Thursday, 25 June 2015

Guest Author Susmita Bhattacharya. An Excerpt from The Normal State of Mind.

A week late and a day early! So much happening that my regular post was missed last Friday BUT here it is.

I am so pleased to have Susmita back on the Scribbler. She was featured on the 4Q portion of the Scribbler last month and you can find her links, a short bio and catch the interview here .



Following is an excerpt from her exciting new novel, The Normal State of Mind.




Two women from Diamond Harbour district of twenty-four Parganas have committed suicide after their ‘marriage’ is shunned by families.

Moushumi stared at the television news reporter. He was standing among a crowd of villagers, shouting out the report over their chanting. The camera then zoomed on the faces of the two women’s mothers. They were wailing and beating their breasts, claiming their daughters were innocent. They had been victims of black magic. There was an inset, a rather dated photograph of the deceased, then probably in their teens, with ribbons in their hair and toothy grins.

The lovers, both from farming communities, had grown up together in their tiny village near Falta. They had secretly married each other, when their parents started looking for prospective bridegrooms, by exchanging garlands and promises in a Shiva temple. When one of the women’s fathers went ahead with wedding preparations, the two came out and confronted their parents. They were then beaten by the families. A tantric was summoned to drive away the spirits that had possessed them to take such action. An ojha was performed and one of the women was forcefully married off to an old man. Her lover immolated herself at the time of the wedding. Hearing this tragedy, the other woman escaped from her husband’s home and drowned herself in the river. She left a note for her family saying that if the two had been allowed to live together, they’d all be happy and alive.

The reporter looked straight at the camera as he finished his report. Moushumi looked away. She realised she had been so caught up with listening to the news, she hadn’t noticed her father had been watching as well. ‘Sensationalism,’ he exclaimed from behind her. ‘They will report anything in the media nowadays to get attention.’

Moushumi looked up. ‘But Baba, surely must be something genuine to report this, or why would they? They were very brave to face the world.’ She watched him for his reaction.

He sniffed and reached for his cup of tea.

‘Ma, did you hear about this?’ Her mother was juggling a spatula and a spoon while stirring the dal and frying the fish. She wiped the sweat that ran down her neck and strained to hear above the splutter of the fish sizzling in the pan.

‘Utter rot,’ her father mumbled and opened the newspaper again. ‘What is the world coming to? Chee chee. Desperate village bumpkins. How can the TV news report such filth, I fail to recognise.’

Moushumi flinched, ashamed. She was indulging in something her father found filthy. ‘It’s quite normal in the Western society. It is becoming accepted there.’

Her father glared at her but said nothing. He turned to the sports page and cursed about Mohun Bagan losing again. He was clearly not interested in continuing on the topic. ‘What were you saying, Mou?’ her mother asked, joining them in the sitting room. The air was smoky with all the deep frying.

The smell of the fish had seeped stubbornly into the mattress on the divan and the cushions and the curtains. But it was a comforting smell, not the artificial rose and lily room freshener that Moushumi had to adjust to on Saturdays in Jasmine’s flat.

Her father left the room and Moushumi decided that she could still try out her mother. ‘Two women committed suicide because their marriage was not accepted in society.’

‘Oh,’ her mother said. ‘Hindu women?’

‘Perhaps.’

‘Did they marry Muslims or what?’

‘No, Ma. They married each other. The two women married each other.’

Her mother stopped tidying the cushions and stared at her.

‘Two women? Why on earth?’

‘They said they loved each other.’

‘But how will they have children? Who will look after them?’

Moushumi felt better. At least she was curious and asking questions. At least her first reaction was not that they were filthy. ‘Does that matter? They loved each other.’

‘What fools,’ her mother replied. ‘They’ve ruined their families’ reputations. I hope they haven’t left behind any unmarried sisters, or that will be the end of the road for them.’

‘You think so?’ Her mother busied herself with putting right the newspaper.

‘Stupid naive girls, did something under the influence of filmy romance, I suppose.’

Moushumi felt betrayed. Her mother was not on her side.

