Under The Rock – Ben Myers

Today I’m joining the blog tour for Benjamin Myers’ Under the Rock: Stories Carved From The Land, which is published by Elliott & Thompson in paperback now.

I’ve got an extract from part one for you today, and more about the book later.

An Extract from Part 1 – Wood  

Already Mytholmroyd, only a half-mile away, feels long behind me as I walk deeper into the woods and The Rock towers like something that has been forced from the earth by its fiery inner workings.

The outside world is entirely obscured from view as I mount a wooded hillock, pulling myself up in places by using the smooth girth of silver birches. Altitude comes quickly when you are young and fearless and don’t look back, and The Rock rises taller still.

A squirrel sniffs the air. Twitching, it shakes the leanest boughs, makes a break from a branch and then, with limbs splayed, takes a bold leap onto the limitless ladders of the sky.

Above, crows circle, calling a warning to all the creatures of The Rock: the first human presence in a long time. These creatures have policed this place throughout the ages. The descendants of the same crows that chuntered through Ted Hughes’s childhood sleep patterns continue to rule The Rock today. They always commanded top billing in Hughes’s ‘Crow’ cycle of poems: ‘There is a doorway in the wall – / A black doorway: The eye’s pupil / Through that doorway came Crow.’ As intrinsic and immovable as the ravens of the Tower of London, they preside from their vertical-dropped outcrop before fulminating like black confetti flung at a doomed marriage or a funeral for a forest.

The bluebells of April and May are still in evidence, but are flattened down now, wilted and spent, their thin stalks forming a crunchy carpet and their brilliant violet tepals faded in colour, curled into decay. Bracken fronds that smell of childhood have unfolded everywhere. With stealth their branches reach for the sun just as their roots bury quickly into the soil. Fossilised evidence of this pernicious fern, held fast in compacted sediment, has been dated back 55 million years, making it one of the species most adaptable to climate change. I push my way through them and the resistance they offer is like wading through water.

There is an overpowering sense of stillness.

With the throb of blood in my ears I reach the top of the knoll. Here I catch my breath and discover a small circle of stones, perhaps eight or nine feet across, arranged as if to form a fireplace or perhaps the base of a chimney used for some other industrial purpose. Looking down behind me through columns of trees and the tide of bracken to the wooded plateau below, I sit and eat an apple.

The stone wall of crows above watches on, hard at my back.

And so an obsession begins.


Under The Rock by Benjamin Myers is published by Elliott & Thompson and is out now in paperback. Many thanks to Alison Menzies and
@eandtbooks for a copy of the book to review. The blog tour continues tomorrow.

In Under the Rock, Benjamin Myers, the novelist perhaps best known for The Gallows Pole, winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018, returns to the rugged landscape of the Calder Valley in a bold and original exploration of nature and literature. The focus of his attention is Scout Rock, a steep crag overlooking Mytholmroyd, where the poet Ted Hughes grew up. In solitude, Ben Myers has been exploring this wooded ten acre site for over a decade and his Field Notes, scribbled in situ are threaded between sections entitled Wood, Earth, Water and Rock. Taking the form of poetry, these Field Notes are “lines and lists lifted from the landscape, narrative screen-grabs of a microcosmic world that are correspondent to places or themes explored elsewhere, or fleeting flash-thoughts divined through the process of movement”.


The Stars Now Unclaimed – Drew Williams

Delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Drew Williams’ The Stars Now Unclaimed, from Simon & Schuster. More about the book later – today I’ve got an extract for you.


Chapter One

I had Scheherazade drop me on top of an old refinery, rusted out and half collapsing. Around me the stretch of this new world’s sky seemed endless, a bright sienna-colored cloth drawn over the stars above. I watched Schaz jet back off to orbit—well, “watched” is probably a strong word, since she had all her stealth systems cranked to high heaven, but I could at least find the telltale glint of her engines— then settled my rifle on my back and started working my way down, finding handholds and grips among the badly rusted metal.

It’s surprising how used to this sort of thing you get; the climbing and jumping and shimmying, I mean. On a world free of the effects of the pulse, none of that would have been necessary— I would have had antigravity boots, or a jetpack, or just been able to disembark in the fields below: scaling a three-hundred-foot-tall structure would have been as easy as pressing a button and dropping until I was comfortably on the ground.

