Indigenous sea criminal subject matter

Indigenous sea criminal subject matter

One is auditorially stimulated by a number of thoroughfares

Immobilise the tuning dial that is in your possession 

Consider oneself to be comfortable as if in one’s own domicile

We are in possession of vegetation, some of which we have propagated by our own means

Recline in one’s own royal chair, deactivate one’s telephony device

As this is the area in which we are prominent

Pictorial recording devices, televisual machines, eight squareds, gathering places of entertainment

Those of us who are here are creating coupled relationships to within a 5% significance level

An insignificant quantity of chemically reactive foliage and a compact amount of dried tobacco plant

Bring to one’s mind an awareness of the paper-based cigarette making materials

Cause to list at a non 90 degree angle, resembling the campanile in the Piazza dei Miracoli

Liza, I will increase my stake in our wager

And this is one full revolution of the planet in the existence of a streetwise gentleman

For, one should say, this isn’t a recording aimed at popular discotheques

Disclose one’s carrying apparatus and recline

Whether you are pale of skin or somewhat darker

Inhale fumes of burning foliage, or of heated opium extract

Or make the tune on a pipe full of free base derivative of extract of the coca plant

Indigenous sea criminal subject matter

One is auditorially stimulated by a number of thoroughfares

Immobilise the tuning dial that is in your possession 






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What might have happened if R Kelly had been a member of a writer’s workshop

In today’s writing workshop, we’re going to look at  R Kelly’s Ignition (remix) 

I enjoyed reading this piece of work and can certainly see that there’s a rhythm to the way you use words. I particularly liked the bouncing, tooting and beeping, which are lots of fun and encourage participation with the text. That said, I have a few questions about some of the other aspects of this piece that I’ll address now.

Starting with the first verse. I’m struggling with the simile where you compare the girl to the Lexus Coupe. I can’t quite see where you’re driving with this, if you’ll pardon the pun. I don’t know. As an image it just doesn’t quite work for me. Also, why has this one girl got you ‘playing the field’? If you’re as into her as the lyrics here suggest, surely you’d stop playing the field and pursue just this woman. And, on that subject, isn’t ‘playing the field’ a bit of a cliche? Can you come up with a fresher way to say that?

The chorus here has a lot going for it. It scans on first glance, and certainly comes off the page rhythmically. I’m not sure about ignition and kitchen, though. Yes, it’s a half rhyme, but aren’t we getting a bit of a mixed metaphor here too? I wonder if you could try for more of an extended metaphor and use ideas that fit together? I don’t think it matters so much whether it rhymes or not.

Most of the rest I can live with and yes, on the ‘freaking weekend’ I like to ‘have me some fun’ too. Although I did wonder if you were being a bit coy with your use of the word ‘freaking’. People can probably cope with a little bit of swearing. It’s 2003, after all!

The only other thing that really jarred me was the simile you use at the beginning of the second proper verse. You say:

Now it’s like “Murder She Wrote”
Once I get you out them clothes

I wondered, reading this, if you’d ever actually watched ‘Murder She Wrote’. I’m not sure the comparison quite does the work you want it to. This drama, starring Angela Lansbury, wasn’t very sexy at all. In fact, it was really quite a cozy crime drama. There wasn’t really anything edgy about it, either. You might have been better to pick something darker. Some good classic noir or Hitchcock. The Postman Always Rings Twice is quite a racy film. Just a thought!

So, yes, this is a good start but I think it needs more work. I’d suggest to worry less about rhyming and more about finding the right word for what you want to say. And, generally, tighten up your use of imagery so that we get more clarity about exactly how you feel about this woman. I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with this one!

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It’s that time of year again

I’ve always loved autumn. The carpets of shed leaves, the colours, the skies. Halloween and all the fancy dress and apple bobbing and toffee. Bonfire Night and fireworks, the smell of gunpowder in the air. And, in Nottingham, the fair comes to town too. I love that feeling of being cosy inside whilst the rain comes down and the wind howls and the night closes in much earlier than you’re used to. It’s my wedding anniversary too, early November. But, of course, it’s no coincidence that I chose to get married at my favourite time of year.

And, of course, November is also National Novel Writing Month. I considered doing it this year but decided against it. I’ve completed (or won, as the folks at Nanowrimo like to call it) twice and failed once. And I’ve got a lot out of it in terms of productivity and words. But, this year, I’ve decided not to because I’ve worked out that the biggest issue for me as a writer is not writing fast. I tend to be in a bit of a rush, if the truth be told, so that the trick, really, is slowing myself down and thinking more about things. Taking some time over it. That said, I’m not knocking Nanowrimo at all. 50 000 words in a month is not ridiculous and to get that chunk of book finished in one month is a good start towards that finished first draft. Just don’t send it out in December, that’s all.

If you are doing Nanowrimo this year, I thought I’d give you some of the benefit of my experience along the way. So here’s my three top tips for getting 50 000 words written in a month.

  1. Turn of that pesky internal editor. She’ll try to get you. She’ll try to slow you down. Tell her to do one and keep on keeping on.
  2. At this point in the month, you’re heading for 10 000 words. Ace. For me, this is the point at which I’m getting to know my characters well enough to understand what they’d do, or not do, in various situations. If you’re a planner, it might be worth revisiting that plan now you know who you’re dealing with. If you’re a pantser, well, you might want at least to think about your ending at this point. Or some of the key points along the way. As someone who falls between the two ways of working, I do think some planning can really help you find your way through all the thorny forests of doubt and to the end of that draft.
  3. Stay playful. It’s easy to get so wrapped in a project that you lose your way, and forget the things you enjoyed about writing. Keep going with those morning pages, if you do them. Keep finding writing prompts and having a go at them, even if you use them to explore your novel or its characters. Write haiku in between chapters. Or blog posts! Or some flash fiction…

Getting too wrapped up

and forgetting to play can

make you lose your way. *

Keep on keeping on


*I’m not a poet and believe me, I know it!

PS If you’re quick off the mark, there are still a few free enrollments left on my Kickstart your Novel Skillshare course. Click here to enroll for free, or here to get three months premium membership and access all their courses for just $0.99.




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What is crime fiction?

This week, on a course about Crime Fiction, we were asked the question ‘what is crime fiction?’ You’d have thought we’d know, since we’d signed up for a fairly significant chunk of education on the subject, but it was harder to answer than you might expect. It was really quite a clever bit of teaching, to pose that question, and to sit back and allow us to discuss it. I doubt that a single person came out of that room with a sentence that began ‘Crime fiction is…’ but we all came out thinking, and discussing it further with each other and, in my case, with family and friends.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with a sudden (and paranoid) fear that there was someone in my room. I had heard a noise in my sleep, and remembered that the doors here only lock if you turn the the latch on your side. I had to get up and check that I had done this and, even though I had, I still had to check everywhere in the room that there was no one hiding. Of course, once I’d established that this was middle of the night away from home paranoia, I had such a cracking idea for a crime novel that I had to write that down. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that overpowering need to write something down in the middle of the night like that.

After I’d scribbled down a half considered outline on the back of one of the hotel notices, I had a half remembered thought. It was something I’d heard at Fantasy Con one year, or maybe Edge Lit. I couldn’t be exactly sure. And I can’t attribute because I can’t remember who said it. I can’t even remember exactly what was said. But it was a comment about the difference between horror and crime and went something like this. ‘In a story, if you’re lying in bed and something grabs your leg, in crime, it’s a murderer, but in horror it could be anything.’ I had a middle of the night compulsion to expand this further. I scribbled this on the back of another hotel room notice. I woke up this morning and reread it, and it still mostly made sense, so I thought I’d share it here. Please feel free to add to my list in the comments here, or let me know what you think Crime Fiction is.

