I’m pleased to welcome Nik Morton today with an insightful guest blog about character and point of view. He offers us an extract from his latest novel, The Tehran Text, to illustrate his point, too.
Nik is a very experienced author with twenty books to his name. He is also an editor, illustrator and Ex Royal Navy. His Tana Standish ‘Psychic Spy’ novels are published by Crooked Cat: so far we have The Prague Papers and The Tehran Text, with more to come. They are spy thrillers in the style of Ian Fleming and Len Deighton, but with an extra twist. You’ll be shaken and stirred. Click on the links or book covers to purchase these exciting novels.
Thanks for inviting me, Jeff. If I may, I’d like to talk about place and point of view in genre fiction.
The mantra is to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ when writing. The reason being that by simply telling the reader, the reader isn’t involved, isn’t close to the characters. If the reader views everything through a protagonist’s eyes – as in ‘show’ – then we tend to immerse ourselves more in the character.
Of course it isn’t always possible to show everything through a particular protagonist’s eyes – sometimes you have to resort to the omniscient point of view, much in the way that a film director will track in a scene until homing in on the character of interest. At that point, we become involved with the actor and less so the scene. This can apply in certain scene shifts in a novel, too. Here’s an example from The Tehran Text (Crooked Cat Publishing) which is set in 1978:
Special Psychiatric Hospital No.121, Kzyl-Orda in Kazakhstan was situated within the confines of the prison and a white brick wall surrounded it, topped with rows of barbed wire. Armed guards were perched in their watchtowers, their automatic weapons always loaded.
These hospitals were under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs – the MVD – rather than the Ministry of Health. The MVD’s responsibilities were wide-ranging – uncovering and investigating certain categories of crime, apprehending criminals, supervising the internal passport system, maintaining public order, combating public drunkenness, supervising parolees, managing prisons and labour camps, providing fire protection and controlling traffic.
Doctor Wolf Schneider wasn’t a psychiatrist working for the MVD but a reluctant patient, his seventeen square metre cell shared with five others. He looked older than sixty-four, partly due to the left side of his face being one great red weal from an electric burn sustained three years ago. His thyroidal eyes glared, the stare more pronounced due to thick-lensed spectacles held together with surgical tape.
Outside the cell and along the corridor was the toilet, a cesspit comprising four holes in the ground and two taps. After a few days in the place, he stopped noticing the constant pervading smell of faeces and urine. He had no idea how long he’d been here. Memory played tricks – drugs, beatings and perpetual light didn’t help, either. This was the third SPH he had been to, since they attempted to fix his body after the disaster at Dobranice.
Criticism of the system would often condemn you to such a prison. Or failure. This was the humane side of the Soviet. Think yourself lucky, Schneider told himself. In Stalin’s and the Führer’s day, it was the firing squad. Now, if you failed, you needed psychiatric help.
“Prisoner DBR-14!” shouted a guard outside and thudded a fist twice on the metal door. The sound reverberated in the cell and everyone gasped.
Schneider flinched, more used to feeling those fists against his puny flesh.
“Prisoner DBR-14!” the guard repeated. Keys jangled and turned in the lock.
That’s me, Schneider realised. “Yes, I am here!” he shouted, though it came out like a plaintive squeak. Idiots! Where else would I be?
As the door swung wide, the other patients edged away along the wall, vying with each other to melt into the two corners furthest from the entrance.
The Ukrainian was as big as an ox and with as much intelligence, thought Schneider. All the more reason to fear him; it was an effort to control his bladder at sight of the man. The unshaven orderly stood, piggy eyes darting from one patient to the other, seeming to relish the discomfort his very presence caused. “You have a visitor, Prisoner DBR-14!” he sneered.
He was about to say, “Me?” when he bit his tongue. Only speak if asked to.
Shoulders hunched, bald head gleaming in the constant illumination from the strip light above, Schneider hobbled forward. The replacement kneecaps on both his legs might have worked adequately in normal living conditions, but here they simply seized up and now every step was agony.
The orderly almost filled the cell’s doorway so Schneider had to squeeze past and received the full blast of the man’s bad breath and rancid body odour.
