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Thursday, 15 March 2012

The White Cuckoo

I have been reading my own book, 'The White Cuckoo' over the past couple of days. I haven't touched it for months.

Is it really narcissistic to say I love my own book? I really, really love it. I cried twice at the end just now. It feels like I have just given birth. It is a much different feeling to when I finished the first draft in May 2009. This is what I wrote at 5.55 am on Sunday, 3rd May 2009 (The Written Novel) Since then it has been lovingly redrafted five times and it is now a 6th draft. I can now close my eyes and 'imagine' its cover. In the foreground it is the colour of grass following a rain shower, verdant green, studded with tiny daisies. In the top left hand corner, the white cuckoo is almost hidden in the branches of a misty tree, bursting with pink blossom, watching Harry and Jessie as they walk away from the reader towards a five bar gate, barely discernible in the mist of early morning.

I can be all sentimental this morning. I will allow myself that luxury just for a few days, but I know that just like a newborn baby it will need to be nurtured and lovingly raised until it is a fresh faced toddler, ready to face the world and take its first wobbly steps on its own two feet.

The White Cuckoo was written in just the way every novel should be written. To anyone reading this who is facing writers' block or who can't make progress with their novel, for goodness sake don't worry about anything. Write cliches, adverbs and do everything wrong. Don't stress at this stage. Just get it down and enjoy the writing. It took me a month to write the first draft. All that is wrong can be easily mended afterwards.

There are lots of really special people who have believed in the Cuckoo. My wannabe friends, the two RNA readers, my friend Andy - who loved it despite being a bloke and my daughter, who still hasn't read it all the way through because she was beginning to get all emotional about it.

I do love being a writer and hopefully I can post some exciting news about 'The White Cuckoo' very soon on a brand new blog. This will be my last post on this blog, but I hope some of my old friends will join me, along with some new ones I have made along the way.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

"Being Sophie"

Three birthday candles on a cake made by mum.

A birthday filled with laughter and fun.

But who do I see, peeping round the door?

Princess Zelda – "Oh no, she's not FOUR!"

The trouble is, Zelda has got it wrong;

This grown-up girl is too tall and strong!

"Princess Zelda – Go away!

You were supposed to come on Sophie's FOURTH birthday."

Ah, that's better, but now Peter Rabbit is here,

Hopping around drinking Grandad's beer.

"Oh no, Peter, you had better go quick

Or Grandad will shout at Uncle Nick!"

Now, who is that I can see with the pretty hair?

It's Cinderella, with the Prince – the soppy pair!

He's a naughty Prince to be so fruity

As to kiss Cinderella after waking the Sleeping Beauty!

Is ANYONE coming to see Sophie Rose?

With lots of presents and pretty new clothes?

It's all going horribly wrong

At this rate, all she will get is a birthday song

"Hello, Miss Hoolie, have you a story?

What? There's a problem in Balamory?

Oh no! So sorry you will have to rush

Back to Spencer, and his lost paintbrush."

"Oh hi! Come on in, Miss Peppa Pig.

How nice to see you and George, all round and big.

No! Don't be so greedy and eat all the cake,

And give yourselves a stomach ache."

Look, Sophie, who is this looking very pretty?


Bringing love and happiness now you are THREE

From the Ireson-Vaughan-Smiths – your family!

© Annie Ireson

11th March 2012

Thursday, 8 March 2012

New Beginnings

This is the first post on The Write Eye for a long time. Today I feel I can finally call myself an author, because one of my short stories 'A squared plus B squared equals C squared' is going to be published in a charity anthology called Telling Tales. I feel privileged to be part of something so worthwhile. The book is being published by a brand new publishing company, Moonworks Publishing, and will soon be available as an ebook. Make sure you buy a copy because all proceeds will be going to the Norfolk Hospice.

Writers for Welfare, the group of writers responsible for 'Telling Tales' are all fabulous people. I am sure you will be hearing more of us in the future, because there is already talk of another anthology, as there has been lots of interest already.

Here is another of my short stories which was also published in an anthology four years ago. I hope you enjoy it. The formatting is a bit dodgy, but I'll play around with it later when I have more time.


Ty considered himself to be an incredibly patient man – as long as he got his own way in the end.

His elaborate plan for the seduction of Eloise began when he came across an advert in "Alternative Experiences", a magazine he had picked up in the dentist's waiting room.

"If you long for an amazing relationship then it’s down to YOU! Learn how to radiate brilliance, talent and irresistible sex appeal. Let Aamori show you how to release your inhibitions and titivate, tantalise and tempt through her unique course, Hypnolove.

Anything is possible, including long-term loving and a satisfying intimate relationship. You’ll be irresistible after Aamori has finished with you! Can you afford not to sign up for Hypnolove?

Finding himself alone in the waiting room, Ty wasted no time in tearing out the page, before furtively stuffing it into the pocket of his raincoat.

Sitting in the dentist's chair, he formulated a plan. Eloise was tall, willowy and had the sculpted, perfect looks of a supermodel. She was everything he had ever wanted and more. Even better, she lived in the flat next door, so he wouldn't have to spend much of his hard-earned cash wooing her. Fish and chips and a couple of cans of lager should do it, he’d thought. But that was before he’d read Aamori’s Hypnolove.

A week later, the course arrived, encased within a smart, glossy, bright red wallet embossed with a silvery Hypnolove logo. It had been expensive, but Ty reckoned Eloise was worth it. He might even get half his money back, he thought, if he flogged it down the pub, once his mission had been accomplished.

Sweeping takeaway cartons, beer cans and empty cigarette packets to one side on his coffee table, he spread the contents of the glossy folder out on the sticky surface.

