Imagine if…

Before you read this week’s blog – a quick update on last week. The lighthouse took a week to recover, and then, when I replaced the battery, the light flickered into life and began to turn. Brilliant!

With regard to the chick’s gender – not so brilliant. It’s still too early to be sure, but yesterday, one of the chicks which I was sure was a hen, was trying to crow. It is possible the five of the six chicks are cockerels. Ah.

Imagine if…

When you were young, did you ever pretend things? Did you ever dress up and pretend to be something else? I did – whenever I could.

For example, I remember visiting Aunty Daphne once, my mum’s cousin, and she lived in this big old house, which had stables in the garden, and big flagstones on the ground. The adults spent hours (literally, hours) talking, and I used the time to play in the garden. In my mind, those disused stables were full of horses, and I ran around, bringing them hay, curtseying to the master of the house, dancing in the moonlight (even though in reality it was a sunny afternoon). I became a different person.

As an author, people sometimes ask me where I get the ideas for my novels, but this has never been a problem. Even when I was very young, my mind was always full of the “what if?” question. “What if I was lost on the moors?” What if a monster landed in the garden?” What if I didn’t really live here, and was simply hiding under the bed?” I spent a lot of time on that last one, and would spend hours reading books under the bed, not hearing my mother when she called to me, sneaking down to the kitchen – desperately trying to not be seen – and stealing slices of bread and apples, which I would scurry back upstairs with and eat under the bed; all the time lost in this ‘other world’ where I was an orphan, sheltering in the house to survive. I didn’t ‘pretend’ to be other characters, I sort of ‘became’ them. I think it annoyed my brother and sister intensely, and I am a bit surprised my parents never sought psychological help for me.

As a teenager, I tried to use this game of ‘becoming a character’ to act. I joined the amateur dramatics group in the nearest town, and tried to ‘become’ the characters in a play. However, I found I didn’t especially like following a script, being what someone else has imagined, so although it was an excellent experience (I found my husband there) I didn’t continue.

I have a million books in my head, waiting to be written. Each one begins with the “what if?” question. What if a foreign government crashed all the infrastructure in England – how would I cope? What if I became aware of a smuggling gang using the lane beside the house to exchange goods? What if I was a teenager, and the boy I fell in love with had a horrible accident and lost his legs? What would it feel like to have dementia, and be slowly losing my mind?

Stephen King said that reading books about ‘nasty things’ is the way we prepare our minds for when disaster strikes, like dipping our toe into something. It allows us to examine our fears in a safe place, and consider them, before we put them away again. I’m not sure about that. I think I just like living in a pretend world.

Of course, each story begins in my head, but to make them authentic, I need to do some research. So if I want to write a story about smuggling, I need to find police reports about what is happening, I have to find the transcripts of police interviews to learn facts, I have to check on possible routes, and actual ways and means. There has to be a smattering of real facts to hold together the structure of imagining. Otherwise it would be like telling someone what my dream was about last night – and we all know how boring that is!

Reading books is a way of experiencing other people’s “what if?” – I think it helps us to understand situations beyond our own experiences. Reading books differs to watching films or television or plays, because the action takes place in our heads, we hear our own voice speak the lines, we become part of the action. (This is why I rarely read supernatural or ‘spooky’ books, because I don’t want that stuff in my head.)

I wonder what your “what if?” thoughts are. Perhaps you should write them into a story. I did.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about some of the support I received.

Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x

This is the story I always promised myself I would write ‘one day’ while I was teaching in an infant school. A light-hearted novel about 3 teachers.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/0995463204/ref=tmm_pap_new_olp_sr?ie=UTF8&condition=new&qid=1539091413&sr=8-1

What if…you were the mother of a psychopath? The story of Joanna and her family – an exciting novel.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/JOANNA-Anne-Thompson-ebook/dp/B071H3RCKC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1539091592&sr=1-1&keywords=joanna+by+anne+e+thompson

Counting Stars Link

Invisible Jane Link

CLARA Link

Hidden Faces Link

JOANNA Link

The Ghosts of La Recoleta

She came to us after Mass.

We had watched the people leaving the church, the men pulling on gloves, the women buttoning coats against the chill June air. Older women, dressed in black, tightening their headscarves. Always a good opportunity for some money, using all that guilt, that longing for a better world, that recognition that there might be a God. So we pulled the thin blanket tighter, sat upright on the newspaper, stared into their faces, held out our hands.

