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  • Sarah Mussi's Here be Witches blog tour – post two

    During my blog tour I will be interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL!

    So here goes…

    Sarah interviews Sarah on how to write a sequel in a thrilling and compelling romantic fantasy!

    Sarah

    Welcome to the world of WRITING A SEQUEL.

    I am using Here be Witches to explain my thinking on how I did it.

    Sarah

    Okay great. I shall be asking you lots of questions … now where did we get to? 

    Sarah

    A.

    We got to the narrative equation and writing a synopsis.

    Q.

    Ah! I remember you were going to share the synopsis of Here be Witches, can you do that now?

    A.

    Well, a synopsis can go on for a bit longer than you might want to post here, and a synopsis for a sequel might have to contain vital exposition from book one … so I’ll just put the beginning of the synopsis for Here be Witches in this blog. The beginning is always the most important bit anyway, as it sets the scene, identifies the genre and whets the appetite (hopefully) for more. So here goes …

    Here be Witches

    Ellie’s heart is broken and there is only one person who can mend it: Henry Pendragon, royal heir and Y Ddraig Goch, Red Dragon of Wales. But Henry can’t help Ellie, for he is badly wounded and entombed under Mount Snowdon, held there by ancient magic along with Sir Oswald, his fiendish uncle, and White Dragon of Wessex.

    Determined to free Henry, Ellie dedicates herself to the task. On the 29th February, an auspicious day in the calendar of dragons, she receives a distressed message from her bestie, Rhiannon, something terrible has happened at Henry’s cavern. Her heart misses a beat. As soon as possible, Ellie sets out for Dinas Emrys where Henry lies imprisoned.

    On her arrival at the lair, Ellie discovers that her friend, and other members of a witches’ coven have performed a sinister ritual on the cliffs above the subterranean cavern, a ceremony designed to break the magic laid upon the dragons and awake them.  

    In horror Ellie hears how the ceremony went terribly wrong. The earth cracked wide, one of the girls slipped into the chasm and was impaled upon two shimmering crystals. With a sound like thunder, the mountain split open and from inside it arose a terrifying white dragon, alive, awake and very angry …

    Q.

    Yes, I see how each paragraph is a scene with some paragraphs acting as exposition too, but I can also see that because you have chosen to have Ellie as the narrator again, you have been unable or chosen not to have her see the witches’ ceremony first hand. Why was that?

    A.

    OK, those are very perceptive questions, and I can’t answer them fully until we have established a few basics. Can I just go back to basics for a minute?

    Q.

    Sure. Go ahead. 

    A.

    Right before we dive into the content and the problems of point of view and the delivery of ‘off stage’ scenes, I’d like to show you how I answered some fundamental narrative questions when planning Here be Witches. They involve looking at:

    What exactly is a narrative?

    What exactly is a plot?

    What exactly is structure?

    Q.

    Why do you need to ask that?

    A.

    It really helps with the planning. Here’s why…

    In a narrative you need at least three things:

    A character, a setting, some events (so in Here be Witches that breakdown runs like this: Ellie lives in Snowdonia and must overcome problems to achieve her goal).

    In a plot we need at least three things

    A character, a goal, a problem (so Ellie’s goal is to be with her true love Henry, but the magic, which has gone wrong, has banished Henry forever from the world).

    For a structure we at least need three things

    A beginning, middle, and an end (therefore Ellie must discover why Henry has been banished and then set out to find a way to reverse the magic and restore Henry to her and finally overcome those who wish to stop her).

    Once you’ve got that in place then you can then decide about narration and point of view and ask yourself, if your lead character/protagonist is really the best person to tell this story and the one most affected by the action in general. If the answer is yes – you can then use additional devices to ‘show’ key ‘off stage’ scenes that are not within the remit of the protagonist’s point of view.

    Only then can you really start to climb the narrative mountain and plan out a totally thrilling story.

    Q.

    OK, but how did you decide Ellie WAS the best character to narrate this story?

    A.

    Well despite the fact that she was the narrator in book one Here be Dragons and there might be readers who are already invested in her story, I had to establish that she was still the best character to continue to tell the story and to do this I had to revisit an important principle – that it’s not what happens in a story, so much as who it happens to that is the most important aspect. Readers live the story through the characters, so they need a really nice/reliable (usually)/interesting and convincing companion to see/live the events through. 

