I thought I'd give you a taste of the new novel I'm working on - or will be once I've finished editing 'This Affair', which is nearing its end. This is the first draft, hot from the press and changes
might occur when I really get my teeth into it, but right now, I'm quite happy with the first part of Chapter One.
The world exploded and went on exploding all around the young British soldier. He had never heard a noise quite like it. It was too loud, even, to hear the cries and the screams of his comrades who seemed to be flying in pieces
into the air, just like he was. He could see, through dust-filled eyes what appeared to be dismembered bodies, arms, legs, torsos. Before he hit the ground, he imagined he saw the head of his best pal, Rooney, stupid sod that he was, flying past his line of
“Hey, Rooney, ye daft bugger. Where’s the rest of ye?”
Did he shout that out loud, or was it just an imagined echo in his head, penetrating the high-pitched whining in his ears? His body was shaking now, like an engine in overdrive. He was laughing and sobbing, coughing and gagging all at the same time, but he
wasn’t sure why.
Private Jack Williams of the Northumberland Fusiliers, had hit the ground hard. Maybe he had even bounced a couple of times, rolled over
and over. The earth beneath him vibrated. Rivers of blood-stained mud poured over the barren incline from the flat field where once maize crops had grown. Rivulets of the rust-coloured liquid coursed towards him, soaking into his tattered battle-dress uniform,
finding its way around him and further down the hill that he and his comrades in arms had just climbed, full of courage and pride and shouts that they would bring the bastard Germans down, annihilate the bloody Hun.
That was a laugh, Jack thought as he lay there, unable to move. All he could see was a blur after a while, but his hearing had gone. The ground beneath him stopped vibrating. He supposed that it meant the battle had ended. Had they sounded the retreat or had
they forged on, leaving him behind? Or maybe he was dead. He wondered, quite calmly, now many pieces of him were missing. It hadn’t hurt, whatever went off beneath the running feet of his battalion. The force and the speed of it happened too quickly.
If he was still alive, he knew the pain would come soon, but for now he was content to lie there, unmoving. Lie there and pray, though he wasn’t a religious lad. Not like his mother who was always to be found with her nose in her Bible. ‘You’re
just like your father,’ he could hear her say, and she would say the same to all her brood, four sons, a daughter and a daughter-in-law, all of whom ignored her. They didn’t ignore their father. Cedrick Williams was short, but brawny, built
like a barn door. He treated his family like he treated the animals on their small-holding in Northumberland. With a sharp tongue and an even sharper thrash with his stout walking cane.
The cane was necessary to support him after he got entangled with
a tractor as a young man. The resultant injury to his leg left him bitter and moody, resentful of all his fellow-men. That was his excuse anyway. Truth be told, he had been born with a bee in his bonnet and was lucky to find himself a good wife in Hannah Preston.
Not that he recognised her goodness. He saw only a weak female who gave him five children, all lacking in one thing or another. Especially the girl, who lacked the ability to find herself a man. But she had more guts than all the boys put together.
All these thoughts were going through Jack’s befuddled mind as he struggled to cling on to consciousness. A small amount of feeling crept into his body, pain running through every limb and a pressure on his chest that made it difficult to breathe. The
torrential rain had stopped. He felt clouds of earthy-smelling dust settle, soaking up the rivers of blood and burying him in a soft, silent blanket. Inside his head he could hear himself calling out, asking if anyone was there, calling for his mother and
his father and his brothers and, most of all, his sister, Martha. Of all his siblings, Martha was the one he loved the most. She was the only one who had the pluck to stand up to their father and she worked as hard as any man.
In his mind’s eye, Jack pictured the old stone farmhouse the Williams family had lived in for generations. He saw the wide green expanse of the undulating plains that were sometimes covered in purple heather; the flock of sheep scattered about the land
like white cotton-wool balls on spindly legs and the handful of cows, their udders bulging with milk with their young ones suckling. He saw Martha helping their father work the two border collies, Rosie and Biff, as they moved the flock to a different, more
verdant pasture, or brought the cows into the barn for the long, hard winter that never disappointed.
These pleasant images began to fade as more feeling crept
back into his body with all the pain of an individual who had been beaten to a pulp. He still couldn’t see or hear and all that came out of his mouth was a slight groan. Stop! He wanted to cry out at whoever was dragging him through the mud,
over rough stones that dug into his ribs and his legs. It was raining again. That horrendous downpour that had made life so much more difficult in that first trench, though when the rain eased off and the order went up to evacuate and advance, none of them
were happy to go and face the enemy. Rows and rows of their fellow soldiers had done just that and most of them were now fertilising the soil, some crying out for help as they lay shocked and wounded. Only a handful made it through the German lines, according
to the word that came back by messenger – a boy of about fourteen, staggering towards them, giving the CO the message in his last breath before succumbing to his own injuries.