My Review of Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

fredsfuneral

I received this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team (#RBRT) in return for an honest review.

 I gave Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day 5* out of 5*

Book Description:

Fred Sadler has just died of old age. It’s 1986, seventy years after he marched off to WWI, and the ghost of Fred Sadler hovers near the ceiling of the nursing home. To Fred’s dismay, the arrangement of his funeral falls to his prudish sister-in-law, Viola. As she dominates the remembrance of Fred, he agonizes over his inability to set the record straight.

Was old Uncle Fred really suffering from shell shock? Why was he locked up most of his life in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Could his family not have done more for him?

Fred’s memories of his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital, clash with Viola’s version of events as the family gathers on a rainy October night to pay their respects.

My Review:

 I think the book description, with all the open questions, reveals all that is needed to say about the story to draw any reader in.

I loved this novella. Although inspired by letters written by the author’s Great Uncle Fred, and written from a third person point of view, it’s Sandy Day’s light touch in her writing style that brings out the poignancy of what is essentially a ghost story.

I actually found it strangely frustrating that Fred Sadler is unable to make his relatives understand that it was his experiences in the First World War that permanently damaged him and led to his erratic lifestyle afterwards .

And it reminded me that ultimately we are all seen by others from their own perspectives. Bearing in mind that this is essentially a true story, (and not knowing if Viola’s viewpoint of him has, in truth, been gleaned from those letters of his) this disturbed and upset me for Fred.

 Which, I suppose, shows how strong is the portrayal of the protagonist – ghost or not.

 The juxtaposition of memories and present day actions, recollections and interpretations of Fred’s life through the contents of his battered old suitcase ,as the family study and comment over them, saddened me.

 This is a reflective and insightful story that will stay with me for quite a while.

 And, my goodness, the cover!  The young soldier, veiled by the handwriting, standing upright and proud in his uniform, as yet unaware of what faced him. Powerful image.

 And what I would give to be able to read those letters.

I realise this is quite a short review for me but I hope it’s enough to show how strongly I recommend Fred’s Funeral to any readers. A novella not to be missed.

Links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2sHbv6Z

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2FhHjlP

 

About the Author

sandy day

 

Sandy Day is the author of Fred’s Funeral and Chatterbox, Poems. She graduated from Glendon College, York University, with a degree in English Literature sometime in the last century. Sandy spends her summers in Jackson’s Point, Ontario on the shore of Lake Simcoe. She winters nearby in Sutton by the Black River. Sandy is a trained facilitator for the Toronto Writers Collective’s creative writing workshops. She is a developmental editor and book coach.

Find Sandy on Twitter@sandeetweets

 

 

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More Than a Simple Two-Shot Americano #shortstory #coffeetime #coffeeconvos

As some of you may know, as well as holding private creative writing workshops, I also tutor creative writing for the local council. Tutoring adults can be  rewarding (discovering wonderful writers), chaotic (my lesson plans are rarely followed – someone will inevitably take things off at a tangent) hilarious (the undiscovered comedian/ the completely unaware comedian) and thought-provoking (especially with memoir writing) Every now and then I like to share some of their work.

Here is a piece written by one of my students, Lei. He has an exceptional style of writing that is always individualistic, always has great depth.I hope you enjoy his work.

 

More than a simple two-shot americano

 How so.

 Cafe society, she says. Busy lunchtime. All tables surrounded. Custer’s last stand. Wagons, ho. People sitting angular wooden chairs. Hubub of humanity talking. So loud can hardly hear laconic Scotsman sits across from me. Something explanatory about photography and jazz. He deaf in one ear. Head twists to one side as I speak in response. Hears me but can’t.

 Cafe society, yes.

 She retired now. Bad back, you see. Watch walking. Lifts one leg, knee at right angle. Places foot down. Other repeats action of first. Ambulates carefully. Arms not move, at sides all times. Resigned. To pain. From work. Voluntary redundancy or something. Says can’t take it any more. DWP. Targets. People just numbers now. National insurance. Emphasise throughput. Taylorism. Quantity. Quality no time for. People units of movement. Everybody nice about it, she said. My leaving, I mean. Sorrow felt for those behind, sinking in statistical swamp. Interviews in windowless rooms Inexpensive polypropylene carpets stinking of anxiety and discarded skin. Consultation with job coaches to be taped, she says. So getting out now, she says. Hates sound of self on tape anyway haha. (Who doesn’t?) As if that real reason. Yes. Memorex. Purposes of staff training, not surveillance. Right. Nothing to see here, please move along. Job not under threat. Just squeezing the stone, more blood out of. (Ajahn Chah asked his followers, See that rock over there? Yes, they say. Is it heavy? he asks. Yes, they say. Not if you don’t lift it, he says.)