Most people looked away, embarrassed by our youth, repulsed by our smell perhaps. Wishing we were invisible. But some looked, even if only to shake their heads. Perhaps to wonder why we were there, who our parents were and where they might be. A few gave money, coins we grasped in our dirty chipped-nailed fingers, slid into pockets, saved for later. Then the woman came.

She stood for a moment, deciding. Searched our faces, considered walking away, dismissing the thought, the belief, the commitment. But she had already decided really. The choice had been made, while she stood before the icon, while she lit the candle, while she allowed herself, for one brief second, to truly seek her God’s face. So she leaned towards me, worried that she might be seen, asked if I was the eldest. Did we sleep here at night? Did we have no shelter now it was winter?

I indicated that I was in charge, suspicious of her motives, nodded slowly, not wanting to commit, ready to deny it in a whisper. For shelter, I glanced upwards, at the high concrete overhang. Not that it was much shelter. When it rained, the water would find a way through, run in rivulets along the broken paving slabs, often soaking the newspaper we lay on for warmth.

Sometimes we used one of the abandoned theatres opposite a faded villa, the weathered gargoyles scowling at us as we pushed through a gap in the boarded up door. But it was always full of empty bottles. It was safer on the street. The cold was less of a threat than the drunken adults who lurked in the shadows of forgotten buildings.

When she told me to come, it was so faint, I barely heard her. The muttered address, the specific time, all whispered in a hurry. Hopeful perhaps that I would mishear, arrive too late or in the wrong place. That she could absolve her conscience by having tried whilst failing to deliver.

I thought about it all day. We sorted through the litter bins in Plaza San Martin, hopeful a wasteful tourist may have thrown away food. Or a bereaved relative, come to find a name on the wall of names, losing their appetite, throwing away their lunch. We watched the fat birds perched on the statues and wished we were them, could fly over the city, up to the sun.

When I told the others, sitting on the steps, looking back at the old clock tower, they wanted to go, to try our luck. What did we have to lose? There might be some food involved. So we went.

It wasn’t far. We left our blankets folded in their place, pushed back against the shop front. So we could come back later, our shelter would be reserved. If it rained, dry space would be hard to find.

We stayed on the main road, away from the broken roofed station, past the memorials and the park. It wasn’t an area we frequented, too full of tourists for the police to turn a blind eye. Too many rich people with carefully made up faces and stomachs full from the parilla. We followed the road, the black and yellow taxis speeding past, the occasional lorry slogging through the city from the pampas, stacked high with produce to sell.

We waited outside, loitering under the giant gum tree, its branches spread as wide as its height. We were early, not wanting to miss something that might be good. Or might not. But we could run if we needed to, back to the anonymity of the disused tracks.

We watched customers leaving the French cafe, the taxis waiting for fares in the little square, the stall holders packing up their wares. When the square was empty, only the pigeons left to find stray crumbs, she came. Hurrying across the faded grass, anxiety in every limb, every glance. She stood at a distance, checked we were unobserved, beckoned us over, turned and hastened back inside. We followed.

Afterwards, we could never be sure why we had. Why had we trusted her, risked walking through the arched entrance, let her pull the gates closed behind us, turn the key in the lock? Let her lead us past the map that guided visitors, through the wide doorway, onto the pathway beyond. Hidden by high stone walls, unseen.

We stood there. Five of us. Ragged and hungry and alone. No one to miss us. No one to care. No one to even notice.

We stood amongst the dead. On every side, the stone booths of the rich and famous protected their remains. Pointed roofed cathedrals, statues of angels, marble shelters. I knew this place. I knew the bereaved visited and the curious. People came to see the statues, the monuments, the plaques. They sought dead relatives, famous writers, the final resting place of Evita.

Beyond the perimeter, reaching towards the sky were the windows of tall buildings, like many eyes watching. An old man approached, as ancient as the tombs, stared at us, smiled a toothless smile, nodded at the woman. She turned to me, all business. Confident now we were unwatched, no possible witnesses.

