I like coffee in my mouth
The three of you were sitting there,
A small and humble family.
I saw your head, so full of hair,
From the corner, I sat quietly.
I marvelled at how this came to be;
A baby – honest miracle.
I knew your mother, now you see,
Not one for being responsible.
For nine months we watched you grow
From idea into bump,
We knew and yet we did not know
You’d be real, in our throats a lump.
I cried when your father told me.
I laughed at the birthing tale.
I picked you up, so cuddly.
I missed you, which prevailed.
But baby boy, Joshua James,
Born on August 19th,
The world will never be the same,
Now you’re the centrepiece.
To Kim and Tom, the greatest friends
And parents (can you believe?!)
My pride in you has no end,
It pains me that I’ll leave.
The three of you are wonderful,
I wish you lives of joy.
I can’t wait to hear about it all –
Your story, baby boy.
If someone invented a time-travel machine,
And offered adventure to up-ahead or past-seen,
But you had only one chance to jump on and go,
Would it be past or future? Unforeseen or long ago?
You could try to stop Hitler, or meet Henry Eight,
Join Chris Columbus, find America the Great,
Sing with the Beatles and rock with Elvis Presley,
Watch Shakespeare at the Globe, or kickbox with Bruce Lee.
That old dinner with five people, dead or alive,
Not impossible thanks to this magic device.
But the past is the past, that is true enough said,
Is it wrong to want to visit those that are dead?
The future, after all, is a mystical place,
And we’ll never know what worries we’ll have to face.
Glimpsing years ahead may show you another war,
You could find out in advance what we’re fighting for.
Unanswerable questions could be already solved,
You come back to present, future problems resolved.
Do we stop being selfish, us human beings?
For the sake of our planet, are we foreseeing?
And what of your own life, your friends and family,
Is it all bright and joyous, or should you not see?
Could you return and be happy, or just feel glum,
If you saw that your future was squalor and slum?
So what would you opt for, were you given the chance:
Relive happy times or see new ones in advance?
Perhaps the right answer is one not considered,
Stay here contented, your mind thus not untethered.
Why visit the past when all is unchangeable?
Why see the future when right now is unstable?
Live for the moment while cherishing memory,
Embrace the next chapters; excitement and mystery.
Safely tucked under a duvet cocoon
Alarm rings to say that school will start soon
Arm reaches out and hits the snooze button
An act of defiance, fear – not glutton
Breakfast is quiet, chew slowly on toast
Mum stares, looking worried; angry almost
Toothpaste squeezed on brush, glance a reflection
How did you catch this nasty infection?
Walk to school with a friend who is drifting
Afraid they’ll catch the pain that’s inflicting
Criss-crossing fence, buildings, sign on the gate
School bell is ringing, don’t care that you’re late
Swerve round a corner and met with a sneer
A punch, kick, malicious words in your ear
Teacher as your witness turns a blind eye
Kids being kids, no real problem, a sigh
Worse day by day, week by week, let it end
Infinite problem, can’t even pretend
That the abuse will stop, life is consumed
Hoping someone might help, pain be exhumed
Can’t tell an adult, ignored by a mate
Perhaps it’s your fault, or all down to fate
Food goes untouched, body smaller and hunched
Internal trauma ev’ry time you are punched
What will it take, a hospital visit?
Before words explain, so it’s explicit
Because silence is pain, invisible
But not you, a soldier, with your own war
Temporary darkness, an end in sight
Words are the answer, not physical fight
Speak out, shout, find a saviour, finally
Because youth is too fleeting to be wrecked by a bully.
People have been asking me why I decided to write a novel, or where I found inspiration for that particular story. So, I thought I would do what I do best and write a blog post to answer these questions. In my usual manner, I’ll be as honest as I like.
Let me tell you about the last two-and-a-half years of my life.
October 2011. The sun beamed down on a school playground, the children laughing and shouting and generally being kids. I was in my bedroom, which had once been the school’s medical room but had since been hurriedly transformed in order to accommodate a 20 year-old, British student on his third year abroad (i.e. they put curtains up). I had been living and working in a small French village for nigh on a month, teaching teenagers my mother tongue.
I had had a particularly bad day. The pupils didn’t care about learning English (and why should they? Cast your memory back to your own language classes at school – no doubt they were spent smuggling sweets or throwing balls of paper at the back of some other kid’s head). Equally, I did not care about teaching English. I was there because I had to be. It was part of my university course – a course that, at that time, I regretted applying for.