 Business transient. Life transient. Contemporary. Foolish. Irishman pink shirt outside jeans complaining. Englishman greeted him shop next door. Irishman angry that Anglophile mocks accent. “Top o’ the mornin’ to yer!” Irishman jigs exaggeratedly as describes moment. Surprisingly agile on trainered feet. Heels flick sideways; arms bend at waist. Head nods. Own caricature how English parody inhabitants over Irish Sea. Says, ‘So told him, “Aw, jus’ feck off!”’. We laugh. Know won’t count next time Irishman needs pop next door when runs out milk again. What a thing for a coffee shop.

 Once, said, in Boston, US. Seated in coffee bar, Tom Waits playing. Thought to self how heaven playing Tom Waits in own coffee shop. Now has. Now living the dream. Yes.

 But I know drinks white wine and maudlin increases. Accompaniment of Tom Waits, drinking songs. ‘Hasn’t drunk for twenty years,’ says. Wasn’t talking about him, almost said. Referring you. Imagine white wine. Sweet. Sharp. How after several glasses cease tasting it. Smoothness of chilled glass. Hold between index finger and thumb. Pinky outstretched. After while stop caring how look. And his eyes glaze, like a dying bird. Sees inward to own soul. Sings along Tom Waits. Duet of sorts, done remotely. Not even on same continent. Stops. Goes quiet, not like him at all.

 Then. ‘Hasn’t drunk alkhol twenty years,’ slurs. ‘Here, have sm’wine’. Holds empty bottle up to me. Looks at carafe. ‘Shit!’, says. ‘Empty!’ Like only noticed now. ‘I’m going,’ I say. ‘’Where you going?’ Rhetorical, so don’t reply. Leave two others, drinking buddies. One young with dreadlocks, smoking spliff. Other older man, squat, white beard and trilby hat. Irishman gets up. ‘No smoking ‘n here!’ declares, no direction. Followed by, ‘Wait here! More wine maestro!’ and ‘Next door, Jeeves!’ As if carbon-guzzling motor chauffered outside waiting. ‘Nxzht dzhr!’ Vowels go missing, snatched by inebriated brain. ‘Nglshz bshztrd,” says. ‘Top o’ th’ mornin’, my arse!’

 Staggers to feet. Yanks open glass door in wooden frame which warps in season. Glass shivers in situ, surprised. ‘Bldy dzhr!’ exclaims. ‘Fxsh tht!’ Follow out of shop. Watch weave next door, pushing on wall with left hand for support. Opposite direction, I, homeward. As walk away hear shouting. ‘Nglszh bshztrd!’ Perhaps refused to serve. It’s an offence, Your Honour. 2003 Licensing Act. Fine up to £1000. Or licence lose. More than my job’s worth, don’t hear proprietor say.

 Don’t know. Don’t know. Not there.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Who We Are by Christine Webber #TuesdayBookBlog

 

who we are

 

I was  lucky enough to win a copy of It’s Who We Are and gave the book 4*out of 5*

Book Description:

Five friends in their fifties find themselves dealing with unforeseen upheaval as they uncover long-hidden and devastating family secrets. Meanwhile, the world around them seems to be spinning out of control.
The events of It’s Who We Are take place between October 2016 and June 2017, against a backdrop of all the political uncertainty and change in the UK, Europe and America.
The story is set in East Anglia, London and Ireland, and is about friendship, kindness and identity. Most importantly, it highlights how vital it is to reach for what enhances rather than depletes you

My Review:

 This a contemporary read set against the detailed background of political upheaval, both through Brexit, the Trump presidency and economical uncertainly.  And there are some wonderful descriptions of the city of London and County Kerry in Ireland that give a great sense of place and the portrayal of the homes and work places belonging to the characters are really well written.

I did like the author’s easy to read style of writing and, right from the start of the novel, became engrossed in the plot which centres initially on the lives of five characters in their middle-ages: 

Wendy, a career woman, on the brink of the disintegration of her marriage with elderly parents and two sons who are making their own way in life.

Julian, a single gay man, struggling with his career as a performer ans singer.

Philip, whose uncertainty with his marriage leads him to take a younger lover and is convinced he need to make radical changes to his life. His elderly mother is a vibrant active woman who owns an exclusive hotel in the West of Ireland.

