Monday, July 27, 2009

Teaser Tuesday - back to WW2

I'm taking a break from 'Christopher's Medal' so that I can go back through and revise it later with less starry eyes. So, it's back to the Russian WIP for me and back to querying 'Kestrel'. This week's extract is from 'Kestrel'.

Francis and Ilke had a bad year. They haven't seen each other for 10 months and Francis has some serious apologizing to do.

He was sitting on the settee staring at the fire. He rose when she entered and tried to kiss her cheek. She twisted away and sat on the window seat. “Francis.”

“Ilke.” He sank back down on the settee again.

Ilona waited, clasping her hands together on her lap. She watched his face and saw the thoughts working their way across it.

“I don’t know where to start,” he said.

“The beginning is usually a good place,” she replied.

“I’ve been a jackass.”

“Yes.” She found it hard to be so brusque with him. She stared at her hands knowing that, if she looked at him she would weaken.

“I should have never said what I did, or even thought like that. I could see how much I hurt you yet I did it anyway.”

“Yes, you did.”

“It must have taken a lot for you to go back to Catterick and I should have acknowledged that.”

“It did and you should have.”

He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “I was stupid and proud and foolish. I thought if I shut myself off from everyone, things wouldn’t hurt so badly. I kept telling myself that I was doing the right thing because if people stopped caring about me they wouldn’t get hurt.”

He looked at her. “It was the wrong thing to do because it’s been the worse year of my life and the longest. I can’t believe how stupid I’ve been. I care for you, Ilke, I care for you more than I should but I can’t make any promises because I don’t know if I’ll get out of this war alive. I can’t put you through that again and that’s why I behaved the way I did. It was the wrong thing to do but, by the time I’d realized that, it was too late for me to go back and change things, because the damage had been done….has been done. I look at you now and I just see this cold anger and, God knows, I deserve it.”

She clenched her jaw. She felt the tears return and stared up at the ceiling.

“Will you forgive me, Ilke? Can we start again? I miss you so much.”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know if I can. What you did was selfish, no matter how you try to dress it up as noble self-sacrifice.” She looked at him. “How do you think I felt, Francis? Or Harry? Or your parents? It would have almost been better if you were dead. The fact that you deliberately shut yourself away hurt so much. It was hard enough grieving for Ian but he was dead, there was no uncertainty. He was gone. Grieving for someone who is still alive is much harder. Grieving over someone who has deliberately walked away from you is a terrible thing to live with.” She curled her hands in her skirt. “It wasn’t a great year for me, either. I can’t tell you how much time I spent trying to work out what I’d done wrong and every time, I came up with nothing. Then, you have the nerve to turn up here, say you’re sorry and expect me to forgive and forget.” She stood up and stared out of the window, not wanting him to see her tears. “If it wasn’t for our families, I’d ask you to leave.”

“Ilke,” his voice was hoarse. “I’m so sorry.”

She winced at the raw pain in his voice. Her jaw hurt and her throat was tight. She waited.

“Ilke, please…”

Ilona wiped her eyes and stared, through her tears, at the leaden grey sky. She ached

with longing as the scent of his aftershave stole across the room.

“God, Ilke, say something, please.”

She wished that she did not love him. She wished that she did not want to turn around and fall into his arms.

“I miss you so much.” There was no trace of the old, confident Francis in that voice, “Please…”

She took a deep breath and turned slowly. “I miss you too,” she whispered, her voice caught in her throat.

“Forgive me?”

She nodded, weakly. “Yes.”

He rose and was across the room in an instant. “I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m sorry for turning my back on you and for saying what I did, and for not saying what I should have said.” He took her face between his hands. “I don’t want us to be like that again. I need you too much, darling. You are my refuge and my sanity and I’ve been so damned miserable without you.”

She did cry then and closed her eyes as he kissed her eyelids and held her. She felt him trembling as his hands moved through her hair and trailed along her damp cheeks. She looked at him, touching his face. “I don’t want to go through that again, either. You’re not the only one who was unhappy, Francis.”

He kissed her in sweet, gentle sips. She could not stop crying and he laughed, “I didn’t mean to make you cry, darling.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t help it.” She kissed him back, reveling in the scent and the nearness of him.

“Merry Christmas,” he whispered against her mouth. “I promise I won’t treat you like that again, darling. I won’t hurt you again.”

“See that you don’t.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tuesday ..already?

Allrighty then. This really, really is the last scrap from Christopher's Medal. I've been revising but I need to step away from it for a little while before I do a final sweep and send it off to Beta readers. I've got Torchwood to distract me and, of course, now I'm diving back into the Russian WIP (Yea, still no title). I've started thinking about it a lot and that's always a good sign.

This piece and other bits like it in the novel, are tricky for me to write. I like to write about what I know and what I'm comfortable with. Having to write a part where Chris is finally opening up and telling Grace of his experiences in Afghanistan is hard for me. I wasn't there, I will not be there, I haven't talked to anyone who was there. I'm having to rely on news stories, blogs, interviews and a bit of empathy to have Chris tell his story. So any feedback would be much appreciated.