The door clanged shut behind him with a deafening clamour and then he was thrust to the left, along the corridor. “Get a move on, you don’t want to keep your visitor waiting!” snarled his guard, painfully thumping his palm into the small of Schneider’s back.
Keeping his head bowed, Schneider shambled forward, trying to ignore the repetitive impatient smack of the orderly’s wooden stick against his boot.
Visitors usually meant trouble. The inquiry board investigating the Dobranice incident had grilled him repeatedly in Chernyakhovsk in the Kaliningrad region; he’d lost three teeth that time. This brute behind him had claimed four more. Now when he spoke – which was rarely, just to hear his own voice most times – it was with a whistling sound.
His body shuddered as he was pushed into a familiar room – the interrogation chamber.
Seated at the solitary desk was a Lieutenant of the GRU – a woman with copper-coloured hair cut short in layers. Her grey-mottled combat fatigues seemed anaemic, quite dull in contrast to her reddish-brown complexion. Thin lips peeled from a cruel mouth and revealed yellow teeth. If that was a smile, he didn’t think he was going to enjoy this interview. Then again, he could rarely recall a pleasant one.
“Come, comrade doctor,” she said in a husky voice. “Please sit. We have much to talk about.”
Hesitantly, he shuffled to the empty wooden ladder-backed chair bolted to the floor.
“My name is Lidiya Aksakov,” she said.
He looked into almond-shaped eyes coloured a weathered nut brown. Eyes that held no warmth. In those heady far-off days of the Third Reich he’d known several Nazi women with eyes like that. Even he had steered clear of them. “I am Wolf Schneider,” he began then flinched as he heard a movement behind. He screwed up his eyes, expecting the blow from the orderly’s stick, but it never came. Out of the corner of his eye, he risked a look and noticed that the woman Aksakov had raised a peremptory hand.
“Prisoner DBR-14 may use his name while we talk,” she explained firmly.
Schneider released a sigh of relief as he heard the guard return to the door. He felt moisture pricking the corners of his eyes but managed to control himself. Then her next words seemed to increase the rate of his heartbeat and pulse and inflamed the ugly red weal; it began to throb.
“I want you to tell me all about Tana Standish,” she said.
* * *
The scene ends on an ominous note or two. Firstly, if we’ve read The Prague Papers, we’ll recognise Schneider from that episode in psychic spy Tana Standish’s life (1975); and secondly, we will be fearful for the British spy because we don’t know what Aksakov is up to, though knowing it can’t bode well for Tana.
Ideally, the reader will be intrigued by the presence of Aksakov and want to learn more (this is only the beginning of chapter 3, after all). Later, the relationship between Schneider and Aksakov will evolve, though an air of menace will never be far off.
And in the time-honoured way we scene shift to somewhere else, and another protagonist in jeopardy.
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THE TEHRAN TEXT
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It’s wonderful to introduce a new author to my blog – JD Martins. He has written a new adult romance in Tirgearr’s City Nights series, which my good friend, Jaz Hartfield also contributed to with his own One Night in Amsterdam. Please click on the links at the end to buy JD’s book, One Night in Madrid, or on the logo below for more information on the entire series. Each book in the series is a stand-alone story.
CITY NIGHTS books
Let’s hear now from JD Martins himself…
Which romantic themes are explored in One Night in Madrid?
I wanted to explore the idea of getting second chances at finding someone – or at least to try to woo them – and the notion of how our ignorance as young men and women (but men especially, I suspect!) can create prejudices inside us that influence our opinions of potential partners years after we first meet them, and impede our ability to actually get to know them.
What is the main character’s dilemma?
As a teen in college, Danny fantasized about a classmate Aisling, but she never gave him the time of day. He has long since dismissed her as a snob. When she turns up in a bar in Madrid where he now lives, he hopes to finally seduce her and at the same time prove to her that he would have been worthy of her attention back then.
Why is the setting so important?
The characters meet out of their normal context, and in such situations people often act differently to how they might have if they met in their former haunts. Danny and Aisling are able to start anew in some respect, because of that, and actually have a conversation for the first time. Danny knows Madrid well after living there for a couple of years, while Aisling is just a visitor, and so she’s got an extra incentive to stick with him for the night. The fact that bars and clubs are open all night long in Madrid gives them the time get to know one another before they have to part again.
