February’s Guest Storyteller, Geoffrey Gudgion

Gudgion-close

Geoffrey Gudgion started writing in warships during the Cold War, and afterwards consistently failed to reconcile writing with a business career. Following a row with his boss he took a career break, wrote Saxon’s Bane (Solaris, 2013), and didn’t go back. His second novel, Catherine Bonnevaux, is now with his agent. His third is “cooking nicely”.

Website & blog: http://geoffreygudgion.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/geoff.gudgion
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/geoffrey.gudgion.author
Twitter: @geoffreygudgion

The novel in brief — Six hundred years ago, the village of Halgestede was swept away and the Bonnevaux dynasty born with a terrible oath. Today the Halstead Hall estate is crumbling and the Bonnevaux have forgotten the oath, but the oath may not have forgotten the Bonnevaux.

Intro to extract — Most of Saxon’s Bane was in a masculine voice, but the plot for Catherine Bonnevaux challenged Geoffrey to write some tender moments from a distinctly feminine perspective. Here’s a short sample:

 

CATHERINE BONNEVAUX (Extract)

 “Granny, about…”

“In a moment, darling. Shut your eyes. Tight shut. Let them adjust to the darkness. I’ve something to show you.”

Catherine obeyed, smiling to herself at this child-like complicity. Somewhere nearby a blackbird sang into the gloaming, filling the air with swirling trickles of sound. Faintly, from down in the valley, came the sound of piano music.

“You can open them now. Look around you. See, darling? The daylight stays in the blossom.”

Catherine opened her eyes. Above her, a lattice of branches and blossom screened a sky that darkened to purple in the East, and softened to the West where the Evening Star hung over the hill. Below the horizon the branches were almost invisible against the dark backdrop of the woods. In this near-darkness, the pear blossom appeared to float, unsupported, glowing white as if illuminated from within. Thousands of points of light, dabbed onto the night by a fine-point brush, so they sat within a galaxy of petals that moved almost imperceptibly on the night air.

Strange how you can grow up in a place and not notice something so beautiful, that you can live thirty years without being in this spot, at this time, at this season, with eyes that were not blinded by a torch. Catherine reached for her grandmother’s hand, and squeezed.

“Thank you, Granny.” Her voice caught.

“It’s always best at pear blossom time. There’s more leaf on the trees when the apple blossom bursts.”

“It’s wonderful.” She knew she’d always remember this moment. Her grandmother, birdsong, a distant piano, and blossom, fragrant and pure. A moment of communion that makes all else insignificant.

“I was wooed in this orchard. I was a young nurse, just nineteen. Your grandpa was such a dashing young man, a decorated officer, and yet he brought me out here and showed me the pear blossom at twilight.” Catherine gripped her grandmother’s hand again. As the light faded, the blossom was dimming, so that already it was brightest at the edge of her vision, but the scent remained, cascading its sweetness around them. Catherine felt her hand being lifted and shaken in emphasis. “There are things you wish you’d asked, and there are things I’d like remembered. So when you have children, bring them here, and tell them that your Granny fell in love under this tree.”

Catherine stood, swallowing, and stepped away from the seat, holding out her hand to feel for a branch she knew was there. The bark was coarse and damp, and lichen crumbled under her fingers. At the edge of her vision, a hint of blossom swayed to the movement in the branch. The moon was rising above Brambledown, bathing the valley below in a gentle, monochrome glow. Yellower lights shone in The Old Dairy, silhouetting Fiona in the picture windows. Her outline looked huddled, even at this distance, perhaps folded over her arms, tense. Piano music spilled past her through open French doors, and carried faintly up the hill. Rich, classical music, played loudly and furiously, and too heavy for the moment that she and Granny had just shared.

“Rachmaninoff,” Granny said, coming to stand beside her. “The C Sharp Minor Prelude. Not an easy piece.” They were quiet for a moment, listening, until Granny sighed. “He’s better at Chopin. That’s much too angry.”

Below them, the hunched figure stepped inside, and the music stopped with the shutting of the door.

“Don’t get too fond of him, darling, will you?”

Catherine didn’t answer.

“Only, things are complicated enough already. And I’m getting cold. Where’s that torch?” In an instant, a pool of light beside them turned the night fully black, shrinking the moon glow until only the lights of The Old Dairy were visible beyond the tracery of branches.