    Q.

    But what makes an interesting, convincing character?

    A.

    Good question! Here’s the way I decide:

    Firstly a character needs characteristics

    A main character should be heroic, and strong (perhaps)? Good-looking (controversial?) Independent? Kind? I try to think of characters I admire in fiction I’ve read and ask myself why do I like them? Then add my answers into the mix when creating my characters.

    I also like to choose a flaw that my protagonist will need to overcome. Flaws make us human and help readers to identify with the character and understand the decisions they make. (My flaw for Ellie is that she is loving out of her element, and it is bringing harm down on those others who love her and on her home.)

    Secondly, a character drives the plot forward

    So a goal is important, as this is the engine of the story. I always choose the person who has the strongest/most interesting/most identifiable with goal to narrate my stories (forbidden love is a V strong goal and has driven many a better narrative than mine!). The character’s desire to achieve their goal drives the action forward, and when the character meets conflict they struggle to overcome it. 

    Note to self pinned on my wall: PROTAGONISTS MUST CONFRONT OVERWHELMING CONFLICT IN THEIR PURSUIT OF SOME VISIBLE GOAL. 

    This is so key because then the plot structure simply follows the sequence of events that lead the hero toward their goal, which mean all the hard work of plotting is done for me! 

    Thirdly, a character with a goal has motivation

    Motivations make the character keep going when things get tough. Though sometimes it is the fear of what will happen if they fail and the stakes that drive them forward.

    Finally, a character needs a background

    Name/age and looks/ family/a place to live – all these things can help to make the story just right for the reader – as I choose a protagonist that might be very like the reader in some of these aspects to create reader identification.

    After thinking about all of these points I decided that Ellie was still the main character and I was going to tell the story from her point of view.

    Q.

    So will you tell us then how you dealt with ‘off stage’ scenes and what devices you used to help the reader feel present at the action? 

    A.

    Yes!

    I’ll do that in my next post!

    So stand by for tomorrow’s blog with tips and tricks for drip-feeding or even elbowing-in all the dreaded EXPOSITION and POV conundrums! 

    SEE YOU THERE!

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  • Sarah Mussi's Here be Witches blog tour – Post one

    I’m totally thrilled to be starting my blog tour for book two in The Snowdonia Chronicles: Here be Witches.

    During the next five days I will be interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL!

    So here goes …

    Sarah interviews Sarah on how to write a sequel in a thrilling and compelling romantic fantasy!

    Sarah

    Welcome to the world of WRITING A SEQUEL.

    I am going to use Here be Witches to explain my thinking on how to give it a go.

    Sarah

    Okay great. I shall be asking you lots of questions so here we go.

    Q

    What is Here be Witches really about?

    A

    Here be Witches is the second chronicle in the story of Ellie and the mountains of North Wales, its myths and its magic – and how Ellie is ready to do anything for love!

    In fact here’s a sneak preview of the back cover…

    Here be Witches

    All Ellie Morgan wants is to be with her one true love, Henry. But she’s caught in the MIDDLE OF A BATTLE as old as SNOWDON itself. A battle between GOOD and EVIL.

    A WITCHES’ SPELL, cast high on the mountain, has sped up time and made matters MUCH WORSE. The dragons are awake; mythical creatures and evil ghosts have risen.

    And nearly all of them want Ellie DEAD.

    Thank heavens for loyal friend George, disloyal bestie Rhi, and mysterious stranger, Davey. Armed with Granny Jones’s potions, Ellie and her companions must set out on a journey to REVERSE THE SPELL, stop the EVIL White Dragon and find Henry.

    As an eternal winter tightens its grip on Snowdon, Ellie and her friends have only THREE DAYS to SURVIVE and complete their quest.

    THE SEQUEL TO HERE BE DRAGONS – A PERILOUS ADVENTURE INTO THE MAGICAL AND MURDEROUS REALM OF MYTHICAL SNOWDONIA

    Q

    So Sarah how did you set out to write this sequel to Here be Dragons? Was it difficult? And is it true that the second book in a series or a trilogy is always the hardest? If so why?

    A.