Soon, a fog of cigarette smoke mingled with a stale smell of chips in Ty’s flat. He felt a sudden tingle of excitement in his lower regions when he thought of Eloise, probably languishing in an exotic bath full of bubbles only about twenty feet away from him through the dividing wall.

There was a section on personal hygiene and grooming. Ty sniffed his armpit, wrinkled his nose and discarded it. He’d look at that chapter a bit nearer the time, he reckoned.


The following weekend, Ty was keen to try out some of the techniques he had learned in the Hypnolove course. Pulling on an almost-clean pair of jeans and crumpled tee-shirt from his bedroom floor, he glanced in the mirror before he left the flat. He could do with a shave and a haircut, but he wanted to get to the coffee shop in the town centre before it became too crowded.

The café was bustling with people when Ty walked in, his hands casually stuffed into his pockets. He scanned the room for a likely candidate.

Paulette glanced up from her newspaper momentarily as she spotted a scruffy man walking towards her with a mug of cappuccino in one hand and slab of carrot cake in the other. She hoped he wasn’t going to ask if she minded him sitting at her table. Averting her eyes, she held up the newspaper, turned away slightly and crossed her legs.

“Excuse me. Would you mind if I sat here?”

Paulette shrugged as if unconcerned. “Feel free.”

Pretending to be engrossed in an advertisement for a cure for bunions, she looked warily at the man out of the corner of her eye.

“It’s a lovely day,” Ty smiled directly at her. “Mild for the time of year, don’t you think?”

Paulette mumbled a polite acknowledgement, making an exaggerated gesture of pretending to push her glasses further up her nose before returning her attention to the advertisement.

Ty sat down and crossed his legs, mirroring Paulette. She picked up her coffee and took a sip. Ty did the same, a forced, contrived smile painted on his face.

Paulette began to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. She put her cup down and fidgeted. Ty did the same.

After a minute or so, Paulette uncrossed her legs. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed that Ty had uncrossed his legs too.

Paulette looked around her. The coffee shop was becoming busier, with milling shoppers, piles of carrier bags beside chairs and children’s buggies blocking her way to the door. She picked up her sandwich, and took a bite. Feeling annoyed at the intrusion into her personal space, she just wanted to leave the cafe and be on her way.

Ty picked up his carrot cake and took a bite. He grinned at her again with his mouth full. Paulette put her sandwich down. It was no good … she’d just have to leave it. She pushed the plate away slightly.

To her amazement, Ty put his cake down and pushed his plate away too. Feeling a growing heat beneath her collar, Paulette scratched her neck. Ty scratched his neck too.

Paulette snapped.

“What the hell are you playing at!”

She always relished her few minutes of solitude with the morning paper before facing the crowds on a Saturday mornings, and now this stupid man had ruined it.

“Every time I move – you move. Are you some sort of idiot? I don’t know what game you’re playing, but if I were you I’d stop it right now!”

Ty flushed a deep red, jumped up and fled from the coffee shop, leaving his cappuccino and carrot cake on the table and an irate, but bemused middle-aged woman wondering what on earth was going on.


Back in the sanctuary of his flat, Ty picked up the glossy red folder and pulled out the section on “mirroring”. He frowned, concentrating on the instructions. He was sure he’d followed them to the letter. It was then he spotted the postscript.

“Be absolutely sure to allow at least forty-five seconds before you mirror someone’s actions. If not, it will have the opposite effect and you will make a fool of yourself.”

Ty put his head in his hands. He was such an idiot. How on earth was he going to attract a woman if he couldn’t even read the instructions properly.

That afternoon Eloise went out. Ty watched her walk, swaying rhythmically down the street, as her high heels clicked on the pavement. He felt depressed and a failure… and it wasn’t Aamori’s fault either.

He looked around his grubby, untidy and …quite frankly … disgusting, home. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Unshaven and unkempt he saw himself through new eyes. Attention to detail, he thought. I must pay more attention to detail.

Over the weeks that followed he went for a haircut; bought new clothes; tidied and redecorated his flat; stopped smoking; lost weight; learned how to discover his inner self and light his inner fire and, above all, he acquired manners for the first time in his life.

Cultivating a polite friendship with the mysterious Eloise, he'd even invited her into his tidy, newly decorated flat for coffee. She'd declined, saying that sadly she was stacked out with work at the moment.

"Perhaps another time, Ty," she had said, but he could see that there was a genuine regret, and she had narrowed her eyes slightly with a brief alluring smile.

Quite by chance, he discovered Eloise’s birthday. A junk mail envelope had been delivered to his flat by mistake, and he’d opened it without realising. It was a voucher for free chocolates.

“Happy birthday from Shop and Save. Please accept this gift with our compliments for your birthday on 24th October.”

The next time he saw Eloise in the lobby he apologised, explaining that he’d opened mail addressed to her by mistake, and that he’d pop it in her letterbox later. He didn’t notice the sexy look she gave him, hand on the banister and one slender leg on the first step of the stairs, because he was busy helping a mother with two children, a buggy and several heavy shopping bags into the lift.

Ty’s new image, his immaculate flat and improved confidence had begun to have an effect on everyone around him. At work, it hadn’t gone unnoticed that, at last, he appeared to be shaping up and people began to talk to him more as he earned trust and respect from his supervisor and colleagues. At home, he’d become an active member of the residents’ association and had made friends with many of the tenants in the block. In fact, these days, Ty had quite a social life - he always seemed to be out and about somewhere and, quite frankly, practising the exercises in the Hypnolove course was becoming a bit of a bind. He felt as if he was revising for an exam.

Twenty-fourth of October was, thankfully, a Saturday which gave him plenty of time to get ready. Ty waited impatiently for the delivery of twenty-four deep ruby-red roses that he had ordered to be delivered to his flat.

