Acting and Ferret Farming Made Simple

One of the earliest memories I have is of those little china animals that used to come out of Christmas crackers. Do you remember them? They were awesome. I particularly remember a horse, rearing up on its hind legs, and a cheeky little red squirrel. I loved those little animals. I coveted those little animals.

When I was about seven, I collected these, and other miniature things and kept them all in a shoe box. (Weirdly, there’s totally a children’s story hidden in that sentence, isn’t there?) I would take those animals out of the box and, feeding what was probably early onset OCD, arrange them in a variety of ways: colour order, height order, alphabetical order… and then one day, I have this very clear memory of using them to put on a show for my dad.

Someone had given me a book of nonsense verse and there was a particular poem – I wish I could remember it – that tickled me. So I used these little china animals to act out the poem. I distinctly remember the poem calling for an old man, so I made a beard for the horse out of cotton wool. I think he had to fall down some stairs. (It wasn’t ‘You Are Old, Father William’. I’m almost sure it was an Edward Lear poem, but I’m damned if I can remember it now!)

What I did was tell a story through acting.

A few days ago, I put up a lament on Facebook about how I was sad that due to Life taking over, I had to drop acting as a career choice and enter the real world. I love acting. I think it’s why I enjoy live role play so very much. The chance to be someone else and put Sarah on the shelf for a while. Since I put that post up, I’ve had a number of wistful thoughts about the subject and this morning, the Thought Train pulled into Epiphany Station and I realised that there are many similarities between acting and writing.

In both cases, you’re telling a story. A play is a story. It has characters, it has plot, it has exposition, it has Events. You convey emotion. It has dialogue. I love writing dialogue, I have to admit and I think that’s a direct result of the acting, of actually picking up words on a page and breathing life into them. Use of punctuation can inject a comedic pause, or add tension every bit as much as missing a beat can do. Writing something like this:

“I don’t know why I did it,” he said. There was an awkward silence.

“But I did.”

…has the same effect as inserting a dramatic pause. (Dramatic paws. RAAR. Sidenote explanation: one of the course books when I was studying drama originally had the best ever title. ‘Acting and Stagecraft Made Simple’. It was so much use that we called it ‘Acting and Ferret Farming Made Simple’. It waxed eloquent about the use of the dramatic pause. Which naturally evolved into paws).

A lot of people enjoy books filled with long descriptions of people and places. I prefer those that give you the bare minimal description – enough to fire your imagination – and plug the gaps with excellent dialogue. Terry Pratchett was a master of comedy dialogue. When his books were adapted so masterfully by Stephen Briggs for the stage, they worked perfectly. I prefer to let my imagination hear what’s going on. Again, I think that’s a side-effect of my inner Thespian.

I love learning lines of dialogue. I can recite great long passages of it from a variety of things. Shakespeare, TV and radio shows, films… I had a bet with someone once that I couldn’t learn and recite ‘The Jabberwocky’ in an hour. I won the bet and never forgot it. I can still remember my lines from the school Mummers play that I was in when I was… nine. I used to learn my lines AND the lines of other people. I remember once that during a performance of The Winslow Boy, the chap standing opposite me completely forgot his lines. The prompt, who was half-deaf to start with and lived in a hollow piano (true. This is true. I can’t even…) wouldn’t have heard his pleas for help, so in order to keep things going, I just warped his lines into mine and he picked up the thread without any of us missing a beat. Improvisation fun times. (Again, I cite LRP, yer honour).

Directing is something else entirely. As a director, you are even more in charge of the story telling. It may be hard to believe that having someone standing in a particular place, or wearing a certain expression, or maybe letting their fingers brush wistfully over a bottle on the side can make all the difference to conveying personality quirks, but it really, really does.

I’ve not done much in the way of directing. I think part of me is terrified of the concept. Having been an actor, getting plucked from where your feet naturally take you when saying a line and being told to stand over there, it fills me with cold dread to make those calls. I happily invite thoughts from people who direct. How hard is it to make that transition from reacting to the lines you’re speaking to reacting to watching those lines being spoken?