#

Sarah says: Geoffrey, thank you so much for your return visit to my blog, this time as a guest storyteller. I love this extract from Catherine Bonnevaux, where you’ve captured with such authenticity and atmosphere that special female intimacy between Catherine and her grandmother. I can’t wait to read the whole novel.

For those who missed Geoffrey first time round you might like to read Interview with Author Geoffrey Gudgion, in which we discuss his first novel Saxon’s Bane, and my review of the book on Goodreads, where I awarded it five stars.

January’s Guest Storyteller, David Milligan-Croft

David Milligan-Croft
David was shortlisted for the Independent on Sunday Short Story Competition in 1997. His short story, Woman’s Best Friend, also appears in the IOS New Stories published by Bloomsbury. His poetry has been widely published in Ireland, Britain and the US in anthologies and poetry journals. David is the author of six feature-length screenplays, a collection of short stories, a poetry collection, two stories for children, and his first novel, Love is Blood. He has just finished his second novel, Peripheral Vision.

Blog: http://thereisnocavalry.wordpress.com
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thereisnocavalry
Love is Blood is available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

 #

Sarah says: Welcome to my blog, David, and thank you so much for being my first guest storyteller for 2015. This January is somewhat of a celebration, as it’s exactly a year since I began this  monthly guest slot, which started out as an experiment but has really taken off.

Below, you can read an excerpt from David’s latest novel, Peripheral Vision, about a young boy blinded by his father and his subsequent descent into a life of crime and drugs.

 #

When I came round, the smell of detergent seared my nostrils. I was looking up at a white, paint-peeled ceiling and a buzzing neon strip light. But something wasn’t quite right about this picture. As though I could only see half of it. Gently, I put my fingers to my left eye and felt soft fabric.

“Hey, here he is,” said my mother, in a voice as soft as the bandages. “How you doing, champ?”

I made a small smile but I felt very drowsy. There was a rakish ringing in my left ear and a burning sensation like someone had inserted a red-hot needle into the left edge of my eye socket.

“You’ll be right as rain in no time.” It was my dad’s voice but I couldn’t see him as he was standing at the left hand side of the bed. I saw my mum cast him a malevolent glance. I caught a glimpse of the side of her face. Her left eye was purple and yellow. She turned back to me and her expression immediately returned to one of radiance. Her beautiful long, black hair was tied up in a bun on the top of her head. She was a vision, my mother. Her cobalt blue eyes sparkled, glassy with tears. She reached out and took my right hand between her palms. They were warm and comforting.

“As soon as we get you out of here we’ll go off on a day trip. How does that sound?” she whispered.

It sounded fine, I thought.

“How about Blackpool? Or Bridlington? Which do you prefer? It’s your choice,” she said.

“How come he gets to choose?” It was Jed’s voice. I didn’t realize he was in the room.

“Oh, shut up!” Mum spat, as she turned to a space over to my blind spot. Is that it? Am I blind? I was trying to remember what happened. There was an argument, I think. Dad – moving fast toward me. My legs like jelly. Nothing.

“What happened?” My throat hurt when I spoke. Like I’d swallowed broken glass.

“It was an accident,” Dad said a little too swiftly.

There’s that glance again from Mum.

“You fell and banged your head on the sideboard,” Mum said.

Oh, yes, now I remember. “Dad hit me,” I slurred.

“No I didn’t!” he snapped. “You’d pissed your pants!”

A snigger from Jed.

“I shoved you to get you up to the toilet. And, and when you turned around, you slipped and fell.” This was Dad’s defence.

Perhaps it was because I couldn’t see him that I felt brave enough to defy my father, but something didn’t quite stack up in my confused mind. “If I turned to go upstairs wouldn’t I have banged my right eye on the sideboard?” I said, directing the question to my mother.

She smiled sweetly and closed her eyes in a slow, slow blink, inhaling deeply. When she opened them again they were cast toward Dad, awaiting a response, but none was forthcoming. I could tell by my mother’s smug expression that she was pleased with my question and the lack of response it had elicited from my father.

I spent three weeks in hospital while they monitored my fractured skull. Well, it was my eye socket really, but they classed it as my skull, which made it sound a lot more dramatic than it actually was. To be honest, I was glad to be out of the place. I had a numb bum from being in bed all day and there’s only so much jelly and ice cream a kid can eat.

