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.

Athena’s Champion – David Hair & Cath Mayo

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo, published by Canelo on 8th November 2018. More about the book later, but first I’ve got an extract for you.

~~~~~~

The preparations are brief, and simple. Doripanes takes me to a small chamber where a copper bowl has been filled with water from the nearest, most sacred spring. I strip and wash to cleanse myself before being presented to the Goddess, then pull on a borrowed knee-length tunic. After that I’m made to kneel before an altar crowned with a rough statue of the Goddess that’s old, darkened by ash and smooth from decades of hands. An open chalice of scented lamp oil burns slowly, filling the air with fragrant smoke.

Then a hissing voice whispers. ‘Odysseus… Odysseus,’ it says. ‘Man of fire…

I startle, and Doripanes looks at me. ‘Prince?’

‘Did you hear that?’ I begin, but it’s clear he’s heard nothing.

He touches my shoulder. ‘Come, the Pythia awaits.’

My rational mind has never quite believed this coming ceremony isn’t mere formality, more elaboration than truth. False seers plague Achaea, the kingdoms of the Greeks, and I’ve heard Father and others often talk of this experience as being solemn, but not in any way uncanny. To believe in distant gods, whose lives barely touch a man’s except in such huge incidents as storms, earthquakes and plagues, is quite different to believing they are watching me, and examining all the strands of my future. Despite the ominous pressure I’ve felt all day, it’s solid and tangible things I usually fear – war, piracy, assassination – not the mystical.

I set my jaw and concentrate on bearing myself with dignity, rejoining my family but not looking at them as I follow Doripanes down curved stairs into a deep chamber, a circular subterranean vault around twenty feet in diameter. In the middle, oil lamps have been placed around the great central cleft in the rock, from which a vapour rises, drifting around the Pythia as she sits on a large bronze tripod. The rest of the vault lies in semi-darkness.

The old woman before me in her purple and white robe is no longer my grandmother Amphithea: she’s entirely the Pythia, voice of the Goddess, heir of a tradition of prophecy to whom even kings bow. Every few moments she lifts her veil to catch the steam, inhaling it deeply and moaning as she does. Behind her, in the shadows, a half-dozen shaven-haired priests are arrayed: thin, insubstantial figures, like ghosts haunting the chamber.

Doripanes takes me to stand before the Pythia. ‘Remain standing,’ he whispers. ‘I’ll do the talking.’

I nod, and glance back at my family: Mother and Ctimene are huddled together, with Laertes slightly apart, next to Eurybates, watching gravely. Eury gives me a reassuring nod, but my nerves only tighten.

That slithering voice whispers again: ‘Odysseus… Fire…

The walls of the chamber change, mottling like snakeskin and moving, contracting around us. The air thins and I’m sure there’s something poised behind me, its breath cold and stale and rotting. I flinch, wanting to spin round to confront it, but afraid to shift even my gaze. The Pythia coughs as she inhales more of the noxious vapours.

‘Great Goddess! Hera Parthenos, Hera Basileia, Hera Khere!’ Doripanes calls loudly, invoking the Virgin, the Queen and the Widowed Aspects of Hera. ‘We come before you, seekers of truth and wisdom! We bow before you! We worship you and thank you!’

The Pythia takes yet another deep inhalation of the vapours that swirl around her before parting her veil to reveal her face, the wrinkles deep-etched in the lamplight, her eyes rolling back in her skull. ‘Who comes?’ she rasps, her voice a full octave lower than her speaking voice, a low rattle filled with menace.

‘Odysseus, Prince of Ithaca, as a supplicant to your Holiness!’ Doripanes announces. ‘He comes before you humbly, purified and desirous of knowledge. His family await your judgement! Upon his line rests the peace and prosperity of his homeland! Will the kingdom of Ithaca pass into worthy hands? His parents have given consent, for he is their legacy, their heir! Will you walk the Viper’s Path with him, and measure his worth?’

The Viper’s Path? The phrase shocks me, alarmed already as I am by the slithering voice, and that monstrous serpentine presence I sense. The walls of the chamber seem to throb.

The Pythia’s orbs turn a glowing white and pierce me through. My muscles clench, as if to prevent me from being blasted backwards by that empty, harrowing gaze, the air crushed from my lungs by the twin weights of tension and fear. Part of my brain, the emotive part, the boy inside the man, is struck dumb; but the rational part is even here trying to guess how this might be contrived… The vapours, strong and heavy, what are they?

