My Christmas Writing Plans

Thank you to the two kind people who bought copies of the book yesterday online. It’s people like you who are motivating me every day to write Book 2. I passed the 110,000 word mark this morning which means the first draft is now over 80% complete. I’m excited with the progress these last few weeks and am now ahead of schedule with regards a completion date.

Once I’m finished it, I will take a break from ‘A New Jerusalem’ over the Christmas break return refreshed to focus on completing my linked novella, ‘Bomb Girl.’ Then I will start the editing progress for ANJ. Thank you to those of you who have told me they’ve asked Santa for a copy of ‘Skelly’s Square’ in their Christmas stockings. I hope you have all been good boys and girls this year and get what you asked for.

A Chilly Morning At The Rugby

Bitterly cold morning but it doesn’t stop Adam and I from following Lurgan College’s 1st XV, home and away. They played two of the powerhouse Ulster schools today, Ballymena Academy and Campbell College. Pitted against their 2nd XV squads the boys played out of their skins winning one game 10-0 while drawing the next 7-7. As a small rural school they continue to punch above their weight against the bigger grammar schools.

In the New Year they will compete in the Ulster Bowl tournament, a trophy they must have a great chance of winning. After that there will be a break before they build towards a four match tour of South Africa in June/July. Adam is continuing to recover from last month’s ACL surgery and his target is to be fit for the tour. He has shown a fantastic attitude in overcoming the injury and we know he will come back stronger than ever.

My Early Christmas Present

Fionnuala cheered me up this morning by giving me an early Christmas present. It’s a beautiful print showing lots of the people who sent ‘skelfies’ of themselves with the first book. You might be able to see yourself in it. This will take pride of place in the Black household after Christmas when the decorations come down. Thank you to my wonderful wife for such a thoughtful and caring gift. I wish I had an ounce of her imagination when it comes to gifts.

105,000 Words

I almost fell asleep on the train this evening but not before I passed the 105,000 word mark on the new book. That’s me about 80% finished and I’m still on track for completing it in the first half of January, if not earlier. I’m starting to feel the strain of 1000 words a day as well as all the other stuff Fionnuala and I have to cram into a day. But I’m proud of the new book which has taken the ‘Kirkwood Scott’ universe to a whole new level.

I’ll be looking for beta readers in the New Year so if you’re interested, let me know. You’ll get to read a draft of the manuscript and provide constructive feedback on plot and characters, before it is published. You’ll also get name checked in the book acknowledgements. So if you’re interested then drop me a line as to why you think ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: A New Jerusalem,’ is a good match for you.

Book 1, ‘Skelly’s Square,’ is available to buy on Amazon in e book or paperback format.

Or if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber it’s currently FREE to read

Lagan Towpath

The towpath along the Lagan River, which runs through the centre of Belfast, was a hive of activity yesterday lunchtime as I ran along it. Fellow runners and walkers were making the most of the rare sunshine. The river itself was quiet, no rowers or other fun seekers to be seen on the water. A crane on a pontoon in the centre was busy dredging buckets of silt from the river bottom.

I ran as far as the Cutters Wharf Bar & Restaurant before stopping for a swift rest before embarking on the return journey. It’s always a relief to escape the confines of the office for an hour. I’ll take a different route today out to Victoria Square where maybe I’ll see some swans. But I’ll not venture too close in case they fancy a nibble on my ankle. Those beaks look nasty.

The plan in recent months is to average around 30 miles a week prior to starting marathon training in the New Year. I’m pleased to have largely stuck to my targets so far and am establishing a solid base to build upon from January onwards. The target is the Belfast Marathon in May which I will be running for a local charity, The Mae Murray Foundation. Fingers crossed I get there in one piece.

Lunch At The Stepping Stones

The birthday girl, Hannah, had a great day yesterday. After a busy morning shopping in Belfast with Fionnuala and Granny Marie I met up with them for lunch at the Stepping Stones restaurant which overlooks the city on Divis Mountain. It was wet and windy getting up there but, once inside, we were treated to beautiful surroundings, excellent service and wonderful food.

I was my usual unoriginal self as I plumped for the house burger while Fionnuala and Hannah opted for the Christmas dinner. Later in the evening I took Rebecca to her football match, they won 7-0, before driving home to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and have some birthday cake, cut not very skilfully by Adam. I am so fortunate to have my family and will never take days like these for granted.

Happy Sweet 16th Hannah

Today marks a very special event in our house. Our Hannah turns sweet sixteen. Where have all the years gone? Fionnuala and I are very proud of the beautiful, kind, caring young woman she has become. Hannah has a heart the size of Ireland. We hope you have a wonderful day and enjoy your celebrations. You are an inspiration and I will always be your Daddy, the first man who really loved you.

Santa Arrives In Belfast

The real Santa Claus was understandably too busy to attend Hannah’s 16th birthday party yesterday so he sent one of his helpers instead. Quite a strange helper if I do say so myself but the kids didn’t seem to mind and that’s the main thing. He crash landed on the roof and then apologised profusely for knocking slates off Granny Marie’s roof. As entrances went it was not the most professional sleigh landing.

When he did make it downstairs it became very apparent this was a well travelled helper. His North Pole accent veered from Indian to Australian to Northern Irish on a whim and he also seemed to have problems holding his trousers up. This was obviously because he had been on a diet preparing himself for the busy Christmas season ahead. Thankfully his belt saved the blushes of all concerned.

Santa met the birthday girl although he initially mistook her Aunt Sue for the teenage celebrant. He then committed the cardinal sin of getting Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber mixed up. What a silly Santa. He redeemed himself, however, by bringing selection boxes and candy canes for children and adults alike. Rumours of him secreting a tub of Pringles in his sack are currently being investigated.

Santa met a little boy called Noah who truly epitomised the spirit of Christmas. At five years old, the excitement, wonderment and innocence in his eyes reminded everyone that there is so much more to the Yuletide season than spending tonnes of money you don’t have, drinking yourself into a stupor or getting so stressed you forget the true meaning of the season.

Santa also met two very naughty boys in Adam and his Uncle Gearard who are perpetually on his naughty list. Adam was shamed by Santa informing him if he didn’t keep his room tidy then he wouldn’t get the doll’s house he had secretly asked for; and Uncle Gearard was told to keep his hands off Santa or he would get a slap on the nose for his troubles. Santa has taken up martial arts training.

Santa had to leave after that, as Rudolph was waiting on the roof and the traffic had been very heavy coming into Belfast. He gave a final gift to Fionnuala, the most beautiful lady in the room, and patted Rebecca the elf on the head as he bid farewell. He also told Noah to get to bed early on Christmas Eve or his monkey helpers would sneak into his room and tickle him. As I said, a most peculiar Santa.

What do you make of this Silly Santa

FREE Book Giveaway Competition

As it’s the season for giving we are holding a competition to win a signed copy of my first book, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ All you have to do is like and comment on this post. The closing date is Tuesday 10 December at 12:00 hours (GMT). The winner will be notified in a follow up post. So get entering and win 135,000 words of laughter, tragedy and lots of Napoleonic ghost soldiers running around Belfast after our heroes.

JackSpeak

Running around Belfast’s Titanic Quarter is always an education and yesterday was no exception where I stopped at my halfway point to learn about ‘JackSpeak,’ a series of nautical slang words which sailors of old would use. I thought I’d share a few with you and see if you could work out the meaning. No cheating though, Google is banned. Let’s see what you can come up with. Ready, steady….go!

Fractured Faith. 12,000 Not Out.

We finally hit 12,000 followers earlier today. It seems like forever since we passed 11,000 which I believe is down to a number of factors. Primarily I haven’t been blogging as frequently and, when I have, they have been much shorter posts. There are only so many hours in the day and I’ve been prioritising my second novel which is nearing 100,000 words. Unfortunately blogging has had to take a back seat to this onerous and time consuming project.

Even so, hitting this landmark is a great achievement. Thank you to everyone who continues to support my writing, especially those who have been there since the beginning. Many have fallen by the wayside or dropped off the radar, so those who tune in day after day are truly appreciated. I don’t know where I would be without you all. Onwards to 13,000. Feel free to say hello in the comments below.

Who Is Your Lighthouse?

It was a murky lunchtime run today which highlighted the lighthouse exhibit on Belfast Lough. I focused on it from some distance away and it inspired me to keep pressing forward through the blustery, wet conditions. Most other days I would have run past it without a second thought but it was there for me today, when I most needed it. Lighthouses are like that. Unappreciated 99% of the time until disaster strikes.

I’ve relied on human lighthouses throughout my life to guide me and, on occasion, rescue me from the storms that life throws at us. We should never take these people for granted. They are ever present and save lives. Take a moment today to say thank you to the lighthouse in your life. Or if you’re struggling to cope look out for that one kind soul who reaches out a hand to pull you to safety.

Who is your lighthouse?

I’ve Had An Anxious Week

I’ve had an anxious few days worrying about work related matters. It started towards the tail end of last week and preyed on my mind over the weekend, before descending again from on high like a hungry vulture on Monday morning. Various unwanted thoughts have spun a not so merry dance around my head despite my best efforts to kick them to the kerb and focus on other stuff. Once an obsessive thought gets its claws into your skull it’s hard to shake.

The old me would have hoisted the drawbridge and battened down the hatches. I would have retreated into myself and not breathed a word of the internal battle raging within. Why? Because I thought nobody would understand, not even my nearest and dearest. I thought I was a weird, deviant, downright bad person, it never crossed my mind that such thoughts were indicative of poor, but treatable, mental health.

There comes a point, however, when you have to front up to your demons, tackle them head on, and take it on the chin. OCD is a bully, used to pushing sufferers around and getting its own way. It’s a big fish in the small pond that is my inner space. And like all bullies it doesn’t like people standing up to it. That’s not part of its game plan, it doesn’t expect you to fight back.

But fight me must. Anxiety is a by product of OCD. The intrusive thought settles and the anxiety follows in its wake, like a comet’s trail. The only way to combat the thought, our addled brains reason, is to to succumb to tortuous routines. These offer only temporary relief, though, and actually reinforce the obsession when it returns. Such thoughts have sought to consume me in recent days.

I don’t like feeling like this, I don’t like waking up with a cloud of worry hanging over me. Unnecessary worry, for there are other much more worthy causes when it comes to fretting and frowning. In the greater scheme of things this work concern is small fry compared to what I could be sinking my teeth into. It’s a distraction, a bluebottle buzzing around. It’s irritating and irksome.

It’s a struggle but struggling implies hope. Struggling means you haven’t given up, you haven’t lain down and waved the white flag. I dreaded work this week but I showed up. I talked about it with Fionnuala, didn’t allow it to distract me to that far off place I used to hide. Anxiety can apply the brakes but I will not allow it to stall the progress I’ve made throughout the year.

Mental illness is largely invisible. It is a silent killer. An army walk the streets every day fighting unseen battles. They are warriors who turn up and live their lives the best they can, the only way they know. One of the reasons I started this blog is to publicise such issues in the hope that my story will comfort and encourage others. That doesn’t mean I’ve won, every day I start again.

I’ve had an anxious week, it’s happened before and it will happen again. I’m no masterpiece, rather a work in progress. I cannot afford to rest on my laurels, become complacent. I’m no superstar but I’m here, every day. I am grateful for my wife and kids, who spur me on. They make me crawl out of bed every day, rain or shine. Every day, even the most anxious ones. I turn up.

Do you have anxious weeks? Can you relate?

Christmas With Kirkwood

I was delighted to read the most recent reviews of ‘Skelly’s Square.’ It’s not every day your writing is compared to Alexandre Dumas so I’ll happily accept the compliment. The book has now received multiple five star reviews and would make the ideal Christmas present for any bookworms you know. It’s available to buy in e book and paperback format on Amazon or FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. Thank you for those of you who continue to support my writing.

It’s Christmas 🎄

Christmas has well and truly arrived at chez Black with Fionnuala’s creative talents to the fore. She made many of these decorations herself and has worked incredibly hard infusing a festive spirit throughout the house. She’s a terrific mummy making sure the kids will have fond memories of their holidays at home. When do you put your Christmas decorations up? Comment below 🎄

Would You Like To Make My Christmas?

I know a lot of you have read and enjoyed the book. It would been a lot to me, if you haven’t already, if you could post a review on Amazon. It takes 5 minutes, it’s free, and it would be the perfect Christmas present for a first time author seeking to fulfil his dream of escaping the rat race and pursuing a writing career. Amazon reviews really boost the online visibility of the book. Thank you.

Belfast Christmas Market

We travelled up to Belfast this afternoon to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the Christmas Market. It was a little crowded for us but the girls got to sample some French-Canadian cuisine while I made my annual trek to the gigantic muffin stall. Fionnuala and Adam settled for a drive thru McDonalds on the way home. It’s 1st December and Christmas has officially begun. I hope everyone is having a great weekend 😊

You Know You’ve Made It When….

You know you’ve made it when you get an entire page in the village newsletter. This popped into our letter box this afternoon, and shortly afterwards I passed 90,000 words on Book 2. It’s been a busy day all round what with rugby matches, a visit from cousin Cadan and Fionnuala putting the finishing touches to our Christmas decorations. Never a dull moment at chez Black.

Horsing Around

I’m always making new friends on my Saturday run and today was no exception. I pass this chap most weeks but this is the first time he has posed for a picture. We obviously must have reached the next level of our friendship. Maybe one day he will come over and let me pat his nose. 6.5 miles today at a decent….ahem….gallop. Lovely dry, crisp conditions. Have a great Saturday everyone.

It’s Black Friday. It’s Free

Have you checked out my debut novel yet?

If not, the good news is you can pick it up for FREE today if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

Alternatively it’s available to buy on Amazon in e book and paperback format.

Here’s the cover..

Let me know what you think.

Thank you.

5 Things To Quit Right Now

I’ve been guilty of all five and can confirm they are all counter productive and highly negative behavioural patterns. Today I choose to change and walk a different path. A path that leads upwards, out of the abyss. It is possible but it’s a conscious decision we must make every day of our own volition. Live for you and not for others. Invest in those who matter in the here and now. Look forward, not back. Death to the past and all its shackles.

Find Your Light

Feeling worthless? I used to. Every. Single. Day. Largely because I was so insecure I craved the attention of others to justify my own existence. I looked outwards when I should have been looking inwards. It was only when I started to focus on my own abilities, rather than the opinions of others, that the scales dropped from my eyes and I saw the light. The light shining from within, not reflected from the eyes of others. Be you. Discover your true self. Find that light burning within.

Merci Beaucoup

That’s about the height of my French but it was encouraging to receive my first Amazon France review of the book today. And a 5 star one at that. It’s always great to hear from people who have invested their time and money in a first time author. I’m very grateful for, and humbled by, the wonderful reviews it has received to date. It’s pushing me on to complete Book 2 asap, the first draft now sitting at 87,000 words.

Not Forgotten

Not all of us can discuss the demons of our past. For some it is too traumatic, shameful or painful. For others there is nobody they can tell. Whatever the reason there are those amongst us today who carry an unspoken pain. They bear the invisible scars of unseen battles still raging behind their sad, desperate eyes. This post is for them. They may be silent, but they are not forgotten.

A Chip Off The New Block

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘a chip off the old block?’ It’s usually used to compare a parent and child when the latter displays some characteristic reminiscent of the former. ‘Ah so little Johnny likes football? He’s a chip off the old block then.’ The majority of the time it’s intended as a compliment and parents’ chests burst with pride when they hear the words. We’ve done alright, the kids are being taught good habits and following in our footsteps.

I don’t want our kids to be a chip off the old block when it comes to me. They can chisel away at Fionnuala’s to their hearts content but potential sculptors may stay well clear of me. Why? Well, I’m not proud of the old block that was Stephen Black. The more you chipped away towards his core the more you discovered his many flaws and weaknesses. He lurked at the rear of the museum, well away from the masterpieces.

I can chip with the best of them. For the last seven years I’ve been chipping away at my old self, smoothing rough surfaces and working towards a new, improved version of moi. It’s a work in progress and it may never see the full light of day but as for the chipped remnants. They can be swept up and consigned to the rubbish bin, never to see the light of day or be inherited by the hatchlings.

Some might say I’m being hard on myself but it’s a tough truth I’m not ashamed to write about it. We all need to pick up our chisels and work towards revealing the real us buried within that hard, shapeless lump of granite. It’s in there somewhere, you just have to believe and be prepared to put the work in to find it. Change can happen and will. Don’t be an old block, you are so much more than that.

I Am Goliath

On recent lunchtime runs I’ve noticed this little tug going about its business on the River Lagan, usually pushing or pulling much larger barges in and out of the harbour. It may be small but it’s certainly a powerful vessel that punches well above its weight on the waves. It was apt, therefore, that it sported a big name to match its big workload – Goliath. I’ve been so impressed that I stopped to take a photo of it today while catching my breath.

Everybody knows the Biblical story of David and Goliath, with much of it focusing on the former. But calling a boat ‘David’ doesn’t quite have the same impact, does it? It’s a story, though, of an underdog triumphing over seemingly impossible odds. Everybody loves an underdog, well I know I do. It goes with the territory when you are a Redskins fan. We are underdogs against everyone we play.

As I huffed and puffed past Goliath I could relate with the underdog story. Seven years ago I stood on the verge of losing it all. My family, my friends, my sanity. But I buckled down and, like little tugboat Goliath, rolled my metaphorical sleeves up. I slowly began to sort out my physical and mental health, prioritised the people who mattered and started to turn things around.

You might feel like giving up today. My advice – don’t. You can recover, you can start again, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work. There will be pushing and pulling, huffing and puffing. But like me, and my nautical friend Goliath, it is possible. Scaling Everest always starts with a first step, then another, and before you know it, you’re standing on the summit planting your victory flag. Start today. Commit. Take the first step.

Do You Find It Hard To Make Friends?

Eight miles this morning which was much needed as I’ve had to take a few days off due to Adam’s knee surgery. I’ll be back at work tomorrow so hopefully the running will get back into some sort of routine. Today I chose a favourite route out to a country pub on the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles, covering 153 square miles. I looked that up on Wikipedia, obviously.

I stopped at the pub to catch my breath where I was greeted by the landlord’s three chocolate brown labradors. They always come over to say hello when I pass by but unfortunately I didn’t have any treats to give them. Maybe next time. Ok the way back I passed a lady out power walking. I cheerily shouted ‘Good Morning,’ whereupon she jumped several feet in the air. She was wearing earphones and hadn’t heard me coming.

I was going to post a photo of a lovely white horse who lives in a nearby field, but he wasn’t about today. Maybe he had a late night and was still in his stable sleeping off the effects of the evening before. I look forward to seeing my animal friends on my favourite routes. I wonder what they make of me as I stagger past, puffing and panting in my hi-viz clothing. They probably think humans are crazy and they’re probably right.

I’m an introvert by nature and find it hard to make new friends. It also doesn’t help that I’ve had my fingers burnt in the past by supposed friends, leaving me wary and reluctant to expose myself again. I’m not blameless in this either and know I need to learn to move on give people a chance. If nothing else, I will always have my animal chums as long as I keep running out to visit them.

Do you find it hard to make friends?

Who are your animal friends?

82,000 Words

Steady progress this week on Book 2 of my contemporary fantasy series, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles.’ I’ve averaged over 1,000 words a day to the stage where I’m almost two thirds of the way there now. The new characters are fitting in well and the story has expanded considerably in terms of its scope and complexity. Fionnuala has started proof reading the first draft and I’m most grateful for her keen eye spotting all my many errors.

If you haven’t checked out Book 1 in the series, ‘Skelly’s Square,’ then the good news is that it’s now FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. You can also purchase it in e book and paperback format on Amazon. If you have read it then please leave a review. Constructive feedback is always much appreciated and it’s the only way I can learn and improve. Thank you, as ever, for everyone’s continued support.

Here’s the front and back covers for Book 1.

Adam’s Surgery Update

We have spent the last two days at hospital as Adam recuperates from an operation for a serious knee injury he sustained playing rugby two months ago. We knew at the time something was amiss as he heard a ‘pop’ during a tackle. A MRI scan revealed the full extent of the damage, a full tear to his anterior cruciate ligament. The only option was surgery to repair the damage followed by a lengthy rehabilitation period.

Adam has been philosophical about the injury. In his words ‘it is what it is.’ I’ve been very impressed with his attitude as, personally, I would have been devastated. He is ruled out for the season and playing for a team who have a real chance of a trophy this season. He loves playing rugby and just happens to be very good at it as well. There have also been professional scouts sniffing around the team.

In order to be ready for surgery he has undergone a six week period of physiotherapy so as to be able to fully extend his leg. This was successful meaning the surgery went ahead yesterday as scheduled. The operation lasted an hour but he needed two hours in the recovery room before we were allowed to see him. Those were long hours and we were relieved to see him finally return to the ward.

The procedure was keyhole, involving four small incisions. Holes were drilled at the top of his shin bone and bottom of thigh bone, before a small piece of tendon grafted from his hamstring was looped through and tied to replace the torn ligament. He spent the night in hospital and was in a lot of pain when he woke up. Thankfully Messrs Morphine and Co-Codamol were at hand to get him through the night.

He will be on crutches for two weeks and off school for a while. His rehabilitation will start soon though and he already has a series of exercises which he has to perform three times a day as well as regularly icing and flexing his leg. His physiotherapy will recommence in two weeks and after that he will return to the gym to start strengthening the knee and the muscles and ligaments surrounding it. He will be okay to start jogging in 3-4 months.

The target is South Africa in July 2020 which his team will be touring for three weeks. Adam is determined to be back playing rugby by then. It will be hard work but he is a determined young man and has the full support of his family, coaches and team mates. That’s the reason the blog has been a bit quiet of late. Hopefully when he get him home later today normal service will be resumed again.

Consistency Is The Key

Book 2 hit the 76,000 word mark this morning. I wrote almost 3,000 words yesterday which is a high word count for me, as my daily target is 1,000. But I am discovering a new consistency in my writing with the sequel. I wrote the first book in spurts, perhaps 5,000 words in a day followed by a week of nothing. I am becoming more disciplined towards my art and keep chipping away.

Book 2, provisionally titled ‘A New Jerusalem’, is much more challenging than the first as I’m juggling multiple characters and sub plots. I’ve introduced at least six significant new figures to support the main cast of Kirkwood, Meredith, Harley and Emily. I’m also weaving my ongoing serialised novella, ‘Bomb Girl’ into the Kirkwood Scott universe. It’s complex but satisfying work.

I hope to have have the first draft of Book 2 finished by January 2020 at the latest and I will then be entering the editing process. I will also be seeking beta readers to constructively critique the draft so if you would be interested in that then please let me know As ever, thank you to those of you who supported Book 1 in the series, ‘Skelly’s Square,’ which is free on Kindle Unlimited and available on Amazon in e book and paperback format.

Bomb Girl Chapter One – Eight

Chapter One

The day they blew up her home town was meant to have been the happiest day of Annie Hennessy’s life. This is how it started.

The impact of the explosion ripped through the hospital like an aural tsunami. Windows shattered inwards, showering staff and patients alike in a withering wave of glass shrapnel. Doctors and nurses were tossed to the ground and patients flung from their beds, bringing monitors crashing down on top of them. The fluorescent lighting on the ward flickered momentarily as if some unseen giant had casually inhaled and sucked the electricity from the building, before returning it to illuminate the chaos below.

For what seemed forever there was nothing before the first scream punctured the silence. It would be the first of many that day but for those who heard it, was a sound they would take to their graves. A throaty guttural groan which gradually rose in pitch and volume, soon to be joined by others, a prophetic choir already mourning what lay in the days and months and years ahead. As if on cue, staff began to clamber to their feet, their training kicking in and overriding any desire to curl into a ball until it was all over. Instructions were barked out and a siren outside announced the first ambulance was on its way.

On its way to the hell that awaited at the seat of the explosion, less than a mile away.

Secreted in a side room off the main ward, Annie gingerly unfurled from the foetal position she had adopted at the initial explosion. She peeked from beneath the bed covers as a young doctor flashed past the open door, his flapping white coat adorned with a bloody drizzle. Thankfully there were no windows in Annie’s room, but beyond the door she could see the floor of the ward adorned in a carpet of glistening glass, like fresh dew on a crisp spring morning.

Except this wasn’t spring and she wasn’t sitting in some idyllic meadow watching as the first rays of morning sunshine warmed the cold, damp earth. No, she was in Monksbridge Area Hospital, heavily pregnant and on the cusp of giving birth. Afraid and alone, nineteen years old and without the first clue how to be a mother to the new life waiting to emerge from within her. Annie watched as more staff flew past in either direction, fully expecting the kindly midwife who had been dealing with her up until now to appear and reassure her everything was just fine.

But everything wasn’t fine.

Nothing would ever be fine again.

Annie Hennessy was a forgotten spectator to the bedlam outside. The sirens were incessant now, wailing as emergency services roared towards what was left of the town centre. They would return later in waves, like angry wasps, conveying the dead and dying to a hospital hopelessly ill equipped to deal with the magnitude of such a tragedy.

