Novel – Chapter Seven

This is the last chapter for now. I am still writing this novel and will publish it when I have finished it.


Bill sat at the table and watched Grace rocking Bobby in her arms and Arthur playing with his soldiers on the floor. Bobby squirmed and sucked at the air.

“It’s Saturday, Grace,” he said, “You want to go dancing?”

Grace stroked Bobby’s hair and then laid him down in his crib. “I am too tired to go dancing,” she said. She walked towards him, picked up a knife and continued chopping up potatoes for lunch.

“Issy can look after the kids. Albert will be there, and Mum and Dad.” Bill reached out towards her.

Grace let out a deep sigh and went back to the crib. She looked down at Bobby and rearranged his blankets.

“No, Bill. I don’t think so,” she murmured.

“We used to go all the time.”

“I know. You go. You go with Albert.”

“I don’t want to go with Albert. I want to go with you. I married you. We don’t go out anymore.”

“I can’t… Bobby needs watching.”

“Issy can watch him—”

“No, Bill. No!”

Bill went to the dance with Albert that night. It was at the local town hall and was a jolly event. The hall was decorated with streamers and wreaths, and reminded Bill of the dances during the war that he had gone to with Grace. They had danced all evening together waltzing around the room and trying the foxtrot. Bill had not danced much before he met Grace, but she loved to dance and had encouraged him up on the floor. He missed those nights with her and felt selfish for wanting more nights like those.

He drank too much that night and did not go home. Another night spent drifting through the streets of London, another cuppa under the portico in Covent Garden, another moment when he felt reality shifting and could not grasp onto his own life. He thought he had made strong decisions in his life, ones that would bring him a sense of security and happiness. He thought that marriage with Grace would stop the wanderlust he had felt as a younger man. She had made him feel so happy when they first met and now he just wanted to run. The sun was rising as he strolled home.

Arthur and Grace were up when he got back. He walked into the kitchen – the kettle was bubbling on the stove. Grace walked in from the hall and grabbed the teapot off the shelf.

“Where did you go?” she asked. “I get worried when you’re out all night.”

“I know,” he said, ignoring her question. “I’m going for a smoke.”

He climbed up the stairs to the roof. Some nights he would sleep up there. He would fancy he could smell the sea, and the London noises sounded like water lapping against the bow. Looking up at the stars, he would remember watching Orion’s Belt from the ship’s deck. The ground was hard, but he breathed easier outside. There were no walls to lean in and squeeze his brain. Grey walls that dripped tears of condensation as they grew taller and looked down on him accusing him of cowardice. His fear dissipated in the cold fresh air. He pulled his collar up near his ears.

His yearnings made him feel self-centred. He wanted them to go away. He wished they would go away. As his anxiety and depression grew, so did his nostalgia for the sea. Smiffy had not disappeared. In a circle of sorrow, wanderings, and debt, he feared Grace would know soon how useless he was and tell him to go.

Back in the flat, Bill sat down at the table in the front room. Grace put a steaming hot cup of tea in front of him and moved over towards Bobby’s crib. Bill watched as she looked down and put her hand on Bobby’s head.

“I got a letter from Francis.” His heart beat faster as he began to talk. Grace looked at him and moved back towards the table where a loaf of bread sat. She sawed a couple of slices and covered them with butter.

“What did it say?” Grace asked as she placed the plate in front of him.

“He’s having a jolly old time in America,” Bill replied. “Says we should go out and make a fresh start.”

“How could we ever do that?” Grace said. “We live from hand to mouth. We have little savings. Not enough for four tickets to America. It is just a dream.”

“I could get a ship job. I could send money.” Bill said slowly. “It—”

“You would leave us here alone?” Grace’s voice started to rise and Bobby stirred in his crib. Arthur looked up from his game of jacks.

“Where you going, Dad?” Arthur asked.

Bill got up from the table and squatted next to Arthur. He ruffled the boy’s hair.

“I’d get you when I could. Francis’ brother took a year – then sent money to his family.”

“You are going to abandon us?” Grace sounded distressed. “What will we do without you? How could we live here without you? Am I supposed to get a job and take care of two children on my own? This is a mad dream, Bill. Come out of those clouds and put your feet on the ground.”

Bill sighed and finished his tea. He looked around the room. Clothes hung from the horse that dangled from the ceiling. The room was small. The walls were grim. He sighed again. Bobby started crying. Grace picked him up and carried him into the bedroom.

Bill was disappointed. He did not understand why Grace couldn’t see the sense in moving to America. The newspapers reported stories of grand opportunities. Francis had written about shipyards, and the cruise ships that ran between New York and Bermuda. He felt in his heart that if he went there he would be able to create a life for his family that they would be proud of. If only Grace could feel this too.

He got up from the table and followed her into the bedroom.

“Love you,” he said, as he reached for his flat cap from the hook behind the door.

“I love you too,” she answered, as she rocked Bobby in her arms and kissed his forehead.

“But not as much as Bobby and Arthur,” Bill said.

“Bill Dawkins, what a thing to say!”

He looked deeply into her brown eyes and kissed her lips.

“Supper is at six.”

“Love you.” He kissed her again and walked out.

Novel – Chapter Six

Warning – This story includes some sensitive issues that might upset some readers.


Bill could hear the hum of machines as he sauntered up the street towards the black, iron gates. Men dressed in flat caps and heavy boots traipsed into the shipyard. It was raining and the water seemed to clean up the place. The yard was big – cranes lined along the edge like trees in winter.

‘Dawkins!’ Bill looked over to see Barrett, the yard manager, waving him over. ‘I need a word,’ he said and walked away from the gates towards a row of two storey buildings that held the shipyard’s offices. Bill walked toward the offices and followed Barrett up a steep flight of stairs, along a landing, and through a door so low that he had to stoop to get through. Barrett’s office was lined with wood, and a desk stood in front of a window that looked over the yard. Bill closed the door and stood looking at Barrett.

‘I’ve been told to get rid of you,’ Barrett said.


‘Hold yer horses,’ Barrett replied, ‘let me finish. I’m not going to do that. When you’re here, you’re a good worker. The problem is when you’re not here – you know?’ Barrett looked over at him.

Bill nodded.

‘I can’t make any more excuses for you, Bill. I know you have difficulties from the war – many of my workers do. But I can’t have you not turning up for work for days on end. I’m going to have to dock your wages. And if you have more than one day off a week in future, don’t bother coming back.’


‘That’s the end of it.’ Barrett walked to the door, opened it and left the room. Bill heard his footsteps on the stairs, as he stood looking after him. He knew this day would come. He knew he could not keep wandering off. But he also knew that the General Strike had made employers nervous and they would be careful not to sack him without good reason. He ran down the steps and out into the yard.

Scaffolding dwarfed the ship he was working on. He threw himself up the ladder and walked along the planks until he reached the deck. Opening his toolbox, he started to work.

Shipyards in London were few and far between. Many jobs had been sent up North to larger shipyards in Newcastle. When he had come back to London after the war, he could not get work. He had queued at yards and sought employment as a carpenter at various companies. Eventually, he got a job as a maintenance man in the Rotherhithe Infirmary where Grace worked as a domestic.

He loved his sweet girl. Her warmth and love had got him through the war. Dreams of holding her tight had been constant and he had felt lonely without her. He longed every day for her letters. One night, after two days of heavy warfare and little sleep, he woke to find one on his pillow and he delved into her words for the comfort they gave him. He felt so selfish that he wanted to be with her all the time and hated to leave her to travel thousands of miles away because of the Hun. Having dreamt of the day he would be able to stay, he now felt selfish when his dreams returned to the sea.

The shipyard stood by the Thames. The water lapped up to the dry dock and the fog blew in and out of the yard. Smells of oil and sawdust melded together. Bill drew the aroma into his nostrils as he worked. It was as familiar to him as breathing. He came from a family of shipwrights – his father and grandfather both held memberships to the trade union. He had apprenticed early in life. It had been expected of him.

The thud of machinery and men hollering fell into the background while he focused on finishing the cabinets. It was nearly lunchtime when he felt a hard prod in his back.

“Oi! Dawkins! Oi! You ignoring me?”

He looked up. The sunlight hit his eyes and he squinted.

“You got that money? Smiffy’s asking for it.” A tall, bald-headed man looked down on him. It was Jack – the local loan shark.

Bill shook his head. “I ain’t got it, mate.”

“You ain’t no mate of mine,” Jack replied.

Bill stood up and looked square into Jack’s eyes. “I ain’t got it! If I ain’t got it, I can’t give it to you!”

“Smiffy’ll go see your missus next week. You better get it to me before then or she’ll hear about it.” Jack pushed his unshaven face close to Bill and then marched away.

Bill started to chase after him and then thought better of it. No need to start fighting at work. Anxiety rose up his chest. How was he going to pay Smiffy off? He’d only borrowed the money because he’d spent days roaming and needed to pay the rent.

“Look out below!” The shout brought him out of his angst.

Bill turned and saw the hook on the boom slice straight into Jack’s head. He looked away. He grew faint. The sounds of the yard dimmed and he felt himself fall. The edge of the scaffold caught him as he went down.

He lifted his head and dropped it back down. Shouts boomed out across the yard. Everyone was focused on Jack, and Bill hovered on the edge of consciousness.

“Bill!” Someone slapped his face. “Bill, you all right?” They shook him.

As he opened his eyes his vision swam and curved. He closed them shut and shook his head.

“Bill. Bill.”

As he opened his eyes again, his vision was steadier.

“I’m all right,” he mumbled and sat there for a moment. When he tried to get up, he felt sick. Men were running in the yard and Jack’s body had been covered. The day was over. It would take hours for officials to take stock of the situation and Bill needed to move. Shaking as he stood up, he held onto the railings.

Wasn’t he harder than this? He’d seen worse in the war. Trying to pull himself together, he held the railings and trudged to the end of the plank. Grabbing the ladder in his hands, he climbed down. Men were standing around the yard waiting for orders. They talked quietly among themselves and smoked. Accidents in the yard happened. They just did. You got used to it. But for now, they smoked and talked.

“Yard’s closing. Go to lunch. Come back later.” The announcement was made as Bill wandered out of the yard towards the bus stop. He hopped onto the first bus that came along.

Jumping off in Bermondsey, he strode down a backstreet. Warehouses lined the cobble-stoned alley that ended by the river and The Angel public house. It had started to rain as he marched through filth and when he entered the pub, he removed his coat and shook it. He looked briefly around the room and spotted Albert at the bar. The tables between him and the bar were crammed with customers.

Albert could always be found in the Angel at lunchtime. He told Bill that even though the place was falling apart he found comfort in its creaky wooden floor and tatty red curtains. Bill knew people were surprised that they were brothers because they did not look alike. While Bill’s frame was strong and muscular, Albert’s was short and fat. Bill knew it was wrong to say, but likening Albert to a pug would be kind.