How could she ever tell them if the time came? Wiping her hands on the end of her sari, her mother said,

‘Anyway, I don’t have time for all this nonsense. I still have to finish cooking lunch. How would you like your fish? Mustard sauce or tomato?’

 

***

 

‘Silly girls,’ said Jasmine, grimacing at the newspaper-cutting Moushumi thrust into her hand. ‘No brains, these villager types.’

The news of the two women had found a little space in the local newspaper. Moushumi had cut it out and kept it in her handbag. She wasn’t sure whether this was to remind her that this sort of thing was not accepted, or to reassure her that this was not her fate, yet. She had hoped that Jasmine would take up their case, get angry, and promise her that such things didn’t happen in big cities. Instead, Jasmine had just laughed about the whole situation. ‘You too, Jazz? Don’t you believe in their love? Wouldn’t you have backed them up?’

‘For what, Mou? Be sensible. You are living in a fantasy world.’ Jasmine switched on the television. The theme song of The Bold and the Beautiful filled the room. She tucked the sheet under her chin and watched idly.

‘But it is accepted in the West,’ argued Moushumi.

‘Then go and live in the West. Find yourself a lover there and make a home for yourselves. Don’t keep harping on about it and spoil my mood.’

‘But we are lovers, Jasmine.’ Moushumi shot back. ‘Like those two girls. We do the same thing, and yet you reject their bravery in wanting to live together?’

Jasmine increased the volume of the television. The air-conditioning started to whir noisily, adding to Moushumi’s distress. She wanted to shut everything off and shake Jasmine hard. Make her listen to her. Answer her questions.

‘We can’t live together, surely you know that? Or go public,’ Jasmine said finally, during a commercial break.

Moushumi nodded. She was not stupid to have such hopes.

‘Then why the entire headache?’ Jasmine asked her. ‘You will eventually have to get a man to marry you and then we could continue meeting.’

‘But, I don’t want it like that,’ Moushumi said. ‘I want to have a truthful relationship.’

‘A truthful relationship? Which world are you in, madam? Just enjoy yourself and stop complaining. You’re lucky with what you’re getting.’

There was truth in every word of what Jasmine had said.

How could they have an open relationship? What name would they give it? Moushumi thought of those two village girls. Did this kind of love mean being confined in a bedroom, once a week, having sex?

She realised she was lucky that Jasmine had another flat for them to hide in, to indulge themselves in.

What about the rest of them? Where did they go? What did they do?

‘It’s useless, Jasmine. This whole thing is a waste of time.’

Moushumi slid under the sheets and held Jasmine’s hand.

‘Why do I bother to come?’

Jasmine turned around and stared at Moushumi for a long time. Her gaze softened, and when the commercial break ended, she didn’t turn back to the television. ‘I’m so glad you do come, darling. So don’t spoil things with miserable realities. Okay, let’s get out of this place. You’ll have to tell your parents a very big lie, mind.’

Moushumi nodded. At that moment, she didn’t care very much. She would do anything for Jasmine. She clung to her, trembling, waiting for Jasmine to touch her. Soothe her nerves. They kissed quietly, and Jasmine stroked her hair, murmuring into her ear. Moushumi calmed down.

At last they were going to venture out of this flat. They were going to do something fun.



Thank you Susmita for sharing an excerpt from your novel. The book can be purchased here .



Please visit us next Friday when the 4Q Interview features Moncton artist Ralph Gruenewald. An interesting and very talent man.





Looking for an awesome summertime story? Look no farther. Get your copy of  this thriller The Dark Side of a Promise here .


Friday, 12 June 2015

Wall of War Excerpt by Allan Hudson








Wall of War.

You've been following Father Suetonius Graft - an amateur rock climber - when in 1953 he discovers an unusual cave with an unbelievable monument inside the dark gloomy cavern. It's made of pure gold and has ancient warriors carved in the face. The opening section of this thrilling novel has been revealed on this blog. The beginning can be found here

Part 2 is available here 

Part 3 of Father Graft's adventure follows. What is the proof he has found and what will he do with it?




