Books Bullying

From Distort to Despair

Sometimes, there’s just too much technology to learn when all I really want to do is to write and edit.

This month, I’ve been taking part in one of those Instagram challenges. Here it is:

Today’s word (yesterday’s actually), DISTORT, led me to insert an extract from my book, Cultivating a Fuji, or at least to try. I struggled to insert the extract in a post, so I decided to put the extract in a comment, but that didn’t work either.

I think it’s an important extract that shows a lot about people and life. So I’m putting it here instead. What does it make you think of? Does it remind you of any episodes in your past?

July 1968

Trevor’s dad looked up from reading Trevor’s end-of-fourth form report, a sour grimace distorting his countenance. He particularly disliked the comment from the maths teacher: “What has Trevor been doing for the last four years? Certainly not studying maths. His mark in the last exam is atrocious.”

“A son of mine should be able to do better than that,” Dad told Trevor.

By this time, Trevor had picked up a thing or two from all those around him. He might not have bothered with studying, but he’d filled his brain with tips for navigating his way through life. Searching for one that would help him now, he soon came across it. Point the finger back at them. Yes, that would work. “Were you good at maths, then?” he asked.

“No, but I knew how to just squeeze past the red line by the skin of my teeth.”

Hmm. Next tip. Get sympathy. “But I don’t understand half the stuff we’re learning. I need help. Can’t you get me a private teacher?”

“Private teachers cost a lot of money, son. Look, this is what you need to do. Find some kid who’s good at maths and offer him something he needs in return for helping you.”

“What if I don’t have what he needs, or I don’t want to give it to him?”

“I didn’t say you have to give it to him. Listen to me. I said offer it. When you don’t need him any more, you find a way of getting out of your part of the bargain.”

Seven-year-old Trevor would have found it hard to accept such advice, but at fifteen he had a completely different sense of fairness. The new sense told him it was fair to look after number one first. In fact, he generally took it even further and looked after number one exclusively.

Trevor soon had a victim in mind, one who fitted the bill perfectly. He was good at maths; he needed something; Trevor could promise it; Trevor could easily renege on his promise. As soon as the new term started, Trevor went in search of his prey.

As usual, he stood alone in a corner of the playground, feet together, back straight, and head down. As if he’d been given a punishment. In that position, it was easy to, well, corner him and announce a proposition. Trevor went over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Martin, I’ve been thinking. We could be friends. Would you like that?”

Martin blinked and nodded.

“You could come round to my place sometime, and I could go to yours.”

Martin’s eyes opened wider. His mouth, too.

Trevor could hardly believe how easy this was. “We’ll have to arrange it. In the meantime, I’m having a bit of trouble with differentiation. I missed some lessons, or I didn’t pay attention. You know what it’s like. Can you explain it to me?”


Poor Martin. But also, poor Trevor. Because it takes many years for Trevor to realise that looking solely after number one isn’t a good policy for life.

Cultivating a Fuji is available from Amazon.

Books Bullying

Pieces of Narrative

Today, I have a new author for you, from the US – new to me, at least. I don’t need to look any further than his writing for this post to know that he is someone whose work I’m eager to read. Henry Corrigan.

Do read on. You will find a thought-provoking article, a striking bio, a book blurb describing a highly promising plot, and a compelling excerpt.

A Man in Pieces will be published in four days and can be pre-ordered now.

The Narratives We Choose for Ourselves
by Henry Corrigan

High school is hell on earth. There is absolutely nothing new about this. There are myriad songs, books and horror movies written about its universally accepted brutality. Before high school, I was practically a straight-A student. I did my homework, studied for tests and I mostly enjoyed the work. That all changed once I reached high school.

Now, to hear my mother tell it, this sudden deviation was due to hormones. She said I hit puberty in eighth grade and it all went downhill from there. I became rebellious and lazy and stupid. And she told me this often enough that for many years after, it became my narrative. I believed that I’d let both myself and my family down by simply being a horny teenager who didn’t want to work.

It wasn’t until I sat down with a therapist and started talking about high school, what it was like and what I went through, that I began to understand how wrong that narrative actually was.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying my hormones didn’t contribute to the problems I had. I’m simply saying they were not the root cause.

In my freshman year of high school, my parents went through a nasty divorce which stemmed from domestic violence. It was also in high school that my grandmother both fought and lost a protracted battle with cancer. During this time I was bullied by both men and women and while this may not have happened in high school, I’m still counting it, because my grandfather fought and lost his own battle with cancer during my first year of college.

