Short Story. The Butterfly Effect

In my Idea Store column in the current issue of Writers’ Forum, I’m talking about The Butterfly Effect, which is (in an over-simplified form) how something that seems small and inconsequential at the time can sometimes have huge and unforeseen consequences.

Here, as promised in the article is my short story, The Butterfly Effect, which I wrote on the same theme.

And if you want to find out what Robert Crouch’s unforeseen consequences were and you can’t get hold of a copy of Writers’ Forum, you can find the answer here on his website.  

Link here.  https://robertcrouch.co.uk/the-blog-that-changed-my-writing-life

The Butterfly Effect

Abbie stood on the bridge, watching a newly hatched butterfly dry its wings in the late spring sunshine. What was it her science teacher had said, all those years ago? How a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia could cause an earthquake in India? 

It hadn’t made sense at the time.  But it did now. What Mr Everett had been trying to say, she reckoned,  was how the smallest, seemingly insignificant action could have gigantic, unforeseen consequences.

She looked down at the mobile phone – the small, insignificant thing – that Matt had left on her kitchen table last night. 

‘What do you think of that, Bryn?’ she’d asked the dog who was never far from her side as she picked it up.  ‘Last night Matt’s telling me he’s got this important meeting which is why he can’t see me today.  Yet I come down this morning and find he’s left this behind , the one piece of kit he says he can’t do without. Just as well for him I’m not working today.  With luck, I’ll catch him before he leaves.’

It was one of the regrets Abbie had about her 18-month relationship with Matt that he and Bryn didn’t get on.  Matt thought Bryn was spoilt rotten, badly behaved and should stay in the utility room.  Bryn thought Matt was spoilt rotten, badly behaved and should stay away from Abbie.

Matt’s car was still outside his house when Abbie pulled up.  She  was about to get out of her car when Matt’s front door opened. She froze as she watched him turn to the leggy blonde by his side and give her a long lingering kiss.  

It was Carly.  Abbie’s so-called best friend. 

Abbie started the car, hoping they hadn’t seen her.  She wasn’t ready to confront them yet and needed to hang on to her control, at least until she’d got her head straight.  She drove back across the moor, where she stopped by North Point bridge, watched the butterfly make its first hesitant flight, then dropped Matt’s phone into the river.

As the weed encrusted water closed over it, she looked out across the flat moorland landscape she’d known and loved all her life and felt a desperate loneliness. Suppose she followed Matt’s phone into that thick green water?  Would anyone miss her? Apart from Bryn, of course.

As she peered down at the river, the butterfly, its maiden flight completed, landed back on the stone bridge beside her and gently flapped its wings. 

………………………..

Greg Marchant cursed as the narrow road took yet another right-angled turn.  He should have stayed on the main road and waited for the accident to be cleared.  What sort of idiot turns off along an unmarked country road in an area he doesn’t know?

The sort who’s running late for a job interview because of an earlier road closure and whose pretty good sense of direction has never let him down – until now.

The willow-fringed road, bounded on both sides by sheer drops into ditches big enough to engulf his car, got narrower the further along it he went, taking him ever deeper into the flat, featureless moorland.  

He was running out of time.  Best stop in a minute and phone to ask if the interview could be rescheduled. Or say sorry but he’d changed his mind.

When he’d applied, he’d had misgivings about burying himself in the countryside – and that was before seeing it for himself.  If you’re going to live in the country, it should at least be scenic, maybe a few rugged hills and wooded valleys.  Not mile after mile of featureless moorland.

He was looking for somewhere to turn around when he saw a small yellow car  parked alongside a stone bridge. A young woman with glorious copper coloured hair stood there, obviously deep in thought.

‘Excuse me,’ he said. ‘Can you help me, please?  I think I’m lost.’

Greg thought she had the saddest – but loveliest – eyes he’d ever seen.  They were the colour of the cluster of violets that peeped up at him from the nearby bank.

‘Where are you heading for?’ she asked.

‘Neston Parva.  I was on the main road but there was an accident ahead and the road was closed, so I thought I’d take a short cut.’

The girl laughed, banishing the sadness, if only for a moment.  

‘I’ll say you’re lost.’ Her voice was as soft as Pan pipes.  ‘Did you turn off just after a pub with a big cedar tree in the garden?’

‘That’s it.  Did you get caught, too?’

She shook her head and Greg was fascinated by the way her hair colour changed from copper to deep auburn as it moved. 

‘The road wouldn’t have been closed by an accident,’ she said, ‘But by George Fairweather’s cows going in for milking.  They’ll be well gone now.  Best you turn round, take the first left, second right, then when you come to the fork by the burnt down barn….’ 

But Greg had lost concentration after the first – or was it the second? – turning.  All he could think of was the tiny dimple that appeared in her cheek when she smiled.

‘Sorry.’  He forced himself to concentrate.  ‘I’m ..not .. quite myself.  A bit nervous.  I’m on my way to a job interview only I’m late and…’

‘An interview in Neston Parva?’  the girl smiled again and this time, to Greg’s delight, revealed dimples on both sides of her face, ‘That’s where I live. I’m on my way there now, so why don’t you follow me?  What time’s your interview?’

‘Nine thirty.  But I don’t think I’ll make it.’

‘Course you will.  I know these lanes like the back of my hand. I’ve lived around here all my life.’

‘You have?’ Greg looked around him at the landscape that ten minutes earlier he’d dismissed as dull and bleak.  ‘Lucky you.  It’s beautiful.’