    Yes, I think writing a sequel to any book is always hard. This is because even though you have your cast of characters well established in your mind, you struggle to find fresh, new and interesting ways to introduce them to the reader. In addition to that, there is the problem of how you let the readers know the story so far. You could employ many interesting ways to bring the reader up to speed (if they somehow have not managed to read book one or received the books in the wrong order). But exposition is always tricky, as it weighs like dead matter on the storyline. It’s not something you really want to have to dump in the text at the start of a story. This in itself makes writing sequels a challenge. Here are some ways you could try: there is the old trick of having your protagonist tell a friend about their previous adventures. Then there is the cunning ploy of introducing the arrival of a stranger who needs to know the full story. In Here be Witches I bring the reader up to date firstly through an imaginary conversation that Ellie has with her mum (who is ignorant of the adventures in book one) and finish the update later on through the ‘arrival of the stranger’ trope. Here is an extract from the start of Here be Witches on exactly how I constructed that first important expositional update.

    Excerpt

    Focus on what to tell Mum. Currently, she doesn’t know anything at all about Henry. Plus she is sound asleep.

    Hmmm.

    But how to tell?

    I imagine a wake-up scene in my head:

    ME:                 OK, (clears imaginary throat) I’m going out, mostly because of something that started last Christmas.

    MUM:            Huh?

    ME:                 You see, I met this boy, but I never told you about him.

    MUM:            Huh?

    ME:                 And it’s a long story, but the short version is: he is a dragon.

    MUM:            Ellie, if he’s not very nice, are you sure you should keep on seeing him?

    ME:                 I’m not ‘seeing him’, and he is very nice. I mean he really is a dragon – you know fire and wings – not bad tempered or whatever.

    MUM:            OOooooh – kaaay.

    ME:                 So I have to go out to check he’s locked up in his cave.

    MUM:            All right darling. That’s just fine. A pitch-dark freezing night is a fabulous time to go on a date/visit an inmate/check your pet monster is under control. Off you go. By the way, my first boyfriend was a three-headed griffin with bad breath. Have fun!

    Short and snappy? Fun to read (hopefully)? Information delivered!

    Q

    Wow –that’s cool! That didn’t bog the storyline down at all. In fact it was quite entertaining. Well done! So what else did you have to consider in writing Here be Witches?

    A

    Well, once the reader was up to speed, and a dilemma had been introduced, then the story was ready to get going. Although it was important for me to base the background of book two, Here be Witches, on the established world I’d created in Here be Dragons, a new adventure was needed and a new dilemma or threat posed. However Ellie’s goal (to be with her one true love) needed to remain as an overarching goal – and I needed to introduce a unique interim story goal for book two. Then obviously obstacles to that goal would need to be introduced (that were thrilling) with clever solutions (that were compelling to read).

    Q

    I see. So how exactly did you create a new exciting dilemma for Here be Witches and retain the old goals of your protagonist?

    A

    This is what I had to remind myself of in starting my sequel in Here be Witches.

    The story equation:

    CHARACTER + GOAL – PROBLEMS + SOLUTIONS = NARRATIVE

    Example from FINDING NEMO:

    A clown fish named Marlin lives in the Great Barrier Reef loses his son, Nemo. After he ventures into the open sea, despite his father's constant warnings about many of the ocean's dangers. Nemo is abducted by a boat and netted up and sent to a dentist's office in Sydney. So, while Marlin ventures off to try to retrieve Nemo, Marlin meets a fish named Dory, a blue tang suffering from short-term memory loss. The companions travel a great distance, encountering various dangerous sea creatures such as sharks, anglerfish and jellyfish, in order to rescue Nemo from the dentist's office, which is situated by Sydney Harbor. While the two are doing this, Nemo and the other sea animals in the dentist's fish tank plot a way to return to Sydney Harbor to live their lives free again.

    - Written by Anonymous

    CHARACTER (Marlin) + GOAL (Find Nemo) – PROBLEMS (sharks etc ) + SOLUTIONS (run/escape/make allies etc) = NARRATIVE

    Q

    This is really exciting – can you share your story synopsis for Here be Witches and tell us how you implemented it?

    A

    Yes I can but this blog post is going on for too long now so watch out for the next one, blog post two, tomorrow!

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  • Author interview: Sarah Mussi, Here be Witches

    Ahead of the launch of Here be Witches, we caught up with Sarah Mussi to talk about the latest instalment in the Snowdonia Chronicles series.

     

    1. Was there any such thing as a good witch in Welsh mythology or were powerful female figures usually treated with suspicion? Was it fun to write about two strong female characters leading the battles for good and evil?