Is writing adult romance difficult or fun?
It’s fun until you get to writing the sex scenes! That part was difficult for me. It’s funny for a few seconds when you realize that your characters are not the kind of people who go in for plain vanilla sex, and you bang your head against the desk because now you’ll have to write more adventurous scenes for them.
I’ve heard some say that it’s easy to distinguish a male and female writer of erotica, because the woman will put in 80-90% emotion and 10-20% physical. So it stands to reason that in general readers of the same gender will want to read that proportion. Since it’s also generally true that women make up 80-90% of erotica readers, my challenge as a male writer is to put that extra 50% in that I wouldn’t normally think necessary. The other major difficulty is avoiding repetition when basically describing something so common and quotidian in such great detail. Everyone already knows what happens during sex (at least the vanilla kind). That’s really hard. It’s similar to writing poetry rather than prose in that sense: always looking for new ways of saying the same thing. And it took me as long to write 25k of prose, as it would have 25k of poetry.
Why write this particular book?
This is my first erotic story, and I did this because I heard about the City Nights Series that Tirgearr were producing and I decided to try my hand at it. It was the first time I’d written anything for a specific reason other than just for my own pleasure. I used to live in Madrid back in the day. I spent my fair share of time in bars there. I had written a short story about looking for people you know when you go to bars, and if you were in a place where nobody knew you, whether meeting someone from your former life would be a good thing or not. I decided to turn my story into an erotic romance, taking the story a few paces further along from where it had originally trodden and developing the characters a bit more.
Can you tell us about your current work in progress?
I have submitted a synopsis of a novella set in Pamplona – another town I’ve lived in – and have been asked to submit the rest of the story, which I am editing at the moment. I also have a story set in Boston bubbling in the back of my mind that I hope to get to as soon as I have finished editing this draft of One Night in Pamplona.
Good marketing tips for other authors?
I wish I did. I’m just finding my feet in all this myself. I think that for erotic romance, websites and blogs of well-known authors and pioneers of the field, which is still growing exponentially, are closely followed by readers waiting to get their hands on more stories. Until the genre becomes more mainstream, that’s one place to concentrate promotion, perhaps.
Why should people read the City Nights Series?
The concept is brilliant in its simplicity: a new city, with a new slant every time. As a reader, you know you’re going to get a great story with a new setting, a different atmosphere and ambience every time. As many different writers are contributing to the series the perspectives are even wider. Yet, you know you can expect an interesting story, with hot scenes and a satisfying ending in every city.
One Night in Madrid Blurb:
Danny left Dublin for Madrid two years ago, but still scans the crowd in the Irish pubs for the face of someone from home. Though doubtful he’ll ever recognise anybody, one evening he sees Aisling, a girl he’d known – or wished he’d known – at university. Beautiful but haughty, she’d always ignored Danny, and though he’d fantasised about making love to her, she’d never so much as smiled at him.
To his amazement, Aisling is extremely friendly when she meets him all these years later and away from home. She is still snobby and condescending, but Danny decides to make her night as enjoyable as he can, hoping for one last chance to impress her and make his teenage fantasies come true. As the sultry Madrid night progresses, mere lust grows into affection, and Danny begins to see her snobbery as something else entirely. Will Aisling see Danny as more than just a way to pass her night in Madrid?
Excerpt (suitable for all readers):
Draining the glass, Danny placed it on the bar, debating whether to have another pint, or stroll home and have a glass of wine while he prepared dinner. The plan was just one pint, but he needed to tell himself that twice; once when he went into the bar and again when he’d finished the drink.
And then he saw her.
She stood quite near, surrounded by a tight knot of people at the edge of the dance floor that had parted momentarily. She wore a cotton summer dress that showed the sweep of her shoulder blades and spine. The dress was floral, red with splashes of black and dark blue. She wore soft brown leather sandals that were almost invisible against her tanned feet. Her toenails were painted red but her fingernails were French polished. A silver or white-gold bracelet hung from her right wrist, and on her left she wore a silver wristwatch, which a discreet look later told him was a Patek Philippe. In her ears she had diamond stud earrings, and on the ring finger of her right hand was a silver ring with a blue stone he couldn’t identify.
