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First pages

“This life's dim windows of the soul

Distorts the heavens from pole to pole

And leads you to believe a lie

When you see with, not through, the eye.”

—William Blake

1

By the time I went to bed, fog pressed against the windows. I pulled the pillow over my head and listened to the bell-buoy, tolling its lonely sound from miles away in the Mersey. Gug, the Barnacle Man, might be on his way, piloting his rotten hulk from Formby Light to the Pier Head, looking for the lost. Gug, cruising slowly, moonlight fingers searching through the trees! Oh God! I shivered.

 

At sunrise, Gug’s boat, slimy, green and shivery, shrinking to a toy, would float into a filthy sewer intake under the Pier Head, taking its tiny screaming cargo with it. That’s what the stories said of those who disappeared on the shore, lost after dark. Were the stories true? Probably the only one who knew would be Old Beardy the HightownHermit, and nobody dared speak to him; nobody of my age, at any rate. 

Thinking of Beardy, I remembered the first time I saw him: I walked down Chester Close, left along Saint Bernard’s Road, across the war memorial, straight on up Thornbeck, and then off to the right, through the sand dunes. I climbed up a dune and stopped dead. 

 

A shiver passed through me.

 

He stood on a sand hill about twenty feet away, staring at me. I knew straight away who he was, from his description—there couldn’t be two people like him. He stood quite tall, taller than I, even bent as he was; like the silver birches on Formby Point, all bent over one way, from the gales coming in off the Irish Sea.

The evening sun reflected off his specs, which were as big as the bottoms of Lucozade bottles and the same yellow.

It looked like he was wearing a school blazer, which seemed pretty weird for an old man with almost no hair. A piece of rope held up his trousers. I guessed he’d found the rope amongst the flotsam on the shore. His neck was terribly wrinkly, like Nana’s almost, and his nose seemed to get bulbous at the tip, so that I couldn’t help but stare at it, fascinated and disgusted, and imagine the drip, drip

 

“Eh, boy! I know ye. I seen ye on the building site. I seen!” He waved a stick at me. 

I turned and ran, ran, ran, until a stitch doubled me up. I clutched my left side, leaned against an eroded lime-brick wall, and panted for breath.

Yeah, that was the first and the worst time. I’d not seen him more than a couple of times since then, and both times a long way off, on the beach.

Sleep wouldn’t come. I got to my knees, pulled the curtain back, and peered through the window. The great cheesy face hung in the sky, and by its light, the shadows of the leafless apple trees danced on the lawn.

 

I lay down but as sometimes happens, my thoughts began to spin faster and faster, spinning out of control: ‘You know it will, oh but what about that, yes I know it won’t, will work, will yes in the morning but will it. . .’ on and on and on.

 

The room was so quiet I could hear the pendulum of the cuckoo clock on the wall. So I started humming. A stupid tune from my parent’s radio station, the BBC Light Programme. Sing Something Simple. Over and over. Fill my head. And between cuckoo-clock tick and tock, I fell asleep.

 

* * * * *

I woke up. The clock said nearly half-past eight. I sat up in bed, reached over and pulled the curtain back. Still dark outside. The fog had returned, and it was thick. I could hardly see the outlines of the trees in the back garden, and there was no sign of the sun.

Den and Merv were supposed to be at my house by ten. Den lived in Waterloo, a ten minute walk from the station at Blundellsands. Merv lived in Thornton, and took a bus to his nearest station, Crosby. But would the trains be running in this fog? I doubted it.

I got up, washed, and dressed. By the time I went downstairs, Mum was already making breakfast. She put doorsteps of white bread under the gas grill, but forgot them, as usual, and had to scrape the black parts off with a knife. Then she spread them thickly with New Zealand butter and passed them to me. 

I sat at the table and stared glumly at my cup of tea. It must have been brewed a while ago, from the greyish-brown patches of scum. What I really wanted was beans on this toast. I stood up and headed for the pantry.

