Monday, August 31, 2009

First Teaser of September

It's been slow as proverbial molasses on the WIP, this is from the first part. Katya and the good Lieutenant (Andrew) have finally reached the last pass, the one that marks the border between China and what was, then, India and is now Pakistan.


Katya shivered and paused to fasten her jacket. The trail seemed to go on forever, weaving across the loose stones as it climbed towards the pass. She no longer felt like talking. She just wanted to put her head down and get it over with. One of the pack ponies had stopped, its sides heaving.

“Keep going.” Andrew told her. “I’ll see to the pony.”

Katya saw no reason to refuse. She really wanted to be away from the barren, silent slopes. The roan followed her as she carried on. Once or twice, alongside the grey scatter of stones, she thought she saw bleached bones, heaped beside the track. It was a cheerless place. She kept walking, raising her collar to keep the rising wind from her face. After a while, she could only hear the roan’s shuffling steps behind her and paused.

Andrew was working his way up some way behind her, shooing the black pony in front of him. Katya waited, trying to draw as much air as she could into her lungs. She leaned against the roan, feeling light-headed. A dull ache nagged at her forehead.

“Are you all right?” Andrew asked, as he fell into step beside her once more.

“No. I think the altitude is beginning to get to me again.”

He looked up the slope. “It’s all right. We’re nearly at the top. Do you see the stones?”

Little black spots floated across Katya’s vision but she could make out the cluster of stone pillars about fifty feet away. “Yes.”

“That means we’re nearly there. The worst will be behind us.”

“Thank heavens for that.” She took another deep breath, it seemed a lot of effort for a meager lungful of air. She curled her hand into the roan’s mane and struggled on. Her legs felt heavy and her head light. She was convinced that, if it wasn’t attached to her neck, it would float off.

“Here, let me help you.” Andrew’s arm slipped around her waist. “You’re doing splendidly.”

Katya leaned against him, as much for the warmth as for the support. It did feel easier. She liked being close to him. There was something solid and comforting about his nearness and she felt that odd little tug in her gut once more when she looked at him.

The final few yards seemed to take forever. Beyond the pillars there was a small stone hut.

“Let’s rest here a little while.” Andrew told her. “We can wait for the horses to catch up and let them catch their breath.”

Katya slumped onto the bench inside the hut, glad to be out of the wind. The light was rapidly draining from the day. The cliffs were dark and the wind sang through the tumbled boulders. She clenched her teeth to stop them from chattering.

“Are you cold?”

She nodded. “A little.”

“We shouldn’t sit for too long. It’s best to keep moving.” He put his arm around her shoulder. “Does that help?”

“Yes.” Katya fought a sudden urge to rest her head on his shoulder.

They sat in silence, Katya listened for the shuffle of horses hooves. The roan had kept pace with her. He stood in the door way, watching her hopefully. He turned away and whickered as the remaining horses approached.

“Are you feeling a bit better now?”

“I think so.” Katya didn’t want to get too comfortable. It would’ve been too easy to fall asleep.

“Let’s get going then.” Andrew rose, took her gloved hand and pulled Katya to her feet. “I’d like to get over the next bit before the snow or rain starts.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Teaser Tuesday - more from the new WIP

Here's some more from 'Through the Mist'. It's a first draft so it's rough and ready. Work stalled at the weekend while I was giving Kestrel a final, hopeful polish.

In this scene, Katya and Lieutenant Carr have fled Kashgar in advance of the Soviet Army.

Katya was glad of the darkness and the pounding of the horses’ hooves on the dusty road. It meant that she could cry without her companion noticing. After a while, the roan stopped hauling at the bit and Katya was able to relax her hands on the reins. She didn’t know how long or far they had travelled until the Lieutenant eased his horse back to a walk. The roan slowed, its sides heaved and Katya wiped her face with her sleeve.

“Are you all right?” Lieutenant Carr asked.

“I’m fine.” She didn’t want to talk. She was tired and she knew that she was going to be very saddle sore in the morning. Katya didn’t want him to know that. She was glad of the moonless night and the cool breeze that blew from the mountains.

“If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.” She was nearly seventeen; she wasn’t going to let him see her cry. She didn’t think he’d want that.

“We’ve been running a good couple of hours, we should reach Yapchan soon.”

Katya nodded, she was too weary to speak. She let the roan plod on and wished for the softness of a bed. She doubted that the Inn would have such a thing. The Inns on the journey from Urumchi to Kashgar were little more than a couple of crowded rooms and a few sleeping platforms in the courtyards. Katya had soon learned that the sleeping platforms were better. The beds were a haven for bedbugs and other creatures and she would wake covered in bites. She shifted in the saddle and tried to get comfortable.