Bill slapped Albert on the back and gave his order. “Pint please, George,” he said pulling himself up on the shabby barstool. George grabbed a glass from the shelf behind the bar.

“You look rough,” Albert said, “You all right?”

“Accident at the yard.” Bill said, as he watched George. Because of a knife attack the previous year, George’s face was heavily scarred and his eye twitched constantly as if he was winking.

He placed Bill’s pint on the bar.

“Thanks,” Bill said. He took some coins from his pocket and passed them over the counter. Gulping at his bitter, he was aware his hand was still shaking.

 “What happened?” Albert asked.

“Crane hook.” Bill pulled out his tobacco and offered it to Albert.

Albert winced as he took the package. “Was it bad?”

“It was.”

“You don’t look right. Probably best you go home. They might close the yard.”

Rolling a cigarette, Bill bent to lick the paper and smelt the sweet tobacco.

“Jack got hurt. He’d been on to me about that money. Smiffy’ll tell Grace.”

“Grace will not be happy. Here, I can help.” Albert went to pull his wallet from his pocket and Bill reached over.

“No. No. Albert.” He held Albert’s arm down and shook his head.

“What’s a brother for if he can’t help? I ain’t got much but I can give you a few nicker.”

“I’m a selfish brute,” Bill said. “You’re a good man, Albert, and I’m a selfish brute.”

“Now, let’s not have any of that. We have to help each other out. I keep an eye out for you and you do the same. Always been like that.”

Albert was right. The two of them had been inseparable when they were little. Bill had taught Albert how to ride a bike. They had rode to Smiths for a penny mix on a Saturday morning and sat on the steps together munching sweets and chatting. Even when Bill moved to Portsmouth before the war, they wrote to each other every week. Bill wasn’t much of a letter writer but would struggle to put something down for his brother. They were best mates. Bill didn’t have any close friends. He knew blokes he would drink with and there had been girls before Grace, but nothing serious. He told Albert more about himself than anyone.

Bill shook his head and looked into his beer.

“So, what else is going on?” Albert said. “Grace all right? She must be nearing her time. How’s Arthur? You have to bring him round to our house soon. Mum would like to see him.”

 “We’ll all come round this Sunday.” Bill said. “Got this letter.” He dug around in his pockets and handed the letter to Albert. “Francis wrote to me about America. Says I should take Grace and Arthur there.”

Albert read the letter and set it down on the bar. “It’s a long way away,” he said, “What does Grace think? She’s near her time. Won’t she be upset? I don’t know if she would move so far. But now her mum and dad have gone, she might.”

“I haven’t told her,” Bill said.

“How would you get there? How would you find work?” Albert’s brow furrowed and he played with his cigarette.

“I might have to go first. Then send money to Grace. You could come too,” Bill said. He avoided Albert’s eyes and picked at his sleeve.

“I don’t know about that. I like it here. I’ve got my job and I’m happy with it. I don’t think you should go. If it doesn’t work out, you can’t just come back. You’d be stuck there in a distant country with a bunch of bloody foreigners.”

“Americans aren’t foreigners. They’re like us.”

“No one’s like us, Bill. I’m English and I like living in England. You won’t get me to travel to far-flung places. I’d miss this town and my pub. It’s a long way.” Albert shook his head, “It’s a very long way.”

Bill smiled at Albert. “You old stick-in-the-mud.”

“I know what I like,” Albert replied and punched Bill in the arm.


The flat was dark and quiet when Bill got home that night. He knew instinctively that Grace was at the hospital. She was near her time and that morning had looked fit to burst she was so big. He had teased her and laughed at her roundness and then placed kisses on her dimpled cheeks.

“Oh Bill, you do go on so,” she had said, delighted with his affection.

He lit the gaslight near the door and saw the letter on the table.


Grace is in labour. We have gone to the hospital. It is 2 o’clock. Arthur is with us.


Joy and trepidation filled him as he raced down the stairs and up the road.

Novel – Chapter Five

Warning – This story includes some sensitive issues that might upset some readers.


Bill wandered down Southwark Street and under the railway bridge; its huge metal beams a square cathedral above his head and trains ca-plank, ca-plank caplanking over the rails. The wind lashed around the corner and he leaned into it as he turned onto Blackfriars Road. Picking up grime from the street, the squall whipped it around Bill’s head. The railway arches’ sooty bricks ran by his side and standing to attention behind the arches the power station’s stack spouted foul smog.

Up ahead, Blackfriars Bridge crossed the river. Bill walked onto the bridge and stopped to collect his thoughts. He looked down into the murky waters of the Thames. The waves swirled around the piers causing white, cresting foam.

Carriages carrying diners to dinner and hansom cabs plying their trade passed by on the broad boulevard – the cabbies hunched up against the cold under their capes and bowler hats. Horse-drawn carts covered with black tarpaulin vied with open-topped buses. Bill considered jumping onto a bus, but continued on foot across the bridge. The old railway bridge accompanied his journey and he stopped to watch steam billowing from a passing train heading off to the coast.

With a day’s wages lost for the funeral, he needed to get back to work. Finances were tight and funeral costs high. He would go home soon. Maybe Grace would be asleep by the time he got there. When she got distressed, he felt responsible and inadequate – he had to be strong or he would lose her.

At Aldwych, Bill walked into the dim, smoky interior of The George and ordered a pint of ale. Pushing past groups of people he spied a pew in the corner by a small fireplace. He sat down and drank the beer. It was cold and bitter, just as it liked it. As he felt around in his pocket for his cigarettes, a letter brushed up against his hand. Taking out the thin, cream paper, he read it again. It had arrived a few days ago in an envelope adorned with a stamp declaring ‘United States Postage.’ Grace had told him she’d left it on the table.

His friend Francis had moved to New York three years ago. Settling in a new country had been tough. He had recently moved from a flat to a house in Brooklyn – not upmarket, but Francis was excited. There are plenty of prospects, he wrote. Bill thought back to when he’d lived with the Neehans in Southampton. The life he had lived there had been a happy, simple one. It was before the War, before the nightmares, before the world turned upside down.

It was twilight by the time he left the pub. Across the road, a lamplighter pushed his flat cap up his forehead and set his rickety ladder against an ornate lamppost. The same lighter had ignited the lamps that lit the lane leading Bill towards the Market and St. Paul’s church. Bill found peace in the hectic thoroughfares of Covent Garden. The dirty cobblestones and stench of decaying cabbages were oddly comforting. Lorries came and went slushing muddy water, while barrow boys with cigarettes hanging from their lips pushed bulky carts full of sacks through the congested streets.

Bill came to Covent Garden often and knew it was a bustling market all day. Apart from Christmas Day, it never stopped. Costermongers rushed passed him carrying baskets on their heads – whistling, and calling out to their mates as they went. Alongside the market was the theatre trade – carriages and cabs transported people to and from the theatres. 

Bill knew that if he was hungry, he could find refreshment at any hour in the many coffee houses, taverns and stalls. In these establishments that bulged with people, stories and grease, he would mingle with residents, theatregoers and market workers.

On the edge of the market was St Paul’s Church. Bill approached the church and put his hand up to the gate. It groaned as he pushed it open. He entered the garden and walked over the flagstones. An old man was lying asleep on one of the wooden benches. There but for the Grace of God go I, Bill thought as he made his way into the church.

Sitting on a pew near the back, he held his head in his hands and prayed. God bless dear Lenny on his travels back to you. God bless Grace and help her to find peace. God bless Arthur and help him to behave himself. Bill smiled at his last request. He finished with the Lord’s Prayer and lifted his head. The vicar was busying himself up at the altar, smoothing the cloth and moving the brass crucifix to a more central space. It must be time for evensong, Bill thought. He closed his eyes and rested for a while and, as the service began, he listened to the sacrament and hymns. Leaving the church after the service, he walked around to its portico.

Held high on stone columns, the portico was protection from the elements for workers and worshippers alike. Flower girls, with dirty aprons and decorative hatpins in their bonnets, sat on upturned baskets around a blazing brazier. Their cheeks were red as the fire burned strong. Bill stood behind the women and enjoyed the warmth of the flames. The tramps that called the portico home had not yet arrived. Either they were still begging for food, or had found other accommodation for the night. Bill sensed a kinship with the homeless – in his heart he felt like a nomad.

‘Evening…’ A man leaned up against the column of the portico. His flat cap bulged over hair so lank that it appeared blue in the evening light.

‘Evening,’ Bill replied.

‘Not too cold is it?’ The man said as he chewed on the cigarette between his lips.

‘No…’ Bill sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand.

‘You got money for a cuppa?’

Without question, Bill strolled over to the coffee stall and bought two cups of tea. As he handed the tea to the man, he noticed his sea green eyes. They both sat on the column base near the fire and sipped the milky warmth in a cup. A few more people edged themselves into the portico as if they were wary of being asked to leave – as if they were asking permission to exist.

‘Lost this in the war,’ the man said as he pointed to the stump that was his arm.

Bill nodded.

‘Don’t talk much about it, but it’s bothering me tonight. When it gets cold it bothers me.’ The man held his hand and stump out towards the fire.

Bill nodded again.

‘You in the war?’ The man’s eyes seemed to water.

Bill looked over and hesitated.

‘Course you were. We all were. Trudging through the mud. Waiting in the trenches for weeks. Waiting was the worst – waiting for the next round of bullets and the next guy to be picked off. Watching for the bomb to scatter mud and bones.’ The man rubbed his bristled chin. His coat was tatty and worn and the evening mist sat around his shoulders.

‘I was in the navy,’ Bill said.

‘I’ve talked with sailors. They tell me waiting for torpedoes to hit was the hardest.’

Bill nodded.

‘The day I lost me arm, I was in the trenches. I was amazed I was still alive. Everyone I knew was dead. We got the line by the skin of our teeth. That morning we moved forward. We was in no man’s land in front of our trenches. Shrapnel was flying everywhere. We found a muddy hole to hide in. Our guns started firing all around us. The Huns was firing back. We were buried in the mud with shells landing near us. It was amazing none of them hit us.

‘Later, we looked over the edge of the hole. Tanks were coming. We hauled out of the hole and ran towards a crater. I gets hit with shrapnel, bandaged up and abandoned in the hole. The others headed towards the Germans – killing all they could see. I was left for so long that when the medics found me, they couldn’t save my arm.’

The man played with the tip of his cigarette, rammed it back into his mouth and chewed.

‘My ship was torpedoed,’ Bill started. ‘It went down quickly.’

He paused and looked into the fire.

‘There was shouts ‘submarine; submarine’ and then the ship shuddered and I was thrown about.’

Bill shook his head as he remembered. He could still see it clearly, like a film in his mind.

‘I never talk about this. It’s too much.’

‘We all went through it,’ the man said. ‘No one likes to talk about it. Me arm is the only reason I mentioned it. It aches so and there is nothing there to ache. I sometimes think I’m losing my mind.’

‘If I talk about it,’ Bill replied, ‘my wife tells me to go see the doctor. I’m not going to the nuthouse.’

‘Me neither, mate. Me neither. So what happened after you was hit?’

‘It went down quick. I never thought it would go down that quick. There was an explosion. The magazine was hit or a fire or something. Anyway, we were hit and then there was a huge noise and the whole ship shook. I was thrown out into the passageway and made my way to the deck. The sights I saw that day, I’ve never seen anything like that. Those things don’t go away. They stay up here.’ Bill poked his head, ‘They stay and haunt me.’

The man held out his hand.

‘I’m Jim.’


They shared a moment silence – remembering the horrors.

‘I feel so guilty…’ Jim said, ‘I should have died… I think I should have died anyway. It bothers me that I live on while my friends are dead.’

‘I killed my friend,’ Bill said.

Jim looked at him but said nothing.

‘He called out to me… he was trapped.’

A tear fell down Bill’s cheek and he wiped his face with his cuff.

‘He wanted help, but I didn’t have time. I left him to drown… I’m a coward…’

‘You are not alone. The war made cowards of us all.’

Bill felt trapped by his chat with Jim. He stood and stumbled out of the portico. Tears were falling fast down his cheeks. He wiped his face with force and felt stupid for telling a stranger so much. As he ran, he wasn’t sure, but was Jim laughing at him?

Eventually, he found his way back to the river and, leaning up against the wall, he looked out at the vessels dotting its murky waters. He breathed in the salty air. This was as close as he could get to the sea. The sea calmed his soul. Sitting on the steps leading down to the water’s edge he took his shoes off and dug his toes into the sand. The water splashed gently onto the beach underneath the railway bridge.

Rolling up his trousers he waded out through debris and seaweed into the water. Would it help to die?He’d asked himself that before. I should’ve died when the ship went down. Self-preservation was a very strong feeling but would it help to end it all? Self-preservation?Bill asked himself. Or cowardice? Cowards can’t kill themselves.


Grace looked up at him as he slipped into the front room. She frowned, and reached out to him. ‘Where have you been this time, Bill? You look worn out,’ she whispered. ‘You need a bath and a good night’s sleep.’ He nodded and stared at the floorboards. ‘The boilers are stoked. Here’s tuppence – go get in the tub.’ Bill grabbed his towel and the coins.

In a yellow brick building at the centre of the estate, the baths were divided into three cubicles containing an iron tub in each. A porter ran the water and steam filled the room. Bill sank into the tub and soaked for a while – his body relaxed into the warmth and his mind stopped as he floated in the hot water.

‘More water in number three,’ he shouted out to the porter.

‘Mind your feet,’ the porter called back as more water tumbled into the bath.

The delicious smell of stew with dumplings hit his nostrils as he walked back into the flat. ‘I saved you some food,’ Grace said as she placed a plate in front of him. Grace was a decent cook and the stew warmed him.

‘Dad,’ Arthur wobbled out from the bedroom as Bill finished his supper. Bill pulled his sleepy son onto his lap.

‘How are you, son?’ He looked into Arthur’s eyes.

‘I’m all right. You just had a bath? You smell clean.’

‘Yep, I had a bath. Back off to bed, lad.’

Grace guided Arthur back to bed and Bill took his dish out to the sink. Eventually, Grace followed him to the kitchen and looked at him as she slowly wiped a plate dry.

‘I’m pregnant, Bill.’

He turned to look at her. Her cheeks were scarlet.

‘Can you believe it after all we have been through?’

Bill held her face in his hands and kissed her lips deeply. Putting his hands on her belly, he looked into her eyes. Then he laughed and put his arms around her waist picking her up off the floor.

‘Put me down, Bill!’ she squealed, ‘Put me down.’ She feigned upset and frowned down at him, but he knew she was delighted. He placed her gently back down on the kitchen rug as if she was china and kissed her again.

They walked back into the living room and made plans. Bill sat on the old sofa and Grace climbed on his lap. He wrapped his arms around her waist.

‘It is like Lenny is coming back to us,’ Grace said. ‘We still have all his clothes and crib and pram. I did not want to tell you before the funeral. You understand don’t you?’

He nodded and listened to her talk, glad that she was happy. She’d been so miserable since her mum had died and then Lenny.

‘I’m happy for you, Grace.’

‘Happy for me?’ Grace replied with a wry smile. ‘Only happy for me? Are you not happy for you, Bill Dawkins?’

‘Course, course I am, Gracie. Course,’ he stammered and grew red. ‘I know you love kids. Just trying to say that. You knows I get tongue tied.’ Bill rubbed his brow and smiled. ‘I love you. I do.’

‘I know you do,’ Grace answered and put her arms around his neck. After a moment she pulled back and looked into his eyes. ‘I know you love me you big, silly softy.’ She kissed him on his warm lips and he returned her kiss passionately. 

Novel – Chapter Four

Warning – This story includes some sensitive issues that might upset some readers.



They were dressed in their Sunday best – Bill’s black suit hung loosely off his frame and a black hat sat straight upon Grace’s head. A hearse was waiting downstairs in the street to take them to the church and then on to Nunhead Cemetery.

The family was crammed into the front room. Bill’s parents William and Emma Dawkins sat on the under-stuffed sofa – its blue cover slouched at the edges while the arms sloped sadly towards the floor with a sigh. Looking smart in his dark suit and tie, William gripped Emma’s hand – she seemed uncomfortable and stiff in her formal mourning dress and held a black, lacy handkerchief in her hand.

Bill stood behind the sofa with his brother Albert. Bill stared out of the window draped in faded curtains. The windowpanes misted up with condensation. He gazed at the oak boughs as they waved at him. A magpie flew onto a branch, spread its black tipped wings, and dived off towards the ground.

Fred and Issy sat in wooden chairs by the fire. A black ribbon held Fred’s jacket up at the elbow of his missing arm. He bent his head close to Issy as she whispered to him. The rim of her new hat, adorned with black silk, was big enough to cover the both of them as they chatted.

Ray and Arthur sat in the corner of the room by the door to the bedroom. Arthur’s knee-high socks were already round his ankles but Ray looked the perfect child with his white collar and both socks rigid. Bill noticed them eyeing the wooden box holding Arthur’s toys that was wedged in the corner of the room underneath the window. A tin plane poked its blue nose out from a mound of square bricks. Each brick sang out a letter from the alphabet. Two red racing cars sat on top of the bricks.

Bill had spoken to them earlier and both boys were sensitive to the fact that this was not the time to get the tin cars out of the box and drive them round the room. It was with pride that he saw them follow their elders’ example as they spoke to each other in hushed tones.

On the bookcase next to the bedroom door, was a detailed replica of a barge. William had built it during his apprenticeship. Bill had learned his carpentry skills alongside his father growing up and always admired the model. A few years back, having seen his son finally settle down, William had given it to him as a birthday present.

Beige tiles covered the fireplace from the mantel to the hearth, curving around the grate where a fire burned to keep the winter chill from the room. Upon the mantelpiece, were photos of the family and, in the middle, was a picture of Grace and Bill. In the picture, Grace stood behind him with her hand on his shoulder. Bill still remembered the day it was taken. It had been cold and he was going back to his ship the next day. He had wanted to get as much time with her as possible and late that night she had sat on his lap while he told her stories of the sea.

Between the fire and the sofa was the family dining table. Bill and Grace had spent many hours at that table attending to chores and eating meals. Now, Lenny’s tiny casket sat on its wooden frame – a prime spot where all could view him.

Grace leaned over the coffin and cut a small lock of Lenny’s hair. She kissed Lenny’s forehead. Blinking, she brought her handkerchief up to her nose. Bill placed the lid on the coffin and began to hammer the nails into place. Arthur joined Bill at the table, picked up another hammer from his dad’s toolbox and pretended to help by knocking on the wood. Grace turned to Daisy and her shoulders started to shake. Daisy held her as she sobbed.

‘First mum – now Lenny,’ she choked. ‘Please no more. I cannot take any more.’

Bill could not stand hearing her talk like that. Death was a constant. Was there any point in having babies and building families? Death would take them and sooner than anyone wanted. He continued hammering – it felt like he was sealing his own coffin, and he wished he was.

A breeze picked up and cold air chilled their ears as the family walked slowly out of the estate and towards the hearse. Bill and his brother Albert carried Lenny’s coffin over to the back of the vehicle. The coffin was light enough for one of them, but Bill liked the support of his brother. The plane trees in the road swayed with the wind and covered the crowd standing by to watch Lenny’s departure. The men held their flat caps respectfully in their folded hands while some women held handkerchiefs ready to catch their tears as if they knew that one day this could be their child.

The journey to the church was in the opposite direction to the one that Bill had dashed down the night he tried to save his son’s life. Bill held Grace’s hand during the drive and watched as they passed slowly by the railway arches, shop fronts, and office buildings.

At the church, Bill placed Lenny’s coffin in front of the altar, then sat down in the front pew. Staring at the church rafters, high above his head, Bill tried to concentrate on the vicar’s words.

‘I am the resurrection and the life.’

He looked around at the congregation and tried not to fidget in his seat. The church smelt of damp and wood polish. The pews were full of family, friends, and neighbours. The morning sun shone through the stained glass windows, making patterns on the stone-flagged floor.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’

He didn’t feel very blessed – rather aggravated and lonely. Even in the midst of Grace’s large family, he felt alone and vulnerable. There were times when Bill enjoyed them all, but there were times, like today, when he felt crowded out by them.

‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

The words felt empty – falling to the ground as broken hearts. As Bill sighed, his mother patted his hand gently. Grace sat beside him – her head bowed low and silent tears tumbling onto her coat. Arthur sat next to Grace – even at his young age he seemed to feel the solemnity of the occasion. Bill could tell that Arthur had recently begun to realize that Lenny was not coming back.

‘When is Lenny going to wake up?’ he would ask and then appeared sad at Bill’s answer.

‘Lenny’s in heaven, Arthur, he’s not going to wake up.’

As the service ended, Bill and Albert carried Lenny’s coffin down the aisle and out to the car.

It was a short drive to the graveyard. They travelled through the cemetery gates and Bill held Grace closer to him. As they drove the long avenue towards the gothic chapel, the winter landscape mimicked his heart. The tall trees were black against the white sky. Gravestones sat in rows designating the final resting places of human existence. Shrubs and monuments marked the countdown to the end. Along with his grief for Lenny, Bill felt sorrow for all losses. There had been many. Years had passed since the Great War ended, but it felt like yesterday. He could feel the losses in his body. The screams of dying men whirled in his mind. He’d been on high alert and without sleep for days. That continual vigil had been his state for many years and still lived within him.

Suddenly, his vision became bizarre and he felt breathless. As he groped at his neck, he felt like he could not breathe. He needed air. He was drowning and needed air fast. His heart raced.

‘Bill?’ He heard Grace cry as his shaking hand reached for the door. ‘Bill – stop!’

He looked blindly around and pulled down on the car handle.

‘Stop the car!’ Grace shouted. Bill opened the car door and stumbled as he hit the ground. Rolling over, he bounced back up and ran like a haunted man.

He heard Grace call his name but ran on.

He could not breathe. He felt strong thin hands around his throat. Men cried out for their mothers. It was dark. He felt water around his ankles. Through the cemetery he fled. The sound of explosions rang in his head. He ducked and kept running. The ship was going down. He had to find his way to the top. The ladder was on fire. The galley was blazing too. ‘Help me, Bill,’ shouted his friend. He kept running. The passageway went on forever. He was going down with the ship. He was dying. He jumped into a boat as it went down the side of the ship and sat there breathing hard.

His breath slowed as he found himself sitting on a wooden bench under a large oak tree. Sharp pine scents mixed with wet grass. Ahead, gravestones marched in straight lines like soldiers. Picking out the odd name here and there, Bill shuddered – Thomas Gaines died 20 August 1915 – John Morris died 15 July 1916. The Great War had taken them all.

A woman ambled by and looked at him. He was sweating, confused and lost. What’s wrong with me? Maybe Grace is right. I should see the doctor. But they will put me in the nuthouse.Thoughts merged with feelings. He heard Albert calling his name, but he didn’t want to go back. He pulled his coat round his front and jerked at his scarf. He breathed in the cold air and started to hike.

High railings reached up to spikes on top of the red brick wall of the cemetery. Bill passed through iron gates and crossed the road. Opposite the cemetery wall were two-storey, terraced houses leading the way down to the end of the road. A woman in hobnail boots and apron scrubbed her stone steps. She shouted to her children playing hopscotch in the street. One child stood with her tongue between her lips contemplating the grid on the road before leaping off into space and crashing down on the next square.

At the end of the road, Bill passed under a railway bridge. Smoke came at him from the train that trundled noisily above – green moss sat where water rivulets trickled down the brickwork. A chimney sweep was walking towards him carrying her brushes over her shoulder. Her thin features were covered in soot and pulled forward over her forehead was a brown, cotton cap. She averted her eyes as she passed him by.

Wandering was good. He could get his head together when he wandered. He felt berated by Grace and didn’t want to rush home. She didn’t mean it. She was only thinking of him – wasn’t she? She wanted him to go to the doctor. She wanted him to hold down a good job. She wanted him to be an example to their children… child… She wanted him to tell her where he was going. She wanted him to stay at home. She didn’t want him to sleep rough.

Panic grew within him and he felt like he was facing an abyss. He stopped in the road, put his hands on his knees, and bent over. He breathed heavily and felt like his lungs were closing off. Wanting to break free from this feeling, he turned one way and then back, and then chased off down the road – running fleeing, escaping.

Stopping at a church, he dropped down onto a wooden bench and let out a huge sigh. The church steeple scraped the clouds that sat thunderous above his head. Throwing down rays through the gaps in the clouds, the sun was not warming his soul. Bill stood. He climbed the worn stone steps, opened the ornate wooden door and entered the church.

An organ boomed through the empty nave. The tall ceilings disappeared above dark, wooden beams, and light reflected the hues from the stained-glass windows onto the pews.

Bill bowed his head for a while in prayer. He prayed but his mind continued to scold. I do not deserve her. Her Bill has been a bad boy. How can she ever forgive and trust me? I try to be everything she wants me to be, but I’ve been awful. I’ve been selfish. Everything just makes me want to give up. I want to be happy. I want my girlie to be happy. She tells me about my flaws and how I need to change again and again. And now Lenny is dead. If I had been around more, he might still be alive. I’m just so scared. This isn’t how I pictured my life. This isn’t fair. I’m so scared. I’m losing my mind and going insane.

Bill jumped up from the pew and ran out into the rain. The water felt good against his hot skin and burning mind. He ran through the neighbourhood towards the main road ahead.

As he turned onto the Old Kent Road, the quiet residential streets suddenly changed to honking automobiles, the clopping of hooves, and people spewing forth from the gasworks as the whistle blew for lunchtime. The smell of horse manure and straw hit his nostrils.

‘You getting on, luv?’ A young lady called out to him. Bill realized he was standing in front of a bus stop and the conductress was calling to him from the wooden platform of a double-decker bus. Her hat tipped at an angle and her hands rested on her ticket holder.

‘Cheer up, dearie,’ she said as she smiled at him.

It was a number 36 bus and would take him close to home. He climbed onto the platform and up the stairs. Sitting down on the red and gold cushioned seat, he traced the grid pattern with his large fingers.

Bill noticed the landscape was changing as the bus continued towards the city. It passed a piebald horse attached to a cartload of timber with his driver standing patiently in the rain waiting to offload his cargo. It passed awnings reaching down to the pavement – advertising their proprietor and his wares. It passed the World Turned Upside Down – a pub Bill had frequented a few times – its tear-drop lamp, taking up a third of its façade, hanging amid ornate swirls and twists of iron work.

As he got closer to home, he realized he wasn’t ready to face Grace, so he sloped off the bus at Elephant and Castle’s busy intersection where horse carts fought for space with motorcars, buses, and pedestrians, and crept with hunched shoulders and heavy heart into a pub.


Grace’s family had left by the time he arrived home. Bill could tell she’d been cooking by the lingering smell of cabbage. She looked up from sewing as he drifted into the flat.

‘Where have you been, Bill? I have been worried,’ she said as she smoothed down the front of her faded, floral pinafore.

‘I walked,’ he said looking at his feet.

‘Walked where? You missed the burial. You weren’t there. My mum was not there. I needed you to be strong.’ She didn’t raise her voice. ‘You need to go see the doctor, Bill. This is not right. This is not right at all.’

Bill walked around the table and sat down. He looked out of the window at the darkening skies and pulled out his folded hankie. Slowly blowing his nose, he told her, ‘I’m not seeing no doctor.’

Grace pulled a chair up next to him. ‘You have to, Bill.’ She said. ‘You cannot keep doing this. It is getting worse and I can’t take it anymore. I need to know you are going to stay. I need to know where you are. Me and Arthur need to know where you are.’

‘They’ll send me to the nuthouse.’ Bill’s voice broke and he pushed the chair back from the table. He walked over to the window and stared out while slowly kicking at the skirting board.

Grace sighed. ‘You don’t know that, Bill. You do not know that at all. Fred went and they did not send him to the nuthouse. He went to see the doctor about his dreams and he says they are getting better. He went. Why can’t you go?’

‘Fred lost his arm.’ Bill rubbed his forehead as he tried to explain.

‘So? What has that got to do with anything? He had bad dreams and he says they are not so bad now. You have got to go to the doctor, Bill, you just do.’

‘I didn’t lose an arm.’ Bill tried again as his head started to pound.

‘I know you did not lose your arm. I know that. Don’t you know that I know that?’ Grace’s voice was rising. ‘I am not talking about you losing your arm. Go to the doctor, Bill. Go to the doctor.’

‘My head hurts. I don’t like it when you get upset.’

‘My heart hurts, Bill. I am only human. I am going to get upset. You don’t like it when I get upset. I didn’t like it that you ran away from your child’s funeral… our child’s funeral.’

‘I’m sorry, Grace, I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.’ Bill knew it was time to leave. He turned and marched out of the flat, ran down the stairs, and walked off into the night.

Novel – Chapter Three

Warning – This story includes some sensitive issues that might upset some readers.


It was getting late. Arthur had finished playing a couple of hours ago and they’d eaten supper. Bill was sitting at the table and staring at the bookcase by the bedroom door.

He looked through its glass doors and scanned Grace’s books – Dicken’s Christmas Carol, Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles– and stopped at one of his – the Norse folk tale Fiskeren og The DraugThe Fisherman and the Draug. He went over, opened the glass door and pulled the book out from the shelf. Its red cover was worn at the corners. As he opened the book, its smell – damp and musty – reminded him of Norway. He thought back to Anna and her father who had rescued him from the sea the night the ship went down. They brought him to Norway, where he’d been interned, because Norway had been neutral during the war. Anna had visited him and the other sailors in the camp, and had taught them how to speak Norwegian by reading folk stories. She’d given the book to Bill before he left.

It was one of Arthur’s favourite stories. Sitting down on the sofa, Bill placed the book on his lap. He turned the flimsy flysheet and looked at the picture on the first page. He wasn’t sure what that type of drawing was called, but remembered someone once saying woodcut or woodblock. But whatever it was called, it fascinated him. Most of the sketch was a wave – its foam reaching the clouds. Rain poured from the clouds and lightening zigzagged across them. A fisherman in sou’wester and oilskins, with his eyes wide and arms outstretched, fell back from the wreck of his boat into the sea. Folklore says the draug is a bad omen – a warning of death. The myth says that a sailor who sees one must outrun the beast to stay alive. Further sketches showed the draug as a towering monster, with uneven teeth, dripping in seaweed.

As Bill looked at the pictures, Arthur plonked beside him on the sofa.

‘Can you read to me?’ Arthur said.

‘I’ll tell you the story and you look at the pictures,’ Bill replied.

‘Okay,’ said Arthur and Bill began.

Once Bill had finished reading, he put the book back on the shelf and sat down at the table. He looked over at Lenny in his crib.

‘Where’s mum?’ Arthur asked.

Bill turned to look at him and said, ‘She’ll be home soon. Off to bed with you.’ Arthur sauntered towards the bedroom with a backward look at Bill.

‘Go on,’ said Bill and watched Arthur close the bedroom door to a crack.

Bill looked back down at the table and drew his fingers across its scars and scrapes.

He pulled Lenny’s crib closer to him and studied his baby’s features. Lenny was stiff, but still looked like himself. He was wrapped in a blanket. Even though his face had sunken, he retained some of the childish roundness in his cheeks. Bill stroked Lenny’s hair – it was soft. Then he picked Lenny up and cradled him in his arms. He could almost smell his baby’s warm skin – the smell Lenny had after Grace had bathed him. Bill stood and walked around the room, rocking Lenny in his arms. Tears filled his eyes as he remembered the child’s cry when he wanted feeding. It had sounded sad and anxious. He had just wanted to survive. After a while, Bill placed Lenny back into his crib.

Where was she? It was getting dark. He pulled his ear and heaved his shoulders with a sigh. Would she do something stupid? You heard about all kinds of things that happened to mothers when their babes died. Some just put their heads down and kept on going, but there were those other ones… well, it turned their heads. Little Maddie Smith had gone crazy when her baby had died. Went out one day and they found her in the Thames.

Now he was beginning to scare himself.

Wandering out to the balcony, he lit a cigarette and sat down on the top step. He shot up from the stair at the sound of footsteps and looked over the banister. It wasn’t Grace. He sat down again and nodded in recognition as his neighbour passed.

Stubbing his fag out, he went back into the flat. In the kitchen, he covered Grace’s plate and put it by the stove. Gathering up the dirty dishes, he placed them in the sink and slowly washed them. Again, he thought he heard footsteps on the stairs. He stood still and listened, and then went to the front door.

Looking over the balcony, he said, ‘Grace? That you?’

‘It is me, Bill. Sorry I am late.’ He breathed a sigh. She turned the corner of the stairs and looked up at him.

‘Where’ve you been?’ Bill tried to keep his tone even. Grace climbed slowly up towards him and kept her face to the ground. Bill stood at the top of the stairs and did not move.

Grace stopped and looked up. ‘Let me by, Bill, I am tired,’ she said.

‘Where were you?’ Bill’s voice was stern.

‘I had to get out of the flat and needed some fresh air. I walked to Victoria and had tea with Issy.’

‘Don’t do that again. I was worried. I thought you were…’ Bill let her by and she walked into the flat. He followed her as she entered the front room and watched as she looked down at Lenny. She took off her hat and ran her fingers through her bobbed hair.

Grace turned to Bill. ‘That is rich coming from you,’ she murmured.

‘What’s that mean?’ Bill said.

‘Never mind – I am tired.’

‘You’ve said it now.’

‘Oh, Bill; I needed to go out. I was going crazy here. My heart is hurting so much and I needed to be out in the fresh air. And then I come home and you start ordering me around like you do not understand. You of all people should understand.

‘I stay here with you, Bill, even though you come and go as you please. I stay here because I know you can’t help it. I know that you’re hurting. I hear your screams at night. I hold you when you wake from your nightmares. Well, I’m in my own nightmare now, Bill Dawkins, and I need you to hold me, not tell me what I can and cannot do.’ Grace’s voice broke.

Bill gripped the back of the chair.

‘If you leave now, I don’t know what I will do. I cannot live alone with this pain,’ Grace said.

‘Just need a fag,’ he said as he walked towards the door.

‘I don’t know what I will do,’ Grace whispered. He heard her slump down onto the sofa.

Bill hesitated at the door. Putting his hands on either side of the frame, he hung his head. Tears started to fall down his cheeks. He pulled himself up and wiped his face. He started off down the corridor and stopped at the front door. Hearing Grace sob in the front room, he turned and went back. He sat down next to her on the sofa and opened his arms. Grace pushed her wet face into his warm chest.

‘Oh,Bill, what are we going to do?’

Bill shook his head. ‘Don’t know. Don’t know, sweet girl.’

‘Why did Lenny die? I cannot take this pain, Bill. I just can’t take it. It hurts so much.’ She pulled back from his chest and looked up at him. ‘I do not understand. I don’t understand what the doctor was saying. What was he telling us? Did I cause this? Is it my fault?’

‘He said it’s blue blood…’

‘What is blue blood? I thought that meant royalty. Lenny was not royalty. And how would that kill him? I am so confused.’

‘Something to do with his heart, sweetie. He died from a sick heart. His heart gave up on him.’

Bill pulled Grace close again and kissed the top of her head while his tears dropped on her shoulders.


Novel – Chapter Two

Warning – This story includes some sensitive issues that might upset some readers.


They brought Lenny home.

His tiny body was laid in his crib and placed in the front room on the table. Grace had bathed him – cleaning all the folds and crevices of his flesh, as he lay silent and still. Bill had watched from his chair beside the fire as she dressed Lenny in his baby clothes of gown, jumper, hat, and socks.

The funeral was planned and Bill worked on the coffin. The neighbours understood. They did not mind the sawing and hammering on the balcony outside the flat, and held their heads down as they passed by in respect for his loss. His heart broke, but his eyes were dry. Questions filled his head. Most of them started with why. It seemed that loss and grieving would be a constant in their lives. How could anyone remain committed through such pain?

It was cold that day and the snow had started to fall again. The chill went through Bill’s gloves and coat, and to his bones. He sat outside on the stairs sanding the corners of the coffin. The fragrance of the wood was some comfort in his sorrow.

‘I am going out, Bill.’ Grace pushed by him on the stairs, lent down, and kissed him on the cheek. He looked up at her. She pinned her cloche hat on her hair. ‘Keep an eye on Arthur will you?

He nodded. Grace buttoned up her brown coat, and walked on down the stairs.

Bill continued to sand. He breathed in the scent of the wood as though he was breathing the air. He thought he could smell the sea mingled with the sawdust. That smell caught his imagination as he smoothed his youngest boy’s last vessel. He imagined travelling across distant oceans. His grief was thrown to the far, sodden edges of the world.

‘Dad?’ Arthur’s voice interrupted his dreams.

‘Yes?’ Bill looked up at his son.

‘Where’s Mum?’ Arthur sat down next to Bill on the stair. His skinny frame was overwhelmed in a blue coat two sizes too big for him. Forever practical, Grace had said he would grow into it and anyway didn’t he look sweet?

‘Out,’ said Bill and ruffled his son’s wilful mane.

‘When she coming back? I’m hungry.’

‘Soon. Come here and help sand for Lenny.’ Bill passed Arthur a piece of used sandpaper.

‘For Lenny?’ Then, as if he remembered Lenny’s tiny body laid out in his crib, Arthur said, ‘He’s sleeping.

‘He is,’ said Bill. ‘He’s with the angels.’

‘Where’s that?’ Arthur’s faced screwed up quizzically. Because his bottom jaw was misaligned, he always looked determined as his chin pushed its way forward.

Bill pointed with his finger up in the air.

‘Eh? How’d he get up there?’ Arthur said smiling as if he didn’t believe a word of it.

‘He passed, Arthur lad.’

‘Is he with God? If he is, my mate Tommy said that only good kids go there. Tommy’s mum told him.’

Bill nodded.

‘And Ginger said naughty boys go to hell. And it’s hot in hell.’

‘He’s with God, Arthur, Lenny’s with God.’

This seemed to satisfy Arthur and, using the paper his dad has given him, he wiped it across the wood. He then stroked the coffin with his hand.

‘It feels soft,’ he said and stroked it again. Bill took his gloves off and stroked the top of the casket too. His heart ached. Bill wiped away a tear as Arthur looked up at him.

‘Are you crying?’ he asked.

Bill looked away and shook his head. ‘I’m all right,’ he said.

Sounds of children floated up the stairwell from the courtyard. Arthur’s head shot round and he looked down the stairs then back at his dad.

‘Can I go and play?’ Arthur asked. Bill nodded and Arthur leaped down the stairs two at a time towards the shouts and screams of his friends.

Bill’s thoughts continued with Lenny. Life meant death. Death was a certainty. How could you keep on going with that knowledge? He reckoned it was the good times like Christmas that kept him going.

Last Christmas had been the first one they’d had without Grace’s mum. He’d thought Grace wouldn’t get through it without her mum, but Lenny had kept her occupied. They’d visited Grace’s sister, Daisy, over in Croydon and the weather had been awful. By the time the train arrived at the station, it started to snow. Arthur climbed down onto the platform and poked his tongue out to the floating flakes of ice. Bill helped Grace down from the train and they walked the short distance to Daisy’s home.

It was a terraced house on a street lined with maple trees. The trees’ skeletons shivered in the wind and their leaves lay abandoned and crushed on the pavement. As Bill’s family bent themselves into the wind and snow, they could hear noises coming from the house.

Bill opened the gate and Arthur ran up the path to the front door. He snapped the letterbox twice and Grace used the doorknocker to announce their arrival. Bill watched Lenny stir against her—he seemed to feel the thrill of their arrival too.

Grace’s sister, Daisy, opened the door and ushered them in. ‘You’re here on time. The snow’s started… I was worried it’d slow you down – you know what trains are like. One leaf on the track and that’s it – delays.’ She wiped her hands on her grease-stained pinafore before she hugged her sister and put her hand up to Bill’s face. ‘Glad to see you.’

Arthur snuggled his auntie’s thighs and then ran off to find his cousin, Ray. Bill sighed. He was glad they’d made it to Daisy’s without problems.

He followed Daisy down the narrow hallway that ran from the front door to the kitchen. The night was cold outside, but Daisy’s home was warm and the bright rugs on her wooden floors brought colour to the house.

Grace’s eldest sister, Issy, was rolling out dough as Bill entered the kitchen. She looked up at Bill and gave him a hug. While Daisy was a plump dumpling, Issy was tall and slender like a silver birch tree.

Turkey smells wafted from the oven. The kitchen table was covered with utensils, flour, and jars of mincemeat, and shelves filled with tins and bottles covered the wall next to the stove. Bill watched Daisy walk over to the kitchen sink, look out of the window to the twilight, and then draw the green curtains shut. He opened his duffel bag and put the goodies, including a Christmas pudding, on to the table. Grace started making the pudding in January. It needed time to mature, she’d say. Her brandy butter was also popular. ‘Waste of good brandy,’ her mother had always said as she’d shovelled mouthfuls of pudding covered with the stuff into her mouth. They’d all laughed. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without her.

Grace had been devastated when her mother had died quite suddenly of a heart attack. Bill had come home from work and had found her in the kitchen, preparing supper, with tears streaming down her face. Tears he could handle—it was the long silence on a Sunday afternoon, as she would stare out of the window that he found disturbing.

‘Bill,’ Daisy’s husband Fred slapped him on the back with his good arm. ‘How are you?’

‘All right,’ Bill answered as he opened the pantry door and emptied bottles of beer from his bag onto a shelf.

‘And how’s work?’

‘Fine,’ Bill said. He poured two glasses of beer and thrust one at Fred.

‘Cheers!’ Fred said as he held out his beer. They chinked glasses.

Bill liked Fred. He fished the Thames with Fred during the summer. They both dangled their legs over the side of the wharf and threw the lines into the water. The bobbing of the waves was echoed in the dipping of Fred’s head as he talked. Bill listened and Fred talked.

‘Are they keeping you busy?’ Fred continued.

‘Yes. Big order just came in.’

‘It keeps food on the table, eh?’

‘Yes. And you?’

‘Can’t complain. We found a new assistant for the shop. He’s a hard worker. That’s all you can ask for really.’

Bill nodded in agreement.

‘We might be expanding next year,’ Fred continued. ‘The barber next door is closing – might be a good prospect.’

Arthur ran into the room and circled the kitchen table. ‘Dad! Look what I’ve got.’ He swooped up to Bill and pushed a wooden aeroplane into his chest. Bill smiled, grabbed the plane, and whirled around in a circle holding the plane up high.

Looking back down at Arthur, he said, ‘That’s a fine plane, Arthur boy. Will you fly that one day?’

‘No, Dad,’ replied Arthur, ‘I’m going to be a sailor like you.’

Bill ruffled his son’s hair and followed him back to the front room.

Arthur threw himself down on the rug next to his cousin, Ray.

‘Hi, Arthur,’ Ray called out through a mass of red hair and freckles. He sat in a dump of toys. ‘You wanna play with those?’ He said pointing to alphabet blocks piled on top of each other.

Arthur shook his head and flew his plane over the tin soldiers marching next to a wooden snake. ‘Nah,’ he said, ‘Wheeeee! Ack Ack Ack.’ He knocked the tin soldiers over with his plane as he pretended to be in battle. ‘What are those?’ he asked Ray.


‘Those chains.’ Arthur pointed to the paper chains that covered the mantelpiece, picture frames, and bookshelves.

‘They’re Christmas decorations. I made them.’

‘They’re good. I’d like to make some too.’

‘It took me ages – it took me weeks,’ Ray said as a huge grin took over his face.

Billy listened to the kid’s chat and looked at the decorations around the room – sprigs of holly with red berries hung from the walls, and branches of fir smelling sharp and sweet fought for space with the paper chains over the fireplace.

‘We can make some paper chains tomorrow, Arthur, if you like,’ he said.

Arthur looked up at him. ‘Really?’

‘Of course.’

‘Like Ray’s decorations?’


‘Thanks, Dad!’ Arthur smiled.

Bill felt his own chest fill up with emotion. He ruffled Arthur’s hair again and moved over towards the fireplace.

While the kids played on the floor, the adults chatted, drank beer, and laughed. Bill looked around the room. Fred hovered behind the tall armchair that had previously been reserved for Grace’s mother. He waved his stump towards the fire, ‘Do warm yourself, Bill. It’s a cold night.’

Grace sat by the window and stroked Lenny’s cheek. Issy plopped down next to her. She kissed the baby’s head. ‘He’s so beautiful. He looks just like you and he smells like a boy – all musky.’

Bill watched Grace smile at this.

She looked over at him. ‘He smells like his Daddy,’ she said.

He smiled at her. She had a way of making him feel loved. He was a lucky man—too lucky really. He didn’t deserve her and he didn’t deserve her family. He left the room and made his way to the back door.

Standing in the yard, he looked up at the frosty sky. His breath condensed in the icy night. Bill took a cigarette from his pocket and struck a match on the brick wall. The smoke tasted sweet and the nicotine relaxed his body.

The kitchen window opened by his shoulder and he heard Daisy’s voice. ‘Ah… that’s much better. It gets hot in here.’ Bill wandered over the flagstones to the gate and looked into the alley. He opened the gate and walked.

When he arrived back in Daisy’s back yard, he leaned against the wall. Lighting another smoke, he listened to the chatter of the women in the kitchen. He heard Grace’s voice through the open window.

‘Most nights, it is hard. He dreams and sweats and thrashes about—it scares me. Sometimes the nightmares are so bad, he wakes up screaming. His screams break my heart, Daisy, the sound terrifies me.’

Bill sighed. He squashed the cigarette under his boot and walked back up the alley away from the house.

Novel – Chapter One

Warning – This story includes some sensitive issues that might upset some readers.


‘Submarine on the port bow!’

A thud of steel on steel shook the ship. Falling hard against the bunk, Bill Dawkins bounced back onto the bulkhead. An explosion rocked the ship again and threw him into the passageway. Fire barred his way to the ladder ahead. He struggled through the mess deck amid crowds of men. He was swimming against a tide.


He moved onwards.

‘Bill! Help!’

He tried to turn his head but the vessel shuddered, shoving him ahead.


The sea surged around his feet. Screams filled his ears. The passageway was crammed and Bill was pushed forward into the galley. He halted in shock. The cook had been thrown head down onto the stove. His hair was on fire and his body twitched. Gagging, Bill was propelled past the man with the meat cleaver planted in his neck. His eyes stared open as blood pumped from his artery.

On to the deck, Bill found the India was split in two. Its aft was on fire. On past men flinging themselves into the icy water. He felt desperate as he looked for help. Ahead was a lifeboat edging its way down the side of the carrier. He threw his hefty frame into it amid shouts of ‘get off me, Dawkins!’ and ‘oi, you’re on me foot.’

The ship was sinking fast – dragging the lifeboat with it. Without an axe to cut the line, Bill followed his shipmates into the freezing water. Salt filled his nostrils. He grabbed at seaweed as if it would save him. The descending ship’s pull dragged him down. The lights above grew dim. The pressure increased. This is it – I’m dying, he thought. His hands and feet thrashed at jetsam in an attempt to stop the downward pull.

As he plummeted away from air, powerful hands grabbed his legs. He looked down into emerald eyes. Seaweed tendrils hung from the assailant. A sea monster dragged him towards the depths of the ocean.

Bill woke with a jerk and found himself sat up straight. He was shivering and breathing fast. His body was soaked in sweat. Had he been dreaming? It had seemed so real. His wife, Grace, was looking at him and saying something. Moonlight came through the crack in the curtains, and he could see his son, Arthur, looking at him from his bed in the corner of the room.

‘Hush, darling…’ he heard Grace say. She reached towards him and as her arms grasped him, he stiffened. He heard Lenny, their baby, snuffling in the crib at the end of the bed.

‘Darling,’ Grace said again, ‘You need to get help… you need to see the doctor…’

Shame rushed through him. Bill pulled away and felt for his clothes under the bed. He climbed into his trousers and drew his jumper over the mass of curls on his head. His clothes were coarse and cold against his hot body.

‘Bill… Don’t…’ Grace murmured.

Bill pushed his feet into his boots.

‘You know what I feel,’ he said and left the bedroom. It had been a while since she’d said such things. He didn’t need to see no doctor.

Down the hallway, he entered their small kitchen – it was more like a scullery. He walked over the old rug towards the stove. Picking up the iron kettle, he carried it to the large, ceramic sink under the window. After he filled the kettle, he carried it back to the cooker. The moonlight threw shadows onto the grey wall opposite the window and lit up the copper water heater that hung there. He lit the stove with a match – warm sulphur entered his nostrils – then he left the room.

The floorboards creaked under his boots, as he wandered across the hall to the front door. He stepped out onto the balcony and lit a cigarette. Gripping the cold railing, he looked out over the yard below. Snowflakes were falling on the cobblestones. It was cold enough for flakes to gather on the layers of slush that had melted from the previous night’s storm.

Rising up out of the darkness, the flats opposite outlined against the night sky. Bill’s eyes followed the line of the rooftops as he thought about work. They had a new barge to build. He enjoyed watching the vessel form and grow. There’s satisfaction in creating, but it wasn’t the sea. There was no roll of waves beneath his feet. Salt air didn’t fill his lungs. Seagulls squawking along the Thames were his only link with the sea. The Great War had not lessened his bond with the ocean.

Even though it was years since the war had ended, he was still having the same nightmares. Dreams about the night his ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat. Split the ship in two, it did. He’d dived overboard and was rescued by a fisherman and his daughter, Anna. Interned in Norway for a year, he’d managed to get back to England on a gentlemen’s agreement that he broke.

It’s odd though, because the night the ship was torn in two, Bill did see Charlie. He saw that Charlie was trapped, but in his dreams he can’t see him. He can only hear Charlie’s screams. Strange… And the monster – he did feel something drag him down that night. It did feel like he had been grabbed. But when he looked down all he could see was seaweed. Why does he dream of sea monsters?

The nightmares seemed so real. They brought back the terror. Terror that made him want to run. He needed to walk. Walking always helped. He liked to drift on his own. His mind could unfurl and rest, the chatter in his brain would slow down, his breath would become fuller.

‘Bill,’ Grace said as she walked out onto the balcony. She buttoned her dressing gown around her slight frame.

They stood there and looked at each other.

‘There’s nothing I got to do,’ he said. His mother had told him about the nut house and he was not going there. He did not need help. He got on just fine.

‘Come back to bed. It is too early to get up and you need your sleep,’ Grace said.

‘I’ll be along,’ he mumbled, wishing she’d leave him alone. Grace shook her head.

‘I’m going to check on Lenny,’ she said as she turned to the flat. ‘I think Arthur is awake too. You disturb them when you scream like that in your dreams.’

Shuffling his boots on the stone floor, Bill sighed and started towards the stairs. He had to walk and get away for a while. The walls of the flat were crowding him in.

It was then he heard her scream.


He’d never heard anything like it. She howled again and he ran back inside. It was dark in the hallway and he could hardly see. Grace came to him out of the gloom, still howling and holding Lenny out in front of her.

‘He cannot breathe! He needs a doctor!’

Bill grabbed Lenny, pulled the shawl around his head and small frame, and stormed back to the balcony. Lenny’s face was contorted and his lips were blue. His tiny feet pedalled as he struggled for air.

Crashing down the stairs, Bill pulled Lenny closer to him. He grabbed the iron rail. Fear rose up his spine and grabbed the back of his neck. Icy fog hit him as he reached the ground floor. His breathing laboured like Lenny’s. He ran across the courtyard and out of the estate. The road was full of slush. He slid and stumbled through the red brick tunnel at the end of the street.

‘Bloody hell,’ he cried as he fell. His back hit the pavement with a whack. Lenny fell onto Bill’s stomach and rolled towards the ground.

Time slowed down as Bill watched Lenny fall.

The pain in his back didn’t dull Bill’s reactions. He caught hold of Lenny before he crashed to the pavement. Cradling the writhing child in his arms, he slowly pulled himself up on the slippery path. At the end of Bear Lane, he turned onto Southwark Street.

Bill wished it was daytime when the street was busy. He’d have plenty of help then, but now it was empty. He raced passed the almshouses and under the heavy, iron bridge that carried trains south to the sea. His chest heaved as the cold numbed his airways.

Lenny had stopped fighting. He was lying limp in his arms. Bill had roamed these streets aimlessly numerous times, but now he threw himself down them with purpose.

Panic took over. Bill became confused. The dank fog was not helping. Where is the bloody hospital?He knew it was around here somewhere. He stood at the corner looking down one road and then another. As he was about to choose, a man dressed in rags seemed to glide out of the mist. His countenance was pale and faintly green.

‘Sir – Sir!’ Bill shouted. ‘The hospital! Where’s the hospital? My son!’ Bill held Lenny’s limp body out in front of him. ‘My son’s dying!’

The man pointed and moved off into the darkness with Bill on his heels.

The streets seemed to go on forever. Bill’s eyes followed the man. He appeared ahead in the rays of the street lamps. His green coat swung around his body and the mist sat in droplets on his sleeves. He reminded Bill of the creature in his dreams.

Lenny wasn’t moving any more – no struggle and no fight. Bill’s heart sank with every step he took.

The man stopped and pointed to a doorway.

Bill stormed through the entrance and looked around. Ahead of him, down the hall, a nurse came out of a room. Bill ran up the bleak corridor and thrust Lenny at her.

‘He can’t breathe! Do something!’

‘What’s his name?’ She opened the shawl and put her head to his chest.


The nurse nodded and entered a side room. Bill tried to go after her.

‘You can’t come in here,’ she said and closed the door with a thump that pushed Bill’s heart out of its moorings and into a swell of pain.

‘How can I help you?’ A porter came down the hall towards him.

‘My son…’ Bill pointed at the door.

‘Only nurses and doctors allowed in there – come sit over here.’ The porter showed him to a chair and Bill sat down.

‘I’m just over there, if you need me,’ the porter said and pointed towards an alcove. He ran his podgy fingers through his thinning, grey locks and walked slowly over to his desk.

Bill stood up as the porter wandered off and then sat down again. He grimaced at the hospital smells of cabbage and disinfectant.

‘What they doing in there?’ he called out to the porter.

‘They’re doing everything they can,’ he reassured. ‘Everything they can.’

Bill stood again as Grace ran in dragging Arthur behind her. ‘What is happening, Bill? What is happening? Where is Lenny? Where is my Lenny?’ she shrieked. He grabbed her and held her.

‘They’re doing what they can,’ he told Grace.

He sat her down in a tall, wooden chair. She held her handkerchief close to her mouth and stared ahead. Restlessly, she looked over to the door and then the floor and then stood up. Bill stood and held her arm.

‘I turned off the stove,’ she said. ‘You left the kettle boiling.’ He looked at her and wondered if she was accusing him or just passing on information. He couldn’t tell.

‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I forgot.’ Such a trifling thing seemed pointless. Lenny was struggling to live and they were talking about the kettle.

The hall was long and the high ceilings disappeared into the gaslights’ dingy shadows. As if it were whispering, the clock on the ageing, yellow wall ticked in time with Bill’s thumping heart. Arthur was leaning against the wall, his head bent, seeming to study his shoes.

Quiet voices came from the side room, but nothing else. Bill watched as Grace wandered over to the door and stood listening.

‘Come here, sweetheart,’ he said, but she shook her head and put her finger to her lips.

Eventually, she said, ‘I cannot bear waiting… it is killing me.’ Bill walked over to her and gently guided her back to the chair.

Wandering back to the door, Bill stood listening. He heard faint murmurings. He also thought he heard Lenny cry or was he trying to breathe? Bill could not tell. It sounded like a cry.

‘Where is my Lenny? What are they doing?’ Grace screamed. Bill turned to see her shoot up from the chair and lunge towards the door. He barred her way and held her.

‘Darling. Darling. Darling,’ he murmured. She sobbed in his arms. ‘They’re doing what they can.’ The words fell like dead fish from his mouth and quietly echoed against the bleak walls. Whether the words were true or not, he had to say something to stop them from going mad. He took Grace back to the chair and sat down next to Arthur on the floor. Putting his big hand on top of Arthur’s small mitts, he waited.

Eventually, the door opened and a doctor came out. Bill and Grace stood up together.

The doctor looked sombre.

Bill’s heart sank. He felt faint.

He felt Grace slump against him, her head near his chest.

‘I am sorry to tell you—‘ began the doctor.

Grace howled.

‘Nooooooo!’ she screamed, pushing past the doctor and through the door. Bill followed her.

Yellow tile lined a large room dotted with polished metal trolleys. The trolleys were covered in medical instruments. Doors led off the gas-lit room and tall, frosted windows let in the moonlight.

In the centre of the room was a large bed. Lenny lay on this bed covered with a white blanket. Bill and Grace looked down at their baby. His face was tinged a light blue colour and Bill thought, he’s my blue angel, he’s with the angels, my blue angel.

His chest heaved. His breath caught in his throat. Tears sat at the edge of his eyes, before they plummeted down his face.

Grace picked Lenny up and sobbed over his body.

Novel – Reflective Commentary Five

My novel is based on a true event during WW1 when my grandfather’s ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat. In assignment one, I began with the family’s norm before the drama. After drafting the first chapter, I realized the beginning was too flat and I needed a hook. Therefore, I decided to swap chapter one with the chapter I wrote for my assignment two. As Bell says, ‘The hook is what grabs the reader’s attention… [writers] figure we have to get the readers seeing the location, then the characters… Don’t fall into this trap. Readers don’t care about the natural order if they are intrigued’ (2004:121).

Assignment two replaces chapter one and introduces us to Bill and Grace as they are dealing with trauma and crisis. We are thrown into their world where Bill has been traumatised by the war. Then, to increase the drama, their second child dies. Bell explains that ‘…very early on in Act 1… something’s got to happen to make us feel there’s some threat… happening to the characters’ (2004:27).

Along with Bill’s reaction to this drama, I built his character through his physical appearance. Because it is an action-packed section, I added descriptions of Bill in portions rather than one big section. For example, when he woke from his dream, he ‘climbed into his trousers and drew his jumper over the mass of curls on his head.’ Setterfield describes Lily simply as ‘a stubby figure, clutching a coat about her, [who] scurried in the direction of Radcot Bridge’ (2018:106). The course book, Starting a Novel, explains: ‘Great nineteenth-century novelists often spent a paragraph painting a detailed character sketch… But for today’s reader, it’s best to avoid such static descriptions. It pauses the action and diminishes the narrative drive… ’ (OCA,2018:46).

As I learned to create characters, I decided some characters were minor instead of major, such as Natalia. She interacts with Arthur later in the novel, but does not move the story on. In this section, Grace is a secondary character (deuteragonist), but later on she will have her own story to tell. However, this will not happen with Natalia as she is not directly affected by Bill’s trauma. As King says: ‘I had located the fossil; the rest, I knew, would consist of careful excavation’ (2012:193).

My tutor showed me how to stay with Bill’s point of view. For example, when Bill woke, I wrote, ‘Bill woke up from his dream screaming and grasping for air’, which sounded like it was the viewpoint of a person watching Bill. In order to keep with Bill’s point of view, I changed it to ‘Bill woke with a jerk and found himself sat up straight.’

In my reflective commentary for assignment two, I mentioned that I had experimented with first person, but forgot to mention that I decided to stay with third person limited. My tutor pointed out that I was writing in third person. I mention this because I want my tutor and the assessors to know I understand the difference between first and third person. I mainly decided to stay with third person because if I wrote the story in first person past, the reader would know whether Bill survives or not. Also, Bill has difficulty with intimacy and first person creates a closeness between the character and the reader that would not would work for Bill. Cowan explains that ‘One of the main effects of first person point of view is to… draw the reader into a relationship of apparent intimacy with the “speaker”’ (2013:132).

Bill’s life is based around water – living near the Thames, being a barge-builder, and being in the navy during the war. I enhanced this fact by introducing fantasy characters that help or hinder Bill, based on Scandinavian folk tales about a sea creature, and used watery imagery to describe them. In the early drafts, a policeman guided him to the hospital but I changed that to a man whose ‘…green coat swung around his body and the mist sat in droplets on his sleeves.’ The Snow Childis set in Alaska’s cold landscape. It is not clear whether the child Faina is a fantasy or real but Ivey uses chilly imagery to describe her: ‘There was something otherworldly in her manners and appearance, her frosty lashes and cool blue stare’ (2012:105).

My research included ships during World War 1, and hospitals in the 1920s. In The War at Sea, an armed merchant cruiser is torpedoed by a U-Boat. A Sub-Lieutenant appointed to the ship describes the attack: ‘Suddenly we were all startled by a shout from the starboard look out, “Submarine on the port bow”’, and there was my first sentence (Thompson,2005:160-161).

Assignment four describes Lenny’s funeral and Bill fleeing the cemetery during a flashback. Bill disappears later in the novel and this assignment gave reasons why he would disappear.

After the funeral, which is slow-paced with the characters being sad, the story changes to a fast pace with Bill running and upset with some interior monologue. This develops the character but also, I wanted to encourage reader interest. The course book, Starting a Novel, explains that ‘You don’t want to have a series of exciting, tense scenes at the start of your novel, and then have all the tension and excitement fizzle out leaving 200 slow pages’ (OCA,2018:107).

Bill’s character also develops through speech. He is the strong, silent type so his dialogue is short or he just nods. I strengthened his interactions with Grace because she is chatty and this helps develop Bill’s character. At the end of assignment four, Grace is upset and her dialogue is sometimes about six sentences long, whereas Bill’s dialogue is often one sentence. When Grace is trying to persuade him to go to the doctor, his answer is only that ‘“They’ll send me to the nuthouse.”’ Fletcher uses dialogue to develop Clara’s character. Clara is inquisitive and direct. For example, when she first meets Kit, she asks him about the Pettigrews. He asks her why she is asking about the Pettigrews and she answers, ‘“Because I want to know”’ (2018:119). Cowan explains that ‘…Lodge describes quoted speech as “the purest form of showing” because it allows fictional characters to exist on the page in all their particularity and individuality…’ (2013:103).

Having attempted to create dramatic tension, my tutor suggested I consider the length of a sentence – longer sentences slow down the pace and shorter sentences speed it up. In assignment four, I lengthened the sentences in the funeral, but when Bill was escaping from the car in the cemetery, I made the language more succinct and the sentences shorter. For example, as he was rushing through the cemetery, during the flashback, I wrote: ‘He could not breathe. He felt strong hands around his throat. Men cried out for their mothers. It was dark.’ In The Road to Grantchester, Runcie uses short sentences after Sidney’s friend Robert is killed and Sidney continues to fight with wild abandon: ‘When he finally gets back… he can’t keep still. He is shaking. He cannot stop. He looks for his friend’ (2019:69).

As Bill is leaving the cemetery, he has a panic attack: ‘With his lungs closing off, he felt like he was facing an abyss. He breathed heavily and felt panicked.’ My tutor commented in her report that ‘I don’t get this here. Did you mean that he felt breathless? But he’d stopped running and rested on the bench.’ So I researched panic attacks. It seems that panic only became a disorder in 1980: ‘Panic disorder first appeared as a specific diagnostic entity in 1980, in the third Edition of “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM III)’ (,1996). Therefore, I could not say he was having a panic attack. I decided to reorder the words, so that the beginning of that paragraph started with ‘Panic grew within him and he felt like he was facing an abyss.’ I thought this showed he was having a panic attack and that was why he breathed heavily.

In assignment five, the reader is introduced to the possibility of Bill going to the U.S.A. when he reads a letter he has received from an old friend. Also, after talking about the war with a man he met in Covent Garden called Jim, he considers committing suicide, which gives another possible reason for his disappearance. My tutor calls this causality – cause and effect. Woolf uses causality to develop Septimus Smith who suffers from shell-shock. Early on, we see his fragility when he looks at a stopped car and thinks ‘The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames’ (2013). Then later, we discover that his doctor thought he was healthy, which was obviously part of the reason Smith did not recover and killed himself: ‘For Dr Holmes had told her to make her husband (who had nothing whatever seriously the matter with him…) take an interest in things…’ (2013).

The discussion with Jim shows how Bill suffered during the war and also that Bill thought he had killed his friend. Jim is also another incarnation of the fantasy sea creature, but as a hindrance rather than help by being manipulative – encouraging Bill to talk about his story, get upset, and consider suicide. I had difficulty making Jim sinister without saying ‘he was sinister.’ In The Girl You Left Behind, the Kommendant is sinister. It is disturbing how kind he is to Sophie before he takes what he wants. He tells her ‘“I am a good man, Sophie… It is important to me that you understand that. That we understand each other”’ (Myers,2012).

Part five of the course considers techniques for finishing the novel. Most of my novel will be written in third person past but I am considering using first person present for the last part so that we can get close to Bill as he changes. In The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, the first main character had lost his memory and first person present brought the reader closer to the character, and also showed that the character knew as little about the developing story as the reader (Turton,2018). As Bill loses his memory, that technique could work. Also, Cowan discusses John Fowles’ novel The Collectorwhich has three parts: two in first person past and one in first person present. Cowan states that ‘…a large part of the tension and tragedy is created not by what they say or do but by something more technical than that: by the temporal disparity in their respective points of view’ (2013:130)

This section also discusses pushing form. I decided to write this novel chronologically with each part told by a different character. When I have finished this novel, I will experiment with moving parts around. The Bindinghas three parts (Collins,2019). The first two parts are from the point of view of Emmet. The last part is from the point of view of his boyfriend, Lucian. We learn more about Lucian when he tells his story. Also, it is currently fashionable to have each chapter from a different character, like The Girl on a Train, which is written from the first person point of view of three women (Hawkins,2015).

Because this is a sad story about how lives are affected by war, I chose to use a tone that shows the gravity and sorrow of the story. I show this in many ways, but especially in assignment five when Bill considers suicide. While this is a dark novel that includes a fantasy element, and the tone is sad and tragic, the tone is not disturbing and grotesque like The Clocks in this House all tell Different Times(Brooks,2017). Both stories are about how the Great War destroyed more than the men that fought but the tone is different in each tale. Turning to voice, this is something I have difficulty with. I understand what voice is and can hear it in other authors, but I cannot hear my own voice, or even understand what that is and how to develop it. However, through this class, I have noticed that I write about serious subjects and my voice tends towards a serious tone. I am not sure if this is the beginning of my voice, but I hope to develop this more in my next class.

Reviewing my work, I removed adverbs, some adjectives, and clichés. For example, I removed the following sentence because it is a cliché: ‘That night, Bill was looking for shelter from his storm.’ Reviewing each assignment has slowed down my momentum. I have finished drafting Bill’s story and moved on to Grace’s, but because of the constant reviewing required for this class, I obsessively try to find the right words. Although, I have learned from this intense revision, I will not revise the rest of my novel until I have finished the first draft. Smiley says: ‘I advise against rewriting… The desire to get each scene ‘just right’ works against productivity because it allows you to get in the habit of ruminating upon your self-doubts’ (2005:220).

Research for this assignment included Covent Garden in the 1920s. For this, I visited Covent Garden, searched for history online and read Covent Garden Past(Richardson;1995).

During this course, I have learned how to plot a story so that I now have a completed synopsis. My knowledge on how to keep with the main character’s point of view, dialogue, and controlling tension through pace has improved. I now have the tools to continue writing and complete my novel.




Bell, J. S. (2004) Plot and Structure. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.

Brooks, X. (2017) The Clocks in this House all tell Different Times. Cromer: Salt Publishing Limited.

Collins, B. (2019) The Binding. London: The Borough Press.

Cowan, A. (2013) The Art of Writing Fiction. Abingdon: Routledge.

Fletcher, S. (2018) House of Glass. London: Virago Press.

Hawkins, P. (2015) The Girl on the Train. London: Transworld Publishers.

Ivey, E. (2012) The Snow Child. London: Headline Publishing Group.

King, S. (2012) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Myers, J. (2012) The Girl You Left Behind. [Kindle edition] From: (Accessed during December 2019)

OCA (2018) Creative Writing 1: Starting your Novel. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. (1996) Panic Disorder and Panic Attack. At: (Accessed on 9 December 2019)

Richardson, J. (1995) Covent Garden Past. London: Historical Publications Ltd.

Runcie, J. (2019) The Road to Grantchester. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Setterfield, D. (2018) Once Upon a River. London: Transworld Publishers.

Smiley, J. (2005) Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. New York: Random House, Inc.

Thompson, J. (2005) The Imperial War Museum Book of The War at Sea 1914-1918: The face of battle revealed in the words of the men who fought. London: Pan Macmillan.

Turton, S. (2018) The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. London: Raven Books.

Woolf, V. (2013) Mrs Dalloway. [Kindle edition] From: (Accessed during December 2019)

Novel – Reflective Commentary Four

The first draft was a few paragraphs describing the funeral and Bill running from the cemetery. My edits included developing Bill with indirect speech and more description of the funeral and his journey home. For example, rather that telling the reader that ‘terraced houses turned into flats and shops as he got closer to home’, I described his wanderings in detail. Healey guided me in Elizabeth is Missingas the main character often wanders, for example, ‘I walk past the ugly house and the tea dregs and the acacia, the way I’ve always walked, and then further on, until I can hear the sound of trains. I stare hollowly across the street. On the opposite side is the Station Hotel’ (2014:168).

During revision, I added characters and settings that showed the 1920s like the bus conductor and her ticket holder. In The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Turton includes settings like the stables that show the period (even though this is a fantasy novel, it is set in a 1920s country house): ‘Troughs overflow with oats, and carriages stand wheel to wheel… the only things missing are the horses’ (2018:38).

Adding in smells while editing helped bring the story to life. For example, I added ‘There was a musty smell of damp and wood polish’ during the funeral. In The Collector’s Apprentice, Shapiro showed me how to use aromas like this: ‘She throws open the windows that ring the house, letting in the spring-like air’ (2018:269).

The research I did for this section primarily focussed on funerals in 1920s and the cemetery. I visited Nunhead Cemetry where some of my family are buried. Also, I searched online to see how funerals were performed in the 1920s (Cryer,2019).

As this lesson was about structure, I considered the construction of the whole novel as well as this section. I developed the plot further: it will follow the five-act structure in third person past for each main character’s act: Bill, Grace, Arthur, and Molly, and then Bill again at the end. The trigger points are Bill’s trauma and disappearance. Developing Bill’s character in this assignment, I created concrete reasons why Bill would disappear – connecting events to compel the reader to continue on with the story. In The Art of Writing Fiction, Cowan states: ‘…this plot must have completeness, by which he means that the beginning, middle and end must have a necessary and plausible connection and must form a self-contained whole. Within the compass of the play… the beginning should have certain consequences’ (2013:144). In A Man Called Ove, the author gives us many stories where Ove’s neighbour interferes in Ove’s life which develops their relationship (Backman,2015). Bill’s continual wandering is also a foreshadowing – a signal to the reader of his disappearance. The Starting Your Novelcourse book states ‘Foreshadowing is an important part of building this excitement – letting the reader know where the plot is heading, so they can start anticipating it’ (OCA,2018:107).

Albert helps Bill carry Lenny’s coffin in assignment 4, but is not mentioned in assignment 3 as the family are introduced. I will add a description of Albert into assignment 3.




Backman, F. (2015) A Man Called Ove. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.

Cowan, A. (2013) The Art of Writing Fiction. Abingdon: Routledge.

Cryer, P. (Webmaster). (2019) Costs of dying in early 20th century Britain. At (Accessed on 13 October 2019)

Healey, E. (2014) Elizabeth is Missing. London: Penguin Group.

OCA (2018) Creative Writing 1: Starting your Novel. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts

Shapiro, B. A. (2018) The Collector’s Apprentice. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books.

Turton, S. (2018) The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. London: Raven Books.


Novel – Reflective Commentary Three

My research of the location of Southwark in London where Bill lived included walking around the area, looking at old maps and photos in the travel guide by Bradshaw called Bradshaw’s London, and reading the history of Peabody Estates online.

As I revised Assignment Three, I changed the descriptions of the environments to highlight Bill’s emotion. For example, as the family gathered for the funeral, the blue cover of the sofa ‘sloped towards the floor with a sigh.’ Also, Bill looked out of the window and saw that ‘A magpie flew onto a branch…’ like the nursery rhyme about magpies: One for Sorrow. Cowan states in The Art of Writing Fictionthat ‘Setting, for instance, is often conveyed through the eyes and emotions of a particular character, the description inflected by that character’s voice’ (2013:78). In The Road to Grantchester, Runcie brings an iron crucifix into the setting when Sidney is shot. Sidney’s internal voice asks ‘What is that iron Crucifix still doing at the top of an arch that is on the point of falling?’ (2019:80). This highlight’s Sidney’s career after the war, and also that moment of possible death, by bringing in a religious artefact.

I described the table in Bill’s front room as having scars and scrapes, which show’s Bill’s internal scars on objects in his life. In House of Glass, Fletcher uses plant imagery to describe objects and even Clara’s disability because of Clara’s love of florae. For example, she describes brittle bones disease as ‘a twisted, dark-flowering vine which lacked beauty’ (2018:21).

As I revised, I checked the language to make sure it was not above the education level of Bill who is currently the narrator of the story. For example, the illustration in the book he reads to Arthur is a ‘woodcut’, but I changed that to ‘sketch’ as I did not think Bill would know the word ‘woodcut’. In The Razor’s Edgeby Maugham, you can tell the level of education that Elliot reached by his dialogue. For example, in a discussion with Maugham, he says ‘I saw an early Christian sarcophagus in Rome that took my fancy’ (2000:215).

Reading Davies’ Maternityhelped create Bill’s voice. This book was published in 1915 from actual letters written by women from that time. For example, I cut some of his sentences by removing words – rather than saying ‘I just need a fag’, he said: ‘Just need a fag’. TheStarting your Novel course book says that ‘The way your characters speak and the narrative voice… will be governed by when and where your novel is set…’ (OCA, 2018:69)

I revised dialogue so that it aided the plot or characters. For example, in my tutor’s response to Assignment Two, she mentioned that ‘At some point, perhaps in this chapter, you must give some reasoning for the death.’ I considered this and added dialogue to the end of Chapter Three where Bill and Grace discuss that Lenny died from blue blood. Neither of them were sure what that was, which shows the level of their education and adds to their character. In Plot & Structure, Bell says ‘Dialogue helps to create original characters and move the plot along. If it isn’t doing either of those things, it probably should be cut’ (2004:18).


Bell, J. S. (2004) Plot and Structure. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.

Bradshaw, G. (2014) Bradshaw’s London: George Bradshaw’s Classic Guide of 1862.Stroud: Amberley Publishing.

Cowan, A. (2013) The Art of Writing Fiction.Abingdon: Routledge.

Davies, M. L. (1984) Maternity: Letters from Working Women. London: Virago Limited.

Fletcher, S. (2018) House of Glass.London: Virago Press.

Maugham, W.S. (2000) The Razor’s Edge.London: Vintage.

OCA (2018) Creative Writing 1: Starting your Novel. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts

Peabody. (2019) Peabody. At: (Accessed on 15 June 2019)

Runcie, J. (2019) The Road to Grantchester.London: Bloomsbury Publishing.