That evening, Ty stood outside Eloise's front door with the bouquet. A waft of aftershave filled the hallway as he smoothed down his new jacket. His hair was combed and gelled to perfection and his head was filled with Aamori's techniques for the perfect seduction. He felt a tingle of excitement and shivered slightly as he knocked on the door. It was time. He knew he was more than ready for the grand finale.

After a few seconds Eloise appeared.

"Well, hello Ty," she said in a husky, sexy voice. "What a lovely surprise."

He thrust the roses into her hand, but the words “Happy Birthday, Eloise - you look amazing” faded away when, distracted, he spotted hundreds of red glossy folders stacked high in the passageway to her flat, every one of them embossed with the silver Hypnolove logo.


Ty did spend part of the evening with Eloise, but he didn’t carry out his elaborate plan. Somehow, the folders stacked in the passage had dampened his fire, but sharpened his inner self.

After a cup of coffee and half an hour of polite conversation, Ty made an excuse and left, leaving a disappointed Eloise and a bunch of wilting roses.


Six months later, Ty left his flat. He felt sad to be going, because he had made so many friends, but he was leaving for a good reason: he had bought a house with his girlfriend, Claire.

Ty and Claire shut the door to Ty’s flat for the last time. They walked down the stairs together, hand in hand, love sparkling around them in a haze of happiness. When they reached the outer door, the curtains to one of the first floor flats moved slightly.

Eloise watched, rivulets of mascara running down her face with the tears of unrequited love, as Ty disposed of a final bag of rubbish in the communal refuse bin, a corner of a glossy red folder just visible as he walked away and out of her life.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Dear Blog

Firstly, I must apologise for my neglect. It's been four months since I paid you any attention. (A bit like the houseplants on my kitchen windowsill.) You are pale, naked and devoid of colour, but never mind, like a trusty friend I knew you were always there, waiting to help me back on my feet again.

Having teased the loose threads around the edges of Twitter for the past couple of weeks, it has sort of made me realise that instead of lurking in the relative comfort of my private, and mostly secret, laptop files, I should really be trying to coax back my writing confidence by getting some words out into the www. I am sorry for using you in this way. Perhaps in a couple of weeks you might get some really interesting posts to drape around your neck or hang off your earlobes.

So, I have finally subbed a short story to a women's magazine. It's called 'AC will if PE will' and it's new, written over the course of two night time sessions and buffed and polished during a third. I'll let you know when it gets rejected. Actually, writing the story put some warmth into my frozen writing bones and has given me ideas for another. It might never see the light of day (like the 300+ other short pieces of writing in my files) but hey ho - why not give it a chance, eh?

I've also sent out the Cuckoo to three, very nice-sounding agents, having waited a bit too long for one agent to get back to me. It is still cross-genre, though, so probably a bit out of the comfort zone for potential publishers. I keep reading the two lovely RNA reports, which reinforce my belief in the structure of the novel. If the RNA readers both liked it then there is at least a small chance someone else will. I want to be different. This means I probably won't get published because 'different' seems to be a bit dodgy.

Sunlight and the other two books in the trilogy have been shelved for the time being, whilst I concentrate on Novel No. 5.

So there you have it, dear blog. I'll be in touch again soon. Take care.

Love from Annie

Monday, 5 April 2010

The Closed Door of Opportunity

There's little doubt that education is going to be a big issue in the forthcoming General Election, and I don't doubt that everyone's aspirations for our country's children's and grandchildren's future are in complete accord. As for teachers' workloads, I have seen with my own eyes the heart-wrenching struggles of a dedicated teacher who is also a parent, and witnessed the stress teachers are under to perform when the performance is based on the unpredictability of childrens' progress.

Any parent of grown-up children will tell you: they are all different and reach the recognised milestones at different times in their lives. One child will walk unaided at 10 months; another not until 18 months. One child will chatter away at 15 months and another will not utter a single word until they are nearly two. This developmental unpredictability continues well into the teens and even beyond. What about the pensioners who go back to college and study for degrees? And the 50 year old who finally decides she is going into teaching?

My heart sank when I read in the news yesterday that children may be assessed at fourteen and forced to make choices as to whether they want to go down the 'technical' route or the 'academic' route. I think its a brilliant idea to prepare young people for a career other than one which is the product of a university education and the inevitable burden of a huge debt to pay for it, but it shouldn't be at the expense of those young people who find, in their late teens, they have made a mistake.

My own door of opportunity was closed and locked when I was eleven. Fortunately, I was handed the key to open it when I was accepted into a 'technical college' at 15, where I got those all-important 'O'levels and some other qualifications which helped me get a foothold in an (eventually) well-paid and rewarding career. But I was lucky - lots of my classmates at the secondary modern school I attended weren't so fortunate and, despite being perfectly capable of much higher levels of achievement, were railroaded into factory and shop jobs where their doors of opportunity were not only locked, but bricked over.

I would urge anyone who eventually holds the key to children's future not to create another generation of 'failures'. As a grandparent I want the very best for my grandchildren's future - whether it be 'technical' or 'academic', but above all I want them to be happy in whichever route they eventually choose for themselves.

I just hope the politicians listen to all the parents and grandparents, who really do understand the unpredictability of a child's educational progress.

Writing Progress

I'm still waiting for a response from JM about 'Sunlight'. I have just finished a radical rewrite of the second book in the trilogy (Melody of Raindrops) and now I'm going to have some fun with 'Horns of Angels' and just write, write, write and worry about plots, structures and the rules of writing another day. I'll go back to 'Melody' in a few weeks and give it an edit, but for now I'm going to enjoy myself and write whatever I like!