After another hour of riding through the dark, Katya spotted a golden flicker of light in the distance. She found enough energy to sit up in the saddle. A sleeping platform awaited her and it was all that she wanted. She wasn’t even hungry. It was hard to keep her eyes open, the roan seemed to know the way, and it was too easy to nod off to the shuffling four beat rhythm of its walk…

“Miss Shaw?” A man’s voice nudged through her sleep, a gentle squeeze of her leg. “Miss Shaw?”

“Huh?” Katya felt as if she were glued to the saddle. Her foot wouldn’t move from the stirrup.

“We’re here.” Lieutenant Carr told her.

“Here.” She repeated.

“The Inn.”

“All right.” Katya tried to move her foot.

“Bloody hell.”

She thought he sounded annoyed. “I can’t move.” She replied. “I don’t know why.”

He sighed. “Exhaustion, most likely.” Another sigh, “I’ll sort it.”

Katya felt herself being eased out of the saddle. A warm pair of hands gripped her waist and she decided that it felt rather nice.

“Do you think you can walk?” His arm slid around her waist when her feet met the ground.

“I think so.” She walked, and tried to remember that it required her to put one foot in front of the other. Her legs, however, refused to hold her.

“It’s all right. I have you. Just lean on me.”

He was warmth against the chill of the desert night. Katya leaned against him as the Innkeeper bustled into the courtyard, grinning at the sight of two guests. In the dim glow of the lamps, Katya noticed that there were no other guests. Chickens roosted on one of the sleeping platforms, and a chorus of toads rumbled softly from a dark corner. She heard the Lieutenant talking in labored Uighur with the proprietor. She was too tired to intervene in the haggling and left him to it, listening to the feigned disappointment in the innkeeper’s voice as he considered his guest’s poor, insulting offer, and suggested another price, an edge of hope in his tone. The Lieutenant countered with a price, delivered with a disappointed sigh, as if the innkeeper was trying to rob him blind. She waited and opened her eyes, watching the proprietor’s face as he considered the offer. He shook his head sadly, rubbed his chin and his caterpillar eyebrows drew together in a clown’s expression of pain. When he spoke, his voice was heavy with mock defeat. It was clear that he had no choice but to agree to his guest’s poor offer because a pittance was better than nothing at all. In spite of her exhaustion, Katya smiled. It was clear that the Lieutenant was no fool when it came to dealing with the locals.

The proprietor sent a boy out to help the Lieutenant with the horses. They were tethered to a rail under a shade in a far corner of the yard while Katya was left sitting on the platform they’d been assigned. When he tossed their sleeping rolls onto the platform, she summoned the strength to untie them and spread them out. Hers was too tempting to resist, she rolled onto it, found her pillow and fell asleep beneath the stars.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Teaser Tuesday - new stuff

This is from the WIP, tentatively titled 'Through the Mist'. I've made some changes to the beginning. The first beginning had Katya meeting Lieutenant Carr when she was lost in the fog on a Welsh mountainside. Happily, I was able to figure out a way to put Katya in Kashgar for the first chapter or two of the story. It works soooo much better in terms of establishing a relationship between the two so that it actually makes sense.

This scene is from the first chapter. Katya's Uncle went cap in hand to the British Consultate and managed to persuade the good Lieutenant to take Katya, overland, to Gilgit in northern India, in order to get her to safety before the Soviet tanks move in to crush General Ma's rebellion.

The peacock called out again and the rising breeze brought with it, the flat, salty tang of the desert. The dripping, dying fountain was a forlorn whisper in the courtyard. Uncle Sergei poured out more wine and Katya was uncomfortable under their guest’s stare. She was relieved when Anasa brought in the lamb. The room was full of noise again. Her uncle made a big thing of carving the lamb while her aunt passed around the bowls of rice and vegetables. For a while there was no sound except for the chink of silverware on china and the distant wailing of a singer from somewhere in the dusty maze of the Muslim Quarter, night was settling on Kashgar. The lamb was rich with spices and Katya resolved to beg Anasa for the recipe before she left. She wanted something to take away with her that would remind her of all that had been good about this adventure.

Dessert was a plate piled high with the produce of the market place, wedges of sweet melon, peaches and cherries. The conversation drifted from tennis, to orchards and the bazaar. Uncle Sergei brought the vodka out. Katya watched their guest carefully. In the few weeks she’d been in Kashgar, she’d seen a few dinner guests felled by her Uncle’s vodka and his endless toasts. The Lieutenant would have to be made of strong stuff to walk out of the house unaided after an evening with Uncle Sergei and his vodka.