And so, as I listened to the excited buzz of a school playground from my hollow bedroom, staring at the anti-bullying posters pinned to my walls, trapped within four walls with no internet, no television, nobody to talk to – no distraction from self-pity – I broke.
Long story short – I was on the verge of coming home, quitting France, and quitting my degree. I would have booked a flight home there and then… but I had no internet, which I now realise was a good thing. Because I slept on it and a few days later found a room to let in a nearby town. I picked myself up, pulled it together, and decided to stick it out. Of course I did, because that was my only logical option.
And then I remembered something that I had ashamedly allowed myself to forget. I wanted to be an author. I always did, ever since I was a child and used to turn sheets of A4 paper into mini-books. But the thing is, education got in my way. I went to school and sat my GCSEs, AS Levels, A Levels which all permitted me access to university and more learning, exams and essays. Sure, I could have done a course in Creative Writing or something, but my passion for French was fast-fading and I was relieved that my love for literature remained.
That’s when Max was re-born. Max was the character I always wanted to write about but whose story I had never decided. Spider-diagrams and mind-maps and pages and pages of notes later, I finally had a story to write. Well. half a story. I had the fantasy: a made-up world with invented politics, magic and mystery, relationships and history. But I wanted to write something modern, something truly up-to-date that teenagers right now would be able to relate to.
That’s when I invented Light on the Landing. The boyband that I plonked smack bang in the middle of a fantastical tale of good versus not-so-good. And the rest of my time in France I dedicated to these five fictional musicians, running a secret Twitter account that allowed me insight into popular culture, social media, fangirls, fanboys and fanfiction, shipping and otps, parodies and fakes… you name it.
The following year, I wrote dribs and drabs, planning out plot twists and character developments, while preparing to finish my degree for that piece of paper and an extra few lines on my CV (or at least that’s what it felt like, because all I wanted to do was finish my bloody book!). I was almost half-way through, although I didn’t know that at the time, when I graduated.
Since then, I have had two full-time jobs in shops. Which was kind of my plan. I wanted to get any job I could so that I would have time to write and complete my first book, not having to worry about moving away from Salisbury or training for a new career. And I did finish.
A month or two ago, I wrote the final word (Time). A few weeks ago, I edited and formatted and basically did all the stuff that I had been avoiding. Draft 2 became The Lighter That Shone Like A Star. One week and four days ago, whilst really hungover due to me pre-celebrating, I published my novel onto Kindle.
Best feeling ever. Best day ever. (Hangover aside).
And so, there it is. The inspiration for writing a fantasy novel? Escapism. It was my escape from France, from the pressure of university, from reality. It quickly became the centre of my universe – and it still is. I know my characters better than I know myself, and I could write about them forever. The five lands – Hurburt, Terexe, Salmont, Rysked and Naegis, are like five other homes. I have obsessed over every aspect of the story, because it is one that I have been waiting a long time to tell.
As for the sequel, I have started it and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.
My degree felt like an obstacle, but if I had never studied French, I would never have lived in France and I would have never had the time or despair to begin my book.
Here is a poem, written using song titles from my iTunes.
Full list of artists below, try seeing how many you can get before looking!
Hello, Ho Hey, Say Something
Give Me Love, Stand By Me, Sing
My Girl Livin’ On A Prayer
Baby, Fall, I Know You Care
All I Got, it’s Sad But True
I Wish, I Want, Only You.
We Are Young, Larger Than Life
You Ain’t The First, Laserlight
Chasing Pavements, Chasing Cars
Stay You, Just The Way You Are.
No Matter What I’m Me, I’m Yours
Feel The Love, Hurt, Human – Flaws.
Teenage Dream, Climb On Board
Jizz In My Pants, Rock Me, Roar
Pump Up The Jam, Praise You, Shout
Paradise City, Pass Out
Wake Me Up, Grow Old With Me
I Will Wait Tik Tok Happy
Without You I’m Half A Heart
Fly Away Encore Une Fois
Goodbye To You, Let It Go
I Knew You Were Trouble, Low
Internet Friends Under Pressure
No Love, No Good, and No Better.