On stage, characterisation is about more than how you act and how you say the words. It’s about what you don’t say. About what you barely hint at. It’s those things that make a character accessible, believable. In books, such quirks could be people who chew their lip when they’re thinking. In a book, you can convey inner processing more easily than you can on stage.

The more I contemplate this subject, the more I realise that my acting energies channel themselves now into my writing, into LRP events, into online role play fora… so maybe the actor in me isn’t lost forever. Maybe the actor in me is simply approaching the art in a different way.

Silver, Silver Everywhere

In conversation with someone recently, I was asked just how many Silver Skulls stories I’d written over the last few years. I pondered, and thought about it and said ‘I dunno. Maybe two or three?’ (I know. Eloquent, right?)

On reflection, and on closer examination, I realised I actually did a whole lot more than that. So I thought I’d get the shiny lads compiled into one place, with handy, easy-to-follow links. You know, should you fancy buying them or anything. Also presented with the blurb.

The first Silver Skulls story I wrote was Primary InstinctThis story also represents my very first published story ever, anywhere and I’m still a little bit proud of it. I’d completely re-write it now, of course, but it was the first outing for my main Silver Skulls sergeant, Gileas Ur’ten, who’s been the basis for so many more stories since. Primary Instinct turned up in the first edition of the short-lived, but frankly awesome Hammer & Bolter, and then again as part of the ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ anthology. It’s also available as its own little ebook, here.

primary
“Investigating a crashed ship in an alien jungle, the Silver Skulls encounter monstrous aliens that threaten even the mighty Space Marines. When a battle-brother dies, his corpse desecrated, they discover a horrifying truth about the vile beasts.”

After this, there was a pair of stories that work back-to-back to make one longer, bigger story. Action and Consequence, followed by Cause and Effect appeared in Hammer and Bolter issue 5 and 8 respectively. They are, of course, also now available as their own ebooks – Action and Consequence and Cause and Effect.

A&C.jpg

With alien raiders preying upon their recruits, the Silver Skulls embark on a campaign of retribution – but the need to protect the human captives complicates the mission.

ce

Sergeant Gileas Ur’ten of the Silver Skulls leads a mission against the eldar, unaware that the outcome will decide his future, as the Masters of the Chapter choose a new captain.

This was the point at which I realised just how much I loved these guys. The Silver Skulls were different. They weren’t a first founding chapter, they weren’t well documented and I had a certain amount of free rein to do with them what I fancied based on the clues hinted at within the existing rulebooks. That was when I pitched The Gildar Rifta novel which became a part of the Space Marines Battles series, which had THE most glorious cover art and which didn’t feature Gil and his squad. I missed them, but it was OK. Because I fell head over heels for my Techmarine in that book.

The Gildar Rift has been translated into at least two other languages that I know of – French and German – and it still humbles me that Words Wot I Wrote have been translated and shared with others for whom English isn’t their first language. You can check out The Gildar Rift here.

tgr

In the depths of space, the Silver Skulls take on the might of Huron Blackheart and his Red Corsairs.

That blurb is just not gripping, is it? Here, have the story summary as well.

When the ancient warship Wolf of Fenris emerges from the warp, Imperial forces find that it has been overrun by the dreaded Red Corsairs. However, this is no mere raiding party – Huron Blackheart and his entire renegade fleet soon follow, intent on conquering the Gildar Rift and tightening their grip on the sector. Lance batteries and torpedo salvos burn fiery contrails through the void, and only Captain Arrun of the Silver Skulls Space Marine Chapter can halt the renegades’ advance. The fate of the Rift will not be decided in the heavens but on the surface of Gildar Secundus below.

Get those exciting words! Emerges. Overrun. Fiery contrails. FATE.

I love that story. I don’t care.

Then, there was another short story called The Pact, which appeared in Hammer and Bolter 15. But that appears to have vanished from the face of the universe, at least in terms of availability on the BL site. Well, whatever, it introduced the Talriktug, the elite Terminator squad headed up by Kerelan. They were kicking about on Lyria, which was the original homeworld of the Silver Skulls and were forced to chum up with the least likely of people. Also starring was Bhehan, a young Prognosticator who shows up elsewhere in this timeline.

