NEWS & EVENTS
Billy and the Match Girl.
Currently long listed for the Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators & Performers (CANSCAIP) 2020 Writing for Children Competition (Middle Grade).
Sample is below.
1 THE START OF IT
“Billy, you’re under my feet,” Ma screeches, positioning the towel between the yellow stained window and its sill. I pull a face, wondering why she bothers. The flyover above our roof is a giant in the sky, those beneath it shaken by the pounding of cars, suffocated by fumes that no number of wet towels is going to stop. “It won’t work, Ma,” I say, trying to explain.
I’m met with a smile that is sharp around the edges.
“’Course it will, won’t it, Grandpa?”
Ancient eyes flicker open, like a ghost awakening. “What’s that?” Grandpa says.
“The towels. In the gaps. Keeps the air out, don’t it,” Ma says.
A leg shifts, with a groan. “If you say so, Martha.”
His wink brings out my smile, for perhaps the first time that day. I glance to the patterns of dirt on the window pane, wondering if that’s what gave Grandpa the arthritis: years of breathing in bad air.
“What about the park?” Ma says.
“It’s full of rubbish,” I say.
“Or one of Grandpa’s stories?”
The springs in the sofa crinkle, Grandpa’s chest crinkling also. “Get your sister and I’ll see what I can do,” he says.
I rise, wondering why it’s my job to get Lottie. She’s only a pain when she does come! Thankfully, the girl - all pigtails and buck teeth - is at the door.
“Here, sit yourself beside your brother and I’ll tell you a story,” Grandpa says, plumping up the cushions.
“About when you was a boy?” I say.
“When you were a boy,” Ma says. “What are they teaching you in that place?”
The lines on Ma’s forehead are ignored, Lottie and I positioning ourselves at Grandpa’s feet. “It’s a story about the good old days,” he says, eyes twinkling.
“What’s ‘the good old days’?”
Lottie’s question is a meow. Like a cat. I throw the girl my best glare, although - if I’m being honest - I’ve little idea myself.
“It’s called nostalgia,” Ma says, clattering plates onto the dining table. “People see the past through rose tinted glasses.”
“But he doesn’t wear glasses!”
Lottie’s look is wide. “She doesn’t mean I wear glasses, my dear,” Grandpa says, chuckling. “It means folk remember things with affection, rather than seeing the reality of it; what really happened.”
“I see,” Lottie says.
I shake my head at her. Time passes. “Come on then, Grandpa,” I say. “What’s the story, today?”
“And nothing to do with the Phossy Jaw, alright?”
“But Ma, that’s the best bit---”
My words dissolve into the back of my throat. A shiver has invested itself, my teeth adopting a life of their own.
Caleb and the Brass Ring
Caleb lives with his beloved sheepdog, Twitchy on a modern-day farm on Guernsey in the Channel Islands. When his Grandpa Berty hands him a brass ring invented by a lady called Miss Shilling and tells him that it could have saved his Great Grandpa Alfred, a Spitfire pilot from being shot down during World War 2, Caleb knows he has to go back in time to fix things.
A sample is included below:
A squawk, and I glance out of the bedroom window. In the farmyard below, the youngest of the new hens has its tail caught in Twitchy’s mouth.
“Naughty dog,” I yell, banging on the window. My trousers slip on, as if by themselves. Before I can say ‘boo to a goose’ (as Aunt Agatha would say), I am sliding downstairs, the banister serving as an alternative to our rickety old stairs.
A fire burns in the hearth, the smell of roasted chestnuts wafting into the kitchen.
“Caleb, where’s your shirt?” Ma shouts. “You’ll catch your death---”
“Can’t stop,” I say, scurrying across the granite slabs. “Twitchy!”
“Not that bloody dog, again” Ma shouts, as I crash through the back door. “She’ll have to go---".
Ma’s protest is lost in a flurry of feathers and banging gates. Like all good border collies, Twitchy has the hens hemmed into one corner of the yard. Except that she’s supposed to be a sheep dog. Not a hen dog. And she’s not even a proper sheep dog, if truth be told. Twitchy is one of those hybrids. The runt of the litter, my Da supposed she was too scrawny to actually help with the sheep on the farm. Rather than give her away, she became our house dog. Or rather, my house dog. A non-working dog that’s allowed inside. Except that she’s hardly ever inside the house. Most of the time she’s outside, herding the hens in the yard. Maybe, my Da got it wrong about the “too scrawny” business.