Now, without all those useful cheats, it was much more physically demanding—the climbing and jumping and shimmying bits— but I didn’t mind. It was like a workout, a reminder that none of that nonsense mattered on the world I was descending toward, and that if I wanted to stay alive,  reflexes and physical capability would be just as important as the few pieces of tech I carried that were resistant to post-pulse radiation.

By the time I made it down the tower I’d worked up a decent sweat, and I’d also undergone a crash course in the physical realities of this particular planet: the vagaries of its gravity, of its atmosphere, that sort of thing.

Most terraformed worlds were within a certain range in those kinds of measurements—on some, even orbital rotations had been shifted to roughly conform to the standard galactic day/night cycle— but it’s surprising how much small differences can add up when you’re engaged in strenuous physical activity. A touch less oxygen in the air than you’re used to, a single percentage point of gravity higher or lower, and suddenly everything’s thrown off, just a bit. You have to readjust.

I checked my equipment over as I sat in the shadow of the refinery tower, getting my breath back. Nothing was damaged or showing signs of the radiation advancing faster than I would have expected. I had a mission to complete here, yes, but I had no desire to have some important piece of tech shut down on me at an inopportune time and get me killed. Then I wouldn’t be able to do anyone any good.

As the big metal tower creaked above me in the wind, I kept telling myself that—that I was still doing good. Some days I believed it more than others.

After I’d recovered from my little jaunt, I settled my rifle onto my back again—a solid gunpowder cartridge design common across all levels of postpulse tech, powerful enough that it could compete with higher-end weapons on worlds that still had a great deal of technology intact, low-key enough that on worlds farther down that scale like this one, it wouldn’t draw undue attention—and set off across rolling plains of variegated grass.

This world was very pretty; I’d give whoever had designed it that. The sky was a lovely shade of pinkish orange that would likely shift into indigo as night approached. It perfectly complemented the flora strains that had been introduced, mostly long grasses of purple or green or pink, with a few patches of larger trees, mostly Tyll-homeworld species, thick trunks of brown or gray topped by swaying azure fronds. Vast fields of wheat— again, of Tyll extraction—made up most of the landscape that wasn’t grassland; that made sense with the research I’d done before having Scheherazade drop me off.

The research told me that this world had been terraformed for agricultural use a few hundred years ago or so; it had seen only mild scarring during the sect wars, which meant it was a little bit perplexing that the pulse had knocked it almost as far down the technology scale as a planet could go—all the way to before the invention of electric light.

Still, trying to understand why the pulse had done what it had done was a fool’s errand: I’d seen systems where one planet had been left untouched, another had been driven back to pre-spaceflight, and the moon of that same world had lost everything post–internal combustion. There was never any rhyme or reason to it, not even within a single system—the pulse did what it did at random, and looking for a will behind its workings was like trying to find the face of god in weather patterns.

I knew that much because I was one of the fools who had let it off the chain in the first place. That’s why I was here: trying to right my own wrongs.

In a very small way, of course. I was only one woman, and it was a big, big universe. Also, I had a great many wrongs.


I can’t wait to read more. Huge thanks to Harriet Collins from Simon & Schuster UK for inviting me to take part in the tour, and for the review copy of Drew’s book.

The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams is published by Simon & Schuster and is out now. You can find Drew on twitter @DrewWilliamsIRL

AN IMPOSSIBLE MISSION
A century ago, a mysterious pulse of energy spread across the universe. Meant to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, it instead destroyed technology indiscriminately, leaving some worlds untouched and throwing others into total chaos.
AN UNSTOPPABLE ENEMY
The Justified, a mysterious group of super-soldiers, have spent a hundred years trying to find a way to restore order to the universe. Their greatest asset is the feared mercenary Kamali, who travels from planet to planet searching for gifted young people and bringing them to the secret world she calls home. Kamali hopes that those she rescues will be able to find a way to reverse the damage the pulse wreaked, and ensure that it never returns.
THE END OF THE UNIVERSE
But Kamali isn’t the only person looking for answers to unimaginable questions. And when her mission to rescue a grumpy teenaged girl named Esa goes off the rails, Kamali suddenly finds herself smack in the centre of an intergalactic war… that she started.

Bait, Grist and Security – Mike Hodges

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Mike Hodges’ Bait, Grist and Security, three darkly comic noir novellas from the cult director of Get Carter.