“You came. Good. I wasn’t sure if you would. I must leave soon, I cannot be late home. But this is Juan. He works here, cleaning the graves. You can stay, it will be sheltered. There are blankets – and food, I can bring more each day, I will leave it somewhere in the evenings, when I lock up to go home. You can use the public washrooms, for water, but you must leave them clean. There must be no sign of you. You must be invisible,” she spoke in a rush, a rehearsed speech.

She paused. Not wanting to say it but knowing that she must.

“You can stay, but… in the daytime, when the cemetery is open, you must be hidden. Juan will show you, there is a place, below ground, where one of the coffins was stored. You can sleep, in the day, when there are people.

“At night,” she continued,”when the gates are locked, you will be free. You can run and play and be safe.”

She stopped, unsure now. Her eyes on my face, seeking reassurance, needing to know that this was better. That to have shelter and food and safety was better than the streets. But I didn’t know.

True, it would be easier to care for the little ones, good to escape the weather, the hunger, the predators. And it wasn’t the dark that scared me. Or the restricted movement in the day.

I looked into her eyes, saw kindness and concern. Knew she wanted to help.

“But,” I whispered, “but, what about the ghosts?”

She knelt then, placed two warm hands on my shoulders, peered straight into my eyes.

“You don’t need to worry about them,” she said. “You are the ghosts now.”

And so it was.

Juan led us to some rusted iron gates, unlocked the chain and they creaked open. He told us that this was a good shelter to choose, there was a cat who slept there, who would keep the mice away. We filed inside, over dead leaves that had blown inside, down steep stone steps to the tiny cavern below. There was a shelf – cleaned now, stacked with blankets, and I wondered briefly where Juan had moved the remains to, which coffin was now in the wrong vault.

Then I busied myself with blankets, helping to settle the little ones, to stop them eating all the food we had been left. Juan showed us how to loop the chain back through the gates, so they would look secure, so none of the visitors would attempt to disturb us.

We lived in the cemetery. We ate the food she left for us each evening, we slept on dry blankets in the safe shelter below the ground. Sometimes we would hear Juan, he often swept near our vault when there were tourists, a careful guard, covering any noise we might make, ever watchful.

But best of all, when it was dark, we would run and laugh and play. The high buildings outside added their lights to the stars, watched as we pretended to dance the tango in the city of the dead. We learned how to be children again.

Sometimes, when it is very dark, people walking past La Recoleta, fancy that they hear voices from within the high walls. The sound of laughter carries on the wind, and they hurry away, telling themselves they are imagining things, that the dead don’t giggle. Which is right. Dead people do not laugh nor dance nor play. But we do. We are the ghosts of La Recoleta.

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Thank you for reading.

anneethompson.com

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On A Balcony in Sri Lanka

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They needed a weapon. Not to hurt anyone of course, just to cause a diversion, enough of a distraction to get past the guards in the entrance lobby. To reach the tuktuk driver undetected.

She hoped the drivers would still be there, would be willing to help them. They looked as though they would be, would be willing to do anything for a price. And the invasion of the hotel had been so stealthy, so professionally implemented with a minimum of fuss, avoiding detection from the outside world, that it was likely those outside of the perimeter of the hotel were still in ignorance. Still unaware of the silently moving gunmen, the imprisonment of foreign guests.

She knew of one weapon. If it could be called that. She had seen him using it while she was writing on her balcony the day before. Before the gunmen came, moving like shadows through the hotel, demanding everyone return to their rooms. Before their world turned inside out. When everything was still normal, the sunlight warming the tiled floor of her balcony, the sea crashing against the beach, storm clouds far away on the horizon.

She had been resting from her work, gazing out across the sea and the lawns, when she had seen him. The hotel grounds were full of crows. Crows or ravens or jackdaws – she didn’t know which. A large black bird that landed greedily whenever she ate, staring at her, trying to hypnotise her into sharing her food. They called constantly, their screech as constant as the rolling waves. She had been standing, enjoying the warm blanket of humid air, scanning the black horizon as the next band of rain raced towards shore, watching the palm trees dance in the wind.

She saw him on the lawn, next to the pool bar, near the steps to the sea wall. He was dressed in white, like all the staff, his skin almost as black as his hair. He turned, following the flight of the crows, hands raised, catapult ready. When he noticed her watching he ducked behind the building, out of sight. Perhaps some guests had complained. They liked to photograph the birds, were sometimes seen feeding them, encouraging their numbers. The hotel knew this was foolish, that they carried germs and caused damage. It was easier to scare away the birds than to reeducate the guests. So they hired catapult man.

