Where do Ideas Come From – Part Two

I’ve come back to this subject because I know this is something that authors get asked about a lot; when my bookshop hosted an author event and some member of the audience asked “where do you get your ideas from?” I would inwardly groan and wish they would ask something more original. But actually, I think writers like to talk about where their ideas come from. I know I have enjoyed using this blog to track the origins of my stories, trying to pinpoint where that very first trickle of an idea came from, like trying to find the source of a stream and then following its course as it grew. Some origins are easily traced, like a spring bursting from under a rock. Others are more like raindrops, gradually gathering and filling an unexpected pocket. Sometimes it easy to identify where the water come from, other times it remains a mystery. There is no answer to the question, and I suspect that the rambling analysis might be of more interest to the writer than to anyone else. However, I have one more thing to say on the subject, about the origins of one very specific idea because it is a rather interesting story in itself. Basically, it starts with a jar of marbles.

Yes, marbles, the little glass spheres of differing size and colour. I had a nice collection when I was a child. But I didn’t play the traditional games with them, like you were supposed to. My marbles were too special for just that, and like all my toys, a way into a narrative. I gave names to my favourites, and they began to take on personalities. They were always brave and heroic, saving their friends and family from potential disasters. These little adventures grew into epic sagas as the marble collection became a sophisticated community with back stories and cultural hierarchies. They were grouped together according to size and colour to denote their family and some were more important than others. There was a royal family, who were bigger than all the others and had matching colours. The smaller marbles were divided by the type of glass; some were clear glass, others were opaque milky white. The milky marbles were particularly striking, having streaks of vibrant colour swirled into the white glass. They came in groups of dark red, sky blue, yellow and indigo. To me, this marked their family and it became a very dominant feature in their society. Family groups liked to stick together, but the best story lines came from cross-colour relationships.

My favourites mostly came from the milkys because their colouring made them easy to identify individuals. The first one to get a name had lovely dark red streaks and was slightly bigger than all the others. I called him Mark, and he was a true hero amongst the marbles. He had a best friend, from the indigo family, who had so much indigo pigment that you could hardly see any white glass on him at all. He was definitely the most handsome and high status member of his family. He was called Paul. These were names taken from boys in my class at primary school, which shows how far back this story goes.

Paul had a girlfriend, a yellow milky. That was a standard sort of match amongst the community; the yellows were abundant and pretty, good girlfriend material. Mark had a girlfriend too, but he had surprised everyone by choosing an outsider, a green milky. There were only three greens; two weren’t very nice but one was lovely. She was Cass, the perfect girlfriend for Mark.

The families grew. Mark had a younger brother, a small red milky with colours just like Mark. And Paul had a younger brother, with softer but equally beautiful indigo streaks. He was called David.

As my marble adventures became more and more elaborate, a new character emerged. There was one milky who didn’t fit in with any of the others. He was blue, but not the turquoise sky colour of the blue milkys, nor the vivid indigo of Paul and David. Neither family wanted him and the rejection made him somewhat angry and bitter. But it also gave him something to prove. Before long, he was stepping into the role of hero, saving the community countless times, even though he was never really given the credit for it. Only two other marbles stood by him. One was Cass, even though that displeased Mark. And the other was David. His brother Paul disapproved but that didn’t stop them from becoming the best of friends. Some of you might have guessed it by now, but that outcast’s name was Dan.

Yes, this is the source of my novel The Most Beloved Boy. Dan and David, the heroes of that story, started life as marbles. Here they are…

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(Dan, by the way, is named after I boy I liked in my first year of secondary school. So he must have been created at some time in 1985. I can be very specific about that!)

Back at the height of my fantasy obsession, I had hit upon the idea of turning my marble sagas into a fantasy trilogy. The first book would be Dan and David saving the community. The second book would follow their adventures as they stretched their wings and left the community to explore the world. And the third book would be their return, when they would face the old world with all the benefits of their new experiences. I scribbled the idea down in my notebook of ideas, probably sometime in 1989. I even wrote a few hundred words. Strangely, what I wrote was an extract from that imagined third instalment, when Dan and David return to the village. The other characters are pleased to see David, but Dan doesn’t get the same warm welcome. When it is discovered that David is very ill, they are even less pleased with Dan. That was all I wrote and I didn’t have a plan on what to write next. So I put it away and forgot all about it.