He didn’t see her face straight away, yet something deep inside him said it had to be her.
In college, he’d often stared at this girl’s long blonde hair from a few seats behind in the lecture theatre, while far below them a maths professor droned on about matrices. He knew the shape of her head and neck, had observed her tie up that hair, amazed at the beauty of the fine, straight filaments, the way the strands slid like silk over one another, yet held as one tight rope. When she was an infant her mother had clearly decided ever cutting such hair would be a sin, and she’d concurred. She plaited it, put it in a ponytail, tied it up around a clip made of what seemed to Danny like a piece of wood and two chopsticks, or simply a spare pencil. Sometimes it splayed out across her shoulders like a cascade of spun gold. Now it was pulled up in a silver clasp, to reveal the nape of a long, fine neck, and soft-skinned shoulders.
Those shoulders had been bared before, in a hot September of their freshman year, and later, during the intense study month when the cherry blossoms bloomed and fell across the lawns of campus. Danny had fantasised about slipping off that shoulder strap, letting the silky string fall down along her arm, trailing his fingers along her collarbone and ribs and pushing aside the top to expose her breasts.
When she turned around in the bar and he saw her face, Danny instantly searched through his memory to match her visage, and see all six numbers of recognition. It came out a winner. She stared back at him, her brain no doubt doing the same. Although still early, and most—apart from the pre-marriage revellers—were only on their second or third drink, Danny thought she must have been fairly merry already, because as she recognised him she smiled.
She’d never smiled at him before—not in four years of college. Then again, they’d not interacted much. They’d never really talked, never attended the same classes after second year. He’d always told himself she’d never smiled at him because she didn’t know him. Once or twice, of course, she’d turned around, casually, and seen him. But she’d seen lots of others sitting behind her, too. The back rows of the lecture theatre were filled with Danny’s friends, who’d varying levels of interest in her hair and the maths lecture; from zero to all-absorbed.
The chance to get to know her had never come around. She’d majored in chemistry, Danny in computer science. He had taken a chemistry class in second year, but she’d always seemed to sit on the opposite side of the theatre then. His gaze had often paused upon her face as he searched through those assembled in a lecture the way he did through the throng of a bar.
She was stunning. Her frame was that of someone who was fit without effort. A swimmer or a gymnast at some point, she had a fine body, breasts the way Hemingway described, wide womanly hips and a behind that eyes or hands could never tire of. She had crystal blue eyes like deep Antarctic ice, and a button nose. Her mouth was perfect. Her teeth had had money spent on them, but her lips were natural; she had a dazzling smile. But before that moment in a Madrid bar, Danny had only received the coldness of those glacial eyes.
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JDMartinsauthor
Author page on Tirgearr Publishing: http://tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Martins_JD/index.htm
Purchase links for all formats:
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00RY328RY
Click on this cover to purchase Jaz Hartfield’s One Night in Amsterdam:
“The author skilfully and unapologetically develops the characters physically and emotionally and places them in surroundings artfully described, allowing the reader to become immersed. The story moves along at a nice clip, prompting readers to ask what’s next. And, just when the reader thinks they know where things are going, an eloquent wrench is thrown in the works, twisting the plot in another direction. Nicely done.
(Heather R Nielson – In D’Tale Magazine)
“Where will it all end, with it seeming as if each character loves the wrong person, only to be left dealing with unrequited love. The journey is intriguing and Jeff Gardiner depicts it with adept skill! Treading on Dreams is an engaging, fast-paced story that defies prediction and yet has just enough intrigue and romance to totally thrill every reader! One must battle perfection to grow up and deserve true love! Nicely done, indeed, Jeff Gardiner!”
“I enjoyed reading this book. I couldn’t put it down. The storyline does hit on some hard subjects but they are done tastefully. Everyone at some point has loved someone but not loved in return which made me connect to it more. The chemistry between the characters was great. You could really feel the bond they all had at some point during the book. It’s happy, uplifting, heart-warming and sad. Definitely worth a read.”