In a story, if you’re lying in bed and something grabs your leg…

if it’s crime, it’ll be a murderer

in ‘Golden Age’ crime, it’ll be a classy murderer with an unlikely weapon

in noir, the murderer will be sleeping with your husband or wife

in domestic noir, you will be sleeping with the murderer

in horror, it’ll be a something that’s come from hell

in psychological horror, it might have come from hell, or it might be your subconscious

in science fiction, it might be an alien, or a robot, or someone from the future

in fantasy, it really could be anything, but it might not have malicious intentions

in romance, maybe you’re reading Fifty Shades?

in literary fiction, it could be anything, but whatever you do, don’t worry too much about what’s grabbed your leg and notice the brilliant metaphor I wrote.

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This is my current July 2016 wishlist, in no particular order. WARNING: there may be swears ahead. There might also be some politics.

  1. For people to stop fucking killing each other
  2. For my local car dealership to sort out its customer service and when I complain about its customer service for the manager there not to have the damned cheek to try to put things right by giving me a discount on buying a new fucking car.
  3. For people in companies to do the right thing, instead of pointing at ‘terms and conditions’ as if this excuses low moral dealing.
  4. For all the racists to fuck the fuck off of my planet
  5. World Peace.
  6. For the Labour Party to pull together around its elected leader and stop being fucking awful to each other. For people in the Labour Party to stop saying ‘what the members want isn’t the only thing that matters’ and remember that socialism starts with the idea that everyone is equal and that’s why the Labour Party elects its leader with the ‘one member one vote’ system.
  7. For the Pokemon Go! servers to come back up. This shit is getting my husband and stepsons fit and healthy!
  8. For people to stop going on about this being the most difficult time in our history. Bitch, please! WW2 anyone? WW1? Get a life and get some perspective.
  9. For middle class University educated people who are supposedly socialist to stop screaming into the social media void about how all the thick people shouldn’t have been able to vote in the referendum and remember that socialism is about the idea that EVERYONE IS EQUAL.
  10. For everyone to buy my books and make me rich so that I can spend my time writing lists, campaigning for Important Causes and making World Peace happen. And eating nice food and travelling the world and all that too.
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Keeping on keeping on 

It’s heading up for a decade since I was first published and there have been ups and downs but there is much to celebrate. There are a number of landmark celebration blog posts on their way. But in the meantime, here’s my latest YouTube video. Stephen King, showing how it’s done. A completely natural storyteller.


Here’s Stephen King telling stories and sharing anecdotes Stephen King telling stories.

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The Ugly Truth of Publishing & How BEST to Support Writers

Some really good points here.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Well, I figure I have one more day to drunkenly torch my platform. Sad thing is I don’t drink. I am apparently this stupid when sober 😛 . Actually I am writing this as a follow up for my rant from the day before yesterday, because knowledge is power.

Writers need this. Your friends and families need this. Readers need this. The more people get how this industry works, the more everyone can start working together for everyone’s benefit.

In my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I go into a LOT more detail and I highly recommend you get a copy if you don’t have one. I spend the first chapters of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work so you can make an educated decision.

All types of publishing have corresponding…

View original post 3,294 more words

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Nothing new under the sun

I’m often asked by writing students about copyright and plagiarism, and the best ways to make sure no one steals your ideas. It’s something that beginners seem unduly concerned about. I’m not saying it can’t happen but I’ve never really worried. I know a lot of writers and I understand the mindset; the very last thing most creative people want to do is steal ideas from someone else. In fact, I hear authors complain loudly and often about the moments at book events when non writers try to feed them their great idea for a novel that they can’t be bothered to write themselves. ‘As if I don’t have enough of my own to deal with!’ And if other writers were to be influenced by things that I’d written and published? Well, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and you can’t really argue with that. Besides, in my experience, ideas often occur at the same time, arising out of the zeitgeist like strange, ungainly creatures for each of us to fight our own, very personal battles with. You could give the same idea to a hundred different authors and get a hundred different novels. I mean, at core, that’s what happens anyway. Some theories claim there are as few as seven basic storylines and, even if we can identify a few more than that, it’s unlikely that the pesky Mr Shakespeare didn’t get there before us.

I’ve noticed all kinds of coincidences with my work over the years. I wrote about a creepy Doll’s House in a short story for Sphere. A few years’ later, Jessie Burton’s wonderful The Miniaturist, with a similar premise, was a huge smash hit. As much as I’d love to believe that Burton read my book before writing hers, I’d be very surprised if that were the case. In fact, I suspect if she had known about the existence of my story, it would have put her off writing her novel at all. What’s more, not long after my book came out, I watched the film The Awakening, horrified to find that Stephen Volk had written a scene that could have come straight out of my story, at least a year before I wrote it. It’s an absolutely wonderful and terrifying scene in a film that is full of such things.

One of the kinder American trade reviews of my second novel Starfishing suggested I had taken Bright Lights, Big City as my model, a book I had not actually read. I went straight out and bought it, obvs, and was extremely flattered by the comparison. (Although I was left wondering if he’d read past the (second person) prologue of my book and into the main body of what is a (mostly first person) novel). Perhaps one of the weirdest writerly coincidences I’ve ever experienced, though, was to do with my late, lamented friend and tutor Graham Joyce (interestingly, also a good friend of said Stephen Volk). We found we were both writing stories that had big, pivotal joyriding scenes in our novels TWOC and The Killing Jar. A friend who was a literary scout had read both, and alerted us to the fact that we had independently managed to write an almost identical sentence. We laughed, until another writer pointed out that this was probably because the metaphor we’d picked was a bit of a cliche. She was right, of course. These people usually are, goddamn them!

I posed a question on plot similarities to my facebook folks a few months’ back, and another writer friend pointed out to me that I’m always likely to have this kind of weirdness around my fiction, because it’s quite zeitgeisty. It was not something I had ever thought about myself but, when he said it, I realised there was something to his theory. I mean, take 2015’s big trend, the unlikeable female protagonist. My brittle, psychotic or criminal women have been at the heart of almost every bad review I’ve had in my entire career. One of the taglines Sphere used when promoting my 2010 novel The Haunted was ‘How well do we ever know the person we marry?’ a full two years before Gillian Flynn started the ‘domestic noir’ genre properly, with her smash hit Gone Girl (one of my books of the decade, so far, were I to make that kind of list). What’s more, the similarities in plot between the horror novel inspired by my honeymoon and a film called The Honeymoon are so bizarre and seemingly unlikely that I even considered contacting the scriptwriters to ask if they had been up in Scotland with me and the Good Husband when we got lost in the dark and, if so, why they didn’t lend us their torch. So here’s the thing; despite the difficulty of writing even small, fairly likely coincidences into the plot of your fiction and pulling it off, huge ones happen all the time. Those writers who contact the BBC after submitting to Script Room and threaten to sue because their idea turned up in Sherlock two weeks later are wasting everybody’s time. It was a good enough idea that someone else was thinking it too, that’s all. Be happy, and write it better yourself next time. And be quicker off the mark, too; it takes a tad more than two weeks to bring an idea to screen.

And so to Follow Me, by Angela Clarke, one of the social media thrillers I mentioned in my previous post. I came across this intriguing little book thanks to friends on facebook; I followed the author on twitter and bought the book straight away. Reading the blurb was a strange experience. The novel is really very different in style, tone and even a different subgenre to my own social media trilogy THE TROLL. My books have straight thriller narratives, whereas Clarke’s is a rather original and quirky take on the police procedural. But it has in common that the story revolves around a sick and twisted tweeter. I won’t say too much because, spoilers, but if one plot element in common wasn’t enough, the dual protagonists of Clarke’s book also have a secret from their past, from when they were at school together. As do my three main characters. When the secret is revealed it turns out to have some strange parallels with the same plot element in my book too. What’s more, whereas I have used phrases based on internet memes as my chapter titles, Clarke uses internet newsgroup abbreviations in a very similar way. One of my characters thinks in hashtags, Clarke’s in Buzzfeed style headlines.

