Novels in Progress


Tidewater

Set in Norfolk, Virginia in 1977, Tidewater is a character driven novel probably best classified as Women's Fiction. Mattie Tyler is a young Navy wife and mother trapped in her own existence. Her marriage has lost its romance, and she had forgotten how it feels to be wanted. Circumstances have landed her in a depressed area with neighbors for whom domestic violence, incest, illiteracy, alcoholism and drugs are the norm. Boredom drives her to take on a direct sales job which definitely opens doors for her, some of which she may never be able to close again.

Excerpt:

A gang of rude smells assaulted her and took the last of her peace, running with it down to the river. She was too numb to fight it off, too tired to follow. Tidewater scum gave off an eerie glow as the rising sun took inventory of abandoned couches and empty beer cans. At her feet maggots feasted on the remains of a package of once-frozen chicken necks. Luke, the cheeky eight year old in the other half of the duplex must have been crabbing. His dead catch lay rotting next to the chicken, poisoned with unnamed contaminants from the river and too small to eat, anyway. She mused on the kinks in this food chain and opted to go back inside.


Foolscap Quarto

Denny Byrne, train conductor on the Glasgow/Gourock line, reacts to the world through entries in his journal. He rearranges data, embellishing and adding dimension in several planes until he cannot separate the truth from his various fictions. He is intelligent, but so fearful of contact he would rather have those around him believe him unsavoury than to let them actually get inside. He creates a persona that most people have no trouble avoiding, but Fiona Campbell, one of the regular commuters, becomes obsessed with conquering his shyness. When she disappears, he is the prime suspect based on certain entries recorded in his diary. Confused by the 'truths' he has sculpted from his perceptions, even he can't be sure about his possible involvement.

Excerpt:

It could have been any old woman's cupboard, and in fact it was. Her name might have been Ellen or Morag, but it didn't matter. Everything she left was still there. The spice jars and condiments stood in queue, biting their nails in perpetual anticipation of a stew or casserole that would never happen. The new occupant of the flat was not much of a cook—a bit of salt would suffice in most instances, yet each jar and bottle stood proud, precisely arranged from small to large. The silence was broken by a jar of Branston pickle, which chose precisely this moment to pop its dome in response to the toxic gases churning its bowels.

Denny jumped out of his skin when he heard the muffled pop. It sounded like a cork being pulled from a bottle of champagne. Unlikely, in this building. A gunshot? His heart began to race as he switched off the light. He always felt exposed in the living room, which overlooked the main street, always lined with cars he didn't recognise, people coming and going at all hours.

He took his journal with him into the kitchen and put it on the table while he made a cup of tea. The sugar bowl was empty. He didn't like to let it go empty, but was in a hurry this morning. He knew something was wrong as soon as the cupboard door was open. He counted the jars and bottles, still 14. Then he saw the lid bulging on the pickle jar. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead and he started to reach for the jar but pulled his hand back. What if the bacteria got on his hand? Putting a carrier bag over his hand like a glove, he picked up the offending jar, turning the bag inside out to capture the potentially lethal pickle. He twisted the top of the bag and turned it on itself again, locking the jar safely inside. He put the padded ball inside another carrier bag, but worried that someone, something, might be poisoned if they happened to open it after it was put in the bin outside. He used a whole roll of Sello-Tape and wrapped it round until it was clear no one would be able to get into it without a knife. He washed his hands, then lined up the bottles and jars again closing the gap where the pickle jar had been. He counted them one more time before filling the sugar bowl. 13. His tea was cold.


Blind Carbon Copy (working title)

The protagonist, Jacques Heming, is a character (Blind Carbon Copy) I created for a series of short stories told in his voice. A mix of mystery, history and magic realism, this novel chronicles the unfolding relationship between Jacques and Dr Marie Foster, the psychologist who is trying to help him recover his memory.

Excerpt:

Picasso. That young man was bigger than life. I guess today you might call him a drama queen. Paris was difficult for him to come back to after his best friend Casagemas killed himself. Death is hard enough to deal with at the best of times. Coping with the loss of someone you love leaves a hole in your reality that you either sidestep or fall into—he dove into his. He was angry at Carlos, not so much for giving into death, but for leaving him alone in that dark hole. He chose to embrace that self-imposed solitude and to work out his grief on whatever canvas or board he could find. He wouldn't change his clothes for days—the smell was sometimes intolerable. He had no money to buy paints or canvas. Of course, he was never really that alone. He was the kind of person who was always surrounded by friends—in Paris, it was Max, Gustave, Pierre and other men and women whose voices cackled and kissed air, like so many farting geese, saying only what they thought the genius wanted to hear. It was Germaine who found me playing on the street and said I'd be fed if I would play my guitar in the studio while I modeled for him. It was freezing outside and I was happy for the break. I didn't realize until later that I wouldn't be allowed to play at all much of the time, though it probably wouldn't have changed my decision. She smelled like hot trouble. I believe from things I heard said that she was the one who drove his friend to kill himself. Picasso could not make up his mind how to handle her. You could feel the tension in the air when they were in the same room, but most often he ignored her attentions, even became violent at times.

If it weren't for Germaine, he probably would have starved to death, as he would never eat unless she made him. She had ways of keeping her pockets full and every penny was invested in his pursuits. He could be an ungrateful little prick—excuse my French, Marie. She told me one night she bought him some paint for a surprise and he threw a tantrum because it was the wrong kind of blue. He screamed and threw things. "It must be Prussian blue!" She had to go back and wake the shopkeeper to exchange the blue paint for the right kind. All he had in stock was a Sistine Chapel-sized pot, so with her special talents she managed to negotiate an affordable price. Picasso moaned for weeks after that because he ran out of the other colors and had nothing left but that stinking Prussian blue. He didn't deserve her. I have no idea why she put up with his arrogance. Love does strange things.

He went back and forth from Barcelona over the next year and hardly noticed my presence but to tell me to move or adjust or stop my god damn playing for a while. After he finished with me, I hung around for a little while, but I had no need to be there anymore, so I moved on. I don't know whether he changed any when he started to become more successful, but I never liked the guy he was back then. I have no use for anyone who can take out his anger on other human beings.