In lieu of a link, have this opening quote.

“And the stolen voices of his venerable kin will welcome him, embrace him and bear him to the heart of our scarred past, the first home of the Argent Order. There, the ashes of the great destroyer lie mingled with the fading embers of our birth, two banners falling as one to call him back. Back to the beginning. Then will the past be revealed.”

– From The Orthodoxy of Varsavia, Author Unknown

221.M34

Next came the super-short story, Skin Deepwritten for the Black Library for one of their special series. Either one of the Christmas advent stories, or a Summer of Reading story. I completely forget which. I’ve slept since then.

Skin Deep can be found here.

skin-deep

Amongst the Silver Skulls, great deeds are commemorated with victory tattoos. Lord Commander Argentius, Master of the Chapter, visits the aged Cruor Primaris to have his latest exploits added. But Argentius is uneasy and as he talks with his old friend, he bares his soul as well as his tattooed body.

And that brings us right up to date, with Silver Skulls: Portentsa stand-alone novel featuring (hooray!) Sergeant Gileas Ur’ten and with additional appearances by Bhehan and the Talriktug in all their formidable glory. I really enjoyed writing Portentsbecause I was able to incorporate a lot of the ideas about the chapter I’d long been harbouring – and best of all, because I got to write about Varsavia, their home world.

Hint: it’s an ice ball. Don’t go there.

Portents can be found here.

Again, the blurb is a bit short, so I’ll include the story description, too.

silver-skulls-portent-flat

Combating an insurrection backed by the Traitor Legions, the Silver Skulls may be being manipulated by the very powers they fight against…

The Silver Skulls Space Marine Chapter deploy on the world of Valoria Quintus to combat an insurrection backed by the dread forces of the Traitor Legions. Sent there by the visions of their Prognosticars, the mysterious psykers whose premonitions decree the path forged by the Chapter and the wars that they wage, they expect victory to be swift and easy. But they have not reckoned with their own allies, the servants of the Inquisition who are interested in the Prognosticars, their importance within the Chapter and the possibility that the Silver Skulls may be being manipulated by the very powers they fight against…

So there you have it! The full, complete list of all the Silver Skulls stories that fell out of my brain over the last few years. It’s genuinely surprised me just how many of them there actually are…

 

 

 

Growing Old Disgracefully

As a woman in her forties and who can no longer use the excuse that I’m not old enough to know better, I’m going to come clean about something.

Basically, I no longer care what the world at large thinks of me.

This isn’t to say that I’m Sticking It To The Man (whatever ‘it’ might happen to be at that particular time). No. This is me saying ‘I defy your expectations of how a woman in her forties should look/act/exist’.

There have been a couple of things doing the rounds on social media: the first was an item written by some stripling of a child stating that women over 30 shouldn’t be seen wearing certain items. Amongst these were hoop earrings, just to give you an idea of how banal this opinion actually is. Myself, I have no need of hoop earrings, unless I’m planning on transporting parrots, but I get that other people like them. I recommend wearing them large enough to teach poodles to jump through, just to get at that so-called fashion writer.

To counter this, and much to my extreme amusement, an article appeared on my feed yesterday  which was headlined as ’24 Things Women Over 30 Should Wear’. I recommend a look – here. Every suggestion is perfect.

But it got me to thinking that society has these ‘norms’ to which it expects us (and when I say ‘us’, I frankly mean ‘women’ to adhere at certain stages of our adult lives.

Aged 18-25? Why, you’re perfect as you are. You are the perfect demographic. Do what you like. Go where you want. Wear an old bin bag for all we care. The worst we can do for your demographic is to shake our collective heads and say ‘ah, the yoof of today’. But all our fashion articles, all our holidays, all our marketing is aimed in your direction.

Aged 25? You’re a quarter of a century old. Think about it. Quarter of a frickin’ century. Best start thinking about growing up now, because it’s a downhill slide to thirty from here. In fact, the next few years of your life will become consumed by the dread that you’ll no longer be a twenty-something. It’ll be the end of the world as you know it, because everyone knows that once you hit thirty, you’re Past It. (There’s that elusive ‘it’ again).