Araminta, lonely and struggling with life in general,with  an elderly father in a nursing home.

Michael, an Irish Catholic priest, lonely and questioning his faith.

All wonderfully rounded characters, with many layered personalities, whose both spoken and internal dialogue distinguishes them on the page.

The book, initially split into short sections that enlarge on, and give insight to, the lives of each of the characters is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed the first two thirds of It’s Who We Are. And I gradually realised that, somehow, they were all connected.And, indeed, friendships were formed.

 And it was at this point I needed to suspend disbelief; all the characters, in one way or another, had shared histories or once removed coincidental relationships with one another. And, in a few short months, formed extremely close friendships to the exclusion of any other acquaintances. The descriptions of the way these characters interacted was extremely well written but it did seem to be an extremely insular portrayal.

I don’t give away spoilers in my reviews so I won’t dwell on the revelation that the plot then pivots on. But it is following that disclosure that, for me, the coincidences became too many and too easy.  I  bow to the author’s knowledge as a trained psychotherapist; her obvious expertise on  issues of  personal identity. And I did appreciate the wonderful balance between sadness and loss, juxtaposed with joy and contentment instilled in her writing. But, as the book progressed through the last third of the story, I just felt it was both a little rushed and that all the issues were tied up too neatly.

All  that said, I will reiterate that I did like Christine Webber’s style of writing and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read It’s Who We Are. Despite the points I made above I did enjoy the read and would recommend this novel.

 One last observation; I love the cover; the slightly out-of-focus head-shots, the seascape,the idea of the freedom of flight through the images of the birds, the mutes colours. Wonderful!

Buying Links:

 Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2FMBzze

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2BZFN4u

 

 About the Author:

An image posted by the author.

After a break of 29 years to write over a dozen non-fiction titles, Christine Webber returned to writing fiction in 2016. The result was a novel called ‘Who’d Have Thought It?’ which is a romantic comedy about the change and challenges we encounter in mid-life. ‘Who’d Have Thought It?’ is now also available as an audio book – both in digital and CD format. 

Christine is a former singer, TV presenter, agony aunt, columnist and Harley Street psychotherapist. 

Nowadays she is focusing on fiction – though she still pops up on the radio from time to time.

 

 

My Review of African Ways by Valerie Poore #memoir #TuesdayBookBlog

 

african

 

Book Description:

This is the story of a young woman’s first encounters with rural South Africa. Coming from the all-mod-cons society of Britain at the beginning of the 1980’s, the author is literally transplanted to a farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in what is now Kwazulu Natal.

Once there, she finds her feet in the ways of Africa
with the help of a charming, elderly Dutch couple, 
an appealing but wily African farm hand, his practical and motherly daughter and a wise and fascinating neighbour who has a fund of local knowledge.

These are tales of a different kind of life, which
include living without electricity, hand-milking cows, drought, veld fires and mad-cap adventures into the unknown.

They are stories told with deep affection and respect, and above all a liberal dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.

 

My Review: I gave  African Ways 5*out of 5*

Valerie Poore’s African Ways is a brilliant memoir that draws the reader in from the first page.

It is obvious from the beginning how much this author opens herself to people, places…and adventures that most of us would back away from.

I was enthralled throughout by her wonderful descriptions of the land where she made her home with her husband and two young children for three years in the 1980s ( a farm in Natal, South Africa). The love she has for the country and for the neighbours and friends that surrounded her (some with such fabulous names!) shines through in  her writing.

Despite everything: the droughts the families endured, the fires ( I was riveted by her portrayal of the unbelievably brave way she, her husband and friends battled against one fire and then, though exhausted, continued their BBQ), the venomous snakes, the swarm of bees that invaded her home and the lack of electricity, it is obvious she embraced the whole experience. 

And, threaded throughout the author reveals her superb  sense of humour; there are some great ‘laugh out loud’ stories and even some chuckles, despite the dangers, recollections.

African Ways is a memoir I can thoroughly recommend. In fact I would say, you should…really you should…read this book. 

Buying Links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2mYreIN

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2mWSp6Y

 

Valerie Poore

 

Val Poore was born in London, England, and grew up in both north London and the west of Dorset. After completing her degree in English, History and French at Bournemouth, she took a further course in the conservation and restoration of museum artefacts at Lincoln College of Art which qualified her for nothing at all really. She then spent two years doing furniture restoration before going to South Africa in 1981 with her husband and small children. 