Friday, 29 January 2010

The Dysfunctional Synapses of a Writer

I'm just coming to the end of a very busy January - both work-wise and at home. I haven't managed much writing because I've been too tired to get up at 4.00 am most days.

Last weekend was manic. It was all my own fault: I should never have booked to take my grandchildren to see Aladdin on the same weekend I had to work on a Sunday on the Holocaust Memorial Day service put on by the Council. It was all a bit too much for a fifty-something body in a thirty-something mind.

In the early hours of Sunday morning I had a dream and it went like this:

I open my eyes and they fall on my mum's old nursing chair which occupies prime position in my bedroom in the corner of the bay window. She's sitting in the chair with my crazy Jack Russell, Sam, on her lap.

'Sam!' I yell as I jump out of bed, what are you doing here. You are supposed to be dead.'

Sam jumps into my arms, licking me all over my face, squirming and squeaking with excitement. I can feel his stumpy little tail wagging on my forearm.

'My mum stands up. 'That's just typical of you, Anne,' she says. 'I haven't seen you for three years and all you can do is make a fuss of the dog!'

I put my arm around my little, dumpy mum and give her a hug. 'Rob,' I shout. 'Wake up. Sam's come to see us with Mum'

'That's not Rob,' says my mum. 'This is not your house.'

'Yes it is,' I begin to argue, but mum interrupts me shaking her head in frustration.

'It's no good me trying to explain,' she says. 'You never listen to a word I say. You never did.'

I know Mum's not annoyed with me really because she is smiling and biting her lip, trying not to laugh at me struggling to keep hold of the canine contortionist in my arms. I see her eyes glint with tears of happiness and want to tell her how much I've missed her, but don't.

I suddenly get very frightened and sweep back the vertical blinds to look out of the window. There's a grey car slewed across our driveway. Two young women are standing in the road, arguing loudly. The car engine is running, punctuating the usual quietness of our little road with the heavy breathing of a diesel engine. A man jumps out, leaving the door open. He grabs one of the girls and shoves her in the car. Her shoe falls off and he picks it up and throws it at her. There is a second or two of teenage hysteria inside the car, before the man slams it shut and it roars off at great speed into the night.

I wake up. In bed. I turn over and go back to sleep.

On Sunday morning I woke up. I asked Rob if he heard Technoson come in and he said he had. About 2.30 am, apparently. (He also said we had a visitor - Technoson had brought a friend home.)

I told Rob straight away about my dream and he said I'd been eating too much cheese. We had a little conversation about Jack Russells and almost had an argument because I want another 'Sam', but unfortunately Sam had only one master - me - and was possessive to the point of obsession and pleased himself for the vast majority of his long, yappy-happy life.

And that, folks, was that. Until last night when, in one of our rare conversational moments this week, caused entirely by Kettering Borough Council completely devouring every second of my life apart from when I've been in bed, asleep, Rob and I caught up with each other. This is what really happened on Saturday night/Sunday morning.

A new family moved into a house at the end of our road about six months ago. They have a fifteen-year old daughter. Mummy and Daddy decided that their little cherub was old enough to be left while they had a much needed weekend break. At about 2.00 am a worried J, who lives next door and had crept into the back garden in his jim-jams to investigate the wild party that appeared to be going on, decided that there was no other option but to ring his neighbours on their mobile phone. I don't think I need to explain what happened next. Around 60 15/16 year olds were unceremoniously chucked out when a furious G and his wife arrived home, their special weekend (and their newly decorated house) completely ruined.

Apparently, livid parents were all over Barton Seagrave collecting their variously scattered offspring - and yes, according to Technoson there really was a grey car parked across our driveway, and yes, a grumpy father really did chuck his daughter into his car ......

It's actually quite worrying that your brain can get quite so mixed up.

Ooo -errrrr ......

Anyway - I really should get to work. Two more days of craziness and then I can, perhaps, take a day off.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Silver Linings and Frayed Edges

I always try to look for silver linings, both in people and in situations. Even the grumpiest, lugubrious of people must have something that tickles their fancy - or perhaps not!

For the last two years I've concentrated on my novels - I've still written the odd short story, but not subbed anything anywhere, apart from 'The Yellow Balloon' (which was accepted by My Weekly 18 months but not yet published), 'Hypnolove' which was published in an anthology, and a couple of other random short stories which were rejected.

I have decisions to make about my writing - two different agents have now said that I am a better saga writer than a writer of the contemporary stuff. Two unconnected professional people - two identical conclusions. The thing is, I loved writing The White Cuckoo. It was written straight from my heart. It is special and precious and it feels like I want to protect it, like a mother would a child.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed writing the sagas, too, but I was helped by a walking encyclopedia of memories of the 20s and 30s and didn't have to do much research other than sit and talk to my Great Aunt, who sadly is no longer with us.

The White Cuckoo is a contemporary women's fiction, with the back story set in 1910. My gut feeling is that it works as it is (and both the first and second RNA readers seemed to have the same view, so I can't be completely out of step, can I?) One of my local readers said she felt like writing to the agents I had approached to tell them how much she loved the story and that it was refreshing to have a main character she could actually identify herself with and root for, instead of reading about criminals, misery and doom and gloom all the time. Now two agents, completely unconnected, have suggested I write the 1910 story as a family saga. The whole point of the Cuckoo is the subtle strands of connectivity between two women - one who lived in 1910 and the other who is trying to sort out the tangled mess in her life in the here and now. If I could liken the novel to a diagram, it would be like the geometry of a sphere-shaped object, with everything connected and the formulae all adding up, but with tangents and parallels going off in all directions, sometimes hidden from view, but there all the same for the reader to discover.