It would become an epicentre of grief, around which dazed survivors and crazed relatives would gather, desperate for any crumb of comfort they could seize upon, hoping beyond hope their loved ones were alive. Through that dreadful first hour Annie lay on her back, elbows resting on sweat stained sheets, trying to process what was going on outside, while dealing with the incessant urges of her child to be born.

Teeth gritted and damp hair matted to tear stained cheeks she rode each contraction, emerging from the other side weaker but no less determined to embrace the next. For this child would be born, with or without a midwife in attendance. She had carried it inside her, a living, growing testimony to the shame she had brought upon her family. A child born out of wedlock, to a father even Annie wasn’t certain as to whose identity.

Tramp.

Slut.

Whore.

Monksbridge was a sleepy market town, where nothing ever really happened. The Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ had largely passed it by, so any nugget of gossip was gleefully seized upon and dissected, before being disseminated to the next straining set of ears. Everyone knew everyone’s business. It hadn’t taken long, therefore, for the rumours to circulate about the Hennessy girl, the black sheep of an otherwise pure as the driven snow family. Annie’s mother screamed and roared when she broke the news to her parents at the kitchen table. Mildred Hennessy hadn’t been to church since, a self imposed house arrest, too ashamed to face the sharp tongues and sly eyes of her fellow parishioners.

‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Yeah right….

‘You’re a disgrace Annie. Your father would be so ashamed of you.’

Possibly, had he still been alive. Yet Jack Hennessy possessed a kind heart, and Annie had always been the apple of his eye. He would have been disappointed, hurt, angry even but he would have forgiven Annie eventually, of that she was certain. Unlike her mother, who bore grudges to the grave, eaten up by spite and recrimination, hurling the first stone while others were still rooting around for potential missiles.

Had. For Jack Hennessy was dead. Ravaged by cancer he slipped away from Annie three years previously in the same hospital where she now lay, frantically trying to compose herself and focus as another contraction threatened to rip her apart. The baby was coming, irrespective of what was going on in the outside world. Annie succumbed to the pain, the anguish of the past eight months temporarily forgotten, and unleashed a scream which normally would have brought nurses and doctors hurtling to her bedside. Not today, though.

For her scream was but one of many in an avalanche of human agony descending upon the beleaguered hospital. Ambulances formed a snaking queue outside the A&E department , their blue lights clashing vividly with the grey, overcast skies above. Hospital staff desperately struggled to contend with the seemingly endless line of victims being rushed through the automatic doors by paramedics, bellowing vital stats, their voices cracked and on the verge of collapse.

Even those who were supposed to know what to do, didn’t know what to do.

Nobody came. Nobody heard Annie scream. Nobody was there to mop her brow and encourage her, cajole her through the trauma. She remembered what she could from the pre natal classes she had attended, focusing on breathing and trying to ignore the pandemonium on all sides. Breathe, focus, ride the pain. It’s a bomb, it must have been a bomb. No, you stupid cow, think of the baby, the baby, she’s all that matters.

It was there, in a cramped side room off a deserted ward that Ariana Hennessy entered the world, six pounds eleven ounces of mewling, bloody life. A life which Annie clutched to her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks, screaming for someone, anyone to come to her aid. Eventually they did, to find the newborn child with her mother, exhausted yet alive. Alive to tell the tale. Or, in the case of baby Ariana, to be the tale.

For the town of Monksbridge needed something, anything to cling to. Forty three people died that day, forty two of them innocent souls. Hundreds more injured, bearing seen and unseen scars they would carry for the rest of their days. A town, a nation in mourning for the day the clock stopped for so many. They needed a light, a symbol that all was not lost.

They found it in the baby girl born amidst the horror. They found it in the story of Annie Hennessy and her daughter. The press, who descended on the town like a pack of scavenging hyenas, latched onto the story and squeezed every last ounce of pathos from it. They had their villain, and no shortage of heroes for their screaming front pages. But they needed something more, the missing ingredient.

What they needed was an angel.

What they needed was an Ariana Hennessy.

So they created Bomb Girl.


Chapter Two

Ariana Hennessy was not one for grand entrances, her birth had seen to that. She ghosted into the cavernous lecture theatre, head down,

focus entirely on finding an unoccupied seat and disappearing into the welcoming anonymity of the student body. This was her third week at the University of Ulster and she was just another disorganised fresher trying to make her way around the sprawling campus without getting lost. Nobody knew, and that suited her just fine.

She slid into an empty seat four rows back and began unpacking pens, pads and textbooks from her bag. The lecture was scheduled to be on the Boston Tea Party, her love of all things American having drawn her to select this module as part of her first year studies. Yes, three decent ‘A’ level grades and here she was, a Modern History student, finally free of the stifling prison that was Monksbridge. There she was a pariah to some, an oddity to others. Here she was just plain old Rebecca Hennessy. Her home town and the university were no more than sixty miles apart but, to Ariana, they could have been on opposite sides of the world.

Rebecca was her middle name after her Granny Hennessy, a more neutral, traditional Irish name. People didn’t bat an eyelid when you told them you were called Rebecca, although annoyingly some of her fellow students insisted on abbreviating it to Bex. She could live with that, though. Had she told them her real name, then brows would have furrowed and distant memories surfaced. For, despite the arrival of her namesake Grande on the music scene in recent years, to the best of her knowledge there was only one other Ariana in the country.

Ariana Hennessy.

Bomb Girl….

Thanks Mum.

She had battled the stigma her entire life. To be associated with the largest terrorist attack in Northern Irish history hung around her neck like a rotting, stinking albatross. Every anniversary the press pack descended from the city, eager to pick at old scabs and draw fresh blood. What had become of the tiny baby, born at the very moment a car laden with explosives devastated the town. There was no point in correcting them that she arrived almost an hour after the explosion. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story, right?

‘Settle down, folks.’ The booming baritone of Dr. Lancaster, their American Studies lecturer, cut through Ariana’s thoughts and the surrounding babble of her fellow students. She risked a glance over her shoulder and saw the theatre was two thirds full. Not bad for first thing on a Wednesday morning, although this was the ‘big night out’ on the campus so many of her contemporaries had arrived early, planning to be in the Student Union bar by lunchtime.

She caught the eye of a distinctive short haired girl, who waved enthusiastically at her. Tess Cartwright, the one person she had confided her dark secret to since arriving, after a night of cheap cider at the Freshers Ball two weeks ago. Ariana had woke up the next morning with a horrific hangover, kicking herself at having allowed her toxic past to seep so easily into the new life she was hoping to build at college. She had pleaded with Tess not to breath a word of it to anyone and, to date, her newfound friend had kept to her word.

Dr. Lancaster began to speak, his deep, melodic tones allowing Ariana to blissfully slip away from the jagged memories to tales of valour and derring do as the plucky colonists rose up in arms against the might of the British Empire. She scribbled copious notes, keen to soak up as much knowledge as possible, not allowing a date or reference to pass her by. This degree course was a lifeline, a step away from the shackles of a life she no longer wanted to be a part of; good A level grades were a stepping stone to university, a better degree and….well the world was hers for the taking.

‘That’s it for today folks,’ concluded Dr. Lancaster. The hour had breezed past. ‘Remember, your first assignments aren’t due for another month, but now is the time to start preparing. You have your reading lists. Organisation is key, remember.’ With that, the stampede for the exit commenced. Ariana was caught up in the rush and carried through the double doors where the large majority of her peers swung left, towards the stairs leading to the coffee bar on the mezzanine floor above. Ariana started to turn and fight the flow, back towards a lesser stream of students heading for the library in the opposite direction. She fully intended to heed Dr. Lancaster’s advice and make serious inroads into the extensive reading list the lecturer had circulated at the same time as the assignment title.

‘And where do you think you’re going Becky Boo Boo?’ Ariana felt herself being spun around and led back into the human tide heading towards the mezzanine stairs. Tess Cartwright, all silver haired pixie cut and sparkling teeth, hooked her arm beneath Ariana’s and guided her away from her original path. ‘An hour of that drivel and I’m on the verge of lapsing into a comatose state. I need a cappuccino to return me to the land of the living….’

‘But Tess I….’ spluttered Ariana, vainly gesticulating with her free hand back towards the library.

‘But Tess nothing. I have a busy day planned for the two of us and it most certainly does not involve sitting in a musty old library reading boring books about dead men who wore wigs and tucked their trousers into their socks.’

‘I don’t think that’s strictly accurate,’ protested Ariana but she knew she was fighting a losing battle. She had only known Tess Cartwright a short time but already learnt one thing. Here was a young woman who was used to getting her own way and rarely took no for an answer. She was already carving out a reputation amongst the student population with her striking looks, vivacious personality and seemingly bottomless capacity for 2 for 1 drinks promotions at the Union bar.

‘Well I guess one coffee then,’ surrendered Ariana meekly. ‘But after that I really must study.’

‘Yeah, Yeah. We’ll see.’ Tess bounded up the steps to the mezzanine two at a time, her designer leather jacket flapping at her sides as Ariana struggled to keep up. Everything was designer where Tess was concerned as she carried the expensive student scruff look off to a tee. Ariana permanently felt the poor relation when they were together, and wondered what their peers thought of her dowdy appearance compared to her glamorous companion. Tess didn’t seem to mind though and for reasons unknown to Ariana had adopted her as university bestie. They had nothing in common but somehow it was working. So far….

Tess paid for two coffees, and a gigantic blueberry muffin, before commandeering a booth in a far corner of the bar. Floor to ceiling windows afforded them a view across a sleepy river to the halls of residence where they first met, during a hectic registration day. A concrete walkway connected the halls to the main campus, a campus Ariana hadn’t left since arriving. No weekend trips home for her like the majority of the other students, hungover, laden down with dirty laundry and desperate for a proper meal. Home was the last place Ariana wanted to be.

‘So here’s the plan,’ the forever chirpy Tess interrupting Ariana’s thoughts, her mouth crammed with muffin. ‘Finish these, back to the halls, make ourselves even more beautiful than we already are and then hit the Union. ‘What say you, Becky with the good hair?’ She smiled sweetly and fluttered her eyelashes before slyly adding, ‘Or should I say Becky Bomb Girl?’

‘Shut up,’ hissed Ariana, looking all around. ‘You call me that again and I’m never speaking to you again, Tess. You swore you wouldn’t tell anyone.’

‘Oh relax,’ sighed Tess, rolling her eyes and leaning back. ‘As I’m consigned to this hellhole for the next three years, I need a project. And I see no greater challenge than changing the most socially awkward girl alive into a reasonably functioning human being. Although I admit I may have bitten off more than I can chew, you enormous dork.’

‘Alright, alright.’ Ariana sipped her coffee, admitting defeat, an all too common feeling since she fell under the spell of Hurricane Tess. ‘But can I at least have a couple of hours this morning in the library. Then I promise I’ll head out with you.’ Tess clenched her fists and squealed with delight, attracting a few curious glances from adjacent booths. ‘It’s a deal. I’ll see you outside the Union at three. Do not be late. Organisation is key, Rebecca.’

With a final peal of laughter, Tess stuffed the remainder of the muffin into her mouth and bounced out of her seat, a flurry of long limbs and immaculate cheekbones. Ariana stared gloomily into her coffee. Was this a case of out of the frying pan, but into the fire? Yes, she was no longer Bomb Girl but buying the confidence of Tess was doing her plans of keeping her head down and studying hard no favours. Nor her modest bank balance.

She drained the last dregs of the coffee and, slinging her bag over a shoulder, made her way back to the mezzanine and down towards the library. Nobody looked at her twice. No whispering, no people going out of their way to avoid eye contact. Just another unremarkable eighteen year old, going about her business. Ariana blew out both cheeks and allowed herself a slight smile. She forced herself to relax. Tess was the friend she had been craving for years. Her new life didn’t have to be all books, books, books. She could balance that by occasionally letting her hair down. Couldn’t she?

Maybe then, this could work out after all.

Maybe….


Chapter Three

At first, second and even thirty fifth glance, there was nothing remarkable about her. Just another fresher, full of good intentions, hitting the books. It wouldn’t last, of course, he was certain of that. The irritating blonde girl was already chipping away at her resolve, luring her astray at every possible opportunity. By the end of term, such diligence would be a rarity, as the student formerly known as Ariana Hennessy would be a long forgotten memory, overridden by the various temptations the student lifestyle had to offer.

He watched as she struggled through the security scanners at the library entrance, laden down with bags and books. She was a clumsy, little creature, always appearing as if she was on the verge of keeling over. She screamed vulnerability, it oozed from every pore of her pale, awkward frame. One of life’s victims, she stumbled from one calamity to the next, never more than a few steps ahead of the tragic past which had dogged every one of her eighteen years to date.

Their shared tragic past.

He maintained a discrete distance, as she made her way down the steps from the mezzanine onto the main concourse, where she was swiftly swallowed up by the student mass, scurrying this way and that towards the various arterial corridors which starburst outwards in all directions from the campus hub. He ducked and weaved through the crowd, always scanning ahead to maintain visual contact with her. Even if she had glanced back and caught his eye, it wasn’t an issue as she didn’t know him from Adam.

Adam O’Sullivan smirked. That saying always brought a wry smile to his lips. Adam, the first man, whose fall from grace in the garden had cursed mankind from the gates of Eden to the sorry mess it was in today. A world with no redeeming features, a toxic, stinking morass where nothing mattered and nobody cared. Nobody except him, that was, for he saw dear Mother Earth and her inhabitants for what they truly were; weak, vacuous fools leading pathetic, pointless existences. Obsessed with image and little else, drowning in their ever decreasing circles of self.

The girl pushed on, exiting the concourse onto a less populated corridor which led towards the halls of residence. He quickened his step, keen not to lose her, catching the shoulder of a burly male student headed in the opposite direction.

‘Here, watch it mate.’

He didn’t afford the male a second of his time, such was his focus on the task at hand. He’d been monitoring Ariana Hennessy ever since she set foot on campus less than a month ago. Little girl lost, trying to put her horrendous past behind her and strike out into the big bad world. All soulful brown eyes and shy, alluring smile. She was pretty, in her own pathetic way. Pretty, but utterly repulsive to him. Every second she drew breath was a painful reminder of his own shameful secret. Every day she remained on the planet, a testimony to his own inadequacies and failings.

But all that was about to change. For Adam O’Sullivan had changed, evolved, matured, call it what you will. The penny had dropped, the scales fallen from his eyes. He saw clearly now, 20/20 vision bathed in the blood he was going to spill before this week was over. The blood of innocents, the blood of the damned, he did not care, so long as it flowed freely through the lecture theatres and seminar rooms of this university. Cleansing, purifying, sweeping aside all who stood in its path.

It was his right, his destiny, for he had been birthed in the blood of his father, all those years ago. His faithful father, who had risen from his bed, leaving his heavily pregnant partner to go to work that infamous day. He had to work he told her, their child was on the way and so much was yet needed. Nappies, clothes, a cot, so many things. A caring, doting, expectant father, to the outside world at least.

But as he left the house that morning, the last thing on Cormac O’Sullivan’s mind was his partner and child. His mind was full of other people. Fallen comrades, their names forgotten by all but the faithful few. Brave men and woman who had given their lives for a glorious cause which was then dragged through the gutters by their former leaders who sold out and desecrated the memories of the valiant. More interested in column inches and fat cat political careers than ridding their land of the pestilence which had dogged their ancestors for centuries.

People got in the way, organisations diluted and filtered the fire which burned in the likes of Adam O’Sullivan. They spoke of restraint and diplomacy, two words which caught in his caw, beliefs and strategies they had attempted to ram down his throat all his young life. He had no time for that, it sickened him, just like their pandering to the system sickened the memory of men like his father. Men who sacrificed everything, who understood what needed to be done. Who knew the work was dirty and bloody, but embraced it, pushed through the quandary of conscience to see the greater good, the bigger picture.

His father would go down in the annals as the Monster of Monksbridge, the man who drove a car laden with explosives into the middle of the town, all those years ago. The man who walked away, yet was caught in the blast, the victim of an inept bomb maker whose knowledge of a timing switch could be written on the back of a postage stamp. Adam had leant so much from that day, not least the consequences of working with others, relying on people who inevitably let you down. His father had died a martyr’s death, but an unnecessary one. Sins of the father, maybe, but Adam would not make the same mistakes.

His planning was meticulous, excruciatingly detailed, every eventuality considered, no stone left unturned. Monksbridge had dominated the headlines for months, but it would be small fry compared to the dish he was about to serve up. They would villify him, demonise him, he did not care. This would be the crowning glory of his lifetimes work. It would tie up all the loose ends and be a fitting homage to the work of his father. He was taking it to the next level, a higher plane, a new horror marking a fresh dawn.

The day the bomb went off, his mother heard it on the news headlines and knew, just knew, Cormac wasn’t coming home, long before the police arrived and started to rip their home apart. Sending her into an early labour which took her life, but produced a son. A son who became a pariah for all that was wrong with the country, ferried from one foster home to the next. Vilified, despised while the girl born on the same day was feted and fawned over. ‘Bomb Girl’ they called her, yet she knew nothing of that day, the day his parents died. What did she lose, bar her privacy? Nothing.

He had bided his time. Taken the beatings and bullying, worked his way through the system and emerged scarred but unbowed on the other side. For Adam O’Sullivan was blessed, baptised by the blood of the Monksbridge dead. He knew it was from God, a gift justifying the work of his father, work he had been ordained to complete. He was an Angel or Death, reigning fresh fire down upon this troubled land.

He watched as Ariana entered the halls of residence, then followed as she shuffled into the shop in its main foyer. Watched as she stopped and contemplated which chocolate bar she would purchase as reward for her library exertions. He knew she would pick white chocolate, it had been her favourite for many a year. Adam smiled, he knew the bitch inside out and back to front. Slipping into the mind of Ariana Hennessy came as easily to him as putting one foot in front of the other.

‘Go for the dark chocolate, Ariana,’ he whispered as he watched her from across the aisle. ‘Just for me.’ He watched as, with a quizzical expression, her hand wavered over her original choice, before plumping for a bar of dark chocolate. Ariana stared at her selection dubiously before shrugging her shoulders and striding towards the checkout till.

Adam smiled. His gift. The gift of making people do exactly what he wanted them to, without them even realising it. It had served him well, he doubted he would have survived otherwise. And now that little ‘Bomb Girl’ was exactly where he needed her to be, it was a gift he would reveal to the world with devastating effect. It was time to revenge his father and how ironic it would be to utilise the object of his festering hatred to deliver the final coup de grace.

‘Monster of Monksbridge,’ he hissed as he exited the shop. ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’


Chapter Four

Dark chocolate. Darker thoughts. Ariana chewed thoughtfully on a chunk of her bar as she stared across the river towards the main university building. Seated at her desk, she groaned and pushed away the opened text book which had proven utterly impenetrable to her for the past twenty minutes. Was it just her, or did her class mates struggle just as much with the reading list she had been valiantly battling through since the start of term? There was little point asking Tess, whose attention span barely allowed her to consume a Kardashian tweet, let alone a 450 page tome on post-war Europe and its fragile fledgling economy.

Her room was small and plain, but to Ariana it was freedom. Freedom from Monksbridge and the stigma which had hung over her like an obstinate rain cloud, these last eighteen years. She had a bed, desk, books and most of all it was all hers. No intrusions, no being checked on every five minutes, no curfew or 50,000 questions every time she opened the front door. She could go where she wanted, when she wanted and with whosoever she wanted. Not that her social diary was overflowing with engagements. Her conscious decision to fly under the radar was a constant source of irritation to the limelight hogging Tess.

‘Be careful how low you fly, my dear Ariana. We don’t want you clipping the ground and bursting into a ball of flame.’

Ariana winced, altogether unconvinced by her selection of chocolate. She reluctantly forced down the piece she was chewing on, before picking the remainder of the bar and lobbing it towards the overflowing metal bin in the corner of the room. It ricocheted off the rim, before settling on a crumpled mass of clothing where it balanced precariously next to a rolled up pair of unwashed socks. Another luxury of the student lifestyle.

‘For God’s sake, Ariana, your room is a pigsty. I want it cleaned, cleaned do you hear me. Or you know what’s coming.’

Ariana shuddered and shook her head, shutting the venomous voice our of her head. Most days it lay dormant but, occasionally like just now, it would squirm free and wriggle past her mental defences, whispering accusations and false truth into her ear. Stupid chocolate, she thought, what had possessed her to buy it. She hated dark chocolate, always had. Yes, student life was all about experimentation, but she knew what she liked and that was that. Plain Jane, under the radar, forever and ever, amen.

Plain Jane. Hallowed be thy name.

Ariana jumped, the squawk of her mobile phone dragging her back to the present from the introspective pity party. She peered at the screen although she already knew who it was from and what it was about. Tess.

‘I’m outside the Union. Where are u? U better not still be in that bloody library? 😡

Ariana smiled, before picking up her phone and tapping out a suitably pithy response.

‘And what if I was? You’d never find me as you don’t even know where the library is?’

Her finger hovered over the 😊 emoji button, before she thought better of it. Ariana didn’t do smiley emoji, in fact she didn’t really do smiling at all, despite the best efforts of the eternally effervescent Tess Cartwright.

‘Remind me we have to work on your sense of humour in addition to all ur many other social inaddequacues. Hurry up!!’

‘I’ll be there ASAP. And it’s inadequacies.’

‘Whatever swotty pants. Just hurry up. The cider calleth.’

Ariana tossed her phone onto the bed and frowned at the floor, where the majority of her wardrobe currently lay. She eventually settled on a regulation pair of black leggings and formless green woollen jumper she had picked up in a charity shop the week before last. She decided against taming her mop of dark curls, a losing battle if ever there was one. Besides, the earache she would receive from Tess for being any later than she already was just wasn’t worth the hassle.

‘Are you going out looking like that? Why can’t you wear a nice dress? You look like a boy, and a not particularly handsome boy at that. You could be so pretty, if you’d only make the effort.’

Twice in one day. Ariana froze, hand outstretched to grab her phone from the desk. She had finished her last prescription ten days ago and resolved she was going it alone this time. She was finished with pharmaceutical crutches, another Monksbridge hangover she no longer wanted dogging every step of her new life. A tablet a day keeps the voices anyway. Possibly, but the only way to find out for certain was to tough it out and go cold turkey. Seven years of counselling and pill popping didn’t unmake the story that was ‘Bomb Girl.’ The scars were there, just beneath the skin, waiting to be picked at, reopened.

Scabs are a natural part of the healing process. An ugly necessity before the beauty beneath can be revealed.

Ariana snorted. A counsellor had said that to her once. She hadn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She stuffed the phone into her battered leather satchel, before hauling it over her shoulder. The first few days off her medication had been plain smiling, despite a mild, yet persistent neck ache which refused to budge, no matter how often she cracked or massaged it. A small price to pay, though, and a bonus was her skin seemed less greasy and prone to spotty outbreaks.

Every cloud has a silver lining….

But now the ghosts of her past were starting to converge, rather one ghost in particular. Her not so beloved mother. Ariana flung open her room door and made her way out of the halls and along the concourse towards the Students Union at the rear of the main building. She ignored another beep from her bag. Honestly, Tess was so impatient but a godsend, nonetheless. That’s if God existed. A once irrefutable fact and standing fixture in her life which now looked increasingly shaky with every passing day.

‘An untested faith is a useless faith.’

‘Yeah about as useless as all those Christian cliches you shoved down my throat every day,’ she snarled under her breath, earning a curious glance from a male student headed in the opposite direction. Ariana smiled weakly, feeling her cheeks flush with embarrassment. She hurried on, determined to shove the ongoing argument with her dead mother to the far recesses of her mind. Where it rightly belonged. Up ahead, she caught sight of Tess, hopping from one foot to the other like an over excited toddler who needed to use the bathroom. Was she wearing…..a ballgown?

‘Well?? Do you like it?’ Tess spun around, an ocean of pink chiffon fanning out in all directions. ‘I picked it up dirt cheap. Less than £200. I’m going for the Lily Allen look.’

‘Lily Savage more like,’ sniggered Ariana, earning a petulant pout from her unimpressed friend.

‘Honestly, Ariana. For one with such a theatrical name, you can be an utter bore at times.’

‘One tries.’ Ariana smiled sweetly as Tess grabbed her forearm and proceeded to frogmarch her through the doors of the Union into an already packed bar. ‘Come on,’ she squealed, the jibe at her attire already forgotten. ‘There are cheap drinks to be necked and boys aplenty.’ She momentarily halted and, eyeing Ariana up and down, scrunched her nose in mild disdain.

‘You really should make more of an effort. You could be so pretty if you only tried.’

Tess froze, the crestfallen expression on her friend’s face confirming she had overstepped the mark. ‘Oh God, Ariana, I’m so sorry. You are fine just the way you are. Ignore me, shooting my big fat mouth off as usual without thinking. ‘Friends?’ She affected her most hangdog expression until Ariana could resist no longer, bursting into laughter.

‘Fine. It’s just someone else used to say that to me when I was younger and it brings back crappy memories. And stop calling me Ariana. It’s Rebecca, okay?’

