I haven’t spoken much about my novel on here. It’s been sitting for a couple of years, untouched, while I’ve been writing short fiction. Recently, somewhere around the start of August I think, I decided to dig it out and take another look. Before I knew it, I was neck deep in another round of edits (boy, there have been many, oh so many, over the years). The plan this time is to finally lay this thing to rest, one way or another. In a little over a month I will be returning to full time work after a three year stint as a stay-at-home parent. So, it would be great to have it finished by then. Fingers crossed. It’s slow going at the moment, with sixty thousand words done and seventy thousand still to go.
The novel is about a twelve-year-old Scottish girl, Ella Bradburn, who loses her mother. When she turns to her father for consolation and doesn’t find any, she retreats into a world of fantasy. At first, it feels safe and comforting, but the lines begin to blur and Ella finds it increasingly difficult to tell what is real and what is not. In fact, she is soon convinced that a mysterious creature she saw on the day of her mother’s death is now hunting her.
The original title was The Other Side but that is going to change by the end of this current round of revisions.
Thematically, I wanted to explore fantasy and escapism, and ask the question, “When does it stop being healthy and become dangerous?” As writers, we spend a lot of our time locked in our imaginations, and over the years I’ve questioned whether or not this is a healthy obsession or, in fact, quite damaging. Where is the line? Is there one? Ella’s story is in some ways mine, too.
Here is a short excerpt, roughly 700 words. Cushion is the name of a seagull Ella has started having conversations with. The scene builds toward the introduction of the soapshark, another creature of Ella’s creation.
Part II, Chapter V
“In the Bath”
There’s mum, Ella thought. Buried in some indiscriminate hole in the ground filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell and not even a single hobbit in sight. Then there is me, standing on quicksand and sinking deeper by the day. She’ll spend her eternity dead and lonely, staring up at some coffin lid. I’ll spend mine looking out one window or another and wetting myself. I understand, mum. I get it now. There are other ways to die.
And what are you doing about it? a voice asked. It was Cushion. You’re dragging dirt down on top of yourself. Climb out, Ella. Climb out now, and fly. Before you can’t.
There was a noise on the other side of the bathroom door. A solid something hit one of the doorposts in the landing. Ella heard George swear, and then his footsteps receded into her bedroom.
She eyed the brass sliding lock and was relieved to see it was engaged and that she was protected to some extent inside the bathroom. He could kick down the door if he wanted, of course, and he seemed just about mad enough to do that, or maybe huff-and-puff on it like the Big Bad Wolf in the story of The Three Little Pigs. God knows, she wouldn’t last very long in her house of water and bubbles. But George had wanted her in here in the first place. Out of the way. Washing the pee from her legs.
That had been an hour ago. Breakfast had long since gone cold in the kitchen, the bubble bath mountains had slipped back into the lukewarm water, and the bar of soap she had started out with now lay across her pale, wrinkled fingers, moulded into something that resembled a dead but still mean-looking fish.
As if to check that it was dead, Ella lowered the hand holding the soap slowly into the water and then pulled the hand away. The fish did not float on its side as dead fish were wont to do, but sank to the bottom of the bathtub instead. Further confirmation – as though she needed it – that death did not always show itself in the usual ways.
The sound of hammering shattered the stillness. Ella jerked up straight and sent a wavelet over the edge of the bath onto the tiles. She wondered what he was doing next door but was a little afraid of finding out. Maybe he was demolishing her bed, meaning that from tonight she would have to sleep on the hard wooden floor. Or maybe he was tearing up the floor to look for the snow globe, with the intention of smashing it with a hammer right in front of her as punishment for her behaviour at breakfast.
Please don’t let him find it, she thought, though she knew that if he did happen upon that loose piece of flooring under the bed there was nothing she could do to stop him.
Reaching between her knees, she scooped up the bar of soap and lifted it out of the water. The short time it had spent immersed had smoothed its edges. As the pounding continued beyond the bathroom door, Ella went to work on it once again, thinning the body, reshaping the tail, drawing out the snout, and tapering the dorsal fin until it looked less like a common fish and more like a miniature shark.
Oh what a vicious-looking piece of soap you are, she thought.
When she went to lower the soapshark into the water, she suddenly had second thoughts and laid it on the bath corner instead, facing the door. The noise from her room seemed louder now, angrier. She glanced at the backs of her fingers and noticed there were soap crescents underneath her nails. They look like frowns, she thought absently. Then she flipped both hands over, curled in her fingers, and the frowns became smiles. Flipped them over again, and the frowns returned. But it wasn’t a good enough distraction; the hammering kept on, and on. And so, leaning back, she eased herself below the surface of the water until it encased her entire body and the noises became muffled and faraway, like sounds from a dream… [end of excerpt]