If I re-write the 1910 part of the story as a complete novel, I feel I will be stealing the soul from The White Cuckoo and selling it to the devil.

One agent said that people don't want to read about your average 27 year old woman who drinks lattes, has a well-paid job and sports car and who travels half way across the country to find her estranged sister and then falls in love with a Civil Engineer. Why? I'm so confused.

There must be thousands of young women who have good jobs, a sports car and fancy the pants off a Civil Engineer. Not everyone is destitute, hard-up and living in a squat and being gang-raped by psychopathic handgun-wielding, granny-mugging thugs.

JM, the agent who has been trying to sell the trilogy of sagas, has suggested that I re-write my first novel 'Sunlight on Broken Glass' to make it grittier - to make the heroine really suffer, but to tone down Tom (see previous post) because publishers she approached felt his behaviour is a bit near the knuckle. I think I would rather do this than rip the heart out of the Cuckoo.

Is it really such a mortal sin for a new writer to write a book that is cross-genre - like The White Cuckoo. Apparently you can get away with it when you have a few published novels under your belt, but a new writer? No, no no!

Anyway, despite being a little frayed around the edges, I have decided to tinker around with 'Sunlight' and let the 'Cuckoo' rest for a while. I just can't bring myself to dismantle this work of art that, I, alone, have created - it was for me and it is precious to me. I'm not going to let it go. I don't have to, do I?

In the meantime, I'll fray myself around the edges a little more by sticking my toe into the muddy water of short story submissions, and I might tinker around with the NaNo novel and see if I can turn it into a pocket novel (using the very successful, Sally Q's helpful guidelines on her blog).

Right - when I get my first short story rejection, can someone please remind me that it's just a hobby, it's supposed to be enjoyment and that all writers have to deal with rejections.

Perhaps my frayed edges will have a silver lining, after all? Who knows.

Anyway, a Happy and successful 2010 to anyone reading this post by a very frayed and frazzled Annie.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Blog Takeover Day


Annie has tried her best to tell my story, but we have to face facts. She's been trying to get a novel published for nearly two years now and ... between you and me and the computer mouse ... she need to try a darned sight harder and stop messing around. I know publishers don't like me because I'm such a nasty piece of work, but there is a reason. I have a secret - a skeleton in my closet - and I'd like to share it with you.

Hey …. don’t go away!. Please stay and listen to what I have to say. I know it doesn’t sound too good, so far, but there is a reason I am such such a horrible character. It isn't all my fault, you know!


When I was sixteen, I wasn't a bad lad. Believe me, I behaved myself and had ambitions. I respected my elderly aunt and uncle because I was grateful to them for giving me a new start in life when they rescued me from my sadistic, cruel mother and took me in. So, I suppose you are wondering where it all went wrong? This is where you hear my true story because I swear that I've never told a living soul about the dreadful thing that happened to me.

The year before I moved in with my aunt and uncle, a new family had arrived in the village and rented the cottage next door to them. Young Jack was my age and we became really good friends.

His mother, Mary, always made me welcome in their home. It was a lovely, wafty-walled thatched cottage with nice furniture and always very clean and tidy. She told me that she admired how I had tried to better myself and complimented me on my neat clothes and highly polished boots. Mary was well respected in the village and a regular churchgoer. She was also a very beautiful woman and turned heads wherever she went.

After a while I started to go to church and join in all the activities. I liked being around Mary because she was always so interested in me - I wasn’t just the lad who lived next door. Young Jack and I joined the village cricket team and life was good. I was having the time of my life after my miserable childhood.

Mary had married her husband, Old Jack, when she was very young and, although their marriage seemed strong, she often used to confide in me that she felt her best years had slipped away without her noticing. I was really wet behind the ears when I was sixteen!

Don't ask me to define the moment I fell in love. I always had a big crush on Mary, but I never let it show. I think most young lads about that age tend to get all fanciful about an older woman, don't they?

Anyway, it all started in a field on a warm late-August Sunday afternoon. I was collecting blackberries for my aunt to make a pie, when I heard a voice call out to me. I looked around and Mary was hurrying across the field, a radiant smile splitting her pretty face. She was carrying a nearly full basket of blackberries.

‘Here,’ she said to me, ‘let me put my basket down and I'll give you a hand to fill yours.’ We walked along the hedgerow, chatting away, plucking the ripe juicy fruit from the brambles.

I couldn’t take my eyes off her loose golden hair, which blew in wisps around her face and hung in waves over her narrow shoulders. She could have easily been mistaken for a woman half her age. I caught a faint scent of perfume - or was it fresh laundry - as she leaned in front of me and the blue and white cotton of her dress stretched enticingly over her full breasts.

After a few minutes of picking the ripe, juicy fruit together, I saw some particularly large berries that were right inside the hedge, just out of reach. I leaned into the brambles to pick them. As edged my way into the hedgerow, my foot went down a rabbit hole and I lurched and fell right into the deadly thorns. A hot rasping pain gouged the skin on the back of my hand and I cried out as I scrambled up. The bramble must have slashed through one of the veins on the back of my hand because there was blood everywhere.

Mary and I sat down on the grass; she whipped a handkerchief out of the pocket of her dress, shook it and wound it round my hand, pressing down on the cut with my hand sandwiched between hers. As the bleeding subsided I glanced up at her and was startled to see that she was looking straight into my eyes. A deep desire played around the edges of her seductive smile as we stared at each other. I could hardly contain my excitement. My heart pounded. All I could hear was the sound of her breathing and feel the warmth of her hands and thigh, which was touching mine. I was hypnotised, completely mesmerised by the smell of her, the sound of her voice and her hair tumbling over her shoulders when it should have really been pinned up, it being a Sunday. The sight of her breasts and tiny waist made her seem youthful and vibrant, and yet her maturity and experience seemed to gush from her eyes straight into the tops of my thighs and groin.