Of course, there are bound to be lots of similarities in two books that have a similar idea at the core of them. BOOK ABOUT THE INTERNET CONTAINS REFERENCES TO MEMES SHOCKER. As is apparent from my writing career, I really do like spooky and it doesn’t stop there. I guess that I’ve met my writing doppelganger because even a part of Clarke’s website shows a similar approach to mine. In my ‘about’ section, I decided to do a top five interesting facts about me, rather than the usual boring bio. Angela’s has a top ten, and they even broach some similar subjects, including maths, where our similarities end.  The being late and getting lost thing, though, I am totally there with, as my family and friends will attest. I suspect that Ms Clarke and I will end up randomly lost in the same place one of these days, and then smile in recognition as we try to talk without finishing each other’s sentences.

Hey, I’ve got this great idea for a book; two thriller writers write similar novels, both becoming convinced that the other has stolen their idea, or somehow got hold of their manuscript ahead of its publication. Things get dark, very dark. Someone should write it. Better get in quick, though, because that kind of idea could have come straight out of a Nicola Monaghan novel 🙂

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The Troll at Christmas, post 3

I got all excited in the pub last night, when someone suggested that my TROLL novella might be the first social media thriller. They said they’d never heard of anything similar, so I immediately needed to find out if they were right. I didn’t think it was likely but always worth checking these things out….

The first installment of my novella series was published in July, and the final one this September. The first book I came across with a quick amazon search was the intriguing #FollowMe by Angela Clarke, published this December by Avon. Big book, big publisher. But they didn’t get there first. BOOM.

But not so fast. A slightly smaller outfit (ie another indie author) did beat me to the punch, damn him.

‘If he finds you online… you’re dead!’ Great tagline, slightly less great cover, very scary price! Social Media Serial Killer by Daniel David Elles was published in March 2015, so that’s a few months ahead of the July publication of the first novella of my series. #damnitall

I found a book that was published even further back, although it’s arguable whether this one is a thriller in the traditional sense. It’s called FOLLOW and is erotica by JA Huss, but it’s also billed as suspense, and filed under the Romantic Suspense category. So perhaps a ‘thriller’ in more ways than one 😉

This was all I could find. But I’d love to hear if there are any earlier ones; I’m sure there probably are. Feel free to post comments below if you find any as I’d love to hear about them.

So, sadly, I don’t get to take the title of Author of the First Social Media Thriller. Shucks. Still, if I find a couple more of these books, I might even be able to persuade Amazon to make it into a genre 🙂

Anyway, I promised another extract from the first TROLL novella for your Christmas reading. So here you go. The full book is only free for another 24 hours or so. Get on it and ‘buy’ it here.


Nicola x

PS you can buy the entire series on Amazon for £2 or $3 here.  You can also check out SickMan’s blog here, which I’m going to be updating in real time to fit with the blogposts from the book this winter.  He’s even got his own twitter feed now. You might notice something about the folks he’s following hehe.

The rest is tears>

(0r, more precisely, an extract from the book.)


THE TROLL, book 1, The Boy with the Sliver of Ice in his Heart 


Extract, chapter 2

First World Problems



It looked like confetti, scattered over both carriageways. Louisa saw the flecks of colour spread across the road and thought it might be streamers. Or blossom. It was the wrong time of year for blossom, though, and, as Jack drove past and she looked more closely, she saw that it was feathers.

Then she saw the dead pigeon. Harshly decapitated on the central reservation, disappearing into the concrete as if it were flying into the earth. Its wings were spread wide, over the road, like an exhalation. Like he had stretched too far and been destroyed as a consequence, feathers charred and melted off. Yes, like Icarus, too close to the sun.

Louisa looked away and up. She tried to shake the image of the dead bird from her thoughts. The petrol blue of the sky stretched above them, the clouds like fluff and mallow. Spray flew up from the road like so many diamonds as the sun hit it. But Louisa couldn’t shake her raw shock at the sight of the pigeon, headless and diving into the road.

It was hard not to see it as a portent. She leaned back in the car seat and closed her eyes. She saw portents everywhere she looked, these days. She had read too many books and seen too many films and definitely knew too much about fairy tales. All of these stories running circles around her head made it impossible to believe in free will.

No matter what happened, Red Riding Hood was always going for that walk in the woods. She was always going to find that wolf along the path. Even though there were different versions of the story, it was a matter of when or where her grandmother got eaten. However loudly you shouted at the screen, the girl would go down into the cellar, or answer the phone. It was always the girl, on the way into danger. Stories full of dead and damaged girls, a warning to the entire female species. All the better to eat you with.

Once, there was a girl called Louisa. One day, there was a dead pigeon in the road. And then, bad things happened. And then, more bad things happened.

Everything she saw these days was the beginning of THE END. A mid life crisis, perhaps, but the Big Bad Wolf was constantly lurking around the corner.

‘You okay?’ Jack said, startling her. She had almost forgotten that he was there, in the driver’s seat next to her.

‘Yeah, just tired.’ Louisa rubbed at an eyelid, as if to prove it. This had become her standard response to being asked if she was all right. She wasn’t even sure that it was true; it was just what came out of her mouth. It wasn’t like you were allowed to say no, though, was it?  To pour out your heart and burden other people with your mid-life troubles.

Jack smiled across at her. ‘Well, it’s the holidays, at least.’

Louisa wasn’t sure if this was supposed to cheer her up but it didn’t. Another New Year on the horizon. 2013, unlucky for some. No doubt it would be. No doubt it would be lucky for others. A zero sum game, that’s what it was, like gambling, or karma, if that actually existed. Fate. She was beginning to believe in these things. She’d half-expected the world to end a few days before, like the Mayan calendar. It made as much sense as anything else.

Jack turned on the radio, the local station. It was that time of the morning and Kelly’s voice came rolling out of the speakers. It was odd, even after all these years, to hear your best mate’s voice coming from the speakers in your car, even though she’d always been the most talkative of them all, at school. Kelly was chatting to some local bloke who had the cracked voice of a serial killer. They were discussing drink driving.

‘I think we should hang the lot of ‘em,’ the caller said. He’d sounded vaguely reasonable up until that moment.

Jack turned towards Louisa, she stared back at him. She widened her mouth, deliberately, impersonating ‘chin hits floor’, the way they say on the internet.

‘That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?’ Kelly said. Her voice was its usual self, the bright, cheery, chatty intonation belying the darkness Louise knew was underneath.

‘Nah,’ said the phone-in guy. ‘String ‘em all up. They ruin people’s lives, that lot.’

Nutters like this one rang up the local station all the time. Kelly manoeuvred him off the line. Her words said one thing and her voice another. Irony, the real thing and not some pop song version, the distance between what was said on the surface and what existed beneath. Louisa usually explained this to her students using the words of the Big Bad Wolf. All the better to see you with.

Louisa looked out of the window again. There were no more feathers, no more dead birds. Just the beat of another Christmas with the in-laws, waiting ahead of her like a headache.



The mother-in-law was fussing with The Spread. Maggie was proud about these things, like most working class women of a certain age. The father-in-law, John, was sitting in his chair, the throne he’d had for years, carefully located in exactly the right place in the room. Not too close to the television, not too far away. In exactly the right position to get the perfect effect from the surround sound. A Goldilocks chair.

Louisa wandered over to the food and inspected it, as was only polite. ‘It’s a lovely spread you’ve got here, Maggie,’ she said. Years of Christmases staying with Irish relatives had taught her the right words for these occasions. Maggie was Scottish but the same rules applied and Louisa was rewarded with a warm smile. She immediately felt guilty. Here they were, this lovely couple, inviting her into their home, making her welcome. Buying presents for her and making such an effort to please her with food. If they knew the truth about Louisa, what would they think?

‘Are you okay, dear?’ It was Maggie talking, leaning forward.

‘Sorry,’ Louisa said. She shook her head and smiled. ‘In a world of my own for a minute,’ she said.