You are no longer relevant. You have moved, the gods forbid, into the next age group tick box!

When you reach the dizzying heights of 29, you’ve accepted your fate. Thirty, you say confidently, is the new twenty. This is all well and good and frankly I find it an admirable approach, but what you’re going to encounter is a subsection of society that immediate begins wearing Frank Bough style cardigans once they turn thirty. That same subsection that starts to go to bed early for no reason that’s what they assume ‘old’ people do. Those people will shake their heads at your tales of your wild night out, where you drank beer straight from the tap, or bounced on a kid’s bouncy castle in the rain, or played on your PS4 all weekend. Shame on you. Shame. You should have been doing the housework, or spending sixty hours in a B&Q trying to find just the right tiles for the bathroom, not going to Ikea and deliberately going the wrong way around the one-way system because it winds people up.

Partway through your thirties, you’ll undergo a repeat of what happened at 25. You’re nearly 40. FORTY, for God’s sake! What’s even the point of being forty? But wait! It’s going to be OK, you’ve got that Frank Bough cardigan that your friend got you for your thirtieth. Now you really have to knuckle down and do the things society expects of you. Maybe join the WI. Maybe consider buying matching coffee mugs and being really really proud of them. Because you’re in your forties. And here, my advice and experience of what societal ‘norm’ for my age group comes to an end, because it’s all new from here.

Truth is, I’m not long for my forties. Soon, that first number will be a ‘5’, and I no longer care about it. I just hope that I make the most of what time I’m actually given on this ridiculous planet.

For most of my thirties, I worried incessantly about being forty, but then it stopped. Because here’s what I realised.

Time is a constant. We can bemoan our mortality, but there’s sweet Fanny Adams we can do about it. No amount of creams or magic potions will stop the aging process. People have become so fixated on what the exterior is like that they forget, by the age of thirty five, to have fun. They let their insides rot away. They lose the ability to play, to imagine, and to enjoy the miracle of being alive.

There’s such a difference between being an adult and being grown up. Being an adult is a certainty. It’s a physical thing. We only measure it in years because that’s what society expects of us. Being an adult is knowing when you have to pay your bills, knowing when you have to sacrifice a holiday because the roof needs retiling, or giving up your hard earned cash to your offspring because you love them and want them to be happy. Being an adult is knowing when you need to be silly, to fill your life with love, laughter and ludicrousness. Being a grown-up is accepting your mortality and waiting, sternly, drinking tea from your matching mugs, whilst tutting at the state of your peers, who are rolling about in mud, dressed as fantasy characters and playing make-believe.

Being a grown-up is utterly dull and I want no part of it.

It’s my life. Those I invite on board the roller coaster are there because I want them. You don’t like the sudden drops, or the inversions? Then go play on the swings. This is my party. Happy to just roll with the world? Then welcome on board. Person who makes the best train noises wins this lollipop!

Caveat: I may have done some of the seemingly childish things on this list and I regret none of them.

Dear Mum (2015 Edition)

Dear Mum

And around it comes again. Fifteen years since we lost you, fifteen years that have gone by both in a rush and which have dragged. So many changes, so many good times, so many lows.

Life, they say, goes on after you lose someone and that’s certainly true. But the pain – whilst it may fade – never really goes away. When Jamie collected his GCSE results, when he did so well, I was heartbroken that you weren’t there to share in his success. I was sad that you will never get to meet him as he is now: a nice, sweet, kind young man with a wicked sense of humour not so far removed from yours.

I have been quite low these past few days with the build-up to today. I know it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to make myself sad before the event, but I’ve woken up this morning and after a moment of reflection have realised that I’m actually OK today. OK doesn’t mean I don’t miss you, I miss you several times a day, every day. What I wouldn’t give for an opportunity to talk rubbish on the phone with you again. But I learned a long time ago that lingering on ‘I wish’ won’t help the healing process.

