I recently ‘made a book’ called SHOOT THE MOON, which is available to purchase here. It’s lighthearted contemporary romance – involving weddings on top of Scottish mountains, doves running amok and a wedding photographer who’s secretly pining after her first love (you know, the ‘what if’ romance we’ve all had).
But it’s also about family relationships – in particular a relationship between a daughter and her mother – and why early attachment is so important. Because it’s in a different genre to my other two novels, I decided to have some fun with it, change my name (again) and, coming this September, I’ll be doing a Tour of the Book – visiting places like the Isle of Skye, Schiehallion and Castle Menzies.
I’m also seeking agent representation for my other two novels, The Happiness of Now and The Fire Tree: both commercial women’s fiction. Here’s a flavour of one of them…
The Fire Tree is a story of love, with motherhood at its core, spanning fifteen years and set in Vietnam, England and India.
Here’s what Ella Berthoud – bibliotherapist at the International School of Life, author of The Art of Mindful Reading and co-author of The Novel Cure – has to say about it:
“I loved this book and was gripped by it from start to finish. The dramatic beginning with car-crash tragedy, leading on to Molly’s ill-fated liaison with a 17-year-old boy, which was all too believable, and then the emotional roller-coaster of her trip to India, falling in love again and realising that she could make a significant difference to two children’s lives, was all deeply affecting. I’ve read it three times now and loved it every time. It’s a book I keep wanting to recommend to people in my role as bibliotherapist, but I can’t do that yet, as it is not yet published!“
And from another reader:
“As you know, I struggle to focus when reading books, but this was like cutting through butter. I found your ability – especially towards the end of the story – to describe how love is and how relationships develop so utterly true… even searingly uncanny as I could relate so much to bits of it.’
Extract from The Fire Tree
She heard the waterfall long before she reached it: spray bouncing in gusts towards her, tall trees swaying above a verdant green. Crammed into a small clearing, Indian tourists posed in the sun for family photos: couples, trios and quartets chattering as they balanced on the rocks in front of the dark grey pool, a haphazard barrier made from ropes and sticks lacing its edges.
To the right of the water was a hand-painted sign. Molly looked at the slip of paper in her trouser pocket, then over at a park guide who was sitting on a wooden box, staring at his feet. When she showed him the paper he pointed to the sign. Looking around, Molly waited until she thought no-one would notice her slip through the gap in the trees.
In the gloom of the forest, the path narrowed, and soon she was having to push back branches, the leaves flicking droplets in her face. Suddenly she jumped back. A snake, no thicker than her thumb, dropped from a branch in front of her, before disappearing in a flash of neon green into the undergrowth. Her heart pounding, she stood, listening to the sounds of the forest, trying to hear evidence of the smaller waterfall that Kat had told her about.
Eventually, after ten more minutes of walking – now alert to every rustle and snap – she heard the sound of tumbling water. As she made her way into the clearing, her hopes for solitude were dashed when she saw an old duffle bag on the edge of a rock next to the cascade. She had to bend to navigate the branches of a tree, and was relieved to see just one man, lying in the sun, water droplets glistening on manuka skin. She stopped, then retreated under the tree’s cover as her eyes moved from the pale bottoms of his feet, up strong, lithe legs towards his fitted grey boxers. Her feet silent in the mulch she stared, intrigued, as the man lay, oblivious to everything, his arms flung wide, his stomach rising then falling onto the outline of his ribs. She could only see his chin – covered with a closely cropped beard, and the tips of what she guessed was longish dark hair. It was as if an artist had directed his positioning.
Molly scratched a bite on her arm then, glancing down, realised it was covered in blood.
Confused, but fearful of making any noise, she held out both arms, then pulled up the ends of her trousers. Her squeal was loud but unavoidable as she realised, horrified, that she was covered in leeches the diameter of pencil lead. The guide book had warned against them, and Kat had loved describing them on the bus – making Molly squirm as she’d reported how they would burrow into your skin and suck on your blood.
Turning – all thoughts of camouflage now forgotten – Molly crashed her way back into the forest, desperate to find a safe spot where she could start to remove them, feeling more and more nauseous by the second. She came to a small clearing and, dropping her bag, looked for something with which she could get them off her; trying to remember exactly what Kat had said. Sitting on a broken tree stump, she pulled up her trouser leg and tried pouring water over one of the leeches. Nothing happened. Except that it twisted and squirmed, its body still lodged in a tiny circle of blood. She gulped, fearing she might actually be sick as she tipped out the contents of her bag, looking for something, anything else.