From another pocket he pulls out a wide elastic band that is twined around a hard leather roll. He uncurls the band to expose a leather loop the same size as his flashlight. He had molded wet leather to it before cutting and installing snaps. It is attached to the heavy stretchy loop. Snapping the flashlight into the leather holder he pulls the whole apparatus over his short hair. He positions the light as firmly as possible before reaching up behind the upper lip of the rock that separates the two rooms. The outcrop above him disallows him the height for a running jump. As he surveys the opening he visualises himself thrusting his body out from the knees to leap from a squatted position.  He lowers himself once again even with the lip of the crack, hunkering down as low as possible to study the roof under the rock above his head. It looks to taper upward opening into the room. The gargantuan sliver of rock that obstructs the passage is quite thick. There looks to be enough headroom. He waddles like a duck until his toes are just over the crevice. As he allows himself to fall forward into the hollow, he will use the edge pushing with his powerful thighs.  He crosses himself and leaps.

There is plenty of empty space on the other side of the rock and he lands a foot past the lip going into a roll to protect his bones. He is on his back when he comes to rest. His motion roils the dust that has lain undisturbed for hundreds of years; motes swirl about like ancient feathers. He rises while wiping the granules from his body. He tips his head to shine the light in the corner where he spied the tiny gleam. He searches the floor until he sees an odd shape roughly where he thought the object might lay. When he bends to pick it up, he can see why the light has been reflected. The item is at rest with the widest part raised off the floor as it balances on a piece of broken wood. The underside of what looks like some type of tool has no dust or patina on it so the glossy metal still shines. Scooping the implement from the ground he uses his handkerchief to wipe it off. Like the wall, the object is made of gold.

He turns it in his hand. It is about twelve inches long. One end is a half circle about three inches wide, the circumference still sharp.  The other end is modeled, depicting a squat and ugly figure, guessing it might be a likeness of one of the Incan gods he read about. The two ends are joined by a narrower flat shaft. He recognizes the utensil from his studies of the Incas. It is a Tumi, a ceremonial dagger. He realizes that this site has been visited by someone of great importance. He will never know the hows and whys of it being here but it is all the proof he needs to verify his
discovery. He pulls a short leather cord from another pocket tying the knife to his belt. He tugs at it as it hangs from his back testing the knots he made. Satisfied that it will stay the climb he turns to leave. When he comes back to the gap in the floor he sees how impetuous his earlier movements have been. He won’t be able to jump back, the overhang is too low.

The wall to the right is raw stone. He turns around to tread lightly towards the stairway to inspect it closer for a possible way out. Stepping cautiously on the edge of the first split in the stairway, he shines his light into the ascending opening to discover that at the bend rock and dirt have filled the cavity. A huge boulder is choked against the wall and pinned behind it is another skeleton, naked of the flesh that identified it in life. The skull and one shoulder is all that is visible, the balance of the body entombed in the dirt. Out of habit, Father Graft mumbles a short prayer of petition for the man’s soul, and for the souls of others whom have perished in this hole. For the next nine days he plans on saying a novena.

He crosses himself once more returning to his task. The barrels are useless. He scours the chamber with the ray of his light until it meets the wall with the bent spears resting against another crude work bench cluttered with articles he doesn’t recognize but hint of aggression, wooden handles with weighted ends, stone and metal, fibred ropes with stone weights tied to their ends. The clubs he recognizes. Everything has a thick layer of dust weighted by time’s passage, centuries.

On the floor is a bundle of long spears of dull metal, probably bronze he guesses.  One end has a heavy hasp; the other extends to a point just above where it is shaped like a small axe. He reaches down to pull one free from the pile. It breaks away with a cloud of smut, the particles causing him to cough. A satisfied grin crosses his face when he estimates it to be long enough to bridge the gap. He loosens a dozen more that don’t seem bent too bad to toss them on the floor near the gap. The action raises a cloud of dust but he doesn’t stop. Grabbing the three leaning against the bench he hastily clears the rubble from an area across from the opening.  He straightens the spears in a row, sixteen wide, the farthest about one step apart from its opposite. Glancing at the hole with his light by moving his head, he estimates it to be about 36 to 40 inches wide. He’s not sure how to keep them together.