‘Can I get you a glass of the fizzy stuff? It perks me up every time.’ Maggie smiled and her blue eyes sparked in a way that reminded Louisa so much of Adam. The younger brother, the brother-in-law. The one she needed to stop thinking about.

‘Yes, please,’ Louisa said. What she wanted to say was that she needed a drink, could really ‘use’ one, the way they said in American detective movies. Like you use a drink for anything but getting drunk, or throwing in the face of some idiot who’d cheated on you. Louisa had never used a drink the latter way. She’d have quite enjoyed the drama but Jack would never cheat on her. He was far too solid for that sort of nonsense.

Maggie disappeared towards the kitchen. Absently, Louisa reached for a sausage roll and placed it in her mouth. She chewed, then wondered why she’d done that. She wasn’t hungry, and she didn’t even particularly like sausage rolls. She glanced up at the sound of the front door. Jack and Adam breezed in, back from their trip to the pub down the road. The brothers Grimm had done this every Christmas since she’d known them so she wasn’t sure why it bothered her, why the sudden irritation, but it was there, scratching at her insides. Who made the rules that said the women were to stay home with the parents and the children while the males got the drinks down them? How was that fair?

Adam brushed a kiss against her cheek, then Jack grabbed her and kissed her, hard on the lips, pulling her close. As if he needed to take possession after his brother’s brief touch. Louisa closed her eyes.

Jack knew. He knew. Ohgodohgod.

‘I’m going to check on the kids, and then have a lie down.’ Louisa rubbed at her temples. ‘I’ve got a bit of a headache coming on and I want to nip it in the bud,’ she said.

‘Okay, babe,’ he said, rubbing a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him, those liquid brown eyes that used to hypnotise her. The same tousled brown hair, thinning and greying, blurring him at the edges. He was still sexy, though, if only that was enough. She gave him a genuinely sad smile, then turned from him.

Louisa headed up the stairs and across the landing. She was still rubbing at her temples, acting out her alibi, so much so that she started to think a headache might really be developing. She opened the door to the box room, where Callie and Tom were top and tailing in the single bed. Callie turned over in her sleep, muttering to herself, the way Louisa had seen her do so many times. Tom was sleeping soundly, his little chest moving up and down rapidly with his breathing. She smiled to see them safe and warm, and the sight of them settled her a little.

She went next door, into Jack’s childhood bedroom. His mother had kept all of his old football trophies and medals, and his belts from karate, so that the place looked like some kind of shrine to a dead child. Louisa walked over to the dressing table and examined these relics. Time travellers from the 70s, like the rest of them. Touching the medals reminded her of what it had been like back there. Concrete buildings and flared trousers, green army ambulances on the streets, these were the pictures that came to her.

Remembering more innocent times made Louisa feel ill again, sick to her stomach with it all. She flung herself down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. As much as she might like to, she could never have an affair with Adam. Even letting him kiss her that one drunken time was sending her off the edge of a cliff with guilt. She could hardly bear it.

She breathed and let her body sink into the bed. She pulled her phone from her pocket and switched it on, despite all the promises she’d made to herself to stay away from the internet and be more sociable. She typed in the code and the phone came to life. Text alerts went off, and the sound of emails hitting her inbox echoed around the room.

Two of the text messages were from Adam. He’d probably sent them from the pub, while Jack was getting their drinks in, the cheeky git. She didn’t even read them, so tired of his flirting. Tired of it months ago, now she thought about it.

She went to her email instead. It might be the holidays but that didn’t stop students asking questions, especially when they had assignments to finish. She answered several of those kinds of messages, and also replied to a couple of emails wishing her Happy Christmas, from tutors who worked for her. Then she hit the internet, finding a recent newspaper article about the appeal for adults of the fairy tale. The article was a bit poor, though; superficial and simplistic. Louisa soon lost interest.

Everyone else was downstairs. They would be drinking Cava and Egg Nog and making fun of the Christmas Eve telly but she didn’t have the heart for it. It was too sad, though, to be working on Christmas Eve. Louisa refused to be that pathetic and flicked to her Facebook page. There it was, flashing in front of her, the friend request from SickMan, whoever the fuck that was. She flicked to his profile, looked through his list of friends. Adam and Kelly were both there. Did they know this man?

Louisa was feeling restless. She didn’t want to join the others downstairs. She tucked her legs underneath her on the bed and dug into her handbag, pulling out her emergency pack of cigarettes. She couldn’t have needed them more. She walked over and opened the window. She looked around the room and realised that wasn’t going to work. Jack had far too good a sense of smell and he’d flip out. She pushed her feet into her shoes and walked onto the landing.

Softly, quietly, like a princess in a castle trying not to wake a beast beneath her in the dungeon, Louisa padded down the stairs. She crept past the living room, which leaked the sounds of festive drinking and chatting. She made it to the back door without being noticed. Then she was in the garden. She pulled the door to, and sat at the bench table. Finally, she lit up. She kept watch on the back door, ready to throw the cigarette over the hedge if it looked like someone was coming out.

The click and glare of the neighbours’ security light coming on startled her. Then there was the loud sound of a door bursting open. Gary Bukowski came out and stood the other side of the hedge. Just like magic he was there, as if it was an ordinary, common or garden thing, the way it had been when they were teenagers. He was lighting a cigarette and looking at the ground. He looked the same but so very different. Older, of course. It’d been over twenty years and so they all were. But he looked used and worn in a way that none of the rest of them did. Lines dug deep down the sides of his cheeks as he grimaced into the bright beam of the security light and his head was shaved but patchy, hardly really disguising the fact that he was going bald. Louisa wanted to look away, to run inside, but she was glued to her seat. Gary glanced over. The light of recognition sparked up in his eyes at the same time as the end of his cigarette.

‘Hey,’ Louisa said. She felt stupid immediately. As if ‘hey’ was enough after all these years, not to mention their history. She rolled her eyes at herself.

‘Hey,’ Gary said. He sucked on the cigarette, and then smiled. He looked younger when he smiled. ‘Shit,’ he added, finding the better word to express what there was between them.

Louisa laughed, lightly. ‘I’d ask how you were but, fucksake, Gary. This is weird.’

‘Yes it is.’ Gary smoked with intent, and he narrowed his eyes. ‘Listen, let’s not do the big reunion. Let’s pretend we’ve never met. I’ve just moved into the area and that.’ Another pull, like he was trying to suck the life out of his cancer stick. ‘Okay?’

Louisa nodded. That worked for her. ‘Nice to meet you, new neighbour of my in-laws. I hope you settle in all right.’

‘I’ll do my best,’ he said. He coughed.

The two of them puffed away on their cigarettes. There were so many things Louisa would have liked to say, but she didn’t even know where to start. So she smoked, and looked over from time to time, hoping that might communicate something of what she didn’t know how to put into words. As if the smoke rising above her head could make the right curls and spirals to say ‘sorry for fucking up your life, and all that’.

Louisa finished the cigarette. She would have liked to light up again and smoke another. She could have smoked the whole damned pack in one go. But it was too weird, sitting there with Gary Bukowski. Off the scale. She tucked the packet into the left hand cup of her bra and stood up.

‘See ya,’ Gary said, with a backwards nod.

Louisa had one hand on the back door. She turned back towards Gary. She realised that there was something she wanted to say. ‘That advice you gave me, about Jack and Adam. It was good advice.’

Gary looked like he was trying to smile but the effect was more of a grimace. ‘That working out for you, then?’ he said.

Louisa shrugged. ‘Not particularly. It was still the right advice, though.’

Gary nodded, slowly. ‘Adam’s still trying, isn’t he? All these years on. Making it hard for you to be happy.’ He sounded pleased with his own analysis.

Louisa pushed the door. It made quite a creak. She didn’t look back. She wouldn’t lie to Gary but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction either.