(Fiona Sheldon – Book Pimpers.com)
“Throughout the book, several of the characters are affected by unrequited love. That made this book easy for this reader to identify with, because most people have at least one incident in life where their love is not returned by the love interest. There are a myriad of emotions going on, so be prepared with a box of tissues. This was a wonderful book and I was sad to see it end, even though it ended on a high note.”
“To me this was a coming of age story with a bit of a YA feel to it. Donny and Hazel, fraternal twins, head off to college. While at college they meet a number of interesting people, party, fall in and out of love. There is a happily ever after for some but not for all in this book. This story is well written, told from Donny’s perspective and includes drama, happiness, sadness and more. It is a very “British” book and for me that made it even more fun since I am American.”
(Cathy Geha – Goodreads)
“An easy read with some delicious characters and surprising twists. Donny, the main character is a lovely mixture of vulnerable and eager to please – with huge emotions and quick-witted opinions thrown in.”
(Tiff – Amazon Customer )
Donny is obsessed with his housemate, Selena – but his love is unrequited. He enthusiastically accepts her willing friendship, which only fuels his deepening fantasies.
Jaz is their crazy landlord who likes sleeping with women – lots of them. He takes pleasure in educating the once innocent Donny in the hedonistic pleasures of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. It blows Donny’s mind.
Selena is engaged to Melvin – the perfect man – but is also keen to befriend the ever-demanding Donny … until she falls pregnant and her wedding looms.
Donny expresses his true feelings at the wedding, causing mayhem and anger. But there remains a chink of hope: perhaps Selena’s marriage to Melvin is not quite as perfect as it seems.
Crooked Cat authors have been posting seasonal stories and poems linked with their Christmas With Crooked Cats Facebook page. Today is my turn, so I thought I’d post a poem to challenge us in our thoughts about Christmas. I really do think that we all need to be honest about what we believe in.
Song of the Agnostic Innkeeper
These people knocking on my door!
“There is no room for any more.”
But to a tired and pregnant stranger
I gave my cowshed and the manger.
Next morning I beheld a sight:
My stable gleamed in starry light.
A mother nursed her little child
While her husband stood and smiled.
Then I heard something quite odd.
They claimed this was the son of God.
The mother let me hold the boy
And doing so filled me with joy.
Now I’m older, thinking back,
Is it just blind faith I lack?
I heard of miracles and more
And felt this great need to explore.
While others round me joined the church
I continued with my search.
I read commandments, religious laws;
Of punishments and holy wars.
There’s much I’m not convinced about;
My only certainty is doubt.
I cannot say with hand on heart
That I believe each separate part.
Is there a god? I’m just not sure.
That answer’s honest to my core.
Can anyone prove otherwise?
Is faith what’s seen with our own eyes?
Who was that child in my stable?
Were his powers just a fable?
And does it matter anyway
If we’re kind and selfless every day?
Is there a god out there above,
Or should we simply call it – ‘love’?
Read a free humorous story by Jeff Gardiner exploring similar themes, here: http://www.raphaelsvillage.com/article.php?story=20100806053547966
Welcome to fellow Tirgearr author, Daithi Kavanagh, whose new thriller, ‘The Gun’, is out now. Not only does Daithi highlight some of the background to his own writing life, but also offers us an extract and a free giveaway at the end! Please follow the buy links to purchase a copy. Over to you, Daithi…
My wife Caroline and I have been married for eighteen years. She is the person who has inspired me to believe in myself. When I started to play music as a hobby I wanted to try and make a living from it and Caroline was behind me all the way. I was working as a Builders Labourer at the time and as I was getting older was finding it more and more difficult physically to do the work. I had always played music and sang and I found the courage and belief in myself (with Caroline’s backing) to look for work playing music.
I eventually found work and gradually built up the business. It gives me great satisfaction to know that I was able to contribute to the support of my family by doing something that I loved.
In the same way when I decided to write ‘The Gun’ Caroline was there pushing me along. I would write in long hand in my kids old school copy books, dictate it to her and she would type it up. She sent my book off to every publisher she could find and eventually I was contacted by Tirgearr Publishing who have been a great support to me.