The next time she had seen him, she had been quick to wave. To let him know that she approved, was friendly, on his side. The third time he waved back, smiled. Teeth very white against his dark face. Was that enough? Did that make him a friend? Could she now ask him for help? Did he even speak English? She didn’t know. But he was her only chance and they didn’t have long.

They needed to leave quickly, before news of the siege became known. Before people started choosing sides. Before the government sent troops and the gunmen became fearful.

It had to be her who went. They argued about that, of course, he wanted to be the one who left the relative safety of the room. The one to risk losing anonymity, to become a possible target. But they both knew that she was right. He was too great a prize, his capture would mean something. And he would be noticed. A foreign business man – even in casual clothes he was unmistakably so – was a valuable hostage. One that might be made an example of. So it had to be her.

She dressed carefully. No make-up, hair tied back, clothes – what she referred to as ‘missionary clothes’- the high necked, long sleeved baggy blouse and loose trousers. She was well travelled, she knew that there was nothing in the whole world as invisible as an unattractive middle-aged woman.

He looked at her before she left. One long look. No kiss, not wanting to risk affection that might cause feelings, arouse emotions that needed to be held in check. Feelings could come later. She knew what he was saying, thinking, feeling. It needed no words.

Then she left the sanctuary of their room. Heard the door lock behind her. Headed for the stairs. The stairs were beautiful, reflected the old world elegance of the rest of the hotel. Dark wood bannisters, wide stairs with plush red carpet, sweeping under the paneled ceiling, curving down into the entrance lobby.

She met the first gunman on the landing, leaning against the bannister, next to one of the carved elephants. His gun was hanging loose at his side, cigarette in mouth, casual. No older than her boys at home. He stiffened when he saw her, raised the gun.

“Why are you out? Go back to your room,” he said.

She feigned ignorance. Pointed authoritatively down to the lobby, said something indiscernible, a made-up language. Hoped her age would remind him of his mother, her non words would be taken as a language, her confidence would give her authority. Few people will argue with someone foreign, someone who won’t understand them. He would either resort to physical instruction, possibly violence, or would consider her low risk and high effort and would let her pass.

He spat, did nothing, she passed.

Down the stairs to the lobby. There were two men guarding the glass doors. No one behind the desk. There was shouting in a far off room, but the entrance was calm, guarded but casually so. They weren’t expecting trouble. No one outside knew anything was amiss. There had been no declaration, no demands made, no threats. The world was unchanged.

Beyond the glass doors she glimpsed the tuktuk men, waiting in vain for fares. Beyond them, on the green, families still flew kites, hawkers shouted their wares, the ancient snake charmer sat with his round basket, waiting for tips. A normal day.

She continued down, not looking at the groups of young men she passed, not running but walking fast. Somewhere to go. Clear direction, confident, legitimate. There were more stairs beyond the restaurant and she went down them, guessing they would lead to the kitchen area, to the staff quarters.

One more guard. One more loud, nonsensical conversation, spoken with the authority of mothers and aunts the world over, rarely questioned by young men. Even young men with guns. She was, after all, just a woman. A middle-aged woman.

Into the kitchen. The staff were surprised to see her. They began to rise, their training ingrained, anxious that a guest had strayed into their domain, keen to help, to lead her back to the public areas. She ignored them, headed straight to where catapult man was cowering in the corner. Told him her plan. Offered him money, showed him enough to make him listen, to nod, to agree to the risk.

The rest was easy. She returned to their room, same non-conversation with same young guard on the stairs. He left as she passed, determined to find a higher authority, to discover who she was and if she was legitimate.

That gave them time. Only a slither, but long enough. Enough for her to tap on the door, to tell him to hurry, to flee the way she had come. Back down the stairs. Pausing on the bend. Waiting for catapult man to do his best. To shatter a window to the left – the first thing she had ever seen him hit – enough time for a distraction, to remove the guards, very briefly, from their post.

Then out the door. Running now, calling to the tuktuk man, showing money, the language they would understand, climbing aboard, sinking back behind the window, shouting “airport”, feeling the lurch as the three wheeler pulled away. Into traffic. Amongst cars. Towards safety.

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Thank you for reading.