I barely made it through high school. I did not make it through my first year of college. I dropped out and spent the next couple of years working crappy jobs, hanging out with my friends, and trying desperately not to think about the future because it all felt like more than I could possibly handle.

When I finally finished telling my therapist about all this, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d failed somehow. But my therapist (God bless her) looked at me, shook her head, and said it sounded like I’d been in mourning.

She was right. I had been in mourning. I’d been grieving the loss of my grandparents and, in a way, the loss of my parents because after their divorce, my relationship with them was never the same. But I’d also been mourning the loss of myself as well, because it was during this tumultuous time that I changed in ways it would take me literally decades to understand.

But one of the things I did learn from all of this, is that while narratives can be helpful, they can also be constricting, even detrimental. Narratives often guide our lives in more ways than we choose to believe, which is ironic, considering they require our belief to function in the first place. So, we must always be careful which narratives we choose to put our faith in, and most especially when it comes to how we define ourselves over the course of our lives.

Author BIO

Henry Corrigan is a bisexual, omnivore author, poet and playwright who writes every kind of story. Whether it’s horror or science fiction, erotica or poetry, high fantasy or children’s books, he writes it all because every story matters to him. They’re what keeps him going. Always an avid reader, Henry started writing poetry in middle school but it wasn’t until he started writing erotica in high school that he really learned the mechanics of writing. What started out as private stories and love letters, soon became publications in anthologies.

To date, he has the rough drafts of two science fiction books, one horror novella, one play, four children’s books, numerous poems and several song lyrics waiting in the wings. Above all, he wants to be known for not staying where he’s been put. To always surprise people, especially himself. Because that’s what makes it fun. The feeling that even he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.

Social Media Links

Twitter. Amazon. Medium (articles). Facebook. Website. Blog.

Book Blurb

Driven by bad choices and worse options, a desperate father-to-be must battle his abusive boss for the last slot at a dead-end job, but the fight may lead one of them to murder.

Mike Harper would like nothing more than to burn his dead-end job to the ground. But with a wife on bed rest and a son on the way, discovering that the company is downsizing couldn’t come at a worse time. Now, struggling to stay afloat, Mike is forced to fight for the last remaining spot to secure his family’s future. It’s too bad that Tom, his obnoxious boss, is in the same boat.

Tom Downes is a man with few friends and even fewer prospects, but the aging veteran has never gone down without a fight. Now, with his health failing and his marriage falling apart, Tom is willing to do whatever it takes to keep his job.

With a blinding snowstorm closing in, these two desperate men will battle each other on a long and twisted road fraught with heartbreaking losses – and murder.

For when it comes to staying afloat, the American Dream can break anyone…

Pre-order/buy link to Amazon

A Man in Pieces: Excerpt

Friday January 22, 2016

Tom almost smiled, despite the pain.

Maybe it was how the kids laughed, or the way they moved, all flailing limbs and flapping jaws, their shrieks pealing across the street like remote controlled planes. There were four of them, all boys, and the tallest one, broad-faced with a nose like a putting wedge, dove headfirst into a snow drift before rolling easily to his feet. Every inch of him came up frosted, and his smile was as bright as the ice.

Two others, one thin and four-eyed, the other all braces and freckles, wordlessly dropped to their knees and started building a snowman together. The fourth, chubbiest by far, peeked sneakily from behind one of the cars in the driveway, a growing pile of snowballs at his feet.

With only one good hand and leg left to his name, Tom wobbled then hip checked the storm door open. He scowled at the flakes as they swept by. Light as confectioner’s sugar and deceptive as hell; the kind of shit that should fall apart but would pull at your tires in every turn.

The cold put his teeth on edge as he hobbled out on his stoop. Too late; he realized he’d put his keys in his usual pocket. He held his lunch bag between hip and cast and contorted himself until his muscles strained painfully, but the keys came out before any other part of him gave in.

He locked the door behind him, turning just in time to see the door across the street burst open. Out of it bounded a little one, half the size of the rest, same nose, same broad face as the tall one, but she lacked his coordination, and her long dark hair flew behind her like a personal flag.

From his hiding place, Chubby watched her too, and Tom didn’t find it hard to know what he was thinking. The minute she hit the snow she started running around the other three boys in chaotic circles. She wore a parka that was the pinkest thing Tom had ever seen in his life, and she chattered non-stop.