Now she is my secretary and is doing all of the behind the scenes work in promoting ‘The Gun’. I can honestly say that if she hadn’t been behind me as much as she was that ‘The Gun’ might not have come to the fore so quickly. It would have taken me about 10 years to type it up for starters! I am now learning to type (albeit very slowly) while I am doing a degree in Irish Culture and Heritage Studies. I have just completed my second book in The Tadhg Sullivan Series called The Brotherhood and have started on the third book. I am actually typing the third one myself which is a challenge for me and a relief to Caroline I’m sure!
My writing space is varied. Due to my hectic life style I tend to write wherever I can but as I said earlier my preferred space for writing is in bed. Here I get the best of all worlds. I get comfort, inspiration, imagination and the odd cup of tea from Caroline! There is nothing i like more than to wake up and have nothing to do but write. This alas is not always possible but when it is, it’s great. I wake up, head downstairs for breakfast. While eating I usually get the news on the internet, then head back to bed.
Long may my writing career continue for me and my family. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to write and to Tirgearr Publishing for giving me that opportunity.
Garda Detective Tadhg Sullivan leads a special unit that investigates politically motivated crime. A man known only as The Deerstalker is a cancer who has infected the Irish political system.
Sullivan teams up with journalist Helen Carty, and together they try tracking down the mysterious killer. Carty adds to Sullivan’s problems, when he finds himself falling in love with her. And further complicating things, he starts losing trust in his partner, Detective Pat Carter, who appears to be on the side of the Garda Commissioner, who Sullivan is rapidly falling out with.
Sullivan’s case is further thrown into confusion when a copycat killer, Tommy Walsh, is shot dead by the CIA. When the CIA discovers that they’ve killed the wrong person, the two agents involved–Simon, who has become disillusioned by his time stationed in the Middle East, and Joey, a psychopath who confuses zealotry with patriotism–are also in pursuit of The Deerstalker.
Sullivan finds himself in a race against time, if he is to arrest The Deerstalker before the CIA take him out, and use his death as a pawn in a political game of chess.
Who will win out in the end?
He stared at the gun lying on the bed. It was in his possession for nearly half his life and he’d never known what to do with it. The funny thing was, he’d always hated guns and yet, here he was.
He heard his wife moving around downstairs and knew that very soon she would call him for a cup of tea. He had to get the gun back into its hiding place.
He thought back to the first time he’d seen it. A late night knock at the door and a man from down the street had handed the gun and ammunition to him, wrapped in fertiliser bags.
“What the hell is this?” he’d blurted out.
“It’s a gun,” the man had said showing no expression.
“What are you giving it to me for?” he’d whispered, not wanting his family to hear them.”
“Because I trust you,” he’d replied.
“What the hell do you mean, you trust me? You hardly know me! And all I know about you is that you’re mixed up in the IRA. I have a family and I don’t give a damn about the North. Now please get away from my door and take that thing with you.”
The man had stared at him, but all calm had disappeared from his features. Then he spoke through gritted teeth.
“Now listen to me. The guards are going to be here shortly. Something serious happened tonight and now you’re mixed up in it, whether you like it or not. If you don’t take the gun from me now, when the guards arrive here and see us together, I’ll implicate you. Even if they don’t believe me, it will mean that you’ll have to stand up in Court and give evidence against me. Do you want that for your family? It would be much easier for you to stick the gun in the boot of your car drive off somewhere and hide it. But you’d better make your mind up fast, before they drive up and arrest us both.”
He often wondered why he’d taken it. Was it because he’d had sympathy for the man? He didn’t think so. Maybe it was the fear of being implicated, or like the man had said, being branded an informer. He wasn’t sure, but whatever the reason, it seemed like providence.
I am 56 years old and I live with my wife and two teenage children in Trinity, Wexford. Up to 2012 when the recession hit Ireland I was making my living as a musician. I then went back to adult education and completed my Leaving Certificate in 2014. I am now studying for a degree in Culture and Heritage Studies at Wexford Campus.
While I was studying for I began writing ‘The Gun’ which is the first book in The Tadhg Sullivan Series. I have just completed the second book in the series.
I play guitar and sing in many of the pubs in my hometown of Wexford where I am often joined by my two children Ella and Rory who play fiddle and flute.