He walks back to the pile of relics searching for an answer. When his light follows the side of the ledge where he grabbed the spears, he spies shorter cylindrical pieces of what must be broken spears. An idea hits him. Digging the rods from the dust, he finds there are five pieces all about thirty to forty inches long, one still has a nicked tip on it. Dropping them by the longer ones he picks up the one he figures to be closest to thirty inches.  He uses the flexibility in each shaft to weave the shorter piece along the ends of the spears, one over and one under, one over and one under, then a second one as close as possible but in opposite rhythm, one over, one under until he has a firm edge. The opposite ends are all out control and will need the longest piece to weave with. Using two rods on each end and one in the middle he fashions himself a crude but secure plank. It isn’t much but it is all he can find.

He manages to get the temporary span across the opening. Closing his eyes he mutters a prayer. He trusts that God has not brought him this far to let him down. With confidence he crawls over the emptiness. In the center the shafts are springy but strong and he is soon across. He stands straight in the hallway and leaves.



 
 
 
Watch for Part 4 next month and the end of Father Graft's involvement in the Wall of War.

 
 
 
Next week on the Scribbler, we are welcoming back Susmita Bhattacharya as Guest Author and you can read an excerpt from her tantalizing new novel, The Normal State of Mind. Susmita was featured on the 4Q Interview last month and you can catch the interview here

 

Friday, 5 June 2015

Guest Author Ellie Campbell - The sister writing team of Pam & Lorraine.


Ellie Campbell is the pseudonym for sisters, Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell who collaborate across the mighty Atlantic, finding writing together  the perfect excuse for endless phone conversations. They are equally passionate about travel, animals and the great outdoors. Although Pam lives near London, UK, with husband, three children and a dog, while Lorraine is on a Colorado ranch near wonderful and wild Boulder with husband, five horses, five cats, one dog and four chickens - they both believe in enjoying life to the fullest.

 Today you can read an excerpt from "How to Survive Your Sisters". You can learn more about these talented authors by visiting their website chicklitsisters





CHAPTER 1

 

Natalie MacLeod walked into the maternity ward of St Joseph’s with purple daisies in her hand and profound dismay in her heart. Wincing visibly at the groans and screams audible through too-thin walls and averting her eyes from half-snatched glimpses of drip bags, plastic piping and other disgusting hospital apparatus, she pushed open the doors to the semi-private room and hesitated, examining the tableau before her.

In many ways it echoed several she’d passed along the way; the same Perspex cot beside the bed, the same medical paraphernalia and the same crowd of eager visitors, except in one important respect. This patient, with wet patches across her chest and a tired smile plastered onto her face, was her sister.

What on earth was Milly thinking? Didn’t she have enough on her plate with two rambunctious boys and one insufferable teenage daughter? Hazel, their youngest sister, had said – swearing Natalie to secrecy – that Ivor’s condom had sprung a leak, but in this day and age everyone knew there was absolutely no need for mistakes. Tubes could be tied. Ivor could have the snip. Men were ridiculously squeamish about these things of course, but if she and Jeremy were ever in that particular waterlogged barge…

She shuddered. Nope, it would never happen. Couldn’t happen. She, Natalie, would never allow it. After all, there was such a thing as a morning after pill.

And now here was Milly, who’d never quite lost the baby weight from Rory, sprawled out on the hospital bed like a… like a… well, Natalie sucked in her well-toned gut automatically, she didn’t want to be uncharitable – or, worse, cliché – but it was hard not to get an image of scores of exhausted do-gooders trying to push a hapless orca towards a receding sea.

She ran a manicured hand quickly through her blonde bob, pasting a magnanimous smile on her face as she waited by the swinging door for her family to notice her.

“Natalie,” Milly’s face was unbecomingly flushed, a lock of damp hair stuck to her forehead but her happiness radiated the room. “Come and meet your new nephew.” She cooed over the bundle in her arms. “Isn’t he a darling? Isn’t he just perfect?”

