Thursday, 28 June 2012

When love comes knocking

“If I’d really loved Debbie*, I’d never have married her”
Unbelievable but true; there are people who just can’t handle love. Not that they don’t feel it, mind. Just that they daren’t risk being hurt by it. Put it this way, when love comes knocking, there’s no one in.
Jeremy was 6’4, broad-shouldered, with dark curling hair, engaging dimples and the bluest eyes I’d ever seen - the sort of film-star looks which ‘handsome’ can’t begin to describe. Of course the girls fell for him - in shoals. A brilliant horseman, during his late teens and twenties he worked as a stuntman for TV, film and a company that staged Wild West Shows and Jousting Tournaments.
Looks were by no means his only stock in trade. He was witty. He was funny. He was charismatic. He could write like a dream. He was excellent company. Everybody liked him.
The problem? (Of course there’s always a problem, isn’t there?) He drank. Heavily. Uncontrollably. Until he was unconscious. Having discovered alcohol in his early teens, it was a love affair to transcend all others – and there was plenty of competition. Girls came and went – tall girls, small girls, blondes, brunettes – all beautiful (Jeremy was very particular that way) and for the most part highly intelligent. Too intelligent to put up with an alcoholic for long.
What started his perpetual binging was, I believe, an innate shyness, the inability to see himself as others did. As a child, he’d been rather plump, you see, and his ears stuck out and I’m sure he got teased (even by me, I’m ashamed to say.) Then came the transformation, the chrysalis cracked and a butterfly emerged with long hair, endless legs and perfect pecs and suddenly girls were staring in the street at his drop-dead gorgeousness. Yet, inside he was still the little plump boy with the sticky-out ears who was shy of other people until he’d had a drink.
His parents weren’t much help. He was the last of a brood, the youngest boy of 5 and frightfully spoilt, babied even. Whereas his older siblings had been ruled with an iron rod, Jeremy - a late arrival - was born into a comfortable home where Mum and Dad had learned to relax more and actually enjoy their parenthood. Jeremy could do no wrong. Even when he started drinking, crashing cars and being arrested, his parents bailed him out – time after time after time. With never a word of censure.  No matter what he did, no matter how he hurt them, Mum and Dad would simply swallow it, allowing him to be the centre of their world to the exclusion of all else.
In some ways, they even encouraged it – because it made him more reliant, unable to fend for himself. Until he got a job. Not just any job, mind – it had to be something he enjoyed, like horse riding or he simply wouldn’t turn up.
One day, during one of his regular visits, he announced his engagement to a lovely girl from Wales. Debbie* was beautiful in every way and we were all really happy for him. At least until it ended. And that’s when he made his shocking confession, about how he could never have married her had he been in love.  By this time, of course, he already believed that lasting love was not for him. Plump little boys with sticky out ears simply don’t deserve to be happy..... Yet there was one interlude in his life when he almost thought he did.
Some years later, in his late twenties, he took a job in Zambia, working on a ranch. For the first time, he’d found a way of life he genuinely enjoyed and for the first time, someone with whom he could share it. The rancher had a daughter whose name I never knew but she was obviously special. This was the real thing, the hearts and flowers, the Mills & Boon. But, of course, there was a problem. The father was not happy. Maybe he knew about Jeremy’s addiction but, whatever the reason, he opposed the match, forcing the couple to elope. Sadly, their attempts to find refuge in Zimbabwe were unsuccessful, due to Jeremy’s lack of documents. The game was up and Jeremy returned to Britain more disillusioned, more miserable and more convinced than ever that, for him at least, life was meant to suck.
Some months later he met Jenny*. A nice young woman, a nurse who, like Jeremy, enjoyed drinking a little too much. So they settled down together in a happy haze of alcohol. Then one day, there was a phone call.
It was her! His lady from Africa. She’d come all the way to England to find him and had finally tracked him down to his Cambridge address. ‘Could they meet?’ ‘Of course!’ Arrangements were made for what should have been a wonderful reunion. He didn’t turn up.
“Why?” I asked. “I thought you loved her?” “I did” he replied, “I do.”
“But how can she know that?”
“She’ll know.”
“But she came all the way from Zambia!” I cried. “Just how do you think she felt when you didn’t show up?”
Jeremy paused. “She’ll understand.”