Valerie left South Africa permanently in 2001 and has settled in the Netherlands, where she shares her time between a liveaboard barge in Rotterdam and a cottage in Zeeland. She teaches academic and business English on a freelance basis and still writes in her spare time, although she admits there’s not enough of that at the moment. In fact, she has been writing since childhood and wrote stories, articles and radio plays for years before embarking on her first book in 2005. Val loves travelling especially when it involves roughing it a bit. She feels that she has better adventures and more interesting experiences that way. 

She has written six books altogether: the Skipper’s Child (teen/kidult fiction), How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics (sort of grown-up, humorous fiction), Watery Ways and Harbour Ways (memoirs of her first years of living on a barge in Holland), Walloon Ways (three years as a weekend Belgian) and African Ways (a memoir her life on a farm in South Africa). Her seventh book (another novel) is in progress but is taking rather longer than she had hoped. This is simply due to real life getting in the way.

 

AND THIS IS THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED #thursdaythoughts @Pembrokeshire #humour

Some of you may know, as well as holding private creative writing workshops, I also tutor creative writing for the local council. Tutoring adults can be  rewarding (discovering wonderful writers), chaotic (my lesson plans are rarely followed – someone will inevitably take things off at a tangent) hilarious (the undiscovered comedian/ the completely unaware comedian) and thought-provoking (especially with memoir writing) Every now and then I like to share some of their work. Here is a piece written by Trish Power (you may remember her as one of my students whose previous work, Enigma, I posted here

As you will see, this is the same exercise that inspired  Alex Abercrombie’s poem  here .

mansion-160425__340

 

AND THIS IS THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED

We study the expansive hall, wood buffed to a mirrored finish reflecting the framed dignitaries set at precise intervals around the walls. At the start of the tour we had chatted and laughed in between our guide’s flawless documentary. But a hush has fallen over us now as we take in the enormity of the events leading to this point. Joleen assesses us. Practised as she is in her art, she is attuned to our mood and knows when to intervene.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, shall we move on?’

She walks ahead towards the end of the hall, stopping at one of the wall panels. When everyone is assembled and she has our attention she reaches out an immaculately manicured finger and pushes on a piece of the gold scrolling.

There’s a collective intake of breath as that section of the wall swings silently inwards exposing a carpeted stairwell lit by bright, rectangular lights recessed into the edge of the ceiling.

‘Please hold on to the rail; the treads are quite steep.’

She takes a step back and ushers us ahead with a sweep of her arm.

We arrive at an area where the lighting is dimmer. Six doors lead off from a central square. There is a shuffling as we make way for Joleen to move through us to the middle door on the right. This is what we’ve been waiting for.

We enter in total silence.

In front of us is a large, rectangular table surrounded by leather chairs. In front of each chair is a file of what appears to be documents. Behind us is a huge, wall-mounted screen.

At the head of the table is a taller chair with a studded back and embellished on top with a golden eagle. There are four phones in different colours set in an arc around a rectangular metal box containing a keypad and a large, red button.

There are other things in the room but for now our focus is on that button. The red button.

‘As you all are aware, ladies and gentlemen, this is where the Secretary of Defense and a united cohort of military advisors attempted to dissuade him from his plan of action. They pointed out the likely consequences for the world but were silenced by his declaration that he was Commander-in-Chief and outranked them all. He wasn’t going to stand by and let someone say things like that about him, even if they were an ally.

‘The video cameras were checked to make sure that they were still running as he insisted on the codes being tapped into the keypad.

‘Again, he was urged not to carry on.

‘But, like a child determined on having his way, he gave a triumphant grin and stabbed a stubby finger down on that button.

‘There were sighs of resignation but the way forward was clear now. He had failed their test and proven himself to be a danger to the free world. The Secretary of Defense gave a nod and two men approached, one of them carrying something rolled-up under his arm. They slipped behind the still-smirking president, reached forwards and slipped his arms into the straightjacket.

‘And so, ladies and gentlemen, the president of the most powerful country in the world was taken into protective custody in order to safeguard our planet – and this is the room where it happened.’

 ©Trish Power 2018

Patient Zero: Short stories from the Project Renova series by Terry Tyler #TuesdayBookBlog #ShortStories

Patient Zero: Short stories from the Project Renova series by [Tyler, Terry]

On my request the author gave me an arc of Patient Zero on the understanding I give an honest review.

I gave Patient Zero 5* out of 5*

Book Description:

The year is 2024.
A mysterious virus rages around the UK.
Within days, ‘bat fever’ is out of control.
Patient Zero is a collection of nine short stories featuring minor characters from the post apocalyptic Project Renova series. All stories are completely ‘stand alone’.

