NEWS & EVENTS
Billy and the Match Girl
Long listed for the Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators & Performers (CANSCAIP) 2020 Writing for Children Competition.
Sample is below.
1 THE START OF IT
The clock on our mantlepiece chimes and a shiver runs down my back. I often wonder about time. Ticking forward. Bringing change to our lives.
Like Grandpa’s story about Great Gran Milly and the Phossy Jaw; the bone disease that rotted the jaws of the workers in the old Bryant and May match factory. It should never have happened, he says. And wouldn’t have, if they hadn’t used the white phosphorus. The chemical they dipped the match sticks into, to make them burn at the ends.
Of course, that’s in the past. Today, it’s all different. Making matches is safe. But that doesn’t help Great Gran Milly does it? Not now. Not now the clocks have ticked forward for over a hundred years.
But the passing of time is not always for the better, is it? Take the highway above our roof. One day, the sky was clear, the sun shining through our windows. The next, vast cranes arrived at Lime Street. In the blink of an eye, a new highway appeared on metal pylons, people like me, Ma, Grandpa and sister, Lottie, breathing the fumes of the cars that rumbled across it.
Who were the lucky ones, there? Certainly not us. Living beneath a shadow. Although you could argue it’s better than working in a Victorian match factory, a stinking white haze making your jaw bone drop off.
“Billy, you’re under my feet,” Ma screeches, re-positioning the towel between our yellow stained window and its sill.
I pull a face. “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 wet 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. Like Great Gran Milly in the match factory, but not so bad.
“What about the park?” Ma says.
“It’s full of rubbish,” I say.
“Or one of Grandpa’s stories?”
The springs in the sofa ping. “Get your sister and I’ll see what I can do,” Grandpa says, the mucus in his chest rumbling.
I rise, wondering why it’s always my job to get Lottie. She’s only a pain when she does come! Thankfully, my younger sister - all pigtails and buck teeth - is already at the door.
“Here, sit yourself beside your brother and I’ll tell you a story,” Grandpa says, plumping up the cushions.
“The usual one; 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.
“Don’t you mean bad old days?” I say, thinking of Great Gran Milly.
“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 question is asked in a high pitched voice. Like a cat’s meow. I throw the girl my best glare.
“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.”
“Like us; before the highway---?” I say. “Or Great Gran Milly---"
Lottie fidgets with the threads of the carpet. Time passes. “Come on then, Grandpa,” I say.
“And nothing to do with the Phossy Jaw,” Ma says. “Alright?”
“But Ma, that’s the best bit,” I say, my pulse seeming to race. “I know it’s bad, but makes you think about things, doesn’t it?”
The clock on the mantlepiece chimes the quarter past the hour.
Grandpa begins, and I shake in anticipation of maggots and rotting bones.
Caleb and the Brass Ring
Caleb knows that the decaying German bunker at Rocquaine Bay on his island of Guernsey is haunted. Samuel Vogel, his nemesis at school, has told him. But when his Grandpa Berty hands him a brass ring that could have saved his Great Grandpa Alfred, a Spitfire pilot, from being shot down during World War 2, and learns of the arrest by the occupying Nazis of his Great Grandma Mary, Caleb knows he has to go back in time to fix things.
Accompanied by his beloved sheepdog, Twitchy, Caleb braves the ghost of ‘Herr Skull and Cross Bones’, emerging from the bunker to find himself back in 1940, days before the Germans will invade the island.
Now begins the tricky bit: persuading Mary and nine-year-old Berty (his Grandpa's younger self) to evacuate before the island is crawling with enemy soldiers, and then finding a way to hand the brass ring to Alfred at his air base on the mainland. All the while, keeping secret who he and Twitchy really are!
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?
The Secret of Hut 8
Jasper’s Mother thinks the DNA is to blame. Some kids are born like this. Thinkers, she calls them. But she would, wouldn’t she? She’s a bit of a geek herself, which explains her job at the radio factory. Vital to the war effort, she tells him. Apparently, people need radios to listen to Hitler’s armies rampaging across Europe. But that doesn’t explain the mysterious note Jasper finds in his Mother’s bag. Nor the appearance of Ulryk, the boy with the East European accent. And when his sheep dog, Fidget, leads him to strange whirring sounds coming from Hut 8 in Bletchley Park, Jasper knows that a puzzle needs solving, with the survival of his world at stake.
The Secret of Hut 8 is a coming of age, Middle Grade historical fiction based on real events behind the solving of the Enigma code during World War 2.
The Secret of Hut 8
Mother ladles the porridge into a bowl.
“Here you go, young man. Keep your pecker up.”
I nod, finding a smile from somewhere. I’ve never understood what ‘pecker’ means, apart from being some reference to a woodpecker, the bird, that is. She’s been using the phrase a lot, recently. Since the accident.
Her hands rub together, as if fighting off a chill, even though the hearth is blazing.
“Jasper, you’re looking pale---” she says. “Should get out more---"
“Yes, Mother,” I say.
I’ve always been a geek, you see. Good at puzzles, but rubbish with people; particularly people who play. I’m the kid who’s inside, doing homework, not running around kicking a ball. Often, I wish it were otherwise. That I had a brain less analytical. Less about the thinking and more about the enjoying. I’m not saying I’m brainy, of course. Far from it. It’s only that thoughts circle in my head. Like the moon. Waxing and waning. Light and dark. Often, without finding an end.
Mother says it’s the DNA that’s to blame. Some kids are born like this. Thinkers, she calls them. But she would, wouldn’t she? She’s a bit of a geek, herself. What with her job at the radio factory, and all?
Father would have been a thinker. If he’d had the chance. Only he didn’t survive the early days of the war, did he? Shot down by a Messerschmitt over the channel. The English Channel. That man, Hitler’s to blame. He’s a lot to answer for. Not that I bear a grudge. Mother says I shouldn’t. Although it does affect me at times; the need to make amends. Perhaps, that’s why I throw myself into my thoughts. They’re like a refuge. Purpose amidst the confusion. As if I’m detached; outside of myself. It’s not me that’s hurting. Some sort of machine is doing the hurting for me. Funny to think, isn’t it? A machine doing one’s hurting for one. I’ve often wondered if they could do that, machines.
Fidget trots up, her tongue hanging out.
“She’s hungry,” I say.
Mother’s eyes roll. “Not again. I just fed her---”
“I know, but she’s growing,” I say.
Mother rummages in the fridge, pulling out a tin of offal. “She’ll eat us out of house and home---"
Immediately, the dog’s tail wags. Like a propeller on a newly started Spitfire.
Border collies are like that. Bundles of energy. The man from whom we bought her as a pup warned us. “She’ll need exercising,” he said, “They like something to do---”
I’ve looked it up in a book, of course. Sheep dogs like herding sheep. Even pups. But where would we keep them? The sheep. Our garden’s the size of a pin prick, and filled with pots. “What about the shed,” I’d suggested at the time.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mother had replied. “There’ll be no sheep…and no dog if she doesn’t learn to behave. We’ve enough on our plate---”
The thing about a puppy is that their eyes are like magic. One glance, and you’re bewitched. The ‘training’ had begun in earnest, for I knew there’d be no turning back, that I’d love her till the end of time. Like lost family…or the friend I’ve never had. Sheep or no sheep, therefore, Fidget became the ‘grown-up’ she now is; for better or worse; our futures fixed in a life of geek-ish adventure.
Fidget licks her lips; the offal having disappeared.
“What now?” I say, as if she may understand.
A twinkle jumps to her eyes. Trouble is afoot in the hidey holes of Bletchley Village. I know it.