Struggling to find my Christmas head this year. However, as it’s… Today… the tree will go up tonight. I suspect that may help me locate some of my Christmas cheer. It’s for you. It’s always for you, and Jamie always insists on having that little fibre-optic tree you bought for him the year you died. He puts it up in his room and in his own words, ‘it’s like having a piece of Nanna with me’. For a boy who wasn’t even two when you died, that’s immensely touching.

This year’s not been without its highs and lows, but when you do an annual letter, you start to realise that’s not so unusual. I’m hoping it’ll end on a high, because I’m quite fed up of being sad. Some stuff happened over the last twelve months that’s really dented my sense of self-confidence and it’s a hard thing to come back from… but I’m trying.

Fifteen years.

Gosh.

But… I will put a smile on my face and work through today, as I’ve done every year since December 10th, 2000. For the people around me it’s just another day, and that helps to put things into perspective. But for this moment of heart-pouring, of letter writing and communication with memories, it’s just you and me.

Love you, mum. Always did, always will.

Happy Christmas!

 

Sarah

xxx

Sir Terry Pratchett – 1948-2015



It was my extraordinary privilege to meet Sir Terry Pratchett (or just ‘Terry’ as he was then) several times during the course of my late teenage and young adult years. Each one of those meetings was extraordinary for different reasons. Each memory of those meetings is precious, even more so in the wake of his death.


Not long after the publication of ‘Equal Rites’ Terry[1]  was signing copies at the local bookshop in Crawley. He was not really a household name at this point and a small trickle of people came up to him and got their books signed. I had read his previous works and in a twist of annoying fate, had purchased my copy of ‘Equal Rites’ a week before, down in Chichester whilst at college. Being an impoverished student, I asked him if he wouldn’t be offended if I got him to sign something else rather than buy another copy of the book. Honesty, I reasoned, was the best policy.


He laughed warmly and signed the only thing I happened to have at the time – the inside sleeve of a set of photographs I’d just had developed in town that day. We started chatting. Easily, without it being forced or in any way false, we discussed Discworld, my love of reading and writing and a plethora of other things.


‘Don’t start writing until you’re in your thirties or forties,’ he told me. He was like a wise Buddha giving me a life secret[2]. ‘Live a little. Have some Experiences.’ Terry Pratchett was the only person I ever met who could effortlessly pronounce capital letters.


Some years later, at the first ever Discworld convention, I met Terry again. I caught him at the bar when we were ordering at the same time. We exchanged a quick word – like you would – and I bought his drink for him. He was delighted. So was I. I don’t ever deny there was a bit of fangirling going on.[3]


Later on in the weekend, there was a series of short scenes acted out by various delegates from the books. Myself and a few others engaged in this wholeheartedly and we were assigned the ‘job fair’ scene from the beginning of ‘Mort’. But we were one character short. We needed someone to play the boy who gets selected to be the idiot.


In a rare moment of assertiveness, and on seeing a familiar hat walking through the door of the room where we were creating this theatrical masterpiece, I decided there and then that I would ask Terry if he fancied being an idiot.


‘You can’t do that!’ My companions were aghast.


‘Watch me.’


I could. I did. And with great joy at being involved, Terry put on a beret, rolled up one trouser leg and stuck his tongue out in Benny Hill style for our little scene. Somewhere, I have a photograph of that. I must locate it. It was stupendously hilarious. And rather than accept our gratitude for his involvement, he gave us his – for involving him and letting him have a moment to ‘give back’ as he put it.


The third meeting was when he, his wife and daughter were attending a performance of ‘Guards! Guards!’ when it had first been adapted for the stage. I don’t even remember where that was. Reading? Somewhere like that? Lovely little theatre and it was alarming to realise that the Pratchett family were sitting right in front of us.


There was easy joy in watching him laugh at words he had written himself and which were being brought to life with fantastic effect on the stage. At one point, he turned to his wife and said ‘Did I write that? I was on form that day!’ 