My brother Jeremy died aged 42 having tried desperately to combat his alcoholism. Ironically, the immediate cause of death was due to a low level of alcohol in his blood which induced a violent fit.

And if there’s a lady reading this now who once lived on a ranch in Zambia and loved a man called Jeremy, there’s just one thing I’d like you to know. He loved you. He really, really loved you.

* These names have been changed

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Runaway Children Vol 3 - Showdown at Shivering Mountain

With his brother Joe and their friend Odi lost at sea, Miles keeps grief at bay by playing the market. Will he ever be as big a tycoon as his mentor, Alazon Smyle? Will Alice continue to Wow the A list or is she disillusioned by the high life? Can the hapless Captain Catastrophe ever find his way to Australia? And will the mysterious Bevis prove to be friend or foe to the Hadwin family?
Meanwhile, as the evil Elymas draws close to achieving his goal, and the vengeful Sister Prism remains hot on the heels of the children, Captain Catastrophe and his two young friends weigh anchor by an idyllic palm-fringed island - only to find the darkness lurking even here.
Packed with intrigue, travel and adventure, this third and final book in The Runaway Children series takes the reader from the South Pacific to the heart of Westminster before arriving at Fernlee Forest and the Derbyshire Peaks. Here, on top of the Shivering Mountain, one little boy faces his Nemesis in a thrilling climax.


Chapter 1 - Excerpt

If there was one thing Captain Catastrophe was good at, it was cooking, which was just as well considering his enormous appetite and the fact that there was very little else to do but eat. “What happens when we run out of food?” asked Odi between mouthfuls of a particularly tasty mutton stew. Captain Catastrophe paused briefly from chewing to ponder this question as though it had never occurred to him. “Oh, I expect we’ll be landing somewhere long before that happens,” he replied cheerfully. “Yes, I’m sure we shall.”
“But when?” Odi was beginning to wonder whether they’d ever see land again. “Seems like we’re just going round in circles.”
“Well, there’s always that possibility, I suppose,” mused the Captain, stroking his grizzled grey beard, “although I wonder how one could tell.”
“You mean we could be stuck in the sea forever!?” cried Joe, alarmed.
“No!” Captain Bob reassured him. “As long as we’re sailing in a straight line as the crow flies, we’re bound to end up somewhere, so eat up and stop worrying. Besides,” he continued after another pensive pause, “we could always catch fish.” If this was meant to set the boys’ minds at rest, it failed miserably. “I hate fish!” Odi protested, which was only partly true, as he’d eat anything as long as it was covered in batter and hot pepper sauce. As for Joe, all he really wanted now was to reach Australia, but from what he’d witnessed of Captain Catastrophe’s navigational skills so far, he didn’t see that happening any time soon. So it was a welcome surprise on going up on deck one morning to hear the Captain roaring with delight, “Dolphins! Look!” And he pointed towards the stern. “Oh-oh,” thought Odi. “I’ve heard that somewhere before.” Only this time, it was true. A school of dolphins were following the boat, leaping and prancing through the waves, showing off outrageously.
“We must be nearing land!” cried Captain Bob. “Watch the horizon, boys!” They peered intently ahead, willing the land to appear with all their might and were at last rewarded by a faint strip in the distance.
“Ahoy there!” everyone cried excitedly.
“Where do you think it is?” asked Joe.
“Oh, somewhere friendly, I hope!” The Captain was so pleased at having arrived anywhere, the exact location didn’t really matter. Besides, the mere sight of the island as it blossomed into view was enough to lift the saddest of spirits. Fringing the beach of perfect white-gold sands, palm trees and other exotic plants swayed in the warm breeze and beckoned invitingly. The waters surrounding this jewel were a clear turquoise rippling gently over reefs of spectacular coral. Joe and Odi had, of course, visited many islands during their voyage with Mr Smyle, but this was different. There was something magical about the place that took the breath away.