“Here,” I shout, glaring at the animal. Of course, Twitchy takes not the blind bit of notice. My training has been for naught. As cute as she is, Twitchy has a mind of her own. She’ll only do something if it suits her at the time. I wrestle the hen from Twitchy’s mouth and herd the pack (if hens can be called a pack) back into the shed, dragging the latch over its fastening.
Twitchy gazes at me with her big brown soulful eyes, her nose as moist as a wet rag. She has the advantage. I’m unable to be annoyed with her for more than two seconds at a time. And she knows it.
“Come on,” I say. “Food!”
The dog’s ears flick back, her head cocking from side to side. A sure sign that she has understood. Food is one of a number of instructions that she understands, and - being the most important, as far as she is concerned - is normally listened to. Twitchy is in the habit of eating three good meals a day. More than any normal dog, I’m sure. And, unfortunately, I’ve made the mistake from the get-go of insisting that Ma gives her the best. None of your inexpensive dried kibble. Prime roast chicken is the order of the day. The sort of food that a prince might eat at a banqueting table. Strangely, the dog never seems to actually put on weight. Born scrawny, she remains at 18 months old, as undersized as you could imagine a border collie might be. ‘All skin and bone’ as Gramps says. I suppose it’s something to do with all the chasing around she does, hassling the farm yard animals, getting into mischief and playing truant whenever she feels like it.
A rumble, and I turn. Da approaches in the tractor.
“Hey, young man. Where’s your shirt,” he says, bringing the vehicle to a halt and jumping from the cabin. His boots are covered in mud, a tired looking grin across his bronzed face.
“Sorry, Da. The hens were squawking,” I say.
Twitchy’s head bows.
“Nothing to do with the dog, then?” Da says.
My feet shuffle on the cobblestones, as if by themselves. “Nah,” I say, bowing my head also.
When I glance up, he is frowning. “I see. You know what that dog needs. A bit of toughening up.”
“No, he doesn’t,” I say, wrapping my leg instinctively around the animal. “You’re the one who said he is too scrawny.”
The frown deepens. “I know,” Da says. “And I’ve been regretting it ever since. Inside, you’ll catch your death---“
“That’s what Ma said,” I say, finding a grin.
“And where’s your shoes---"
Da’s words are lost in a confusion of jumping claws and slobbery wet kisses. I re-enter the kitchen, Twitchy in hot pursuit, finding myself breathless for the second time that morning!
“Hey,” Ma shouts. “Not over my nice clean floor.”
“What?” I say.
A set of muddy paw prints runs across the stone slabs.
“Naughty dog,” I say, for the second time that morning.
Twitchy’s tail is down between her legs.
I wag my finger, but Twitchy’s bark only seems to make matters worse.
“Out,” Ma shouts, directing Twitchy towards the pantry door.
The dog seems to think about stalling, before bolting into her crate. I run after her. “Just for a minute,” I say. “Until I get your food.”
Of course, the word ‘food’ has her slinking out of her crate, almost as soon as she has entered.
“Any chicken?” I say, rummaging in the fridge.
“That dog!” Ma says, with a sigh. “Spoilt rotten, she is.”
“No she isn’t,” I say, knowing that she is.
I extract the bones and put the individually fingered pieces of meat into her silver bowl. “There you go, Twitchy, food.”
The silver platter sits unattended on the stone slab, with Twitchy giving me that look. The one that says ‘Are you stupid? Of course, it’s food.’
“See, you’re over-feeding her,” Ma says, with a swish of her apron. “Dogs are only supposed to have one good meal a day.”
“I know,” I say, brazenly. “Breakfast.”
“And the rest!” Ma says, clattering a serving bowl out of the cupboard.
The back door opens and I decide that retreat is probably the best form of defence. Da is not usually in the best of moods when he’s been rounding up the sheep. Probably because there aren’t enough sheep dogs. And whose fault is that?