‘But of course, your most excellent Rebeccaness.’ Tess dropped into an exaggerated curtsey, causing the doorman to eye her suspiciously before deciding all was well and allowing them to enter the Union complex.

‘You’re a clown, Cartwright, an utter clown.’

‘Yes. But I’m your clown.’ Tess fluttered her eyelashes and the two of them were soon subsumed by the scrum of bodies trying to catch the eyes of the besieged bar staff.

‘Two pints of cider,’ screamed Tess, gesticulating wildly with raised digits in the air, while elbowing her way through the throng. Ariana rolled her eyes and offered up apologies to those shoved aside and left in the wake of her friend.

‘Sorry,’ she shouted, struggling to be heard as a beating bass began to reverberate across the cramped dance floor, situated to the right of the bar. ‘She doesn’t get out much.’

Unknown to her, a lean, nondescript male watched from the other side of the dance floor. He raised his pint of Guinness and took a measured sip, savouring the sharp aftertaste. The mad one had turned up looking like a reject from Dancing With The Stars, but nothing surprised him where she was concerned. Adam O’Sullivan smirked for she was nothing more than an embarrassing sideshow which he could dispense with in an instance. He was far more interested in her dowdier companion.

The man began to stride across the dance floor, weaving through the smattering of early revellers submitting to the rhythm and throwing drunken, uncoordinated shapes in a pretence at dancing.

‘Time for you to meet the famous O’Sullivan charm, Ariana.’


Chapter Five

Ariana shivered against the biting cold, bunching her hands into tight fists and burying them deeper into the pockets of her parka. Three pints of extra strong cider provided a degree of internal central heating but the coast was less than a mile away and a fierce Atlantic blast was rapidly dissolving the core of warmth she had kindled within the sweltering Union bar.

‘I don’t know why we bothered paying in if we’re going to stand out here half the night, freezing our backsides off.’

She stared pointedly at Tess until a cloud of smoke doubled her over hacking, as a dozen bemused students watched as they huddled in the roofed smoking area outside the Union’s main entrance.

‘Oh don’t be such a drama queen,’ scolded Tess, a lit Marlboro Light hanging from her bottom lip. ‘We’ve barely been out two minutes. Anyway, you can’t hear yourself think in there. Dance music is killing the art of conversation. It’s up to us smokers to preserve a dying art form.

‘Smokers?’ spat Ariana incredulously, now upright again. ‘Doesn’t smoking involve inhaling said smoke into one’s lungs? All you do is inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. It’s like watching a little steam engine huffing and puffing to its hearts content. Have you even smoked before tonight?’

‘Course I have,’ pouted Tess, self consciously lowering the cigarette and nervously checking if any of the nicotine addicts around them had overheard Ariana’s critique of her smoking technique. Content that her reputation was still intact she stubbed the butt out and grabbed her sarcastic sidekick by the forearm, dragging her back towards the Union. ‘Come on. Once more unto the breach, dear friend.’

‘Do we have to? I’d be quite happy grabbing a cheesy chip and calling it a night. I’ve a 10:00 o’clock seminar with Professor Ickringill in the morning.’

‘Ooooooooh. Professor Ickringill,’ squealed Tess, placing her hands to her cheeks in open mouthed mockery. ‘I wonder if he’ll be packing his pipe? Or wearing that sexy tweed jacket. You know, the one with the leather elbow patches.’ She giggled before a wicked smile traversed her face before pushing Ariana without warning against a wall.

‘Ow, what was that for?’ groaned Ariana, rubbing the small of her back. ‘Just because you’re allergic to hard work doesn’t mean the rest of us need to stoop to your level.’

‘Shhhhh,’ hissed Tess, before making frantic eye movements in the direction of the Union entrance.

‘Are you alright, Tess. It’s just you look as if you’re having a stroke. Smoking kills, remember.’ She looked over her friend’s shoulder to determine what the cause of the drama was. Standing at the entrance stood a young man, smiling shyly at them. He looked away quickly upon realising he had been spotted, suddenly engrossed with the contents of his mobile phone screen.

‘Did you twig tall, dark and exceedingly handsome guy at the door?,’ whispered Tess at something approaching several thousand decibels. ‘He is totally checking me out.’

Ariana sighed, reverting her gaze to the bouncing pink blancmange in front of her. ‘I hardly think so. He’s probably trying to process the sight of a deranged lunatic in a ballgown flouncing about in front of him.’ She looked over again towards the young man. This time he maintained both eye contact and the smile before turning and walking back into the Union past the door staff.

‘Come on,’ urged Tess, grabbing Ariana’s hand. ‘We’re going back in. I’m determined for tonight not to be an utter waste of time. Once the famous Cartwright charm is unleashed no man, or woman for that matter, can resist.’

‘You really are a catch, Tess. Is that all you’re interested in?’

‘Of course not,’ she replied, marching past the door staff with Ariana in tow. ‘There’s also the possibility of a free drink or three.’

‘Oh my Lord. Hark at the feminist of the year.’

The noise and heat of the crowded bar hit her like a sticky, sonic wall as Tess steered them through a mass of bodies, her sights honed on the back of the young man’s head. Ariana estimated he was at least 6’2’’, possibly taller as he towered above the majority of those around them. She really, really wanted nothing more than to be buried beneath the bed covers, nose poked in her latest Kindle Fire purchase. She avoided social events whenever possible and her relationship history extended to a handful of disastrous dates during final year at school with the President of the Chess Society.

Tess veered left without warning causing Ariana to cry out in protest as her wrist was almost wrenched from its socket. They burst onto the dancefloor where several dozen inebriated students threw a variety of uncoordinated shapes to a grinding drum and bass beat. Whatever happened to melodies, harmonies, tunes? Ariana often thought she was born several decades late. She was brought back to her senses as they crossed the floor before Tess deposited them in a booth where the young man sat, nursing a pint of Guinness.

‘Hi, I’m Tess, and this is Ari….Becky. Bex. Rebecca, yes, this is Rebecca.’ She blew her fringe back and puffed out both cheeks. ‘Gosh it’s hot in here,’ she sighed, fanning her face in such a theatrical and obvious manner that Ariana wanted the ground to open and swallow them both up, there and then. To be fair to him the young man merely smiled and held out a hand in greeting. ‘I’m Adam. Can I get you ladies a drink?’

‘That would be lovely thank you,’ babbled Tess. ‘Two vodka and Diet Cokes please. Large ones.’ She sat back, looking immensely pleased with herself as Adam rose returning a short time later with the drinks.

‘Thanks pet,’ gushed Tess. ‘So, Adam, What are you studying and what are your intentions once you leave uni?’

‘Is this a job interview?’ Adam winked and smiled at Ariana, who could only smile back. He was very handsome. She couldn’t quite place his accent due to the cacophony around them but there was a hint of a Southern lilt. Dublin?

‘If it is, you’re off to a fantastic start,’ gushed Tess, laying on the clumsy charm with a shovel. The next twenty minutes were a shouted exchange as Tess flirted outrageously above the din of the music. Adam fended off most of her more direct questions with ease, all the while rolling his eyes and smirking at Ariana whenever her friend wasn’t looking. Part of her fumed at the casual way he mocked her best friend but she silently sipped her drink, at the same time secretly thrilled at the attention he was affording her. Ariana Hennessy, social wallflower and forever in the shadow of the glorious Tess Cartwright.

The night meandered on. Tess dragged Adam onto the dancefloor but all the while his gaze returned to Ariana sitting awkwardly in the booth. At one point Tess badgered her reluctant friend into joining them but she hated every second as drunken louts careered into them from all angles, the dancefloor resembling a human pinball machine. Finally the lights came on and a mangled voice informed them over the tannoy to make their way towards the exit in an orderly fashion. Ariana checked her watch. It was well past the witching hour. She groaned internally, chastising herself at being lured out when she had such an early start the next morning.

Tess attached herself to Adam like a limpet, hooking arms with him as they edged towards the doors with the rest of the revellers. Ariana shuffled behind, zipping her parka in anticipation of the bracing night air. She wasn’t disappointed and shivered involuntarily despite the several layers she had on. If Tess didn’t end up with hypothermia it would be a minor miracle but she appeared oblivious to the cold as she hung on Adam’s every word. Emily Pankhurst would be turning in her grave, thought Ariana, as the cheesy chat from her best friend showed no sign of abating.

‘Sooooo, Adam, did you have a pleasant evening?’ she cooed, all wide blue eyes and parted lips.

‘I’ve had worse. You?’

‘Oh, I’ve had a wonderful time.’ She swayed unsteadily in front of him as an uneasy silence enveloped them. Finally Tess could contain herself no more. ‘This is the bit where we swap phone numbers.’ She smiled sweetly, before rolling her eyes at Ariana in faux dismay as Adam began to punch numbers into her phone which had been thrust into his hands.

‘There you go,’ he said handing her the phone back. ‘Another notch on your fantasy bed post. Now why don’t you run along now and I’ll walk your friend home.’ Suddenly the charm was gone, replaced by an unpleasant tone that immediately sobered Ariana up and set alarm bells ringing.

‘Er, that’s not how it works.’ Flirty Tess was gone, replaced by a cautious tone. Ariana looked around and realised it was just the three of them outside the Union, everyone else already half way to where they needed to be.

‘Look, I think we should go, Tess. We have that early start in the morning. Professor Ickringill, remember?’ She grabbed her friend’s hand but Tess resisted, refusing to be the first to look away in her staring duel with Adam.

‘I don’t know who you think you are but….’

‘Oh I know exactly who I am just as I know exactly who you and your little friend are. Isn’t that right, Ariana?’ He turned and leered at her, no longer disguising the contempt in his voice.

‘How did you know my….?’ Ariana’s stomach froze over and her legs threatened to give way beneath her.

‘Oh I know all about Bomb Girl. In fact, you could say you’ve been my specialised subject for a number of years now.’

‘Wait a minute you creep, you can’t speak….’

Adam turned and placed a hand on Tess’ bare shoulder. ‘Like I said, my dear, I strongly suggest you turn around and flutter off to where you came from, while I walk your lovely companion home. Now please don’t make me ask again. I’m a patient man but I have my limits. Please.’

He smiled, an icy, humourless smile, as Tess nodded slowly, a vacant expression settling on her formerly feisty features. She looked at Ariana as if it was the first time she had ever set eyes on her best friend. ‘Yeah. Maybe I should go. Early start and all that.’ Without another word she turned and walked away. Ariana froze, a half formed scream in her lungs as a large hand clamped over her mouth and dragged her backwards towards the darkness beyond the half glow of the Union’s security lighting.

‘Time we had a little chat, Bomb Girl.’ They were the last words Ariana heard before she drifted into unconsciousness.


Chapter Six

The faint thread of noise grew steadily stronger and Ariana clung to it, hauling herself inch by inch back to the surface. The closer she got the more intense the pain became. Initially a dull ache centred above her left eyebrow, no more inconvenient than a buzzing bluebottle trapped in a jam jar. As she grew more aware of her surroundings, however, it intensified, growling and grating until it ripped through her forehead like a steel trap clamping down on its helpless prey. Other sensory clues solidified, and she became aware of a pungent, acrid odour polluting her nostrils. Chloroform? The recognition triggered a series of distorted memories which flooded her mind like a rushing tide roaring up a shingle beach.

The Union. Tess. Where was Tess? Ariana started to thrash about wildly, to only realise her arms and legs were tightly bound. She opened her mouth to scream but the gag put paid to that plan. Secreted in darkness she fought the growing urge to choke on the rag wedged between her teeth. Summoning every grain of self control she pushed down hard on the panicky jack in the box waiting to explode across her mind and scatter any semblance of rational thought to the four winds.

Breathe, Ariana, breathe. Forcing stale, oily air into her lungs she inhaled and exhaled through her nose for several moments until her galloping heart rate steadied to a canter. As her equilibrium returned, she became aware of motion, the undulations beneath throwing her upwards where her nose grazed metal. She was in a moving vehicle, the boot of a car? Further details swam within her grasp. That guy at the bar, the handsome one who Tess was fawning over. What was his name? Alan? No, wait it was Adam, definitely Adam, she had a cousin of the same name. He’d bought them vodkas, then outside afterwards Tess asked for his number and….

Her stomach lurched as the details accosted her, struggling to keep down the vodka purchased by her assailant. The thought of choking to death on her own vomit, alone in the boot of a car suddenly seemed a distinct possibility. Oh my God, Oh my God, I’m dead. He’s going to rape me, then torture me, then chop me up into a thousand pieces and….But Tess, Tess, why had she allowed it to happen? Why hadn’t she fought him? The memory of her friend’s blank face as Tess nodded and walked away from them outside the Union. It was as if she had been hypnotised….

The vehicle lurched violently to the left and she was thrown about the confines of the boot, suggesting the driver had exited the main road and was now driving along a rougher road surface, a track or laneway. Ariana winced as every jolt sent spasms of pain shooting down her spine. She continued the breathing exercise she had been taught once in a counselling session, one of the few useful tips she had picked up from years of enforced therapy, attempting to come to terms with who she was, who Ariana Hennessy wanted to be, needed to be.

Anything but the Bomb Girl.

The surface underneath changed again, this time the crunch of gravel as the vehicle turned in a tight circle before coming to a halt. Ariana realised she was holding in what little breath she had as the engine idled for an eternity. Tinny music seeped into her prison, a car radio. What was it? Some soulless dance tune, the thumping bass and moronic drumbeat setting a ridiculous soundtrack to what could well be the last moments of her life. A door opened, the music ceased, and the sound of boots crunching along the side of the vehicle sent her adrenaline levels soaring to new, unprecedented heights. Ariana tensed as the sound of jangling keys alerted her that whoever conveyed her here was standing directly at the back of the car no more than a few feet from her.

‘Are you in there, Ariana?’ The voice of a man, heavy with sarcasm. ‘Well, of course you are, where else would you be. Now, I’m going to open the boot and realise you’re all trussed up like a Christmas turkey but, all the same, no funny business, right? I’ve been very good to you so far, buying you drinks all night, listening to them feeble attempts of your friend to chat me up.’

Without further warning the boot swung open and Ariana found herself staring up into the angelic face of Adam O’Sullivan, his chiselled features bathed in a milky moonlight. Beyond him she could make out little else, bar the murky shadows of trees.

‘What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?’ Adam laughed, a deep, somewhat unhinged baritone bark. Arianna stared back wide eyed until he finished making merry at his own dubious humour, unable to utter a sound because of the gag. As if only becoming aware of this fact, Adam stopped abruptly and leaned down until his face was no more than inches from hers. She could smell the stale Guinness on his breath, count the flecks of stubble on his dimpled chin.

‘Sorry, that was in poor taste. Now, if I were to loosen the gag and allow you to talk, do you promise to be on your best behaviour and not cause a scene?’ His brow furrowed and he nodded for Ariana to respond. ‘One nod for yes, two for no, there’s a good girl.’

Ariana nodded slowly, earning a smile from Adam that, in any other setting, might have melted her heart. ‘Excellent,’ he exclaimed, standing tall again. ‘Now I’m a man of my word and I expect you to keep yours on this one. Otherwise I might have to hit you over the head with a shovel.’ He paused, as if weighing up his options, before shrugging. ‘Or maybe a hammer. Who knows, whatever’s to hand.’ He reached down and gently loosened the gag until it hung against Ariana’s throat.

‘There, isn’t that better?’

‘Who are you? Wh…what do you want?’ Ariana’s voice was little more than a tepid croak, her throat parched from fear and the fume soaked gag.

‘Patience, wee girl, patience. One question at a time. Name doesn’t ring a bell then….Adam….O’Sullivan?’

Ariana dredged her memory for a sliver of recollection but drew a resounding blank. ‘I’m sorry, no. Should it? Please let me go, this is a mistake. I swear to God I won’t tell anyone about this, on my….’

‘Mother’s grave?’ interrupted Adam. ‘Yes I heard about your ma. I guess mixed emotions on your part given the way she paraded you in front of the press every year. Bit of a one trick pony wasn’t she in the end, but I guess it paid a few bills.’

Ariana’s blood was turning to an icy slush. How did he know all this about her? This wasn’t mistaken identity after all, she was his intended target all along.

‘Well, I know all about graves,’ continued Adam, seemingly oblivious to the devastating impact his words were having on the young woman cowering helplessly before him. ‘Buried my own father at an early age. No worse feeling than walking behind the coffin of a loved one is there?’ He sneered, the charming mask slipping to reveal what lurked beneath. ‘Got a taste of your own medicine, eh, you wee bitch.’

O’Sullivan, O’Sullivan. Ariana eyes widened as the hitherto evasive answer slithered into view, a most unwanted visitor.

‘Diarmuid O’Sullivan. You’re Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s son.’ All previous efforts to rein in her heartbeat vanished in a puff of well intentioned smoke, as it careered out of control once more. The Monksbridge Massacre. It was his father who was the architect behind it.

‘Bingo,’ trilled Aidan, jumping back and flashing jazz hands in her direction. ‘In the flesh, for one night only. Your last night, little Ariana. But worry not, what a time you and I are going to have. I’ve got so many treats lined up for you, all sorts of treasures. You’re going to go out in style, young lady, I can guarantee that.’ He fixed her with a toothy grin. It was the final straw, tipping her over the edge. She opened her mouth, fully intent on screaming until her throat bled.

‘Ach, now there’s no need for that.’ Adam bent forward into the boot and clamped a callused hand over her mouth, securing the gag tighter than before. Ariana squirmed and twisted, desperately trying to find some purchase but it was a futile battle.

‘I must say I’m disappointed, Ariana. I’d been looking forward to getting caught up with you, but you obviously can’t be trusted. He toyed with a chunky sovereign ring on his right forefinger before holding it out towards her. ‘See this. That’s all was left of him after the explosion. Cheap Eastern European detonators. Left me walking behind an empty coffin, at least you got to say goodbye to your ma properly. I wonder what will be left of you after tomorrow? When you finally get to live up to that illustrious nickname.’

Ariana whimpered in horror as his clenched fist descended upon her. The last thing she saw was the golden glint of the ring, fringed by balmy moonlight. There followed a brief explosion of searing pain before Ariana slipped back beneath the still, black surface she had only recently emerged from.

Adam O’Sullivan slammed the boot shut. The night was young and there was still so much work to be done. Tomorrow was going to be the greatest day of his life.

And the worst of theirs.


Chapter Seven

Tess sauntered down the winding path which snaked through the university grounds and across the river towards the halls of residence on the other side. It was a mild night and the route was busy with other students making their way to the next party or nocturnal liaison. She smiled and greeted many of them for everyone knew Tess Cartwright. She was hardly a shrinking violet so it hadn’t taken long for the pixie haired fresher to stand out with her flamboyant dress sense and even more flamboyant personality.

Despite the balmy conditions Tess shivered, goosebumps breaking out like hives on her bare arms. She folded them and quickened her step, keen to be back in her room and snuggled beneath the comforting embrace of the duvet. The central heating afforded by the vodka at the Union was starting to wear off. It had been such a fun night though, hadn’t it? Tess shivered involuntarily and shook her head. She swore she hadn’t drank that much but was struggling to recollect the events of the previous few hours.

‘Honestly Cartwright, you’re such an airhead.’ She rebuked herself as she reached the bridge and began to cross it, the lights of the halls just beyond. She would be home and dry within minutes.

Despite outward appearances Tess Cartwright was anything but an airhead, rather a carefully constructed caricature beneath which hid an intelligent, eloquent young woman. It was all an act, a protective shell to ward off the ghosts from a past which she never wished to revisit. No, Ariana Hennessy wasn’t the only one with secrets. When it came to skeletons Tess had more closets than she currently crammed her huge mish mash wardrobe of designer labels and charity shop cast offs into.

Tess bounced along the bridge, glancing briefly at the dark, swirling waters beneath before focusing once more on the lights ahead. Look to the light, Tess, the dark can take a running jump. The chiffon hems of her flamingo pink ballgown rustled in stark juxtaposition to the clatter of her Doctor Marten boots on the metal walkway. Like her dress sense, the young woman was a walking, talking contradiction. Still waters run deep? Well so did babbling, gushing torrents.

The darling of Ashgrove College for Girls, the country’s most elite establishment for the daughters of wealthy, entitled parents, Tess had it all in her final year. Head Girl, captain of their all conquering hockey team and, despite her dizzy exterior, a straight A student. As futures went, there was none no brighter than hers. Until she met Sasha Blackstock, two years younger and Ashgrove alpha female in training. Like many of the younger girls at Ashgrove, Sasha idolised Tess to the extent where it verged on the creepy. Always hanging around, the first to post gushing praise on Instagram when Tess posted a pouting selfie, she was everywhere the older girl turned.

She took it in her stride at first, Tess was well used to the adoration of male and females alike. With her flawless skin, cheekbones to die for and athletic figure, she had broken her fair share of hearts. Tess was swanning through her final year at Ashgrove on the crest of a wave. One match away from an All Ireland hockey final, stunning grades in her mock A levels and with the choice of the top universities, the world was her oyster.

Until it wasn’t….

The night of the formal at the five star Culloden Hotel was a blurry mess. Too many pre-dinner cocktails, too much wine at the meal and then vodka, vodka, vodka by the bucket. Tess had danced and vomited and then danced some more, spinning round the floor in her designer gown until her feet ached, but her heart soared. All under the watchful, envious eye of her date for the night, Callum Maguire, Ulster Schools superstar and rumoured to be offered a professional rugby contract the following season. She had only met him on a handful of occasions before when her entourage bumped into his on another wild night out in the city.

It had been a no brainer date, guaranteed to be plastered all over the next edition of the Ulster Tatler magazine and secure another few thousand Insta followers. Truth be told, they had barely spoke prior to the night and their stilted exchanges over dinner did little to ease the awkward tension which existed between them during the course of the evening. There was something about him, thought Tess, a sour edge to his words, an ugly scowl never far from his boy next door, model good looks. Here was a young man with the world at his feet, but all he wanted to do was kick it in the face of anyone who even looked at him the wrong way.

Tess largely avoided him after the ordeal that was dinner, preferring the company of her own friends. Until he cornered her in a corridor on a return journey from the toilets. He had been charming at first, but it was an oily charm, dripping like viscous fat from an undercooked bacon rasher. She humoured him with small talk at first, conscious that his imposing frame was blocking her return to the main room. When he lunged forward to kiss her, claim what he thought was rightfully his, she pushed him back gently at first, insisting this was neither the time nor place, trying to sound calm despite the gathering thunder of her heart, like the hooves of wild horses galloping across the plain.

‘No Callum. Look, they’re about to announce the Formal King and Queen. We’re a certainty.’

A waspish smirk crossed his chiselled features. ‘Come on Tess. We both know this is how it plays out. Don’t tell me you don’t want to.’

She wasn’t prepared for the force of the shove, wedging her into an alcove where coats and bags were piled high. There was now more urgency to her appeal, a rising panic in her voice, while still trying to bluff her way out of a rapidly deteriorating situation.

‘Wise up Callum. You’re….’

Her eyes bulged in fear as a large hand clamped over her mouth and he forced her further into the folds of the alcove. His formidable frame pinned her painfully to the wall behind and, struggle as she might, she could not squirm past him. She felt a rip as the sleeve of her gown tore from the main body of the dress. She felt his hand on her breast, the other one fumbling at the front of her dress, trying to lift it above her waist. This wasn’t, couldn’t be happening. They were in a five star hotel, there were 300 people in the next room.

‘ARRRRGHHHH!’

Her mouth tasted warm, tangy liquid as she bit down hard on his hand, forcing him to release his grip over her mouth. At the same time she thrust a bare knee deep into his groin. There was a satisfying wheeze and he crumpled to the floor, clutching his mid section.

‘You bitch, I only wanted a kiss.’

But Tess didn’t hear for she was running, bursting through the hotel foyer and out into the crisp night air. She desperately scanned the car park before spotting an idling taxi. Leaping into the back seat she blurted out her address and sank into the leather interior, too stunned to talk, to cry, to do anything. The thought of that night numbed every one of her senses.

Her phone started pinging before the journey was over, multiple notifications lighting up the screen. Tess scrolled down, eyes widening in horror at the image staring her in the face. Callum Maguire all over her, face buried in her neck, dress hitched up to reveal her underwear, her face unseen. But everyone would know it was her, only one girl had been wearing such an expensive dress that night. The words beneath the image seared into her soul, never to leave again.

‘Slag of the Ball.’

A relentless surge of comments and emojis unfurled beneath. ‘Tramp,’ ‘Whore, etc etc etc. And there it was, the smiling profile pic of Callum Maguire, adding his tuppence worth, goaded on by his imbecilic mates.

‘She was easy boys. Bit of a letdown if I’m honest.’

Tess thrust a crumpled note into the hand of the driver and stumbled out of the taxi, not waiting for the change. Her hand shook as she battled to turn the key in the front door. Thankfully her parents were in bed meaning she was spared an inquisition. Tess ran to her room and dived into bed, burrowing her head into the plush pillows. It was only then she allowed the tears to flow.