Every time I met Terry, he was warm and delightful. There was such wit and intelligence in his words and his observations. The cruelty of the illness that robbed the world of his talent was a nasty, spiteful irony. An embuggerance, even. But he didn’t give up. He never gave up. He fought against it. He raged against the machine. He championed the cause of assisted suicide. He gave so much of himself and his time and his talent to raise awareness and then… well, I can only assume that he simply outgrew this life. Wherever he’s gone, their lives will be enriched in the same way ours were.


It’s easy – and true – to say that he was – and will remain – one of the most inspirational people I have met during my lifetime. His long-ago words of wisdom, his willingness to participate in something verging on the ridiculous[4], his laughter at the sheer comedy of his own words left a great impression on me. I am immeasurably grateful for both the gift of his works and the pleasure of having met him those few special times.


I will miss him, but whilst I have his books on my shelves, he’s still there and he always will be.


His final Tweets, posted in the wake of his death by his assistant were both delightful, sad and very, very Terry.


AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.


Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.


The End.


Rest very much in peace, Sir Terry. And make sure you get that curry.

[1] I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me calling him Terry. If he does, somewhere he’s searching for a pointy stick with which to poke me.  


[2]A wise Buddha in a hat and with a devilish twinkle in his eye.


[3]At least it wasn’t like the first time I met Graham McNeill and utterly embarrassed myself with an unintended and yet decidedly mega double-entendre that sent me as red as a post box.


[4]Unlike a virgin on the ridiculous, which is something entirely different.

Dear Mum – 2014

Dear Mum

Well, here we are again. Another year’s gone by and if I’m honest, there’s not all that much that’s changed. You’re still not here and fourteen years later, that still makes me alternate between sad and angry. I didn’t sleep well last night; the wind was lashing the rain against the windows and I could only lie awake thinking of you. This means I’ve woken up feeling a little on the gloomy side. I have to spend a day at work and I’m fairly certain it’ll only take one person to observe that I’m ‘a bit quiet today’ for it all to come out. I’ll try not to, though, there’s a colleague who lost her own mum earlier this year in that same sudden way we lost you. It’s far more raw for her than it is for me and I try, at least, to be considerate.

What has happened this year that’s worthy of note? Well, I’ve had two more books published, including the Plantagenet one I mentioned to you last year, and another Space Marine tale. I’ve decided to take a writing break, though. I essentially wrote four novels back-to-back over a two year period and tying that in with a day job means I was pretty wiped out.

Ben and I went back to LRP this year. I still can’t get over the warm welcome – people’s genuine pleasure and kind words made me a little tearful. It was great to go back without the pressures of trying to please all the people all the time (when it’s a fact that when it comes to LRP folk, you can’t please any of the people any of the time). I had fun.

Jamie took his first GCSE in the summer: Core Science, for which he got an ‘A’ grade. I was pretty proud of him, I can tell you. He has the rest to look forward to in 2015; and he’s received his conditional offer of a place in sixth form to do his A Levels. He has plans to go to University and study biomedical engineering and I believe he will completely do that. He’s that type: sets his mind to something and *bang* achieves it.

He’s sixteen in February. Practically an adult.

I took up a twelve-month secondment which I started in September. I’m hoping wholeheartedly that it becomes permanent, because whilst my previous job was pretty enjoyable, this one is better suited to my skillset. However, it will be what it will be and in the current economic climate, it’s good to have a job at all. I’m grateful for that, and the fact that I can provide a roof over our head and feed us every week.

There’s been some bad stuff this year as well. None of it as bad as this day fourteen years ago: I consider that the benchmark for ‘bad stuff’, but some of it so hard to deal with that I cried for days. I’m still pretty sad over some of those matters, but I think I’m coming out the other side. The short version is that the lessons learned from various things that have happened this year are: I should learn to trust my instincts, I should say how I’m feeling sooner rather than later, and that there will always be people who don’t give a damn about how their behaviour might affect others.

Back to the good: we have good friends in Lincoln and we spend lots of time with them and they spend lots of time with us. I’m starting to think that, once Jamie goes off to University and I’m no longer tied to the North East, I might well start giving thought to a relocation. Again, it will be what it will be – the housing market isn’t exactly a seller’s place just now, but I’ve been in this house for ten years (this week!) and I know that my mortgage statement should be a pleasant surprise this year.