But you see, this is why it is essential to keep notes; once an idea is written down, it’s never really forgotten. Something about this idea lingered at the back of my mind, long after I had given up on writing fantasy. The characters of Dan and David – the plucky outcast and the loyal friend with deep integrity – remained appealing. The prejudice and difficulties they went through to be friends, with the struggles that would go on into their adult lives, was real life and didn’t need a fantasy setting. There was enough drama in that without the epic adventures. I didn’t need to tell the first two parts of the story to tell the third, which was where the true heart and soul of the story lay. Then sometime around 2009 and 2010, I had the answer on how to write their story; I realised that the marble community could be replicated by placing the story in a rural Victorian town. Paul’s sense of superiority and snobbishness was explained by making him a squire. Dan’s position as outcast became a matter of class, complicated further by social taboos. The marble community became the town, led by the Squire’s rigid sense of propriety to ostracise Dan and blame him for taking David away. Dan and David’s adventures around the world became real travels in the Merchant Navy. And their return, ten years later, would be the beginning of the plot. And there it was, my next novel; a tale of two characters who had been developing in my imagination for over twenty years. And when I started writing them into life, I discovered that they hadn’t changed at all. They were still the true heroes I had always known them to be and I loved them just as much as I had at the age of thirteen.

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A Resolution for a New Year

If I write it down here, I can’t ignore it. My resolution for 2018 is to start a new novel. At this point in time, I don’t care what it’s going to be about, or how much of it I write, but by this time next year, I hope to have written a bit more than this!

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from me and my Advent snowman. There he is, hanging happily beside the Christmas tree, looking very festive. The story I wrote for my own calendar is going down very well with my children. Once again, I’ve been inspired by them. They are growing up, discovering their own tastes in music, and two of them play guitar in their own rock bands, so I came up with a tale about a group of choristers who decide to set up a rock band to perform a song called Rockin’ Dulce Jubilo – yes, I am very pleased with that! I will definitely be adding that story to the index for next year.

I couldn’t let the year come to an end without looking back, because it has been quite a significant year for me. Just the fact that I have written that and posted it here is amazing because this website didn’t exist this time last year. I certainly didn’t know that I had the ability to create it all myself. And I never imagined that I would writing a blog. It wasn’t something I had planned on when I started setting up my website but I’ve really enjoyed waffling on about my writing. In particular, I have loved reminiscing about my early work. Knowing that it will never be published can be quite heart-breaking, but these blogs are a tribute and a memorial to the work that got me to where I am today. It may be passed over, but it is not forgotten. Perhaps I can do the same for of the ideas that will not even get written; they number far more than the ideas that get written, too many for one lifetime, but I would hate for them to disappear completely.

The end of the year is also a time for looking forward. I will keep on writing blogs, because it is indulgently satisfying, but I also like to hope it might be an inspiration for other aspiring writers to read about the process of writing. But what else? It pains me to admit that I am not working on any novel at this moment. This is a situation I have not been in for some time and it is a little disappointing. Without new a project, I have a bad habit of returning to the supposedly finished work. I have new ideas, but nothing that I am ready to sit down and start creating. But I will allow myself the excuse of being rather been busy, since I started training for a new career in September, as a Teaching Assistant, with a college course and work placement in the school where I already work as a dinner lady. I love it, but it is taking up all my free time. At least I am putting my writing skills to use, writing my assignments. I’m finding that I really enjoy this different style of writing and I seem to be doing quite well with it. Actually, I should be working on my latest assignment right now, not writing this. So, I will bring this blog to an end, which brings this year to an end. It has been a good year for me, and so it is with very high spirits that I say MERRY CHRISTMAS AND BEST WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR.

 

Tis the Season…

 

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My advent story calendar really did come to life the way I describe. I saw the lovely jolly snowman made of felt in a charity shop, and thought I would have a lot of fun filling up the 24 little pockets. That was 2009, and my children were aged six, three and one. Then someone else gifted them chocolate advent calendars, and my snowman seemed somewhat superfluous. But I am now very grateful to those unexpected chocolate advents, because without them, I might never have come up with my alternative idea – a story told over twenty-four days, building up to a big finish on Christmas Eve.