Everything changed after that night. The Instagram account that posted the photo was anonymous but she knew it was Sasha from the giggles and knowing looks she gave Tess from within her coven as she passed them in the corridor. She was the school pariah now, too tired and traumatised to argue her case, fight her corner. Not that anyone would have believed her. Social media had spoken, it was judge, jury and executioner. She lost the respect of the hockey team and it showed on the pitch in a 5-0 semi final hammering. She scraped the grades for Leeds University but dropped out before Christmas, homesick and depressed. The Ashgrove scene continued at Queens University where most of her year now studied, but she was persona non gratis amongst them.

Blocked. Unfriended. Ghosted. Damaged goods.

So here she was, trying to rebuild her life at this smaller, quieter house of learning. She’d heard Natasha was now Top Bitch in her final year at Ashgrove, no doubt making some other poor girls life a misery. Tess pitied them. She shuddered again as she arrived at her dorm block, swiping in and taking the stairs slowly, weighed down by the ghosts of a troubled past. Beneath the cheery disposition and movie star smile was a kinder, more thoughtful young woman. One who looked out for others, who helped the underdog, who had spotted a lost, overwhelmed Ariana Hennessy on induction day and then unravelled the ‘Bomb Girl’ legend. Tess had kept her own story locked away, however, unwilling to burden Ariana further. No, she was there to support her new found friend and not the other way round.

Tess stood at the door to her room and fumbled for the key, checking her phone as she did. Seriously, her head was like candy floss tonight. For the life of her, she couldn’t remember a thing. They had been in the Union, drinking, dancing, had there been some guy involved? Next thing she was walking home alone. She checked her notifications and frowned at the last message from Ariana, some hours ago when they had been arranging to meet outside the Union.

Tess opened the door, the first tendrils of concern unraveling within her. She anxiously punched the keys on her phone and pressed send.

‘Hey, Ariana. Where are you?’


Chapter Eight

Ariana stirred, her jaw unnatural and tender. A flicker of pain fanned across the right side of her face, her mouth full of slick, metallic grit. As consciousness dawned, she realised it was blood, her bottom lip throbbing rhythmically, an unanswered distress beacon that showed no sign of abating. Her tongue commenced an internal inventory and she realised the grit was actually shards of tooth, one of her incisors shorn of its top half by the fist of her captor. She prodded and probed at it, fascinated by its jagged, irregular contours. Her next dental bill was going to be horrific.

She chanced creaking an eyelid open to discover she was inside a bare, brick building, facing a roller shutter, it’s surface flecked with rust. She deduced she was in some sort of garage or lock up, rows of shelving on either side crammed with all sorts of tools and storage boxes. She tried to look over a shoulder to determine what lay behind, but the pain in her jaw convinced her otherwise. She was seated, her hands and legs immobile, tethered to a chair with coarse rope. She tensed and wriggled, hoping the knots could be manipulated but she could barely move a centimetre without the unforgiving cord cutting deep into wrists and ankles.

‘You’re awake then?’

The unmistakable tones of Adam O’Sullivan from behind her, caused Ariana to jolt upright. She was rewarded with a spasm of agony that made her cry aloud. She winced as her tongue danced across her swollen bottom lip, split open like an over ripened tomato.

‘Sorry about that. I can get you some ice. Ibuprofen?’ He emerged from behind her left shoulder, smirking features belying the kindness of his words. His dark eyes blazed with intensity and Ariana sensed he was beside himself with excitement. Given half a chance she could exploit that, catch him unawares, do something, anything to escape what she feared was her final resting place. She opened her mouth to speak, her clearing mind in overdrive as to the opening gambit. Compliance or defiance? Your choice, Ariana, spin the wheel, it’s only your life on the line.

‘I think you’ve broken my jaw. It’s completely numb,’ she lied, giving whatever speck of humanity lurked within him one last opportunity to come out and play. Adam leaned in to inspect the damage before grinning and standing upright once more.

‘Ach, don’t be silly. It was only a wee slap, I barely touched you. You’ll live. Well, for now anyway.’ He chuckled at his own humour before turning and starting to rummage through a jumble of junk on the shelving to his right.

‘Are you going to kill me?’ Ariana fought to keep the panic from her voice. ‘For what? It’s not my fault your father died. He had a choice. He didn’t have to do what he did.’ She paused, wondering if she had said too much, strayed over an unspoken line. He turned slowly to face her, a temporary halt in whatever he was searching for on the shelving. His face was pensive, thoughtful as he mulled over her outburst.

‘No, you’re right. It wasn’t your fault and, yes, my father had a choice. He chose to drive to Monksbridge that day and plant a bomb. But he didn’t choose to die and he didn’t intend to kill all those innocent people. My father was a soldier, a proud man, he took no pleasure in civilian casualties. Pity those bungling cops ignored the telephone warnings and moved people towards the bomb instead of away from it. Top of the town, top of the town, car bomb top of the town, 15 minutes. That’s what the message said. Yet those arseholes start to move people from the bottom of the town up towards the car. Idiots.’ He gritted his teeth, before exhaling and smiling sadly. ‘I apologise. I get a little emotional whenever I talk about it.

‘That’s okay.’ Ariana realised she was in deep, unnavigated waters, utterly ill equipped to deal with the erratic mood swings of the damaged young man standing in front of her.

‘It’s not okay though, is it Ariana?’ There he went again, drawing you in, making you feel almost sorry for him, before snapping shut, a chaotic, unpredictable steel trap. ‘My father is dead. A man who gave over twenty years of his life to a cause, only to be sold down the river by friend and foe alike. How do you think he felt when he saw his former comrades fawning over the enemy. Cheap suits and cheaper words. Peace process? Don’t make me laugh. We’ve no government, our schools and hospitals are falling apart, while they sit back and count their fat cat salaries. It’s sickening.’

Ariana chose silence on this occasion as Adam began to pace angrily in front of her. The wrong words would only provoke him further and she was certain he was capable of much worse than a punch in the face if she further pressed the young man’s buttons.

‘But you know what really gets my goat, what really pisses me off?’ He made a sudden motion towards Ariana, grabbing her chin and making her squeal in terror. She frantically shook her head. Oh my God, oh my God, he’s going to kill me, I’m dead.

‘You. That’s what,’ he screamed, no more than three inches separating them. Flecks of spittle spayed from his mouth, mixing with the tears now running unchecked down Ariana’s cheeks. Any pretence at calm was now gone, terror reigning supreme within her quaking body.

He stepped back and the switch was flicked once more, this time thankfully off. Adam rolled his neck, like a tired office worker who had spent too long at their keyboard.

‘You really are my Achilles heel, wee girl. Normally the world sees the winning smile, chiselled cheekbones and charming patter, I can do it in my sleep. I walk amongst the sheep and nobody bats an eyelid. Yet along comes little Ariana Hennessy, the mask slips and Adam goes ga ga, proves the psychiatrists were right all along.’ He lifted a forefinger to his head and rotated it while pulling a silly face. ‘Cuckoo,’ he beamed as if they were just two friends shooting the breeze.

‘I’m….I’m sorry,’ blubbed Ariana, her face wet, glistening in the stark fluorescent lighting. ‘Just let me go, I promise I won’t tell anyone, please Adam…’

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t do that, gorgeous. You see, you’re an integral part of my masterplan. Your mad bitch of a mother wheeled you out year after year, the sweet little heroine, rubbing salt in the wounds of my grief. Front pages, sponsorship deals, free holidays from all the do gooders and well wishers. Meanwhile I’m the forgotten victim, raised in foster homes, beaten and kicked from pillar to post. Nobody wanted me, I was a repulsive reminder of the day the whole world wanted to forget. Well, before tomorrow is over they’ll remember me and I’ll make sure my name is never forgotten again.’ He returned to rooting through the shelving as Ariana struggled to squirm free from the ropes restraining her, no longer keeping up the pretence of being a docile prisoner.

‘Aha!’ He swivelled on his heel with a cry of triumph, holding aloft a crumpled piece of clothing. Unfolding it, Ariana saw it was a canvas vest, half a dozen pockets crudely stitched into the front of it. ‘Do you like it? Made it myself, not bad if I do say so. It’s amazing what you can teach yourself on the internet these days. Just simple electronics. I think I’ve got the size right but I can adjust it if you’re not comfortable.’

Ariana shook her head. ‘No Adam please, don’t do this, please.’

‘Tomorrow we’re going to go back to your lovely university and you’re going to model my fashion statement. Except there will be additions, a little bit of Semtex to spice up proceedings. My dear old dad may be no more but the name O’Sullivan still carries some weight within the circles he used to mix in. It cost me and I had to call in all sorts of favours but I’ve got what I need, stored away somewhere nice and safe. I’ll pack it in so tight you won’t even know you’re a walking, talking bomb.’

‘I won’t do it, you sick bastard, I won’t,’ she screamed, veins bulging on her forehead. She rocked the chair from side to side but eventually relented, exhausted and broken.

‘Oh you will,’ sniggered Adam, enjoying the show. ‘We’ve still got the whole night ahead of us and by the time I’m finished with you, you’ll be putty in my hands. I can be very persuasive when I want to be.’

‘Tess! Tess! Anyone. Help meeeeee,’ roared Ariana.’

Adam frowned. ‘Now there’s no need for that. No need at all.’ He reached into a back pocket of his jeans, producing a roll of black masking tape. Stepping forward he ripped a strip with his teeth before roughly placing it over Ariana’s mouth. Her screams were reduced to a muffled moan.

‘I’ll be back in a bit. Man’s got to eat and all that. If you’re a good girl, I’ll bring you some water, then we can get down to business. Cheerio now.’ Turning, he threw up the shutters to reveal a dark, featureless landscape. He flicked a switch, killing the light above and rolled the shutters back down, plunging Ariana into utter blackness. The only sound to be heard above her sobs were his boots, crunching over gravel, growing more distant, until it was just her.

The Bomb Girl. Alone with her bomb vest

To be continued….

Loneliness at Christmas Update

Thank you all so much for all the emails I’ve received to partake in our beating Loneliness at Christmas project. I’ve been really busy lately so sorry for not being in touch with you all yet. I have tomorrow freed up to finalise everything so I will be in touch.

It’s still not too late to take part if you would love to receive a letter/card from somebody then please send me an email with your name and address ASAP.

My Love Affair With Toast

The day we discovered the joys of lightly burning bread and then buttering it was a great day for the human race. Toast. I have had a love affair with this breakfast staple for much of my life. In fact, never mind breakfast. I can quite happily eat toast at any time of the day. If you analysed my familial DNA you would probably discover I’m at least 1% hobbit due to the multiple breakfasts I partake of on a daily basis.

Given my distinct lack of culinary skills it was perhaps inevitable that I would gravitate towards toast. There are certainly less dishes involved than cereal, eggs and the ever so complicated process that is porridge making. You just pop it in the toaster, wander off for a bit and then wait for the distinctive ping announcing that its chow down time. Even an idiot like me can manage that. Well, just about.

Now that’s the easy part. Listen closely for I’m about to reveal the secret of great toast making, toasting, whatever you wish to call it. The amateur toastmonger will react to said ping by immediately slathering the round with their favourite spread, allowing it to melt into a gooey, liquefied form. None of that nonsense for me. The toast must be allowed to cool sufficiently before application of said spread.

In my single days I used to make my toast the night before then place it in the fridge overnight. The next morning I would leap, yes leap,out of bed to enjoy the delights of rock hard, ice cold buttered toast. Fionnuala was horrified when she discovered this practice and quickly beat it out of me along with a couple of hundred other bad habits I had accumulated down the years.

We have now reached an uneasy compromise whereby I create a toast tent, leaning two rounds against one another on the kitchen worktop to accelerate the cooling process. All is well and the fridge is freed up for milk and cheese, stuff like that. I also used to put tins of beer in the freezer during my drinking days but that’s another story for another day. Needless to say, don’t ever do it.

Compromise is the key word in all this. I am a creature of extremes, when I set my mind on something I do it to excess. I’m a runaway train when it comes to such matters and as we all know, if allowed to career on unchecked, this will undoubtedly end in a train wreck. My OCD means I don’t have an emergency brake, there is no trip switch to avert disaster when it comes knocking.

It can be anything, even positive, healthy pursuits like running, writing, watching the kids play sport. I get too obsessed, I take it to the nth degree, don’t know when to stop. It requires medication and wise counsel from the likes of Fionnuala to temper these destructive urges within me. Left to my own devices I’ll resort to ridiculous practices like putting toast in the fridge overnight.

I’ll be a work in progress, there will always be room for improvement. Progress and improvement occur by listening to the advice of those around you who care and are willing to take the time to smooth the rough edges. It’s no easy task, a labour of love and it’s not for everyone. But the results can be spectacular and life changing. Just ask the idiot who used to place his toast in the fridge overnight.

What I’ve Been Up To

I haven’t been blogging as much lately due to pouring all my creative forces into my second novel which passed the 70,000 word mark yesterday. I’m averaging around 1,000 words a day and am so in the zone with this story that it’s difficult to focus on any other writing projects. The blog has therefore been placed on the back burner but I will keep dipping in with updates as to how life is treating us all.

Book 2 in the ‘Kirkwood Scott Chronicles,’ has the working title of A New Jerusalem.’ It’s a sequel to ‘Skelly’s Square’ which was published in July. The plan is for a trilogy of books but I’m starting to realise there is scope for other stories and characters to develop within the KSC universe. I’m already writing a linked novella, ‘Bomb Girl’ which some of you have been reading.

I’m already plotting a spin off novel, ‘This Troubled Land of Ours,’ which will be set in the wilds of County Donegal at the beginning of the 22nd Century. To be honest, I could write for the next hour about all the story ideas which pop into my head on a regular basis. It’s a good job I have a notebook always handy to scribble them all down, otherwise I’d forget. Thankfully Fionnuala keeps me just about tethered to the real world.

I’ll keep posting periodic writing updates but, as ever, I’d like to thank all the people who have supported my writing and read ‘Skelly’s Square.’ The five star feedback on Amazon keeps me going through the tough times when self doubt and imposter syndrome take over. WordPress is where I first shared my writing with the world so it will always be a special community for me.

The good news is that ‘Skelly’s Square,’ is currently FREE if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. Alternatively you can purchase it in e book or paperback format on Amazon. And if you would like your hard copy signed I offer a bookplate service to facilitate that. I’m off now to write some more words and keep the momentum going. I’ll talk to you all soon and hope you have a great weekend.

Writing Won’t Make Me Rich But It Makes Me Happy

I’ve now hit the 65,000 word mark on Book 2 which is more or less the half way mark of this latest writing odyssey of mine. Quotes like this might seem trite to some but they bring a smile to my face. In the last week alone, I’ve sold books in France, India, the U.K and North America. Mind blowing when I think back to starting to write the Kirkwood Scott series two years ago. Thank you to everyone who has supported my writing so far.

It won’t make me rich but it makes me happy.

Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

We awakened this morning to high winds and rain beating against the bedroom window. Peeking outside revealed little as it was pitch dark. Yes, welcome to Northern Ireland in November. A bleak, dreary landscape. It’s little wonder the Game of Thrones producers chose our little country to film many of the Winterfell & Iron Island scenes from the books. Our weather is erratic, unpredictable and most definitely challenging.

They call Ireland the Emerald Isle and first time visitors are often amazed at how green our fair isle is as they fly in over a patchwork quilt of verdant fields. Our grass is so green because it rains so much, as in most days. Our summers usually consist of a weekend in June, preferably during exam time just to annoy the kids. The cows love it and happily munch away, watching the rest of us mutter and grumble.

As a commuter, I am rapidly resembling Scott of the Antarctic as I step out into the wilderness to brave the bitter conditions. Heavy duffel coat and woolly hat, it won’t be long before the scarf and gloves are also dusted down for their seasonal debuts. My fellow travelers on the 07:35 express to Belfast will be even surlier than normal this morning. We are united in our misery and we quietly seethe on the journey to work.

When it comes to griping and groaning about the inclement conditions I’m up there with the best of them. If there’s a torrent to be caught in, I’m invariably slap bang in the middle of it. It’s as if every time I step out the front door the heavens open. It’s particularly delightful in the middle of a 10 mile run. Why does it always rain on me I cry to the clouds, clenching my fist. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It’s a similar scenario with life in general. I tend to be a ‘glass half empty’ kind of person and the last few months have done little to convince me otherwise. I was out running yesterday and whatever turn I took I was staggering into a gale. You get to the point where it becomes almost laughable if it wasn’t so heart wrenching. Really, God, is this what it all comes down to at the end of the day?

I can take the personal knock backs as can Fionnuala. We are well used to disappointment and frustration. Maybe we deserve it for past transgressions, I know I do. It’s when it affects the kids that I get peeved. Our children have done nothing to deserve the illness and injury which has befallen them in recent times. We stand by, helplessly watching life deal another low blow. I feel useless, neutered.

We keep soldiering on, we keep turning up, we dig deep and draw closer as a family. The five of us form a core, a defensive hub. Friends come and go, churches drop by the wayside promising so much yet delivering so little, yet we go on. For there’s nothing else for it. Our kids need us to be strong, to be there, come rain or shine. There is no other option, no other way.

And I write about it, not because I particularly want to do, rather I need the cathartic release. It’s therapy and it’s free. I don’t do it for attention or numbers as was suggested yesterday. I don’t crave the limelight, my default position is to shun it. I write for myself today. Warts and all. Why does it always rain on me? Because it just does, that’s why. So best get on at dealing with it

A 13 Year Old in London

This weekend past Rebecca and I went to London to celebrate her 13th Birthday. Stephen was at home in charge of the older teenagers and done a fantastic job which means I really should go away more often lol.

We had a fantastic time in London we stayed with my cousin who lives in East Croydon which is a 20 minute commute on the train into central London were spent all day Saturday.

Saturday morning we took a bus tour before the heavens opened at 12 noon and rained the rest of the day but that didn’t stop us girls shopping!!

Here are some photos of our adventure

Peeling Potatoes Is Hard Work

Fionnuala and Rebecca travelled to London at the weekend for a shopping trip as part of the latter’s thirteenth birthday celebrations. They shopped til they dropped as well as taking in all the sights with their cousin, Bronagh. Which left me home alone with Adam, Hannah and a list of instructions as long as my arm from my every helpful wife. The gist of it was feed the kids, clothe the kids and don’t set the house on fire.

Now I’m no domestic god but basic household tasks are not beyond me if shown clearly, very clearly, what to do. I mastered the various buttons and dials on the washing machine, reheated precooked lasagna and fixed curtains, blinds and multiple cushions under the watchful eye of Hannah, who had been put in charge by her mother before leaving. I even remembered to feed Charlie the border terrier, much to his tail wagging relief.

The Everest of the weekend, however, was when Fionnuala asked me to peel the potatoes for Sunday dinner. My efforts at this in the past have been somewhat erratic to say the least. Stephen and sharp knives are not a good mix and the emergency services were on standby in case I nicked an artery. I’m sure it’s a common sight in Sunday A&E departments with ‘home alone’ husbands being wheeled in and out.

The first rule of peeling potatoes is to ensure you are left with more potato than peel at the end of the process. My previous enthusiastic, if somewhat ham fisted, attempts at this have resulted in potatoes the size of marbles which wouldn’t feed a field mouse. Meanwhile the mound of peelings require a crane to excavate to the recycling bin. There’s a reason I didn’t pursue a career in neurosurgery.

The art seems to be in the wrist motion. As you daintily peel you rotate the wrist, the trick being to remove the entire outer skin in one single, fluid motion. I’ve yet to achieve this ‘holy grail’ of kitchen etiquette but my technique has considerably improved in its pursuit. The result was a full pot of edible potatoes more than capable of feeding a family of five.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about this blog lately, where it’s going and the topics I should be writing about. Creative writing is increasingly taking up more of my time and I don’t write about faith matters anymore. Some of my most popular posts have been deeply personal and introspective. But am I revealing too much of myself, peeling away too many layers, leaving myself utterly exposed?

Twitter seems more receptive to the creative side of my writing. I’ve picked up more sales and interest, having tapped into a huge writing community there. My creative posts on WordPress are always amongst my least popular so do I stop posting creative fiction on the blog. If so, what is left for the blog? It’s something which has been nagging away at me in recent weeks to the extent I took a four day break from blogging last week.

As ever I’d be grateful for your comments and feedback. As a writer they fuel my writing and encourage me to keep going. The blogging world has been somewhat flat in recent months. A lot of regular bloggers have drifted away or are posting less frequently. Is this merely a blip or symptomatic of a broader issue? I don’t know. What is do know is that blogging is hard, just like peeling potatoes.

My New Doggy Friend

A beautiful sunny morning, if somewhat chilly, for this this week’s long run. Parts of the route were slippery underfoot but just being out there in the crisp, cool air made it all worthwhile. I planned to run 7 miles but ended up doing 8 at 8:56 average pace. I even made a new canine friend at the halfway point. Just over 30 miles in total this week with I’m pleased with, despite the slightly wonky knee.

Bomb Girl – Chapter 8

Ariana stirred, her jaw unnatural and tender. A flicker of pain fanned across the right side of her face, her mouth full of slick, metallic grit. As consciousness dawned, she realised it was blood, her bottom lip throbbing rhythmically, an unanswered distress beacon that showed no sign of abating. Her tongue commenced an internal inventory and she realised the grit was actually shards of tooth, one of her incisors shorn of its top half by the fist of her captor. She prodded and probed at it, fascinated by its jagged, irregular contours. Her next dental bill was going to be horrific.

She chanced creaking an eyelid open to discover she was inside a bare, brick building, facing a roller shutter, it’s surface flecked with rust. She deduced she was in some sort of garage or lock up, rows of shelving on either side crammed with all sorts of tools and storage boxes. She tried to look over a shoulder to determine what lay behind, but the pain in her jaw convinced her otherwise. She was seated, her hands and legs immobile, tethered to a chair with coarse rope. She tensed and wriggled, hoping the knots could be manipulated but she could barely move a centimetre without the unforgiving cord cutting deep into wrists and ankles.

‘You’re awake then?’

The unmistakable tones of Adam O’Sullivan from behind her, caused Ariana to jolt upright. She was rewarded with a spasm of agony that made her cry aloud. She winced as her tongue danced across her swollen bottom lip, split open like an over ripened tomato.

‘Sorry about that. I can get you some ice. Ibuprofen?’ He emerged from behind her left shoulder, smirking features belying the kindness of his words. His dark eyes blazed with intensity and Ariana sensed he was beside himself with excitement. Given half a chance she could exploit that, catch him unawares, do something, anything to escape what she feared was her final resting place. She opened her mouth to speak, her clearing mind in overdrive as to the opening gambit. Compliance or defiance? Your choice, Ariana, spin the wheel, it’s only your life on the line.

‘I think you’ve broken my jaw. It’s completely numb,’ she lied, giving whatever speck of humanity lurked within him one last opportunity to come out and play. Adam leaned in to inspect the damage before grinning and standing upright once more.

‘Ach, don’t be silly. It was only a wee slap, I barely touched you. You’ll live. Well, for now anyway.’ He chuckled at his own humour before turning and starting to rummage through a jumble of junk on the shelving to his right.

‘Are you going to kill me?’ Ariana fought to keep the panic from her voice. ‘For what? It’s not my fault your father died. He had a choice. He didn’t have to do what he did.’ She paused, wondering if she had said too much, strayed over an unspoken line. He turned slowly to face her, a temporary halt in whatever he was searching for on the shelving. His face was pensive, thoughtful as he mulled over her outburst.

‘No, you’re right. It wasn’t your fault and, yes, my father had a choice. He chose to drive to Monksbridge that day and plant a bomb. But he didn’t choose to die and he didn’t intend to kill all those innocent people. My father was a soldier, a proud man, he took no pleasure in civilian casualties. Pity those bungling cops ignored the telephone warnings and moved people towards the bomb instead of away from it. Top of the town, top of the town, car bomb top of the town, 15 minutes. That’s what the message said. Yet those arseholes start to move people from the bottom of the town up towards the car. Idiots.’ He gritted his teeth, before exhaling and smiling sadly. ‘I apologise. I get a little emotional whenever I talk about it.

‘That’s okay.’ Ariana realised she was in deep, unnavigated waters, utterly ill equipped to deal with the erratic mood swings of the damaged young man standing in front of her.

‘It’s not okay though, is it Ariana?’ There he went again, drawing you in, making you feel almost sorry for him, before snapping shut, a chaotic, unpredictable steel trap. ‘My father is dead. A man who gave over twenty years of his life to a cause, only to be sold down the river by friend and foe alike. How do you think he felt when he saw his former comrades fawning over the enemy. Cheap suits and cheaper words. Peace process? Don’t make me laugh. We’ve no government, our schools and hospitals are falling apart, while they sit back and count their fat cat salaries. It’s sickening.’

Ariana chose silence on this occasion as Adam began to pace angrily in front of her. The wrong words would only provoke him further and she was certain he was capable of much worse than a punch in the face if she further pressed the young man’s buttons.