“Just look at that fog outside,” my mum remarked in her best Lizzie accent. Mum followed the doings of the Royal Family in the society pages. She thought she belonged in Buckingham Palace.

“Yeah. Den and Merv are s’posed to be here at ten.” I couldn’t find the decent opener, so I hacked the Heinz tin open with the crude wooden-handled one my mum used for Dougal’s dog food.

“Please, James. We say Dennis and Mervyn. Did you wash that before you used it?”

She calls me James when she’s annoyed. She knows very well I like to be called Jim. “No. Sorry.”

Dougal, my mum’s Pembroke corgi, came panting in from the back garden, disappeared under the table, and began sniffing my leg. I moved but he continued. My mum had to have the same kind of dog as the Queen. Of course, the Queen has more of them. But mum has a large tri-colour one she brought back from Wales. ”They’re breeding them too small now,” she says about the Queen’s corgis.

Dougal left my leg alone, but lay under the table watching my every move. I had trained him to wait for the gruesome fatty lamb and lumpy Bisto that Mum serves without fail every Sunday. So, for the other six days, I s’pose, Dougal thinks I am being mean.

The radio was on the Light Programme. It played boring band music, mostly. Everything on their radio was boring; the worst of all being a programme Mum and Dad doted on, called ‘Sing Something Simple’. A chorus, singing the songs they sang in the war. Songs they sang before the war, for all I know.

 

I felt cheated, missing the war. Evidence lay all around me: chopped-off houses in Liverpool, large empty lots paved in rubble. And everyone seemed old, like my gran. She had so many wrinkles her face looked like a map of Seaforth.

The door opened. Dad, who my mum calls Eddie, came in, carrying a folded newspaper under his arm.

“I wrote to the Echo again but they never printed it,” Dad said. 

“Oh. About the excavator? Mr. P called earlier. Are you doing the flowers again this year? He wanted to know.” Mum looked at me. “Are you burning those beans, James?”

I took the pan over to the table, and poured the Heinz Baked Beans on top of my toast. The beans slid out of the pan like molten lava. Finally I scraped the especially tasty dried crusty bits out and sprinkled them on top. Paradise on a plate.


Dad slapped the Liverpool Echo down on the radioThe dial light went out and the band music faded away. 

Good, I thought. 

Dad rapped the radio with his knuckles and the music came back, louder. “Bloody fools. The sea’ll be through there one day, then there’s nothing to stop it before Ormskirk.” He pulled his chair out from under the table and sat down.

Mum gave him a look.

“Oh.” Dad reached up and took off his grey trilby hat. 

My earliest memory of Dad was him chasing after just such a hat, perhaps the same one for all I knew, on Waterloo beach. While he wasn’t terribly impressive—many mistook him for the popular Liverpool comedian Arthur Askey—at least he was good natured, which was more than I could say for my friends’ father’s.

Mum daintily picked up some poached egg, using her fork upside down, as the Queen would. 

“Half the dune’s gone already. Mr. B said they’re going to stop it, one way or another.” Dad lifted his cup of tea and inspected the brown tidemark.

“What does he mean by that?” Mum asked. “And don’t look at me like that. I poured your tea at the usual time.”

I sat down.

Dad said, “I don’t know. And I don’t want to know. The tea’s cold.”

“What excavator, Dad?” I crammed buttered toast and beans into my mouth.

“The excavator? Damn fool machine Rainbrothers built. It’s out near the golf course, past the old fort. Taking the dunes away, for building more houses.”

“Oh.” So that was where they got the sand from; the sand they used to build houses where I played. One of my dens got bulldozed just last week. Immediately I formed an intense hatred for the excavator. “But Dad, Mr Bulman told me taking the dunes away was bad. So building more houses must be bad.”

Mum must have caught me showing my anger on my face. “You mind your own business, James. People have to live somewhere. Anyway, it's time to do your homework. You’ve got mid-term. You’ll never pass.”