That first year, my story was pretty simple. It was the tale of two sisters and their surprise encounter with an elf with a broken wing. The elf’s job is to deliver Christmas lists to Father Christmas, and he needs the girls’ help to get back to the North Pole. The girls were called Ella and Izzy – named after the imaginary friends of my younger daughter. It was a bit of a rushed job, all written out by hand in brightly coloured pens. The episodes were very short, and I kept the language simple in the hope that my elder daughter would be able to read it for herself. I don’t think she did, but they loved the story and my idea was so well received that I knew I would be repeating it the following year.

For 2010, I got more organised. I planned my story in advanced and made sure I could print it off. This enabled me to tell a much more complex story. It was a Dickensian style tale, with an orphan boy and a Scrooge-like uncle, and a stray puppy that gained the ability to talk at midnight on Christmas Eve and deliver a few home truths to the uncle. There was, of course, a very happy ending. (I still think this story would make an excellent play for a primary school Christmas production and once started on adapting it. I might go back to it one day.)

In the forthcoming years, my idea became a regular part of Christmas. I don’t think my children were just humouring me with the excitement of each 1st December to find out what the story was going to be that year. I was very much led by them in the story subjects. The Very Special Christmas Star had been a more serious story, so I followed it up with a fun caper at the North Pole, where two toys were magically brought to life and went exploring. This was particularly popular because the two toys were based on Mr Bunny and Lick, my daughters’ most treasured soft toy companions. The year after that, I used a personal connection of my own, creating a childhood adventure for two characters from the novel I was currently working on. For the next story, The Advent Diary of Amanda Brown, I was inspired by something my younger daughter had once said, which became an incident in the story. Disaster at the Christmas Pudding Factory was a chance to channel my inner Roald Dahl, going for absurd and silly in a way that I would never usually write. The Carol Singer was a short story that I had written many years before; it draws on the great tradition of a Christmas mystery and was inspired by a real bus journey I used to make. And then, because my children still talked about the Bunny and Pup story, I returned to Father Christmas’s workshop and wrote a new adventure in that setting, this time featuring the elves and an unfortunate incident with some holly.

All the time I was writing these stories for my children, I was wondering if there was anything else I could do with them. I thought about approaching publishers and seeing if I could sell the idea, but I knew people wouldn’t really want to buy books to cut up, so publishers wouldn’t find it a particularly commercial idea. However, it stayed in my mind that this was a good idea, and I wanted to share it. As a writer, sharing my stories is my main goal. By this time, I had lots of stories I wanted to share, including a brand new novel. I had already decided that I was going to try self-publishing on Kindle, just because it would be an easy way to share my work between friends and family. With all this material, I was beginning to see that I needed a website to promote my portfolio of work. And with another brainwave, I realised that I could use my Advent Stories as part of that promotion. With my own website, I had a platform on which to share them, offering them for free in return for any extra traffic to my site. If you’re reading this now because you came looking for an advent story, then yay, you’re very welcome. I hope you like my stories. They have brought a lot of pleasure to me and my family and I truly hope they will do the same for you. Now I really must stop – I have a new story to write before 1st December!

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The real Bunny and Pup, AKA Mr Bunny and Lick

 

 

Where do ideas come from?

A novel starts with an idea. Of course, it takes more than just an idea to create a novel – time, commitment, passion, all these things will be needed before an idea becomes a novel. But none of these things will make a novel if there is no idea to get them going. Ideas are the spark that light the flame, which sets light to the kindling, which creates the heat to start the burning, which ends with a full-blown bonfire that can’t easily be extinguished and a sky full of smoke. It only takes one idea to achieve all that, but nothing will happen without one.

Luckily, ideas are abundant and promiscuous. They flaunt themselves flirtatiously, begging to be written. Look at me, they say, wouldn’t I make the most glorious story? You and me together would make irresistible fiction. You would love to write me, readers would fall in love with me. Yes yes, I reply, you are brilliant, awe-inspiring, I want to write you all. But there are so many that most flare brightly for a brief moment, only to fade into obscurity, forgotten before any record can commit them to paper. Only the very brightest and best make me reach for a pen. Those lucky few make it to scribbles in a notebook, or a single page document of computer type. In solid form, they have a chance of life – a written idea can be read and remembered. I have collections of these ideas, going back to my teens. I still love each and every one of them, even though most will go no further than that.

From this collection come the ideas that grow bigger. I can never tell which ones will grow. Some are ones that I really want to write, like Arris. Other times they surprise me, swelling from nothing. Have You Got That Book? did that to me, going from spark to unstoppable inferno in a matter of hours. Others smoulder, building secretly and cunningly. By the time they take hold, they are too hot to leave alone.