‘Isn’t it ever? I was just thinking the same myself.  I was going to leave, you know and move into the town but –’ She shrugged and Greg saw her eyes were sad again.  ‘Well, things didn’t work out.  Still,’ she gave him a wobbly smile, ‘This won’t get you to that interview, will it? Come on.’

‘That’s very kind. Thanks.’

‘That’s ok. I hope you get the job.’

As Greg waited for her little yellow car to pull out in front of him, he realised he wanted the job in Neston Parva more than he’d wanted anything for a long time and that the black cloud he’d been living under since his divorce was at last beginning to lift.

And as the two cars drove off, the butterfly flapped its wings and flew away.

………………………………

‘I’m coming,’ Abbie called as she hurried down the hall. ‘No need to knock the door down – Oh.  It’s you.’

Matt stood on her doorstep, his face as dark as the rainstorm that had suddenly turned day into night. 

‘Let me in, Abbie. I’m getting soaked.’

‘Too bad.’  Abbie went to close the door, but Matt put his foot out to stop her. 

‘I just want to talk to you,’ he said, ‘I’ve been trying to do so for the last three weeks.  Where have you been?  Why aren’t you answering your phone?’

‘If it was any of your business, which it’s not,  I’d tell you I’ve been staying with my sister, who’s just had her baby.  As you’d know if you’d ever listened to a word I said.’

‘Of course I do –’

‘And I didn’t answer my phone because I saw it was you calling and, as I’ve already said, I don’t want to speak to you or Carly ever again.’

‘That thing with Carly was nothing, honest.  Open the door, please.’

‘No.  Go away .’

‘I’m coming in,’ he snapped.  ‘And you’re damn well going to listen to me.’

Abbie pushed hard against the door but it was hopeless.  As Matt forced it open, she heard a low growl and before she could stop him, Bryn barrelled his way through the gap and leapt at Matt, catching him by the sleeve. 

There was a tearing noise and a volley of curses from Matt.

‘Look what he’s done.’  Matt was fanatical about his clothes.  ‘This jacket cost over £200 and that stupid, hairy waste of space has ruined it.’

Before Abbie realised his intention, Matt drew his foot back and landed Bryn a savage kick in the ribs.  The dog yelped then bolted for the open gate.

‘Bryn. No.’ Abbie’s scream was lost in a squeal of brakes and another yelp from Bryn, cut horribly short.  She rushed out.  A car was slewed across the road, the driver white and shaken.

‘I didn’t see him,’ he said.  ‘He came out of nowhere and with the road being so wet… I’m sorry.  So very, very sorry.’

Abbie looked down at the dog who’d shared her life these last five years.  He’d always been a harum-scarum dog, full of life and energy.  Now, he lay still in the road, his eyes closed, a small line of blood trickling from the corner of his  mouth.  He’d never chase rabbits, autumn leaves or plastic bags ever again.

‘Oh, baby.  Poor, poor baby.’  Abbie leaned across to gather his lifeless body into her arms . 

‘Don’t.’  The shout from behind shocked her into stillness.  ‘Don’t move him.’

Abbie looked up as a man she vaguely recognised pushed her gently aside and knelt down beside Bryn.

The next couple of hours passed in a haze.  All she could think of was that Bryn, her beloved, stupid, idiotic, disobedient Bryn whom she’d thought was dead, was being operated on for internal injuries and she could only wait –  and pray.

‘Bryn’s in good hands Abbie.’ Janey, the receptionist handed her yet another cup of tea. ‘The new vet’s very good.  Here, drink it this time and try not to worry.’

But Abbie didn’t drink the tea because at that moment, the vet came out.  She jumped anxiously to her feet, trying to read the expression on his face.

‘Bryn? Is he -?’

‘He’s going to be fine.  Stiff and sore for a few days, but he’ll make a full recovery, I promise.  He’s one lucky dog.’

It was only then that Abbie let go the tears she’d been holding in for so long go.  She’d have fallen had the vet not caught her and helped her to a chair.

‘I’m sorry,’ she hiccupped.  ‘B-bursting into tears when I should be thanking you for saving my dog’s life.’  She stopped as she realised why he’d seemed familiar.  ‘It’s you, isn’t it?  The man who got lost on the moor?’

‘It is indeed.  My name’s Greg and, as you can see, I got the job, thanks to you.’

‘I’m so glad you did.  If you hadn’t come along at the very moment Bryn rushed out into the road …’

Greg looked down at his hands.  ‘I wasn’t exactly just passing,’  he said.  ‘I arm-locked poor Janey into telling me where you lived and I’ve been walking up and down that road every day for the last few weeks.  I even managed to find that bridge again where I first saw you.’

‘But why?’ 

‘I wanted to thank you.  If it hadn’t been for you, I’d have turned around and withdrawn my application.’

‘And if you hadn’t got the job and been there when Bryn was knocked down, he’d have died.’

‘A bit like dominoes, then,’ Greg said.  ‘One thing leading to another.’

Or butterflies flapping their wings, Abbie thought as, for the first time she noticed that Greg had nice brown eyes, a warm friendly smile – and no wedding ring.

‘About Bryn,’ Greg said.  ‘It’s best he stays in overnight. You can collect him in the morning.  On one condition.’

‘Yes?’

‘That you promise not to spend this evening worrying about him.’

‘I can’t promise that,’ Abbie laughed.  ‘But I’ll try.’

