The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask – Out Now!

Out today! The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask, Book 4 of The Secret of the Tirthas, is available to buy now on Kindle.

The paperback & other editions (iBooks, Nook etc) will be out in the next 2-3 days.

The perfect summer read!

You can order your copy here:

The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask


Map of Rowan Cottage’s garden of rooms

The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask is the fourth and penultimate book in The Secret of the Tirthas. The cover is currently being designed, and I’m aiming to publish it early next month. In the meantime, here’s the (slightly edited) Prologue as a taster.

Prologue

Suddenly, she was awake.

For a while Lizzie stared up, her nose still tucked under the duvet, watching the strip of moonlight that slanted across the ceiling. Then she reached a hand out into the cold and checked her phone wondering whether, with the clocks yet to go back, it might be nearly time to get up.

2.44. Back to sleep, Jones.

She shut her eyes and lifted the duvet over the top of her head. She could sleep forever. It was half-term after all.

But instead of falling asleep again, her mind began to wander. She found herself thinking of that first night she’d slept in this bed, almost a year ago, when she’d sat up and looked out of the window and seen the full extent of her great-uncle’s garden for the first time. His magical, rambling garden of rooms, with its neatly-clipped hedges criss-crossing in the moonlight, the narrow rill in the distance with the yellow folly, the Tower, at its end.

Why did she wake up?

Oh no, why had that question popped into her head? She wished her mind was a bit more rational and orderly. Why did it have to… why did she wake up?

She hadn’t heard anything in her sleep, had she?

She listened carefully, keeping as still as she could. She held her breath.

Nothing, no wind, not the hoot of an owl. Nothing.

So why did she wake up?

A little knot formed in her stomach. Suddenly everything felt strangely familiar, like she had already been in this time and place, experiencing this exact same sense of weird… apprehension… before.

Deja-vu. It was deja-vu.

Why?

She looked at the curtains, pale grey in the moonlight.

Look out the window? Don’t think so, not this time…

The feeling passed, and she relaxed slightly. She turned over and closed her eyes.

5, 4, 3, 2…1! It was no good. She pushed back the covers, sat up in her pyjamas, and pushed the curtain out of the way.

She didn’t even need to look around the hedges and rooms, her gaze fell straight on to the gleaming vision in white halfway down the garden, standing near the silver brook.

‘Oh my God!’ Lizzie sucked in breath.

Who was that? What was she doing out in the cold?

Squinting her eyes, Lizzie tried to make out more details of the woman. Yes, she was wearing a dress, a long white dress, that was what was so bright, reflecting the moonlight. But her face was… turned away. She was looking at the back of the woman’s head, at her short, or possibly tied-up, hair.

She felt a burst of panic. What was someone doing in the garden? She knew, her whole being knew from her hard-won experience, that nothing good, and almost certainly only something absolutely terrible, could come of this. What was she going to do?

And then her alarm ratcheted up to a whole new level as the woman began to turn around.

Lizzie’s eyes widened. There was something strange about the woman’s appearance, her face seemed large, somehow rigid, growing in brightness as it turned towards the moon hanging somewhere above Rowan Cottage, as it turned towards…Lizzie.

‘No!’ Lizzie whispered, as the woman fixed her shining face on her.

Moments passed, as they stared across the garden of rooms at each other.

After a while, Lizzie realized why the woman’s face seemed so stiff, almost mechanical – she was wearing a mask!

She couldn’t make out what type of mask, but it was both dark and shiny at once, with splayed out edges bigger than the woman’s face. Although, with all she’d experienced, who knew? Perhaps she was looking at some strange beast, why not an ogre with a gigantic head?

Why was the woman staring at her like this?

‘Don’t just stand there,’ Lizzie muttered. ‘Do something, won’t you?’

As if in response, the woman vanished.

Suburban Alembic

My grandma has peach sheets.
With arms weather-beaten as a sailor’s
she hoists them high
where they billow and flap
across Eastbourne’s sandy bric-a-brac,
the cool, evening pebble-blue sky.

Coming out from the side passage
the golden dog
spots the sheets
bounces into the bungalow garden
snaps like a puppy
at the dark fuzz of lawn.

Joy. She canters
dives and rolls
into the slap
drop
and leap of the sheets.

She twists and sits up
and barks
and barks again:

the dog knows –
the dog knows!

This

This

I hope when they arrive they see this first.
The red-and-white lighthouse
tied to the cliff-top,
the Channel slipping away to reveal
a ribbed parchment of sand
weed-streaked rocks
and space for three men,
an arching fishing rod.

They will not see a horizon.
Rather sea, sky, morning in union,
a relaxing of green and grey,
suffused with childhood blue.

It is beautiful and warm.
I hope this is where they come.
I hope this is what they see.

 

Eastbourne, April 2017

Polesden Lacey – English Country House inspiration for my next book

The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask, the forthcoming book in The Secret of the Tirthas, takes place in a fabulous country house based on Polesden Lacey, a property near Dorking that was almost bequeathed to the Queen but ended up in the hands of the National Trust.

My wife and I take our boys there on a regular basis, as they love amongst other things getting their hands on old stuff, grandfather clocks, the chickens when they’re not away on holidays, and, appropriately, the stone griffins. Plus the grounds are huge, and beautiful, so there’s plenty of space to run around.

I always wanted the series to be very diverse, with equal parts mystery and action, and a strong contrast between the exotic and well-known. After Lizzie’s harrowing ordeal in the Cameroonian jungle in The Dreamer Falls, I decided to revert to a gentler setting, with the emphasis once again on mystery and intriguing characters.

After watching an excellent BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (and then reading the no-less-brilliant book) I knew Lizzie’s story leant itself to the same kind of set-up. So I did some research and took a lot of photos of the building, uncovering more of the absorbing story of Margaret Greville, who bought the house with her McEwan’s inheritance (‘I’d rather be a beeress than an heiress’), and who held regular country parties for socialites from London and the wider Empire.

Portrait of Margaret Greville, Polesden Lacey

Margaret Greville collected ‘people with the unerring eye of a stamp-collector’ according to the Evening Standard, and her guests included European Ambassadors, Earls and Countesses, writers and poets – and Maharajahs. A perfect mix for an intense and suspenseful story, in which Lizzie is left wondering whether guests are who they say they are – or whether they are demons in disguise, come searching for a lost Artefact of Power.

The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask will be out in the early summer. The final book in the series (currently with numerous working titles!) will be out early next year.

Margaret loved her dogs, all of whom ended up in Polesden’s famous pet cemetery.

‘She being dead yet speaketh’

This poem was inspired by an inscription on a gravestone in Warwickshire:

‘She Being Dead Yet Speaketh’

just before I wake or when the dog
looks up suddenly from cracking its bone.
When my name sung by her voice
seeps through the wood in the house.
When I run to the phone,
thinking that it’s her.
Behind the confusion
of a stranger’s piped words.

In the blaze of the baby’s hair
as she sprawls beneath blue bay windows
I hear her still speaking
telling me always, telling me nothing,
making me feel, before it bursts,
like light.

Please, stop sending the cards.
She is still talking.
I am all right.

This was one of several poems I had published in the Belmont Art Centre’s Poetry File programme for secondary schools in Shropshire.

World Book Day & the ‘Magic of Children’

I’ve just spent the last two days being reminded of the magic of children.

Yesterday I attended a ‘Better Start’ conference in Blackpool, looking at the role the whole community plays in bringing up healthy children. There were some inspirational speakers, including Trevor Hopkins who spoke about all the things that make people feel safe and happy. His long list ended in spirituality, religion and magic. Remarking on how many in academic spheres often criticise him for adding magic he stated (here I paraphrase): ‘Well, you all know children. Children are magic.’

Today is World Book Day, and I was given an opportunity to see again the magic of children when I undertook my first Author Visit to Class 3 of North Wheatley Primary School. I did a short reading, after which I was preparing myself for blank faces – only to experience quite the opposite. For the next half hour – and then again after break – I was answering dozens of interesting and intriguing questions from these bright and lively pupils. Should Lizzie have gone through the portal? Would I have gone through the portal? (And then I was caught out by ‘what’s your favourite song’!) I was bowled over by the depth of thought that the children applied to their reading.

The morning finished with the children writing storylines for adventures through their own portals, and once again I was massively impressed by their imagination and creativity. Thanks to the Head teacher, Joanna Hall, for inviting me and special thanks to the class teacher, Kate Bailey, whose preparation made the session a real pleasure.