That is how my next novel came to me. I had finished HYGTB? and I was meant to go back and finish Arris. But I didn’t. Some other idea crept in, one of those ideas that came from nowhere but waited patiently, until it had built itself so nicely that it couldn’t be ignored. I can’t even say for sure where the idea came from. I have this habit of turning whatever I am doing into a narrative. For example, if I’m cooking a meal, I’m not myself but a character cooking a vital meal for another character, usually with long, involved conversations. Or if I’m picking fruit in the garden, I am the character picking fruit, for some very important reason. Once, on a summer job entering data onto a computer, I became the heroine in an action thriller who discovers a sentient computer. And somewhere in the past, I turned the simple task of making lunch into an encounter between a rich, married woman and an insolent homeless man. The woman knows she is better off than the man, but also knows that when he mocks her marriage, he is not incorrect. He is rude to her, but she still wants to help him, and he seems happy to let her try. It doesn’t sound like much, does it? And yet, from that came a whole new novel.

What kindled this idea were a few simple details that gave it a time and place. It floated around for a long time in a vacuum with no date or location, until it occurred to me that setting this idea in the 1920s made it a story about the aftermath of the First World War. That made my sullen tramp a shell-shocked war hero, running away from horrors that refused to leave him alone. Here was something of real interest for readers, and offered me as the writer so much more scope for depth and intrigue. Suddenly, the simple idea about a rude, homeless man becomes a novel about his journey to recovery. But what about the woman? Why was she involved in this story, and why was her husband not? It was the location that provided her story, a country house with a neglected garden in need of restoration, a perfect place for an unhappily married woman to escape to. What if she discovered a new passion for gardening and horticulture, giving her a reason to stay? That became her place in the novel, saving the garden and the traumatised young man who was seeking sanctuary there. And that private, secluded garden would be the perfect place for an unlikely relationship to blossom. That’s an instantaneous plot, with interesting character development and an unusual romance. With these details fixed, everything else fell into place.

The notebook shows that I first recorded this idea on 18.8.99, with all those details already in place. At this point, I was well into HYGTB? and not really planning what my next novel might be. But by the time that was finished in 2000, it was the post-WWI novel that became my next project. I was now married and living with Hubby in a very small but cosy flat. I was still working at the bookshop and using my days off for writing. By now, I was working on a real computer, but always carried a lined exercise book around with me so I could write at work, or whenever I was away from the computer. One of these notebooks holds the very first words written, a patchwork square of drama. It is followed by notes about the plot, and plans for research that would be required. This entry is dated 14.11.00, so by then, I was well and truly committed to this idea. I did actually do some research too. It wasn’t something I had bothered with before, but I realised that I needed to know more about First World War shell shock than I had picked up from GCSE history and reading the novels of Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks. I also knew nothing about gardening, and had to furnish myself with enough basic knowledge to make my character’s enthusiasm for the garden seem plausible. But I’m still not one of those writers who do so much research that they can include a bibliography with their novel. I prefer the bits that I can make up. And this novel was something I could really get my teeth into. I worked solidly on it for the next eighteen months, and by the time the first draft was finished, I knew that my style and technique were improving, and that this was the kind of fiction I really wanted to be writing. It was more restrained than HYGTB?, more grown-up, more thought-provoking, or so I hoped. I was very pleased with the first draft. There is no diary entry to show when it was finished but by the time we moved out of that flat at the end 2002, it was printed off and being passed around friends and family and being rejected by agents and publishers. And if you haven’t already worked it out, this is my novel After the Rain. From one little spark to a novel on Kindle. That’s why I love writing.

After the Rain first notes Notice the evidence of work in progress – Patrick (TBC) went on to become Justin.

The Bookshop Years

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It’s all very well knowing that you want to be an author, but it’s not exactly a job you can apply for. Going through school, college and university, I knew that I was going to have to find a job to keep me going until a publisher discovered my work and offered me a publishing deal. Well, that’s how I saw it. The trouble was, I didn’t really know what else I wanted to do. Then, by a stroke of good fortune, I found a job that seemed ideally suited to my ambitions. I was just finishing a post-grad course when the local branch of Waterstone’s advertised a job vacancy. I loved books, I loved bookshops, and it gave me the opportunity to stay in a town that I come to love. Thus began my bookshop years.