The Runaway Children Trilogy - all three books are now available for download:


Monday, 4 June 2012

Quick to hear, slow to speak - how good communication really works

       Here's a brief guide on how to communicate effectively within the most challenging arena of all - Your Home.

Respect other’s view                           
       How many times have you (and I) jumped to conclusions? Usually the wrong ones? How many times do we butt in when someone is trying to explain something to us, and either explode with rage and self-justification or stomp off in a huff?
       Hear them out. Maybe what you think they’re going to say and what they actually mean to say are two very different propositions.  Whatever the case, they have a right to be heard and, if you want them to treat your opinions with respect, then you must listen respectfully to theirs. The same applies whether you’re a parent or a teenager. Respect cuts both ways.
Listen carefully
       Try to keep calm and concentrate on what’s being said. And please, please, please, young ones, remove your earphones, turn off your iPod and stop texting! You parents may need to put down your newspapers, stop watching telly or tweeting!
       Once the other person has finished speaking, repeat what they’ve said back to them – again respectfully to let them know you’ve understood. If you’re the child in the relationship, comply with your parents’ (reasonable) requests (i.e. tidying your bedroom as opposed to holding up a bank!) As a result, parents will notice you’re behaving in a mature, responsible way and, when things calm down, may be more inclined to listen to your point of view.
       Of course, we parents also have a duty to listen, without always assuming we’re in the right. And if, despite your best efforts, things start to get heated, cut the conversation short and suggest you talk about things later when everyone’s calmed down.
       Children – remember, arguing with parents is a no win situation. Because,  believe it or not, your significant adults are invariably on your side!
Be reasonable
       There comes a point when every teenager demands more freedom.  What you need to bear in mind is that, far from wishing to spoil your fun, loving parents are bound to worry and, by asking you to be home at a certain time, are merely trying to protect you.  If you stick to their rules, especially when it comes to being home at a certain time, your parents are more likely to trust you in the future, allowing you more freedom and privileges.
       On the other hand, there may be good reasons why a youth should be allowed to stay out later. If, say, he or she is out with a group of friends, then it would make sense for them to come home together, even if this may be later than usual, rather than any one of them having to journey alone at night.
Watch how you speak
       Youths who want their views to be considered seriously should think not only about what they say but how they say it. Very often, your tone of voice can make the difference between your parents treating you seriously and dismissing your feelings out of hand. Avoid sweeping statements such as “You never....” or “You always.....” Keep calm, speak quietly and whatever you do, avoid sarcasm. Same goes for parents.  Generalising about your children can be exasperating, as can assuming you always know how they tick. Nothing irritates more than false assumptions.
       Words can hurt, but then so can non-verbal expressions. Rolling eyes, tutting, smirking and sighing convey more about attitude than anything you say, so try to control your body language.
Have empathy
       Another aspect for youngsters to take on board; Mum and Dad are imperfect humans who sometimes get tired and cranky. Mums, for example, have a knack of making children feel guilty, especially when it comes to doing chores – or rather not doing them if yours is anything like a normal household. If Mum moans or nags or simply gives you that ‘Why don’t you help me wash the dishes, do I have to do everything round here?” look, try not to snap. Remarks such as, “Stop nagging/moaning/looking” at me will only add fuel to the fire. Empathise. Think. Saying something kind, such as: “I can see you’re upset Mum, I’ll do the dishes,” may initially meet with an ungracious mumble, but will certainly do much to ease the tension.
       Let’s be honest. None of us are right all of the time. So there are bound to be times when parents and children speak out of turn. A hurtful word can often bite deeper than 40 lashes (and I don’t mean the Revlon kind!) This is here humility comes in. A simple and sincere “Sorry” will do. Or, if you find it difficult to say face to face, write a little note to express your feelings.
       Throughout life, we all have to deal with difficulties and disagreements at times – with friends, colleagues, employers and other people we meet on a day to day basis. But by learning to deal with family members in a kind, considerate way, we can develop top-notch communication skills that will never let us down.