‘Try this. The best thing to do is to scrape them. Carefully.’
Molly jumped as a hand belonging to the voice pushed a battered silver Barclaycard under her nose. It was a voice full of amusement; and also, very British. She took the card, embarrassed that her hand was shaking, then looked up.
‘Do you want me to have a go?’ The man, now wearing a t-shirt and jeans, crouched down in front of her.
Silently, she nodded.
She nodded again.
‘Always the hardest. It’s okay to be sick. But try not to do it on me.’
As he bent over her leg, Molly fixated on his unruly mop of wet curls and the faded navy blue of his t-shirt, stretched over the broadness of his back.
‘There we go,’ he looked up, the amber flecks in his dark brown eyes catching the light. ‘One done. Why don’t you see how I do the next? You might need to know how to do it one day, if you happen to have your wallet.’
Molly still felt sick, so her laughter surprised her. His beard enhanced the angularity of his jaw; somehow at odds with his impish grin and tousled hair.
She took the card from him, bending over her leg so he couldn’t see her blush. ‘Okay, I think I’ve got used to them now,’ she said. Then she saw the tiny body wriggle, and had to gulp. ‘Or maybe not.’
‘Okay, so slowly scrape at the head, until you feel the suction break.’ Breathing deeply, she scraped, her hand shaking. What did his voice remind her of? She thought hard, wanting to focus on anything but the creature in her leg. Crumpets and Earl Grey tea. The creature squirmed again and she swallowed down her sick. Crumpets being particularly good with Marmite. Toasted. Thick butter. No, that wasn’t helping. God, could she do this?
‘There you go. Well done. Brilliant.’ He put a hand on her knee, his skin tanned deep brown. She could feel his energy.
‘Now grab the body – or dig under it with the card, then chuck it away. Make sure you’ve got the head as well. That’s really important.’
Breathing heavily, she did what he said, then looked up, her face beaming. ‘I did it.’
He smiled, and the corners of his eyes formed deep creases. ‘Great, now let’s get the rest off. If you’re okay with it, I’ll get my penknife and we can do them together.’
There were seven more to remove, and for a while they scraped together in concentrated silence, Molly acutely aware of his breath falling in tandem with hers. A pack of monkeys made her jump when they crashed through the trees and they both laughed. Finally, once she’d checked every visible part of her body, she stood up and, after glancing at it, handed the man back his card.
‘Levi Fernandes.’ He held out his hand.
She blushed, adding to the existing redness in her face no doubt.
‘Molly Boyd. Thank you so much.’
‘My absolute pleasure. It’s what I’ve trained for.’ The courtliness of his manner was underscored by cheerful irony. He gestured to the top of her hiking trousers. ‘You might find you’ve still got a few more attached to you – in parts others cannot reach.’
Molly stepped from one foot to the other, trying not to squirm.
‘Without wanting to distress you further, they’ll drop off when they’ve taken enough blood. Shouldn’t be a problem. Although, we should clean your existing wounds. May I?’
He picked up the water bottle and gently took Molly’s arm. Her skin tingled as he poured water over the bites, dabbing them with a piece of cloth he’d taken from his bag. When he’d finished, there was an awkward silence before they both spoke at once.
‘Well, I should be going bac—’
‘Well, I need to get my boo—’
Molly smiled as Levi gestured towards the waterfall. ‘I’ve left my book back there, so I should probably go back.’
She wanted to ask what he’d been reading.
‘One Hundred Years of Solitude. I think I was being rather too hopeful.’
‘Oh,’ she said, delighted. ‘I love that book. I was once sitting on a train when…’ Hearing voices, they turned and saw a group of young men walking towards them down the path.
Levi raised his eyebrows. ‘And so the solitude ends.’
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude. I—’
He held up his hand as he began retreating back into the forest. ‘Not at all, I was enchanted. Picking leeches off a damsel in distress? Far more entertainment than Mr Garcia could possibly provide. But, I’d better go and retrieve it. It’ll probably be soaked by now.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Really, stop saying you’re sorry. You sound like an idiot.
The men walked past her, staring at her exposed legs and the contents of her bag spread across the ground, before following behind Levi’s retreating figure. As Molly rubbed the bumps on her arms and shoved everything back into her bag, she wondered if the others would believe her. Before deciding that she might not want to tell them.
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