I soon learnt that it was more perfect for me than I had anticipated. I was surrounded by books and people like me who also loved to read and talk about books. I was discovering new authors all the time and learning so much about writing from reading. I was meeting publishers’ reps and learning about publishing and the book trade. I was experiencing first-hand what made a book sell. I was even meeting authors at the regular events held at the shop. As I watched them sign copies of their books and listen to them talk about their books, I became even more inspired than ever that one day, I would be doing what they did.

This was a very productive time for my writing. I was writing, using all my days off to work on the Arris novel. At some point, I made a conscious decision not to take up any other hobbies or past-times because I needed the time for writing. Thankfully by now, I was working on a word-processor, something that enabled me to edit and count words – watching that word count go up and up was a constant source of satisfaction to me.

As I said in the previous blog, I had every intention of Arris being my big, break-through novel. But one quiet afternoon in the shop, a little thought came to me. When customers came to the till with an enquiry, they usually said something like “Have you got that book…” which I thought would make a really amusing title for a book. Then customers would be asking “Have you got that book ‘Have You Got That Book?’” The idea amused me so much that I began to wonder what kind of book could have a title like that. Maybe a novel about a bookshop. This was the late nineties and bookshops were quite trendy places, so that was an attractive idea. In fact, it was such a good idea, I realised that I should be writing a novel set in a bookshop. I could make it light and fun, chick-lit at its best. All I needed were some characters and a plot. It must have been a quiet day in the shop because by the end of the day, I had everything I needed. I went home from work that evening and made notes on the whole synopsis and complete ensemble of characters. Reading those notes back, I can see that my original plan was pretty much what I went on to write.

Have You Got That Book? was set in an old family run bookshop called Phoenix Books, in a fictional suburb of London. It was owned by a couple of elderly spinster sisters, who left the business of running the shop to the staff. It was the lives of these staff that would make up the plot, Jilly Cooper style, with their individual stories running alongside each other over the course of a year. There was Owen, a quiet book-lover who ran the fiction section but who would rather be writing and selling his own novels. There was James, the assistant manager, who had given up a career in Academia because of a scandalous affair with a student but was finding success in a career in bookselling. There was Sophie, a shy young girl who ran the children’s section and had a secret crush on Owen. There was Alex, a handsome but modest hunk who unpacked and processed all the deliveries. And into their midst came Sassy, a great-niece of the spinster sisters, who is offered the job of manager, despite having no experience. This is where the action begins, as the bitterness between Sassy and James causes ructions in the shop, disturbing the peaceful equilibrium. Sassy and James eventually make up and have a relationship, only for that to be thrown awry by a visitor from James’s past. Sophie is seduced by a lecherous author who leads her into a life of parties and hedonism. Alex finds himself having unexpected feelings for a friendly male delivery driver, despite the fact that he is in a steady relationship with his girlfriend. And Owen is stuck in the middle, trying to keep the peace and sort out everyone’s problems, at the same time as trying to protect the shop from the competitive rivalry of a large chain bookshop in the same town.

The idea was so whole, and so exciting that I knew I had to write it straight away. It meant pausing work on the Arris novel and throwing myself headfirst into HYGTB? I imagined that I could write it pretty quickly by keeping it light and fun. My characters could be caricatures, without much depth and it needn’t be that long. My plan was to dash it off and cash in on a trend for bookshop settings – this was the time when the films Notting Hill and You’ve Got Mail were being made. It was a band-wagon ripe for jumping on.

My notebook shows that this idea came to life on 28th April 1998. But what happened next was not what I had planned. Those characters that seemed to have leapt into my imagination almost fully formed began to demand much more than a frothy chick-lit treatment. As I began writing, they developed into real people, with back-stories and genuine emotions. I couldn’t just dismiss them as stereo-types. They had human flaws, but that made me like them more and made me determined to make them believable and relatable for readers. My quick chick-lit was becoming an epic. And what I thought would be a speedy project took over the next two years of my life. An old diary record shows that I finished the first draft on 11th April 2000, with 26 chapters and what amounted to over 500 pages. It was the first thing I had finished since 1988, so it felt like a huge achievement. And I also believed that I had created something good that people would enjoy reading as much as I had enjoyed writing.