1. Jared: The Spare Vial
Jared has two vaccinations against the deadly virus: one for him, one for a friend…

2. Flora: Princess Snowflake
The girl with the perfect life, who believes in her father, the government, Christian charity and happy endings.

3. Jeff: The Prepper
What does a doomsday ‘prepper’ do when there is nothing left to prepare for?

4. Karen: Atonement
She ruined her sister’s last day on earth, and for this she must do penance.

5. Aaron: #NewWorldProblems
Aaron can’t believe his luck; he appears to be immune. But his problems are far from over.

6. Ruby: Money To Burn
Eager to escape from her drug dealer boyfriend’s lifestyle, Ruby sets off with a bag filled with cash.

7. Meg: The Prison Guard’s Wife
Meg waits for her husband to arrive home from work. And waits…

8. Evie: Patient Zero
Boyfriend Nick neglects her. This Sunday will be the last time she puts up with it. The very last time.

9. Martin: This Life
Life after life has taught the sixty year old journalist to see the bigger picture.

Tipping Point and Lindisfarne are the first two full length novels in the Project Renova series. A third will be available around late spring/early summer 2018.

My Review:

Having already read the two post-apocalyptic novels,Tipping Point (here’s my review: http://bit.ly/2um9Fcq), and Lindisfarne: (review here: http://bit.ly/2igJnQG)  of this Project Renova series by Terry Tyler, I was keen to get my hands on her anthology of short stories of the minor characters in these books. Until I read both these novels I was wary of this genre… too gloomy, I thought…not something I’d want to read about. But because I have always admired this author’s work I gave them a go. I’m glad I did. Brilliant writing!  

And Patient Zero sets the bar high for collections of short stories as well.

I love this idea of giving the flat characters in novels a life of their own. Each story reveals both the background and the present environment of the characters. Some tales are chilling, some poignant, some even threaded through with slight subtle humour. But all show the universal belief that humans have, that ‘all will be well’  for them belief. (Well, I say all, there is one story; Jeff: The Prepper, where the character has believed that the world as we know it will end and is ready. But even he has a discovery he didn’t expect… say no more.

 

With some told from both the first person point of view and some from the omniscient narrator each story is complete in itself and is a good solid read. 

As always with this author the dialogue, both spoken and internal, is true to each character.

And, as usual, the descriptions of the settings give a great sense of place.

There is the same inevitability to the endings of the short stories, as with the two novels,  after all these are apocalyptic accounts. Yet some took me by surprise (which, for me is always a good sign). There are open-endings, twist in the tale denouements and the ‘of course’ endings. But what they all are, is satisfying.

The character who evoked a sense of sadness in me –  Meg: The Prison Guard’s Wife.

The character that most angered me by her selfishness – Karen in Atonement.

 The character who gives hope, perhaps –  Martin: This Life.

Not that I’m going to tell you their stories!

I strongly suggest to any reader that they check Patient Zero out for themselves.  I highly recommend this anthology to readers who love this genre… and to readers who like good writing.

Links: 

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2jTfp3i

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2yF7sGP

About the Author:

terry tyler

Terry Tyler is the author of sixteen books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘Patient Zero’, the third book in her new post apocalyptic series, which is a collection of stand-alone short stories featuring characters in the main novels. She is proud to be self-published, is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and loves history, winter, South Park and Netflix. She lives in the north east of England with her husband, a move that took place nine years ago from the beautiful Norfolk coast; she is still trying to learn Geordie.

Stan Green’s Secret #WW1 #shortstories #RemembranceDay

 

‘How old are you, son?’

 Stan straightened his spine and stretched his shoulders back, looking beyond the man to the recruitment poster of Lord Kitchener, on the wall.  ‘Eighteen, sir.’

‘Hmm. Date of birth?’ The captain studied Stan.

‘October 3rd, 1896, sir.’

‘Okay, lad, you’re in. Report to the sergeant over there.’ He dismissed Stan by shouting, ‘Next!’

 Stan grinned and gave the thumbs up to his mate, Ernest Sharp who stood, behind him. He turned and marched as best he could to the other side of the room to the serveant.

‘If that’s the best you can do as a march lad, I’ve got some work cut out for me.’ But the recruiting sergeant, tall and moustached, gave Stan a grin. ‘Welcome to the East Lancashire Regiment. ‘He winked. ‘We’re doin’ well; you’re the tenth recruit today, so that’s ten half-crowns we’ve earned. We’ll be ‘aving a few pints on you lot tonight.’