Then the Pythia speaks, obliterating all thought. Her voice is at times shrill, at others a low growl, her face staring into a void, looking past me, looking through me.

Purified? Where is the purity? He came to be purged yet he has been touched by another! Another? Nay, by two! Spawned in fire, born of lust, the renegade, the trickster, eternal traitor, eagle’s prey! Who dares! This is my place! Mine!

There is a collective gasp at each raving ejaculation. The Pythia is no longer seated but standing, her feet straddling the steaming fissure, her eyes still blind but her face enraged. And when she looks at me with those blind eyes, her whole face is overlaid with some kind of serpentine visage, with massive fangs and hooded eyes. The fingers she jabs at me are virulently accusing.

Wit before wisdom! Concealed hands and hearts! Faithful yet false! Loved and loathed! Touched, more than touched: claimed, by another! I see you, False Daughter, the owl that swoops! But this one is not for you! Tainted chalice! Envenomed blade! Honourless, perilous! Lost wanderer! Twin-finder! And dangerous: yes, most dangerous! Wall breaker! Lock picker! True-hearted deceiver!

I stare, petrified, as the Seeress sways towards me, holding her hands high as if admonishing the heavens, then twisting to hurl imprecations at the enclosing shadows. My mind is roiling: is this normal? Is it genuine, or some kind of performance?

Then she spins to leer into my face.

I see you, cuckoo’s egg! Seed of the cursed! Rotted fruit of the tainted seed! I see you: son of Sisyphus!

The chamber is utterly quiet, the stillness broken by an awful sound – the startled sob of the woman I love most in the world: my mother, Anticleia. But I can’t look away from the hooded, pupil-less eyes of the prophetess, her bared teeth a hand’s breadth from my own, as the true horror of her words sinks in. Then I reel as the old woman gives an ear-splitting shriek and collapses to the ground.

The priests, led by an ashen-faced Doripanes, hurry to the Pythia’s aid as I stare at her prone form, momentarily paralysed. Anticleia has fallen to her knees, staring open-mouthed at the crumpled figure of her mother, and Ctimene has dropped to hold her, her face upturned to see the reaction of Laertes, her mouth moving but no words coming out.

Cuckoo’s egg… Seed of the cursed… Son of Sisyphus…

‘Mother?’ I croak.

The wretched look on her face tells me the rest. She’d resisted coming here because she’d feared this very moment. Her final words before we entered the shrine take on new resonance: ‘We all have secrets…

My father… No, not my father… King Laertes is staring at me as if Hades himself has risen to claim him. His normally stolid face is torn open with anguish and rage.

Mother slept with another man… and the two of them, clasped in adultery, conceived me…

Anticleia crawls to her husband, tries to seize his knees. He bends and catches her arms, lifts her, and for a moment I hope for some kind of understanding.

Then Laertes’s right hand cracks across Mother’s face and she’s sent flying, sprawling on her back, her head striking the stone floor. I rush to her side.

Her cheek is split, she’s been struck senseless, but she still breathes. ‘Mother, wake up,’ I cry, ‘Please, I beg you! Wake!’ Then I look up. ‘Father?’ I plead.

‘I’m not your father,’ Laertes croaks. The King rocks on his heels, almost falling before he regains his balance. Then he turns and strides to the stairs, taking them at a run, and vanishes.

 

Athena’s Champion, by David Hair and Cath Mayo is published by Canelo on 8th November 2018.

The first in a thrilling new historical fantasy series; Odysseus must embrace his secret heritage and outwit the vengeful Gods who would control or destroy him…

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.

Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

When one of Athena’s schemes goes drastically wrong, and the young Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Odysseus must journey past the gates of Hades to save her. Falling in love with a Trojan princess, a bewitching woman who poses a deadly threat to both his homeland and Athena, won’t make his task any easier…

Drawing from classic Greek mythology, Athena’s Champion, first in the epic Olympus series, is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and David Gemmell.

David Hair is an award-winning New Zealand YA and Adult fantasy writer, and the author of sixteen novels.  He’s joined his considerable skill and expertise with Cath Mayo to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods.
@DHairauthor

Cath Mayo is a New Zealand YA, Children and Adult fiction author. Her two published YA historical novels are both set in Ancient Greece and her first novel received a Storylines Notable Book Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014. She’s joined her considerable skill and expertise with David Hair to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @cathmayoauthor

 

 

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!