know the half of it, but the half he does know, he appears to understand with perfect clarity.

All I wish is to be left in peace to write. Once my novel is completed, and I am being fêted on the London literary scene, we’ll see who requires money from whom.

I say, you couldn’t assemble a small packet of necessities, could you? A razor, some soap, a little cologne if you can spare it, some ink and nibs? Would be most grateful, of course. Recompense at a later date, and all that.

Must dash –
Yours
Stroud

 

Aix-en-Provence, 05.IV.34
Robinson,

The doldrums continue apace, their sole lightening your letter, received yesterday with childlike gratitude. I thank you most sincerely for the ink and sundries you were good enough to send. When I came upon the inner package and found just how far your generosity had extended, I was quite moved, old boy. Assure yourself that I shall use it to pay for the roof above my head and the cuisine – victual as opposed to venereal, naturally – of which, perforce, I must partake.

Work continues well. I am all but finished the first draft. Not that Pater cares: along with your wonderful package came another ‘I Shall Thee Disown’ decree, filled with the most dreadful vitriol. It’s enough to make one dizzy.

Off for a walk in the Spring sunshine before returning to my narrow quarters, to sleep perchance to dream – perchance to write.

I can feel it, Robinson. The acclaim. Time, o Time, that blessed mistress; Time is all I need.

Yours in gratitude
Stroud

 

Bridgwater House, Taunton, 17.V.34
Robinson,

I hold no ill-will, old chap. I’m sure you felt your hand forced, your conscience pricked without cease, and all that. I saw his top hat, first of all (nobody in Aix wears such things – he stood out like blood on a wedding gown); I tried to run, but could not decide what to leave, and what to bring. I froze, like a fool. He came straight to my door; there was no other way he could have known. I hope he made it worth your while, at least.

He flung my work upon the flames. It is ash, as am I.

No matter. Chin up, eh? Summer is high. The family coffers are, once again, sealed. Rejoice, o Israel.

Remember me, won’t you? With affection, if you can?

Yours eternally, in comradeship most fond,
Stroud

Tiger and Turtle

Image: layoutsparks.com

Image: layoutsparks.com

Tiger and Turtle

Truth be tol’, I feel like hell the day Turtle and me decide to ride the rollercoaster.

‘They ain’t gon’ let us on,’ I say. ‘Les’ jus’ bounce.’

‘Fool, I know the ticket guy, ai’ght? No sweat.’ I can’t do nothin’ but shrug, and hope my head stops hurtin’ soon.

Eventually, we facin’ the top of the line.

‘You two jokers, right?’ says Ticket Booth guy. ‘Git. You gotta be this tall –‘ he points at some grinnin’ fool on a billboard – ‘to ride.’ But Turtle, he knew a back door. Soon, we on board.

My head bustin’ like a neverendin’ punch, an’ Turtle talkin’, but I ain’t hearin’. Two seats in front, there’s a tiger sittin’, stripes an’ tail flickin’. He turns, growlin’, an’ I smell his meat breath.

Coaster starts movin’, an’ I lean across to Turtle, real slow.

‘Turtle, man,’ I say, so low he can’t barely hear.

‘What you sayin’?’ he yells, leanin’ in. He soun’ like a freight train.

‘Turtle, man! Up front. Up front!’ I’m flickin’ my eyes in Tiger-boy’s direction but it ain’t no good. Turtle, he refuse to see.

‘What in the hell wrong wit’ you, boy?’ He fling hi’self back into his seat and fol’ his arms like he waitin’ for church to start. ‘You crazy.’

‘You don’t see nothin’?’ The tiger smilin’ at me now, his teeth shinin’ gold. Plenty o’ room in that ol’ mouf for me an’ Turtle too, and then some.

‘Ain’t nothing there to see,’ Turtle say, lookin’ out at the world. ‘No, sir.’

My head fit to bust, then. Feelin’ like my skin gon’ split, startin’ right at the top o’ my head, flayin’ down to my footsoles. The ol’ tiger, well. He turn, his shoulder ripplin’ like a black an’ yellow ocean, like a cornfield full o’ shadow. He turn s’more, one giant paw comin’ to res’ right on the seat in front. My brain screamin’. The tiger’s eye like a dyin’ star.