The advantage of finishing something is being able to offer it to other people to read. Once I had finished my first draft and tidied it up and done some rudimentary editing, I printed off a hard copy and started lending it out to my friends. It was the first time in years that anyone had read my writing, and I was thrilled with the responses I was getting. Yes, they were my friends and family, so they weren’t going to be critical, but I was encouraged by the way they wanted to discuss the characters as if they were real people. To me, that felt like evidence that the novel was working how I had wanted it to work. Surely it would only be a matter of time before I was discovered by the publishers, and like my character Owen, become a famous bookseller author. I started sending it off to publishers and agents, convinced that they would also see the novelty factor of a bookseller writing a book about a bookshop. I could imagine the headlines in the trade press! However, I soon had another new experience to put under my belt – my first rejections.

Reading it myself now, I can see why it was rejected. It’s a great plot and has lots of good elements, but it isn’t particularly well written – not badly written, just not of the standard I aim for these days. It could be improved, but would take a lot of work. And while I’d like it to be read again, I find myself wondering if it should be. It might not have turned out as chick-lit as I first imagined but it is still of that genre; it is highly dramatic and full of passion, in and out of bed. For a provincial bookshop, the characters are rather glamorous and beautiful and all behave perfectly to type, with each person paired up for the romantic happy ending. There’s nothing wrong with that – I love a bit of Jilly Cooper – but I don’t write like that anymore. It doesn’t fit with my later work. But if I were to change it, would I be taking away everything that made it fun and entertaining? Is it worth doing that? It’s a strange dilemma to find oneself with, to have a novel I don’t know what to do with. Until I decide that, HYGTB? remains in a state of limbo.

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Arris – an extract

I know I said that Arris would probably stay my own private Fantasy novel, but I thought I would share a little with the world and give Arris a moment in the sun. This extract is taken from a draft that has not been worked on for over ten years and is reproduced exactly how it was left, unedited, despite any temptations I might have had to tinker with it. In it, Arris, embroiled in the affairs of the Lance family, is taking care of Lewis, who, having made himself unpopular in the town since arriving with the news of Henri Lance’s disappearance, was attacked and severely beaten. 

 

He watched out of the window for a bit, to pass the time, but the interest that provided soon faded. When he took his seat by the bed, he found himself falling asleep. The tensions of the past few days had meant restless and sleepless nights. At one point he jerked up to realize he had been dozing, and then he was on his feet in seconds. He paced around the room, moving quietly so as not to disturb Lewis. He was really hoping that he wouldn’t wake up until Ki had returned. Once more he was drawn to sword. It was as if it was too large and bright for this mundane setting that it kept attracting him to it like gold or jewels. Finally, Arris picked up Lewis’s cloak and flung it over the top, hiding it from his sight. Then he went back to watching at the window. Only two hours had passed, but he watched hopefully for signs of Ki returning.

He sat there for so long that he forgot about Lewis sleeping in the bed. So, when he heard a soft moaning, he was taken by surprise, and jumped up guiltily. He went to the bed, and saw Lewis had opened his eyes and was looking around in bewilderment.

“Ki?” he asked. “Is that you?” It was great effort for him to talk, and he obviously couldn’t see very well through his swollen eyes. Arris moved closer to the bed.

“No, he isn’t here,” he said. “I’m Arris Cole, from Lance farm. We met last night, in the Albatross. Do you remember?”

“No,” said Lewis. “I can’t move.”

“You were attacked last night, in the street,” said Arris. “Someone mugged you. You’re quite badly injured. You’re in the inn.”

“Where’s Ki?” asked Lewis.

“He’s gone to meet your friends,” said Arris. “He was worried that they would be waiting for you. He’s coming back later tonight.”

“Good,” said Lewis, and closed his eyes again.

“Are you alright?” asked Arris. “Can I get you anything?”

“Water,” croaked Lewis.

Arris quickly filled a cup and held it to Lewis’s battered lips. Lewis tried to lift his head but couldn’t, so Arris had to put his hand behind his head and lift him slightly. Some water trickled into Lewis’s mouth, but a great deal went down his neck. Lewis spluttered and coughed, causing Arris to spill even more water. He cursed and flailed around looking for a cloth or towel, but could see none. Eventually, Lewis got his lips around the cup and was able to drink. When he had had enough, Arris put the cup down and began looking for a cloth to wipe the wet from Lewis’s neck.

“How about some beer?” asked Lewis.

Arris hadn’t expected this. “There is none,” he said. “Should I go and get some?”