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Joanna

I have had an idea for my next book. It’s VERY different to my other books but I think will be lots of fun to write. It will take me about 9 months, so I thought I would try out the beginning on you first. Depending on how many people ‘like’ it will help me to decide whether or not to continue writing or change it completely.

I realise I should be posting this at the beginning of the week – always get the most responses on a Monday morning – but I am much too impatient to wait! Here is the first splurge of words. Oh, and Mum, you wont like it.

To save you asking (because my family did): No, it is not based on myself or anyone who I know and, no, I have never wanted to murder anyone at all ever – I could not even kill the rat I caught!

Joanna
by Anne E Thompson

      I first saw them on the bus. They got on after me, the mother helping the toddler up the big step, holding the baby on her hip while she juggled change, paid the driver. I wondered why she hadn’t bought a card or paid by phone, something quick so we didn’t all have to wait.

      I watched as she swung her way to a seat, leaning against the post for support, heaving the toddler onto the chair by his shoulder. Then they sat, a happy family unit, the boy chattering in his high pitched voice, the mother barely listening, watching the town speed past the window, smiling every so often so he knew he had her attention. Knew he was loved. Cared for. They had everything I didn’t have but I didn’t hate them. That would have involved feelings and I tended to not be bothered by those.

      No, I just watched, knew that those children had all the things, all the mothering, that had passed me by. Knew that they were happy. Decided to change things a little. Even up the score, make society a little fairer, more equal.

      Following them was easy. The mother made a great deal about collecting up their bags, warning the boy that theirs was the next stop. She grasped the baby in one hand, bus pole in the other and stood, swaying as we lurched from side to side. She let the boy press the bell button, his chubby fingers reaching up. Almost too high for him. Old ladies in the adjoining seats smiled. Such a cosy scene, a little family returning from a trip to the town.

      They waited until the bus had swung into the stop, was stationary, before they made their way to the door. I was already standing, waiting behind them. The mother glanced behind and I twisted my mouth into a smile, showed my teeth to the boy who hid his face in his mothers jeans, pressing against her as if scared. That was rude. Nothing to be frightened of. Not yet.

      The family jumped from the bus and I stepped down. As the bus left I turned away, walked the opposite direction from the family. In case someone was watching, noticing, would remember later. Not that that was a possibility but it didn’t do to take chances. I strode to the corner, turned it, then made as if I had forgotten something. Searched pockets, glanced at phone, then turned and hurried back.

      The family were still in sight, further down the road but not too far. She had spent time unfolding the buggy, securing the baby, arranging her shopping. All the time in the world.

      I walked behind, gazing into shop windows, keeping a distance between us. They left the main street and began to walk along a road lined with houses, smart semi-detached homes with neat square gardens. Some had extended, built ugly extra bedrooms that loomed above the house, changing the face, destroying the symmetry. There were some smaller houses stuffed by greedy builders into empty plots, a short terrace in red brick.

      It was just after this that the family stopped. The mother scrabbled in her bag, retrieved her key. The boy had already skipped down the path, was standing by the door. The mother began to follow but I was already turning away.

     I would remember the house, could come back later, when it was dark. I would only do it if it was easy, if there was no risk. If she was foolish enough to leave the back door unlocked. No point in going to any effort, it wasn’t as if they meant anything to me. There would be easier options if it didn’t work out. But I thought it probably would. There was something casual about her, about the way she looked so relaxed, unfussy. I thought locking the back door would be low on her priorities until she went to bed herself. People were so complacent, assumed the world was made up of clones of themselves. Which was convenient, often worked to my advantage. As I walked back, towards the bus stop, I realised I was smiling.

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Thank you for reading.

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Counting Stars : Part 13

This story has been removed, edited, and is now available from Amazon as a kindle book.

Counting Stars by Anne E Thompson

The story of a family, that gradually builds to a gripping thriller. One character has undergone brain surgery, and clearly demonstrates the feelings and struggles that this entails.

For UK readers the link is:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-Anne-E-Thompson-ebook/dp/B01GA99KTG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472187034&sr=8-1&keywords=Counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson

For US readers, the link is:

https://www.amazon.com/Counting-Stars-Anne-E-Thompson-ebook/dp/B01GA99KTG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472187317&sr=8-1&keywords=Counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson