For those who kindly enquired, I have recovered from chocolate margarita overload. It was touch and go but I pulled through. I would say I’m never doing that again but we all know exactly the same thing will happen as soon as a box of chocolate margaritas and I find ourselves in close proximity. I’m not sure where I was on the day will-power and common sense were being doled out.
Anyway, exciting news – the French version of A Symphony of Echoes – D’Eco en Echos – is available for pre-order on Amazon.fr. With a small fanfare, I proudly produce the link because I think I’m getting the hang of this now. Gone are the days when one of my links could take you anywhere. And often to places you didn’t want to go.
What else? Yes, the Afternoon Tea at Octavo’s is sold out. I’m really looking forward to that. And meeting everyone, of course. It’s not all about food, you know.
And I’m in Gloucester on 20th October at Waterstones. They’re doing a pre-pub signing of Dark Light there, for anyone who wants to pop along. I’ve forgotten what time, but someone will tell me and then I’ll tell you
If I live that long, that is. Brace yourselves, a dark tale follows.
Following the barrage of unkind comments from my family about my sedentary lifestyle, I went for a walk yesterday, yomping across country, just like someone who actually knew what they were doing.
Those of you who read these blogs – and what wonderful people you are – will be familiar with the other author in the family. The eminent author, as he insists on being called. Anyway, we go off occasionally, to research this, that and the other, argue violently, and generally frighten small children and dogs. I’m sure some of you will remember our legendary trip to Doward to visit the hill-fort there which was to make a starring appearance in Lies, Damned Lies and History. I thought that rather than just using my imagination, I’d actually check the place out.
Roping in the eminent author, we set off and everything went badly right from the start. God, it was steep. The hill was nearly vertical. We had to heave ourselves up by tree roots and branches and it took hours. We were dirty, sweaty and very unsanitary, but just as we were within fifty yards of the summit – I could actually see the hill-fort – the eminent author spotted a cow.
We’re not talking auroch here. The bloody thing was about the size of a dachshund. And so far away on the horizon it was practically in Monmouthshire. And it was one of those rather pretty Charolais cows, head down, grazing away and ignoring everyone and everything.
I turned around and the eminent author was off like a rocket, bounding downhill and accelerating away. I have to say I had no idea he could move like that. However, he was in charge of the transport so I had no choice other than to bound after him. The drive home was enlivened by unkind comments on his manhood and him quoting statistics about the two or three people killed by cows every century or so. Incidentally, the next time anyone reads LDLAH, the hill-fort scenes came out of my head. Practical site research had to be done while I was heading downhill at about thirty miles an hour and everything was pretty much a blur.
Anyway, the point of this pointless story – apart from embarrassing the eminent author because don’t think it doesn’t get mentioned at regular family get-togethers – is that yesterday, I, climbing over a stile, found myself in a field full of cows. And not the friendly French sort, happily grazing on the horizon miles away, either. These were big beasties. The black and white ones. There were about thirty of them. And, as I discovered when they lumbered to their feet – gentlemen cows. With horns.
Obviously my first impulse was to climb back over the style and run away, but with the echoes of all the wittily clever jokes I’d made at the eminent author’s expense over the years, I gritted my teeth, jutted my jaw like an American general, and strode forth.
Have you ever watched The Omen? That scene where all the animals run away from Damian? That was me! They couldn’t get away quickly enough. At first, I was relieved. Then there was the – ‘Ha, cows! Fear me and my cow powers,’ stage, closely followed by the ‘Oh my God, there is something the matter with me. Everyone always said there was,’ stage.
I reached the fence, climbed over the next style, looked back and they were all watching me. Silent and motionless. Like any number of cow bookends. Scary stuff. I’m living in The Twilight Zone.
So, speaking of scary, Dark Light is out in about three weeks, I think, and for those of you who asked, here’s a quick excerpt from the first chapter.
My name is Elizabeth Cage and I’ve never done anyone any harm in my life, at least, not intentionally. But I have what some might call a gift. I call it a curse. Let’s call it a talent. I can see things. No, not dead people – although I have seen dead people – I see something else. I see people’s colours.