More on the book later, but first I’ve got an extract from chapter one of BAIT.

Summer is hell here.

Winter is the only time to be in this place. On a wet night preferably.

Like tonight.

The dark sea, flattened by rain, laps against the long curving beach. White-painted iron railings and ill-lit weather shelters recede into the mist. An amusement arcade, boarded up, sits like a blind man watching nothing.

The Grand Atlantic Hotel, a vast, corroding edifice, looms over the deserted esplanade. A torn canvas banner flaps over its darkened entrance, announcing the presence of the Brotherhood of Magicians Conference. Bedroom windows stacked up to the murky sky are black patches. The magicians are long in bed.
They’ll need steady hands in the morning. The clock tower strikes on the hour.

Twice.

An approaching motorbike cuts through the sound of rainwater smacking the tarmac. The red Yamaha rounds a corner slowly, ominously, powerful as a shark. A metallic titanium flip-front helmet glints under the street lamps. Moulded gloves with visor wipes, grinder boots, cowhide jeans and a leather jacket embossed with a bloody knife embedded in the rider’s back. The rider steers his machine along the esplanade before circling a traffic island housing the public urinals, all the while scanning the empty street.

A municipal shelter with a noticeboard advertising local events for wet winter nights stands beside the amusement arcade. It’s here the bike comes to rest. The rider leaves the engine running as he nervously pulls posters from a saddlebag.

He works fast, skilfully.

Soon the forthcoming amateur operatic production of Annie Get Your Gun is no longer forthcoming. But ‘The Personal Improvement Institute: A Course in Leadership Dynamics’ is. The etched face of a wild-eyed mountaineer intending to give a slide lecture the very next evening is replaced by the well-fed features of Dr Hermann P. Temple, who will show you the QUICK way to the TOP! during his impending weekend course on SUCCESS-POWER GETTING!

A similar fate is accorded ‘Pinkie and Barrie, the Comedy Duo’; ‘Diana Barnham playing Bach on the Clavichord’; and the providers of ‘Merrie England Banquets. Book now to avoid disappointment.’ All disappear within seconds to be replaced by five identical images of Dr Temple. A quintet of pointing forefingers, quiffs and eyes that would make a cobra back off.

*

A solitary light snaps on.

It’s on the third floor of an office block five minutes from the esplanade. The bare bulb backlights the gold lettering on the window: ‘Mark Miles Intercontinental’. Below that: ‘Creative Publicity and Personal Management’. On the bottom line: ‘MAKE your MARK with MILES. He’s WAY ahead.’

The block housing Mark Miles’ office is just that: a block. It has all the charm of a coal bunker. Built in the sixties, it’s an early example of how easily even smart people can be conned. Concrete is beautiful. Or so the architects decreed at the time.

Providence House, for that’s the block’s portentous name, takes on a gloomy appearance in the torrential rain. Mark Miles appears at the window, taking off his helmet, while simultaneously dropping the slatted blind. One side falls faster than the other, which doesn’t happen in movies, but almost always does in real life. Cursing, he tries to level it off, one-handed. Instead it becomes uncoupled and collapses on top of him. Mark Miles and his blind have one quality in common. Both spend their lives dangling.

Mark is sick of being a small fish in a small pond. His only remaining heroes are the sharks in the local aquarium. These massive glistening predators eye the awed visitors on the other side of the glass with contempt as they sweep majestically past in their eternal search for a way out. Like them, Mark wants to command respect. To this end, his pinball mind has been hyperactive since being approached by Dr Temple’s people to promote his weekend course. Leadership dynamics might just be the metamorphosis needed to take him to the top.

And quickly.

He switches on a battered desk lamp, puts it on the floor and kills the overhead. Mark has to be careful. The landlord suspects that, contrary to the terms of his lease, the office also doubles as his living quarters.
The landlord is right.
That’s why the chipped commode with ‘Hospital Property’ boldly stencilled on its lid, and smuggled in under cover of darkness from his late grandma’s council flat, is disguised with a potted palm. He lifts the palm and urinates into the china basin.

Slopping out has always been a complicated ritual. When he first moved into the building, the landlord – Fred Snipe, thin as a drainpipe
– was wont to ambush him on his early-morning run along the corridor to the communal lavatory. After several narrow escapes, Mark devised a strategy whereby he transferred the contents of the commode into a plastic first-aid box before embarking upon this essential mission.

Now, on their occasional encounters, Snipe’s nose twitches like a gerbil’s at the odour. His mouth opens but words refuse to emerge. He just can’t bring himself to ask what the container contains. Mark relishes these precious moments, smiling and patting the Red Cross on the box. ‘Preparation H, Fred. Works wonders.’ He sometimes varies the exchange: ‘Glycerine suppositories, Fred. Never fails to get you moving.’ Or, if he wants to make the landlord really blush, he adds, ‘Clinically proven to be effective against irritation and itching piles.’

These words always play on Snipe’s retreating figure.

Mark now eases out a crumpled futon and sleeping bag from under the defeated sofa, carefully avoiding any tangling with its bare springs. Rolling back and forth on the floor, he sheds his clothes and slips into the kapok envelope.

Light out.

*

In the street below Mark’s office, a black umbrella is opened from the shelter of a shop door. A man, short and paunchy, steps out, his suet- pudding face glistening in the rain. His name is William Snazell and he’s a private detective, a gumshoe. Dressed in a faded raincoat and shapeless trilby, he takes a final look at the darkened window before crossing the road. His shiny rubber galoshes shuffle through the sheet of rainwater.

~~~~~~

Bait, Grist & Security by Mike Hodges is published by Unbound on 29th November 2018. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Unbound for the review copy.

In ‘Bait’, a slippery PR man, Mark Miles, is unaware he’s being manipulated and dangled as bait by an investigative reporter until he’s swallowed by a sadistic mind-expanding cult from
America.
In ‘Grist’, the bestselling writer, Maxwell Grist, ruthlessly uses real people as fodder for his crime novels before finding himself living up to his name and becoming grist for his own
murder.
In ‘Security’, an American movie star, unhappy with the film he’s working on, refuses to leave his hotel for the studios, while in the corridor outside his luxury suite mayhem and murder take over.

The Real McCoy – Claire Cock-Starkey

Got a great book for you today – The Real McCoy and 149 other Eponyms, by Claire Cock-Starkey, author of The Book Lovers’ Miscellany and A Library Miscellany. It’s a fascinating little book, and I’ve got an extract to share with you today.

Did you know where ‘cereal’ orginally came from? Let’s find out!

CEREALfood grains such as oat, corn, wheat and rye

This word came into use in the nineteenth century to describe grains which are used for food, but it originates from the Latin word cerealis, which is derived from associations with Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. Ceres was a benevolent goddess, the daughter of Saturn and Ops; she was believed to have given humans the gift to cultivate corn and brought fertility to the land. She is often pictured with a farm tool in one hand and a basket of fruit, grains or flowers in the other. The Romans explained the ebb and flow of the seasons through a myth related to Ceres. Ceres’ daughter Proserpina was taken into the underworld after lonely Pluto, god of the underworld, fell in love with her having been hit with one of Cupid’s arrows. Ceres was devastated to lose her daughter and plunged the world into famine, so Jupiter sent Mercury into the underworld to ask Pluto to return Proserpina to earth. Unfortunately while in the underworld Proserpina had eaten six pomegranate seeds – the fruit of the dead – and as a consequence she could not remain in the world of the living. Proserpina was allowed out of the underworld each spring and Ceres would celebrate by making the plants burst into life. Proserpina and Ceres would spend the summer happily together and plants would flourish, before Ceres would begin to grow unhappy at her daughter’s imminent return to the underworld, heralding the arrival of autumn. Proserpina was forced to spend the winter months back in the underworld with Pluto, and so in the world of the living nothing would grow while Ceres sadly waited for her return.

The English language is rich with eponyms – words that are named after an individual – some better known than others. This book features 150 of the most interesting and enlightening specimens, delving into the origins of the words and describing the fascinating people after whom they were named.

Eponyms are derived from numerous sources. Some are named in honour of a style icon, inventor or explorer, such as pompadour, Kalashnikov and Cadillac. Others have their roots in Greek or Roman mythology, such as panic and tantalise. A number of eponyms, however, are far from celebratory and were created to indicate a rather less positive association – into this category can be filed boycott, Molotov cocktail and sadist.

Encompassing eponyms from medicine, botany, invention, science, fashion, food and literature, this book uncovers the intriguing tales of discovery, mythology, innovation and infamy behind the eponyms we use every day. The perfect addition to any wordsmith’s bookshelf.

The Real McCoy and 149 other Eponyms by Claire Cock-Starkey is published by Bodleian Publishing in October 2018. You can find Claire on twitter @nonfictioness or at her website nonfictioness.com

And Then It Happened – Linda Green

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Linda Green’s And Then It Happened, and I’ve got an extract from the book for you.

Mel
Saturday, 27 March 2010

According to Wikipedia, it was Aesop who came up with that line about familiarity breeding contempt. Which kind of vindicates my belief that Greek philosophers are, on the whole, rather overrated. I have known Adam for two-thirds of my life now. Admittedly, that’s only a dot backwards on the great history timeline of things towards Aesop’s era in 600 BC. But the fact remains that for me it is a struggle to remember life BA (as I tend to think of the years before I met Adam). There is a blurry childhood involving a one-eyed teddy bear, under-the-knee socks and grazed knees, blackberry-picking along the canal bank, a less than perfect ponytail and sticking my tongue out at my older brother Martin, who was always the apple of Mum’s eye. And then there is the day I started high school and met Adam. That is when life as I know it really began.

We have barely gone a few weeks without seeing each other since that point. Yet far from make me look at him with a mixture of irritation and loathing, that familiarity has bred something deeper, stronger and altogether more wonderful than I ever thought possible. Don’t get mewrong, Adam is not perfect. He’s a man, for goodness sake. And this is a marriage not a fairy tale. There are, inevitably, a few things about him that cause me to roll my eyes and make the odd sigh or tut every now and again; he snores (though only when lying on his left side), appears to have a pathological fear of baths (I should point out in his defence that he does shower), refuses to go anywhere near a tapas restaurant (something to do with not being able to get one big plate of what you want to eat and having to go home and make cheese on toast afterwards because you’re still hungry) and is prone to going off on a bit of a rant if anyone expresses even the merest hint of admiration for either Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair (perhaps the most excusable of his foibles).

But that is as bad as it gets. A handful of silly little things that bug me. Nothing even approaching the foothills of contempt. Instead, I have all the lovely things that famil­ iarity brings: knowing that he understands when to back off and give me space and when to throw his arms around me and give me a hug; the fact that we can be comfortably silent together because sometimes we just know and we don’t need to say; the reassurance that if I have a headache he knows the exact spot on my shoulder where the knot causing it is and how to massage it away. And the fact that I know, as he sits opposite me at a rather swanky restaurant in Sowerby Bridge, top button of his shirt undone, brushing back the bit of dark brown hair which has always got in his eyes for as long as I have known him, exactly how he will respond to what I am about to say.

And Then It Happened by Linda Green is published by Quercus Books. You can find Linda on twitter @LindaGreenisms

How would you feel if the only man you’d ever loved was taken away from you? And imagine how he’d feel if he hadn’t really been taken away at all -but couldn’t find a way to let you know…

Mel Taylor was thirteen years old when she found Adam. Twenty years on, they are still blissfully in love. She has everything she ever wished for. But Mel’s happiness is spoilt by a secret from their past and a niggling fear that her good fortune can’t last forever. Despite her husband Adam’s efforts to reassure her that nothing bad is going to happen, Mel can’t shake the feeling that good things can’t last forever. But what she isn’t expecting, is something so terrible that their lives will be changed forever…

My Mother’s Secret – Sanjida Kay – an extract

Published by Corvus, 3rd May 2018

You can only hide for so long…
Lizzie Bradshaw. A student from the Lake District, forced to work away from home, who witnesses a terrible crime. But who will ultimately pay the price?
Emma Taylor. A mother, a wife, and a woman with a dangerous secret. Can she keep her beloved family safely together?
Stella Taylor. A disaffected teenager, determined to discover what her mother is hiding. But how far will she go to uncover the truth?
And one man, powerful, manipulative and cunning, who controls all their destinies.

Earlier this week Liz from Liz Loves Books tempted you with a peek at the prologue for Sanjida Kay’s new book, My Mother’s Secret. I’m here to whet your appetite further with a look at chapter one…

EMMA

It’s as if we’ve stepped into a Constable painting, a bucolic vision of England. There’s a single oak ahead of us in the heart of the valley; the grass is lime-green and the steep sides of the Cotswold escarpment are covered in dense woodland. Even though it’s May, the sky is shale-grey; there’s a brooding mass of clouds on the horizon.
‘We could have parked right there! Why did you make us walk all this way?’ Ava whines.
‘Because you’ll appreciate it even more,’ says Jack.
Stella snorts. ‘Yeah, like anyone but you is going to “appreciate” a mouldering old church.’
‘It’s so creepy. I don’t like it,’ Ava says.
I have to admit, the lowering sky and the dark green of the trees surrounding us make me feel a bit hemmed in.
‘I’ve been bitten!’ she shrieks and jumps about, slapping at her ankles.
‘I did see a horsefly back there,’ I say.
‘It’s probably nothing. Just a scratch,’ says Jack.
‘Let me have a look.’ I turn Ava’s slim calf in my hands.
Sure enough, there’s a large red lump starting to form above her ankle bone.
‘Don’t worry, I’ve got some ointment,’ I say, sliding my backpack off my shoulders.
Stella rolls her eyes.
‘Of course,’ says Jack, ‘your mum is prepared for anything. Break a leg, and she’ll wrap you in her space-blanket while we wait for mountain rescue on speed-dial.’
‘You’re kidding, right?’ says Stella. ‘A space-blanket.’
‘I do have a space-blanket, as it happens. You never know when you might need one . . .’ I rub antihistamine into Ava’s leg and she stops whimpering. ‘It’s so light, it would be stupid not to bring it.’ ‘I told you,’ says Jack.
‘Oh my God, you are insane.’
‘We could use it to fly to the moon,’ says Ava.
‘Jesus, Mum, the Taliban carry those things to stop the US spying on them with thermal cameras,’ says Stella.
‘Multi-purpose,’ murmurs my husband.
I finish putting away my first-aid kit. Ahead of us are a tiny stream and the remains of an old bridge.
‘Look! The people who once owned this place probably swept down here in their coach and horses, right over that bridge and up to the big house,’ I say brightly.
‘Like, that’s even interesting,’ says Stella.
There’s a sign saying the ruined bridge is unsafe. A round, stone ball lies to one side, as if it has tumbled from the crumbling turrets. It’s now half-obscured by long grass. There’s a cowpat next to it. We head to the right; buttery-coloured Cotswold stones poke through the soil.
I start singing ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’.
‘Spare me,’ mutters Jack under his breath, striding ahead of us. He’s smiling, though.
Ava joins in with the chorus, and we keep singing and she forgets to moan as the hill curves steeply upwards.
I don’t have my husband’s strength or resilience in the face of concerted opposition: I would never have managed to drag a fourteen-year-old and an eleven-year-old out of the house when they’d much rather be Snapchatting (Stella) or practising ballet (Ava). So I’m pleased Jack’s cheerily ignored any opposition to his plans, as he normally does, even if it means visiting yet another church. We haven’t been to see this one in a while, but sadly there’s no cafe nearby that the girls and I can escape to.
I’m out of breath. I really should lose some weight, I think, as I always do when Jack is marching us up some hill. He’s as fit as a flea. He goes to a posh gym in town and does kettlebells and something called HIIT in his lunch hour.
At the top, there’s a mansion that a family actually lives in, rather than opening it up to the public and allowing the whole world to traipse through the living room to raise money to repair the roof, plus a walled garden with stables and greenhouses that are also off-limits. The church is open but to reach it you have to walk round in a loop and double-back to give the owners a modicum of privacy. I get distracted by a lily pool and stop to take some photos on my phone. It’s surprisingly dark: there’s a thick hedge behind me, and beech trees overhead. I imagine this must have led to the main driveway for the house at one time. I lean over the fence, the metal cold against my stomach, and try and get a water lily to fill the frame in my camera. When I finally manage to take a halfway decent photo, I look up, ready to show Ava.
She’s gone. I can’t hear her or Stella and Jack, either. There’s the faint smell of horses and leather. It’s silent. It appears darker than before. The first spot of rain hits my cheek. I look round, but the narrow path is empty of walkers or my family.
I start jogging and call out, ‘Ava? Stella?’