‘Turtle, man – I ain’t feelin’ so good,’ I say, an’ it the truth. My eyeballs fit to come pop right out my skull and lie, fizzin’, on my fool cheeks. I need to get out my seat, but the coaster flyin’ by now. I strugglin’, Turtle beside me suckin’ his teeth, leanin’ out the side.

‘Quit yo’ wrigglin’!’ he snap, turnin’ to me with his eyes wide.

An’ then the tiger, he pounce. He fall like a hammer, like a mountain. He brung night with him, pure dark, full o’ noises and danger and the stink o’ death. Then I hear Turtle screamin’, an’ my head explode. I bust up an’ out, th’owin’ off my skin, my self, an’ my arms ain’t arms no mo’, my hands ain’t hands.

I got claws longer n’ my ol’ body. I got pelt. I got teeth.

So I sink ’em, ever’thin’, into ol’ Tiger-boy.

As we fallin’ out the coaster I hear him laughin’.

Welcome, chile, he say. I knew it was you.

Approaching the Event Horizon

April is nearly over. May is nearly here. That means a few things, of course, not all of them scary and new; it means there’s likely to be more of this sort of thing, which is good:

Image: paleohappy.com

Image: paleohappy.com

And people will, more than likely, start to wear stuff like this (even though, in Ireland, just because the sun’s out doesn’t actually mean it’s warm, but we’re eternally optimistic – a sort of ‘if you wear it, summer will come’ thing):

Image: lukitaslittleworld.blogspot.com

Image: lukitaslittleworld.blogspot.com

Sadly, it also means a lot of people will be going around looking like they’ve been dipped in boiling oil, too, because – while the sun’s not particularly strong here, unless things are exceptionally warm – the Irish pelt just isn’t equipped to cope with anything much beyond a vaguely bright afternoon.

But, on a personal level, the approach of May means a few different things.

Firstly, it’s going to be a busy month for me. As well as attending two conferences (at one of which I’ve been given the opportunity to pitch my book to an agent), I am also going to be giving a reading at a book festival. On top of all that, I’ve decided that now would be a good time to branch out into a new business venture. It’s official. I’ve ordered business cards, and everything.

What’s that silence? Oh, don’t worry. It’s just my quietly controlled panic.

Secondly, it’s a month full of new stuff. I’ve never given a reading before, for instance – the very idea of it seems slightly ridiculous, as if someone, somewhere, has made a terrible mistake and is expecting Sinéad O’Connor instead of me, or something.

FYI: not me. Image: thetimes.co.uk

FYI: not me.
Image: thetimes.co.uk

Actually, there’s an idea. Perhaps if I pretend I am Sinéad O’Connor, it might make the whole thing easier – and more enjoyable for the audience. I’m sure I could belt out a few verses of ‘Mandinka’ before being manhandled off the stage.

The next challenge is to write and memorise a ten-minute pitch for my book. Delivering this in front of a mirror, or my mother, will be scary enough. Delivering it in front of a top-notch literary agent, however – that’s a whole new level of terror. What if I forget how to talk? Maybe my mind will become a field of pristine snow, unblemished even by the tiny pock-marks of foraging birds. Perhaps my teeth will chatter so hard that everything I say will come out all chopped up, like baby food.

Maybe I’d be better off printing the whole thing out on laminated paper and giving it to the agent to read. You know, in her own time.

Image: emeryruth.com

Image: emeryruth.com

Yeah. Or maybe not.

The second conference I’m attending is less nerve-wracking, mainly because I don’t have to do anything, per se; I just have to be outgoing and friendly and approachable and all that other stuff that sounds easy (and which, in truth, I’m good at, once I stop tripping myself up). When I’m surrounded by people I consider important, though – in the sense of ‘oh my God look it’s a famous published author I must scuttle out of her way forthwith’ – I find it difficult to be my happy-go-lucky self. I think I need to take a large dose of ‘Get On With It’ before I enter the room, and go in wearing my widest, brightest smile.

Easier said than done.

And finally, the business venture. Well, calling it that probably lends it an air of importance that it doesn’t really deserve; it’s not like I’m going to be appearing on ‘Dragons’ Den’ looking for funding for my ingenious invention, or anything like that. If you’d like to find out more about it, there’s a website over here – you can even sign up to follow it, if you like – and there’s a Twitter feed over at @YellowRoadEdit. It’s extremely early days yet, but maybe – with a bit of luck – I’ll be able to use my talent for words to help those who don’t find it easy to pick just the right phrase to express what they mean, or who aren’t as clear on the rules of apostrophe usage as I am.