LIST OF ARTISTS:
Martin Solveig & Dragonette, The Lumineers, Great Big World & Christina Aguilera
Ed Sheeran, Ben. E. King, Travis
The Temptations, Bon Jovi
Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding
Newton Faulkner, Metallica
One Direction, One Direction, Ellie Goulding
Fun., Backstreet Boys
Guns n’ Roses, David Guetta feat. Jessie J
Adele, Snow Patrol
Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko, Ed Sheeran + Wiley, Bruno Mars
Boyzone, Lil’ Wayne, Jason Mraz
Rudimental, Johnny Cash, The Killers, Bastille
Katy Perry, Labrinth
The Lonely Island, One Direction, Katy Perry
Technotronic ft. Felly, Fatboy Slim, Lulu
Guns n’ Roses, Tinie Tempah
Avicii, Tom Odell
Mumford & Sons, Ke$ha, Pharell
David Guetta feat. Usher, One Direction,
Lenny Kravitz, Sash!
Ed Sheeran + Dot Rotten, Idina Menzel (Frozen OST)
Taylor Swift, Flo Rida
Knife Party, Queen
Eminem feat. Lil’ Wayne, The Prodigy, Lorde
(I just wrote what I had on my iTunes so if I’ve missed any featured artists or have listed a cover version well, stop being pedantic.)
The moon gently illuminated the Earth below, accompanied by stars, streetlamps, car headlights, and fairy lights. Carols echoed from churches; the ancient meaning of Christmas filtering through the ears of passers-by. Every window of every house gleamed, each room filled with excitement and tension; children hoping for a visit from Santa while parents frantically finished wrapping stocking fillers in the adjacent bedroom.
Christmas Eve was drawing to a close and Artie was sitting alone in his bedroom, unable to sleep. He no longer believed in Santa Claus, not after last year when he had peeked out of his bedroom door only to see his mother struggling with a bulging stocking. That was the best Christmas he had ever had, because he spent the whole day with his parents and baby sister. They were a family in its most functional form, complete and content.
This Christmas would be different, but Artie had known that for a little while. His perfect family had been torn apart in mid-November. His household was now only three, but his father was doing his best to make sure his children still had a good Christmas. There were no decorations, no lights and no tree, but his father was trying, in his own way. Artie wanted to help, but at twelve years old there was not a great deal he could offer his grieving dad.
Artie had never told his parents that he did not believe in Father Christmas, because they always tried so hard to keep the magic alive. As he struggled to doze into a dreamland, his mind filled with memory and hurt, he heard the sound of Sellotape ripping from its roll and rustling paper. His dad must be wrapping their Christmas presents, playing the role of Santa for the first time. When Artie finally drifted into sleep, his pillow was damp with tears.
Tina left the church hand-in-hand with her young daughter, absentmindedly humming O Holy Night. They turned the corner onto a road covered with Christmas lights. Waving snowmen on one house, flashing icicles on another, and ‘Santa Stop Here’ signs in several gardens. In fact, there was only one house that did not resemble a grotto and Tina did not like it.
‘You’d think he’d have at least put some lights in the window. Brings the whole street’s festive spirit down,’ said Tina. Megan, her daughter, remained silent. She felt sad when she walked past Artie’s house. It must be horrible for someone to not have their mum at Christmas, she thought. She did not blame Artie’s dad for not putting any decorations up. She did not blame him one little bit.
‘Those poor children, not having any Christmas decorations even on Christmas Eve!’ Tina continued to herself. Megan said nothing.
Netty was not looking forward to Christmas. She hated it, in fact. Her husband had left her when they were still young, and she had never loved again. For thirty-six years she had been alone, and Christmas was nothing more than a reminder of how little she had. This year was the first year that she had not felt sorry for herself. As she peered through her curtain to the house opposite, she was filled with pity. No decorations and it was the night before Christmas. That whole family were grief-stricken and Christmas would surely feel like just another day without their wife and mother.
The elderly woman had a small light-up Christmas tree on her front door, and twinkling lights around her window frames. She had been pressured into buying them four years ago, when Tina and her troupe of perfect parents expressed their disgust that her house stood alone in darkness through December. She bought a few lights to keep the peace with the ‘Anthea Turner Society’, as she liked to call them.