“No, don’t bother,” said Lewis. “You’d only spill it all down my neck. That would be a waste of beer.”

“I’m sorry,” said Arris. He ended up using a scarf that he had found and mopped up the dampness.

“You make a terrible nurse,” said Lewis.

“I know, sorry,” said Arris. “I’m supposed to go and fetch the physician when you’re awake. They thought it was best to wake till you woke up before they did anything. And the magistrate is going to want to talk to you, about last night.”

Lewis grunted. “I’m alright,” he said. “I don’t need a physician.”

“I think you probably do” said Arris. “Ki thinks you’ve got broken ribs, and a broken shoulder.”

“What could a physician do about that?” asked Lewis. “I’ll heal myself, in time.”

“But it’s best not to take chances,” said Arris. “And you must be in pain. He could give you something for that.”

“I doubt it,” said Lewis. “There isn’t a cure for broken bones or pain so far as I know. A beer would do as much.”

Arris studied Lewis carefully. It didn’t look as if he was boasting. He admired his courage, but he had been given instructions that he didn’t dare not carry out. He got up and was about to leave the room and go downstairs to see the innkeeper, when Lewis called him back.

“Wait,” he said. “Why are you here? I remember you going home last night.”

“Ki came to the farm this morning to get some help from Lance,” said Arris. “He had no money and didn’t know what to do.” He was suddenly excited. “Do you remember me at the tavern last night.”

“I remember talking to you, and you going,” said Lewis.

“So you remember some of last night,” said Arris. “Do you remember Ki leaving?”

Lewis thought for a moment and said, “I think so. Did he go with you?”

“He came out after me,” said Arris. “And then he went home. Do you remember anything of what happened next?”

Again Lewis was quiet for a minute. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I remember Ki not coming back, but I stayed anyway. There was that pretty girl behind the bar.” He paused, thinking more. “I was talking to the girl,” he said. “But someone kept interrupting. Yes, a young man, kept butting in. I thought maybe the girl was his girlfriend. I can’t remember whether she was or not, but I don’t think that’s what he was bothered about. But I got rid of him.”

“And what then?” asked Arris. “What happened when you left the tavern.”

“Oh I don’t know,” said Lewis. “It was much later, and I’d had a skinfull. I can’t remember anything.”

Arris’s feelings at that moment were a mixture of disappointment and relief. He was longing to know the truth, but didn’t want to hear Kal’s name.

“Look, I’ve got to go and get the physician,” he said. “Ki told me to, it’s got nothing to do with me.”

“And bring some ale back with you,” said Lewis.

Arris went downstairs and found the innkeeper. The man was in the bar, and did not look too happy to see Arris.

“Lewis is awake,” said Arris. “We have to get the physician.”

“I’m busy,” snapped the Innkeeper. “He would wake up just now, wouldn’t he.”

“I’ll go,” said Arris.

He went, and was glad to find the physician was more willing to help. He came immediately, and asked Arris questions about Lewis’s state on the way. Arris told him what Lewis had said, and also about his request for ale. The physician laughed. “Well, he can’t be too bad then,” he said. “I don’t think it will do him any harm. This is a right mess for Lance to be caught up in. I heard about his son. It’s a damn shame. With any luck, we should be able to get Lewis on the road again soon.”

Despite his protestations, Lewis remained calm and patient while the physician examined him. He was clearly in a lot of pain and once again Arris admired him for not crying out once the whole time. His teeth were clenched tightly together, and he never took his eyes off the physicians face. When the examination was over, Lewis was the first to speak. “Well?” he asked.

“It’s not so bad,” said the physician. “The bruising is bad, but nothing to serious. Only that cut under your lip will need a few stitches. There are a couple of cracked ribs, and there’s not much I can do for those. It just needs rest to heal them. The main thing is going to be that shoulder bone. I’m going to have to reset it, and that’s going to be painful.”

“You’d better get on with it,” said Lewis.

“Ah, Arris, maybe you would like to go downstairs and fetch a mug of ale for Lewis,” said the physician. “He’s going to need it after this.”

Arris saw the grim look on Lewis’s face, and went immediately. He was halfway down the stairs when he heard a screaming yell from Lewis’s room. He winced at the thought. In the bar, the innkeeper gave him the ale without any questions. He looked a little more concerned now and Arris guessed he had heard the scream too. Slowly he went back upstairs, stopping to knock t the door before he went in.