Or who aren’t as pernickety about the rules of apostrophe usage as I am, maybe.

So, I have a lot going on. By the end of this month I’ll have neither fingernails nor a strand of hair left, and I’ll probably be living in a vat of caffeine. If you have any good wishes knocking about that you’re not using for anything else, it’d be brilliant if you could send ’em my way.

Welcome to a shiny new week, everyone. May it be fabulous for one and all.

Image: hellogiggles.com

Image: hellogiggles.com

 

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘Frost Hollow Hall’

Emma Carroll’s ‘Frost Hollow Hall’ was another book my husband handed to me saying ‘this looks like your cup of tea’ as we were browsing in a bookshop, and once again he was bang on the money. I am beginning to think he should give up his day job and become a professional book-recommenderer, because he’s got an acute eye for it.

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

The book tells the story of Tilly Higgins, a girl living in a town named Frostcombe with her mother and sister Eliza in the year 1881. As the story begins, the three Higgins women are waiting for the return of the ‘man of the house’, Tilly and Eliza’s father, who has been away working for several weeks and is due home with his pay. Their rent needs to be paid, and their landlord is breathing down their necks, and Mr Higgins’ wages will save the roof over their heads – not to mention, of course, the fact that Tilly misses her father, and wants to see him. Then, a knock comes at their door – but it’s not Pa. It’s Will Potter, the local butcher’s son, who wants to call on Tilly.

After a bit of persuasion, Tilly leaves with Will. They find their way to the gates of Frost Hollow Hall, the local ‘great house’, home to a family named Barrington. He challenges her to a dare, and she accepts; before long, they find themselves skating on the frozen lake in the grounds of the Hall.

The same lake where, ten years before, the young son of the Barrington family drowned in a tragic accident.

Image: alexiacasale.wordpress.com

Image: alexiacasale.wordpress.com

Tilly skates too far from shore and the ice begins to give way. Before she can react, she is swallowed by the freezing water, and her heavy clothes weigh her down. Terrified, disoriented, panicking, she feels certain she is about to die – and then, a gentle-faced boy appears out of the depths and leads her to safety. A boy with the face of an angel.

Tilly comes to as Will is dragging her from the water, and she drops in and out of consciousness as he carries her to the Hall, where she is attended to and warmed up by the kitchen staff, whom – it turns out – Will knows quite well, as he and his father deliver meat there on a regular basis.

Tilly returns home, furious with Will, to find her father still absent, and her mother growing more and more worried by the hour. Her sister is talking of emigration, and her mother is taking in more and more mending work to make ends meet. Tilly’s own job doesn’t pay her much, and so when an opportunity arises to take up work at Frost Hollow Hall, Tilly grabs it with both hands. Her dreams are haunted by the vision of the beautiful young boy in the water, the one who saved her life – and, gradually, Tilly realises that the secret to his identity and his reasons for saving her are to be found somewhere within the Hall.

I enjoyed this book on lots of levels; its main plot, that of uncovering the story of the boy in the lake, is beautifully realised, but the book also deals delicately with Tilly and Will’s relationship, Tilly’s fraught co-existence with her family and her complicated feelings towards her father, the harsh realities of life in the late nineteenth century and the raw, heart-shredding nature of grief. It is, of course, a ghost story – there are several ghosts in this tale, and all of them have their own tales to tell – and the spine-chillingly scary bits (of which there are plenty!) sit wonderfully with the emotionally wrenching descriptions of Lord and Lady Barrington’s pain for their lost son, and the eerie way in which they’ve memorialised him in their home.

And – without giving away too much – I found it almost unbearably moving to compare the ways in which different characters are grieved for and remembered, and how huge a difference social class and status made in relation to the amount of sorrow that could be displayed. It was such a stark comment on the structure of society at the time, but it also had a larger relevance to the plot. Masterful work.

There was one slight detail near the end of the story which irked me, just a little; a character hides a very important item which has the power – or, so it is believed – to destroy their life, and realises that they have been spotted red-handed by another character, but they go ahead and hide the item in the place where they’ve been seen, anyway. It would have made more sense to hide it somewhere else, I felt, but perhaps there was a slight indication that the character wanted to be found out; that they wished, on some level, for an end to their secrecy. I also felt the end was slightly too ‘pat’ and neat, but at the same time I wouldn’t have ended it differently if I was the author, so I can’t really point to it as a fault.