‘Wait,’ Gary said, his voice urgent. The tone of it made her stop and turn. He nodded towards the house. ‘My lovely next door neighbours have no clue what happened that summer, do they?’

Louisa coughed and shook her head. She felt the sharp corners of the cigarette packet next to her skin. She could feel it move with the thump of her heart.

‘Listen, I’d rather the others didn’t know you’d seen me.’ He coughed. ‘We don’t want stuff dragged back up, y’know?’ His eyes narrowed as he spoke.

Louisa tried to work out if she’d imagined a threat in what he’d said. She didn’t think so. She stared back at him and couldn’t find any words.

‘You get me, right?’ he said.

Louisa nodded. She turned away, and rushed into the house as quickly as she could, wanting to be away from Gary. Away from him and the memories and the past. She crept across the kitchen and towards the stairs. She was suddenly very, very tired. The last place she wanted to be was that living room. The bubble of noise and joy that came from it made her feel sick through to her skin.

Louisa crept back up the stairs and towards the bedroom, her footsteps as quiet as the night. Whatever creature might be lurking beneath her, it did not make a sound. She had a feeling in her gut, though, a sickness, telling her that it was beginning to stir, that its vile, flecked eyes were shuddering open.



The sound of the bedroom door brushing against the carpet made Louisa jump, and shove her phone under the quilt. She sat up sharply, expecting to see her husband, come to check on her. Admittedly, that wasn’t his style. She was still shocked to see Adam, walking towards the bed.

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ She spat the words across the room, trying to be quiet but forceful at the same time.

‘What?’ Adam held out both hands in a gesture of innocence. ‘We’re relatives and you’re unwell. I’ve come to check on you. Why would anyone think anything else?’

Louisa was shaking her head. ‘You know they do. You know that Jack does. What if he comes up here? It’s like you’re trying to rile him up deliberately.’

Adam smiled his but I’m a good guy smile and Louisa had to grit her teeth to stop herself crying out in frustration at his damned, awful cheek. ‘I hate you sometimes,’ she said, her words spat whispers, hissing towards him as he stepped closer.

‘You don’t mean that.’ His voice was smooth and calm. ‘And anyway, I have a good reason. I need to talk to you. Have you been getting requests from this SickMan bloke?’

Louisa sat up straighter. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘And you and Kelly are already friends with him, so I’m wondering if you actually know who he is or if you just don’t give a fuck about adding random strangers on Facebook.’ Her voice was losing its tone, getting slightly hysterical. She tried to slow her breathing down and calm herself. ‘Adam, for fucksake. You need to go.’

Adam smiled. He looked as if he was enjoying himself. ‘I wanted to show you this,’ he said. ‘I wondered if you’d have a clue what it might be about.’ He held out his phone. Louisa didn’t take it at first but he shoved it towards her a second time, and then placed it right into her hand. She looked at the screen. There was a website there, a blog. The header read SICKMANS STORY and there was a subtitle. ‘Telling Tales and Dancing with Demons.’ She stared at it for a few moments and then Adam grabbed the phone back.

‘It’s Gary Bukowski,’ he said, staring at the screen. ‘That has to be Bukowski.’

‘It’s not Gary.’ Louisa was shaking her head.

‘How would you know?’ Adam’s chin thrust out and he looked confident that he was right. She hoped not. She thought about telling Adam she’d seen Gary but his words came back to her, the menace she’d felt. Had he meant to sound threatening? She wasn’t certain but it wasn’t worth the risk.

‘You need to go,’ Louisa said, flicking her hand towards Adam over and over, as if to repel him. ‘If you don’t go now, I’ll scream till someone comes.’

‘You would never do that.’ Adam sounded so sure of himself.

‘Don’t you try me, Adam Hall. Don’t you bloody dare.’

Adam laughed then, and backed out of the room, closing the door softly on his way. She heard his footsteps as he retreated towards the stairs. She really did hate him. Not all the time but occasionally, and definitely right now.

Louisa sat on the bed and tried to think calm thoughts. Fear grew, though, thick in her throat, and made it hard to breathe. No amount of calm thinking was about to make it go away. Her carefully constructed life was about to collapse, the way she’d always known it would. She felt for the emergency cigarettes under her clothes. She put on her shoes as quietly as she could but, this time, she headed for the front door.

The past was coming for her. It was coming for all of them.



Louisa could see the hot clouds of her breath like cigarette smoke in the air in front of her. She knew she should have told someone where she was going, that they might worry about her disappearing into the night, on Christmas Eve. But she couldn’t tell them.

Then, there it was; St Mary’s RC Comprehensive School. Those same old tennis courts, the playing fields that backed on to the woods. The path to fairyland. It was exactly like it had always been, as if she’d gone back in time. The Crazy Gang, they’d called themselves, Adam, Kelly, Louie and Gary. They’d inscribed their initials with spray paint, next to the drawings of big nosed Chads peering over walls. The Crazy Gang forever. If destroyed still true. That graffiti was long gone, of course, destroyed, in so many ways, and no longer true despite the contingency they’d tried to write into it. The gates were locked. Of course they were; it was the Christmas holiday. That had never stopped them getting in when they’d wanted to, as youngsters, and it wouldn’t stop her now.

Louisa could still remember where the gaps in the fences used to be, but those would have been fixed years ago. There would be other gaps, newer ones. She walked along the edge of the school field until she found a bent fence post. She pushed through, head first. It was a tighter fit than she would have liked but she got safely to the other side. And there she was, back in the past. A dread fear filled her. It was dark but there was a glow from streetlights, and from the moon, so that she could see everything around her, in black and white. The dark wasn’t what disturbed her.

Before she knew it, she was standing in their spot. The scene of the crime. Had it even really happened? She touched the wall of the school building. The gymnasium was the other side of that wall, where they’d climbed ropes and thrown netballs, got screamed at by PE teachers who thought that shouting was motivation. She ran her fingers across the bricks, then along the paving stones where they used to sit. Could this really be the same place they’d spent so much time all those summers ago?

Louisa closed her eyes. This place was so ripe with the past, her past, that she could almost hear their teenaged voices. The daft things they used to talk about. Like a children’s cartoon with filthy character names they’d just worked out, the other, mad, crazy bouncing TV animations, and the revelation that the writers had been off their heads on LSD the whole time and how that hadn’t been a surprise at all, in the end. Not once they’d tried the drug themselves.

She sat down, leaning against the wall. It was cold to be sitting on concrete. Not like all those years ago, that July when the sun had heated up everything, and sometimes she’d had to be careful with bare legs. The memory came back so strongly she almost felt the burn against her skin. She lit her second cigarette of the day and took a deep drag. Jack would kill her. Adam too, probably, if he saw her smoking. She savoured the flavour, though, of tar and caramel, carbon monoxide and arsenic. Every tiny aspect of how it tasted took her back.

Louisa smiled, thinking how she’d grown up surrounded by kaleidoscopes of colour. Yes, and bright, garish circles of different sizes, slightly offset from centre as if designed to disrupt your vision. Orange inlaid with purple on wallpaper in her aunt’s living room. Green with a lighter green on a pair of curtains at their gran’s house. Puke green, her little sister had called it and that was about right. Only sitting here with her friends, on acid herself, had she understood. All of it. She had smiled in recognition.

As she sat behind the gym now, though, it could all have been a dream. Memories, delicate and easily ripped, like the wings on butterflies. You could never be sure, never. It could all have been planted inside your head to convince you of a history that didn’t exist until a few years ago, or weeks, or moments. The passage of time wasn’t even real. It was something your brain created so that you could negotiate this space-time matrix, that was all.

Louisa had definitely watched and read too much Sci-Fi, but there was another part of her driving these thoughts. A part that wanted to believe it had never happened. She would have loved to persuade herself it wasn’t true. That it was a misunderstanding. Something she’d seen in a film when she was half asleep and accidentally attributed to her own life. One of those bad dreams about cutting up dead bodies that feel so real you’re convinced for several moments after waking that you’ve kept a secret from yourself for years.