Chubby would peg her first, hard, and she’d probably cry and shriek, which would bring mommy out, but there was nothing for it. It was the way of boys and girls at that age. It’s what Tom would have done if he’d been Chubby.

As if he was keeping to a script, Chubby ducked back down and mashed two snowballs together until he had a real bellringer in his hands. Tom saw him smile and straighten; his arm cocked back with all that flabby weight behind it.

A small, white missile caught him right in the eye.

Chubby yelped like a kicked dog. He wiped furiously at his face. Tom blinked and shook his head in surprise.

The kid sister was beaming like a spotlight, both arms high in a celebratory V. It took less than a second for the other boys to start the pointing and laughing. Chubby’s face turned red, and Tom thought he saw the glint of tears, but that might’ve been the snow melting on his cheeks. Older brother gave kid sister a high five and then they went to help the others with their snowman.

Chubby and his stockpile were forgotten, and play resumed.

Tom glanced towards his car, which seemed a million miles away. The kids couldn’t see how fast it was coming down, or how it was sticking to everything in sight. They wouldn’t have to feel the ice beneath their tires and the ruts and the cracked roadways and the salt and sand so thick it could strip the paint off a car. The most they’d see of it would be watching their parents white knuckling the wheel.

Tom envied them for that. It had only been a couple hours since his last dose of pain meds but already he could feel it. His broken bits were starting to throb again, but it was a groggy kind of pain, almost slipshod, as if someone had laid a shawl across his shoulders that just happened to weigh forty pounds.

In the back of his mind he knew it was a risk heading out, even if he’d been a hundred percent. Already he anticipated the slip of the wheel and the stupid fucks out there driving like traction was something the other guy had to worry about.

Nothing for it, troop. Get your ass in gear.

The voice was right. He never called in yesterday and this was the wrong time to make a mistake like that. Who knew what Asshole Mike had been up to while he was gone? He couldn’t afford to let that sonuvabitch get a foothold, not this close to the end. If he did…if management even thought it was a contest…

Fuck it. Won’t happen.

So what if he hadn’t called in? It was his first sick day in what, a year? Hell, longer than that, had to be. He didn’t need to explain himself. He just had to walk in as he was.

Hey guys! How’s it going? Oh this? Yeah, it was nothing. Had an accident yesterday, but I’m here now. No big deal. Why am I not home, Pat? Come on, man. Got work to do, don’t I?

Nodding to himself, Tom pulled up the collar of his jacket, took a step down the walk, and almost had his feet shoot out from under him.

He teetered and staggered, nearly fell, managed to get his balance but at the cost of his bad foot hitting the ground hard. The bones twisted and howled, sending tracer rounds of pain across his whole body. Tom cursed loudly and sucked in a great big mouthful of burning winter air and then he was hacking like he’d never stop. He coughed ’til his chest burned, ’til his eyes watered, like there was something wet and sickly inside him he couldn’t get out.

He ended up bent over double with a bitter taste in the back of his throat. He breathed as deep and slow as he could ’til his heart stopped its panicky scramble, and he could see straight again. Straightening slowly, he filled his mouth with all that gunk, and spat it, long and wet, into the snow.

Being sure to keep his head high, he turned towards the kids, a hard glare ready for any of them stupid enough to be staring. But the effort was wasted. None of them noticed. Chubby had rejoined the ranks and their play had evolved into a bastardization of football and dodgeball, one kid tasked with making it to the curb before the others pelted the living hell out of him.

Tom wiped his chin and thought about the drive ahead. It would be a bitch, no doubt, but if he got his ass in gear, he could still make it with time to spare. That was all he needed, really. Just enough to fend off Asshole Mike and prove that he deserved to be there.

Stepping carefully, limping heavily, he inched his way down the walk. He’d forgotten his gloves inside, so by the time he cleared the headlights and all the windows, his hands were as white as porcelain and ready to crack.

It took more maneuvering but eventually he opened the door, and his ass met the front seat. As soon as the Crown Vic barked to life, Tom cranked the heater as high as it would go. He couldn’t afford to give it any warmup time, but he forced himself to sit there for a couple minutes anyway. The Vic was ten years old and not in the best of shape. Stressing it, even a little bit, in the middle of winter, was a bad idea. He stared at the dashboard clock as the seconds passed. The clenching in his gut, the way his skin and bones and fucking everything itched to get moving, made it seem like the seconds were taking their time. Out for a stroll through a warm and sunny park Tom would never find.

