The Silver Locket by Chris Hall (Holly Atkins) – a short review

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The Silver Locket is a beautifully told story of mystery, romance and the past which sucks the reader into the lives of each character as they are revealed to us. Chris Hall (aka Holly Atkins) writes with a style which is as fluent as it is mesmerising and it is easy to become a part of the story as it unfolds as if the reader were a first hand witness. In fact Chris writes as if she herself has lived the lives of her characters, which makes them all the more accessible and believable.

What makes this story all the more wonderful, though, is knowing that this is Chris’s debut novel – her skill and literary dexterity are clear to see, and it is no surprise that she has gone on to write more superb novels.

There are twists and turns aplenty throughout this story which kept me guessing right up until the closing pages, none of which I have any intention of revealing!

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys tucking into a good mystery with a small slice of romance and history on the side.

Pick a Side

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I played the middle ground

Until I knew it like

The scars that crossed the

Back of my hand

Undulating back and forth

Like territorial lines

On a map,

Swore pacts with the gods and

Devils of every hue

That I knew I’d never keep

Until I could no longer see

The reason behind 

This blessed curse

This cursed blessing,

Cut myself raw on the

Knife-edged viewpoints

That spilled from mind

To mouth to hand

Until I could no longer feel

But knew that in the end

Everyone has to

Pick a side.

Consequences

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I am delighted to be about to announce that my latest collection of short stories ‘Consequences’ is now available to purchase!

For anybody interested (and I’m hoping that someone is!) I have attached links to the bottom of this post.

Thank you!

Consequences. 

Three tales exploring consequences; the consequences of random events, of choices and decisions made and of fate or chance.

A Slow Return sees a man analysing his emotions as he is forced to face up to the consequences of his actions following a random accident.

In The Witness a man’s life unravels before his eyes after he becomes an unwilling witness to an event which may or may not have happened. 

But the collection opens with Spinning Wheel, a story of fate creating a situation in which the boundaries between reality and fantasy become blurred, leading a man into a series of unexpected consequences.

Lulu

Book Depository

AbeBooks

Barnes and Noble

(The astute amongst you will have noticed that I have not added a link to Amazon. This is because (for some reason best known to themselves) they appear to have it listed at a ridiculous price.

Should you feel inclined to purchase a copy I send you my thanks in advance!)

Caravans

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Watching from the highest walls

As in and out the city gates

The caravans an endless roll

With voices raised and banners tall,

The clamour on the dusty streets

As desperate hands they try to grab

A hold upon the latest rope

To lift them up from life’s defeat,

With well placed words, deception’s smile

Lips offer up the old as new

And sweetness masks the bitter pill

The only prayer to stay awhile,

But wagons roll forever on

And pass like faces in the sky

Until the next one comes along

And we realise they’d never gone. 

How it Feels

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I remember it all

All the days in the sun

All the long nights alone

And the names of every one,

I remember it all

Every turn of the wheel

And actions divided

But I can’t say how it feels,

You say that our futures

All lay in our pasts

And the choices we made

Nailed colours to our masts,

You talk of the people 

The ones that you knew

Yet you close all your doors

To all but the few,

And I hear their voices

Ring loud in my head

A trail of destruction 

An uneasy bed,

Try to make the words fit

The ones that you say

To bring back the senses

At least for one day,

Well I remember it all

All the days in the sun

All the long nights alone

And the names of every one,

I remember it all

Every turn of the wheel

And actions divided

But I can’t say how it feels.

The Old House on the Hill (Part Three)

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The final part of the story which I have posted over the past two days, (and thank you for your patience!):

This new room must, I thought, have been towards the back of the house, as it seemed darker and gloomier than the first, and I reached into my jacket for my torch. I switched it on. It flickered, faded and then died as if it too feared what it might reveal. In my frustration I shook it, banging it against my hand as quietly as I could. Still it refused to work. Realising that it was useless I stuffed it back into my pocket and squeezed my eyes tightly hoping that my actions would help me to see more clearly. Once more I was sure that I heard a faint creaking closer to me now than before, but, before I had the chance to say anything, a howl ripped through the house. We jumped as if we were one, none of us knowing quite what to do; my palms cold and clammy as I screwed them up into fists. The creaking sound gradually became louder and I realised that it was coming from the corner of the room that we were now in. I knew that we could all see the same thing – a figure, old and silent, shadowed in the darkness, rocking gently to and fro on a chair. I bit my lip, tasting the metallic tang of the blood in my mouth as my heart pounded. I tried to swallow but my mouth had become dry and sticky. The old man seemed to be staring straight through us, as if we weren’t there. Two small yellow lights appeared to one side of him, flickering with an intense fire. Then two more appeared, and I realised in an instant that they weren’t lights but eyes! In a heartbeat two fiendish hounds were racing towards us. But these were no ordinary dogs. As we stood rooted, too scared to move, we all realised the same thing at the same time – that we could see the wall behind them, as if they were transparent, ghost hounds. 

We turned, linked as one through our friendship, and ran. We ran through the first room, ignorant now of the books and animals. We ran, desperate to make our get away. We scrambled out of the still open window and raced across the gravel as if our lives depended on it. We hurtled through the gate without once looking back, flying up the lane and over the field with a speed none of us knew we were capable of. We slipped quickly down the gulley which took us through to the top end of our estate and stopped only when we were under the protection of the streetlamp which illuminated the end of the street where I lived. We, sank down, our hands on our knees, as we tried to catch our breath. I thought that I could hear a faint laugh floating down from the hill, but my heart was beating so fast that I couldn’t be certain. After a couple of minutes, and with our minds still racing, we swore a pact of secrecy, turned and went our separate ways. 

Shortly afterwards Brian too left the area. We had not once mentioned what we had seen and heard. Behind the house, at the bottom of the hill, there now stands a modern secondary school. What were the old fields have been turned into sports fields for the school, and there is only one small piece of waste land left; the one over which we made our escape all those years ago. At some point in the future, I am sure, even that will be built upon. The lane has been cleared now and widened but, if ever I walk along it, I can’t help but shiver and increase my pace, when I walk past the old house on the hill. 

The Old House on the Hill (Part Two)

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Continued from yesterday’s post:

One day David told us that he and his family were moving to another part of the city soon and that he would be leaving our school. That night we had a small party at his house and, when it was time for us to go, he drew Brian and myself to one side, out of earshot of any lurking adults. 

“Before I go,” he said, “I need to find out about the house.” 

We both knew, of course, which house he was talking about, and instinctively looked at each other, our faces a mixture of excitement and trepidation. David caught our attention again and explained that he was planning a late-night trip to explore the house and to finally put his mind at rest – after all, once he had moved he would never have the chance again. For a while no-one said anything, but eventually Brian broke the silence and then we both agreed that we would go with him. David’s face looked as serious as I had ever seen as he outlined his plans; we would sneak out of our houses and meet by the park gates at midnight on Friday night. 

The week dragged by, but eventually Friday arrived. That evening I stayed in and told my mother that I was going to bed early. My mother was worried that I wasn’t well, but I told her that I was just a little bit tired because school had been busy, which she seemed happy to believe. Once I was safely in my room I made sure that my jacket pockets were full of everything that I thought I might need – a torch, a penknife, my front door key, a small note book and a couple of pencils in case I needed to take notes. I checked the batteries in the torch which, thankfully, seemed to be working well, and, after setting my alarm clock, and stuffing it beneath my pillow in case it woke anybody else, settled down for a couple of hours rest. 

At a quarter to twelve I silenced my alarm, quickly and quietly pulled on some clothes, and checked my jacket one last time -m there was no turning back now. Silently I crept out of the front door, slipping my key into the lock and turning it as quietly as I could as I pulled the door to. I raced to the park as quickly as I could, but was the first to arrive, and, for a moment, thought that the others weren’t coming. My fears vanished though as I saw them emerging from the darkness together and heading towards me. We looked at each other and, without saying a word, turned and headed up our lane. 

Soon we came to the blackness of the smaller, more mysterious lane; the lane which held the mystery that we were determined to solve. David whispered quietly as if he feared that his ghosts might be listening, and we set off, more slowly now, blaming the darkness rather than our own fears. 

I shuddered when we eventually arrived at the blackened gates of the house. It looked, if it were possible, even more terrifying at night, as if it were one enormous, ghastly shadow which was throwing a deathly cloak over everything beneath it. I heard Brian swallow hard. Without speaking we could sense each other’s fears but knew that we had to find a way into the house. 

We checked the silent driveway. There was nothing there, no vehicle and no sign of life, and, taking this as a positive sign, we set about climbing the gate. To our surprise, and horror, however, we found that the gate was not padlocked and, as we leaned against it, it swung open, noiselessly, as if it were new. Steadying ourselves we started to walk towards the house. The gravel beneath our feet felt hard and cold, even through our shoes, but made no sound as we tiptoed across it towards the front door. Before we knew it, we were standing directly in front of it. With an unusual show of bravery, I reached out and touched the wood. It felt cold and damp against the palm of my hand and I shivered – I had never touched anything which felt quite like it before. Brian stepped up next to me and leaned his shoulder against the door. He pushed as hard as he could, but we knew that it was locked and wouldn’t budge despite our efforts. Suddenly we heard David hissing at us. The sound, though it came as quiet as a mouse, nearly made me jump. He had discovered a small, unfastened window. Cautiously we pulled ourselves up and through it, our feet feeling tentatively for something solid to rest on. As our eyes became accustomed to the dark we collectively took in our surroundings. We were in a large, dust filled room whose walls were stacked high with books, stuffed animals and collections of mementoes which we couldn’t place. 

I stepped forwards to look more closely at the volumes of books that seemed to reach out in every direction. I saw that there were books about witchcraft, the supernatural and ghosts. I turned to show David and Brian, but nearly yelped out as my foot cracked against a stuffed crocodile which had seemed to appear from nowhere and now lay in my path, its gaping mouth baring its teeth at me. Too frightened to speak, but driven on by nervous excitement, we opened the door to a second room. I was sure that I had heard the creaking of floorboards, but said nothing, hoping that my imagination was playing tricks on me. As we entered the next room I could feel my pulse racing through every fibre of my body but nothing could stop us now. 

The Old House on the Hill (Part One)

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Time for something a little different.

For the next three days I will be posting parts of a short story which I have (for want of a better word) serialised. I hope that you feel the urge to stick with it and enjoy it.

When I was young I used to live, with the rest of my family, in a quiet suburb on the edge of a large, sprawling city, whose streets stretched out like an octopus’s tentacles in every possible direction. It was a peaceful and pleasant area in which to live, far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, but still close enough to allow us to make regular trips to taste the delights of city life. At one end of the street in which our house stood was a large patch of land known to us as ‘The Green’; a place where my friends and I would happily waste away our hours playing football or daydreaming. At the other end of our street a tree-lined lane separated the glut of houses from a park which was large enough to house a miniature golf course but small enough to have no given name, at least not one that I, as a child, had any knowledge of. The park sloped heavily, taking with it a tiny stream which trickled gently down its slope before emptying itself out into a small brook which, in turn, flowed onwards towards the city. Here we spent the long days of summer holidays fishing for stickleback and searching for golf balls and the promise of the pennies they might bring us. 

On weekdays we would climb the long winding hill towards our primary school, everyday walking the same streets. We walked past the local shops, up the hill and past the local youth centre which used to show films on a Saturday morning, and into the crowded playground. When the school day was over and our ears were filled with the joyful sound of bells, we would race home as if nothing had happened and nothing had been learned, our minds emptying as quickly as they had been filled. When the weather allowed it we would gather on our beloved Green as if it belonged only to us, a football always at our feet, until our elder brothers and sisters were sent out to round us up like cattle to return to our homes for tea. When the cold, dark nights drew in, and the outside world became a stranger to us, my friends and I would try to spend as many evenings together as we could. We devised an unwritten rota of whose house we would visit on which evenings, always taking with us our respective collections of football or super-hero cards which we had lovingly retrieved from the packets of bubble-gum that had become our sweet of choice. 

Sometimes, when the summer evenings were long and hot, we would walk the long way back from our school, across the main road and along the lane which ran above our estate. At the top of the hill fields, overgrown with trees, bushes and unnaturally long grass, stretched out into the distance and it felt, here at least, as if we really were in the countryside. Between two of these fields a second even smaller lane twisted and turned, partially hidden by the undergrowth, and it was down this lane that we would walk on those long, lazy late summer afternoons. We knew, despite its tendency to disappear and reappear from view, that this lane would lead us back to the park where we could re-join the lane which would lead us back to our houses. It was a journey, however, that we never made on cold, dark, wintery days. 

About halfway along the lane, and set well back from it, stood a large, grey and imposing house. Its door was made from thick, dark wood, which reminded me of the timbers used to make the hulls of ancient ships, and the windows, dirtied by age, were criss-crossed by a leaden lattice. The house was surrounded by huge trees which, even on a clear summer day, cast eerie shadows across it. The only entrance, the only way past these menacing guards, lay through a pair of forbidding gates, whose wooden panels had begun to rot through lack of care and the passing of time, and which were always kept padlocked. We had never seen anyone near the house or at any of the windows, although, given the heavy coating of dirt that they bore, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make out a face even if one had appeared. At night, however, we had all heard the howl of dogs as it came floating over our houses from the hill above. 