She saw Tina walk past her neighbour’s house, pausing to look at the unlit exterior through her flared nostrils. Netty knew that she was not thinking about the people inside, only the appearance of her wonderful neighbourhood. She shook her head in disbelief, but then stopped suddenly. Was she any better? She pitied the family inside the house, but had she offered to help them? Had she offered to watch the children so Harold could have some time alone? Had she even bothered to send a sympathy card? Or a Christmas card for that matter?
The answer was a resounding ‘no’, and Netty suddenly felt horrible. She had to do something.
‘Love, get the door will you!’ John shouted from his armchair, too engrossed in a repeat of Father Ted to answer the door.
‘Alright, you lazy sod!’ Betty, his wife, called back with a giggle. She opened the door and vaguely recognised the woman as a neighbour.
‘Hi,’ Netty began. ‘I’m doing a collection. Only, I’m not asking for your money.’
‘Then what do want?’
‘A gift,’ she replied.
Artie was awake long before he realised, drifting in and out of dreams. His sister finally brought him to a state of consciousness with her loud squeals. The boy rolled over in his duvet and slipped out of the bed, struck by the cold of his bedroom. His dad must still be in bed.
Reaching into the cot, Artie lifted his small sister in his arms and rocked her gently. He heard footsteps and his father had entered the room, smiling sleepily. He took Freya from his son and ushered the boy downstairs, where he was greeted by a small stocking full of presents.
‘Thanks, dad!’ Artie exclaimed, hugging his father’s waist.
‘That’s alright, Art. You might not even like them yet!’
‘I know I will!’
Artie was trying his best to keep up his excitement. Santa is definitely not real, he thought, because this is so different. Normally he has a massive sack of gifts and the floor around the tree is covered with presents. This year, his father forgot to buy a tree.
He began to unwrap his presents while his father gave Freya her breakfast, grateful for the gifts his father had got him. Although they may not be as plentiful or impressive as in previous years, they meant more this year. His father had tried so hard to make Christmas nice for his children, even though he was so busy and distracted, and Artie appreciated it very much.
So far, Artie had unwrapped two books, some Harry Potter slippers, and a set of juggling balls. He had just reached for his fourth present when the doorbell rang.
‘Who on earth could that be at 7 o’clock on Christmas morning?’ Harold wondered aloud, making his way to the door with Freya gripped to his side. He was stunned into complete silence when he opened the door. There was Netty with a Christmas card and a Santa hat and behind her stood several people that Harold had not seen for weeks. Steve and Janet were holding a Christmas tree while their kids each had armfuls of baubles and tinsel. Greg and his girlfriend Lorna had brought a chocolate cake and a tin of biscuits, Sarah was wearing an elf costume, and Katherine was slowly strumming her acoustic guitar.
Artie joined his father at the door and the neighbours standing outside in the cold began to sing Silent Night.
As Netty sang the classic carol alongside some of her friends and neighbours, she realised the true meaning of Christmas. Harold and Artie were both smiling, Freya bopped along making nonsensical gargles in her father’s arms. As they came to the end of the song, they all stepped aside. At the back of the carollers stood a big man with a long white beard, dressed all in red with bold black boots.
Artie knew that it was not the real Santa Claus, but it mattered not. He ran up to the man in red and gave him a big hug. His father welcomed their guests inside for a coffee and a mince pie, or some of Greg and Lorna’s cake, while Artie talked to Santa about the Christmas he had received. He already knew what his favourite present was, though – seeing his dad smile as he listened to his neighbours sing Silent Night.
All their friends helped to decorate their Christmas tree as they sang Christmas songs, only knowing the lyrics to every other verse and half the choruses, but it did not matter. Artie was laughing and singing along, and Harold was watching him with a tear in his eye.
As the neighbours bid the family of three goodbye and merry Christmas, Netty said there was just one more surprise. She led them out of the house and when they turned around, their house illuminated in every colour, flashing reds and twinkling yellows, glowing greens and bright blues.
Artie was stunned by the generosity of all those who were around him. He wrapped his arms around Netty and said ‘thank you’ countless times. She smiled down at him, full of joy and Christmas spirit.
The thing is, Artie supposed, nothing really matters. Whether Santa is real or not, whether it really is Jesus’ birthday, it doesn’t matter. Because he had his dad and his sister, and his mother was still with them, in their thoughts and in their hearts, and in the wonderful gestures that some people make at times like Christmas.