He closed his eyes and sucked in one long breath, hoping it would steady him, but before he could get that far, the hacking came back, stealing away what little breath he had.

This coughing fit hurt even worse than the last, and when all that wet filled his mouth again, he rolled down the window and hocked it into the snow. By the time he looked back at the dash, the last minute had passed. He threw the car in gear and peeled out of the drive. The kids didn’t notice his passing and he paid them no mind. He was too busy praying for a break in the lights.

Out in the street, he twisted the wheel, and headed for the main road. As he picked up speed, the wind stripped away everything he was too weak to reach – the icicles off his bumpers, the slush off the wheels, even the little bit of red off the door, the thin, drooling streak that stretched from the window to halfway down the paint. It slipped away unnoticed in the gray and white morning.

Books Bullying Social anxiety

Body Image and Mental Health



In the UK, today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is: body image.

I know, mostly through meeting social anxiety sufferers online, that body image is huge among the causes or aggravators of social anxiety. People worry that they’re too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too ugly. It doesn’t matter if these self-perceptions are true; they’re very real for their owners. For people with social anxiety, poor body image is another reason – sometimes the main reason – for them to cover up and hide themselves as much as possible.

And yet, there are other people who are just as tall, short, etc., who are happy with their bodies. Eurovision viewers are about to get another look at Netta, who seems perfectly content with hers.

Here’s a quote – from one of the many who kindly agreed for their words to be published anonymously in my non-fiction book, Social Anxiety Revealed:

I was told I was funny looking, ugly and weird and people laughed at me and I haven’t been able to shake it off, no matter how hard I try. Deep down, I know I’m not ugly, but when I’m in social situations my mind completely changes and there are those doubts and comments that people have made to me creeping around, and I begin to think I’m the ugliest person there.

Martin, the main character in my new novel, Cultivating a Fuji, doesn’t worry about the way he looks. He might have scolded himself for wearing the wrong clothes at a party, but he’s presumably fine with his body, because it’s not something he thinks about. The reason for that is probably that body image is not one of the things he was teased about at school.

For the person quoted above, it probably did start at school. Children can keep laughing at the victim for something that isn’t true, with no idea that this often causes poor self-image that can last for the rest of the victim’s life. This is why adults, who hopefully know better, need to intervene.

Cultivating a Fuji - Front Cover~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CULTIVATING A FUJI is released this Wednesday, 15th May, but there’s no need to wait. This is what you can do now:

Bullying Social anxiety

Celebrating a Decade and a Half

Fifteen years have passed since the day that changed my life. It seems like yesterday and it seems like a century ago. So much has happened since that day – good things, although there’s plenty more I hope for. And yet, I remember that day so well, and the months that followed.

To celebrate, I’m repeating my post from five years ago.


On 3rd March, 2002, I received an email. It began: “Hi, it’s Gill Balbes (as was) here. Was talking to Jane the other night and she was telling me about how she’d been in contact with you and that you remember me (as I do you) so I thought I’d say hello. Schooldays seem a long way off but it would be nice to hear how you’re doing.”

Schooldays certainly were a long way off. It was over thirty years since I’d walked out of the school gates, vowing never to have any connection with any of the girls I’d known over the previous seven years – a few even longer. It was only recently that I’d added my name to the Friends Reunited site, opening up the possibility of contact, although I didn’t expect anyone to write to me.

But Jane did write and I made a decision: that if I was going to correspond with anyone from school, I would make the relationship meaningful by being open about what happened to me there. If they didn’t want to discuss it, there wasn’t much point in reuniting.

Fortunately, Jane did agree to discuss it. She also apologised for what she did to me, although I didn’t hold her or any of the former pupils to blame as adults for their actions as children. I always knew the bullying (which I called teasing then) had had a bad effect on the rest of my life, but never thought the children were mature enough to understand what they were causing.

Jane soon put me in contact with Gill, who had more time to write. Gill and I corresponded almost daily for a long time, and she became a very special friend to me. It was Gill who told me about social anxiety. I didn’t realise the significance of it at first, but gradually two things became clear. I was not alone in being this way and it’s possible to improve. (I don’t think it makes sense to say there’s a cure, and I don’t think there needs to be one.)