Years ago, when I was a child, before I’d ever heard the word aura, I called it a colour. Everyone has one. A shimmering outline of colour that constantly changes shade and shape as they react to whatever’s going on around them. Everyone’s is unique. Some are a distinct shape, thick and clearly defined. Some colours are rich and strong and vibrant. Others are pale and insubstantial. Sometimes there’s a dirty, dark patch over their head or their heart and that’s never good.
Sometimes, friends or family, people who are close, have similar colours. Colours that are related in the spectrum. You may have noticed that there are people for whom you feel an affinity. That’s because your colours are similar. Some people repulse you. You feel an urge to keep your distance. You might not know why, but your colour certainly does.
Your colour tells me things about you. Things you might not even know yourself. Things you might not want others to know. Give me ten minutes and I can tell you whether you’re happy or sad. I know if you’re lying. I know if you’re afraid. I know if you’re bluffing. You don’t have to say a word, but you’re telling me just the same.
I don’t know how Dr Sorensen found out about me but he did. He runs a clinic – ostensibly a rest home for those rich enough to be able to afford his very discreet services, but that’s just a front. He works for the government.
I’d never actually heard the phrase ‘psychological warfare’ until Michael Jones explained it to me, but apparently that’s what Sorensen does. He devises ways of misleading, deceiving and intimidating people. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking he confines these dubious activities to ‘enemies of the state’. According to Jones, he’s pretty indiscriminate in his targets. Sometimes our friends can be more dangerous than our enemies. He’ll have a go at anyone he’s told to. And, from my own experience, he’s not above using his resources for his own ends, either.
He’s an expert on people’s behaviour, which is what makes him so dangerous. He can predict how people will behave under certain conditions and how to manipulate them accordingly. He can tailor-make propaganda tools. He can advise on how to mislead, deceive or even intimidate anyone he’s instructed to. He seeks out other people’s vulnerabilities. And not for good reasons.
I know he has plans for me … As Michael Jones once said, ‘My God, Cage, we could sit you down in a room full of world leaders and you could tell us everything we needed to know. Who’s lying. Who’s afraid. Who isn’t …’
Except I didn’t want to be sat down in a room full of world leaders. I just wanted to live a quiet life. I didn’t ask to see these things. It’s not a gift to know what people are thinking. And it’s definitely not a gift to see those shadowy figures, half in this world and half out of it … I just wanted to ignore it and move on from my husband’s sudden death and I thought I had. I thought I had found a friend. Someone I thought might, one day, become much more than a friend. Michael Jones was big and competent and damaged. His colour should be a rich mixture of reds and glowing golds, but by losing someone he’d lost his own way. He was vulnerable. And that bastard Sorensen had exploited that vulnerability and used him to get to me.
It was Jones himself who told me what he’d done. It was Jones who gave me the opportunity to get away. Jones who told me to run while I still could.
I had no choice. I had to escape this web of Sorensen’s making.
So I ran.
I stared out of the big black window. The darkening sky and the lights in the railway carriage meant that, for most of the time, all I could see was myself. I gazed at this other self and my other self gazed back again. My face was a pale blob surrounded by darkness. Actually, that’s not a bad metaphor. A small white face surrounded by big black nothingness.
I was in trouble. I was in so much trouble. I’d been running for three days now, although it seemed much longer. I could barely remember a time when I wasn’t hurtling through the night on a half-empty train or rattling down strange lanes on a rural bus boarded at random.
My strategy was simple. To keep moving. If I never stopped moving they’d never be able to find me. Whether that was true or not, I didn’t know, but I found the thought comforting. Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving. The words ran through my head in time with the clack of the train wheels.
I couldn’t afford to fall asleep. I had to stay awake and keep checking my fellow passengers. I had to watch for anyone leaping on at the last moment or look out for someone who might be discreetly paying me extra attention. At any moment, I expected to hear the shout, ‘That’s her,’ or feel a heavy hand on my shoulder. Or hear the sudden screech of brakes as a car pulled up and I was bundled inside before I had a chance to call for help.