‘But you know what really gets my goat, what really pisses me off?’ He made a sudden motion towards Ariana, grabbing her chin and making her squeal in terror. She frantically shook her head. Oh my God, oh my God, he’s going to kill me, I’m dead.

‘You. That’s what,’ he screamed, no more than three inches separating them. Flecks of spittle spayed from his mouth, mixing with the tears now running unchecked down Ariana’s cheeks. Any pretence at calm was now gone, terror reigning supreme within her quaking body.

He stepped back and the switch was flicked once more, this time thankfully off. Adam rolled his neck, like a tired office worker who had spent too long at their keyboard.

‘You really are my Achilles heel, wee girl. Normally the world sees the winning smile, chiselled cheekbones and charming patter, I can do it in my sleep. I walk amongst the sheep and nobody bats an eyelid. Yet along comes little Ariana Hennessy, the mask slips and Adam goes ga ga, proves the psychiatrists were right all along.’ He lifted a forefinger to his head and rotated it while pulling a silly face. ‘Cuckoo,’ he beamed as if they were just two friends shooting the breeze.

‘I’m….I’m sorry,’ blubbed Ariana, her face wet, glistening in the stark fluorescent lighting. ‘Just let me go, I promise I won’t tell anyone, please Adam…’

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t do that, gorgeous. You see, you’re an integral part of my masterplan. Your mad bitch of a mother wheeled you out year after year, the sweet little heroine, rubbing salt in the wounds of my grief. Front pages, sponsorship deals, free holidays from all the do gooders and well wishers. Meanwhile I’m the forgotten victim, raised in foster homes, beaten and kicked from pillar to post. Nobody wanted me, I was a repulsive reminder of the day the whole world wanted to forget. Well, before tomorrow is over they’ll remember me and I’ll make sure my name is never forgotten again.’ He returned to rooting through the shelving as Ariana struggled to squirm free from the ropes restraining her, no longer keeping up the pretence of being a docile prisoner.

‘Aha!’ He swivelled on his heel with a cry of triumph, holding aloft a crumpled piece of clothing. Unfolding it, Ariana saw it was a canvas vest, half a dozen pockets crudely stitched into the front of it. ‘Do you like it? Made it myself, not bad if I do say so. It’s amazing what you can teach yourself on the internet these days. Just simple electronics. I think I’ve got the size right but I can adjust it if you’re not comfortable.’

Ariana shook her head. ‘No Adam please, don’t do this, please.’

‘Tomorrow we’re going to go back to your lovely university and you’re going to model my fashion statement. Except there will be additions, a little bit of Semtex to spice up proceedings. My dear old dad may be no more but the name O’Sullivan still carries some weight within the circles he used to mix in. It cost me and I had to call in all sorts of favours but I’ve got what I need, stored away somewhere nice and safe. I’ll pack it in so tight you won’t even know you’re a walking, talking bomb.’

‘I won’t do it, you sick bastard, I won’t,’ she screamed, veins bulging on her forehead. She rocked the chair from side to side but eventually relented, exhausted and broken.

‘Oh you will,’ sniggered Adam, enjoying the show. ‘We’ve still got the whole night ahead of us and by the time I’m finished with you, you’ll be putty in my hands. I can be very persuasive when I want to be.’

‘Tess! Tess! Anyone. Help meeeeee,’ roared Ariana.’

Adam frowned. ‘Now there’s no need for that. No need at all.’ He reached into a back pocket of his jeans, producing a roll of black masking tape. Stepping forward he ripped a strip with his teeth before roughly placing it over Ariana’s mouth. Her screams were reduced to a muffled moan.

‘I’ll be back in a bit. Man’s got to eat and all that. If you’re a good girl, I’ll bring you some water, then we can get down to business. Cheerio now.’ Turning, he threw up the shutters to reveal a dark, featureless landscape. He flicked a switch, killing the light above and rolled the shutters back down, plunging Ariana into utter blackness. The only sound to be heard above her sobs were his boots, crunching over gravel, growing more distant, until it was just her.

The Bomb Girl. Alone with her bomb vest.

Kill Loneliness At Christmas

Fionnuala has asked me to write, updating you on the Christmas card initiative which she posted about several weeks ago. If you are taking part she will e-mail you next week with details of who you are writing to. You can still take part if you would like to send a Christmas card to someone and make their holiday period a little less lonely. Just e-mail Fionnuala with your details via the blog. Thank you.

Loops Of The Village

Here’s today’s long run. I’ll be posting these as I work towards Belfast Marathon 2020 which is a mere six months away. Today involved four loops of my village in perfect autumnal conditions. I was happy with my pace and stamina which I maintained despite a niggly knee which has been bothering me for several weeks now. I think the extra .4 miles were all the puddles and slippery leaves I had to negotiate.

If I Hadn’t Seen Such Riches I Could Live With Being Poor

Today I woke up tired. I’m a middle aged father of three teenage kids. It’s what I do.

Today I woke up sore. I’m training for a marathon next year. My tenth no less. At the minutes this necessitate 30 mile weeks. My knee hurts. My back hurts. I’m sore.

Today I woke up without a hangover.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. I’ve been waking up without a hangover for over seven years now. Yet today it hit me, amidst the yawning and aches and pains. I wasn’t hungover. There was no nausea, no fatigue, no headache. Best of all, there was no fear. The dread of ‘what did I do or say last night.’ The shame, the guilt, the worry that I had messed up again and hurt loved ones.

The one day hangovers became two, then three. My body couldn’t cope with the weekly poisoning I was inflicting it with. My already fragile mental health couldn’t cope with the damage I was inflicting on myself and, more importantly, others. My father was dead and no matter how many tins of beer I consumed that wasn’t changing. He wasn’t coming back. It was time to sober up, man up and front up.

I stopped hiding. Behind the hangovers. For all the big promises and false starts, it was actually quite easy in the end. I just stopped. No big announcements, no magic pill, no dramatic intervention or twelve week counselling session. I just stopped. I remember the last night I went out drinking a work colleague I was with had a stroke. Maybe that was a contributing factor, I don’t know.

I stopped lying. That was more difficult. Lying is a habit and it came easily to me. It was much simpler to lurk in the shadows, to evade reality than step out into the glaring light and expose my vulnerabilities and weakness. It’s still a work in process and there’s always the temptation to take the easy option when the going gets tough. I’m a recovering liar, I always will be and that’s the truth.

I’m not perfect, far from it. I’m no superhero or knight in shining armour. I still drive Fionnuala nuts on a daily basis. But I’m making progress, despite all the slips and stumbles along the way. And I will never grow tired of waking up on a Sunday morning without a hangover. What’s more it’s absolutely free, in fact I’m saving money. I awake now with dignity, pride and purpose. I have wrestled my life back.

I turn my back on what has passed and focus instead on what could be, what will be. It’s amazing how far you can get on a bucketful of determination with a sprinkling of ability. You can only truly appreciate the freshness of the morning breeze when you have tasted the dank, foul air at the bottom of the abyss. To quote the band James, ‘If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.’

Are you waking up hungover today? Alcohol? Prescription drugs? Or has your mental health taken such a battering in recent days that you feel broken, bereft, on the point of giving up? I can’t wave a magic wand and make that disappear but I can offer you my story; one of hope and possibility. I can tell it again and again for whoever wants to hear it, whoever needs to hear it. Today we live.

Do You Like Ireland? ☘️

Do you like Ireland? ☘️

Do you like contemporary fantasy?

Then why not try out my wee book, now available on Amazon in e book & paperback format.

And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, it’s absolutely FREE! 🙂

Thank you 🙏🏻

Do You Need A Hug?

Fractured Faith Blog.

Dispensing online hugs since May 2017.

Another Step Nearer The End Of The Rainbow

I passed the 50,000 word mark on Book 2 yesterday, a fact I’m very pleased with. The creative juices continue to flow as I make steady progress towards the half way point. I’m finding the sequel much easier to write than Book 1 as the characters almost write their own dialogue. It’s as if the book has already been written and is being revealed to me every time I sit down to write, like a sculptor chipping away at a block of stone.

There are new characters aplenty in Book 2, but at its core are my three heroes, Kirkwood Scott, Meredith Starc and Harley Davison. They are the cornerstone of the novel as they continue to battle the evil Augustus Skelly and his company of ghost soldiers, hellbent on exposing the world to the horrors of The Scourge. Belfast continues to provide the story’s backdrop but it’s a slightly different city from Book 1.

Large chunks of this book have been written on my phone as I journey to and from work in Belfast. You can find me in the corner of a carriage, tapping away furiously as my fellow commuters sit around, oblivious to the workings of my fevered mind. It’s probably a good thing as I might have the train to myself if they knew half the stuff I dream up. There would probably be a straitjacket and padded cell waiting for me at the station.

I’ve set myself the target of writing 1000 words a day and have mostly stuck to that. Some days are easier than others but I normally find time somewhere to eke out the required numbers. Sometimes it takes one session, others it’s fifty words here and fifty words there. I’m determined, though, and motivated by the support of Fionnuala and the kids who keep me ticking over. They are the reason I write.

Book 1 continues to sell steadily. I’ve been particularly pleased at how it’s been performing on Kindle Unlimited, where its available free to subscribers. It’s the equivalent of an online lending library where you can ‘borrow’ up to ten titles at a time. I can log into my Kindle Author account at any time and see how many pages of the book have been read that day. Over 1000 in the last week alone.

I get paid 0.5 pence per page read so it’s not going to make me a millionaire overnight. It is kind of cool though to wake up and think to myself ‘Oh I made 43p while I was sleeping last night.’ Most of my KU readers are from the United States so I’m grateful to them all, whoever they are. If you’re one of them don’t be afraid to say hello. I’d love to talk to you about your thoughts on the book.

Also, if you’ve read the book and haven’t yet left a review, then I would encourage you to do so on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Reviews help boost the online visibility of the book, making it more accessible to potential new readers. It only takes a couple of minutes and would mean a lot to me. All I ask is that you are honest in your review. I’m very open to constructive feedback, it’s the only way I can improve as a writer.

I’m always listening out for lines and character quirks I can sneak into the story. Book 1 is overflowing with such inside jokes and asides. Who knows, you could turn up in a future story if you play your cards right. Thank you, as ever, to all of you who support my writing. It spurs me on and keeps me motivated through the dry times. Here’s to the next 1000 words. Another step nearer the end of the rainbow.

How do you motivate yourself to write?

The Butterfly

As we’ve been posting for Spina Bifida Awareness Week Stephen and I thought we should repost my very first blog from two years ago which was about my journey with Hannah’s diagnoses.

In March 2003 we discovered I was pregnant.  We were really excited we had already a son Adam who was 8 months old. We were looking forward to our two children being really close together and good company for each other as they grew up.  My pregnancy was progressing really well. I was healthy and had gone back to work after my maternity leave with Adam. Life was good and our baby was due on Christmas Eve.  We were really looking forward to our big scan coming up and we decided that we were going to find out the sex of our baby this time. I was just too impatient and had to know.

We were so happy that morning and excited to see our baby and find out if it was a boy or girl. The sonographer took a lot of time doing the scan and was extremely quiet and I can remember thinking she is being very thorough she then said she just needed to nip out for a moment.  I didn’t think anything was wrong at this stage not until a woman entered the room with the sonographer and introduced herself to me as my consultant and my heart sank as I knew there was something wrong. 

She scanned our baby and then informed us that our baby had Spina Bifida and possibly hydrocephalus and that things were not looking good for her.  I can remember thinking that this can’t be happening to me things like this don’t really happen it was all a bad dream.  I could see her mouth moving but I couldn’t hear anything.  Next thing I knew there were other nurses in the room with us and I looked at Stephen and he had turned grey; that’s when I knew it was real.

I had heard of Spina Bifida before but didn’t know what it was or how it would affect our baby.  We were fortunate enough that day that the doctors and consultants who we needed to speak with were there to give us information and tell us what to expect.  We spoke with one doctor who told us that if our baby survived the pregnancy it might only live for seconds, minutes or days and if she did she would be both physically and mentally disabled.  She wouldn’t be able to talk, walk and in his words would be brain damaged.  He advised us that we should have our pregnancy terminated and gave us 24 hours to think it over.  I can remember thinking there is no way on this earth I am giving up on my baby and was worried Stephen wouldn’t have thought the same as me.

The doctor left us alone for a few minutes and we both agreed there and then that we were not giving up on our baby and we were going to cherish whatever moments we were going to be blessed with her and remember them always.

We told the doctor our decision but he still insisted that we think it over and really did try and persuade us to change our minds.

The next morning at 9am Stephen rang the doctor and told him that we were not giving up on our baby and going ahead with our pregnancy.  The remainder of the pregnancy was just full of appointments monitoring everything with the baby and each time they were giving us the most terrible news but we were still not giving up on our baby girl.

I experienced very mixed reactions from people regarding my pregnancy; both of our families were very supportive but what shocked me was my friends that I had been through everything with telling me that I was being selfish and not thinking of Adam and how it was going to affect him; another friend of my mums asked her, in her words, “why did she not get rid of it”.  They couldn’t understand that whatever time, whether it be long or short, we were going to have with our baby was going to be the most precious time of our lives.   I know I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had have given up on her and I now thank God that it was us that he trusted with that decision for our baby and not them.

I got a real strengthening of faith over the next few months and started going to mass and praying more that I probably ever had before.  The nuns prayed for us every day and they had a few special masses for us.  The last mass that was said for us was the weekend before I went into hospital for a C Section to deliver our baby into the world.  During the mass I noticed a beautiful butterfly on the altar and it stayed there all throughout the service. I can remember thinking I have never seen a butterfly in December before as in Ireland this is very rare.  At the end of the mass one of the nuns lifted the butterfly and brought it over to me and placed it in my hands.  Now if you have ever tried to lift a butterfly and carry it across a room and place it in another persons hand it is extremely hard to do.  The butterfly just sat in the palm of my hand and didn’t move, I actually thought it wasn’t real until it started to flutter.  This butterfly has always stayed in my memory and I have always thought there was something very significant about it.

On 10th December 2003 at 10.30am our baby girl Hannah was brought into the world weighing a whopping 8lb 12oz.  She defied everything the doctors had said and would continue to do so.  Stephen had a quick cuddle with her before she was taken away to the neo natal unit.  When I was brought out of theatre I was brought to see Hannah it was very funny she was the biggest and healthiest baby in the neo natal unit filling the incubator with this massive head of brown hair. I knew then and there that she was a fighter and that everything was going to be just right.

I didn’t get to see Hannah again until later that night. I couldn’t settle back on the ward and one of the nurses on the night shift said that if I was able to get out of bed they could get me a wheelchair and take me up to see her.  She didn’t have to tell me that twice I was up and out of bed right away.  When I got to the neo natal unit the doctor  was doing the rounds and he told me yet again how my baby wouldn’t walk, talk or be able to do anything for herself and that we wouldn’t know until she was a year old what damage there was going to be to her brain.  I was petrified as it was nearly midnight and I was sitting here on my own in the hospital with my baby in an incubator and I still couldn’t get to hold her.  The nurse came and brought me back to the ward and gave me a sleeping tablet to help me sleep but it never happened and I couldn’t wait until morning when my Stephen would come and see me.

The next day our little girl was transferred to the Children’s Hospital to have her first of many surgeries and that evening I signed myself out of hospital and went to see my daughter where I finally got to hold her for the very first time.

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On Christmas morning we got the best present ever and we were allowed to take our baby girl home from hospital.  The first six months of Hannah’s life were spent in and out of hospital and either myself or her daddy were with her at all times and Adam was never neglected or felt deprived in any way.

Hannah is about to turn 16 years old and she is the most amazing and outgoing girl you could meet.  Don’t get me wrong she is a typical teenager; mood swings and temper tantrums are a daily occurrence in our house.  Hannah did and continues to defy everything that the doctors said she couldn’t do.  She can talk, boy did they get that one wrong, the only problem we have there is getting her to stop!  She sings, dances, writes, reads and stalks celebrities on social media especially Shawn Mendes.

We are all different and unique in our own way.  Some of us are black, some of us are white, some tall, some small, some thin and some not so thin and then there are the Limited Editions who have a very special, uniqueness about them that light up the world.

 

Running For Hannah

It’s Spina Bifida Awareness Week so what better time to announce I’m getting back on the marathon wagon. I will be running my 10th marathon next May in Belfast to raise funds for a local charity, the Mae Murray Foundation. The Foundation was set up to allow people of all ages and abilities to come together in inclusive environments. A worthy cause that has done so much for our family in recent years.

The charity has allowed Hannah to participate in activities and events that she otherwise would not have access to; surfing, cycling and snow tubing to name a few. As ever our Hannah has tackled them fearlessly, having lots of fun and making new friends in the process. She has also attended overnighters, barbecues, rave nights and their youth club. This is my small way of saying thank you to them.

I’ll be posting periodic updates of my progress over the next few months. I’m not getting any faster and it will be almost two years since I’ve tackled the marathon distance but I’m determined to run, walk or crawl over the finish line. Nearer the time I will post a link to a Just Giving page if anyone would be so kind as to sponsor me. Now I’m off to dig out my running shoes and start training. Enjoy your day.

Fractured Faith Is 1000 Posts Old

Today marked our 1000th post on Fractured Faith. We started the blog back in May 2017 and, back then, had no idea what to expect. Fionnuala encouraged me to share my writing with the online world as both a form of personal therapy and to encourage others that there is always hope, no matter how bleak your circumstances might seem. I hope I’ve succeeded to some degree on both counts.

In that time there have been highs and lows, both on the writing front and in respect of work and family life. I’ve always sought, however, to remain true to the blog’s ethos of remaining as open and transparent as possible. Some topics I’ve had to refrain from talking about for personal reasons but I’ve strived to be as honest as I could about a range of other everyday matters.

I know I’m not everybody’s cup of tea but, by and large, the response has been a largely positive one from you, my fellow bloggers. Some posts have soared high, others sunk without trace but I’ve always felt at home on WordPress, more so than the other social media platforms I’ve embraced in order to promote my writing. WordPress will always be my first home, my safe place.

I’d just to thank you all again, followers old and new for dropping by when you can to read my words. Fionnuala and the kids will forever be in your debt as well for ensuring I have somewhere I can offload my rambled thoughts. Who needs therapy when you have WordPress? I will always be grateful for the support and encouragement I receive on a daily basis via your comments.

My Book Is FREE!

Yes….if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber you can read my fantasy novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ for absolutely FREE. Find out what all the fuss is about over Kirkwood Scott, Meredith Starc, Harley Davison and their nemesis, the dastardly Augustus Skelly. A sweeping tale that veers from the bloodbath of 1815 Waterloo to the back streets and pubs of modern day Belfast.

It’s a darkly humorous story that tackles the very real issues of mental illness, addiction homelessness and disability against the backdrop of ancient forces of good and evil waging a supernatural battle for control of the planet. Only Kirkwood and his misfit friends can stop Skelly by harnessing a supernatural power within them. Grab your copy now before Book 2 hits the streets in 2020.

If you have read the book then a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads would be much appreciated.

Alternatively the book is available to purchase on Amazon in e book and paperback format.

Thank you for supporting my writing.

Here’s Where You Find Me

Some of you already do but for those who don’t here are my contact details for other social media platforms I’m on. It would be great if we could connect. I’m active on them every day and you’ll find all sorts of stuff that isn’t on the blog. Don’t be a stranger. Drop by and say hello.

https://m.facebook.com/StephenBlackAuthor/

Twitter – @stephenRB4

https://www.goodreads.com/user/edit/profile/profile_url

WattPad – @stephenblack70

Instagram – @stephenblackauthor

Website – https://www.stephenblackauthor.com/

Meet My Hero

I have never fainted in my life but the nearest I ever came was at the 20 week scan for our second child when we were informed the baby had Spina Bifida. I’m not sure of the sequence of events but I ended up lying flat on the bed being tended to by medical staff when it should have been Fionnuala. What was meant to have been one of the happiest days of our lives became one of the worst with one short, devastating sentence.

The rest of the day will forever be vividly etched on my memory, which is saying something as mine is not the best. A cold, clinical doctor informed us our daughter would never be able to walk, speak or communicate with us in any way. He urged us to consider an abortion and we were given 24 hours to go away and think about it. We shuffled out of the hospital that day like zombies, broken and baffled.

We didn’t need 24 hours. Both of us had decided independently of one another that we were giving our unborn child a chance at life. Who were we to deprive another human being of that? No matter what the severity of the disability, abortion could never be an option. It was the easiest decision of our lives, the most important, the best. It was the only decision. We chose life and hope and love.

Hannah was born on 10 December 2003, our middle child of three. The running joke in our family is that she hasn’t stopped talking since. Yes, she can’t walk (yet) and needs a wheelchair to get about but, other than that, she is a normal, happy teenage girl; whatever normal is. She laughs, she sings, she obsesses over Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello and binge watches Pretty Little Liars with her mother.

She cries over soap operas, she fights tooth and nail with her brother and sister, she teaches herself via You Tube to apply make up (perfectly I might add), she cringes at her father’s awful rapping and dancing, she spreads happiness and light wherever she goes. She never complains about her disability, just gets on with living life to the full and proving the doubters all wrong. She is our hero.

Whenever I am having a crappy day I look at Hannah and tell myself to wise up. She inspires me to be reasonably good at the things I tackle in life. If I had an ounce of her fight and spirit I’d be a champion runner and best selling author. I’m not but they are targets I can still aspire to. I’m sure I speak for Fionnuala as well when I say Hannah, indeed all three of our kids, are the shining lights in our lives.

Out of the darkest day came the brightest of lights, out of hopelessness came hope, from heartbreak came joy and bottomless love. This blog is all about hope and Hannah’s story lies at the heart of that. This week is Spina Bifida Awareness Week. Fionnuala has previously shared her story so I thought it was the perfect time for me to tell mine. I hope it encourages some of you today who may be in similar bleak places.

Drug addiction. Alcoholism. Depression. Anxiety. Stress. OCD. BPD. Bereavement, Divorce. Homelessness. PTSD. Anorexia. Bulimia. Bullying. Unemployment. Physical Disabilty. Disease. Chronic Illness. Cancer. The list is endless, but hope trumps them all. Never give up, never stop fighting. Believe in yourself and the power within you to overcome, just like our Hannah. You are a warrior, you are strong. You are not a label.

Spina Bifida Awareness Week

Over the coming days we will be promoting Spina Bifida Awareness Week on the blog, a cause very close to our hearts. Stay tuned for more. We, as a family, have come through so much together. The key word here is ‘together.’ Together we are strong and the five of us will never be broken as long as we believe that and stick together. Through thick and thin, whatever the world throws at us. We need nobody or nothing else.

Never Forget

Never, ever forget….

Bomb Girl – Chapter 7

The story continues….

Tess sauntered down the winding path which snaked through the university grounds and across the river towards the halls of residence on the other side. It was a mild night and the route was busy with other students making their way to the next party or nocturnal liaison. She smiled and greeted many of them for everyone knew Tess Cartwright. She was hardly a shrinking violet so it hadn’t taken long for the pixie haired fresher to stand out with her flamboyant dress sense and even more flamboyant personality.

Despite the balmy conditions Tess shivered, goosebumps breaking out like hives on her bare arms. She folded them and quickened her step, keen to be back in her room and snuggled beneath the comforting embrace of the duvet. The central heating afforded by the vodka at the Union was starting to wear off. It had been such a fun night though, hadn’t it? Tess shivered involuntarily and shook her head. She swore she hadn’t drank that much but was struggling to recollect the events of the previous few hours.

‘Honestly Cartwright, you’re such an airhead.’ She rebuked herself as she reached the bridge and began to cross it, the lights of the halls just beyond. She would be home and dry within minutes.

Despite outward appearances Tess Cartwright was anything but an airhead, rather a carefully constructed caricature beneath which hid an intelligent, eloquent young woman. It was all an act, a protective shell to ward off the ghosts from a past which she never wished to revisit. No, Ariana Hennessy wasn’t the only one with secrets. When it came to skeletons Tess had more closets than she currently crammed her huge mish mash wardrobe of designer labels and charity shop cast offs into.

Tess bounced along the bridge, glancing briefly at the dark, swirling waters beneath before focusing once more on the lights ahead. Look to the light, Tess, the dark can take a running jump. The chiffon hems of her flamingo pink ballgown rustled in stark juxtaposition to the clatter of her Doctor Marten boots on the metal walkway. Like her dress sense, the young woman was a walking, talking contradiction. Still waters run deep? Well so did babbling, gushing torrents.

The darling of Ashgrove College for Girls, the country’s most elite establishment for the daughters of wealthy, entitled parents, Tess had it all in her final year. Head Girl, captain of their all conquering hockey team and, despite her dizzy exterior, a straight A student. As futures went, there was none no brighter than hers. Until she met Sasha Blackstock, two years younger and Ashgrove alpha female in training. Like many of the younger girls at Ashgrove, Sasha idolised Tess to the extent where it verged on the creepy. Always hanging around, the first to post gushing praise on Instagram when Tess posted a pouting selfie, she was everywhere the older girl turned.