Gill has been the catalyst for many changes in my life – for starting to write, for starting a blog, and much more. We have now met several times. After ten years, I still count Gill as a very special friend.


Actually, Gill and Jane are both very special friends. Do you have a friend story you want to share?

Books Bullying

About Bullying

Girls spreading rumours

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about bullying. Time to bring it up again, methinks.

This post from May, 2014 describes a study that shows the impact of bullying can last a lifetime.

To me, the results of the study are obvious. I would have been surprised if they had been different. But I’ve heard the opposite account:

I was bullied as a child. It made me stronger and better able to stand up for myself.

And I say (under my breath): well done. I’m happy for you. But don’t ever make me think I’m to blame because that wasn’t my experience.

Probably when people have said this, they didn’t intend to apportion blame to others. Probably it was simply the way I viewed it for a long time. Fortunately, I have learned to change that view. The way I coped with the bullying then was what caused it to influence my adult life. But I couldn’t possibly have known then what effects my coping method would cause.

I have read two excellent Crooked Cat novels that feature bullying: Myopia by Jeff Gardiner and Once Removed by KB Walker.

In the first, the victim is unlikely to have lasting effects, as the experience is short-lived and he is a popular child. In the second, I think effects could continue. It depends how her life spans out.

Are there any novels that continue past the childhood experience? I haven’t read any. But one of the novels I’ve been working on of late attempts to do just that. I hope it sees the light of day soon.

By the way, the post mentions three signs that show that something is wrong: children not wanting to go to school, failing grades, crying. While these are common, they’re not universal. None of them applied to me.

Bullying Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Beth

Letters from ElsewhereHave you ever written a letter you didn’t send? I have… once or twice. I didn’t know how the letter would come out when I started it. But when I finished and read it through, I knew it was too revealing. No, I’m not going to tell you the details, but I will let you read the letters (or notes) that Beth didn’t send or give to her mother. Three failed attempts to tell her mother what she couldn’t say. I think they speak for themselves, but there is an explanation below.

Three crumpled sheets, tear stained and blood spattered, escape from the bottom of a torn bin bag…




Once Removed

Once Removed: CoverA silent cry for help…

Suspecting self-harm, newly qualified teacher, Abriella Garside, risks everything for a troubled pupil. An incident with a craft knife and unexplained injuries are not enough to secure help for the girl.

Unsure whether Beth is being bullied or has problems at home, Abby tries to win her trust and the two begin a friendship. But has the teacher gone too far?

In the midst of Abby’s own complicated life, Beth disappears. Rumour and suspicion ignite, fanned into an inferno with Abby at its heart.

Two lives hang in the balance.

Once Removed is available in digital and paperback formats from:

Once Removed: Banner

100-word stories Books Bullying

100 Word Challenge – Week #136

Click on the image to join in the challenge

The task this week is to write 105 words including:

…. it was 50 years ago…

For the first time, I think, I’ve decided to write non-fiction for this challenge.

The Last Day

The last day of primary school. I remember it vividly, even though it was 50 years ago. Teachers and children actually wrote nice things in my autograph book. I strolled round the playground with one of the girls. She said, “I’m sorry we were so nasty to you.” I said, “It’s easy to say that now,” to which she replied, “But I mean it.”

If only she’d said that earlier, and followed her words with a change in her attitude, and encouraged her friends to do the same. I believe I would have been a very different person today, even though 50 years have passed.


Only 15 days to the launch of my book.

Books Bullying

Blurred Vision

I remember three books I’ve read about bullying in the past. In all three, the victims were boys.

In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Piggy is an obvious victim. He’s obese, he wears thick glasses and he says all the wrong things. He remains that way to the bitter end.

Marcus, in Nick Hornby’s About a Boy, is a bit strange. I loved this book but was disappointed in the end when Marcus stopped being strange with no transition from one state to the other.

In Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult does a great job of portraying Peter, the boy who has taken as much as he can and gets his revenge by going on a shooting spree. (I’m not giving anything away because this happens right at the beginning.) When it comes to Josie, the plot becomes unbelievable, in my view, but that’s another topic.

Jeff Gardiner‘s Myopia, which I read recently, has a much more believable plot. It’s aimed at young adults, and so I had to get used to the style, but it works very well and definitely held my interest.