#

You can find the links to previous guest storyteller posts at https://sarahpotterwrites.com/guest-storytellers-2/

June’s Guest Storyteller, Dave Farmer

davefarmer

Dave Farmer escaped the crowded industry of the West Midlands, England, and enjoys the big skies and open country of rural Cambridgeshire every day. Although his Midland accent has softened he still refuses to pronounce it ‘parth’ and ‘barth’ because it doesn’t feel right in his mouth.

When not writing, he resumes the hunt for the perfect sandwich, plays with the family dogs, and discusses how to survive the end of days, should it ever happen.

To find out more you can read posts on his blog, www.davefarmer.co.uk, where he shares his thoughts and ideas of the world around him.

And yes, Cambridge is as posh as everyone thinks.

 #

Sarah says: Hi Dave, thank you so much for guest storytelling this month. I’m a great fan of your blog: especially your wry observations re human behaviour, as well as your scarier stuff about zombies and the like.

For those of you who aren’t already followers of Dave’s blog and are unfamiliar with his work, he writes speculative type “what-if” fiction that concentrates on things such as courage, loyalty and friendship, but with an apocalyptic slant. Below, is a short extract from his novel-in-progress.

Extract from The Range & Chapter 2 called 2.47

When the video started, the footage was blurred and shaky.

Trees lined a busy intersection. Traffic chugged around pedestrians as they crossed the road. After several seconds of watery blue sky, the sun low on the horizon, a pale-faced kid with chubby cheeks filled the screen. He grinned then panned the camera over a statue of a naked guy stood next to a horse.

‘Lou, that’s Pont d’Iena, right next to the Eiffel Tower. We went there on a school trip, remember?’ I glanced up at her. ‘Sure Denise sent the right link?’

‘Yeah, keep watching.’

After half a minute I clicked pause. ‘Seriously, Lou? This is boring. Denise must be laughing her arse off.’

‘She says it happens at two forty seven. Play it.’

We watched more footage of trees and people talking into the camera – two girls around five or six years old with, who I assumed were, their parents taking pictures with their phones. The sound was choppy and out of synch. I tried to change the quality with the controls below the video but it was stuck on 360p.

It happened before then. I don’t think anyone else spotted it. The younger of the two sisters wore a sleeveless yellow dress with white lace around the neck. Her long brown hair was woven into two neat plaits tied with wispy pink ribbons.

She began to fidget and her bottom lip quivered. She reached up to grab her mum’s hand. Her eyes widened before she buried her face against Mum’s hip. At 1.31 the camera panned around.

Crowds rushed across the busy intersection. A FedEx truck slammed into a small group of children. The impact knocked them into a surge of screaming tourists.

No one stopped to help them.

The camera jolted and swung as people were swept down the road. Half way across the bridge the chubby kid stopped. The camera angled down and appeared to lift off the pavement. A head appeared and two arms reached up. Traffic slowed to a crawl, an orchestra of horns wailed like sirens of panic. In contrast to the solid Eifel Tower the crowd beneath it moved in waves. Large groups split and reformed, a tsunami of screaming people hemmed in by the bridge. Dozens were forced over the side before a gap opened in the stampede.

This new wave showed no signs of panic or fear. At the centre of the group a man in a blood soaked shirt jerked upright and collapsed. Blood pumped from deep lacerations on his neck and his right forearm was missing.

Behind him two teenagers with bloody faces carried between them what looked like the survivor of a tiger attack.

At 2.47 the camera focussed on a young girl. Her dainty yellow dress was smudged with dirt and drops of blood. A plait had lost its ribbon. Frayed hair floated in the breeze. One arm was raised to grip a hand. The rest of her mum had been left behind. The girl turned and stared at the camera with milky yellow eyes.

I felt Louise’s hand clamp down on my shoulder.

The girl had no throat. She opened her mouth once or twice before moving off with the rest of the crowd, still holding the hand.

My other flat mate, Karla, threw back her chair and puked into the sink.

‘Turn it off.’ Louise’s voice sounded a million miles away.

My hand on the mouse wouldn’t respond.

‘Sam.’

Louise slammed down the laptop screen.

The touch of her steady hand on mine made me jump.

I couldn’t stop trembling.

I looked at my friend’s white faces and knew they too could smell fear’s foul breath.

 #

You can find the links to previous guest storyteller posts at https://sarahpotterwrites.com/guest-storytellers-2/