He downed the first two shots with ease. Katya decided that this, alone, was impressive because most people’s eyes watered after the first, firey shot.

Katya helped herself to a few cherries and watched the toasts and the shots progress. Uncle Sergei’s eyes were narrow, tired slits by the seventh. Aunt Tanya’s fingers drummed on the lace tablecloth, a whispering, impatient tattoo as she waited for the inevitable conclusion. The Lieutenant finished the eighth shot after a toast to the peacock who still called out in the sullen, sleepy warmth of the evening. His brown eyes were still clear and his Russian fluent.

“To my niece, Yekaterina.” Her Uncle’s words were beginning to slide together. “A brave, beautiful and wonderful girl.” He slammed the empty glass onto the table and grinned. “A safe journey home, my dear.”

“I’ll drink to that.” The Lieutenant winked at her and drained his glass.

Katya blushed and arranged the cherry pits into a circle on her plate. She murmured her thanks and stared at the gnawed melon rinds.

Uncle Sergei poured the ninth with an unsteady hand.

“To a wonderful evening,” The Lieutenant said. “In the best company I’ve enjoyed for a long time.”

“Hear, hear.” Her uncle finished the shot in one gulp and slid inelegantly to the floor.

“Katya, darling,” Her Aunt sighed. “You had better ask Asana to fetch Tughluk.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Teaser Tuesday - Back to the Beginning

Ladies and Gents,

Kestrel isn't getting any agent lurve at the moment. My queries have fallen on stony and barren ground...much like my back yard.

This week I'm posting the first 247 words. All good Purgies will know why *winks* . I really need some input here before I throw my hands up in despair.

Thanks, folks.

The low thrumming of an engine broke the afternoon silence, growing louder until the plane burst from beyond the trees with a roar that had Ilona and her sister scrambling for cover. ‘What on earth is that?” Aislinn asked, clinging to her arm as they ducked behind the low wall of the terrace. “Is it the Germans, Ilke?”

Ilona gripped the warm brick, her fingernails dug into the moss as the ground trembled. She was convinced her heart was going to hammer through her ribs. The noise reverberated through her bones. “I don’t think so. I think there’d be more than one plane.” She glanced up as the plane swept into a banking curve above the house. It was low enough that she could see the RAF roundels on the underside of its elliptical wings and she took a deep breath. “It’s all right. It’s one of ours.”

“Are you sure?” Aislinn’s voice quivered.

“Yes, I’m sure.” She stood up, her fear gone, and shielded her eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun. “What a sight!” It seemed impossible to her that it came from a factory, its slender fuselage and upswept wings were something that nature would fashion, it echoed the shape of the kestrel that rose, screeching, out of the woods in pursuit of the intruder. Ilona watched the bird for a moment and wished she could fly with it, to follow the plane and see off the enemy that waited in the east.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Afghanistan - A Forlorn Hope?

I sat down at my computer this morning, armed with kick-arse coffee and cigarettes to read through the British papers online. I do it every day, it's habit.

Anyway, I digress. The first item that caught my eye was the news that three more British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. Three more coffins that will be carried, in a heartbreaking convoy, through the town of Wootton Bassett, three more casualties who will generate more adonyne, meaningless expressions of sympathy from the British Government.

The whole sorry business of Afghanistan reminded me of two phrases that have been used in the past to describe military actions. To me, they're as appropriate now as they were when they were first coined.

"Lions led by donkeys" This was a saying that was bandied about a great deal during World War One. It referred to the sad fact that soldiers were being led by a pack of clueless, dithering Generals. Today, it seems appropriate to throw the British Government into the mix. A sad, telling example of this comes from a flurry of outrage in last week's British papers over the Ministry of Defence quibbling over compensation for wounded soldiers. Given the astronomical cost of keeping an army in Afghanistan, it is pathetic that the MoD was arguing over relatively small change. One of the soldiers, Corporal Anthony Duncan of the Light Dragoons, had his femur shattered in Iraq. He was originally awarded 9,250 pounds compensation. However, during a gruelling round of 11 surgeries and two years of rehab, he appealed because of the long-term effects of the injury , and received 46,000 pounds. It came out during the case that Corporal Duncan is in Afghanistan, back in action again. Outrage ensued and, mercifully, the MoD backed down. It's clear who the 'lion' is in this case. It takes some serious cojones to get back on a plane and back into the fray. Have a virtual pint on me, Corporal Duncan.