“Yeah, Mum.” I shoved the rest of the toast and beans into my mouth, then with cheeks like a squirrel, washed my plate in the sink. 

I’d have to talk to Den and Merv about the excavator. It must be a long way away, though. Past the golf course, miles and miles. And we couldn’t ride our bikes through the dunes. I remembered seeing the golfers from the train, on my journey to school. Groups of men, tiny in the distance, pulling around small carts. Loonies!
 

I put my plate in the drainer and dried my hands on a towel.

“Mrs. J buys ten pounds of sugar a week, according to the sub-postmaster.” Mum shook her head.

“Eh? Is that a lot?” Dad frowned.

“It’s five times as much as we use.”

“Maybe they’ve got worms.” Dad raised the paper to indicate that his end of the chat was over.

On the back of the paper the headlines read: 
 

DOCK STRIKE CONTINUES
 

I closed the kitchen door carefully, leaving my parents to enjoy the horrible music, went into the lounge and picked up the phone. An eternity passed, then I heard the operator’s voice. 

“Number please.”

“Crosby five-oh-seven-one.”

“Connecting you, caller.”

Some clicks and whirring sounds came down the line, then I heard the ringing tone.

“Hello?” Merv’s mother. I recognised her Welsh accent straight away.

“Can I talk to Mervyn, please?”

“He’s doing his homework. Just a minute—”

She put the phone down and went away. In the background I heard the sounds of a door being closed, footsteps.

“Yeah?” Merv’s voice.

“Hey. It’s Jim.”

“Yeah. Mum said.”

“You heard anything about an excavator? Somewhere out past the fort, near the golf course?”

“Nah. Didja ask Den?”

“Not yet.”

“Well. Hey, I finished the guitar.”

“The bass?” Merv was building a bass guitar all by himself, since his parents refused to give him any money to buy one. ‘Devil music’ his dad said.

“Yeah. ‘Course. I haven’t got an amp, but I can hear it if I put me head against the kitchen door.”

“Gear. Can you play it yet?”

“No, but I’m practicing. My fingers hurt.”

“Gorreny ideas for Sarraday?” I lowered my voice in case my mum caught me trying out my scouse accent.

“No. You?”

“Ah wuz thinkin’ of goin’ to the fort. See if we could find the excavator.”

“There’ll be a lot of people working on it, won’t there?”

“Maybe not. Do they work on Saturday?” My mum and dad both worked, but not on Saturday. 

“Dunno. Have to talk to Den. Gorra go now.” I heard a click, then the burring sound of the empty line.

 

The operator broke in, startling me. “Have you finished, caller?”

“Er, yes. Thanks.”

“Then please replace your receiver.”

 

* * * * *


I made a mess of my homework because I couldn’t get the excavator out of my mind. Our whole village was built on sand. I imagined sand draining from under foundations, houses tipping, walls cracking, falling, thesea rushing in. Horrible! Our house, though, was different from all the other houses in the Close. Theirs had traditional foundations. Ours was built on top of a raft of reinforced concrete. I remembered that Dad told the architect to design it that way. Maybe our house would float. Then I had to laugh at myself: the idea of concrete, floating!
 

Ormskirk must be at least ten miles inland. Ten miles of green fields and black-and-white cows and farmers under salt water. All of them in Gug’s boat, heading towards the Pier Head. Screaming. Smaller and smaller. Gurgling. Would tiny people gurgle in high pitched voices? Yeah. Alvin and the Chipmunks going into a sewer pipe.

The phone rang. I heard my mum answer it. After a moment she came into the dining-room where I sat with my dog-eared exercise books and log tables. “It’s Dennis.”

I went into the lounge and picked up the phone. As usual, the plaited cable had turned into a bunch of knots that reduced its length to about ten inches. I crouched on the floor and jammed the cold black bakelite receiver to my ear. “Yeah?”

“That you Jim?”

“Yeah.” I looked out the lounge window. I could barely make out the garden wall in the fog.

“My mum says I can’t go out in this. It’s too thick.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Merv rang. His mum said the same thing.”

“We’ll have to wait for next Saturday.” Tomorrow, Sunday, was no good because on Sundays I always went with my mum to see nana, my grandmother, and grandad, and it took us over an hour to get there by train and bus.

“Yeah. Oh well. Heard the new single by The Flamingos?”

“Shake Sherry?”

“Yeah. Gear, isn’t it?”

“It’s okay.” I hadn’t heard it yet. Dennis had an HMV record shop near his house. He spent hours in the listening booth with the headphones on.

“Only ‘okay’?”

“Yeah it’s gear.” I wanted to get off this subject. “See you on Monday then.” Den and Merv were both in my class at Waterloo Grammar.

“Yeah.”

“Right.”

“Bye.”
 

I heard the click as he replaced his handset. I put mine down before the irritating operator could come on, demanding to know if I had finished. Why did my village have the only operator-controlled telephone system left in the country?

My mother’s budgie, Dickie, whizzed past my ear and perched on the standard lamp in the corner of the lounge. Budgie poo covered the lampshade; really, it was disgusting. After a few moments pulling at the fabric with his beak, the bird flew down and strutted back and forth on the parquet floor, by the television in the corner.

Dougal the corgi wandered in and saw Dickie at floor-level. He charged. 

The bird waited until the last possible moment then flew up, out of harm’s way, and back to the lampshade for a triumphant poo, while the dog, unable to stop on the polished wooden floor, slammed into the wall.

I wondered if someday the bird would be too slow. Hopefully yes. Then I wondered why I thought these thoughts. After all, what had Dickie ever done to me? What a boring day. Bloody fog. 

I wandered into the kitchen. “I’ll be back in a minute,” I said, opening the door to the back garden.

“Where are you going, James?” my mum said from the sink, where she was removing my burnt-on beans with Vim and a metal scouring pad.

“To see if the trains are running.”

“Oh. Don’t go too far, now.” She showed me the pan. “Look—you’ve burnt the beans again.”

I closed the door behind me and sniffed the air: dock leaves, Dad’s compost heap at the bottom of the garden, some poo left on the lawn by Dougal, the leaves of the apple trees, and the rotten bits of the garden fence where it touched the soil.

Our house was a good mile from the river Alt but even so, if the wind was in the right direction we still got a whiff of it. Dad said it smelled? disgusting, but for me, it wasn’t. It was boiled cabbage, drains, cut grass and damp soil, all mixed up. Except of course for the rotting things, like the dead seagulls I hung from the rafters of the new bungalows, to put people off buying them.

It seemed like I had cotton wool in my ears; everything muffled.

I walked straight ahead until I found the garden fence, turned right, and followed it to the end of the garden, thirty yards to the east. Beyond was wild land still, although new bungalows were going up a couple of miles away.

I stood at the end of the garden, tracing the local landmarks in my imagination: on my left, to the north, starting about twenty yards away, the remains of an old lime-brick factory. Nothing more than foundations really. Ahead, the rabbit warren, followed by a deep ditch—I had a den in there—then more warren, and finally a chain-link fence and the railway line.

I decided to see if the trains were running. That meant walking straight ahead. I nearly fell down the ditch, and twisted my ankle painfully in a rabbit-hole.

 

A terrible clatter above my head made me jump. I looked up to see the dim outline of a railway signal. It was at ‘go’ and a green light shone from the lamp within. I hobbled on and on, a long way. Surely I should have reached my house by now? Then I realised: suppose that train hadn’t been coming from the north, but from the south?

A signpost loomed out of the fog; two small wooden boards fixed to a piece of galvanised channel and jammed into the sandy ground. There was no signpost near my house.

One board said: 295th BRIG HQ PURPLE

The other read: SEPTIC

This was no good, I must have gone in the wrong direction. I turned round and began walking back the way I came. 

I heard a dog barking. Dougal? The barks, wrapped in cotton wool, seemed to float towards me from a long way off. 
 

I started running that way, but found myself caught in a patch of reeds. The tall stems scratched my face. Wet oozed into my shoes.

The barking stopped. All around was quiet. I fancied I heard my heart thudding, the sound magnified by the fog. No, it was a gentle plashing sound. 


Suddenly I realised I was caught in the reeds of the river bank, in the smelly, sucking, mud.

2

I pushed the reeds out of my face but they sprang back. With both hands I parted the stems and stepped forward, but my right shoe remained stuck in the mud and came off. Now I was standing with one foot in the air. If I put it down again it would be covered with the gluey black stuff, so I balanced on my left leg, let go of the reeds, and reached down for my right shoe. 

My left leg sank even deeper.

I couldn’t reach the shoe even if I half-crouched. I had to stand on both feet and bend down. Now my stockinged foot was covered in mud too. 

I groped around in the muck and got a couple of fingers inside the shoe, but could hardly move it. God, that stuff was sticky! I heaved with all my might, feeling the left foot with my remaining shoe plunge deeper. 

Finally the right shoe came loose with a sucking noise. I poured the water out. It looked a horrible mess. Now I had the problem of the left shoe. I tried to keep it on my foot as I pulled, but my shoeless right foot sank deeply into the gunky mud and my remaining shoe came off the left foot. 

Jesus! Where was it? Black water had filled the hole already. I grovelled, elbow deep, but couldn’t find it. And worse, I was up to my knees. And the tide seemed to be coming in. Just the previous week in the Crosby Herald I read about two boys that were drowned trying to wade the river. They’d probably stepped in a hole and gone under. I bet it was the mud, though. 

Frantically I pulled my left leg free, only to push the other deeper. I took one step forward with the left. Reeds scratched my arms and face. I couldn’t get the right leg unstuck. Think, think! 

I’ll drown here, the water rising, lapping around my mouth, ripples entering my nostrils. The last frantic struggles with my feet, flapping my arms, clawing at the water, but sinking deeper. Sewage flowing cold down my throat, filling nose, lungs. Coughing, spewing, gasping, gurgling, thrashing, expiring.

Stop panicking! Think! 

The reeds?

I flung myself forward, and the reeds made a kind of mat to support me. There went the rest of me covered in mud. I worked my stuck foot back and forth until it came out, and crawled a few feet until I found firmer ground.

The fog still pressed in all around me. I stood with my back to the river, panting, holding my one pathetic muddy, limp shoe in my hand. I tipped it up and poured out the remaining river water, and wiped it on the coarse sea-grass that grew along the bank. It made little difference. My mum was going to kill me when I got home.

I put my shoe on and hobbled along for a while but I felt stupid and uncomfortable going up-down, up-down, so I took it off and carried it, even though it hurt when I stepped on pebbles. I became angry at the mud, at the fog, at myself above all, and had to resist the desire to hurl the remaining shoe, all squelchy leather, through the fog and into the river. Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Thinking these thoughts I failed to notice my feet leaving the sandy path and walking across a slick, smooth surface. Too slick, for I slipped and had to go down on all fours to save myself. Close up, I saw concrete, green with algae. I tried to stand up and nearly fell flat.

Slowly I turned around and crawled away, but began to hear gloppy, gloopy sorts of noises. I turned again, until they came from directly in front of me. The bell buoy sounded, dooooooom, ahead in the estuary. 

Stop now, stupid! But somehow I could not stop, and I stood up and walked slowly forward to the edge. Below, a thin stream of foamy water poured from a jagged-edged brown clay pipe into a lagoon of liquid mud. The colour of the mud ranged from olive green to light brown. As I watched, the surface erupted, going ‘gloop’, splattering the concrete sides. A smell like rotting cabbage wafted to me.

I was safe, at least ten feet above the surface, but now I was afraid to move in case I might slip and fall in. But that was stupid. If I moved slowly, there would be no problem. Silly. Just move carefully away, step backwards—but somehow I leaned forward over the edge. It was the same feeling as when I visited Scarborough a year ago, and on a high bridge, found myself wanting to lean over the guard rail, stretch my arms out, tumble over, and fly. A feeling as if I were vibrating inside, a peculiar excitement, just step forward . . .

Another bubble formed on the surface, slowly swelling. Bloop! It burst. Pooh! What a stink. I felt dizzy. Another bubble, there, growing . . .

Ahhh! I found myself swaying forward and jumped back, skidding and having to put one hand down for a moment. Ugh. Slime. But the spell was broken. I retreated to the path, and when I turned again, fog concealed the outfall. 

I seemed to have walked much further than the boat club and was about to turn around, when I found the paling fence that protected the boats. I followed it, trailing my hand along the wooden fence staves, happy to be in familiar ground. Soon I came to the gate and turned left, passing the first houses, then left again at the war memorial, down St Stephen’s Road, and into Hester Close. I was thankful for the fog now; it hid the tattered, filthy state I was in. 

Even before I got to the house I heard my father calling my name. I waited until I got into the back garden before I shouted, “I’m here!”

Dad came from the rabbit warren, with two of the neighbours, Bill Cointon and Ted Brosely. They looked at me, shook their heads, and Bill said, “Well, he’s back. I’ll be off, then. Best of luck.”

“Thanks Bill. I’ll deal with this now.” My dad looked at me and said through gritted teeth, “Go to the bathroom and wash that mud off.”

I pushed the back door open and started walking through the kitchen but my mum said, “Don’t walk on the floor like that! Stop there!” 

She took a wad of old newspapers from the pantry and strewed them in a path, through the kitchen, through the hall, up the stairs, across the landing and into the bathroom. 

After half an hour I was clean enough, but it took me half an hour more to clean the bathroom, pick up the muddy newspaper and put it in the bin. All this time my parents maintained a stony silence.

My mother started: “Where is your other shoe?” dangling by one shoelace the slimy remains I had carried back.

“I lost it in the mud.”

“The mud?” turning the shoe slowly and inspecting it as if it were a dead animal.

“I lost my way in the fog and got stuck in the mud down by the river.”

“I told you not to play down there! It’s full of all sorts of diseases!” Dad wrinkled his nose and took a step backwards.

“Did anybody in the village see you like that, with no shoes?” Mum walked over to the kitchen rubbish bin, lifted the lid, and dropped the shoe into it.

“No, mum. Honest.”

“Where do you think we’re going to get new shoes? The shops aren’t open tomorrow and the trains aren’t running in this fog.”

“I dunno, mum.”

“You’ll have to go in your gym shoes.”

“It’s not allowed, mum. Black shoes only.”

“I’ll write a note for your teacher.”

“I can go in my other shoes, mum.” I meant my black winklepickers.

“I’m not having you going to school like a teddy boy, and that’s the end of the matter!” 

“But mum—”

“Go into the dining room and do the next lesson. And no argument about it!”

I picked up my books and closed the kitchen door behind me. Through the door came my mother’s raised voice saying, “Teddy boys!” and “After all we do for him!”

That late September night my parents sent me to bed at eight o’clock, part of my punishment I supposed. They never said anything. It was already getting dark outside, and the birds were sleepy. For a while I listened to them arguing in the trees, then I pushed the bedclothes and sheets away from me, sat up, leaned forward, and pulled open my side of the curtain.

At first I thought the window was steamed up, so I rubbed it with my hand. But no, it was still foggy, though it didn’t seem so thick now. I could easily see the outline of a street light, about ten yards away. Earlier it would have just been a glow.

The light shone through the garden apple trees, through my window, and onto my bedroom wall, making strange patterns on the wallpaper. There was a stain on the wallpaper where it had got damp or something; in one place, if I blurred my eyes a bit, it looked like a person standing there. When I moved my head from side to side, the face seemed to follow, as if someone or something was moving through the edge of a dark wood. The face reminded me of something—not something nice, but something shivery. I closed the curtain and lost sight of it in the dark.

I reached over to my bedside table and clicked the radio on. It took a couple of minutes to warm up. One of the output valves was a bit dicky and the loudspeaker cone was torn. The thing I noticed most about it—the thing anyone would notice—was that just inside the cardboard back cover, sat a huge green ceramic tube that almost glowed, it got so hot. 

I spotted the radio on the rubbish tip, a few months ago. The tip is not too far from Den’s house. I don’t think I would ever say that to his mum. I go scavenging there for telly parts and anything electric. I bought a fifty foot reel of aerial wire from Curry’s in South Road. That’s four stops south on the electric railway. The wire runs from the top of my window, across to the opposite corner of the garden, where I put up a wooden post about ten feet high. This is my aerial. It’s called a long wire type. This is in a book called ‘The Foundations of Wireless’ by a guy with a really funny name: Scroggie. The aerial gets Radio Luxembourg. It’s too dangerous to connect it to the inside of the radio, but I found that if I wrapped it round and round one end, Luxembourg comes in really gear.

A scratchy sound came from the torn speaker, then a familiar voice: “—Batchelor’s Infrawdraw Method, Keynsham, that’s Kay . . Eee . . Why . . Enn . . ” and I knew it was tuned in. 

I spent an hour or so listening to a programme of the latest American hits. I really liked the sound of Bobby Vee, but there was one group, the Crickets, that were great. Then I drifted off to sleep.

It must have been about one in the morning when I woke up. I was lying on my back, turned slightly to my right. Moonlight speared through a chink near the top of the curtains and into my eyes, making me want to blink, but for some reason, I couldn’t.

I lay on the bed and listened as Radio Luxembourg slowly faded in and out. I tried to remember the titles in case I found them in the second-hand singles racks in the Cremona Souvenir shop. Personality, by Lloyd Price. Venus, by Frankie Avalon. Lonely Boy, by Paul Anka. Dream Lover, by Bobby Darin.

I sat on the bed, drew my vest up over my head and when it cleared my eyes, it seemed to me that a man was standing in the wallpaper, where the stain was, as if he were half part of it and half not. It was as if he'd always been there but somehow I'd not been aware. 

I thought, “I'm dreaming,” but then I heard the night birds calling in the distance, and I knew I wasn't. Goose pimples stood up all over my arms, and the hair on the back of my neck prickled. 

“It's all right Jim. I used to be friends with your father. In the war.” His voice sounded soft, muffled, but I had no trouble making out the words.

“You're not having a good time of it here with your mum and dad, are you?”

“Who are you?”

“I'm your uncle Buddy, Jim. I died before you were born.”

“But what are you doing here now? You're, um . . .”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

My first novel, an action-adventure, was published in 2002. More recently I published a science fiction novel, Rebody. I'm a big fan of historicals, science fiction and fantasy; I edited the SF novel Alien Seeding, and the historicals Severed Branch and Cast The First Stone. I've just finished a memoir and am working on a thriller set in the UK. I have lived in more than 30 countries but these days live in Mexico with my wife and two dogs.

Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
I deeply admire effective use of language, especially metaphor and simile, so I am drawn to the works of authors such as HG Wells and JG Ballard.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
If you would like to learn about the strange life I have led, you can visit clivewarner.com where you will find stories and photos galore.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
The hardest part of writing this book was becoming 14 years old again. I knew that the voice must be authentic and so I not only delved into my own memories, but also soaked myself in movies, radio, and trivia from the period. I also had to research the battle of El Alamein in depth.

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