I’d begun well. I’d run from my house in Rushford, suitcase in hand, down the hill and across the bridge. In a blind panic I might have been, but the sensible part of my brain took me to the bank.
Inventing some family emergency – I don’t know why I did that. I kept telling myself I had no need to account for my withdrawals, but it seemed I couldn’t help it – I withdrew as much cash as I could without awkward questions being asked.
From there, I pushed my way along the crowded post-Christmas pavements, heart thumping with fear, always looking over my shoulder, desperate to reach the railway station.
Mindful of the ever-present CCTV cameras, I kept my face down and, to the bemusement of the ticket clerk, bought a one-way ticket to Edinburgh and then another to Penzance. I was hasty and frightened and I dropped things and my hands were shaking and I knew he would remember me. Just for good measure, I used my credit card to buy the tickets. I was certain they would be monitoring my bank account.
From there, I trundled my suitcase into the Ladies and turned my coat inside out. It looked odd but that was the least of my worries and now it was silver instead of black, which was the best I could do for the time being.
Leaving the Ladies, I left the station as well, heading for the bus depot next door. I counted three buses down the line and jumped on the fourth. I had no idea where it was going to but that wasn’t important. It was the going from that was so vital.
I jumped off the bus at the next town and did exactly the same thing again – three buses along, catch the fourth, jump off that one at a randomly selected stop – and do it all again.
I ate sandwiches of varying quality as I went. I slept in snatches, sometimes only for seconds, waking with a jerk at strange noises or sudden braking. Or I huddled, too cold to sleep, on hideously cold metal seats in bus stations. The ones specifically designed to prevent anyone ever being comfortable on them. I had no idea where I was most of the time. I kidded myself this was a good thing. That if I had no idea where I was then neither would anyone else.
And always, I kept moving. I never stopped. After three days, I was exhausted. I smelled. I looked dreadful and felt worse. Three days seemed a very long time and they hadn’t caught me yet. Was it possible I had escaped? Had I actually managed to get away? And for how long could I stay away?
It was when I was alighting from my umpteenth bus on its way to somewhere unknown that my legs gave way. I struggled to a nearby bench and sat down heavily. People were looking at me, probably thinking I was drunk or on drugs or both. This had to stop. I hadn’t been well when I’d run from Michael Jones and now I was making myself really ill. I’d done headlong panic – now I needed to slow down and think carefully. I’d run from the past. Now I needed to plan for the future.
I emerged from the bus station into a busy but anonymous town. Traffic roared past in several different directions. I stood for a while, getting my bearings, while people streamed around me on the pavement. Everyone seemed to have somewhere to go. Except me. There was a large department store opposite and I trundled shakily across the road to use their facilities. They had a very nice restroom and I washed as much of me as was possible and scrabbled in my suitcase for something else to wear.
I’d only packed for the Christmas holiday – and what a long time ago that seemed now. Almost another life – so I didn’t have a great deal of choice, and then I realised I was in a department store. They sold clothes. And toiletries. And I had money. I could hear Michael Jones’ exasperation. ‘Really Cage, you’re not bright, are you?’
I bought another pair of jeans and a couple of t-shirts and warm sweaters. And a beanie. All in greys and blacks. I had gone off colour forever. Colour had been the curse of my life. And I bought a new coat as well. I asked them to cut off all the labels and changed in the toilets.
Examining myself in the mirror, I looked completely different. The beanie covered my hair and a scarf covered my face. I was pleased with the result and this gave me enough confidence to sit in their café and gulp down a hasty bowl of soup and a sandwich. I was huddled in a corner, as out of the way as I could manage, but when someone dropped a plate it frightened me so much I nearly jumped out of my skin, and the urge to move started up again. I stuffed down the rest of the sandwich and headed back to the train station where I bought a ticket for the first town whose name I recognised. I wouldn’t go all the way. I’d jump off at a random station and do it all again.
Keep moving. I had to keep moving.
Anyway, here I was, staring at myself in a blank window, wondering what I was doing, where I was going, and what on earth I was going to do when I got there.