She stroked my bare forearm with one hand whilst holding my injured hand with the other and I thought I would be sure to explode. She could see how excited I was and kept looking into my eyes as her free hand effortlessly left my arm and caressed the top of my thigh. Her hand worked its way to my crotch.

‘Sorry,’ I said, after I few seconds, feeling as if I needed to apologise.

‘Never mind,’ she said almost in a whisper as her deft hand played with the buttons on my trousers. ‘When we can be somewhere more private, I'll show you what it's all really about!’

I looked all around to see if anyone had seen what had happened. There were people in the field only a few yards away along the hedgerows, and some children played cricket in the meadow on the other side of the hedge. I blushed crimson at the thought someone might have been looking, but a quick glance over my shoulder told me that everyone seemed to be minding their own business.

She stood up and pulled me to my feet. My face was still scarlet with embarrassment. She said, ‘don't be ashamed, Tom, I know how you feel about me.’ Then she let go of my hand, picked up her basket and walked jauntily away across the field back to the village. Her hips swayed rhythmically, and she tossed her head as she flicked hair out of her eyes. She didn’t even look back at me.

After that Sunday, I kept away from Mary for a while. I felt guilty about the whole episode and could hardly look Young Jack in the eye because of the shame at the thought of what I had done with his mother.

One Saturday, about a month later, my aunt and uncle went out with some other relatives. I was at home on my own, polishing my boots and minding my own business, when Mary tapped on the front window like a jackdaw after a sparkly jewel.

I put down the boot I was polishing, stood up and stretched. I felt a rush of fear mixed with excitement as I opened the heavy, oak front door just a little, a waft of delicate perfume filling the hallway through the crack in the door.

‘Could I trouble you to borrow a darning needle,’ she enquired, fanning her flushed face with her hand and shooting me a seductive look under her eyelashes. I opened the door fully, and politely asked her to come in. I made her wait while I turned my back on her to rummage in my aunt's needlework bag. I didn’t look round. I deliberately didn’t encourage her in any way. In any case, my face was red with embarrassment and I didn’t want her to notice.

As I was hunting for a needle in the bag, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle; her eyes seemed to bore into me and my cheeks burned crimson. Just as I was about to turn around, having found what I was looking for, I stopped breathing as I felt her arms encircle my waist from behind. I froze as she unbuttoned my shirt and caressed my bare chest. She laid her head against my back, pressing herself erotically against my buttocks. She was kissing the back of my neck and then licking my ear with the tip of her tongue. It was so difficult for me, a healthy young lad with normal desires and yet knowing that any sort of liaison would be inappropriate to say the very least. I did try to pull away - I honestly did.

I swear to you as God is my witness, I’m telling the truth. But … well … what lad could have resisted? I certainly couldn't. She took me by the hand and led me upstairs. She undressed me with slow, experienced hands, before taking off every item of her own clothing. We lay, naked, on top of the bed.

It was my first time.

After that Saturday, it happened about a dozen more times over the next year. It was always Mary who seduced me. At first I wanted it to stop and I tried to avoid her if I could, as I was so ashamed of myself. I was terrified that people would find out, especially Young Jack, but they never did. No one ever suspected a thing.

As time went on, I fell deeply in love with Mary. Whenever we were alone I told her how I felt about her. She told me she loved me back and was just waiting for the right time to leave her husband and for us to be together properly. I worked like a Trojan; saving every penny I could to be able to afford a nice home for us both and to have the means to support Mary and her two youngest children. I both dreaded, and yet lived for, the few times we could be together, consoling myself that the loneliness I felt when we were apart would be worth it eventually.

Just before I was seventeen, my aunt made a casual announcement at the dinner table one Sunday as we tucked into roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. She said that Mary was pregnant with her fourth child.

I was stunned.

I put down my knife and fork and took a deep breath before swigging half a glass of water. With a primitive instinct in my gut and a guilty heart tinged with pride, I knew that the child growing in her belly was probably mine.

We passed each other in the street a few days later. I didn’t think she was even going to acknowledge me. I caught her arm and asked her outright if the child was mine. She looked at me in the eye and said coldly, ‘of course it's yours, you silly little boy! Old Jack thinks it's his and it's best kept that way. You just keep your mouth shut, or else you'll be sorry!’

As she walked away she looked over her shoulder at me and then stopped. She took a step backwards and gave a condescending, unfeeling sneer. ‘Well I wanted to have another baby before it was too late, and that useless lummox couldn't give me one!’ she said

I was panic-stricken.

I caught her arm. ‘Mary …’ I said, ‘let’s just talk about this ….’

She shook my hand off and left it suspended in mid air.


I was desperate.

She pursed her lips and shook her head, before walking away, her eyes cold and hard, staring straight ahead without even a backward glance.

My life was a living hell after that day; but I couldn't tell anyone. I can't tell you how hurt I was. I was angry with myself, too, because I could see how stupid I had been.

With the benefit of hindsight, I believe Mary only wanted another baby so that she could be the centre of attention. Her seduction of me was well planned and clinical. What was easier than a beautiful woman ensnaring an impressionable sixteen-year-old lad? She abused me and then discarded me like a bag of rubbish.

I was broken - my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.