She took it in her stride at first, Tess was well used to the adoration of male and females alike. With her flawless skin, cheekbones to die for and athletic figure, she had broken her fair share of hearts. Tess was swanning through her final year at Ashgrove on the crest of a wave. One match away from an All Ireland hockey final, stunning grades in her mock A levels and with the choice of the top universities, the world was her oyster.

Until it wasn’t….

The night of the formal at the five star Culloden Hotel was a blurry mess. Too many pre-dinner cocktails, too much wine at the meal and then vodka, vodka, vodka by the bucket. Tess had danced and vomited and then danced some more, spinning round the floor in her designer gown until her feet ached, but her heart soared. All under the watchful, envious eye of her date for the night, Callum Maguire, Ulster Schools superstar and rumoured to be offered a professional rugby contract the following season. She had only met him on a handful of occasions before when her entourage bumped into his on another wild night out in the city.

It had been a no brainer date, guaranteed to be plastered all over the next edition of the Ulster Tatler magazine and secure another few thousand Insta followers. Truth be told, they had barely spoke prior to the night and their stilted exchanges over dinner did little to ease the awkward tension which existed between them during the course of the evening. There was something about him, thought Tess, a sour edge to his words, an ugly scowl never far from his boy next door, model good looks. Here was a young man with the world at his feet, but all he wanted to do was kick it in the face of anyone who even looked at him the wrong way.

Tess largely avoided him after the ordeal that was dinner, preferring the company of her own friends. Until he cornered her in a corridor on a return journey from the toilets. He had been charming at first, but it was an oily charm, dripping like viscous fat from an undercooked bacon rasher. She humoured him with small talk at first, conscious that his imposing frame was blocking her return to the main room. When he lunged forward to kiss her, claim what he thought was rightfully his, she pushed him back gently at first, insisting this was neither the time nor place, trying to sound calm despite the gathering thunder of her heart, like the hooves of wild horses galloping across the plain.

‘No Callum. Look, they’re about to announce the Formal King and Queen. We’re a certainty.’

A waspish smirk crossed his chiselled features. ‘Come on Tess. We both know this is how it plays out. Don’t tell me you don’t want to.’

She wasn’t prepared for the force of the shove, wedging her into an alcove where coats and bags were piled high. There was now more urgency to her appeal, a rising panic in her voice, while still trying to bluff her way out of a rapidly deteriorating situation.

‘Wise up Callum. You’re….’

Her eyes bulged in fear as a large hand clamped over her mouth and he forced her further into the folds of the alcove. His formidable frame pinned her painfully to the wall behind and, struggle as she might, she could not squirm past him. She felt a rip as the sleeve of her gown tore from the main body of the dress. She felt his hand on her breast, the other one fumbling at the front of her dress, trying to lift it above her waist. This wasn’t, couldn’t be happening. They were in a five star hotel, there were 300 people in the next room.

‘ARRRRGHHHH!’

Her mouth tasted warm, tangy liquid as she bit down hard on his hand, forcing him to release his grip over her mouth. At the same time she thrust a bare knee deep into his groin. There was a satisfying wheeze and he crumpled to the floor, clutching his mid section.

‘You bitch, I only wanted a kiss.’

But Tess didn’t hear for she was running, bursting through the hotel foyer and out into the crisp night air. She desperately scanned the car park before spotting an idling taxi. Leaping into the back seat she blurted out her address and sank into the leather interior, too stunned to talk, to cry, to do anything. The thought of that night numbed every one of her senses.

Her phone started pinging before the journey was over, multiple notifications lighting up the screen. Tess scrolled down, eyes widening in horror at the image staring her in the face. Callum Maguire all over her, face buried in her neck, dress hitched up to reveal her underwear, her face unseen. But everyone would know it was her, only one girl had been wearing such an expensive dress that night. The words beneath the image seared into her soul, never to leave again.

‘Slag of the Ball.’

A relentless surge of comments and emojis unfurled beneath. ‘Tramp,’ ‘Whore, etc etc etc. And there it was, the smiling profile pic of Callum Maguire, adding his tuppence worth, goaded on by his imbecilic mates.

‘She was easy boys. Bit of a letdown if I’m honest.’

Tess thrust a crumpled note into the hand of the driver and stumbled out of the taxi, not waiting for the change. Her hand shook as she battled to turn the key in the front door. Thankfully her parents were in bed meaning she was spared an inquisition. Tess ran to her room and dived into bed, burrowing her head into the plush pillows. It was only then she allowed the tears to flow.

Everything changed after that night. The Instagram account that posted the photo was anonymous but she knew it was Sasha from the giggles and knowing looks she gave Tess from within her coven as she passed them in the corridor. She was the school pariah now, too tired and traumatised to argue her case, fight her corner. Not that anyone would have believed her. Social media had spoken, it was judge, jury and executioner. She lost the respect of the hockey team and it showed on the pitch in a 5-0 semi final hammering. She scraped the grades for Leeds University but dropped out before Christmas, homesick and depressed. The Ashgrove scene continued at Queens University where most of her year now studied, but she was persona non gratis amongst them.

Blocked. Unfriended. Ghosted. Damaged goods.

So here she was, trying to rebuild her life at this smaller, quieter house of learning. She’d heard Natasha was now Top Bitch in her final year at Ashgrove, no doubt making some other poor girls life a misery. Tess pitied them. She shuddered again as she arrived at her dorm block, swiping in and taking the stairs slowly, weighed down by the ghosts of a troubled past. Beneath the cheery disposition and movie star smile was a kinder, more thoughtful young woman. One who looked out for others, who helped the underdog, who had spotted a lost, overwhelmed Ariana Hennessy on induction day and then unravelled the ‘Bomb Girl’ legend. Tess had kept her own story locked away, however, unwilling to burden Ariana further. No, she was there to support her new found friend and not the other way round.

Tess stood at the door to her room and fumbled for the key, checking her phone as she did. Seriously, her head was like candy floss tonight. For the life of her, she couldn’t remember a thing. They had been in the Union, drinking, dancing, had there been some guy involved? Next thing she was walking home alone. She checked her notifications and frowned at the last message from Ariana, some hours ago when they had been arranging to meet outside the Union.

Tess opened the door, the first tendrils of concern unraveling within her. She anxiously punched the keys on her phone and pressed send.

‘Hey, Ariana. Where are you?’

To be continued….

Have You Ever Been Ghosted?

Ghosting – ‘the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without any explanation withdrawing all communication.’

Have you ever been ghosted? I have, am, probably will be. It’s a no man’s land of doubt, a limbo of what if, a purgatory where you are left dangling in the wind. It’s a bewildering, baffling set of circumstances. One day you’re happily ensconced in a solid friendship, the next all contact is severed. There is no rhyme, no reason and you are left with nothing but untested theories and endless questions.

Ghosting often manifests itself on your phone. Calls aren’t returned, text messages unopened and e-mails unanswered. You find you’ve been unfriended, blocked or no longer followed. It’s a creeping death leaving you numb and raw. What did I do, say, write? You are left dangling in the wind, hung by your own petard. The sense of confusion and lack of closure can drive a person to the brink.

Those on the other end continue their lives as if nothing has happened. They will find others to replace you and make every effort to show the world that ‘life is great, wonderful, better’ without you in it. There is a sense of malevolent glee in their words and actions. They get a kick from the the power they exert over their hapless victim, who can only watch helplessly from the sidelines. They are gods.

Ghosting hurts, an icy, relentless pain that eats you up from within. For those with an obsessive nature, like myself, it can cause lasting damage. The unanswered questions spin round your head in a never ending loop. The confusion turns to resentment, then anger. How dare they? The hypocrisy and arrogance of those on the other side beggars belief. Let they who are without sin, right?

We limp on, politely fending off queries about the other party. ‘What about so and so?’ ‘Oh we’ve kind of lost touch.’ Awkward silence until the subject is changed. Meanwhile your ears continue to burn. What mistruths are being spread about you regarding this alleged transgression which you are supposed to have inflicted. How many others now eye you warily? ‘Did you hear about him/her?’ ‘Who would have thought it?’

You soldier on, there’s nothing else for it. Life goes on. Ghosting is a growing phenomenon in our increasingly technological age. People don’t have to talk face to face, there is no requirement to meet the other party and explain your actions and rationales. You simply hit the delete button on their involvement in your life. It’s the easy option and, for some, the cowards way out. Confrontation is a dying art.

Reconciliation, mediation, negotiation, compromise, these are also all redundant words in our insular, black and white lives. There is no middle ground any more, just a battle scarred no man’s land where none of us dare tread for fear of being blown to smithereens by sharp tongues and dark looks. We cower in our respective trenches, unwilling to raise the white flag of truth. No quarter is asked or given.

It’s a war of attrition, a fight to the death. Every yard gained is drenched in the blood of broken friendships and dead relationships. The ghosts of the latter endlessly wander this barren terrain, forever restless, always seeking. They will never find release, never know the peace of calm and truth. Theirs is a desolate existence as they haunt the realm of what might have been. We are the walking wounded, the victims of a brutal, invisible war.

Have you been a victim of ghosting? Please feel free to share your experiences?

Dare You Enter?

My first fantasy novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ is now available to buy on Amazon in e book and paperback format. Here’s the cover and back cover blurb. There’s even a photo of me pretending to look ‘hard’ in a Belfast back alley where the idea for the book was born.

What’s more, it’s FREE if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. Golly Gosh.

So what are you waiting for?

Dare you enter The Square?

Sasha

I first met Sasha about a year ago, crumpled in a corner on a city centre street. She struck such a pathetic picture that I couldn’t walk past her and stopped to offer some help. We got talking and I see her most weeks now at various locations about the ‘town’ as Belfast folk refer to it. We’ve built up a friendship of sorts, a level of trust whereby she has began to tell me a little of her past. Bit by bit I am learning her sad story.

Sasha isn’t her real name by the way, for reasons that will become clear later. She was born in Russia but moved to another Eastern European country at an early age. Her father wasn’t on the scene and for reasons I’m still not totally clear on neither was her mother. As such, she was raised by her grandparents. At some point, everything went wrong though and she found herself in Northern Ireland.

Sasha told me she was trafficked to the U.K. to sell drugs and operate as a sex worker. She is slowly unpeeling this layer of her story to me. Another homeless friend of mine, Maggie, told me Sasha used to sell heroin in the park. This surprised me at the time but is now beginning to make more sense. Maggie and Sasha don’t get on. Sasha says Maggie bullies her, Maggie says Sasha is a dealer.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. All I can say is what I see with my own eyes. I’ve never witnessed Sasha selling drugs, although they are rife throughout the city centre. She speaks good English, is intelligent, polite to a fault and has never asked me for anything. I’ve had to force money, drinks and food upon her in the past. She carries herself with pride and dignity.

She has a boyfriend, let’s call him Yuri, but I rarely see him. His pitch is on another street which doesn’t form part of my daily commute to and from work. Her pride and joy is her little black and white dog who is forever at her side. Cynics might say the little girl lost routine and cute dog are all part of the scam, to make mugs like me part with our loose change. Maybe, but I honestly don’t believe this is the case here.

She gets hassled a lot by men on the street. I witnessed such an incident the other day. She politely told the guy, a fellow rough sleeper, to go away but he persevered for some time before stumbling off, clearly under the influence of something. I felt awkward and uncomfortable. Sasha is streetwise, she can fight her own battles, but should I have intervened and said something?

Risked a punch to the head? A knife to the guts? But there I go throwing stereotypes around again. It’s so hard to get to the bottom of these people, you barely scratch the surface. I’ve joked to Sasha about interviewing her for my next book and next time I see her I’m giving her a copy of the first one. She’s a reader and seems intrigued that one of my main characters is a young homeless woman.

Our streets are saturated with such young, lost souls and they all have a story to tell. I can’t help them all but if we all do just a little bit more then we can collectively make a massive difference. So if you pass a Sasha today, or a Maggie or a Yuri stop and talk to them. Ask them how you can help. Even a five minute conversation can make all the difference to them. Show them you care.

A New Jerusalem

I’ve now passed the 42,000 word mark for Book 2, although it was a relatively quiet weekend on the writing front. I had to work yesterday so my creative juices were somewhat stymied. It was also quite a draining period on the blogging front not helped by poor sleeping patterns and the usual hectic family schedule. Anyway, here I sit at 42,000 words, a considerable milestone nonetheless.

In the midst of all this I decided to change the working title of the book. Up until now it had been ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Tower,’ which I thought tied in quite neatly with Book One, ‘Skelly’s Square.’ There was a symmetry, a consistent theme which would run throughout the trilogy. Well, that was the plan anyway. Try telling that though to the little orc in my head writing the book. Let’s call him Norman.

Norman writes on the hoof, he’s not one for plotting and planning. In writing circles he’s known as a pantser, that meaning he writes by the seat of his pants. Those organised, methodical types are known as plotters. We laugh in the face of plotters, however, for they know nothing. Norman the Invisible Writing Orc knows best, he always has and always will. Especially when it comes to book titles.

Less than 1% of ‘Skelly’s Square,’ takes place within ‘the square.’ Yet without the square there is no book. It lies at the heart of the story, it is the hub around which everything else revolves. If there was no square then there would be no reason for Skelly and The Company to behave and react the way they do. Therefore the title, ‘Skelly’s Square, made perfect sense to me, it still does to this day.

Without giving too much away, a lot more of Book 2 is written in ‘the tower.’ It’s a key location in the story and possibly the central chapter of the book will occur there. But it didn’t sit quite right with either Norman or myself. So we’ve come up with The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: A New Jerusalem.’ Who knows, it could all change again in a weeks time but, for now, I’m running with it.

So where, or who, or what is ‘A New Jerusalem?’ Well I’m afraid my lips are sealed and I can say no more, as to do so would give away much of the plot. I can guarantee you, however, a story which I believe has even more scope, action and excitement than the first. I know this as I’m excited as I write it, wondering what twists and turns lie ahead for Kirkwood, Meredith and Harley. It’s darker, edgier and funnier. I hope.

I really hope the folk who bought and loved Book 1 will enjoy the follow up as much. You are the people I keep in mind every time I sit down to write. You all invested your time and money in the story so I feel a responsibility to deliver the best possible product I can. It’s your book reviews and blog comments which have kept me chipping away during a tough period on the home front. I truly appreciate your continued support.

So there you have it, this weeks writing update. Norman and I will leave you now and retire to the KSC universe where nothing is quite what it seems nor anyone is quite who they say they are. We all have depths, you just need to reach beneath the placid surface to discover them. Just ask Norman, he spends most of his days there, dredging my murky mind for writing nuggets and gems. Everybody needs a Norman in their life.

What do you think of the book title?

Do you own a Norman?

A Shattered Faith

Yesterday I posted a blog which touched upon a number of negative experiences I have had within the organised church. It was written on the hoof without much forethought or planning. Much of my writing is produced this way, I tend to make it up as I go along. Such writers are known as ‘pantsers.’ I shoot from the hip. Sometimes I hit the bullseye and others I miss my mark, that’s how it is.

I meant every word I wrote and don’t regret what I said. The post remains, I won’t be deleting or editing it. And, as ever, the response from those who commented was largely supportive and understanding. Many sympathised, others wrote of similar experiences. When I write, I always aim to engage and connect with my fellow bloggers. Otherwise what is the point.

All bar one. A woman, who from her comments I believe identifies herself as a Christian, responded to say she viewed my comments as arrogant and unkind. She said I lacked compassion and grace. She said she did not want to criticise me but the entire tone of her lengthy reply was critical. She also threw in a bit of Scripture for good measure. To say I was shocked and disappointed by her passive aggressive stance is an understatement.

Not only did I view her comments as an attack on me, I viewed them as an attack on my wife and kids, who have been treated horrendously at various times by organised church and those within it. I have referred to such experiences in previous posts but don’t wish to dredge them up again. Some hurts are best left buried, sometimes the pain is too much to revisit. The responses of this lady were, at best, ill informed and presumptive.

Having reflected on the matter, I have decided to no longer write about faith issues. This may sound a little contradictory given the name of the blog, but I believe it’s best for all, most importantly my family and my own mental health. I believe in God and the teachings of Jesus but the damage caused by supposed Christians can no longer allow me to engage with such establishments or organisations.

I am far, far from perfect and every day ruminate on my own failings and inadequacies. I am sorry if this disappoints some, you may no longer want to follow the blog after this change in direction. If so, I understand your stance and no hard feelings. I will continue to try and help others through my writing, to encourage and offer hope when there appears to be none. I’ll keep on being me.

I have prayed long and hard regarding a number of issues relating to my family this year. None of them have been answered and with regards one we were delivered a crushing and heart breaking blow which knocked the wind totally from our sails. Thanks to incredible family support we are recovering and picking up the pieces. The church, however, were nowhere to be seen.

Our fractured faith has been shattered in recent times. It is one thing to have prayers unanswered, it’s entirely another to see the complete opposite being delivered and innocent parties having their hopes and dreams blown out of the water. I’ve said my piece, however, and won’t comment any more on the matter. Thank you for taking the time to read the post.

Shiny Happy People Not Holding Hands

Don’t you just detest them? You know the type, the perfect, airbrushed families you see at the school gate or in the supermarket? The kids are always perfectly behaved and immaculately attired. No snotty noses or cheeky answers from these little darlings. They are top of their class and destined for great things, just like their parents, for that’s how the world works, right? Them and us, the have and the have nots. The shiny, happy people.

The dads high five each other a lot and laugh a little more loudly than is required. When you attempt to strike up a conversation with them on the sideline they will humour you but edge away ever so slightly. They congregate at social events such as barbecues and stand as far from the great unwashed as is humanly possible. Their BMWs are always spotless and you could cut your finger on the seam of their chinos. They are called Chad or Brad. Or Tad.

And then there are the mothers, bless them. Permanent grins plastered across their perfectly made up faces, dripping in designer labels and faux sincerity. They nod a lot and are often found at coffee mornings and on school fund raising committees. They were no doubt captains of their high school cheerleading teams. They don’t mean to come across all superior but, well, when in Rome….

These folk, when asked, are always ‘fine.’ Life is wonderful, as depicted on their Facebook and Instagram accounts. Their kids never cry, they never argue with their spouses and the ‘f’ bomb has never crossed their lips. The highlight of the week is invariably Sunday when they attend church to meet and mingle with other like minded types. They are often to be found on mission trips to far flung lands helping those who so desperately need them.

They are experts at nose crinkling. Confused? Well let me explain. When you are in conversation with them look beyond the immaculate haircut and gleaming teeth. Look into their eyes and tell me what you see. That’s right, there’s nothing there. You will have seen more compassion in the black dead pools of a great white about to lock its jaws on a doomed swimmer. Then look at their perfect, surgically enhanced, noses and spot the crinkle.

It’s that faintly disgusted flare of the nostrils as if someone has passed wind in the vicinity. They are uncomfortable in your presence as you are not one of them. Come Sunday morning they will hug you, engage in small talk and ‘promise to pray for you’ but the second you turn your back their memory banks are erased of all knowledge of you. Until the next Sunday, that is, when the same tired old routine will be played out again.

You won’t see much of them during the week. They are far too busy on the golf course, at yoga class or being ‘fine’ at some other unspecified location. If you encounter them in the street you’ll get the plastered smile and high pitched greeting but they’ll be too busy to stop and talk, gotta rush, so much to do. They leave you standing there, wondering what on earth you’ve ever done to deserve such appalling indifference from another human being.

They have doors and they have demons but they will never open or acknowledge them. For everything must be perfect, the facade must be maintained at all costs. There are cakes to be baked, holidays to be booked and all that other important stuff that a Proverbs 31 wife and mother does. They are good people and never let that be said against them. No snarling, no claws, no needless gossiping nor staggering hypocrisy from them.

Heaven forbid as they are the chosen ones. They are the shiny, happy people. But let’s not hold hands. Unless it’s a Sunday and the pastor’s watching.

Where are the shiny, happy people in your life?

Have you ever been the victim of a nose crinkling incident?

They Must Never Win

There are days when I want to give up. When book sales aren’t what I hoped they would be, when I put my heart and soul into a post and it sinks without trace. When I wonder what’s the point? There are thousands of other authors out there, what makes me any different, what makes me the one who thinks they are going to break through to the point where I can focus on writing as a career?

It’s a tough gig. Despite the support of loved ones, self doubt creeps into my mind at every possible opportunity. The voice snipes and sneers, undermining me at every twist and turn in this journey. You’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything, you’re a fake, a failure, a fraud. Writing can be the loneliest, most frightening place on earth. You put your everything out there and hope for the best.

There are silver strands of hope. An encouraging review, kind comments on your timeline, helpful words from family, friends and strangers. You cling to these like a drowning man clings to a life jacket for there is no alternative but to slip beneath the still, black waters never to resurface again. Just another wannabe, forced back down where he belongs. Ideas above his station, who did he think he was anyway?

I don’t think about this all the time, most days I am upbeat and positive. I’m going through a bit of a purple patch at the minute, if the truth be told. Book 2 has passed the 40,000 word mark and I’ve resurrected my short story as well. I’m averaging over 1,000 words a day and am grateful that the creative juices continue to flow, despite the dark thoughts which occasionally cloud my judgement and thinking. Like all things in life, they pass.

So there is sunshine waiting to peek out from behind the clouds, there is hope. It is that which I must focus on. If you never left the house because you thought it would rain, then you’d never start any journey in life. There are risks, they are part of the package. It’s how you confront and manage those risks that determine where it will all end up. I’m not afraid to face up to these, it’s part of the process .

I’m going to encounter obstacles, hurdles to overcome and barriers to breach. There will be dead ends which will force me to back track to where I started. Frustrating, time consuming and debilitating. There will be signposts which provide false information, fellow travelers will misdirect you, distractions and a million other scenarios will lead you astray, time after time. It’s tough, but it’s life. Stop whining and get on with it, many will say.

So, today, I’ll write, and tomorrow, and the day after that. I’ll not give up, I’ll not back down, I’ll keep hammering on the door until access is permitted. Giving up is not an option no matter how many times I’m ignored, how many times I’m shunned and sent scuttling back to square one. I’ll lose friends and followers alike but I won’t go away, I’ll keep writing my words and hitting the publish button. They are there….if you want them.

Do you feel like that? Have you a passion in life that you feel is stymied? Do you sense there are forces, seen and unseen, working against you? Are you sick and tired of the door being slammed in your face, of blank expressions and uncaring eyes when you tell others of your latest project or achievement. I want you to know, today, that you’re not alone and you must never give up. For that way they win and they must never win.

I Believe In You

Bomb Girl – Chapter 6

The faint thread of noise grew steadily stronger and Ariana clung to it, hauling herself inch by inch back to the surface. The closer she got the more intense the pain became. Initially a dull ache centred above her left eyebrow, no more inconvenient than a buzzing bluebottle trapped in a jam jar. As she grew more aware of her surroundings, however, it intensified, growling and grating until it ripped through her forehead like a steel trap clamping down on its helpless prey. Other sensory clues solidified, and she became aware of a pungent, acrid odour polluting her nostrils. Chloroform? The recognition triggered a series of distorted memories which flooded her mind like a rushing tide roaring up a shingle beach.

The Union. Tess. Where was Tess? Ariana started to thrash about wildly, to only realise her arms and legs were tightly bound. She opened her mouth to scream but the gag put paid to that plan. Secreted in darkness she fought the growing urge to choke on the rag wedged between her teeth. Summoning every grain of self control she pushed down hard on the panicky jack in the box waiting to explode across her mind and scatter any semblance of rational thought to the four winds.

Breathe, Ariana, breathe. Forcing stale, oily air into her lungs she inhaled and exhaled through her nose for several moments until her galloping heart rate steadied to a canter. As her equilibrium returned, she became aware of motion, the undulations beneath throwing her upwards where her nose grazed metal. She was in a moving vehicle, the boot of a car? Further details swam within her grasp. That guy at the bar, the handsome one who Tess was fawning over. What was his name? Alan? No, wait it was Adam, definitely Adam, she had a cousin of the same name. He’d bought them vodkas, then outside afterwards Tess asked for his number and….

Her stomach lurched as the details accosted her, struggling to keep down the vodka purchased by her assailant. The thought of choking to death on her own vomit, alone in the boot of a car suddenly seemed a distinct possibility. Oh my God, Oh my God, I’m dead. He’s going to rape me, then torture me, then chop me up into a thousand pieces and….But Tess, Tess, why had she allowed it to happen? Why hadn’t she fought him? The memory of her friend’s blank face as Tess nodded and walked away from them outside the Union. It was as if she had been hypnotised….

The vehicle lurched violently to the left and she was thrown about the confines of the boot, suggesting the driver had exited the main road and was now driving along a rougher road surface, a track or laneway. Ariana winced as every jolt sent spasms of pain shooting down her spine. She continued the breathing exercise she had been taught once in a counselling session, one of the few useful tips she had picked up from years of enforced therapy, attempting to come to terms with who she was, who Ariana Hennessy wanted to be, needed to be.