Lots of Louisa’s teenage memories were hazy at best. Misty and dreamlike, easily dismissed. The problem was that this one wasn’t. This one played out in high definition, as if it had happened just the day before, and there was nothing she could do to shake herself away from it. Especially here. Right now. Where it had played out in glorious Technicolor, back in 1991.

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THE TROLL at Christmas: Post 2

My apologies, folks. I had promised to post this yesterday and ended up out with friends for most of the day and all evening. So here it is now. Chapter 1 of the the first novella in my TROLL series. Chapter 2 will be up early evening today. Enjoy…  The book is currently available  on amazon here for free in the UK, but only for another 24 hours or so, so get on it.

THE TROLL, book 1, The Boy with a Sliver of Ice in his Heart.

Extract (first chapter)

It is delicious cake. You must eat it.


It was packed in town with Christmas shoppers, people rushing round trying to find the right presents, or anything they could at this stage. Kelly could feel the desperation coming off them, seeping out of their pores. She’d done all her shopping online and her gifts were neatly wrapped under her tree at home. She’d got cashback to spend in the sales from doing it that way. The thing is that Capitalism is a game, and Kelly knew how to play it. She made it her business to and she was #winning.

Kelly walked into Monsoon, even though the place was not exactly her style. Still, it was fine to browse. She’d parked at the shopping centre so it would be rude not to have a little look as she walked through. She wasn’t expecting to buy anything yet, though. Maybe when she was down that street with all the designer shops on it, then she would start flexing the plastic.

She headed out into the bright light of day. She screwed up her eyes and curved a hand over her forehead as she walked. A woman coming the other way nodded towards her and she smiled in return. She didn’t think she knew the other woman; maybe someone who recognized her from the pics online at the radio station, or her Twitter avatar. She got that sometimes, strangers staring, believing they knew her but not sure why.

She walked through the pedestrian area, past McDonald’s and several coffee houses, then finally on to her favourite street. It wasn’t as hectic here, although it was still busy. Lots of people were rushing past on their way elsewhere. Kelly stopped as a pair of shoes caught her eyes. She gazed for a moment, then slipped past the shoe shop and into the boutique next door. She luxuriated through a rail of fitted tops, touching the fabrics, letting them slip through her fingers. The way she was about clothes was fetish, the enjoyment sensual and fulfilling.

Kelly focused on the task in hand. She needed the right outfits for Christmas. Three days, she had planned, in a cottage in Derbyshire with four other single women. A grown-up Christmas. One of those things that sounded good in theory but that was feeling emptier by the second. #fucksake. She wasn’t about to jump on that bandwagon either, the one where you needed a marriage and kids and all that shit to be happy. Still…



/focus on the task at hand.

What she needed was new outfits; glamorous, empty promises that *this* life was better. She often wondered if her married, familied friends had doubts about their choices. Did they live task to task, day by day, keeping themselves busy to drown out the doubts? She suspected they felt the same emptiness but didn’t want to ask, fearing looks of bland sympathy.

Distraction was the answer, there was no doubt about that. A whole silky, lacy rail of distraction. Kelly pulled tops and skirts from their racks and hung them over her arms. The things she would try on. She didn’t look at the prices. She was lucky, not to have to.

The sales assistant smiled at her as she headed to the fitting rooms and waved her through. She was known here, shopped here often. She flicked the curtain across then closed her eyes. She hung the clothes from the hooks on the wall and undressed. Then she pulled the smallest top from its hanger and rubbed her fingers in circles on the silk and lace.

It was security tagged, of course. If there had been a qualification in opening these things without ripping the material, Kelly would have several advanced degrees in it. #strangesubjectforadegree but no matter. It was her field of expertise, just like fairy tales and other stories were her best friend Louisa’s, who had so many degrees you sometimes thought she ought to share them out a bit with her mates. It was such a long time since Kelly had been that person, the girl who walked out of shops with stuff she hadn’t paid for and made the little money she did have by babysitting for her mum’s dodgy ‘colleagues’. But she remembered that little girl. She could feel her there still, deep inside the radio star she’d become. She stared at that radio star; at the long, straightened, expensively highlighted hair that framed her brown eyes so neatly. It was hard to believe this was the same person. It felt like she was wearing a disguise.

Kelly held the top and felt the security tag. The harsh lump of plastic through the soft fabric made her gag a little. She closed her eyes. She remembered her mother’s face. Her smile, its cat stretch across her face, when she knew that the luxury item Kelly had managed to lift would fetch a few quid. Enough for a rock, maybe two, or some brown to cook up. Kelly had lived for those drug induced smiles. She put the top down with a sigh. It was good to have money. It was good not to have to worry about feeding the habit of a selfish fucking junkie who only ever let you down.

Life was good, now. #nailedit



One thing you had to be able to do, presenting radio, was multitask. Kelly read the news clips that she’d memorised earlier, and clicked through the text messages coming in from far and wide about their phone-in topic, which was George Osborne. The phrase phone-in had dated fast, the way stuff did, and didn’t really sum it up now that people tended to text or tweet, but no one had come up with anything better yet. Maybe they should call it #PhoneIn, that might work.

Plenty of Kelly’s listeners did still use the phone, like that creepy old man. He’d been ringing regularly for about a year now. Only on Kelly’s show, always to talk to her. She wondered if other people noticed, or if he was a secret she had kept to herself. He could be anyone. It could be someone she knew, or a bloke who watched her house from across the road. Or an ex.


He might be sitting there on the phone completely naked for all she knew. She needed to stop thinking about this troll before she creeped herself out too much to eat her lunch when the show finished. Or to drink it, since she was seeing Adam, and a liquid lunch was far more likely. He needed cheering up, poor sod. That Caroline woman he’d just broken up with had shattered his heart.

Ryan popped his head around the door. ‘More tea, Kels?’

‘Yes please, Ry. You’re the best.’ She smiled that hundred dollar smile at him. She wouldn’t swap her producer for any number of dollars, not even millions. #OKmaybemillions. Kelly leaned into her microphone and introduced the next record then sat back in her chair. It was a Simply Red track. #easylistening #WhatSheSignedUpToSheGuessed

Maybe she should invite her troll into the station. She could at least put a face to a name that way. Sometimes not knowing was the worst thing. Pinning something down, capturing it, that made it less frightening. Like the difference between a mouse you chose to keep in a cage and one you’d not met before running around on your living room floor.

But, nah, she wasn’t about to do that. You don’t feed the trolls and you definitely don’t invite them to spend time with you. Not even in a studio with other people around. Not even with a police officer sitting in between the two of you. #NotThatFuckingStupid

The door swung open again. It was Ryan, with the tea. ‘Cheers, hun,’ she said, as he placed it down on her desk.

‘Right,’ he said. ‘We’ve got the feature on street lighting at eleven and, then, at eleven thirty, that artist fella again. Adam?’

Kelly grinned at him. ‘You pretending not to know his name?’ She winked. ‘We all know damn well you know his name, lovely.’

Ryan feigned innocence, and walked towards the door. But he turned as he went out and winked at her. Kelly was looking forward to seeing Adam. It had been a few weeks, and he was always good company.

Kelly sat back and sighed. She closed her eyes and thought about Adam. What it might be like if she got together with him. She took a moment to fantasise about that. Not that she needed a boyfriend. Nah, she loved the single life. But sometimes it did you good to imagine certain things, rehearse them in your head. #50shadesofsomething

The room fell very silent. Kelly realised that it was her turn to talk. She snapped out of her daydream and switched her mic to live. Seamlessly, she told the air waves what to look forward to on the rest of the show and then cut to the weather.



Kelly leaned into the microphone as she spoke. ‘Now, a very special song to remind you of Last Christmas,’ she said, hitting the button so the track she’d queued earlier would play. She heard her voice go deep and scratched at the edges. She was being even more than usual, to make Adam laugh.