‘Then how about having dinner with me – to take your mind off it? And give us the chance to say our respective thank yous again.  Janey tells me there’s a very good restaurant in the next village.’

Before she could say yes, he reached across and touched her hair lightly.  ‘Don’t move,’ he said softly.  ‘There’s a butterfly in your hair.  It must have come in here when it rained.’

He opened the window behind her.  Slowly, the butterfly stretched its wings, circled around their heads and then flew out through the open window.

The end                

Short Story. King of the Divvy Up

Over the years I have written many short stories that have featured members of my family and I have excused myself for taking such liberties by saying that I never used their real names.  

Or so I thought.

A while back I was looking for something write about in my Idea Store column in issue 246 (August 2022) of Writers’ Forum and began by writing about a story I’d written just for the fun of it which was never intended for publication.  And I was so sure of that, I’d even used  my sister and brothers real names in the story as much of it was based on real events.

Imagine my surprise therefore when I was searching for the story and came across the published version of it!  

So this is by way of an apology to my siblings for using this (mostly) true family story.  And for slightly changing the ending into something I wish had happened.  

Dad would definitely have approved. 

The Divvy Up

by

Paula Williams

We all sat down for the last time at Mum’s battered old dining table.  Me, my sister and my four brothers.  Without even thinking about it, we took our usual places, the same places we’d sat at all through our childhood.

The two youngest (my twin brothers, Chris and Steve) on Mum’s left, the two eldest (my sister, Mary and oldest brother, Dave) on the opposite side to Mum and Dad and the two middle ones (me and my brother, Mike) on Dad’s right.

Like most families these days, we were scattered all over the place as we’d grown up and left home and, because there were so many of us, now that we had children of our own, we didn’t get the chance to get together very often, due to sheer weight of numbers.

But we’d come together, this one last time, in the house we’d grown up in to celebrate Dad’s birthday.

Mum’s place at the table had been empty for eighteen years.  She’d died way too young at the of 66 and it still hurt that she hadn’t been around to see many of her nineteen grandchildren grow up.  But, over the years we’d sort of got used to her empty chair.

But this year, Dad’s chair was empty.  And that was hard to deal with.  To know, too, that this was the last time we’d sit around this old, familiar table in our usual places.  The contents of the house was to be divided up among us and the house we’d all grown up in sold.

Mary had brought a cake.  Dad’s favourite chocolate sponge cake with butter cream icing, made exactly the way Mum used to make it, right down to the chocolate buttons that garlanded the top. Mary had made Dad the same cake on every birthday since Mum died. It had become yet one more family ritual, strictly observed.

“Don’t forget,” I called out as Mary stood, knife poised over the cake, ready to slice it up. “You cut, I choose.”

It was one of those family rules to ensure scrupulous fairness.  

My sister made a noise that was half laugh, half cry.  That day we’d all done an awful lot of that as we’d gone through the sometimes painful, but sometimes hilarious process of sorting through the family stuff, uncovering long forgotten mementoes of our childhood. Once again the old house echoed with cries of ‘That’s mine’ and ‘No, it isn’t. It’s mine.  You broke yours, remember?’ 

The years rolled away as we descended into our usual family pastime – squabbling over what belonged to whom.

“It’s a good job nobody brought the fruit salad,” Dave said, as we watched Mary dividing the cake into scrupulously equal portions.  We all laughed, relieved that one more potentially tearful moment was safely averted.

Mum used to say one of the good things about being one of a large family was that it taught you to share. Which just goes to show how little she knew.

From my experience of being one of the middle ones in a family of six children,  what you learn most of all is to be eagle-eyed, sharp elbowed – and quick off the mark.  Oh, and being devious wasn’t a bad thing either.

Mum’s relaxed attitude to the concept of ‘equal shares for all’ came from her being an only child.  She had no idea of the importance of complete fairness when it came to sharing things out.  

Dad, however, was the king of the divvy up.  He would share everything out with meticulous, scrupulous fairness, his tongue caught between his teeth as he concentrated on dividing whatever it was into eight absolutely equal portions.  

As he did so, he would be watched with intense interest by six pairs of eyes, only Mum thinking the whole thing was silly and she couldn’t be doing with all that nonsense.  

Which was, I suppose, why she would insist on buying tinned fruit salad for our Sunday treat, served, of course, with evaporated milk.  I have wondered since (for she had a wicked sense of humour)  whether in fact she did it quite deliberately to challenge him, thinking the assortment of tinned peaches, pineapples, pears and cherries would defeat him.

But she’d reckoned without the king of the divvy up.

We would all watch, as focussed as terriers at a rabbit hole, while Dad doled out chunks of  peaches, pineapple and pears into the eight waiting dishes, where there would be a certain amount of trading over the pears, peaches and pineapple.

But nobody wanted to trade the cherries, which were everyone’s favourite.  So Dad would quietly and patiently fish out the cherries and if there were only two in the tin, cut each one into four, one quarter segment for each dish.  But if there were three cherries, again he cut two into four but the third into eight minute pieces, something that stood me in good stead in school maths lessons when I struggled with fractions.

But this last time, Mary was the one wielding the knife.  She cut the cake and, on this one occasion only, we unbent the usual family rule and allowed her to choose the first slice.

“OK,” said Dave, when the last of the cake had been eaten.  “We’d better get down to it, don’t you think?  I told Sandra I’d be back by seven.”

We all looked at each other.  No one wanted to be the first.

“Well, I think it should be the football pitch,” Chris, one of the twins, said eventually.  “Dad loved his football.  Remember how he and Mum used to go every Saturday, shouting for their team so loudly, they’d come home hoarse?  It brought them so much pleasure, I’m sure that’s where he’d want his ashes scattered.”

“I think the place that meant the most to him were the woods behind our house,” Mary said.  “It’s where he used to walk dear old Jason.  He always loved it there.”

“You reckon?” said Dave.  “I think his favourite spot was Lyme Regis.  Remember when he had his boat?  The hours he’d spend pottering around, fishing for mackerel, tinkering with the engine when it went wrong?  He loved Lyme.  It was his favourite place.”

“Or what about the farm?” Steve said. “He loved the view from the top of Hilly Field.”

“And the river where he used to sit and watch for the kingfisher?” I said – and before we knew it, there we all were, back again at the old family pastime. Squabbling.  Each one absolutely convinced that we knew Dad’s favourite spot in the whole world.  Each one convinced we knew where his last resting place should be.

“Remember that little verse he used to trot out when we started arguing?” Mike, the brother who looks most like him, asked.  “Something about Little birds in their nests agree?”

Oh ’tis a painful sight to see,” Dave said.

Children of one family,” Mary and I chirped up in perfect unison.

Fall out and disagree.” We all chipped in, laughing.

“Seriously though,” Mary said, still in that same laughing and crying voice. “What are we going to do about Dad’s ashes? We can’t leave them on the shelf in his workshop, even though that was also one of his favourite spots.”

“He had so many favourite spots, didn’t he?” I said.  “Doesn’t that make him one lucky guy?  To have six children, still squabbling over who has Dad.  After Mum died, he was never one of those sad lonely old people whom nobody wanted, was he?  His problem was, we all wanted him – and look at us, we’re still squabbling over him now. What are we like?”

“I’ve got an idea,” Mike said.

He told us his idea – and after yet more arguing and squabbling, finally we all  agreed what to do with Dad.

So, Mike took the urn, got six empty jam jars from Mum’s jam cupboard – and picked up a spoon.

“Just remember, Mike,” I said, half laughing, half crying. “Family rules.  You cut, I choose.”

Then, with infinite patience and scrupulous fairness, Mike leaned across and, his tongue caught between his teeth as he concentrated, began to divvy up Dad, the King of the Divvy Up,  into six equal portions, while five pairs of eyes watched intently. 

ends

Where does crime writer David J Gatward get his ideas?

I am delighted to welcome David Gatward to my blog this week.  I recently featured him in my Idea Store column in Writers’ Forum and I was anxious to find out more about this author whose output has left me full of admiration, both for its quantity and quality.

I was first attracted to David’s books when I read that his current series of crime novels featured Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales, a part of the world I love as we had many happy family holidays there when my children were little.

In the past two years David has published TEN books in his excellent DCI Harry Grimm series and it opens with Harry Grimm arriving – very reluctantly – from Somerset to take up his new post in the area.  

Me.

Welcome to my blog, David and thank you for agreeing to be featured.  Thank you, too, for reminding me how very much I love the Yorkshire Dales and how it is high time I went back there.

I’m intrigued to know how you managed to produce such a great series in such a short time.

David.

Lockdown!

Me.

My brain froze during that time, at least to start with.  Obviously you are made of sterner stuff!

David

I was working in Suffolk but lived in Somerset, so I couldn’t actually get to work. Then I was put on furlough. So, I had time to play with. Various writer friends of mine (Barry Hutchison/JD Kirk, Alex Smith, Jonathan Mayhew) were doing the Amazon thing so I thought I’d give it a go.

Me

By the ‘Amazon thing’ I take it you mean publishing the books yourself? You certainly have some talented and successful writer friends to point you in the right direction.

David

My background was traditional publishing, children’s and teen fiction, and we knew each other through that world, even appearing at various events together. Anyway, I launched a horror trilogy, just to give it a go. Then, after a lot of ‘Do this, Dave! Do this!’ from Barry/Alex/Jon, I decided to give crime fiction a go. The nice thing was the challenge of it. Something new to learn. And it took my mind off what was going on with work, with lockdown.

Me

Where did the idea for the series come from?

David

The old adage of ‘write what you know’ came into play. I grew up in Wensleydale but lived in Somerset. So, I decided I’d have a detective from Somerset get sent up north. I’ve also ghost-written various military/action novels, so I gave him a military past. 

From that point, I did a bit of research on police procedure, read some crime books, and just got cracking. I started book 1 in May 2020 and launched it in July 2020. I didn’t think much would come of it. Turns out I was wrong!

Me

You certainly were! And I and many of your fans are delighted.  You’ve written ten books in the series so far. How do you keep coming up with ideas?

David

What I’ve done is try and base things on my own experience, the area itself, and wider ideas. 

For example, book 2, Best Served Cold, was based on a government safety film I remember us being shown in primary school called Apache. It’s all about farm safety and is terrifying! 

Book 5, Restless Dead, is based on a ghost story and haunted house I’d remembered from the area. Book 6, Death’s Requiem, came about due to chats with my celebrity pal, the rather wonderful Aled Jones! 

I’ve been helping him learn to write for a series of children’s books he’s doing called Bobby Dean, and we joked how it would be fun to kill him in my next book. So that’s what I did, and the book is dedicated to him as well. 

It’s fun coming up with new ideas and seeing what happens, plus I have the many lives of the characters now to keep going, which readers seem to love more than the actual crime stuff, particularly the dogs!

There’s also fun stuff, like the whole cheese-and-cake thing, which I put in simply as a little detail, but which has kind of blown up rather. 

There’s also the local flavour stuff as well. I like to make sure that geographically the books are fairly accurate and I have emails from readers who go on holiday now to the Dales to find places I’ve mentioned. 

Me

Ah yes, the cheese and cake thing. I’m afraid, soft southerner that I am, that’s something I’ve yet to be convinced about as I am not a great lover of Wensleydale cheese (sorry!) and I’ve been told it just wouldn’t work with good old Somerset cheddar.  

I’ll keep an open mind though. You certainly brought the place vividly to life for me and, I’m sure, for many of your readers.

David

Cockett’s Butchers in Hawes gets a lot of visitors who are readers heading in for food and to have a photo taken outside! Madness, really, but so much fun!

Me.

How would you describe your genre?

/

David

I’m writing crime fiction and I believe it’s called police procedural. This was a thing I knew nothing about when I started! So, there’s been a bit of research. It’s a series because I know that series do much better with readers than standalone books. 

I write as a living, not just because I love it, so building a series and a readership is key. The more books in the series, the better and easier it is to market and convince people to give it a go. Then, if they like the first couple of books, hopefully they’ll keep on reading.

Me.

And, hopefully, you’ll keep on writing the series.  What inspires you most?  Characters? Settings? Maybe even books you have read?

David

I don’t think anything inspires me the most really. I just enjoy writing and get cracking. Sometimes an idea will come from a character, something in their past, an action, or I’ll have an idea for a crime. Maybe a historical event or weird tradition will get me thinking. Sometimes I’ll be watching a film and an idea will pop into my head and I’ll have to write it down.

Me

How did your writing journey start?

David

I had my first book published when I was in the last few months of being eighteen. It was a book of prayers for teenagers, stuff I’d written from the age of sixteen. I did a year out, working at an outdoor centre (the one mentioned in book 3 of my Grimm series, Corpse Road, Marrick Priory, in Swaledale!). It was through an organisation where teenagers work across the country in various roles. 

At a volunteer training weekend, one of the other volunteers took what I’d written to show her dad. Turned out he was Kevin Mayhew, owner of Kevin Mayhew Publishers, and he sent me a contract. The book came out a few months after. It was hugely exciting. I wrote a couple more during university then went to work for him straight after. 

Between then and now I’ve done various publishing jobs, worked for the civil service, spent some months on a salmon farm in Scotland, written children’s fiction, worked as a ghost-writer, led hundreds of creative writing sessions in schools across the country and over in Ireland, and I actually ended up in the end as the managing director of Kevin Mayhew Publishers as my last job, so it was all very full circle. 

And now I write full time. It’s a mad world, really, so I try to not think about the journey too much because it makes my head hurt.

Me

Do you have any future plans?

David

The aim is to keep writing really. DCI Harry Grimm has a good number of adventures in him I believe. I’ve written just over five novels a year this past two years, but I’m dropping that to four from now on. This will allow me a little more time to think up and work on other ideas. 

I have one I’d like to do based in Somerset. I’ve also a few thriller ideas. It would be fun to see Grimm as a TV show and I’ve someone working on a treatment for that, though that’s something which I doubt will happen. Anyway, lots going on and I’m enjoying doing it.

Me

That’s awesome!  

And finally,  please tell us three things about you we might not know.

David

1. I’ve seen ghosts! The first one was while I was mowing the lawn at a large house when I was sixteen (pocket money work!) Middle of the day and there was a man in a black suit under a tree watching me. And then there wasn’t … The other was at Marrick Priory. I ‘lived’ in a static caravan on site. The place had a history of hauntings. I was woken in the night by a bright light and saw a woman in a corseted dress standing next to my bed. Very strange.

2. I love watching snooker and darts.

3. I had a drowning accident when I was six so I’m pretty terrified of water. I can swim, and I love being in the sea with my two boys, but that’s about as far as I’ll go with it. Though I am stupid enough to throw myself into daft activities just to show them how important it is to confront your fears. So, for example, on holiday in Scotland, we did white-water rafting and various other daft things, which involved throwing yourself into mad rapids to then pop up downstream, as well as jumping of 10-metre high bridges!

 Me.

You’ve been a fabulous guest.  Thank you for answering my questions so patiently.  Thank you, too, for the promise of many more DCI Grimm adventures to come.  I look forward to reading them.

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

Website: www.davidjgatward.com

Twitter: @davidgatward

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/davidjgatwardauthor

Facebook Harry Grimm Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/373849887240040

The all important buy links.  

Grimm Up North (book 1 of the series): mybook.to/Grimm-Up-North

check out David’s Amazon author page for links to the other books in the series.

 Author bio

Biographies are strange things to write. What to include, what to leave out, wondering why anyone would really care that, for example, I had a drowning accident when I was six years old, or that I once dislocated my elbow because my dad encouraged me to jump off a rather high wall.

I could start at the beginning, perhaps. I was born in 1973 to a nurse and a trainee Methodist minister (they’re my parents, in case you’re wondering). We lived in the Cotswolds where the family grew to include two more boys and a golden labrador, though not necessarily in that order.

From the Cotswolds we then moved to Hawes in Wensleydale, a place of hills and moors, the deepest snow we’d ever known, and to us a strange love of things like cheese and cake and pie-and-pea suppers. Those were very happy days for us all and the memories I have of the place, the deep affection still, made it the natural place for me to set my DCI Harry Grimm crimes series.

After Wensleydale, we moved down to Lincolnshire, a place that makes up for the clear lack of hills with the most breath-taking skies. When I was eighteen, I then headed back up to the dales for a year to work at Marrick Priory, an outdoor education centre, then onto the Lake District, to study my degree in outdoor education.

Through all of this, I had a love of reading and of writing. I was the kid in English who’d write those really long stories, which probably didn’t make much sense, but certainly filled up the exercise books. I wrote for fun and was reminded of this by an old school friend, who told me how we used to set each other writing tasks to do during our free time.

Obviously, there were other interests beyond reading and books. I didn’t just spend my entire childhood in my bedroom hiding behind my own personal library. There was Cubs and Scouts and Boys Brigade, archery and fencing, walking, caving/potholing, climbing, shooting (air rifles and shotguns), camping.

My first book was published when I was eighteen. After graduating, I moved into publishing, did a wide range of jobs, published some more books, then somehow ended up working on a salmon farm in Scotland. When the company offered me a trainee management position, I promptly left and got a job as an editor. Somewhere along the way I became a dad, moved around a bit more, and started writing children’s and teen fiction, under my own name and also as a ghostwriter. I traveled around the country doing creative writing sessions in schools, won an award. Trying to make a living that way though isn’t exactly easy, so I then moved on to running a small publishing firm on the other side of the country. And then the pandemic hit.

Work changed considerably because of this so to help myself deal with it, I started writing again. And, listening to the advice of some good writing friends of mine (Barry Hutchison/JD Kirk, Jon/JE Mayhew, Alex Smith/Gordon Alexander Smith), I decided to try writing crime.

Life is a strange, wonderful, terrifying, exciting, frustrating, surprising thing. I’m doing now something I always dreamed of, through a mix of never giving up, listening to others, taking advice, hard work, and a fair amount of luck and good fortune. Do I have an idea of what’s around the corner? Of course not! But what I do know is that I’m having a lot of fun on the road.

Angels on Oil Drums – one of my favourite short stories

In my Ideas Store column in the current issue of Writers’ Forum, I am telling the story behind the first short story I ever sold and how it was inspired by my childhood.

I will post the full story behind the story here (and separate the fact from the fiction) after the magazine has been out for a while, but in the meantime, as promised in my column, here is the short story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! It still makes me laugh and brings back such vivid memories.

ANGELS ON OIL DRUMS

The day King George VI died was a strange one. At school, Mrs Perry put a vase of snowdrops on a purple velvet cloth in front of the picture of His Majesty and told us to pray for Princess Elizabeth. But I thought this was a bit unkind to Princess Margaret so I prayed for her as well.

And at home, things were even stranger.  Mum wasn’t in the kitchen like she usually was when we got in from school.  Instead, she was in the garden. Crying  By the washing line.

She didn’t seem to notice that only half of the best green tablecloth was on the line.  The other half had knocked over two of  Dad’s brussel sprout plants and was trailing in the dirt. She stood, one hand on the line, the other in the blue gingham peg bag I’d made her in Home Crafts last term. It was as if she’d got half way through pegging out when she’d frozen, like we do in the playground when we’re playing Statues.  Only this was no game.

Her face was lifted towards the sky and  I thought at first she was watching the rooks squabbling in the tops of the beech trees behind our cottage – until I saw her puffy eyes, her red nose and the tears glistening on her cheeks.

‘Mum?’  I dragged the wet tablecloth off the brussel sprouts, knocking over another one as I did so, ‘Mrs Perry told us and I’m sad too.’

‘For goodness’ sake, Jenny, what do you want to go creeping up behind people like that for?’ She dropped the other end of the tablecloth as she turned her back on me and rummaged in her apron pocket for her hankie. ‘And what are you on about?  What did Mrs Perry tell you?’

‘About the King, of course.’ The tablecloth, which smelt of soap powder and brussel sprouts, was cold and slippery as I tried to brush off the worst of the dirt.  The brussel sprouts, I was glad to see (because I hate them) were beyond my help.  ‘Isn’t that why you’re crying?’

‘I’m not crying. I don’t know where you get your daft ideas from, really I don’t. Run along indoors and see what your brothers are up to before they wreck the place.  I’d no idea it was that time already. Don’t stand gawping at me, child.  I’ve got a cold, that’s all.’

She was bent over the big stone sink in the scullery, her sleeves pushed up to her elbows, rubbing away at the tablecloth when our dad came home. I was glad to see him.  I didn’t know what was wrong with Mum, but I knew she didn’t have a cold and, to be truthful, I didn’t think she was that upset about the King, either.

‘Are you all right now? Or -?’ But he got no further because as he started to speak, she turned the tap on so hard, water hit the tablecloth and sprayed out like a fountain. I was watching from behind the pantry door and knew she’d go mad, because she hated mess and the scullery floor was like the swimming baths.

Instead, she spoke in a fierce whisper. ‘It’s all very well for you to say “we’ll manage” and “what’s another mouth to feed?” but I can’t go through all that again, Fred. Not now, with the twins about to start school.’

‘It’ll be different this time.’ Dad said, ‘Our Jenny’s of an age now where she can help out –’

‘Indeed she will not.’  I forgot to breath.  What did Dad think he was doing?  I could tell, even without seeing her, she had her lips pressed together so hard there’d be little white lines in the corner of her mouth.  Didn’t he know when she was like that it was best not to argue?

‘She’s a sensible girl-‘ he began.

‘Jenny will have homework to do when she goes up to the Grammar School come September.  She’s a bright girl and Mrs Perry says she should do well.  There’s going to be more in her life than getting married and having babies.  I’ll make sure of that.’

And then, on this strange day, the strangest thing of all happened.  Our Dad, who never, ever raised his voice, especially not to Mum, shouted, ‘I’m sorry your life turned out so badly.’ Then he wrenched open the back door and stomped out.

The windows rattled as he slammed the door behind him and Cassie, our dog, who’d been asleep in front of the Rayburn woke with a start and hissed.  Poor Cassie hasn’t barked since the day she was tossed into a blackthorn hedge by a bad-tempered Friesian heifer.  The shock and shame of it had put an end to her career as a cow dog – and to her bark.

The best she could manage was a hissing croak, like someone trying to shout and whisper at the same time. Usually, we had to try hard not to laugh at her because Mum said dogs had feelings too and how would we like it if everybody laughed at us?  But that day, nobody laughed at Cassie

………………………………..

Although I hated to hear Mum and Dad row, I was thrilled to hear Mum call me a bright girl.  I’d no idea I was in her good books and decided that when she’d calmed down a bit, I’d ask if Rosemary Dinsdale could come to tea. More than anything in the world – except, of course, passing for the Grammar School –  I wanted to be Rosemary’s  best friend. Yesterday she’d fallen out with Sheila Grant, so this was my best chance ever. 

Rosemary was small, neat, and pretty and Mrs Perry must need new glasses. Why else would she have chosen Sheila for the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the School Concert?  As I told Rosemary, anyone could see she looked far more like a Sugar Plum Fairy than Sheila ever could.  And what did it matter if she got muddled and tripped over her own feet sometimes? Even Sugar Plum fairies did that now and then, I supposed.

Rosemary was everything I longed to be.  She was an only child, with silky blonde plaits that reached halfway down her back. She lived next to the church in a big house with lots of windows, a swing in the garden and a proper lawn.  Even the flowers grew in well-behaved rows and there wasn’t a brussel sprout or raspberry cane in sight.

I, however, had straight, mousey hair, cut in what Mum called a “sensible” style, with a fringe like a bookend. Our farm cottage had tiny windows, thick walls and no room to move, with me, Mum, Dad, my three brothers (that’s Peter and twins Antony and David) and, of course, Cassie, as tightly packed as Mum’s bottled gooseberries.

As for our garden, there was a square of grass the boys had turned into a football pitch, Dad’s vegetable patch, a hen house, some apple trees with a washing line strung between and a forest of out of control raspberry canes where the hens would hide when it was time for them to be shut in for the night.

But what I admired most about Rosemary was how every day, at break, she’d have two chocolate digestive biscuits wrapped in a snowy paper napkin. What, I wondered, must it be like to live somewhere where they had chocolate biscuits all the year round and not just at Christmas when Gran turned up with her tin of Peak Frean Family Assorted?

And as I was thinking of Christmas, that was when I got one of my Really Great Ideas.  I often had them, as my brothers knew to their cost. 

But this was The Best Yet.

…………………………………….

‘A St George’s Day Pageant.’  I told Peter as we walked home from school next day. ‘That’ll cheer Mum up. Remember how she enjoyed the Christmas one at school?’

‘Sounds daft to me.’ Peter swung open the farm gate that led to our cottage. ‘Who’s going to be in it?’

‘Well, me.. and you..’

Peter snorted.  But I ignored it.

‘- And the twins..’

Peter snorted again.  ‘They won’t –’

‘… And Rosemary Dinsdale.’  That was the best bit. Nobody else from school, and especially not Sheila Grant, would be asked.  I’d have Rosemary all to myself and when the Pageant was the huge success I knew it would be, Rosemary and I ‘d be best friends.  For ever.

‘Rosemary Dinsdale?’ Peter’s snort turned into a yelp of laughter, then a cry of pain as I thumped the top of his arm. With my knuckles. Hard.   ‘That hurt.’  He rubbed it and glared at me.  ‘I’m not going to be in your stupid Pageant. Nor will the twins.  It’ll be just you and that stuck up Rosemary Dinsdale.’

But of course it wasn’t.  Peter had forgotten how “persuasive” I could be.  He was no match for me, any more than Anthony and David were.  One of the few advantages of being the eldest in a family of four.

Rosemary, however, was gratifyingly enthusiastic.  Especially when I assured her it would be the easiest thing in the world to include a Sugar Plum Fairy in a Pageant about St George.  Everybody knows dragons and fairies go together.  

………………………………………

The Pageant was planned for the Saturday nearest St George’s Day. The final rehearsal had gone well and even the weather was kind.  It was a perfect Spring day, when the sun shone from an achingly blue sky and the air fizzed with the scent of May blossom and the sound of birdsong.

The transformation from back garden to theatre was amazing. We didn’t have enough kitchen chairs so Dad had laid out bales of hay which we’d covered with blankets.  Mr and Mrs Dinsdale were both working and couldn’t come but we still had a good audience. There was Mum, Dad, Gran –who’d only brought Rich Tea biscuits seeing as it wasn’t Christmas so I was praying Rosemary would forget I’d promised her the pink wafers- the Vicar, Mr and Mrs Robinson who own the farm and a thin, anxious man with a shiny suit who’d been hoping to sell Mum some yellow dusters and a floor mop.

For the stage, Mum had let us bring out the hall rug to cover the grass and we’d draped a pair of grey blankets across the washing line for the backdrop and I’d placed four of Mum’s big enamel jugs stuffed with crab apple and cherry blossoms along the front. But best of all -so good, the Vicar said they were “astonishing”- were the two angels with long golden hair and outstretched wings who smiled down on the audience.

The music began.  I’d based the pageant around  a stirring hymn about Saints resting from their labours (Allelulia!).  I made a fetching St George and Peter did his best as the dragon.  His cries when St George’s sword thwacked across his back were very realistic.  It was fast, colourful, action packed and going very well, until…

Until the angel on the left fell off his oil drum.  And the one on the right started to cry and said he wanted to get down, too.

I nearly cried too. I’d worked so hard to get those angels looking right.  I’d got Dad to bring across a couple of empty oil drums from the farm and stand them, on end, either side of the stage.  Then I’d scrounged a pair of old sheets and draped them over the twins and their drums.  I’d even unravelled lengths of the yellow twine that was used to bind hay bales and fashioned them into beautiful golden wigs.  

And I’d bribed them with my Toby Twirl Annual and the remaining half of my Easter Egg, both, fool that I was, given in advance. They’d eaten the chocolate and I couldn’t bear to think what they’d done to Toby Twirl.  Now they were about to ruin the entire Pageant by walking out.

I stopped the music. Rather, I stopped singing – Rosemary and Peter had given up several bars earlier – and brandished my sword at the remaining angel.

‘Antony, you stay right where you are. Mum, please make David come back.  He’ll do it if you tell him he’s got to.’ Then I turned to the rest of the audience and with a flourish St George himself would have been proud of announced: ‘Ladies and gentlemen.  The show goes on.’

But as I launched in to the next part of the hymn, about the dawning of yet more glorious days when Saints triumphant rise in bright arrays  (Alleluia!),  Antony’s cries to get down soared above everything.  David decided to make a run for it, shook off his sheet and binder twine wig and dashed across the stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy made her sensational entrance.  

She launched into her famous pirouette, when mid-turn, her foot got caught  in discarded angel trappings.  My warning cry came too late as she flailed about and grabbed the nearest thing to break her fall. Sadly, that was the backdrop.  There was a crack like a shotgun going off and Mum’s washing line lay on the floor, with Rosemary buried beneath a tangle of white sheeting, binder twine and grey blanket. 

Cassie suddenly remembered she was a cow dog and starting rounding everybody up, her croaks getting louder and louder until, she made a weird throat clearing honk and out came a full throated bark.  A miracle. Cassie had recovered her bark.  It rang out above Rosemary’s muffled screams and Antony’s sobs.

Everyone else, including me, was frozen in shocked silence.  Then Peter went across and helped Anthony down and I shut my eyes.  Mum was going to be furious.   

But when I opened them, she was laughing.  In fact, everyone was. And she didn’t seem to mind about her washing line.  Or that I’d left Antony screaming his head off on top of an oil drum. Or that David was hiding in the raspberry canes.  Or that Cassie, having remembered how to bark had now forgotten how to stop. Everyone was laughing – even Anthony now he was safely back on earth.

Everyone that is except for me.  And, of course, Rosemary Dinsdale.

Again, it was Peter who helped her up. I couldn’t move. Her wand was bent and the binder twine wig had caught on one of the spikes of her crown, so that it covered half her face and wound itself like bindweed around her silken plaits.

 ‘I hate you.’ she screamed at me.  ‘You and your stupid pageant.  Can’t you see they’re all laughing at you?’ Her small grey eyes narrowed with spite.  ‘At you – and your stupid dog, of course. Can’t you make it stop that awful noise? Wait until Sheila  hears about this – this rubbish. Everyone at school will laugh at you.  I’ll make sure of that.’

‘And I’ll tell them how you tripped over your own feet and brought everything crashing down.’  Peter said.  ‘How it was you they were laughing at, not Jenny.  Some fairy you turned out to be.  Fairy elephant, more like it.  Our Jenny’s worth a dozen of you, Rosemary Dinsdale.’

She turned on him, her crown jammed so far down on her head it pushed her ears out, her eyebrows down and made her look like a demented elf.  ‘How dare you talk to me like that,’ she hissed and reached out to grab him, ‘You little –’

‘Leave my brother alone,’ I waved my sword at her.  ‘And you can say whatever you like at school.  I don’t want to be friends with you anymore, anyway.’

I was surprised to find that I meant it and was going to add that Mrs Perry had been right and that she couldn’t dance for toffee, but I didn’t.  Because it was true. She couldn’t dance for toffee.  Or sing either.  In fact, she wasn’t much good at anything. Except looking pretty.  And, of course, the chocolate digestives, which she never shared anyway. 

I looked at Mum.  She was still smiling. Dad had his arm around her and they were looking at each other the way they used to.  Maybe, just maybe, things were going to be all right.

So the Pageant had worked after all.  It had cheered Mum up and Dad too by the look of it. Cassie had recovered her bark.  And of course, by Christmas, the new baby would have arrived.  

And that was when I had another Really Great Idea.  

A Christmas pageant, in the barn this time, so the twins could stand on the raised bits instead of wobbly oil drums.  And then, of course, there’d be a real live baby for the starring role. Maybe Sheila Grant, who everybody knows is a much better dancer than Rosemary Dinsdale, would like to be Mary. 

Oh yes, it was all going to be so beautiful.    

the end