After he was born, she would walk around the village, pushing my son in an expensive new perambulator, with her hair pinned up in an elegant bun under a demure hat, swishing her full skirts as she swayed her hips, nodding her head, smiling and passing the time of day with everyone she met - especially the men. Her tinkling laughter was so fabricated and contrived, I wondered how I could ever have been so gullible as to be taken in by her. I used to stand and watch, hiding behind a newspaper or bending down pretending to tie my shoelaces in a gateway. Her voice would change when she spoke to a man. Any man. Her head would lower slightly and she would look up at them under her eyelashes; then she would hold their gaze just a second too long. I’d wait for the trill laugh and for her to touch them gently on the arm. They’d walk away with a spring in their step, feeling on top of the world. I knew the feeling all too well and I wanted to run after them and tell them not to be such a bloody fool.

I’d watch as she and Old Jack went to church, pushing my son in front of them in his perambulator. She would march off on Old Jack’s arm, with her two little girls running along in front, looking for the entire world like a devout church-going pillar of the community.

My aunt knew there was something wrong and was worried about me. My mind was in turmoil - all my dreams and aspirations knocked aside, worthless and redundant as the reality of the situation hit me like a runaway horse and left me bleeding and broken.

I had been well and truly used.

To an inexperienced sixteen year old, Mary had been the perfect woman. In the next few months I gradually came to realise that her behaviour had been ten times worse than that of my slovenly, dirty mother. In their own disparate ways they had splintered and fragmented my fragile early years, and it took me a very long time to realise that Mary's actions had not only affected me for my entire life, but had moulded me into the bitter, nasty and unfeeling person I turned into afterwards.

Frank, they called him. I could hear his muffled cries through the wall, physically aching to hold him in my arms and be a proper father to him. I liked his name and it is one I would have chosen myself, had I had the chance. He was a lovely little chap, with bright blue eyes and fine blonde hair.

I can't even begin to describe to you all how much I loved him. It was a hopeless situation. It was like a heavy, constant ache around my heart. I cried lonely, helpless tears, night after lonely night, over the futility of the situation, knowing I could never acknowledge that perfect little boy as my son.

Occasionally, my aunt looked after baby Frank. I felt on top of the world at such times and always willed him to wake up so that I could pick him up and hug him to me, breathing in his delicate baby smell and feeling the warmth of his body, his little heart beating against my chest. I’d gaze into his eyes and make him chuckle with silly noises, and he would reach out to touch my nose or my mouth. My eyes would fill with tears and I’d deliberately let them fall on his face before wiping them away. In some perverse way I wanted him to be baptised by my tears; to somehow know how much his real father loved him and how it was tearing me apart.

I swear I can recall each and every time I held Frank. The memories are so pure, so clear in my mind. It was like finding a patch of warm winter sun on a cold, bleak day whenever I thought of my precious first-born son.

I threw myself into work and cricket and worked myself into exhaustion most days so that I had little time to dwell on things. I stopped going to church, because Mary was always there, and I couldn't even bear to look at her. To help ease the pain, I took just a little whisky to help me sleep through the night without having to hear my son living his life, disconnected from mine, through the few inches of the dividing wall. His cries pierced through my body right into my soul. I felt physical pain with the basic, simple need to be a proper father. Where’s the wrong in that? The tot or two of whisky before I went to bed was the only bit of comfort that helped me through that awful time.

After a year or so I took up with my lovely Liz. We married when I was nearly twenty-two. I wanted to make a fresh start but there were two things I just couldn’t do, try as I might. I couldn’t forget my perfect son and I couldn’t give up the whisky that eased the pain of knowing that he would never know that I was his real father.

I carried the scar of that hot, August Sunday afternoon on the back of my hand for the rest of my life. It was a permanent, constant reminder of Mary Haywood - the woman who had stolen my innocence and damaged my heart beyond repair.

That is why I drink. That is why I am such a horrible man. You see, Frank Hayward died of the consumption at the age of twenty-two without ever knowing how much I loved him. He died without knowing that I, Tom Jeffson, was his father.

I think Annie needs to tell her readers about my secret, don't you?

Monday, 30 November 2009

50k words in a month

I made it. (Novel is nowhere near complete, though). It needs a ruthless edit too.

I loved it. It was hard at times, especially when I was busy with work, but on the whole it was very enjoyable.

Congratulations to everyone else who did NaNoWriMo, whether you made it to 50k words or not. It's the taking part that counts, not the winning.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Rocket Stickers, The Moon and Millbrook School

'Granny,' said Tyler, 'I really did get a rocket sticker and now it's lost.'

His eyes were full to the brim and his bottom lip was quivering. 'Daddy said it was just a dream, but it's not, Granny.'

My son-in-law almost shouted at him 'Look - just get dressed - and stop being such a girl, Tyler. It's not on your sweatshirt. You've either dreamed it, or lost it on the way back from school last night.'

'I didn't,' retaliated Tyler under his breath as he pulled on his grey, school socks. 'It said well done for knowing my numbers.'

It was 8.25 this morning before I finally began to give my eight month-old granddaughter her breakfast. With my daughter and son-in-law flapping around because they were both late for work, Tyler in a strop over the rocket sticker and Sophie doing her level best to spread porridge all over my work clothes I was beginning to panic. We needed to leave the house by 8.45 at the latest or else Tyler would be late.

Today was just a typical weekday morning. It saddens me that, having worked so hard to get their degrees, buy a nice modest semi for their family and give their children a reasonable standard of living, the price they have to pay for their success is heavy childcare costs and a stressful, hectic lifestyle. Despite my son-in-law having a secure professional job, they still can't afford for my daughter to be a full-time mum. I feel so sorry for today's hard-working parents because they have so little choice. They have to take on a hefty mortgage to buy a house and then row their own boat in this upstream world, give up huge amounts of their salaries in taxes and then pay heavily for the privilege of rushing out to work each day - helped by an army of grandparents who had thought their school-run days were over!