We’ll be putting the Christmas tree up later, the ritual of the last fourteen years that I have come to insist upon. I’ll pop by the supermarket and get mince pies and we have a bottle of mulled wine in the house. Tonight, I will remember you – although I do that all the time anyway – and be grateful for the fact I got to spend so many years with you.

For the first time in a few years, I’m getting a little bit teary as I write this. I think it’s probably my cue to stop and go to work. I will be thinking of you and missing you.

Always love you, mum.
Sarah

The Restless Dead – Part One

I should quit smoking.

​They were strange words to be thinking when he was running for his life down the river path, the pounding of his pursuer loud in his ears, but there they were. Random, pointless words that had absolutely no right being in his head. He should quit smoking. Because then, he wouldn’t feel as though there was a raging inferno burning in his lungs and he might – might – just be able to run that little bit faster.
​He could hear a variety of sounds behind him, each individual one conjuring up a greater overall vision of abject terror. His imagination, healthy and very active, thank you very much, had already gone into overdrive. And yet he knew. He knew categorically that the reality would be far, far worse. He wasn’t going to turn around to verify it though, oh no. He wasn’t going to fall for that old chestnut. He’d seen enough horror films to at least have an inkling of what he was doing. Turning around to see what was chasing you never ended well.
​The snarls that left his pursuer’s throat were wet in tone, made thick with drool and saliva. The sound of claws scrabbling against the dirt and stone of the rough river path most certainly belonged to massive paws. But probably the worst thing of all, the most horrendous contender for ‘noise of the night’ was the panting. It wasn’t the panting of a dog attempting to cool down. It was the panting of a creature hungering for his flesh, blood, bones and probably a few internal organs as appetisers.
​The moon, full and bright, disappeared behind a cloud and the river path fell into complete blackness. The sounds of pursuit slowed, all six running feet reducing their speed momentarily. Without the light of the moon, both hunter and hunted were temporarily blinded. The difference, the running man knew, was that he wasn’t gifted with a supernatural sense of smell. It wasn’t going to be him who adjusted to the new levels of light in the space of a few heartbeats.
​Adrenaline pushed past the screaming in his lungs and gave him a new burst of speed as he willed his legs to pump harder, to run faster, to carry him to safety.

​I really should quit smoking.