    Interestingly in Wales witches were treated a lot less harshly than in the rest of the UK, and in certain places they were revered and honoured as wise women. Wizards too enjoyed the same good press! It seems that in Welsh mythology in the Mabinogion bad witches were relegated to beyond the Breacon Beacons to Gloucestershire! The Mabinogion has a number of sorceresses and women with great power like the Lady of the Lake and Blodeuwedd most of them are beautiful and kind but with a deceptive or dangerous streak especially when wronged! However in all mythologies there are wicked witches and Wales in that respect has some too – especially in local legends.

    It was wonderful to write about two strong female figure battling for good and evil – and I loved writing into the story the female wise mother archetype: Granny Jones too!

     

    2. The series draws on a certain traditional fairy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Other recent teen books (such as the Twilight series) have similar themes; did you set out to put your own spin on a traditional love story?

    WOW – I didn’t really think about Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve when I conceived The Snowdonia Chronicles and to be honest I’m not sure that The Snowdonia Chronicles really draws that heavily on the tale of Beauty and the Beast – even though there is certainly a beauty (who is very practical and not obsessed by self at all) and a beast – albeit a very noble and majestic one and not at all ugly. Rather than chose the boy next door and be satisfied with living on beautiful Snowdon, Ellie hankers for adventure, fantasy, something different, exotic and entirely her own. 

    3. Through all the epic drama, Ellie and the gang always maintain a sense of humour, which we think will really appeal to readers. Did you watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail on repeat before you started writing?

    Haha! No I didn’t watch Monty Python on repeat at all – but I LOVE dry British humour and listen to the various Radio 4 comical shows at 6.30 every day!

    4. In Here be Witches you pack in a smorgasbord of characters from Welsh mythology. Do you have a favourite? We like the Knockers best!

    Yes I really wanted Here be Witches to introduce the reader to some of the great mythologies of Wales. I loved writing the sections with the Knockers, but my favourite mythological character is the giant Idris Gawr. I adored thinking of him up atop Cadair lying on his lonely bed. In fact I climbed up Cadair with my sister to be sure of the location and was very tempted to spend the night up there to see if the myth was true and anything could improve my poetry!

    5. Rhiannon plays a much more important role in this book. She’s quite a complex character and she’s certainly not always to be trusted. Do you like her and is she anything like her counterpart from Welsh mythology?

    Yes, Rhi definitely develops in this story and hopefully starts growing up. She was always a kind and loving girl, but her adventures in Here be Witches teach her to become more aware, less self-centred and more thoughtful – and she definitely needs to for her role in Book Three Here be Wizards when she will have to face some very scary truths!

    In the Mabinogion as Miranda Jane Green says Rhiannon draws in the international folklore motif of the calumniated wife: "Rhiannon conforms to two archetypes of myth ... a gracious, bountiful queen-goddess; and ... the 'wronged wife', falsely accused of killing her son." In The Snowdonia Chronicles – Rhi is gracious and beautiful and rich - living in the equivalent of a palace – her Dad’s hotel. Like the Rhiannon in the Mabinogion she sets her sights on a lover that was not meant for her (George) but unlike her mythical counterpart she never really gets him. In Here be Witches Rhi is wronged and tricked, but she invites that because of her misplaced affections for George – so, yes, there are similarities.

    6. Finally, can you give us some exclusive insider info on what’s in store for Ellie and the gang in Here be Witches?

    Well … I’ve mentioned giants and Cadair Idris and a misled Rhiannon … but the real insider info is the witches’ spell that wakes up the old magic and with it Ellie’s old enemy Oswald! Ellie and the gang have got to find a way to break the spell and SURVIVE – and that involves being chased by weird wolves, attacked by a subterranean, underwater monster, the Afanc, and dealing with a magical mirror that cannot be trusted!

    BEWARE when you start reading Here be Witches … it is not for the faint hearted!

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  • Free extract: Here be Witches by Sarah Mussi

    Promising myth, magic and modern adventure, the sequel to Here be Dragons – we are delighted to announce – will be landing on doorsteps from 1 March 2017. In anticipation of its release, we've posted an exclusive free extract for you read. We hope you'll love the book as much as we do – enjoy! 