These tiny quibbles didn’t take away at all from my enjoyment of the story, and I’d happily recommend ‘Frost Hollow Hall’ to anyone who likes period drama – for the detail, in terms of costumes and speech and social niceties and everything is pitch-perfect – and/or ghost stories, and/or tales of gentle romance. I am not much of a judge of ghost stories, as I scare easily (this one had the hair on the back of my neck standing right up, at various points, but it might not have that effect on everyone) but all I can say is this book was a winner, for me, in relation to plot, characterisation, language and setting, and it’s one of the best I’ve read this year so far.

Image: theburnsarchive.blogspot.com

Image: theburnsarchive.blogspot.com

I hope you’ll make some time this weekend to hunt down some words, and read ’em. Go on – just do it.

 

 

Great Power and Great Responsibility

In my rambles around the internet this week, this article caught my eye. For the unclickables among you, it sets out the case for bad relationships during a girl’s teen years being more than just upsetting, and sad, and heartbreaking, but also the cause of much mental distress and – even – ill-health. Teenage girls can, apparently, define too much of themselves and invest an excessive amount of their self-worth in their relationships with others, particularly their romantic entanglements with boys, and when these relationships end it can shatter these fragile constructions of identity.

Claire Danes as Juliet in Baz Luhrmann's 1996 'William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet' - surely the prime example of teenage love gone off-kilter... Image: hotflick.net

Claire Danes as Juliet in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet’ – surely the prime example of teenage love gone off-kilter…
Image: hotflick.net

The article goes on to discuss how girls and women (I think the author’s focus was America, but we can use it as a general base for discussion) are encouraged to think of themselves in relation to others, as caregivers or supporters or ‘good’ people who make life easier for those around them; decorative creatures who bring beauty and light to the lives of their loved ones simply by existing. Sex and sexuality education place undue pressure on girls – as both gatekeepers and providers of others’ pleasure, they must operate in an impossible situation. Now, I’m not saying I entirely agree with the viewpoints put forth in this article, but I think it’s interesting nonetheless. The author makes mention of cultural factors in her discussion – the hysteria surrounding weddings, for instance, and the pressure on women to have a ‘perfect’ day and to look like a ‘princess’ – but one thing she doesn’t mention, which is something I think is important when we’re discussing teenage girls and fraught romance, is the trope of the ‘perfect’ boyfriend in YA literature.

Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster and Ansel Adams as Augustus (Gus) Waters in the promotional poster for the movie version of John Green's novel 'The Fault in Our Stars.' Image: twitter.com

Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster and Ansel Adams as Augustus (Gus) Waters in the promotional poster for the movie version of John Green’s novel ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’
Image: twitter.com

Movies, I think, have a lot to answer for – they’re the crucible of the perfect Hollywood romance of young girls’ dreams – but increasingly, too, YA novels (and, of course, their movie adaptations) mean that young female readers have more and more opportunity to lose their hearts to beautiful, flawless and – importantly – fictional men. A bit of romantic escapism is wonderful, of course; a little fantasy of how wonderful it would be to have someone love you the way Gus loves Hazel Grace, or Peeta loves Katniss – but when you start to bring those expectations into your real life, a phenomenon I’m pretty sure is not unknown to the teenage (and, sometimes, not so teenage) readers of these books, problems can arise.

For boys and men can’t live up to the standards of fictional heroes. Girls embarking upon tentative, tender relationships for the first time perhaps expect their partners to speak to them in the measured tones and poetic cadences of a John Green hero, or to be as strong, and yet supportive of their right to be themselves, as Four is to Tris or Po is to Katsa. I’m sure plenty of teenage readers understand that these characters are just that – characters – and are not supposed to reflect the reality of relationships, but perhaps there are some who find it harder to draw the demarcation line. As I was growing up, the only books we had to read about kids our own age were the ‘Babysitters’ Club’-types, the ‘Sweet Valley High’ sort of books which were, at their heart, more about girls than boys; I didn’t have an Augustus Waters to lose my heart to as a teen. My crushes were all movie-based, and that made it easier to exit the cinema, sighing, knowing that I was leaving behind the fiction and stepping back out into reality. I didn’t go home expecting Jack Dawson to come knocking on my front door with a glint in his eye – though it would have been amazing if he had.