And yet I was disappointed when I finished it. Jerry, the victim, seemed too normal. The bullying eventually turned him into a hero. It all seemed too easy.

Then my vision cleared as I realised what my problem was. This story isn’t my story. It’s very different. But that doesn’t make it any less valid. In fact, it’s probably more typical than mine. And all stories about bullying serve a useful purpose in helping readers to understand what bullying does.

Well done, Jeff, for tackling this difficult topic in such a sensitive way.


Writing the above list made me realise that I’ve never read a book about a girl who is bullied. Have you? Can you recommend one?

Books Bullying


I have another visitor, today. Jeff Gardiner has dropped in while on his blog tour. It’s just as well you didn’t arrive in Jerusalem yesterday, Jeff, or you might have found yourself drowning in a sea of black hats!

I’ve just started reading Jeff’s previous novel, Myopia. I was attracted to that one, of course, because the main character is a boy who is bullied.

Igboland cover5

Igboland is a very different sort of novel, as Jeff’s description shows.

Igboland is a novel of passion and conflict set in Nigeria during the late 1960s Biafran War. Lydia is a young English girl, recently married to Clem, a Methodist Missionary. Their first home together as a couple is in the West African bush, thousands of miles away from her beloved family. Lydia and Clem arrive in Nigeria just as civil war breaks out and the extract below is of their first sight of their new home. The novel is inspired by the diaries and photos of my own parents, who lived out in West Africa for six years. They travelled to Nigeria on a ship, The Apapa, and then travelled hundreds of miles on a train into the foreign bushland.

Box 1001 Apapa

Here is an extract from Chapter 2 of Igboland:


That evening the train came to a sudden, jerking halt.

‘Here we are, my love,’ Clem said with a nudge. ‘This must be Enugu. Look lively.’

‘Sorry,’ I mumbled. ‘I’m so tired. I don’t feel very well.’

With little sympathy, Clem pulled me up and tucked his arm into mine. We stopped by the door and I wondered why he didn’t open it straight away. Instead, he stepped back and I heard a harsh but muffled voice shout from below us.

‘Why’s there no platform?’ Clem asked aloud. ‘What’s going on?’

I looked out the window and noticed a soldier outside on a raised hillock, waving two hands above his head at us. In one hand he held a gun.

‘Stay behind me,’ Clem ordered.

The soldier was gesticulating for us to exit the train.

Clem opened the train door and stood in front of me with his hands up.

‘Come down from the train!’ the soldier beckoned furiously again; his face impenetrably dark under his peaked cap. I had no idea which side he was on – or even which side might show us the greater sympathy. Thus my ignorance enhanced my fear.

box 1066 Zonkwa station

The soldier came closer, placing his gun in his holster.

‘Quickly. The line ahead has been bombed. Enemy soldiers are patrolling and all ways into the city are blocked.’ His English was excellent; clearly the product of a good education. With there being no platform, the drop down to the floor was considerable. Clem jumped for it but tumbled over and turned his ankle. The soldier reached up and signalled for me to jump onto him. He easily caught me. I wrapped my arms round his neck and my legs round his waist, and then he lowered me gently to the ground.

Behind me, I became aware of the other passengers jumping down, the driver and stewards amongst them. They stood in large groups chattering excitedly amongst themselves.

‘You must turn back. Go back North. Perhaps we could drive you north to a safer place like Jos.’

Clem shook his head. ‘We’re going to Ngkaluku.’

‘This is not a good idea.’

But Clem insisted and nearly came to blows with the soldier.

He asked to see our passports.

‘Mr and Mrs Davie.’ He enunciated each sound very deliberately.

‘Reverend Davie,’ Clem replied pedantically.

When he saw he was getting nowhere with my stubborn husband, the soldier whistled behind him and a group of about a dozen similarly dressed soldiers appeared. They talked to each other in their own tongue. A few of them gave us dirty looks and began to argue amongst themselves. Eventually the first soldier, presumably their leader, returned accompanied by another.

‘Corporal Nwoko here will drive you to your destination and leave you there. Are you sure this is what you want?’

Clem stood firm and the soldier in charge shook his head. He obviously had a more important mission to complete and was keen to get us out of the way. Giving up on us as a lost cause, he went to talk sense into the other passengers.

Corporal Nwoko pulled the limping Clem towards a clump of trees away from the stationary train and I followed behind like a puppy. It occurred to me just then that he might be preparing to shoot us and a rising sense of panic struck me. The relief was palpable when I saw an open-top Jeep parked under a mahogany tree.