Six Hours Earlier

‘Afternoon, Mister Flanagan.’
​ Ed looked up from his newspaper and grunted acknowledgement. He looked back down for a moment, then realisation kicked in. He raised his head again and there was something almost pleading in his eyes.
​‘Dennis? It’s not that time of the month again already is it?’
​‘You really would benefit from a calendar,’ said the customer in a light, scolding tone. ‘Or get yourself one of these new fangled electronic thingies. An Orange, or a Banana. Some sort of fruit, anyway.’
The irony of you saying that…Ed coughed suddenly, not entirely sure that he had not just said that out loud. But his customer didn’t appear to be deeply offended and carried on with his little lecture. “I’ve heard that those electronic doo-hickeys do just about everything short of making the tea for you.’ Ed folded his newspaper and took his feet off the counter.
​He had seen four customers all day. Three of them had come in thinking he sold video games. He had briefly attempted to engage their interest in outdoor pursuits but that had resulted in the kind of looks that could slay nations. It had also invoked a slew of expletives that he had never known at that age. With the infinite patience of a man dealing with People Like That all the time, Ed pointed them up the stairs to the market. Then he returned to contemplation of the tabloid rubbish that so entertained him.
​‘Well, this is nice,’ said Dennis, taking one of the fly fishing rods from the wall and bending it to test its suppleness. He was a mild, unassuming-looking man. The sort of man who, in books, would likely be described as the type who wouldn’t say ‘hello’ to a goose – never mind ‘boo’. Receding sandy hair formed a near-halo around a high forehead and his myopic green eyes blinked at the world through thick glass lenses. He was heavily set, the evidence of too much enjoyment of pie and peas at the weekly darts matches he played.
​Ed knew Dennis very well. He was forty nine years old, married to an equally unassuming, yet remarkably angry woman called Barbara. He had two children. Ed didn’t know their names. Dennis had told him once, but he was so infernally dull that without really meaning to, whenever he spoke, Ed had sort of tuned him out. When Dennis spoke of his home life, Ed heard white noise.
​ Dennis flexed the rod a few more times, then put it back carefully on the rack. It teetered there precariously for a moment or two before promptly falling off. A second or two later, the others followed. They fell to the floor one at a time with a surprisingly loud noise until the carefully laid-out display was strewn across the dusty concrete of the shop floor. Dennis blinked down at the chaos he had wrought and took out a handkerchief. He removed his glasses and anxiously cleaned them. ‘Ah, sorry. Should I just…?’
​‘Don’t worry about it, Dennis. I’ll sort it.’ Ed unfolded from his lounging position and moved across to recover the fallen items. He was tall; lean and rangy with whipcord muscles honed from the hours of training he put in. Dennis blinked up at him, then perched his glasses back on his nose. He hesitated a moment or two, then spoke.
​‘I’ve got it, this time,’ he said, lowering his voice surreptitiously. ‘I know exactly what I need to catch the blighter.’
​‘You said that last month, Dennis.’ Ed grinned in a friendly sort of way. He knew, deep down, that he really shouldn’t humour the man, but he couldn’t help it. Dennis was so set on making the catch of his life. ‘And the month before that. In fact, you’ve said this to me every month for the past two years.’
​‘I mean it this time,’ insisted Dennis. He nodded sagely and peered up at the lanky Irishman. ‘But I’m going to need your help this time.’
​He took out a brown envelope from inside his tweed jacket pocket and slapped it down on Ed’s counter. There was a faintly triumphant expression on his face which lost some of its impact when the envelope knocked over Ed’s mug of tea. In a few brief seconds, the fishing flies that Ed had been tying that afternoon were swimming forlornly in a brown, murky puddle as though trying to attract some kind of lesser-known tea trout.
​‘Oh, I’m sorry… should I just…’ Dennis made a move as though he would clean it up, but Ed held his hand up to forestall him.
​‘No,’ he said, wearily. ‘No, Dennis, it’s alright. I’ll sort it.’ He picked up the envelope, saving it from certain tannin doom and peered into it. He pulled out the contents and studied them thoughtfully.
​‘Please tell me this isn’t the money you were putting aside for your second honeymoon, Dennis?’
​‘Of course not!’ Dennis was almost comical in his indignant rage. ‘Do you think Barbara would…’
​‘Dennis?’ Ed had a hard edge to his soft Irish brogue that was all business. ‘Is this the money you were putting aside for your second honeymoon or not?’
​The little man seemed to sag visibly. ‘Yes,’ he said, sadly. ‘It’s that money.’
​Ed shook his head and put the cash back into the envelope. There was a lingering sense of regret; he could have used the money, certainly. But he had limits and incurring the wrath of the terrifying spectre known as Barbara was way over the line. ‘I can’t take it. I’ve met your wife, Dennis, and of all the ravening monsters and terrors I could imagine, she’s by far and away the most unnerving. No.’ He put the money back in the bag. ‘Go on your second honeymoon, Dennis. Walk across the sand at sunset. Sip tropical punch beneath the shade of a parasol…’ Something faintly wistful came into his tone. Once, he had promised to take his wife to the Caribbean when he could afford to.
​‘I don’t know that you can get tropical punch in South Shields, actually, Mr. Flanagan.’ He paused. ‘Although, there is that new curry place. Maybe…’
​ Ed sighed and held his hand up again, forestalling another tangential diatribe.
​‘Tell you what, Dennis. How about we worry about the money later? And as for the tropical punch. Let’s not even go there. Tell me what your plan is, Dennis.’
​Dennis told him.
​In hindsight, Ed should never have asked. If he’d just said ‘no’, he wouldn’t, six hours later, have been running for his life along the banks of the River Wear.