Leonardo di Caprio as Jack Dawson, the hero of the movie 'Titanic' (1997) Image: titanic3d.tumblr.com

Leonardo di Caprio as Jack Dawson, the hero of the movie ‘Titanic’ (1997)
Image: titanic3d.tumblr.com

Books are different. Books get into your heart in a way that movies don’t, I think. And the books that young people are reading these days are chock-full of the sorts of characters that grab the heart and mind, sweep the reader away into a fantastic world where male love interests are both strong and sympathetic, desirable and ‘safe’, utterly in love with the heroine and yet utterly respectful of her agency and boundaries. In so many ways, this is a great thing – girls are being given examples of the sorts of relationships which are healthy, and which will bring them satisfaction, and which they can strive for – but in another, it can be a drawback. They can start looking for this sort of mature relationship with boys who are not ready or able to give it to them (and for which they’re probably not ready themselves, if they were being honest), and when a boy acts like himself – goofy, and irresponsible, and interested in things besides his girlfriend, and fun-loving, and carefree, all things which are natural to him and which he should be doing at this stage of his life – his girlfriend can feel disappointed and disillusioned. Also, if girls’ expectations are raised, pressure is placed upon boys to conform, and that’s not a good thing either.

Writers of YA books have great power. The kidlit and YA market is a massive player in publishing, and fans read these books with utter devotion. But, of course, this great power has to bear responsibility for the mind-worlds it creates.

Perhaps – as I do with many things – I am overthinking this whole scenario. However, I do feel that the cultural landscape in which today’s teens are growing up and forming their ideas about love and relationships is entirely different to the one in which I formed mine; the Mr Darcy of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, whom I loved with my whole heart as a teenager, pales beside a modern literary hero. The ease with which I shifted between the fictional and actual worlds is perhaps unknown to teenagers today, who are surrounded by screens and .gifs and Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook and fan pages and discussion boards and goodness knows what else, all fuelling their dreams of romantic perfection. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of romantic escapism, and dreaming of the ‘perfect’ love which will one day be yours is something everyone does as a teenager, whether they read or not.

But it’s important to know that love is not perfect, because people are not perfect; it’s important to know that the love you read about and see in movies doesn’t always translate into real-life relationships. It’s important to know that there’s far more to life than who you’re dating, and that the only person to whom you owe happiness is yourself.

I wish I’d known all this when I was a kid. I wish today’s kids knew it, too.

 

Owner of a Broken Heart…

Image: plus.google.com

Image: plus.google.com

Don’t lie. I know those of you who are of a certain age immediately started humming under your breath when the title of this blog post kaboomed across your field of vision.

Or, if you didn’t, you seriously need to brush up on your 1980s prog rock. Like, seriously.

In any case, today’s blog post isn’t really about broken and/or lonely hearts, or even about the blessed 1980s. It’s about this: sometimes it isn’t better to live your life so carefully that you never have to deal with disappointment or heartbreak. Disappointment sucks, but it doesn’t suck as badly as never trying at all.

Over the past month, I have sent out five stories to various places in the hope that they’d get picked up for publication. Luckily, thankfully, two of them were. Those of you who are good at maths will, by now, have figured out that this means three of them weren’t.

Three stories – which were labours of love and many hours’ devotion – fell at the first hurdle. They weren’t a good fit for the publication to which I chose to send them, or they didn’t meet the ‘brief,’ or they just weren’t to the editors’ tastes, or they were plainly rubbish. I’ll never really know which, if any, of these reasons meant that my stories didn’t make it; editors tend to be polite and kind when they send you rejection letters. They don’t laugh at you or tell you to stick to the day job or make horrible suggestions as to what you can do with your worthless work – they instead apologise that they can’t fit you in this time, and wish you well with finding another home for your story. Sometimes, if they’re particularly kind, they’ll tell you all the things they enjoyed about what you wrote. I really appreciate this, and it really is the nicest way to be let down that I know of. However, no matter how gentle a rejection is, there’s just one inescapable rub about it: it’s a rejection.

Image: tumblr18.com

Image: tumblr18.com

Two of the rejected stories, in particular, were ones I loved. I wrote them with such joy, feeling exhilarated at where my imagination was bringing me, marvelling at how much I enjoyed putting the words on the page. They were written to fit a particular theme (which means placing them elsewhere may be tricky, but I’ll certainly try), and I felt I had a handle on it. In short, I had high hopes for these stories. I worked hard on the dialogue, on the setting, on the characterisation; I strove to find striking images, and I thought carefully about plot. I enjoyed the final product in both cases, and I still feel – rejections notwithstanding – that these stories are two of my best. I knew I’d been rejected because it took the editors a long time to get in touch with me – the longer it is between submission and response, usually, the lower your chances – but a tiny spark of hope still lingered right up until the second I read the words ‘thank you for your interest, but we will not be publishing your work.’