Adam sat across from her, grinning, as she cut the mics from the studio. ‘That was so Tony Blackburn,’ he said. His smile made the corners of his eyes crinkle up in an attractive way and she couldn’t help but smile back.

‘That’s why they pay me the big bucks,’ she said, cocking her head.

‘This must hurt Mr Fulforth. Hearing you on here every day.’ He leaned back, running fingers through his dark blond hair which, as usual, looked tastefully messed up.

This sent Kelly’s grin wider. ‘What were his exact words?’ she said. She put on a voice, posh, middle class, an approximation of what she could remember her teacher sounding like, though it was a *very* long time ago. ‘No one’s going to pay you to talk your head off all day, Kelly Gordon.’

Adam snorted. ‘He must eat them words for breakfast.’

Kelly looked away then, at her screen, and held her hand up in that practised way she had of showing a guest that she needed to concentrate on something else for a moment. She read the news, again, those same memorised words. Then she put on the next record and pulled her headphones down around her neck with a flourish. ‘I should get him in to talk on air about it,’ she said.

They shared a lingering smile as the music faded out. Kelly often got to know her regular guests on the show, the Monday people they would swap and change to talk about the weekend’s news, but it was different with Adam. They’d known each other for as long as she could remember. Played together, toddlers, while their mums drank tea and talked about what was happening in Coronation Street. Happy times, before life turned dark with Kelly’s mother.

Kelly still had a note she’d written to Adam when she was about five, that her eldest sister had found and thought was cute, so had saved for her for years. Kelly had sworn her undying love. ‘Even when we don’t see each other, I’ve known you for a long time. You will always be my friend.’ It had turned out prophetic. #heartfelt

She pulled her headphones back on and Adam did too, well trained after quite a few appearances. ‘So,’ she said, ‘what do you make of all this fuss about Fifty Shades of Grey?’ She narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Have you ever been a bit fifty shades?’

‘Not that I would admit to on air,’ Adam said. ‘Obviously, I’m a rich millionaire from my work as an artist and have a helipad on top of my studio, but apart from that.’

Kelly could hear Ryan laughing, through her headphones. She felt like she might melt into giggles. She couldn’t look through the window to the producer’s booth; it would all go wrong. She refused to make eye contact with Adam too. Something about his presence was sending her all teenaged and silly, regressing her back to earlier in their friendship. It was the light in the blue-green of his eyes, the way they crinkled at the edges when he smiled.

She pulled herself together and straightened her face, keeping her eyes focused on the studio control screen. ‘Your latest exhibition’s at the Attic Gallery until 14th January?’ she said.

‘Yes,’ Adam said, turning professional, a mode of operation in him that always surprised her, even after all these years of being grown-ups together.  ‘It’s reflections on the recession, portraits and landscapes of the dispossessed.’

‘Sounds really cheery,’ she said.

Adam didn’t laugh and Kelly filled the silence with a nervous cough. She had forgotten how seriously Adam took his work, how driven he was on this particular subject.

‘I’m sure it will be as brilliant as ever,’ she said, trying to recover it. ‘People, I can’t recommend this highly enough. If you’ve seen Adam Hall’s work before, you’ll know exactly what I mean.’

Adam gave her a tight smile, looking slightly embarrassed. ‘Thank you,’ he said.

‘Are you working on anything new?’ #changethesubject #quick

Adam hesitated, his eyes narrowed. A few moments passed, and Kelly was shot through with something. Panic, she thought, at first, then she realised it was not that. Lust, more like. A shot of fancying the arse off this bloke again. Would she ever get over that?

‘I’ve started a new project,’ he said. His voice was close to a whisper. ‘I can’t say much about it but it’s internet related.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Watch this space,’ he said.

‘Well that sounds fascinating, as ever, Adam. Ladies and gentleman, Adam Hall. Thanks for joining us today.’

‘My pleasure.’

The headphones were off again. Kelly was smiling but the edges of her mouth felt strained.

‘Thanks for that cheery comment!’ Adam said. He sounded amused, though, and Kelly was relieved.

‘I’m not the one taking Portraits of the Dispossessed!’ Her voice was playful, and she coloured the title of his exhibition with a commentary kind of sound. She was multitasking again, and her eyes flicked to her Twitter feed on the screen beside her.

SickMan followed you.

SickMan retweeted you.

SickMan retweeted you.

SickMan favorited your tweet.

Who the #hell was SickMan?

Kelly clicked onto his profile. It didn’t say much, which was always a worry. Maybe it was the troll who rang up the radio a lot. The timing made sense. ‘Fighting the good fight,’ his profile said, and not a word more. It sounded like some conspiracy theorist or 911 truther, which was a bit scary. Her mouse pointer hovered over block but she couldn’t quite click it.


She looked up from the screen and across at Adam. He seemed to be waiting for something. ‘Eh?’ Her voice had gone back to the estate, to their childhood.

‘I was asking if you still wanted to go out when you’re done. I’m not in a rush. I can wait for you.’

‘Yeah, sure,’ she said, still staring at SickMan’s profile. He hadn’t tweeted yet, just retweeted and favorited tweets that she’d posted. He was following only her, which made her strongly suspect he was someone she knew, although she couldn’t be sure, having such a public facing job. God, maybe he was even the phone-in troll. She moved the mouse from block, to follow. Why not? #KeepYourFriendsCloseETC

‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘slight technical hitch.’ She had no idea why she was lying to Adam. She looked up and smiled at him, and then he got up and left the studio. She saw him, a bear hug for Ryan, then walking through the other door of the producer’s booth to wait for her on the guests’ settee.

She clicked again into SickMan’s profile. The photo was of a single eye in a neat, black frame. Big Brother Is Watching You. She shivered. Of course he wasn’t watching her. And yet she looked over her shoulder, towards the blacked out window. She glanced around the room looking for places someone could hide a camera.

Why was she letting this get to her? It was someone on Twitter, behind a computer, the other side of a screen and far, far away. If SickMan turned out to actually be sick, she could block him. He wasn’t real. He wasn’t someone in her life.



Kelly couldn’t quite get her mind off the stranger who’d followed her on Twitter as she waited for Adam to come back with the drinks. The world wide web was far scarier than any of the deep, dark, tangled woods in Louisa’s stories. It was easy to feel detached. To say things you didn’t mean and get involved with people you wouldn’t give the time of day if you passed them in the street.

Adam arrived back with a pint of lager and one of those very large glasses of white wine that held about half a bottle. He plonked both glasses down, and sat opposite Kelly. He leaned over, spreading his arms across the table in a lazy, casual way. The lights glinted in his eyes like a scene from an advert.

‘What are we supposed to ask each other now? Are we ready for Christmas, that kind of thing? Can you bear it?’ Adam looked across at the bar as he spoke, and Kelly turned, following his eyes. There was a gaggle of young, pretty girls on stools. They were glancing back, and eyelashes were being fluttered all over the place. Girls had always liked Adam. Kelly turned back to her glass of wine and tried to ignore them.

‘No.’ Kelly took another drink, trying to drown something, she had no idea what. ‘I can hardly bear it at all.’

Adam took a big swig of his beer, then breathed out loudly to express his satisfaction. ‘Drink more. Care less,’ he said. He made it sound like a marketing campaign. Kelly did as she was told, downing a good inch of wine. She swallowed hard, her throat contracting against its acidic suck. Then she took another drink. Already, she was lightheaded, although she wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or what Adam’s company did to her head.

‘Listen, just to warn you, I have to get off to the ma and pa’s tomorrow morning. So I’ll be like Cinderella running out of here come midnight.’

‘Course,’ Kelly said. She tried for a smile, but it felt fake from the inside. Her stomach was doing loops as she thought about the fact that she was never invited to the Halls’ for Christmas and a small voice told her she never would be. She tried to breathe. You couldn’t go listening to every little voice in your head, could you?

‘You got to do the dutiful family thing?’ Adam said. His eyes narrowed. He made it sound like the most boring thing in the world.

‘I thought we weren’t doing this?’ Kelly said.

Adam laughed. Kelly loved the sound of Adam’s laughter. ‘God, it’s hard not to get caught up in the crap, though, isn’t it?’ He was shaking his head. ‘Gawd damn.’

‘Well, for what it’s worth, I’m having a grown up Christmas. No Santa, no nonsense, lots of alcohol and sophisticated conversation.’ Kelly took a bigger gulp from her wine than she’d meant to and nearly choked on it.

Adam smiled. That lazy, sexy smile of his. ‘Sophisticated conversation, eh?’ The grin widened. ‘Who are you, and what did you do with Kelly Fiona Gordon?’

‘Oi!’ Kelly smacked Adam’s arm, but playfully. ‘Nob.’ But she was laughing. Adam always made her laugh. She wished he would be making her laugh this Christmas. She wished she didn’t wish that. Fucking wishing, got you nowhere. #NotThatFuckingStupid



The beer and wine had flowed until long after the sun melted red across the sky. Kelly was feeling drunk. Stupid drunk, where you can hear yourself slurring, and have to concentrate to focus your eyes, and anything could happen if you picked up your phone and opened twitter. Adam was at the bar getting more ‘lunch’. She watched him, leaning to the left against the counter as he waited, looking #ohsocasual. Maybe it would be this Christmas that everything would change between the two of them. They were two young(ish), attractive individuals who got on brilliantly, so didn’t it make sense for them to get together? She tried to remind herself that he was hardly in the right place to start a relationship this close to a bad break up, and that it was never a good idea to go out with a close friend. But the alcohol whispered other things to her. Terrible, tempting things.

Adam was back with the drinks. Kelly could feel her eyes closing. She wasn’t far from dissolving point, that moment of drunkenness when your consciousness shrinks and hides, and lets the rest of you carry on without it. Kelly had no idea who took over in these moments but just hoped that this other woman could hold it together enough to get her home safely. The glass of wine in front of her looked ridiculously large. Like a goldfish bowl. It looked like a joke you’d make about wine. Adam sat down and they chinked glasses. *cheers*

‘A grown up Christmas is a shit idea,’ Kelly said. This amount of alcohol inside her was a truth drug. ‘I should’ve gone to my sister’s. I’ll probably be bored shitless.’

‘Not as bored as I’ll be, having family times,’ Adam said. ‘Christmas is bad and you should feel bad,’ he added, in a mechanical voice, making air quotes with two fingers from each hand.

Kelly smiled, letting the meme hang in the air between them for a moment. She thought about coming out and telling Adam how she felt. Suggesting that she might be able to help cheer up his Christmas. She would make it less boring, that she could promise him. She wasn’t quite drunk enough to say anything like that, not yet. That would only happen after checking her permissions with God, talking to him about it on the great white telephone.

Changing the subject was the way forward. She scrambled for something to talk about. #anything

‘Something weird happened to me earlier today,’ she said. ‘Something really fucking creepy.’

‘Oh yeah,’ Adam said. It sounded like an invitation to continue.

‘Yeah. I started getting followed by someone on Twitter called SickMan. But he was only following me.’ She shivered, even though the pub was very warm. She took another drink to guard against the shivering. ‘Then he added me on Facebook and I saw that you were friends with him already. And a sprinkling of other people from school were on his friends list too.’

Adam looked thoughtful as he took a pull on his pint. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I wondered who the fuck that was. Someone from school, obviously. Maybe it’ll make sense when he starts posting stuff.’

The thought that had been dancing in Kelly’s head all day came back again. She had to say it out loud. ‘Do you think it might be Gary Bukowski?’

Adam looked up sharply. His eyes noticeably widened. ‘Surely not?’ But it was a question, not a statement. There was no certainty there at all. ‘After all this time?’

They sat and stared at each other. Gary’s name lingered in the space between them and made Kelly’s head spin. Well, the wine was no doubt helping with the spinning.

‘I dunno,’ Kelly said, ‘We’ll see.’

Adam turned back to the drinking, grabbing hold of his pint as if it was some kind of medicine. Kelly took the largest gulp from the largest glass of wine in the world. She felt sick. She didn’t know if it was the drink, or the talk, or the feelings evoked by saying that name out loud. Bukowski, Bukowski, Bukowski, like something chanted in front of a mirror, with a candle, to make the devil appear.

Kelly tried to stand up, but she missed the floor and landed on her arse. The room was spinning like a fairground ride. She lay back giggling, staring up at the decorations on the ceiling. The fairy lights winked and glittered through her drunken haze. Then Adam loomed over her, trying to pull her back to standing. She pulled him too, and then they were both on the floor, laughing their heads off. You had to laugh, that was the thing. It was the only important thing.



Kelly was waking up, the light shining on her face and turning her vision a pinkish red. It felt like waking from oblivion. Like waking for the first time. She let her eyes flutter open and took in the room. Her bedroom. Her head throbbed with the promise of a killer hangover.

Fragments of memory came back to her in waves, together with a deep sense of unease. She was still drunk. How had she managed to get so utterly destroyed? Of course; she’d been with Adam, a Christmas drink. She let out a small, pained sound as she remembered she’d been on the internet when she got in. An intake of breath as she grabbed for her phone. She screwed up her eyes as she tried to focus on the screen, which was coming to life, slowly. There were words floating around her head, controversial things. Had she actually tweeted those things or dreamt it? #shit.

They ought to make phones that wouldn’t let you text people, or post on social media, based on your blood alcohol level. It must be possible, or it would be soon. She searched through her tweets but couldn’t see anything dodgy. If she had written things and deleted them, people might have got notifications. They might have screengrabbed bizarre comments she’d made to keep as evidence against her. She pulled up her Facebook profile and there was nothing crazy there, either. So why was her stomach doing flips? #NeverDrinkingAgain

Kelly lay back in bed and closed her eyes. It was just morning paranoia after too much to drink. She could smell her own breath and it wasn’t good. She opened her eyes again and scrolled through her Facebook newsfeed. The friend request from SickMan still hung there, only visible when she clicked the icon of queuing people at the top of her Blackberry’s screen. Who was this bloke? She browsed his profile and there were no clues. She looked at his list of friends, who were all people from her secondary school. He must be too, then. Someone who had to be careful, perhaps, whose work was strict about these things, hence the pseudonym. She had no reason to assume this was Gary Bukowski, or anyone else with a grudge to bear, but there was only one way to find out for sure. She accepted his request.

It came to her then that she’d been talking to Adam the night before when she was drunk, running off at the mouth. She tried to remember the things she’d said but only fragments came back. She’d had a moan about Louisa. She’d had quite a rant about Christmas. But what else? She tried hard to pull back the memory but it was like looking at a picture through mist. She hoped she hadn’t made an idiot of herself. #fucksake

Kelly stared at herself in the mirror. The perfectly threaded eyebrows, the plumped lips. The tasteful fake tan and her wide, brown eyes framed by dyed lashes that never stained her face when she cried. #Dorothy was a fucking long way from #home. Her ‘look’ cost more to maintain than Kelly’s entire family’s food budget when she’d been a kid. But even with the Botox she’d had jabbed into her forehead just a few days before, she looked sad. Infinitely so.  It was supposed to hide the way you felt and it wasn’t fucking working properly.

Kelly looked at herself and felt so alone. Not ready for half of her life to be over and no idea how to approach the next chapter. Uncertain to the core and still half in love with Adam fucking Hall, possibly having told him exactly that the night before. #ohgod #NEVERdrinkingagain

You grew up, got wrinkles, got Botox, learned some lessons about life but did you ever get wise to men like Adam? Not in Kelly’s experience you didn’t. Not with this particular man like him. #MaybeThatFuckingStupidAfterAll

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