I plan to send the MoD mandarins some donkey-feed and a subscription to Donkey sanctuary newsletters. They can pick the sanctuary of their choice for their retirement home.

"Forlorn Hope" This one's been around for centuries. It refers to a military action where soldiers are chosen to take the lead in a mission where the risk of casualties is high. In my opinion that summarises the entire Afghanistan debacle. An operation borne out of a furious desire for revenge has turned into a morass of ambushes, IEDs, futility and pointless grind. As I've ranted before on this blog, history was ignored. You cannot impose a 'western' style of government on a society comprised of feuding tribes. It really is a case of trying to squeeze the proverbial square peg into a round hole. Unfortunately, the donkeys at the top are now too far into the maze and they either won't or can't find a way out. As long as they have soldiers to throw at the problem, it seems that this 'forlorn hope' will continue. As a friend of mine pointed out yesterday, the high unemployment rates must be of great comfort to the MoD. It means there's plenty of willing recruits who may have to take the Queen's schilling to support their families. Handy, that.

Anyway, that's my rant. Normal service will be resumed tonight when I get back to my writing. I sure as hell hope I don't come online tomorrow morning and find more bad news...but I think that's a forlorn hope too.

Have a good weekend, all. Have a pint or two for me. :)

Monday, August 3, 2009

First Teaser of August

Allrighty then.

This is from the brand new WIP, tentatively titled "Through the Mist". It's Womens Fiction/Historical set in England during WW2 - I guess I can't stay away from those years.

This scene is from Chapter 2 and Katya, the main character, is about to receive a surprise.

Katya leaned against the car and waited in the darkness. The airfield was quiet apart from a handful of ground crew who waited by their lorry at the side of the runway. They had told Katya that the pickup had gone to plan and the plane would be due soon. Someone had offered her a mug of tea and she sipped it as she waited, straining to hear the drone of an engine in the moonless night. The sky was illuminated by a brilliant scatter of stars, stretched out across a pool of black. Katya could make out the Milky Way, a twisted rope of stars stretched out across a field of lesser lights. Thin streamers of mist clung to the dewy grass and one of the crew said that he could hear something. Everyone went quiet and the murmur of an engine could be heard coming in from the east. The runway lights flickered on,. Katya emptied the rest of her tea and returned the mug as a plane swooped out of the darkness. The fickle lights gleamed weakly on a black fuselage and Katya shivered, it looked like a fantastical creature from a myth for a moment, only the thrum of its engine as it touched down reminded her that it was a machine.

She straightened her uniform and waited for the plane to taxi to a halt. The groundcrew were all business and Katya remained by the car, peering into the uncertain light and the rising mist as she waited for her mysterious passenger. She let her imagination paint a picture of a quiet, scarred man, dressed in black and carrying a briefcase and a crumpled fedora. He wouldn’t say anything, he’d just sit in the passenger seat and, perhaps, sleep and leave her in nervous peace while she drove through the blackout to London.

The runway lights were turned off and the only light that remained came from the lorry, which had now parked beside the plane. Katya heard someone mention that the car was waiting and she stood up, ready to salute as a figure moved silently across the grass towards her. She opened the car door so that some light, however feeble, could light the way. He was carrying a backpack and he was dressed in black. She saluted as the man stepped out of the inky darkness. Then, all cold professionalism nearly went out the window while recognition shot through her like electricity, like lightning. She remembered a grassy mountainside and a warm hand wrapped around hers. It didn’t seem possible.

Katya bit back a gasp. He wouldn’t remember her anyway. It had been three years and it was only she who had chosen to remember, never forgetting his brown eyes or the kiss he had left, absently, on her cheek. He had filled her daydreams for months until reality crept in and made her realize that he would only ever be a daydream. That men like him weren’t interested in eighteen year old girls who got stranded on foggy mountainsides. He was a impossibility who would never return to her life.

“Sir.” Katya dropped the salute and opened the passenger door for him. There was no flicker of recognition on his part, no acknowledgement of her presence. She closed the door with a trembling hand, bit back her absurd disappointment and slid into the driver’s seat. The car rumbled into life and she put her hand on the gears.

“Hold on a minute.” The voice, still the same, came out of the gloom beside her. “Turn on the light please.”

Katya, still quivering with shock, reached up and turned on the small, flickering light. “Sir?” She looked at him. The light wasn’t great, but the intense, unflinching gaze was the same. His was a face she had never forgotten. She returned his stare. “Is something wrong, Sir?”

“Bloody Hell.” His voice was soft. “Your name’s not Katya is it?”