Anything but the Bomb Girl.

The surface underneath changed again, this time the crunch of gravel as the vehicle turned in a tight circle before coming to a halt. Ariana realised she was holding in what little breath she had as the engine idled for an eternity. Tinny music seeped into her prison, a car radio. What was it? Some soulless dance tune, the thumping bass and moronic drumbeat setting a ridiculous soundtrack to what could well be the last moments of her life. A door opened, the music ceased, and the sound of boots crunching along the side of the vehicle sent her adrenaline levels soaring to new, unprecedented heights. Ariana tensed as the sound of jangling keys alerted her that whoever conveyed her here was standing directly at the back of the car no more than a few feet from her.

‘Are you in there, Ariana?’ The voice of a man, heavy with sarcasm. ‘Well, of course you are, where else would you be. Now, I’m going to open the boot and realise you’re all trussed up like a Christmas turkey but, all the same, no funny business, right? I’ve been very good to you so far, buying you drinks all night, listening to them feeble attempts of your friend to chat me up.’

Without further warning the boot swung open and Ariana found herself staring up into the angelic face of Adam O’Sullivan, his chiselled features bathed in a milky moonlight. Beyond him she could make out little else, bar the murky shadows of trees.

‘What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?’ Adam laughed, a deep, somewhat unhinged baritone bark. Arianna stared back wide eyed until he finished making merry at his own dubious humour, unable to utter a sound because of the gag. As if only becoming aware of this fact, Adam stopped abruptly and leaned down until his face was no more than inches from hers. She could smell the stale Guinness on his breath, count the flecks of stubble on his dimpled chin.

‘Sorry, that was in poor taste. Now, if I were to loosen the gag and allow you to talk, do you promise to be on your best behaviour and not cause a scene?’ His brow furrowed and he nodded for Ariana to respond. ‘One nod for yes, two for no, there’s a good girl.’

Ariana nodded slowly, earning a smile from Adam that, in any other setting, might have melted her heart. ‘Excellent,’ he exclaimed, standing tall again. ‘Now I’m a man of my word and I expect you to keep yours on this one. Otherwise I might have to hit you over the head with a shovel.’ He paused, as if weighing up his options, before shrugging. ‘Or maybe a hammer. Who knows, whatever’s to hand.’ He reached down and gently loosened the gag until it hung against Ariana’s throat.

‘There, isn’t that better?’

‘Who are you? Wh…what do you want?’ Ariana’s voice was little more than a tepid croak, her throat parched from fear and the fume soaked gag.

‘Patience, wee girl, patience. One question at a time. Name doesn’t ring a bell then….Adam….O’Sullivan?’

Ariana dredged her memory for a sliver of recollection but drew a resounding blank. ‘I’m sorry, no. Should it? Please let me go, this is a mistake. I swear to God I won’t tell anyone about this, on my….’

‘Mother’s grave?’ interrupted Adam. ‘Yes I heard about your ma. I guess mixed emotions on your part given the way she paraded you in front of the press every year. Bit of a one trick pony wasn’t she in the end, but I guess it paid a few bills.’

Ariana’s blood was turning to an icy slush. How did he know all this about her? This wasn’t mistaken identity after all, she was his intended target all along.

‘Well, I know all about graves,’ continued Adam, seemingly oblivious to the devastating impact his words were having on the young woman cowering helplessly before him. ‘Buried my own father at an early age. No worse feeling than walking behind the coffin of a loved one is there?’ He sneered, the charming mask slipping to reveal what lurked beneath. ‘Got a taste of your own medicine, eh, you wee bitch.’

O’Sullivan, O’Sullivan. Ariana eyes widened as the hitherto evasive answer slithered into view, a most unwanted visitor.

‘Diarmuid O’Sullivan. You’re Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s son.’ All previous efforts to rein in her heartbeat vanished in a puff of well intentioned smoke, as it careered out of control once more. The Monksbridge Massacre. It was his father who was the architect behind it.

‘Bingo,’ trilled Aidan, jumping back and flashing jazz hands in her direction. ‘In the flesh, for one night only. Your last night, little Ariana. But worry not, what a time you and I are going to have. I’ve got so many treats lined up for you, all sorts of treasures. You’re going to go out in style, young lady, I can guarantee that.’ He fixed her with a toothy grin. It was the final straw, tipping her over the edge. She opened her mouth, fully intent on screaming until her throat bled.

‘Ach, now there’s no need for that.’ Adam bent forward into the boot and clamped a callused hand over her mouth, securing the gag tighter than before. Ariana squirmed and twisted, desperately trying to find some purchase but it was a futile battle.

‘I must say I’m disappointed, Ariana. I’d been looking forward to getting caught up with you, but you obviously can’t be trusted. He toyed with a chunky sovereign ring on his right forefinger before holding it out towards her. ‘See this. That’s all was left of him after the explosion. Cheap Eastern European detonators. Left me walking behind an empty coffin, at least you got to say goodbye to your ma properly. I wonder what will be left of you after tomorrow? When you finally get to live up to that illustrious nickname.’

Ariana whimpered in horror as his clenched fist descended upon her. The last thing she saw was the golden glint of the ring, fringed by balmy moonlight. There followed a brief explosion of searing pain before Ariana slipped back beneath the still, black surface she had only recently emerged from.

Adam O’Sullivan slammed the boot shut. The night was young and there was still so much work to be done. Tomorrow was going to be the greatest day of his life.

And the worst of theirs.

I hope you enjoyed Chapter 6 and would love to hear your feedback. Just add your comments below.

Like my words? Well, why not check out my fantasy novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ Available now via your local Amazon site in e book and paperback format. Or FREE if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. Thank you.

I’m Not One To Get Excited But….

I’ll be posting Chapter 6 of my latest short story, ‘Bomb Girl,’ tomorrow. The feedback from those who have read Chapters 1-5 has been incredibly encouraging so I’m eager to discover what you all think of this latest instalment. Is it the end of the road for our eponymous hero, Ariana Hennessy, at the hands of the silver tongued villain, Adam O’Sullivan? Or will her BFF Tess Carter snap out of his supernatural stupor to save the day.

All will be revealed tomorrow….maybe.

Have you been reading ‘Bomb Girl?’

What are you hoping for in Chapter 6?

I’m On Facebook. Come Visit

Are you on Facebook?

If so, why don’t you drop over and like my author page. I post content that you won’t find on the blog including writing updates, quizzes and the occasional competition. What’s not to like about that? It’s the perfect way to start your Monday and if it’s as grey and damp as the weather in Northern Ireland then it’s a complete no brainer. Let me know if you’re calling round so I can put the kettle on.

https://www.facebook.com/StephenBlackAuthor/

Support OCD Awareness Week

As today marks the start of #OCDAwarenessWeek I’m going to be blogging exclusively about this devastating and deeply misunderstood mental illness in an effort to educate and raise awareness. As many of you know, I have struggled with OCD for most of my life, particularly in my 20’s and 30’s. While I largely control it these days, it’s a dormant monster always waiting to pounce at the first sign of complacency or weakness.

Please show your support by liking, commenting on and reblogging posts.

If you too suffer from OCD, know someone who does or want to know more about the disorder then feel free to e mail me.

To those who have already done so, I apologise for the delay in responding. I’ll get caught up this week.

B Movie Blogging Challenge

I sometimes feel my subject matter can be a little depressing so decided to lighten the mood after seeing this on Twitter yesterday. It’s fairly explanatory, just follow the instructions below. The challenge, though, is to then write a blog post selling your movie. I’ll reblog my favourite entry next week. All you have to do is comment with your generated name and get writing. P.S. mine was….

The Naughty Camel From Mars!

38,000 Words

Sounds a lot doesn’t it?

Yet I’m not even a third of the way through the story arc of Book 2 of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles.’ I’m super pleased with the shape the new book is taking as the KSC universe has exploded in terms of new characters, worlds and story lines. But worry not. The old favourites are still there as Kirkwood, Meredith and little Harley continue to do battle with the sinister Augustus Skelly and the brutal might of The Company.

Book 1 in the series, ‘Skelly’s Square,’ is available now via your local Amazon store in e book and paperback format. Or if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited it’s completely FREE! Thank you to those of you who continue to support my writing through the blog and via my other social media platforms. It is much appreciated and never taken for granted. As long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Deal?

Do You Ever?

Do you ever feel invisible? Do you ever feel that, no matter how hard you try, your efforts are ignored and passed over? If you stood in the middle of a crowded street and screamed until your lungs burst, not one person would stop and come to your aid? Do you ever feel it’s one step forward, nine steps back? Do you ever feel like setting down your pen, for what’s the point? Do you ever despair it will never happen?

Do you ever look at the people around you and shake your head sadly? Do you ever wonder how it came to this, how your hopes and dreams lie bloody and bruised at your feet? Do you ever feel like lying down, curling up into a ball and sobbing uncontrollably for the rest of your days? Do you ever want it all to stop, to step off the caustic carousel into blissful oblivion, to a place where pain and anguish are no more?

Do you ever wonder what happened to all the people who said they cared, who used to be a part of your day to day? Do you think they think about the days that were, the days that could have been? Would they step over you in the street now, like modern day Pharisees bustling to their place of worship, too fixated on self and image to tend to your failing needs? Do you wonder where they are now?

Do you ever question God? Do you ever question is there is a God? For if there is, then why did he allow that to happen? And that and this and that? Do you ever question everything you’ve ever held close to your heart, the concrete absolutes of your being, which now slip through your cupped hands like grains of sand. Do you ever? Will you ever? The questions never stop.

Do you ever?

Disturbing, Unwanted Thoughts

I was watching a trailer for a movie last night, one where a huge tsunami was bearing down on a Japanese beach. Initially it was a distant speck, barely visible to the thousands of sun bathers enjoying their day on the golden sands. An idyllic scene, where families laughed and played innocently unaware of the devastation about to be unleashed upon their lives. For when it hit, nothing would ever be the same again.

As it rolled ever nearer, becoming more visible, people raised arms to shield their eyes from the glare of the sun’s rays. A dull rumble steadily increased as the first panicky voices rose to meet it. Within seconds chaos replaced the previous calm, parents screaming for children to run, sun worshipers abandoning their belongings and sprinting for their lives as the deadly wave bore down upon them.

It was too late, they could not outrun its deadly surge. As it struck the city, skyscrapers collapsed like decks of playing cards, mighty suspension bridges wobbled like punch drunk boxers before succumbing to its overwhelming force. Bodies and buildings were swept away like twigs thrown from bridges into surging streams. The carnage was indiscriminate, old and young, rich and poor, all gone.

This morning I started work on a new chapter of my book. A chapter where the main character, Kirkwood, wrestles with obsessive thoughts and compulsions which threaten to sweep him away. His OCD is just like that killer Japanese wave, it’s incessant power blowing away all who dare to stand in its path. Call it what you want but OCD is equally indiscriminate. It strikes where it wants, when it wants.

There is no cure. Yes, the right medication and therapies can help. I am armed with a variety of coping mechanisms which allow me to function from day to day. Look at me and, on the surface, all is well. But I fight a battle every day. A battle to lock away the monster and ignore its seductive voice. A sugar sweet voice dripping with paralysing poison, a voice that means you nothing but harm.

It’s not quirky, it’s not a slightly eccentric character trait. It’s victims do not fuss about their spotless houses, checking that the oven is off and straightening bathroom towels. We don’t all have it, you can’t have a ‘little bit of OCD’ any more than you can have a ‘little bit of cancer.’ It is a living hell for millions of people, people who did nothing to deserve what has befallen them. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is no laughing natter.

It twists, it turns, it shifts shape on a whim, adapting to changing circumstances, always seeking to strike where you are at your most vulnerable. The unwanted thoughts are planted and nurtured, growing from tiny seeds into choking, suffocating weeds which destroy any last vestige of logic and order within your beleaguered mind. OCD sucks you dry until there is nothing left bar a shattered husk.

Today my head is above water, I cope and I function. I talk to loved ones, I write, I run, I take my pills. I’m not a survivor but I survive. Living my life the best way I can, but always with one eye nervously scanning the horizon for that telltale speck. The speck that heralds unprecedented horror and suffering, that reduces my meticulous defences to ruin. It’s out there….waiting. Always waiting.

What is your knowledge of OCD?

Do you struggle with unwanted, disturbing thoughts?

How do you deal with them?

Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud

Last month I posted a blog titled Loneliness which you can read via this link https://fracturedfaithblog.com/2019/09/12/loneliness/ if you missed it. I had an idea about spreading some hope to people who do feel lonely by sending out Christmas cards/letters and asked if anybody would like to take part to send me an email.

This idea proved to be very popular with you all and I received a lot of emails so I am making another appeal. If this is something that would interest you please send me an email at fracturedfaithblog@gmail.com.

We as a family have been talking about this project and decided to give it a name other than Loneliness and we came up with

Be a Rainbow in Someone’s Cloud’

and one of the children drew the picture at the top of the blog.

I plan to get in touch with everybody in first few weeks of November with the name and address of their recipient and as Hannah is off school now for a while due to her pressure sores she will be assisting me it’s got her quite excited.

We look forward to hearing from you

Fionnuala

How Many Books Can You Read At The Same Time?

My TBR (to be read) list stretches far into the distance, largely because I can only read one book at a time. I imagine most female readers are now nodding knowingly, bemoaning the inability of the male of the species to multitask. Try as I might, numerous novels are a bridge too far for me. I have to plod along until a particular story is told before I can turn my attention to the next book on my list.

This puzzles me slightly as I can manage multiple projects at work as adeptly as a skilled juggler. Take today for example. I was writing two complex reports simultaneously while responding to e-mails and verbal queries from the team. I can be focused in one meeting while also mentally preparing for the next. I’m calm, knowledgable and largely unflappable. I almost always know what I’m talking about.

I’m also currently writing two separate stories. I’ve just passed the 35,000 word mark of my second book, while I’m also working on a short story which forms part of the same story arc. I work hard at both my 9-5 and writing careers. If I wasn’t able to spin multiple plates in respect of either, then I’d undoubtedly sink beneath the waves without a trace. Yet I can’t read two books at the same time.

It’s utterly beyond me. But what about you? How many books are you currently dipping into on a daily basis? Can you tackle fiction and non fiction, contrasting genres and authors? Or are you like me, a one at a time tortoise staring nervously at the pile of paper about to consume you? Put your book or books down and let’s get talking. Post your comments below. Thank you and have a great day.

How long is your current ‘to be read’ list?

How many books can you read at the same time?

My Wee Book Is 3 Months Old

My first novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ is three months old this week. If you haven’t checked it out yet and like my writing it’s available on Amazon in e book and paperback format. And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited Subscriber it’s absolutely FREE! So feel free to check out this darkly humorous Northern Irish urban fantasy. Or check out the multiple 5 star reviews on Amazon if you want to see what other readers thought of it. Thank you!

How Is Your Mental Health Today?

I periodically revisit regular questions on the blog and this is one very close to my heart. It’s a topic I feel we are often too frightened or embarrassed to talk about, we duck the issue or brush it under the carpet for another day. We are all too quick to share our physical aches and pains with others but when it comes to our mental health we clam up. Some see it as a sign of weakness to admit we are struggling with our mental health.

Would we soldier on if we broke a leg? No, the pain would become too much and we would seek medical attention. Unless we’re John Rambo. So why ignore help if we are broken mentally? Ignoring our mental health leads to mental illness which impacts upon quality of life. Yet, so often, it can be nipped in the bud if we only speak up and ask for help at an early stage.

Recognising you are struggling is a strength, not a weakness. It should be applauded, not ignored. If you are struggling today, please don’t bury your head in the sand. Talk to someone, a friend, a relative, someone you trust enough to confide in. It could be the first step towards recovery and restoration. Don’t dither it’s delay. We only have one mind, one body. Let’s look after them.

Mental health and our inability to deal with it is a blot on the landscape of our society. The stigma attached to it is unwarranted. People are suffering excruciating pain in silence, people are sinking beneath the surface never to be seen again. We need to wake up and smell the coffee, before it’s too late. I urge you to speak up, to reach out, to be there if you are needed. For the next time it could be you.

How is your mental health today?

Are You A Good Decision Maker?

I have a series of early starts at work this week, meaning rising in darkness this morning to the sound of howling wind and rain battering the bedroom window. Thankfully I’m driving to the office so no need to stand, exposed to the elements, on a train platform. If I time it right I should be seated at my desk, bright eyed and bushy tailed, well before the majority of my fellow co-workers. The early bird catches the worm and all that.

Getting into work before others has its benefits. I’m ahead of the game and can get so much more done before phones start ringing and conversations commence about what you got up to at the weekend. E-mails can be answered, reports drafted, but most importantly it gives me time to think. Work on strategies, mull over tricky problems and wrestle with decisions that only I can make.

I probably achieve more in that first golden hour than I do in the rest of the day. I’m not a natural decision maker but the nature of my job now means the buck stops with me and I have to make them. Regularly. The same goes for documenting those decisions as, down the line, the rationale for what I did and why I did it may be subject to serious scrutiny. So that quiet time at the start of a working day is precious to me.

Have you a big decision to make today? How do you go about tackling it? Do you jump in feet first and grab the bull by the horns or adopt a more cautious, measured approach? Is it related to work or your personal life? I was once told there are three things that can happen in such a setting. The best outcome is you make the right decision, the next best you make the wrong one, but the worst is you make no decision at all.

I wish you well with your decision today. Feel free to share your experiences by commenting below.

Will You Join Me?

I’m working today. I know it’s a weekend, but needs must, and it’s going to be that way for the foreseeable future. Life’s like that. Spanners are continually being thrown into works and plans rarely pan out the way they are meant to. I’d much rather be spending the day with my family. Isn’t that what being a loving husband and father is all about? Yet I’m going to be in the office, chipping away at a huge workload.

The silver strand I cling on to is that I’m doing this for the family. Yes, it benefits me personally to clear the decks and hit the ground running come Monday morning. I have a very good job. It’s stimulating and well paid, I’ve worked hard in recent years to reach the position I’ve attained. I thought my days of working weekends were at an end. How wrong I was.

We all face situations in life where we are faced with roles and responsibilities we are not exactly enamoured with. Yet there is no other way round it but roll up our sleeves and get on with it. We all love a short cut but sometimes the long way round is the only way, it’s the shortest cut available to us. We need to suck it up and deal with what is staring us in the face. There is no other way, no Plan B.

Plans can be decimated in the blink of an eye. Years of work undone in a second. You spend countless hours clambering up a slope only to slip and slide to the bottom again. There is nobody to lend a helping hand, no action replay or second chance. You have to start again from square one, rip up the gameplan and grit your teeth. You feel hopeless, frustrated, angry. Why? Why has this happened?

You can cry, you can scream, you can rage to the heavens. Or you can take matters into your own hands, you can weigh up the options and consider what lies within your sphere of influence. You look inwards as opposed to outwards, to unlock skills and knowledge you never knew you possessed. You rise to the occasion and step up to the plate. For you are capable of so much more than you thought.

It’s a whole new ball game and you’re about to have the game of your life. Gone are the days of relying on others and waiting for things to happen. Gone are the days of talking about it, now is the time to grab the thistle and seize the day. Carpe diem. There will be pain, that’s an inevitable by product of the path you’ve taken. But it’s a temporary pain and the rewards far outweigh the discomfort.

Proving the doubters wrong, seeing their faces when that day comes, and it will, when you’re standing at the top of the heap again, staring triumphantly down at the haters and those who said they would never make it. One step at at a time, moment by moment, it will happen if you believe it will happen. Channel the rejection, funnel the pain and transfer it into a positive energy which will fuel your journey.

It’s a grind, a horizon which seems a million miles off, but you’re working your way towards it. The people around you are the right people, you’re convinced of it. You’re secure in that knowledge, the others have fallen by the wayside and it’s as if the shackles have been released. You’re on your way, I’m on my way. So I’m going to work and work hard to realise the dreams of my loved ones. You can watch me soar and turn away. The choice is yours. My path is set.

Will you join me on my journey? For together we are strong.

So Proud Of Our Kids

Now that Adam is sadly sidelined with a knee injury, Rebecca has taken up the mantle of sporting star for the Black family. After trying out a number of activities in recent years, everything from ballet to taekwondo, she has settled on football as her chosen sport. She started training with the local girls football team, Lurgan Town FC, last month and has now played two games for them in the regional Under 15 league.

Rebecca, at almost 13, is one of the youngest members of the squad, but has thrown herself fearlessly into the fray with her usual energy and enthusiasm. The hard work and positive attitude have paid off as the girls have won their first two matches, scoring a whopping 16 goals in the process, while conceding none. Rebecca has played her part in both games with some lovely passes and tough tackling.

Fionnuala and I are proud of all three of our children and hate seeing them injured or ill, through no fault of their own. Both Adam and Hannah have had tough weeks in that respect and, as parents, it is hard to watch and even harder to understand. They are good kids and deserve better than what they have been given these last few days. I’ve been amazed ,however, by the courage and belief they’ve shown in the face of adversity.

The one bright light in the gloom has been watching a fit and healthy Rebecca enjoying herself on the football pitch. She was representing all of us out there last night and was a joy to watch. I’m hopeful to see Adam back on the rugby pitch and Hannah on the theatrical stage in due course. Our kids deserve the limelight while we watch proudly from the sideline or audience. They are our everything.

Thank You Fellow Bloggers

Thank you to those who provided feedback and comments on ‘Bomb Girl – Chapter 5’ which I posted yesterday. They were just the tonic I needed after a fairly horrible day. Chapters 1-5 are available for those still willing to get caught up on the adventures of Ariana Hennessy, our eponymous hero. I’m planning to serialise the story, releasing a weekly chapter here on the blog.

Ariana’s tale is part of a bigger story arc which continues in my debut novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ It’s now available to read via Amazon in e book and paperback format. And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber you can read it for free! And there’s more. It’s sequel, Skelly’s Tower’ is well advanced and coming your way in 2020. Please continue to support my writing dream and thank you once more.

Bomb Girl – Chapter 5

The story continues. This chapter contains scenes that may distress some.

Ariana shivered against the biting cold, bunching her hands into tight fists and burying them deeper into the pockets of her parka. Three pints of extra strong cider provided a degree of internal central heating but the coast was less than a mile away and a fierce Atlantic blast was rapidly dissolving the core of warmth she had kindled within the sweltering Union bar.

‘I don’t know why we bothered paying in if we’re going to stand out here half the night, freezing our backsides off.’

She stared pointedly at Tess until a cloud of smoke doubled her over hacking, as a dozen bemused students watched as they huddled in the roofed smoking area outside the Union’s main entrance.

‘Oh don’t be such a drama queen,’ scolded Tess, a lit Marlboro Light hanging from her bottom lip. ‘We’ve barely been out two minutes. Anyway, you can’t hear yourself think in there. Dance music is killing the art of conversation. It’s up to us smokers to preserve a dying art form.

‘Smokers?’ spat Ariana incredulously, now upright again. ‘Doesn’t smoking involve inhaling said smoke into one’s lungs? All you do is inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. It’s like watching a little steam engine huffing and puffing to its hearts content. Have you even smoked before tonight?’

‘Course I have,’ pouted Tess, self consciously lowering the cigarette and nervously checking if any of the nicotine addicts around them had overheard Ariana’s critique of her smoking technique. Content that her reputation was still intact she stubbed the butt out and grabbed her sarcastic sidekick by the forearm, dragging her back towards the Union. ‘Come on. Once more unto the breach, dear friend.’

‘Do we have to? I’d be quite happy grabbing a cheesy chip and calling it a night. I’ve a 10:00 o’clock seminar with Professor Ickringill in the morning.’

‘Ooooooooh. Professor Ickringill,’ squealed Tess, placing her hands to her cheeks in open mouthed mockery. ‘I wonder if he’ll be packing his pipe? Or wearing that sexy tweed jacket. You know, the one with the leather elbow patches.’ She giggled before a wicked smile traversed her face before pushing Ariana without warning against a wall.

‘Ow, what was that for?’ groaned Ariana, rubbing the small of her back. ‘Just because you’re allergic to hard work doesn’t mean the rest of us need to stoop to your level.’

‘Shhhhh,’ hissed Tess, before making frantic eye movements in the direction of the Union entrance.

‘Are you alright, Tess. It’s just you look as if you’re having a stroke. Smoking kills, remember.’ She looked over her friend’s shoulder to determine what the cause of the drama was. Standing at the entrance stood a young man, smiling shyly at them. He looked away quickly upon realising he had been spotted, suddenly engrossed with the contents of his mobile phone screen.

‘Did you twig tall, dark and exceedingly handsome guy at the door?,’ whispered Tess at something approaching several thousand decibels. ‘He is totally checking me out.’

Ariana sighed, reverting her gaze to the bouncing pink blancmange in front of her. ‘I hardly think so. He’s probably trying to process the sight of a deranged lunatic in a ballgown flouncing about in front of him.’ She looked over again towards the young man. This time he maintained both eye contact and the smile before turning and walking back into the Union past the door staff.