My friend, Brian, who, even in those days, had begun to develop a fascination for chemistry, and was always experimenting with the set that he had had for his birthday, believed that the house was owned by a mad scientist. When we talked together we would imagine a dark and dingy cellar containing Frankenstein’s monster, or the mad scientist himself concocting a potion which would change its drinker into a werewolf or worse. Our friend David thought that the house was haunted and that the howling dogs were actually ghosts. He believed that their wailing was for their now dead master who roamed the house and nearby fields at night unable to rest. 

I didn’t know what to believe. My family thought that it was all superstitious nonsense, but I was sure that there was something that was not quite right about the house. I desperately wanted to investigate, to satisfy my curiosity, but deep down I felt too scared to even think about doing anything. 

A Farewell

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A very short story today taken from the collection of poetry, prose and lyrics: ‘Another Tease’ available via the links below.

Hope you enjoy this.

I thought of you then, on the day that I left, knowing, despite the words, that we would never meet again. I thought of you as I sat in the darkness, as the Sun dipped like a dying friend beyond the horizon for what might as well have been the last time. I knew that I, like the errant Sun, would rise again, but that neither of us would ever be quite the same: the Sun would burn fractionally less brightly, its gaseous source ever so slightly diminished, and I, with less reason to rise than before, would begin to become a shadow of myself. I thought of you and the words that we had shared wondering if you had ever truly understood my meaning. Had you thought of me as a friend or merely an acquaintance, and had I ever truly understood what lay behind your eyes? I thought of how close I felt that we had become, our shoulders brushing against one another as we shared a joke, our laughter spreading its roots between us connecting us forever, or so I had imagined. But did you leave me behind along with all the other artefacts of work when you closed the door behind you and returned to your home?

I thought of you and wondered whether I had been too obscure, too subtle in my words and looks, for you to see me. And what exactly had I felt? Was this a connection that I felt that I had needed or something that had burst upon me unexpectedly and had opened a new door which whispered quietly for me to go through? Perhaps the moment had come for me, after a life of living at a comfortable distance from the edge, to finally take a chance, a risk. But, of course, caution is a powerful bedfellow, and, by the time I had recognised the chance, if had closed its eye for ever.

I thought of you then and wondered if you had ever lain alone in the dark beneath the Summer’s heat: I wondered if, like me, you had lost yourself to imagination; and I wondered if you had ever found yourself with your hand between your legs, wishing its fingers were mine.

Another Tease – poetry, prose and lyrics

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BOOK DEPOSITORY 

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ALBRIS

What Use Are My Words?

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This one is a few years old, but sadly as relevant as ever, I feel.

Anyway, it felt like it needed to be out once more, so here goes:

What use are my words
If the shells still fall
From black-heart open skies
And bombs still separate limb
From torso
On a whim?
If lover’s nights are torn asunder
Each phrase of love declared
And punctuated by the rifle’s kiss
As bullets fly through skies
To deafen out the
Infant’s cries?
If families fractured fall apart
Their bodies as their homes
And stuffed in ragged bags
They walk on paths anew
Hopes and lives askew?

What use are my words
If every judgement still
Depends on colour, race or creed
And not on who we are
Those who act so blind
Injustice our own kind?
If passion is fuelled by hatred
And shouted from the stands
Evolution’s backward stare
Feet that stomp and pound
Like we never left the ground?
If all that we can show
Is intolerance and hate
To mask the failings in ourselves
To stick within our clan
And say this is the Plan?

What use are my words
If all that we believe
Serves not to heal but pull apart -
Words lost behind the rhetoric -
And sets us off to goad
The wrong way down the road?
If our deities stand toe to toe
As we become the baying throng
Applauding every blow
Forgetting that it's all a game
And they are all the same?
If faith is lost behind the mask
And we think ourselves the show
Where Glory resides in riches
And ceremony makes us tall
Hidden safe behind our wall?

What use are my words
If those who shout the loudest -
The basest of our kind -
Earn mandate over all of us
To wield the sharpened sword
And cut the final cord?
If none of us is equal
And power comes through privilege
Whilst on green fields they scheme
To hold on to the wealth
Through division and through stealth?
If birth outweighs our merits
When change is just a word
And nothing brings a greater good
As islands we shall ever stay
To never see a brighter day?

What use are my words?