‘I will drive you now,’ said Corporal Nwoko, leaping into the driver’s seat and jerking his thumb behind him.

Clem got in the back with me and we sped off down a red dirt track pocked with potholes. The bumps only worsened my headache.

‘You come here at very bad time,’ our driver shouted over his shoulder, ominously.

For the rest of the car journey I phased in and out of the intermittent conversation. I remember very little about the last part of our long and tortuous trek. My only recollections are short flashes of being bumped around, with my head on Clem’s lap; having flushes of being freezing cold and then sweating profusely; the voices of the two men chatting between long silences as I drifted in and out in waves, feeling horribly claustrophobic. A new warmth embraced me as I allowed my entire being to be engulfed by the looming jaws of darkness.

box 1015 Iga village

‘Lydia? We’re here!’

‘What, home?’ I said, filled with happiness.

I was going to see Mum’s dimpled smile and her mischievous eyes; Dad’s strong arms would welcome me back and Oliver would proudly call me his ‘favourite sister’. I even saw Frisky bouncing up on his back paws, tongue out, tail wagging–—

‘Welcome to Ngkaluku.’

The dream crumbled.

My life crashed about me as my head swam in a panic. I wanted to scream and thrash about but my whole body felt drained of all energy. All my limbs were paralysed.

This wasn’t home. Home was thousands of miles away.

Clem helped me out. We stood alone in the West African bush.

Corporal Nwoko revved his engine noisily and turned his vehicle round. On the way past he slowed down and leaned over towards us.

‘We try to warn you,’ he sneered in a chilling tone, before accelerating away.

The sight awaiting us was horrific.

Ngkaluku had been recently bombed.

The devastation shocked us. Bodies and limbs lay piled up. Dead faces stared out with eyes burnt from their sockets. Many of the corpses had been smashed beyond recognition, or possessed gashes of bloodless open flesh exposing rotten innards. Swarms of flies flickered around the heaps. Dogs and other small scavengers made dashes past the children instructed to keep them off. Vultures hopped about sullenly only a short distance away. Grotesque as it was, the sight continued to entice me to look. After a while, I could no longer return the gaze of these death masks. Without a second thought, Clem went to help the locals in their search under debris for further bodies, which were then carried over to a hut now designated a makeshift medical centre. A local doctor had already assembled a team of helpers and was doing what he could with very few resources.


Wow – exciting stuff! Thank you for that excerpt, Jeff, and good luck with your new novel.

Igboland is available as a paperback or e-book (Kindle, Epub or PDF) from Amazon US, Amazon UK or Crooked Cat Books.

You can visit Jeff Gardiner at his website or his blog.

Igboland cover6

Books Bullying Social anxiety

Why can’t you forget and move on? (part 2)

Yesterday I began to write my reasons why I no longer want to hide my past, and how I should answer a writing colleague who wonders why. He deserves an answer; as well as asking me to my face, he wrote the question on his critique of my personal essay: “Why can’t the writer just MOVE ON and forget about all these injustices which are way gone?”

Interestingly, the same man also wrote, “I learned a lot about this social anxiety problem,” and he told us he’d looked up the term.

In the excellent post I mentioned yesterday, Joe Warnimont also wrote:

It’s when we forget to listen to stories of misfortune, the same events happen over and over again.

In writing, we need to consider what readers can gain. The rest of my reasons for writing about my past are for the readers:

  • I want to help readers to understand me and the many others like me. I want to clear up the misconceptions: that we’re stuck up, don’t want to talk, etc.
  • I hope, like my writing colleague, readers will learn about social anxiety, which is much more common than most people think.
  • I hope readers will learn about bullying and what it can do to the one on the receiving end of it.

If my writing could also lead to help for those who are suffering now, that would be the best reason of all.

I didn’t gain anything through all the years I tried to forget what happened. As Angela Brown said in her comment on my post from yesterday:

Forgive, forget, move on. Easier said than done because, in more instances observed, moving on doesn’t come from forgetting, it comes from the growth learned and earned from experiences.

Remembering is much healthier, if done in the right way. I don’t write about the past to perpetuate some feeling of victimhood. I’m not stuck in the past. My essay ends on a positive note with my hopes for the future. Looking back has helped me to look forward to something better.