A palate cleanser fantasy

Photo by Valeriy Andrushko

Space Train 1 is finished. Completely finished at this point. Crits and beta reads are all back, and it’s tweaked and polished accordingly, as finished as I can make it until an editor works her magic on it.

Space Train 2 is planned and ready to go. In fact I’ve written its opening chapter. I was going to forge ahead with it, even though November and maybe December will be my recovery time after that big filled-with-delight-and-excitement push to finish Space Train 1. But then last week a plotbunny appeared in my mind and stayed put.

It’s a contemporary fantasy about a mother tree who takes human form and joins a small town protest group fighting the callous development of her ancient woodland. The two human POV characters are George, a young activist from London hiding out in the town, and Amber, a history professor with a special interest in the town and its woodland. The two other human characters I’ve met so far are George’s landladies, who are witches.

Don’t know where this story will take me. I mean, I know how it will finish – I always know that before I start writing – but don’t yet know if it’ll be a full novel, although I think it probably will. I don’t even know if I’ll write it all in one go, or return to Space Train 2 and keep this fantasy story as a nice palate cleanser when I need one. Think it’ll probably be the latter.

Anyway, I wrote Chapter 1 over the weekend. Might change a lot, but for now, here’s the beginning of my latest plotbunny come-to-stay:



Plane Avenue curves gently around to the right, into the early evening sun, with Victorian villas standing on both sides. They used to be all detached family homes, but none are now. Some have been split vertically into semis, more of them horizontally into flats with external stairways to their upper halves. Some look smart behind their small front gardens. Others don’t.

The mature trees that give the quiet avenue its name are staggered fifty feet apart. Many of them have sent their whippy new summer branches to drape broad five-fingered leaves across the gutters and roof slates of nearby houses. Some have lifted the paving slabs and kerbstones around their roots. It isn’t recent damage. No doubt the town council has more urgent calls every year on its ever-shrinking pot of money.

Commuter home time has come and gone. Both sides of the road are lined with parked family cars and tradesman vans. Three motorbikes. Two black cabs.

74a is as silent as its neighbours. I stroll past with an incurious glance into its two front windows and another at 74b above. No one’s looking out. No one’s looking out from anywhere.

Five minutes later I’m at a T-junction, and still haven’t seen anyone. I cross over and walk a big twenty-minute D that takes me back to the start of Plane Avenue, and then eventually back along to 74a just two minutes before I’m expected.

No doorbell. I give the metal knocker a respectful rat-tat and step back to await my landlady-to-be.

She’s a fiftyish romantic goth in lacy black, with bright blue eyeliner and a welcoming smile. “George?”

“Yes.” It’s as good as any. I plucked it out of the air when I had to leave London at the rush this afternoon and my contact needed a name to send on ahead.

“I’m Helen.” She calls, “Val, will you bring the key?” into the flat, and then leads me up the wrought iron stairs.

By the time we reach 74b, Val is coming up behind us. She’s fiftyish too, but dressed more conventionally in a retro Blondie t-shirt and blue stretch jeans with white trainers.

“Val, this is George,” Helen says. “George, this is Val.”

Val nods a hello as she unlocks the front door, and we file into a hallway that ends like a blunt arrow with two doors set diagonally into its point.

Helen opens the one on our right. “Bedroom and bathroom.”

I drop my bag beside the made-up double bed, and poke my head into the en suite. Shiny chrome fittings with white tiles on the walls and navy blue tiles on the floor. Clean and bright, and it has an open window. That’s a result.

My landladies are already through the other door. “Living room and kitchen,” Helen says when I follow them in.

It’s open plan. The kitchen is as fresh and shiny as the bathroom, and the carpeted living room is comfortable with a soft leather suite and a big screen TV.

But I barely notice the furnishings, because the French doors are standing wide open on to a wrought iron balcony and the view is… arresting.

At the far end of the long garden is a forest, lit dramatically from the left by the evening sun. I stare out, aware that the women have stopped talking, assuming they’re looking either at me, or with me at the radiant red view.

Eventually I blink, and shake myself free of its spell, and turn to find them watching me with indulgent smiles.

“Right,” Helen says. “Details. First thing is, we’re a couple.”

I shrug a shoulder.

“Just to get it established, so as you know and don’t have to wonder if it’s okay to ask or anything. And on the same scale of things, we know what you are.”


“We approve,” she continues. “We never need to discuss it again. Just want you to know.”

I nod.

“You’re paid up for three months. Rent and services and board, which means we’ll shop for your food as agreed but please don’t expect us to cook it, because that’s not happening.”

“I stocked your kitchen this afternoon,” Val says. “They said no special dietary requirements, but if there’s anything you’d like that isn’t here, sing out and we’ll put it on the weekly shopping list.”


“Internet connection’s by the telly, but they said you don’t want it. Or the phone.”


A synchronised shrug. “Okay then,” Val says, “you know where we are.”

They turn to leave, but then Helen thinks of something else. “We’re eating out tonight. Want to come? Our local pub does a steak and gravy pie to die for.”

Just what the belly doctor ordered.

“Before you say yes,” Val says with a note of caution in her voice and a frown at Helen, “you should know there’s a protest group meeting there tonight.”

Bugger. “Protesting what?”

Helen nods out at the glowing trees. “The proposed development of our wood. First meeting.”

I glance into the kitchen. Looks like I’ll be knocking something up for myself after all. At least there’s a microwave.

“I don’t expect you to get involved,” Helen says. “Obviously. You’re here to disappear for a bit and keep your head down. Just thought you might give us a few strategy pointers.”

“No. I don’t know what you think I do, but it isn’t strategy.”

They give me blank looks.

“I break things.”

Still blank looks.

“Nazi heads mostly. I’m not a strategist.”

Their eyes widen. There’s a pause, and Helen looks embarrassed.

“You can still come if you want,” Val says. “Now we all know the score. The steak pie is gorgeous.”

I’ve eaten nothing since a kebab late last night. My train promised a buffet carriage, but it was a lie. “If you promise not to try and recruit me.” I wink, to soften my words for Helen.

She smiles in response. “Be ready in twenty minutes?”


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