    As Above

    29 February – Leap Year

    At the witching hour upon the eve of St David’s Day

    The girl turns her masked face to the summit, above her the air shudders. Just seconds left. If only she can time it right. Heart pounding, blood hammering, she poises herself. She pulls out the mirror, angles it, catches the reflection of the dark night and the stars.

    I can do this, she tells herself. I am the High Priestess. I am the Supreme One.

    Then she recites aloud:

    ‘Winds of time meet me here,

    Upon the stroke of midnight clear,

    Spin a girdle round the heavens,

    When the magick words are spoken,

    Let the future rush to meet us,

    Let the time between be broken,

    Hurry the hours, tear down the clocks,

    Speed up the procession of the equinox,

    O winds of time, hear me say,

    Let tomorrow be today.’

    She beckons to the rest of the coven. Twelve girls – faces covered with masks, clad from head to toe in black cloaks, tall hats, dark skirts – all close in. They trace a circle widdershins around a great cauldron set on a smouldering fire. One girl, petite and pretty, chants: 

    ‘Oh mighty dragon of the fire,

    Grant me the power that I desire,

    Power of water and air from the sky,

    And earth and fire that let you fly.’ 

    But the Supreme One steadies the mirror, whispers instead:

    ‘Oh mighty dragon of the ice,

    Grant me the power in measure twice,

    And take thee, thy human sacrifice.’

    The girls stop and hold out their left hands. And on each palm is marked a star. They hold them up to the night sky, baring them towards the constellation of Draco, in which the Pole Star – Polaris, the North Star – shines, and they recite:

    ‘Air and water, fire and earth,

    In darkest night we wait your birth,

    By light of moon, or ray of sun,

    Let Merlin’s magick be undone,

    The hour has come of this leap year,

    The time is right to reappear,

    Forever you were, forever you shall be,

    By Draco’s grace we set you free,

    Oh mighty dragons whom this spell release,

    Crack open the fortress of Dinas Emrys.’

    The moment strikes midnight.

    The Supreme One breathes on the mirror, clouds it over with her breath, cries out, ‘AS ABOVE – SO BELOW, SO MOTE IT BE!’

    The mountain slope shudders. The cauldron boils over. The face of the full moon darkens. There is a roaring and far away the sound of many stones cracking.

    Then the mountain splits wide.

    An appalling shriek rents the air. Yellow eyes glint through the darkness, teeth crash, talons scrape. A fetid stench slams into the night. And under their feet a ravine opens. A yawning cliff, dropping sheer, smooth, treacherous. And from the lip of this abyss a fearsome creature crawls out.

    ‘Welcome back O White Worm of Wessex,’ breathes out the Supreme One.

    The dragon blinks at the girls. It unfolds its huge wings and stretches them out, like some nightmarish butterfly emerging from a hideous chrysalis, then it shakes its spiny neck. Its hooded eye settles on the petite, pretty girl.

    In an instant she slips. The earth beneath her gives way. A booming, a shrieking tears at her ears. The ground over the old dragons’ lair caves in all around her.

    The girl skids out of control. She falls. She screams. She stretches out her arms. 

    ‘Help!’ she cries. ‘Somebody help me!’ But none dare, as heart bursting, body falling, twisting, turning, she plummets down over the cliff edge.

    ‘SO MOTE IT BE!’ roars the dragon.

    Down plunges the girl. Down into the dark cavern.

    Down on to the sharp crystals.

    And as the girl’s heart is pierced, the crystals shatter.

    At that moment, the whole of the mountain shakes, as if some deep power has been unleashed. There is a rush of heat, a blur of speed. Something passes out of the lair and, like a shooting star, fires up towards the sky. A sudden mist descends; through the darkness the girl-witches see ragged shapes like dark riders galloping away towards the summit of Snowdon.

    The air grows cold.

    The mountain is still.

    The witches blink.

    There is no dragon after all. Only their sister-witch impaled upon the rocks below.

    The Supreme One hides the mirror under her cloak, takes her birch broom and, wedging it against the rocks, uses it to help her climb down into the roofless cavern. She leaps the last metre to the rocky bottom, but does not check the bleeding body of her friend speared on the broken crystals. Instead she reaches down and picks from the cavern floor a blackened object. 

    ‘Yes!’ she whispers. The Supreme One slips the charred object beside the mirror, nestles it close to her heart. She mutters to herself, ‘So you would challenge me, Ellie Morgan …’ Her voice grows cold, chilling, spiteful: ‘We will see about that.’