Of course I wish I’d been accepted. I wouldn’t have written and submitted the stories otherwise. And, of course, it hurts to be told ‘no.’ As I wrote before, in this long-ago post, I worried when I was new at the writing game that I’d take criticism and rejection too personally, and that I’d end up being crushed by it. I have form for this sort of thing; I’ve never been good at separating myself from the things I do, and when my work is snubbed I feel it as a personal sting. But, I’m glad to report that I took these rejections in the spirit in which they were intended – which is, of course, kindness and generosity – and it didn’t take me too long to get over my disappointment and start focusing on the future.

I’m making a list of places which might be interested in the stories, and I’ve sent polite ‘thank you for your kind reply’ emails to the editors concerned (for it’s very important always to be polite and professional, even when one has been turned down). I’ve re-read the stories concerned with an eye to edits and improvements, and I’ve relived my pleasure in creating them. At the end of the day, I have two stories I’m proud of, and that’s worth a mountain of rejections.

So, sometimes it’s not better to be the owner of a lonely heart instead of the owner of a broken heart. Sometimes, your heart needs to be broken in order to find the way forward – and, take it from me, hearts can and do heal. Keep writing, keep submitting, be polite to those who reject you, and get back on the horse. Rejection happens to everyone. It doesn’t mean the end of your writing career – on the contrary, each ‘no’ will make you look at your own work in an even more critical light, and that will bring improvements and innovations into your writing. In short, it helps you to hone your craft better than almost anything else.

I wish there was an easier way to do it, but if there is, I haven’t found it yet.

Neil Gaiman with the words 'Write. Finish Things. Keep Writing' written on his hand. Image: redesignrevolution.com

Neil Gaiman with the words ‘Write. Finish Things. Keep Writing’ written on his hand.
Image: redesignrevolution.com

 

Wednesday Write-In #88

plastic  ::  verdant  ::  gingham  ::  lighthouse  ::  bathe

 

Image: camperlands.co.uk

Image: camperlands.co.uk

The Sleeper

The wind rippled across the surface of the rain-sodden plastic, lifting it into sharp-edged waves. It crackled and snapped, spitting water up at me like it was angry. It was like an animal protecting its young.

‘Between me and you,’ said Brennan, ‘d’you think this is it?’ He didn’t look at me. He just stood on the far side of the sea of plastic like a lighthouse, passing his worried gaze back and forth over it with gentle sweeps of his head. The rain ran down the lenses of his glasses.

‘I hope so,’ I said. Brennan blinked and glanced over at me, frowning. ‘You know what I mean,’ I muttered, and he said nothing for a while. I shrugged deeper into the collar of my coat, feeling cold droplets bathe me right down to the bones. I wondered if I’d ever feel warm again.

‘I suppose it’d be a comfort for the family. What’s left of them,’ he said, eventually.

‘Exactly.’

The plastic reared again, and I caught the barest glimpse of faded, dirt-encrusted gingham embedded in the claggy, dark soil. It made the bile rise inside me, and an image flashed across my mind; a tiny, smiling face, straw-coloured hair in one long plait. The little checked sundress she’d worn that day in June when she’d vanished, disappeared from the verdant fields around her house, never to be seen again.

Never, until now.

‘Jesus,’ said Brennan. ‘Grab that rock, there, and weigh it down. We have to preserve the scene until Forensics gets here.’ I turned to do as I was told, and caught a glimpse of the farmer who’d found her, standing cap in hand behind a line of luminous tape. I could hear someone talking to him, asking him questions, but all he was doing was just staring, feet planted in the soil, eyes full of water, up at the makeshift grave that had been on his land for the better part of forty years. Maybe he’d raised his own family in sight of it.

I turned back to see Brennan struggling with the groundsheet, and hurried to help. We smoothed the plastic down over her like it was a blanket, tossed by a bad dream or a too-hot summer night. She settled into peaceful sleep once more.

I put my hand on the sodden plastic and I swear I felt it rise, like a little, contented breath had been taken beneath it, and finally released.