In my spare time (which I do not have a lot of) I like to walk my two dogs with my wife Caroline.
Please follow this link for the GIVEAWAY…
Here is an exclusive and tantalising extract from ‘Jessamine’ by Shani Struthers – a gothic romance of the highest calibre: a ‘Wuthering Heights’ for the modern day. Click on a cover image to purchase this brilliant novel.
The mist seemed to be getting heavier. She felt as though she was in another land entirely, a kingdom of clouds. The loch – where was it? Should she turn left now, off the path and towards it? Surely she hadn’t overshot the mark? Whilst she was contemplating, she heard voices – people shouting, two or three of them, in the distance but not too far.
Jessamin stood absolutely still, barely breathed. Were they in trouble – tourists perhaps who had lost their way? What was the best thing to do? Try and reach them or double back, raise the alarm and get help? Maccaillin had warned her about the dangers of hill walking in the highlands, how quickly the weather could turn, how easy it was to become disorientated. Perhaps that’s what had happened to them.
The shouting stopped. Had she imagined it? Surely walkers wouldn’t be out at this hour? She lifted one hand up to her temple. Her head throbbed, felt clammy despite the cold. Thinking it wise to turn back after all, she was stopped in her tracks again. There was shouting! She hadn’t been mistaken. It was coming from just beyond, distressed sounds and most definitely human, not the sound of sheep distorted.
Jessamin called out. “Hello! Who’s there? Can I help?”
As she drew nearer she could just make out the loch. It looked stagnant somehow, surreal, not welcoming at all.
“Hello,” she tried again. There had been no response the first time.
The shouting ceased. It seemed to be coming in such random bursts. But surely if she could hear them, they’d be able to hear her? If so, why weren’t they shouting back? Letting her know their exact whereabouts?
Continuing to move forwards, carefully so, the last thing she wanted to do was trip again, the silence continued. Perhaps she’d been mistaken. When she’d fallen, she had only grazed her hands, she hadn’t hit her head – she wasn’t confused although she did feel slightly dizzy. She’d call out once more, wait for a few minutes, then go back, report what she’d heard and leave it to those more skilled than her to deal with it.
Pleased with her plan, she put it into action. No reply. She waited. Even the sheep quietened down as if they were colluding with her, listening too.
She was about to turn away when a figure on the far shore caught her eye. Squinting, she realised there was not just one figure there were two and then a third. They were nothing more than shapes in the mist not looking at her but at each other.
“Hello!” She all but screamed at them this time. Her hands raised, she also started jumping up and down on the spot and waving furiously as she did so.
There was no way they wouldn’t be able to see her, they weren’t that far away. One of the figures appeared to be lying between the other two – had that person fallen and hurt him or herself? Certainly something was going on. Although they were no longer shouting, they were talking heatedly, a dark, accusatory tone to their exchange that sent shivers racing up her spine. All her screaming had made her throat sore, then the coughing started up again, a loud, retching sound; she was making a racket. But still they refused to acknowledge her. She couldn’t cross the loch and the mist was too dense to allow her to circumnavigate it. She’d get herself to Comraich. Face Maccaillin. He’d know what to do.
Backing away, Jessamin spied a fourth figure – looming over the three figures in front of him, staring at them, his hands wide as if in supplication.
“Hello!” she tried one last time.
To her astonishment, the fourth figure lowered his hands and turned towards her, albeit maddeningly slowly. Nonetheless, she was hopeful again and resumed waving.
“I’m going to go and get help. Stay where you are. I won’t be long.”
Instead of acknowledging her, the figure continued to stare. Strangely, she could make out nothing about him at all. He was more of an outline than anything else but she had the distinct feeling he was male – anger, shock and confusion rolling off him and towards her. Despite not being able to distinguish his features, she felt his eyes lock onto hers, bore into her. Searching deep within but searching for what, she didn’t know.
Instinctively, she began to back away from the loch, glad now that they were on the other side; that they too would have trouble reaching her. Wouldn’t they? Panic flared. What if they were local, if they knew the landscape well, if they rushed as one entity towards her? Suddenly she realised she didn’t want to see them, she didn’t!