I still can’t see them. The path grows narrower, the trees tower over me and it’s impossible to see over the hedge. Shrubs encroach. Something snaps across my face, stinging my cheek. I cry out. It’s a branch. I feel as if I’m in a tunnel. I run faster. A black shape explodes out of the bushes and I jump back. It’s a blackbird, disappearing into the wood in a flurry of feathers. I can’t breathe. There’s no sign of them, no sign that anyone else even passed this way.
I start screaming their names, over and over, the names of my family, my loved ones, the people I cannot live without. My heart is beating so hard it’s painful.
I must have missed the turn for the church, because now I’m on a wide driveway flanked by those giant beech trees, last year’s masts crunching beneath my feet, and the house is behind me, the windows shuttered against tourists. There’s still no one else around. No walkers. No one appears at the window. I can’t stop shouting; the silence will choke me. I feel as if my chest is in a giant vice that’s squeezing my ribs. I run to a fence and look down into the valley. There’s a girl on horseback a long way below me. She isn’t even aware that I’m up here, shouting for help. The path twists to the left, away from the fields, and disappears into a dark thicket of laurels. Is that where they are? I’m frozen. I don’t know where to search next, what to do.
And then Jack is running towards me. He puts one hand on my shoulder and looks straight into my eyes.
‘Take it easy. Deep breath. In. We’re all here. We’re safe. Breathe out.’
I see the girls peeking round a trellis draped with pink tea roses. Their faces are white. They’re fine, though, just as Jack said they were.
Once I’ve stopped hyperventilating, Jack folds me in his arms.
‘We were inside the church,’ he murmurs in my ear. ‘You know I’d never let anything happen to them, don’t you?’
I nod, and pull away. Ava comes and flings her arms around my waist.
‘Are you all right, Mum? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have left you. I thought you saw . . .’
‘It’s okay,’ I say. ‘It’s my fault, not yours. I should have kept up.’

You can find Sanjida at her website, or on twitter @SanjidaKay

Atholl Brose – an extract from Rebellious Spirits by Ruth Ball

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Rebellious Spirits, by Ruth Ball, “A delicious history of Britain’s secret, exciting and often dangerous love affair with booze.”

Rebellious Spirits was shortlisted for the Fortnum & Mason Food Debut Drink Book of the Year Award in 2016, was one of the Guardian’s Best Drinks Books of 2015, and features 50 delicious cocktail recipes.

Glasses all topped up? Right then.  I’ve got an extract from the book for you – a look at the fascinating history (and a couple of recipes) for Atholl brose, an intriguing concoction!

Without further ado, over to Ruth…

Atholl brose

When looking for a good recipe you’ll find that there are as many variations of Atholl brose as there are Highlanders. To make matters worse, the only recorded recipes tend to be in the diaries of confused English tourists. But one thing on which every recipe agrees is the need for whisky and good heather honey.

The name comes from an old tale about the Duke of Atholl, who supposedly filled the well near a rebel leader’s camp with whisky, oatmeal and honey to make him too drunk to fight, although there’s no evidence that the story has any basis in truth. The name also comes from the mixture of oats and water that was carried as a drink by shepherds and was called brose, even though some modern versions choose to skip the creamy oatmeal in favour of rich dairy cream. In every version the Atholl brose is beaten to a froth and sometimes eggs are added to hold the froth a little better.  I have tried to combine a little of all of these to make my own version.

ATHOLL BROSE: THE ORIGINAL

Athol-brose – A compound highland drink. Sometimes, merely honey and whiskey; at others, honey, whiskey, oat-meal, and new milk.

Major Walter Campbell, The Old Forest Ranger (1850)

THE ALCHEMIST’S VERSION

50g rolled oats 350ml water 3 tbsp heather honey 2 egg yolks 250ml single cream 350ml whisky

Prepare the brose in advance by mixing the oats and water and leaving to stand overnight. In the morning, strain this with a cheesecloth or by pressing the liquid through a sieve with the back of a spoon. Beat the honey with the egg yolks in the bottom of a jug until pale and then mix in the cream. Add the brose and the whisky and whisk everything together until you have a good head of foam.

Queen Victoria was apparently fond of Atholl brose, and when she visited Atholl Castle she drank hers from a glass that had once belonged to the famous fiddler Niel Gow. So try to drink yours from a glass that once belonged to someone famous if you want to play queen.

 

Rebellious Spirits, by Ruth Bell is published by Elliot & Thompson (www.eandtbooks.com) in April 2018.  Huge thanks to Alison Menzies for the review copy. The blog tour continues tomorrow!