‘Come on,’ urged Tess, grabbing Ariana’s hand. ‘We’re going back in. I’m determined for tonight not to be an utter waste of time. Once the famous Cartwright charm is unleashed no man, or woman for that matter, can resist.’

‘You really are a catch, Tess. Is that all you’re interested in?’

‘Of course not,’ she replied, marching past the door staff with Ariana in tow. ‘There’s also the possibility of a free drink or three.’

‘Oh my Lord. Hark at the feminist of the year.’

The noise and heat of the crowded bar hit her like a sticky, sonic wall as Tess steered them through a mass of bodies, her sights honed on the back of the young man’s head. Ariana estimated he was at least 6’2’’, possibly taller as he towered above the majority of those around them. She really, really wanted nothing more than to be buried beneath the bed covers, nose poked in her latest Kindle Fire purchase. She avoided social events whenever possible and her relationship history extended to a handful of disastrous dates during final year at school with the President of the Chess Society.

Tess veered left without warning causing Ariana to cry out in protest as her wrist was almost wrenched from its socket. They burst onto the dancefloor where several dozen inebriated students threw a variety of uncoordinated shapes to a grinding drum and bass beat. Whatever happened to melodies, harmonies, tunes? Ariana often thought she was born several decades late. She was brought back to her senses as they crossed the floor before Tess deposited them in a booth where the young man sat, nursing a pint of Guinness.

‘Hi, I’m Tess, and this is Ari….Becky. Bex. Rebecca, yes, this is Rebecca.’ She blew her fringe back and puffed out both cheeks. ‘Gosh it’s hot in here,’ she sighed, fanning her face in such a theatrical and obvious manner that Ariana wanted the ground to open and swallow them both up, there and then. To be fair to him the young man merely smiled and held out a hand in greeting. ‘I’m Adam. Can I get you ladies a drink?’

‘That would be lovely thank you,’ babbled Tess. ‘Two vodka and Diet Cokes please. Large ones.’ She sat back, looking immensely pleased with herself as Adam rose returning a short time later with the drinks.

‘Thanks pet,’ gushed Tess. ‘So, Adam, What are you studying and what are your intentions once you leave uni?’

‘Is this a job interview?’ Adam winked and smiled at Ariana, who could only smile back. He was very handsome. She couldn’t quite place his accent due to the cacophony around them but there was a hint of a Southern lilt. Dublin?

‘If it is, you’re off to a fantastic start,’ gushed Tess, laying on the clumsy charm with a shovel. The next twenty minutes were a shouted exchange as Tess flirted outrageously above the din of the music. Adam fended off most of her more direct questions with ease, all the while rolling his eyes and smirking at Ariana whenever her friend wasn’t looking. Part of her fumed at the casual way he mocked her best friend but she silently sipped her drink, at the same time secretly thrilled at the attention he was affording her. Ariana Hennessy, social wallflower and forever in the shadow of the glorious Tess Cartwright.

The night meandered on. Tess dragged Adam onto the dancefloor but all the while his gaze returned to Ariana sitting awkwardly in the booth. At one point Tess badgered her reluctant friend into joining them but she hated every second as drunken louts careered into them from all angles, the dancefloor resembling a human pinball machine. Finally the lights came on and a mangled voice informed them over the tannoy to make their way towards the exit in an orderly fashion. Ariana checked her watch. It was well past the witching hour. She groaned internally, chastising herself at being lured out when she had such an early start the next morning.

Tess attached herself to Adam like a limpet, hooking arms with him as they edged towards the doors with the rest of the revellers. Ariana shuffled behind, zipping her parka in anticipation of the bracing night air. She wasn’t disappointed and shivered involuntarily despite the several layers she had on. If Tess didn’t end up with hypothermia it would be a minor miracle but she appeared oblivious to the cold as she hung on Adam’s every word. Emily Pankhurst would be turning in her grave, thought Ariana, as the cheesy chat from her best friend showed no sign of abating.

‘Sooooo, Adam, did you have a pleasant evening?’ she cooed, all wide blue eyes and parted lips.

‘I’ve had worse. You?’

‘Oh, I’ve had a wonderful time.’ She swayed unsteadily in front of him as an uneasy silence enveloped them. Finally Tess could contain herself no more. ‘This is the bit where we swap phone numbers.’ She smiled sweetly, before rolling her eyes at Ariana in faux dismay as Adam began to punch numbers into her phone which had been thrust into his hands.

‘There you go,’ he said handing her the phone back. ‘Another notch on your fantasy bed post. Now why don’t you run along now and I’ll walk your friend home.’ Suddenly the charm was gone, replaced by an unpleasant tone that immediately sobered Ariana up and set alarm bells ringing.

‘Er, that’s not how it works.’ Flirty Tess was gone, replaced by a cautious tone. Ariana looked around and realised it was just the three of them outside the Union, everyone else already half way to where they needed to be.

‘Look, I think we should go, Tess. We have that early start in the morning. Professor Ickringill, remember?’ She grabbed her friend’s hand but Tess resisted, refusing to be the first to look away in her staring duel with Adam.

‘I don’t know who you think you are but….’

‘Oh I know exactly who I am just as I know exactly who you and your little friend are. Isn’t that right, Ariana?’ He turned and leered at her, no longer disguising the contempt in his voice.

‘How did you know my….?’ Ariana’s stomach froze over and her legs threatened to give way beneath her.

‘Oh I know all about Bomb Girl. In fact, you could say you’ve been my specialised subject for a number of years now.’

‘Wait a minute you creep, you can’t speak….’

Adam turned and placed a hand on Tess’ bare shoulder. ‘Like I said, my dear, I strongly suggest you turn around and flutter off to where you came from, while I walk your lovely companion home. Now please don’t make me ask again. I’m a patient man but I have my limits. Please.’

He smiled, an icy, humourless smile, as Tess nodded slowly, a vacant expression settling on her formerly feisty features. She looked at Ariana as if it was the first time she had ever set eyes on her best friend. ‘Yeah. Maybe I should go. Early start and all that.’ Without another word she turned and walked away. Ariana froze, a half formed scream in her lungs as a large hand clamped over her mouth and dragged her backwards towards the darkness beyond the half glow of the Union’s security lighting.

‘Time we had a little chat, Bomb Girl.’ They were the last words Ariana heard before she drifted into unconsciousness.

I hoped you enjoyed Chapter 5. Please feel free to leave any feedback or questions below.

Chapter 6 – NEXT WEEK.

I’m Not An Angry Person But….

I woke up at 4:30 am and that’s been that, sleep wise. Since then I’ve been frenetically tapping away, putting the finishing touches to Chapter 5 of my serialised short story, ‘Bomb Girl,’ which I hope to post later today. I hope you all enjoy it. There’s been a bit of a gap between Chapters 4 and 5 but I’m keen to progress it to conclusion, now that the creative juices are flowing again and I’ve got the bit between my teeth.

I posted a recap yesterday as to the story so far and received some fantastic feedback. Thank you to those who took the time to read the early chapters and comment, it was much appreciated, and has encouraged me to press ahead with Chapter 5. It’s been a tough week for our family so being able to dive into the Kirkwood Scott universe and forget for a while has been a welcome distraction. I hope there are better times ahead with more positive news around the corner.

I’ve experienced a flurry of emotions this week. Shock, sadness, worry but most of all anger. This is an alien one for me as I’m not, by nature, an angry person. It’s not the norm for me and I’ve found it an awkward fit. I mean, what do you do with anger? I’m not a shouty, punchy person so what do I do with it? It just sits in the pit of my stomach, growing in size and intensity. How do I quell it, make it go away and allow myself to move on?

There’s nobody to shout at, no wall to punch. I just type, trying to funnel my negative emotions into something else, something positive and creative. I look at those around me, those directly affected by the circumstances that have fuelled my anger and I’m ashamed. The grace and acceptance they display humbles and embarrasses me. I’m meant to be the grown up, the adult who has all the answers. Yet….

I hope it passes. I hope there comes a day soon where I don’t wake up feeling angry. As I said, it’s not me. Until then I get up and I go on, we go on as a family. I don’t have the luxury of wallowing in self pity for I have a wife and kids who need me as much as I need them. They are my everything, my raison d’etre. I need to rise above the casually inflicted pain, the indifferent arrogance, the silence and lack of explanations.

For I am better that.

How do you deal with anger?

A Short Story For You All

I’m relaunching my serialised story, ‘Bomb Girl.’ Chapter 5 will be posted later this week but for those of you who haven’t read it here’s Chapter 4, with a link to Chapters 1-3 at the bottom. Enjoy and please let me know what you think.

CHAPTER 4:

Dark chocolate. Darker thoughts. Ariana chewed thoughtfully on a chunk of her bar as she stared across the river towards the main university building. Seated at her desk, she groaned and pushed away the opened text book which had proven utterly impenetrable to her for the past twenty minutes. Was it just her, or did her class mates struggle just as much with the reading list she had been valiantly battling through since the start of term? There was little point asking Tess, whose attention span barely allowed her to consume a Kardashian tweet, let alone a 450 page tome on post-war Europe and its fragile fledgling economy.

Her room was small and plain, but to Ariana it was freedom. Freedom from Monksbridge and the stigma which had hung over her like an obstinate rain cloud, these last eighteen years. She had a bed, desk, books and most of all it was all hers. No intrusions, no being checked on every five minutes, no curfew or 50,000 questions every time she opened the front door. She could go where she wanted, when she wanted and with whosoever she wanted. Not that her social diary was overflowing with engagements. Her conscious decision to fly under the radar was a constant source of irritation to the limelight hogging Tess.

‘Be careful how low you fly, my dear Ariana. We don’t want you clipping the ground and bursting into a ball of flame.’

Ariana winced, altogether unconvinced by her selection of chocolate. She reluctantly forced down the piece she was chewing on, before picking the remainder of the bar and lobbing it towards the overflowing metal bin in the corner of the room. It ricocheted off the rim, before settling on a crumpled mass of clothing where it balanced precariously next to a rolled up pair of unwashed socks. Another luxury of the student lifestyle.

‘For God’s sake, Ariana, your room is a pigsty. I want it cleaned, cleaned do you hear me. Or you know what’s coming.’

Ariana shuddered and shook her head, shutting the venomous voice our of her head. Most days it lay dormant but, occasionally like just now, it would squirm free and wriggle past her mental defences, whispering accusations and false truth into her ear. Stupid chocolate, she thought, what had possessed her to buy it. She hated dark chocolate, always had. Yes, student life was all about experimentation, but she knew what she liked and that was that. Plain Jane, under the radar, forever and ever, amen.

Plain Jane. Hallowed be thy name.

Ariana jumped, the squawk of her mobile phone dragging her back to the present from the introspective pity party. She peered at the screen although she already knew who it was from and what it was about. Tess.

‘I’m outside the Union. Where are u? U better not still be in that bloody library? 😡

Ariana smiled, before picking up her phone and tapping out a suitably pithy response.

‘And what if I was? You’d never find me as you don’t even know where the library is?’

Her finger hovered over the 😊 emoji button, before she thought better of it. Ariana didn’t do smiley emoji, in fact she didn’t really do smiling at all, despite the best efforts of the eternally effervescent Tess Cartwright.

‘Remind me we have to work on your sense of humour in addition to all ur many other social inaddequacues. Hurry up!!’

‘I’ll be there ASAP. And it’s inadequacies.’

‘Whatever swotty pants. Just hurry up. The cider calleth.’

Ariana tossed her phone onto the bed and frowned at the floor, where the majority of her wardrobe currently lay. She eventually settled on a regulation pair of black leggings and formless green woollen jumper she had picked up in a charity shop the week before last. She decided against taming her mop of dark curls, a losing battle if ever there was one. Besides, the earache she would receive from Tess for being any later than she already was just wasn’t worth the hassle.

‘Are you going out looking like that? Why can’t you wear a nice dress? You look like a boy, and a not particularly handsome boy at that. You could be so pretty, if you’d only make the effort.’

Twice in one day. Ariana froze, hand outstretched to grab her phone from the desk. She had finished her last prescription ten days ago and resolved she was going it alone this time. She was finished with pharmaceutical crutches, another Monksbridge hangover she no longer wanted dogging every step of her new life. A tablet a day keeps the voices anyway. Possibly, but the only way to find out for certain was to tough it out and go cold turkey. Seven years of counselling and pill popping didn’t unmake the story that was ‘Bomb Girl.’ The scars were there, just beneath the skin, waiting to be picked at, reopened.

Scabs are a natural part of the healing process. An ugly necessity before the beauty beneath can be revealed.

Ariana snorted. A counsellor had said that to her once. She hadn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She stuffed the phone into her battered leather satchel, before hauling it over her shoulder. The first few days off her medication had been plain smiling, despite a mild, yet persistent neck ache which refused to budge, no matter how often she cracked or massaged it. A small price to pay, though, and a bonus was her skin seemed less greasy and prone to spotty outbreaks.

Every cloud has a silver lining….

But now the ghosts of her past were starting to converge, rather one ghost in particular. Her not so beloved mother. Ariana flung open her room door and made her way out of the halls and along the concourse towards the Students Union at the rear of the main building. She ignored another beep from her bag. Honestly, Tess was so impatient but a godsend, nonetheless. That’s if God existed. A once irrefutable fact and standing fixture in her life which now looked increasingly shaky with every passing day.

‘An untested faith is a useless faith.’

‘Yeah about as useless as all those Christian cliches you shoved down my throat every day,’ she snarled under her breath, earning a curious glance from a male student headed in the opposite direction. Ariana smiled weakly, feeling her cheeks flush with embarrassment. She hurried on, determined to shove the ongoing argument with her dead mother to the far recesses of her mind. Where it rightly belonged. Up ahead, she caught sight of Tess, hopping from one foot to the other like an over excited toddler who needed to use the bathroom. Was she wearing…..a ballgown?

‘Well?? Do you like it?’ Tess spun around, an ocean of pink chiffon fanning out in all directions. ‘I picked it up dirt cheap. Less than £200. I’m going for the Lily Allen look.’

‘Lily Savage more like,’ sniggered Ariana, earning a petulant pout from her unimpressed friend.

‘Honestly, Ariana. For one with such a theatrical name, you can be an utter bore at times.’

‘One tries.’ Ariana smiled sweetly as Tess grabbed her forearm and proceeded to frogmarch her through the doors of the Union into an already packed bar. ‘Come on,’ she squealed, the jibe at her attire already forgotten. ‘There are cheap drinks to be necked and boys aplenty.’ She momentarily halted and, eyeing Ariana up and down, scrunched her nose in mild disdain.

‘You really should make more of an effort. You could be so pretty if you only tried.’

Tess froze, the crestfallen expression on her friend’s face confirming she had overstepped the mark. ‘Oh God, Ariana, I’m so sorry. You are fine just the way you are. Ignore me, shooting my big fat mouth off as usual without thinking. ‘Friends?’ She affected her most hangdog expression until Ariana could resist no longer, bursting into laughter.

‘Fine. It’s just someone else used to say that to me when I was younger and it brings back crappy memories. And stop calling me Ariana. It’s Rebecca, okay?’

‘But of course, your most excellent Rebeccaness.’ Tess dropped into an exaggerated curtsey, causing the doorman to eye her suspiciously before deciding all was well and allowing them to enter the Union complex.

‘You’re a clown, Cartwright, an utter clown.’

‘Yes. But I’m your clown.’ Tess fluttered her eyelashes and the two of them were soon subsumed by the scrum of bodies trying to catch the eyes of the besieged bar staff.

‘Two pints of cider,’ screamed Tess, gesticulating wildly with raised digits in the air, while elbowing her way through the throng. Ariana rolled her eyes and offered up apologies to those shoved aside and left in the wake of her friend.

‘Sorry,’ she shouted, struggling to be heard as a beating bass began to reverberate across the cramped dance floor, situated to the right of the bar. ‘She doesn’t get out much.’

Unknown to her, a lean, nondescript male watched from the other side of the dance floor. He raised his pint of Guinness and took a measured sip, savouring the sharp aftertaste. The mad one had turned up looking like a reject from Dancing With The Stars, but nothing surprised him where she was concerned. Adam O’Sullivan smirked for she was nothing more than an embarrassing sideshow which he could dispense with in an instance. He was far more interested in her dowdier companion.

The man began to stride across the dance floor, weaving through the smattering of early revellers submitting to the rhythm and throwing drunken, uncoordinated shapes in a pretence at dancing.

‘Time for you to meet the famous O’Sullivan charm, Ariana.’

Missed out on Chapters 1-3. You can catch up by clicking the links below.

bomb-girl-chhttps://fracturedfaithblog.com/2019/07/14/apter-1/

https://fracturedfaithblog.com/2019/07/15/heres-chapter-2-of-my-new-story/

https://fracturedfaithblog.com/2019/07/28/bomb-girl-chapter-3/

Like my words. Then why not gorge yourself on 130,000 of them. My first novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ is now available to buy on Amazon in e book and paperback format. Just click the link below. Thank you.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/KIRKWOOD-SCOTT-CHRONICLES-Skellys-Square-ebook/dp/B07V6HVLQV

Would You Like To See More Of My Creative Side?

I’ve been mulling this over for a while but am thinking of putting more of my fiction writing on the blog. It’s where most of my creative energies are focused at the minute as I’ve been blasting away at Book 2 for over a month now and have passed the 31,000 word mark. Disappearing into the Kirkwood Scott Universe also allows me to temporarily escape from the disappointments and doubt which I’ve written about in recent posts.

I’m also conscious that not everyone can afford to buy Book 1 in the series so it’s an opportunity to showcase my work for free, to those who would like to check out my work. It’s also a taster, a ‘try before you buy’ for those who may be interested in the book but want to see what all the fuss is about before they decide whether or not to part with their hard earned cash. I totally get that.

So, what do you think? If it’s a yaay I propose to relaunch my short story series ‘Bomb Girl’ prior to posting some new chapters of it in serialised format. I’ve parked up the adventures of Ariana Hennessy for several months but her story has been incessantly seeping back into my thinking of late. Predominantly, that Kirkwood and Ariana are part of the same universe and may meet some day. Shock! Horror!!

Please comment below with your comments, thoughts and suggestions. This blog is the cornerstone of my writing platform and I really value your opinions. It was the encouragement of fellow bloggers that convinced me to start Book 1 and dragged me kicking and screaming through the many dark points of that journey. Take two minutes to comment below. Thank you very much for your time.

Would you like to see more of my creative side?

Why?

I don’t really know what to say in this post so I’ll cut to the chase. Adam injured his knee in a match last weekend and underwent a MRI scan on Friday, the results of which we will receive today. We are hopeful it will be good news, but are prepared for the worst case scenario, which is he will require surgery. He’s in good spirits and no real pain, so there’s that to be grateful for. The scan cost a lot of money but had to be done as it’s the only way of finding out the nature of the injury.

It’s been a worrying and unsettling time for Fionnuala and myself as parents. Adam is a talented rugby player with a bright future in the sport. This was predicted to be a ‘breakout season’ for him so the injury could not have come at a worse time, given he’s just broken into a team who have a real chance of a trophy season. It has tested our wavering faith and left us, as ever, with more questions than answers.

To add to the fun & games, Hannah woke up this morning with a huge pressure sore on her heel. Hannah was born with spina bifida so her skin is especially prone to such breakdowns. Fionnuala has become, by sheer necessity, an expert at treating such sores. So much so, that the tissue viability nurses often compliment her on the quality of her care. My wife is a woman of many, many talents. It’s just we wish she didn’t have to exercise this one quite so often.

You might think this blog is all rainbows and unicorns, you might look at our lives and wish you were us. Just as we might look at your life and wish we were you. This post is not a cry for pity or sympathy, we don’t ask for prayers or positive thoughts. It’s just to say that we all get it tough, nobody is immune from the many downs we encounter in our time on this planet. We are grateful for what we have but why does it have to be so hard at tunes. Why?

I’m In The Money

I’m in the money!

Well, not really, but I received my first royalty payment for Book 1 this weekend. It won’t make me an overnight millionaire and I still have to go to the day job tomorrow, but that made it none the less exciting. I’m getting paid….to write. I must admit I’ve struggled a little to process this fact. Mind well and truly blown. I feel like a proper, grown up author, at long last. And it’s thank to you bunch.

Thank you so much for supporting the book. The sales and, more importantly, feedback have been incredible and kept me going when the well has threatened to run dry and the hard yards still needed covered. The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: ‘Skelly’s Square’ is available to buy via Amazon in e book and paperback format. Or FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

Book 2 in the series, ‘Skelly’s Tower,’ is also well advanced and coming your way in 2020.

Exciting times.

Have you experienced the Kirkwood Scott universe yet?

Do You Feel Like God Has Unfriended You?

Do you ever feel like this? After the initial thrill, the rush, the excitement of choosing to believe in it all, there follow periods of silence, of barren times, of….well, nothing. You serve and you pray, you listen for signs, search for answers. You hope and you hope, you want that one miracle you cherish more than anything. Yet, you are met with a brick wall. Is God listening, does he care, is he even there?

Not only are you rooted to the spot, going nowhere, but you actually feel you are being pushed backwards, while at the same time sinking ever further into this quagmire we call life. It doesn’t matter what your belief system is, we are all human and all assailed by the same doubts and questions. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist. What if we are wrong and the others right? What if we are ALL wrong?

Where’s the evidence, where’s the proof that there is something beyond what we know, another world on the other side of this veil we call reality. We cling to that hope during the hard times, during trials, when we are tempted and broken. We need to believe there is some order to the chaos, for otherwise we are adrift and lost. If we lose our hope, our faith, then surely we have lost everything?

Sometimes we are so fixated with seeking what we cannot see, that we are blind to what is sitting beneath our noses. Our family, our friends, people who need us in the here and now. We can’t see the wood for the ethereal trees beckoning us towards the horizon. We trample over the present in our frantic rush to find the future. We are wishing our lives away, yet we exist in a world we can see, touch and hear. We are a sensory species.

We need to shake off the spiritual scales at times, smell the coffee and take in our present surroundings. There is much we can do practically without signs and wonders to guide and inspire us. When you pray for the desires of your heart and they aren’t delivered then maybe it’s time to take matters into our own hands. Maybe it’s time to trust in your own ability, your own judgement.

It’s disheartening to see bad people flourish while those who deserve a break are seemingly ignored. When prayers aren’t answered, we despair. Believers tell us God knows best or the timing isn’t right, but such glib cliched responses do little to ease the pain of those who are in the firing line. Walk a mile in our shoes, then maybe you will begin to understand and appreciate the pain of an unanswered prayer.

So what is the answer? Do we stop praying, do we turn our backs on a higher power who appears to have turned his back on us, on our family, on our our planet. I don’t know, it’s just another of those huge questions I struggle to process on a daily basis. I see my wife, I see my kids, I see ways I can help them, support them, love them. There is so much work to be done, tiring but rewarding work.

As parents, Fionnuala and I will do anything for our kids. They are all finding their way through the teenage years, developing interests and talents we want to nurture and encourage. They are creating happy, proud memories we will have forever. When the higher power we seek doesn’t seem to be there or care, we focus on them, take the bull by the horns and do all we can. For them.

Hitting A Purple Patch

I’ve hit a purple patch this week on the writing front and passed 28,000 words on my current book, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Tower.’ The KSC universe has exploded this week with a host of new settings and characters being introduced. As ever, most of these have come to me during the writing process itself as I continue to blast through the chapters in chronological fashion. Or as chronological as a KSC novel can ever be.

I’ve surprised myself with some of the new characters who have deposited themselves on my screen having come completely out of left field. Such has been the gush of ‘new stuff’ I’ve had to rein myself in at times and focus on the main characters – Kirkwood, Meredith, Harley and Emily. Oh, and not forgetting Skelly of course. They are the cornerstone of the book and it’s important I don’t disappear down a rabbit hole and neglect them.

Writing has mostly been on the commute to and from work although I’m also developing a habit of waking up before the alarm clock and putting down a few hundred words before I’ve even gotten out of bed. I write in short spurts, 200-300 words at a time. Then I walk away for a bit until the next creative wave hits me. It’s steady progress, small steps but I’m delighted as to how the book is shaping up. It’s scope and ambition knock Book 1 into a cocked hat.

It’s an exciting time writing wise, a welcome relief from the ‘one step forward, three steps back’ week we’ve had as a family. Our faith has been sorely tested this week, more fractured than ever. But amidst the doubt and disappointment I continue to believe in my ability to craft stories and characters which will appeal to a wider readership. I hope you all agree and will continue to follow me on this rollercoaster journey. Thank you.

What Are Your Remedies For The Common Cold?

The Black household has been smitten with all sorts of nasty germs this last week. We’ve been sniffling, sneezing and coughing our little hearts out. My cold has even developed into full blown man flu! Thankfully I had booked a couple of days off work anyway, but all Fionnuala and I seem to have done is drive from one appointment to the next in our ever packed schedules. No respite or time to retire to bed and sleep off the sickness.

Hannah’s school bus broke down at the start of the week so Fionnuala has been shut