On the short walk to school, Tyler said, 'I told my teacher that you went to the moon.'

'No,' I said. 'I haven't been to the moon - only astronauts go to the moon.'

'You did, Granny. You said you watched the men land on the moon when you were a little girl, and your mummy told you off because it was in the middle of the night and you should have been in bed.'

Over a year ago, we all visited the Science Museum in London. It was a throwaway comment about my memory of that night in July 1969 when men first walked on the moon. We had been looking at a replica of the luna module at the time. I couldn't believe he had remembered that far back but had to smile at the way he had taken my comment literally and had actually thought I had visited the moon in the middle of the night in some sort of magical, fairytale rocket trip.

Going back to Millbrook School every day brings back so many memories for me. I had thought I'd feel old and out of place at the school gates, but the truth is there are loads and loads of grandparents there, just like me, saving their adult children childcare costs before they rush off to work themselves.

Something tells me this is not progress. I think we were all better off when women stayed at home, looked after the house and children and perhaps just worked part-time while their men went out to work, mowed the lawns and cleaned the car at weekends.

Controversial view, I know, but I'm thankful that I was, probably, one of the last generation of stay-at-home mums.

What do you think?

PS: We found the rocket sticker!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

RNA Winter Party

Well, first of all let me introduce you all to Emily, my incredibly supportive daughter. Without her moral support I would never have made it to the RNA winter party.

I think I've mentioned before on this blog that all my life I've felt a bit disjointed. Different, quirky, odd - that sort of thing. The compulsion to drop everything I'm doing and sit down and write has been overwhelming, but my family has always thought I was a bit strange. My husband has, in the past, likened me to a secret transvestite because I kept my writing a secret. They kept it a secret. It was something not to be talked about. A skeleton in the Ireson family closet.

Emily absolutely loved the RNA party, so much so that loads of people thought she was a writer, too. Then she said something really lovely about all of us - published or not. She said that it was such a relief to her to know that there were other people in the world like her mum. She said she felt the same quirkiness throughout the crowded room that she had been feeling all her life and she felt really at home amongst us all.

We met up with Jane Wenham-Jones at the party. She gave me my usual injection of confidence - several times actually - and introduced me to lots of influential people as one of her 'Wannabes'. As you can see one glass just wasn't enough for me on this occasion as I had one red wine and one white wine! I also met Cally Taylor, Leigh Forbes and Kate Johnson and was absolutely gutted to find, when I got home and looked on the website, that Liz Fenwick had been there too! It was so crowded I just hadn't come across her in the huge, awesome library and I really would have liked to speak to her. Sorry Liz - I just didn't know you were there!

I met people I had met before in Caerleon and others I had conversed with by e-mail or in blogland. I managed to tell Judy Astley that she had won my little sunbed poll of the most popular books when I was on holiday (a 2-week long tally chart of books being read by people on sunbeds - 1st Judy Astley, 2nd Jill Mansell, 3rd Cecilia Ahern and they all beat Martina Cole into fourth place. Judy was thrilled to bits.)

Sue Moorcroft and her husband were there too. How on earth have we never managed to come across each other before, I ask myself? We live so close to each other we could practically chuck paper aeroplanes into each other's gardens (well - a bit of an exaggeration, but I'm talking 20 minutes walk here.) Our husbands have known each other for years and years. I like Sue. She's such a good role model. There she was, cool as anything, with 'Starting Over' sitting in WH Smith on St Pancras Station at No 4, no less, and her name on the cover and in the pages of 'Loves Me, Loves me Not'. You can't get any more successful than that, can you?

Elizabeth Hawksley was, as ever, so supportive of me as a new writer, as was Katie Fforde and Melanie Hilton. I absolutely loved talking to Cally about 'Heaven Can Wait' and came away feeling so happy for her that she had made it through the confusion and nail-biting agony that is becoming published. I spoke to Judith M about the trilogy, which I am rewriting on her advice at the moment, but am still confused about 'The White Cuckoo'. My gut feeling tells me this book is 'the one' but Judith is not impressed with it because it isn't a saga and she feels I should be concentrating on them. The RNA are helping me to hopefully find an agent to represent the 'Cuckoo' through the New Writers' Scheme and I am greatly indebted to my two RNA readers for all the help and guidance they have given me, along with Melanie Hilton, the NWS Organiser.

When we left, my feet hurt so badly from standing on heels (all 2 inches of them) all night, I really thought I wasn't going to make it to St Pancras. Emily's feet hurt, too, but she didn't moan about it all the way home like I did!

We ate a bag of giant chocolate buttons and another bag of chocolate clusters coming home on the train, and bumped into a Councillor, who looked mightily bemused at the sight of the 'other me'. Annie the eccentric writer of fiction as opposed to Anne, who is a boring, staid local government officer with personality extracted by years of having to write about protocol, constitutions and standing orders.

He e-mailed me yesterday, saying he almost didn't recognise me because I looked so different. 'You looked really happy,' he said. 'Had you been on the razz.'

'Nuff said. Councillor, if you read this blog, now you know!

All in all I would have to say the evening was AMAZING, but I won't because that word is beginning to annoy me intensely. Why does everyone on TV have to keep saying it all the time?

(PS: Debs - it would have been perfect if you had been able to come, too)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

NaNoWriMo Day Three

Dohhh!!!!! I was at a late Council meeting last night (didn't get home until 9.45 pm). I got up at 6.30 am this morning and managed around 500 words, but now it's nearly lunchtime and I'd forgotten it was fat club today, so won't even be able to knock out another couple of hundred at lunchtime.

Then I've got another evening meeting tonight. This is so unfair!!!!!!

(Holds head in hands). Why oh why did I say I'd do it?