In the bed, Lewis was still conscious, and breathing heavily through gritted teeth. His right arm lay limply across his chest. His eyes widened when he saw the mug and he struggled to sit up, despite the pain. The physician helped him, and with more skill than Arris had managed earlier, helped Lewis to drink. Lewis drained the mug in one go, then fell back.

“What now?” asked Arris.

“There’s not much we can do,” said the physician. “I can’t splint his shoulder. All I can do is strap his arm tightly to his chest, to stop him moving it while it heals. I’ll need your help.”

“Certainly,” said Arris.

Together, he and the physician lifted Lewis up into a sitting position, and Arris held him while the physician went on with the bandaging. Lewis was very weak now and leant against Arris, reminding Arris of the rag dolls his sisters had had as children. His upper torso was bare for the procedure, and Arris examined it, unable to miss the various scars that marked it. Underneath the fresh bruises, Arris could see many old scars. One ran deep and viscous down his left side and across his belly. Arris ran his fingers along it gently.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“An old wound,” muttered Lewis. “An old friend tried to take my guts out. He nearly did too. That time, I really was lucky.”

“By the looks of it, this isn’t your first beating,” said the physician.

“Far from it,” said Lewis. “And not nearly the worst. Do I shock you?”

“Not me,” said the physician cheerily. “It’s men like you that keep men like me in business.”

“What about you Arris?” said Lewis. “I bet I don’t look so wonderful now?”

“You never did,” said Arris lightly. He realised that Lewis was desperately fighting to stay awake until the physician was finished, and the talking was his help. “I always thought you looked a bit silly, striding around with that huge sword, as if there were going to be any dragons to attack in this village. It didn’t do you much good when you needed it.”

“I was drunk,” said Lewis. “That’s the effect this place has on me. I had to drink myself stupid to make it bearable.”

“I suppose it must seem very dull to someone like you,” said Arris. “But it’s a small village. It doesn’t aspire to anything greater.”

“It achieved it last night,” said Lewis. “It usually takes more than a few pints of ale to floor me. I’d like to meet the man. I should give him a place on my team.”

For once, Lewis’s arrogance didn’t irritate Arris.

“Ok, I’m finished,” said the physician. He and Arris gently lay Lewis back down. “Now I have to stitch that cut under you lip. It won’t take long, but you’ll have to shut up while I do it.”

“Can’t I have another beer first?” asked Lewis.

“No,” said the physician. “Now lie still and shut up.”

When Arris realised his assistance was not required, he turned away, glad not to have to watch. He went over to the window, wondering what was going on at Lance farm. Was Kal found? Had Calla returned? Somehow, he was glad he was not there. He had a feeling that Roberts had planned it to be that way. And he was sure he should feel proud that both he and Lance had felt him suitable to stay with Lewis while Ki was away.

“Alright Arris, you can look now,” said the physician finally, and Arris turned round. Lewis was lying very still with his eyes closed.

“Is he alright?” Arris asked in a whisper.

“I’m fine,” said Lewis, slowly but clearly.

“He will be,” said the physician. “Tell Ki not to worry. I’ll be back tomorrow to check up on my handy work.”

“Nothing could stop Ki from worrying,” said Lewis. “Can I have that beer now?”

“If you think you can manage it,” said the physician. “Come on Arris, you can walk me down and get his ale.”

The physician gathered up his stuff and went downstairs with Arris.

“Is he really alright?” asked Arris.

“Like he said himself, he’s had worse,” said the physician. “But he must go easy for the next few weeks, or his bones won’t heal. Tell Ki that he’s to keep Lewis in bed as long as he can. He mustn’t even think of moving him for at least a week or two.”

“Ki won’t like that,” said Arris.

“Well, he may not, but he doesn’t have any choice,” said the physician. “I’m sure this town can cope with Lewis for another couple of weeks.”

“Ok, I’ll tell him,” said Arris. “Thank you for coming.”

“I’m paid for it,” said the physician. “Thank you for your help.”

The physician left, and Arris got another mug of ale for Lewis. But when he took it back upstairs, he found Lewis fast asleep once more. After the physician’s advice, he thought it best to leave him, and so he sat by the bed and drank the ale himself. Some hours had now passed since Ki had left, and Arris hoped he would return soon, but he couldn’t be bothered to sit and watch at the window. And presently, at his seat by the bed, he fell asleep himself.