Letters from ElsewhereI haven’t quite “landed” following the twelve-and-a-half-hour flight back from Hong Kong and I have a visitor. He’s a boy called Luke. He sounds quite sensible really. And brave.

Dear Mum and Dad

Sorry about the incident at school. I was stupid and have no real excuse. Sometimes I do things without thinking.

I know I’ve been a bit strange and distant recently, but I find it hard to tell you exactly what’s going on. In fact, there are some things you just would not believe – I hardly believe them myself.

You wanted me to be friends with Guy didn’t you? At first I kept thinking, why him? He’s so… weird. I know he has ‘special needs’ or whatever they’re called, but everyone else at school laughs at him. He gets bullied, but I promised to look out for him. And I did. I am.

I was right about him being weird. He is. He has this incredible ability to attract animals – wild animals that he handles without them hurting him or being scared. Birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, you name it. He seems to have special powers, like some kind of ‘Nature Boy’.

So we’ve become friends, which is kind of good because it’s what you wanted me to do. But it’s bad too, because now my mates at school think I’m a weirdo as well. They make stupid comments about us being ‘gayboys’. Just jealous I suppose.

Guy has shown me awesome things I never knew existed. He talks about the ancient magic of the natural world. When he talks like this he sounds like an old man, or some kind of wise guru. I told you he was weird. He uses words like ‘Gaia’ and ‘numen’, which I don’t fully understand.

He seems a bit obsessed with environmental issues. I think he’s one of those hippy tree-hugger types. He keeps going on about how we’re killing planet Earth with stuff like pollution, deforestation and over-fishing the oceans. If the planet’s dying then it needs some large-scale changes – and quickly.

The other day Guy said he wanted me to help him look for his mother. I know he lives with foster parents, so it’s normal to want to find your biological parents, but aren’t there agencies that can help you trace family? He said his mum is dying but he doesn’t know where she is. I wasn’t sure how to help him, but maybe you could have a chat with his foster parents.

I just wanted you to know that I’m fine. I really am sorry about the trouble I’ve caused, and that I’m not always the easiest person to be with. But being with Guy has taught me a great deal. I wish I could tell you about the really amazing stuff… about the magpie that was tapping on my window… about being in the middle of a storm… and what really happened to Frisky…

When the time comes, I promise to tell you everything. At the moment I just need you to trust me that I’m fine and that I mean it when I say I’m sorry for all the hassle I’ve caused you.

Thanks for being there.

Lots of love

Luke x

PicaNewRel

About PICA by Jeff Gardiner

PicaFrontCoverPica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.

Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.

Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.

JeffGardinerAndPicaWhere to find Jeff and Pica

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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.

I’ve hopped again – so quickly I’m not even sure where I am, but I’m sure it’s somewhere in the UK.

Geff Gardiner is an author who is hard to categorise. Each of his novels is very different, and as his website says, his “short work and long fiction spans and explores genre boundaries.”

Many thanks to Jeff for letting me land on his blog and babble about life-changing decisions.

The schedule:

18 June Catriona King My Route to Publication
20 June Cathie Dunn The Background to my Novel
22 June Sarah Louise Smith Arranged Marriage
22 June Jeff Gardiner Life-Changing Decisions

AuthorsWilliam Golding

Wikipedia says,

Sir William Gerald GoldingKt., CBE (19 September 1911 – 19 June 1993) was an English novelist, playwright, and poet who won a Nobel Prize in Literature, and is best known for his novel Lord of the Flies. He was also awarded the Booker Prize for literature in 1980 for his novel Rites of Passage, the first book in what became his sea trilogy, To the Ends of the Earth.

Golding was knighted by Elizabeth II in 1988. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 2008, The Times ranked Golding third on their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.

Jeff Gardiner

Crooked Cat says,

Jeff’s short story collection, ‘A Glimpse of the Numinous’, contains slipstream, horror, humour and romance and has enjoyed some excellent reviews. His non-fiction work, ‘The Law of Chaos’, explores the works of writer Michael Moorcock and to be published in all e-book formats. Many of his stories can be found in small press anthologies, magazines or websites.

When he isn’t writing, Jeff is also a parent, an English and Drama teacher, as well as a (very amateur) actor. He has just completed a novel set in Nigeria during the Biafran War and is currently working on further fiction for young adults.

Myopia, his contemporary YA novel about a bullied school boy was released in December 2012. His latest novel, Igboland, was out in February 2014.

The Link

Jeff says, “Like me, William Golding was an English teacher. His first novel, ‘Lord of the Flies’ was finally published after many rejections (21) and when he was in his forties. That same novel accurately describes many of my less effective lessons. He also had an interest in theatre and acting; I also teach Drama and have performed a number of roles on stage. But only one of us has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’ll leave you to work out who….”

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?

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