    Then she turns. She reaches the fallen girl.

    ‘Is she OK?’ calls a voice from above. 

    ‘No,’ replies the Supreme One. ‘She has passed beyond the veil.’

    Then through the dark morning she points a finger at one of the coven. ‘Seize her!’ she commands. ‘Seize Rhiannon!’

    Instantly, the witches obey.

    ‘You pushed her,’ accuses the Supreme One.

    ‘No!’ squeals Rhiannon.

    The witches start to chant. One holds Rhiannon. The others circle round her. The Supreme One climbs up out of the cavern. She grabs Rhiannon by the wrist.

    ‘You bring Ellie here,’ she says. ‘You bring her now! You pin this on her, or I’ll pin it on you.’

    Then she raises her head to the constellation of Draco shining far above her.

    ‘Fair is foul – foul is fair –

    By water, fire, earth and air,

    Fair is foul – foul is fair –

    Let those who challenge me, BEWARE –

    Fair is foul – foul is fair –

    FOR I HAVE DESTROYED THE DRAGONS’ LAIR!’

     

    So Below

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  • Sarah Mussi introduces her new book, Here be Witches

    Hello everyone

    Sarah Mussi here ... I’m super excited to introduce my new book to you, Here be Witches, it’s about strange adventures in wild and wonderful Snowdonia. Anyone who has ever stood on a high peak or summit knows the magic of mountains. In Here be Witches I take you deep into the mythical world of the Welsh hills of North Wales to understand exactly why their magic is so powerful.

    As we follow the adventures of Ellie Morgan, a teenager raised on the slopes of Mount Snowdon, we encounter the Brenin Llwyd, the breath of the Dark Lord, that deceptive ragged mountain mist that lures unwary travellers over treacherous cliffs. We meet figures draped in mystery from ancient times, Gwyn ap Nudd with his white hell hounds, and of course the dragons of Dinas Emrys. Ellie must face a coven witches and break the spell they have laid over her beloved mountains, in order to save her one true love, Henry, and stop the enchantment that will destroy Snowdonia. But the witches’ spell has awoken deep evil. Monstrous mythical creatures are rising from their graves to stop her. With only three friends brave enough to follow her, Ellie must set out to find a way to survive and complete her quest ...

    Here be Witches will be published on 1 March. Find out more HERE.

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  • The alternative ending to Lie Kill Walk Away

    Find out how Matt Dickinson's latest teen thriller originally ended ...

     

    JOE

    I wake up in Feltham for the very last time. There’s a nice day out there by the looks of it. Blue sky through the bars.

    Becca never replied to my letter. I have no idea if I will ever see her again. I take a good look around while I’m waiting for midday. Just for the memories. Because I tell you one thing. I’m not coming back to Feltham Young Offenders Institution. No sir. Once I walk out that door that’s it for me. Goodbye to the jangling bells. Goodbye to the shiny tiles and the flickering fluorescent lights. Goodbye to the sarky guards. Goodbye to the treacle sponge that sticks to your teeth; the stink of 750 smelly lads who aren’t allowed aerosol deodorant because they’ll end up sniffing it.

    Goodbye to the gangs that will pounce if they see the slightest weakness. Goodbye to some mates as well. See ya! I’m out of here.

    I kick my heels in the library while I’m waiting for them to chuck me out. Say thanks to Andrea, the lady that runs it. She’s been good to me. Got me all the books I asked for. Made me secret cups of tea when she wasn’t really supposed to.

    Then it’s time to pack my little bag. Pass through the clanking doors. A nod from the guards.

    Pauline is waiting in the office. It’s nice to see her.

    ‘How are you, Joe?’ She holds me so tight I can hardly breathe.

    I’ll be living with her now while we wait for my dad to be released. It’ll be all right, I reckon.

    There’re some papers to sign. Release forms and stuff. Then we’re out of the front gates and I’m back in the real world. And it feels so good. To get that clean air inside me. And look out further than the wall in front of your nose. And feel you can go in any direction, not just the one the guards tell you to go in.

    And to see Becca standing on the other side of the road.

    I swear my heart stops beating for a bit. Then it starts racing out of control.

    She’s wearing this white kind of gypsy dress. With her wavy reddish hair flowing down. And she’s looking well brown. And well hot. And those curves in all the right places I kind of got interested in all those months ago? Well, they’re still there but, like, even more so if you get my meaning. And there’s this nervous kind of cute smile on her face.

    ‘That’s my friend,’ I tell Pauline. There’s a huge lump in my throat.

    ‘We’d better go and say hello then.’

    We cross the road and the closer I get to her the more I can’t think what to say. Or do.

    ‘Hello Joe,’ she says. We don’t touch or anything. We just stand there like we’re two total strangers.

    ‘Hey.’

    ‘I came up by train,’ she says. She blushes bright red.

    There’s a horrible pause. Then Pauline steps in.

    ‘Tell you what,’ she goes. ‘I know this park where there’s a cafe. Why don’t we all go and have a cup of tea?’

    So we do. And suddenly talking’s not difficult at all. And laughing doesn’t seem to be in short supply either. And Pauline gets on with her really well and I eat a piece of chocolate cake and it tastes so damn good after discount baked beans and chewy bacon and crappy margarine for ten months that it makes me want to cry.

    ‘I need to do a bit of shopping,’ Pauline says later. ‘You two can take a walk if you like and I’ll pick you up in a bit.’

    We head into the park. And Becca can’t stop talking and smiling and telling me about her horse and asking if I’ve ever been on one. Then she explains about her university place, how she’s delayed going there to have a bit of freedom so she can recover from the bullet wound and spend a bit of time with her mum and dad.

    And the sun is warm. And there are kids playing football with jumpers on the ground for goalposts. And ladies with pushchairs chatting cheerfully on the benches. And we’re getting closer to the corner of the park, closer to the place that’s a little bit hidden by the trees, the place where my mum’s butterfly is painted on the wall.

    And somehow that’s where we end up. And the conversation seems to get a bit … sticky. And I can feel my heart thumping in my chest because Becca is looking right at my mum’s graffiti.

    ‘That’s beautiful,’ she says. ‘Is it one of yours?’

    I tell her the story. And it all comes out in a rush. The story of how my mum did the butterfly and what she told me that day.

    ‘Oh, Joe.’

    Becca leans back against the wall, right in the middle of the butterfly. It’s like the wings are her wings. Like she could take right off and fly away.

    I’m looking right at her and thinking I never saw a more beautiful thing in my whole life.

    And she says, ‘I think our stories just came together.’

    And suddenly I feel this powerful thing, like my mum is actually there beside me, or in my head, telling me to be happy, to be free of everything and get some more love in my life.

    Becca pulls me towards her. I melt into her body. And she gives this sort of sigh. She wraps her arms right round me and holds me really tight. I can feel her breath warm and fast against my ear. She smells so good; it’s like the nicest bunch of flowers ever. I fold my arms around her. And the fabric of her dress feels so soft at the bottom of her back it’s like it’s hardly there and really I’m touching her skin.

    It’s the first time I’ve held a girl. But I’m not worried about doing it right. I know I’m doing it right. And they talk about this stuff, and how it’s the best thing in the universe. And they’re not wrong about that. But it’s not just the doing of it, is it? It’s the knowing that the other person wants it as well. That they need it as much as you do.

    My lips brush against hers. For a few moments they just stay there, kind of slightly glued together, and the sweetness of her breath is awesome and then we push a little harder against each other and we kiss in this gentle kind of way.

    Then we’re not playing at kissing any more. We’re doing it for real and there’s this incredible kind of hot vibe to it that just makes me want to scream or something it is so good. And she’s kind of giving as good as she’s getting if you see what I mean and I think, well, this posh girl is pretty grounded after all and the heat of her is making my whole body go to jelly.

    Then I hear Pauline, calling from over near the playground.

    ‘I’ve been looking for you two!’ she calls. ‘Come on!’

    We pull apart, laughing. We go to join her. And it feels right to hold hands even in front of her. And Becca’s squeezing my fingers in this way that’s like a conversation.

    Then we take her to a tube station and its time for her to go home. She holds me close but we don’t kiss again. We don’t need to. We know we’ll be back together again soon so it’s cool to wait.

    Pauline and I stay in the car, watching her walking towards the station entrance.

    And Pauline says, ‘She’s a lovely girl, Joe. Hang on to her won’t you?’

    Becca pauses just before she goes in. She gives this smiley wave and locks eyes with me.

    And I think, yeah, I will hang on to her. I definitely will.

    THE END
















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