 

‘What do you mean, you’ve joined the army. You’re fourteen.’ Stan’s mother stared at him. Drying her soapy hands on her pinny she moved away from the sink full of washing. ‘Emmanuel, tell him. Tell him he can’t; he’s not old enough.’

Stan’s father didn’t move from behind his newspaper. ‘If the lad wants to serve his king and country, Mother, there’s nothing we can do.’

‘Nothing.’ Stan’s mother screeched the word. ‘Nothing? He’s a boy, for God’s sake.’

‘No blaspheming, Mother.’  Now Emmanuel Green did lower his paper.  ‘There’s nothing we can do if he’s already signed up.’

‘We could tell them his real—’

‘I want to go, Mother. I will go.’ Stan didn’t want to hurt her by telling her he needed to get away from home; from his sanctimonious father and a mother who almost smothered him with her love.

‘Ernie’s signed up as well, Mam. We’ll watch out for one another.’ He held out his hand to her but, with a wail and throwing her pinny over her head, Gertrude Green rushed from the kitchen.

‘Ignore your mother; she’s being hysterical as usual.’ His father pointed at Stan with the stem of his pipe. ‘She knows nothing of a man’s duty or the work he has to do. I was in the mill at twelve, myself. Just wish I wasn’t too old to join up but it’s up to you stand in for the family now. Make sure you don’t let us down.’

 Stan waited to see if there was anything else he would say but Emmanuel shook the newspaper straight and disappeared behind it again.

 

Stan sat on the edge of his narrow bed. He’d packed his clothes, his notebook and his copy of Robinson Crusoe and was waiting for Ernie to call for him to join the others down at the railway station. Glancing around the small bedroom he wondered when he’d see it again. He doubted he would come home after his training at Tidworth, or even ever. He was sick of this place; of his father, his five sisters, even his mother who he knew was probably the only one in the family who truly loved him.

 The lid of his toy box in the corner of the room was open; the wooden rifle he used to play with was sticking out. Soon he’d be carrying a real rifle. Soon he’d be trained to defend his country holding it; to kill with it. The last thought made him shiver involuntarily and for a moment, only a moment though, he wondered if he’d done the right thing.

 The clatter of the doorknocker stopped his thoughts. He stood, dropping the note he’d written to his mother on the bed. It was short because he hadn’t known what to say. He read the words again “Don’t worry, Mam. I’ll be careful.” He’d hesitated, wondering if he should tell her he loved her but they didn’t say things like that in his family and it sounded soppy, so he just put a cross for a kiss after his name. Stopping at the door to his room he looked around. It wouldn’t be kept as his room, he knew that. As soon as his sisters realised he’d gone, they be fighting over who could move in. He listened outside his parents’ room; his mother was still crying. He couldn’t go in and, without stopping to say anything to his father he opened the door and stepped onto the pavement.

 ‘Come on, Ernie, me old pal,’ he said, flinging his arm over his friend’s shoulder and hitching his bag under his arm. ‘Let go and see the world.’

 

Stan and Ernie slumped next to each other in the trench. The noise of artillery and grenades above them made Stan’s ears ring

       ‘They’re getting nearer, Stan.’ Ernie’s voice wavered. ‘I can’t stand much more of its.’ He put the palms of his hands over his ears.  ‘Have you thought any more about what the Sarge said yesterday? That, if we own up to being fourteen—’

      ‘Fifteen,’ Stan interrupted. ‘We’re fifteen now.’

      ‘Still underage.’ Ernie plucked at Stan’s sleeve. ‘And the Sarge said all of us who’re under nineteen would be allowed to go home to England if we wanted.’

      ‘Well I don’t.’ Stan was curt.

      ‘We’ve done our duty, Stan; we’ve been in this hell for a year now. Please, Stan.’ The tears made rivulets in the dirt on Ernie’s face.’

      Stop it!’ Stan lurched onto his knees to block his friend off from the rest of the soldiers further along the trench. ‘Stop it, for God’s sake, Ern. D’you want that lot to think you’re a coward?’

      ‘I’ve not felt right since that German sniper got Watson in the head. I can’t get his screams out of my head now. And we left him there—’

      ‘We had no choice; they knew where we were by then, we couldn’t hang around. They’d have come for us.’ Stan sat back next to Ernie and rubbed at the barrel of his rifle with his sleeve. ‘We need to get these cleaned up,’ he nodded at both his and Ernie’s rifles, ‘Before the Sarge comes along.’

       ‘Shall we tell him we want to go back—?’

      ‘No!’ You go if you want. I’m staying.’ Stan ached in every bone of his body, his skin was red-raw from scratching at the lice and he couldn’t remember when he was last dry. But he couldn’t go back home. He didn’t know what he’d do when it was all over but he’d never go back to that house.

 

‘Come on, you lot, we’re moving up.’ Stan watched Sergeant Mills kick the boots of those soldiers who were sleeping as he stumbled through the mud of the trench towards him.

      ‘Ernie, wake up. We’re off again.’

      His friend didn’t speak. Holding on to the side of the trench he struggled to his feet and pushed himself upright.

      Keep your bloody head down.’ The sergeant thumped Ernie’s shoulder. ‘Bloody idiot. Do you want to lose it?’ He stood at the front of the line. ‘We’re moving up to our sector. Stick close to me and keep your gobs shut. We don’t want the soddin’ Krauts doing what they did last week, do we?’

       ‘Oh God.’

      When Stan looked into his mate’s eyes they were unfocussed. He hadn’t been the same since the Germans had raided their trench, armed with knives and clubs two nights ago and taken the division by surprise.

      ‘Buck up, Ern,’ he muttered.  ‘Stick close.’ But he knew he shared the same nightmares. There had been no escape in the assault and fourteen of the men around them had died before they’d even managed to retaliate. It was the noise that haunted him most; the sound of the clubs on skulls, knives through flesh, the screams and moans of the dying.

 

       ‘Come on, shift.’ The sergeant glared at the men fumbling into line, fastening their helmets, fixing bayonets to their rifles. ‘Ready?’          

      ‘Ready, Sarge.’ Stan tried to sound confident raising his voice above the mumbles around him; hoping Sergeant Mills hadn’t seen Ernie’s bewilderment.

 The grenade landed feet in front of the sergeant.  

      The explosion blew three of the men in front of Stan off their feet. Stan wiped his arm across his face to clear his eyes. Looking down at his sleeve he saw the blood and torn tissue mixed with the mud. He swallowed the bile that rose instantly in his throat

      Sergeant Mills seemed to be propped up against the side of the trench at least ten yards in front of them, both legs missing.  As Stan watched the body slid down the wall and fell, face upwards into the mud. Bloody parts of the three soldiers were scattered around the trench. The head of one, Cuthbert Grimes, Stan noted numbly, lay in front of his boots, the skin peppered with shrapnel.

      ‘Our Father who art in Heaven… our Father who art in Heaven… our Father…’

      Behind him Ernie’s voice grew higher. Other voices joined in with him.

      ‘Shut it. Shut up.’ Stan whirled round to face those behind him. They blundered away from him.   He didn’t see the cloud of the yellow gas seeping along the trench. In an instant the gas tore into Stan’s lungs and scorching his eyes. Choking he followed the rest of his division, crawling on hands and knees through the mud.

       Ernie, move. Quick!’ He faltered, rubbing frantically at his eyes, blinded. It was the last thing he remembered.

     

Stan’s throat burned from the stream of vile – smelling liquid that poured out of him, He was barely aware of the soothing words and the gentle touch on his back. When the agony finally stopped he slowly sat up, scared it would start again.

      ‘Okay, now?’ The nurse came into view; a kindly concerned expression on the smiling face of a woman about his mam’s age.

      He nodded, tentative with any movement in case it started again. ‘Where am I?’

      ‘In the hospital at the Base Camp.’

      ‘Ernie?’ he said. ‘My mate, Ernie?’ he looked around the long ward, past beds of injured men. ‘He here as well?’

      ‘I’m sorry; I don’t know where your friend is.’

      ‘How long have I been here?’ He closed his eyes against the harshness of the whiteness of his surroundings.

      ‘A month or so. You’ve been gassed and you’ve been in shock.’

      The tears came easily. Humiliated, Stan leant back, felt the hardness of the bed rail against his head.

      ‘You need more iodine on those cuts on your face. I’ll be back in a minute.’ The nurse walked away, carrying the sick bowl.

     

‘He’s had his sentences confirmed. His execution; it’ll happen tomorrow. They say the chaplain’s with him now.’

      Stan stared at the man shifting uncomfortably on the chair next to his bed. ‘They can’t do that, Harry, he’s only fifteen.’

      ‘They don’t care.’ Harry leant forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. He lowered his voice. ‘They say Ernie ran away; finished up at a farmhouse. Stupid sod told the farmer’s wife he was going back to England.’ He shook his head.  ‘They’re setting up a firing squad for him…’ He looked up at the ward door. ‘Look out.’ Harry rose quickly, stood to attention and saluted.

       Stan raised his hand to his forehead in a similar gesture

       ‘Green.’ The officer stopped at the foot of Stan’s bed. ‘Firing squad 0600 hours. Tomorrow. Report to—’

      ‘I’ve been gassed, sir. I can’t—’

      ‘It’s an order, Green. Are you refusing to obey an order?’ The officer raised his eyebrows, his lips tightened. He tapped his fingers on the bed rail.

      ‘No, sir. It’s just that Ernie– Sharpe’s a mate…’

       ‘He’s a coward. He was charged with fleeing in the face of the enemy. He’s had a fair trial. The man—’

      ‘He’s fifteen,’ Stan interrupted, trying to shut out the words. ‘A lad…’ He heard the sudden intake of breath from Harry.

      The officer stopped tapping his fingers. He fixed Stan with a glare.

      ‘Sir,’ Stan added. ‘He’s only fifteen – sir.’

      ‘He signed on as eighteen; the Army took him in good faith. But he’s a coward, he deserted his post.’ The officer turned away. ‘0600 hours at the cells. Tomorrow.’

 

‘Eyes front!’

      Stan lined up with the other five soldiers on either side of him, facing the wall and the firing post. He couldn’t stop shaking. Out of the corner of his eye he sensed movement at the door leading to the cells.

      When the hooded and bound figure was dragged, legs trailing, into his sight by two burly soldiers he almost cried out. He tried to blot out the sight as his friend was tied to the post. Slumping away from the post despite the ties Ernie whimpered when the captain fastened the white square to his jacket.

       The chaplain was muttering words Stan couldn’t hear. He took in a long shuddering breath.

      Ernie lifted his head, tilted his chin upwards as though trying to see under the hood, even though it was fastened around his neck.

      ‘Stan?’ he cried. ‘Stan? Are you there?’

      Stan turned to the sergeant in silent appeal but, ignoring Stan and with a gesture, the man indicated for the squad to pick up the Lee Enfield rifles placed in front of them.

      ‘Stan?’

      ‘Fire!’

      Ernie’s cry was cut off in the volley of shots.

      The soldier next to Stan pushed him to turn away from the body and when the sergeant ordered, ‘Quick march,’ the man gave him another shove.

       ‘Keep going, lad.’ Stan heard the hissed whisper. ‘Keep it together ‘til you get back to the ward.’

      The men marched into the building, without inspecting their weapons, without turning a head.  Stan didn’t see the concerned looks of the nurses and the other patients in the ward. It was only when he crawled into his bed that he realised that tears were streaming down his face.

 

 Stan held the creased photograph of Ernie’s sister between his fingers.  His hand hovered over the door before he rapped on the wood with his knuckles.

      It was Ernie’s sister who opened it, her eyelids swollen and pink.  She buckled at the knees when she saw Stan. He only just managed to catch hold of her and clutched her to him.

       ‘Stan! Oh, Stan.’ She clung to him. ‘Our Ernie…’

      ‘I know, Betty.’ He lifted her in his arms and carried her into the house, setting her down on the sofa in the parlour.  ‘I know.’ He sat next to her, closing his eyes against the scalding tears. His chest hurt.

      ‘How?’ She held his face between her palms. The scent of lavender from her skin was the sweetest thing he could remember.

       ‘The War Office wrote to say he was suffering from shock but then we heard he was he was passed fit,’ she sobbed. ‘They wouldn’t tell us what happened; why he’d been sent back to fight.’ She pulled back to study his face. ‘You know, Stan. You must know? Mother and me, we need to know as well.’

      ‘Ernie was brave to the last, Betty. I promise. He was a brave soldier to the last’. The words were thick in his throat. ‘The last thing he said to me was that you and his mother should carry on as if he was at home.’ Stan swallowed the lie. ‘And that he’ll always love you both.’

      “We got a letter from him last week.’ Betty fumbled into her cardigan pocket and handed the note to Stan. It was worn and creased as though it had been read many time. There were only a few words scrawled across it. Stan only saw the last lines.

“We were told we could come home because we were underage. But Stan and me had a long discussion and we decided to stay.”

 Then his friend’s last words

“We were in the trenches. I was so cold I went out and took shelter in a farmhouse. They took me to prison so I will have to go in front of the court. I’m in a bit of trouble now, Mam.  I will try my best to get out of it, so don’t worry.”

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