 From their chairs by the bed, Peggy and Callum rose to greet their third-born.

 “Natalie,” her mother swept upon her, all dressed up for the occasion in her best winter coat and a hideous printed dress, shapeless if it weren’t for a bulging sash that tugged it too high in the front like a distorted stage curtain that exposed large bony knees.

“How lovely to see you, dear,” she beamed cheerily. “I was just telling your father that I don’t know why I bothered to put myself through the agonies of childbirth. I swear it takes an earthquake to dislodge you or Avril from London these days. Of course I know Hazel’s gallivanting all over the globe and Avril’s fantastically busy with her illustrious career, but I’d think you, at least, could drag yourself away from that sexy man of yours to visit us once in a blue moon. Honestly, I’ve four daughters and, except for darling Milly, I might as well have spared myself the bother of labor and all those nappy changes.”

 Natalie’s eyes narrowed, her teeth gritting, as Callum clumsily patted her shoulder. Her father smelt of peppermints and pipe tobacco but, thankfully, no hidden undercurrents she could distinguish and the fingers searching the pocket of his ancient tweed sports jacket were tremor-free.

 “Och, don’t mind your mother, she’s just teasing,” he rasped. “Come and sit by me. Tell us everything you’ve been up to, eh?”

“Well, as it happens, I do have an important…”

“Wow, he’s gorgeous! You look fab, Milly! Well done, sweetie!” In a tumult of Opium perfume and Nicole Farhi, Avril had hijacked the limelight, rushing over to envelope Milly in her arms, praising her new nephew before she’d even given his sleeping face a glance.

“Hi Mum, Dad, Nats,” she made the rounds of hugs and air kisses with all the insincerity and polish of someone who’d made a very prosperous vocation of working the room, coming to rest on the chair Peggy had vacated, only her circling Chloe-clad toe betraying the urgent tick-tock of precious wasted time. “Sorry I’m so late but I got a call - Julia Roberts of all people. I brought Moët…” She flourished a gold-topped bottle, then caught her mother’s scowl, “…but maybe we should save it for later. I can only stay a minute. All hell’s breaking loose back at the office. I’m over the moon for you, Mills. He’s a cutie! Too bad Hazel’s not here.”

“Too bad?” Stung by the familiar mix of chagrin and disappointment that her family inevitably inspired, Natalie lashed back. “If she had any consideration at all, she’d have come home for this. She knew when Milly was due. Is it too much to expect that she’d make a bit of an effort for her family for once?”

As always Avril was hot in Hazel’s defense.

“Don’t be such a witch, Nasty.” Her fingers fidgeted, clearly itching for a cigarette, her mobile or a quick clutch at her younger sister’s neck. “You know full well Hazel had planned this trip and bought her ticket months before Milly found out she was expecting. Besides, look who’s talking - you couldn’t even be bothered to show up at Hazel’s leaving do. Too busy with Jeremy and his moronic city crowd, I imagine. In any case,” unable to resist she took a peek at her mobile, checking for texts, before realizing hospital policy had forced her to switch off, “it’s not as if it’s Milly’s first, is it?”

Into the impending war a little voice squeaked in.

“Doesn’t anyone want to see the baby?” Milly suggested meekly. “He’s just woken.”

There was a moment’s guilty silence. Then a flurry around the bed.

Avril gently stroked the baby’s left hand, visibly relaxing her usually tense, over-worked gym-toned body. “He’s just precious, Mills. I can definitely see Ivor in him. And such soft skin. So have you decided on a name yet?” It had taken Milly and Ivor a week to agree on Rory’s name.

“Ben,” Milly adjusted his little white hat. “After Ivor’s grandfather, Benjamin. Look he’s staring right at you, Natalie.”

Natalie peered down. “Can they see at this age?”

“He’s not a kitten, Nee Nee.” Callum laughed, what was left of his white hair apparently standing to attention.

“Hush now,” Peggy bent down and picked him up, brown eyes glistening in her wrinkled face. “Here, Callum, you hold him and we’ll call that nice nurse in to take a photo of us all.”

“No, no.” Her husband backed away, rubbing a hand over his rarely-shaven chin where a small piece of toilet paper showed he’d nicked himself that morning. “I might drop him.”

“Phooey! Four children and three grandchildren and you’ve never dropped one of them yet.”

“Sure you never dropped Natalie, Dad?” Milly teased. “Might explain a few things.”

“Funny – not, dear sister.” Natalie screwed up her face. “Where’s Ivor by the way? I thought at least at a time like this he’d be glued to your side.”

“He was,” Milly sounded instantly defensive. “For hours and hours. All through labor. Poor man’s hardly had any sleep in the last few days. He’s only just left to get Erin, Fergus and Rory off to school and I told him to take a nap before he comes back. He’s been a saint, really.”

Natalie looked unconvinced, as Peggy gushed forth.

“Hazel might be the most adventurous and Avril the most successful but I do think Milly’s the bravest. Hours of labor with hardly a peep.” Behind her back, Milly made a face, comically suggesting otherwise, as Peggy continued in her piercing voice that could penetrate the morgue three floors below. “Turned out little Ben here had the cord wrapped around his neck. And then there was that awful business with the placenta. I told Milly she should ask the hospital to save it for her. Lots of aboriginal cultures believe in eating it. Full of iron.”

Natalie recoiled. “That is totally revolting.”

“Not just aborigines, Mum,” Avril chipped in, noticing Natalie look faintly green. “I think there’s a few of the Birkenstock Brigade partial to a little nosh. Or you could always bury it in your garden, have a little ceremony. That’s quite a trend too.”

“Anyway,” Natalie’s voice cut through the unpleasant conversation. “Now we’re all here, I have some news too.” She waited till all eyes were on her and then dropped the bomb. “Jeremy and I have picked a date for the wedding.”

“Oh but that’s wonderful, wonderful!” Peggy’s eyes flooded with tears as she rushed to hug her third daughter.

“About bloody time,” Callum grinned, rubbing his unlit pipe between smoke-stained fingers.

“Gosh, Nats, that’s brilliant. When is it?” Milly smiled happily.

“Early July. We’ve booked the church in Little Hooking. Isn’t it superb?” Basking in her family’s excitement, Natalie’s face looked as pink and pretty as any bride’s.

Avril rose to her feet, towering over everyone in the room, even without her four-inch heels. “Superb.” It was sardonic, her face shuttered, eyes cold. “Well done, Natalie,” she whispered in her sister’s ear. “You couldn’t wait to steal Milly’s thunder for your own little portion of glory, could you?” She swiveled to face the others. “Well, sorry to walk out on all the excitement but I really do have to go.”

And out she swooshed, sucking with her all Natalie’s joy.

Caught off balance, Natalie wavered between guilt and anger.

“I’m sorry, Milly. I never meant… I just thought with us all being together. Anyway,” she took refuge in leaning over Ben, trying to conceal the hurt of Avril’s words from sparkling in her eyes. “Avril’s right, he is a beautiful baby.” She could feel her throat slightly choked. Why was it no one could wound you like a sister? “Utterly perfect, thank God - even if he was a mistake.” The words slipped out before she realized her mouth had formed them.

“A mistake!” Milly clutched her child to her breast, outrage widening the blue eyes that were so similar to Natalie’s and the infant in her arms. “Why on earth would you say that? Ivor and I wanted this child more than anything else in the world. We were trying for an absolute age.”

This time there was no ambivalence about Natalie’s feelings. Rage rushed through her as she realized that, once again, she’d been had.

Damn! With every ounce of her heart, and for the thousandth time in her life, she wanted, longed, yearned to kill that bloody Hazel.

 


Thank you Pam and Lorraine for sharing an excerpt from your novel. Read more about Ellie Campbell at www.chicklitsisters.com  where you will discover more links to their novels and social media.



Please drop by next week for a thrilling excerpt from my latest Novel-In-Progress. The Wall of War. I've almost completed the second draft and then it's off to beta readers.