“Stuff keeps coming back to me.” Christopher told her.

Grace shifted in his arms and looked at him. Outside, the wind hurled rain against the windows in the gathering gloom of late afternoon.

“They keep nagging at me…bad things that I thought had been long forgotten.”

“Will you tell me?”

“Yes.” He held her tighter.

She felt his long, shuddering sigh as she rested against him, the wool of his jumper soft beneath her cheek.

“Last November, about two weeks after we’d arrived at the FOB, we went on a patrol.

Grace waited, her hand curled up beneath his chin.

“We’d had reports of more insurgents moving into the area. There were reports that they were moving in an arms shipment, to a village about six miles away. We’d had some reliable information, we knew where they were. I didn’t have to go on these patrols, I could’ve stayed in the compound, but I liked getting out there instead of waiting around for a mortar attack. Anyway, it was too bloody cold to be sitting still. We took three armored vehicles. It was slow going. When we got to the village, we noticed it was quiet. Usually when we went there, there’d be people around, some even liked to see us there. That was enough for me. I told the lads to be on their toes more than usual and, fuck me if I wasn’t right. We’d no sooner passed through the market place when they opened fire on us.” His hand moved through her hair. “Are you tired of the ambush stories, yet, Gracey?”


“It’s just as well.” He flinched as the wind slammed a loose panel on the horse-walker.

“They hit us with RPGs. One of them struck the first vehicle in the convoy. We were stuck in a narrow lane with no way to get past it. We returned fire while the lads in the damaged vehicle scrambled for cover. By some stroke of luck, we managed to nail the bastard with the RPG, but there were still plenty of bullets flying about. We had to reverse out of there, once we’d got the men from the other vehicle out of harm’s way. One of the lads got hit in the leg and I dragged him into our lorry. We gave them plenty of covering fire. It was chaos, lots of shouting and swearing. I called in for air support, so that the gunship could tell us where to fire. They got there pretty quick and that just added to the pandemonium, the shouting, the swearing, the shooting and the roar of the helicopter. My ears didn’t stop ringing for days afterwards. That’s why I like the peace and quiet so much.”

Grace felt him tremble as the walker panel banged again. She wanted to make his pain go away, wipe the memories that haunted him.

“The gunship did its job. We managed to get one or two more of the bastards and the rest made a run for it, with the chopper chasing after them. It took care of the rest. We were so lucky that day. It doesn’t stop me from having nightmares about it, though.”

She looked at him, scared by the blackness he saw. She fought to keep the gates open, to keep him there with her. “I wish there was something I could do.”

His hand trailed across her cheek. “You do plenty.” He said softly. “It means so much just to wake up in the night and know that you’re close enough to touch. It’s enough that you’re here right now. I probably don’t say that often enough, how much you’ve helped me. I don’t tell you enough how much I love you.”

“You don’t need to.” She kissed him. “I know.” She sat up with some reluctance. “Now I’m going to go out and fix that bloody walker.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

Teaser Tuesday - again, again, again

Edited to add: Today, the bodies of 8 British soldiers, killed over a brief span of 24 hours, have returned home. When their coffins arrive at the Air Force Base, a brief Repatriation Ceremony is held and Union Jacks are draped over their coffins. Then, a procession of hearses will pass through the village of Wootton Bassett on their way to the John Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. Ever since 2007, the villagers have stood in silence to watch the hearses pass by in honor of the fallen soldiers. It is a moving and heartbreaking sight and, today will be particularly hard. Several of the soldiers were only 18 or 20 and died in a 'daisy chain' explosion. They were trying to help comrades who had been injured by the first bomb when a second IED was detonated.

"At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them...."

This is from the WIP. It's undergoing some revisions but, here's another scene.

After quite a few weeks and a dreadful argument, Christopher and Grace are reunited. This scene takes place after the big, emotional reunion.

He limped into the bedroom. “Are you sure you don’t want to turn out the light?” He unfastened his fly buttons. “They’re pretty bloody ugly, darling.”

“I don’t mind.” She watched him as he sank onto the bed and pushed his jeans away. He swung his legs onto the bed and she noticed how he studied her face as she looked at his leg. She bit her lip and surveyed the brutal damage. The long sweep of thigh that she had once loved to run her fingers along, was now pock-marked with misshapen, puckered scars, ranging from an inch in diameter to five inches. Raw, red skin as fine and crinkled as tissue paper stretched across the smaller, concave ones where chunks of flesh had been cut away by the surgeons at Fort Bastion. There was another scar, a two-inch line, where the surgeons had pinned his leg back together. The largest, discolored ones were where the skin grafts had taken. That he had managed to keep his leg was a miracle.

“Do they hurt?” Grace asked. Her eyes burned with unshed, angry tears. She wanted to kill the man who had done this.

“The big ones do. There was a lot of nerve damage. They’re starting to grow back and they hurt… a lot. That’s why there’s all those pills. There’s a whole pharmacy of pain pills in there.” He rolled onto his side and pulled his shorts down, half way. “That’s where they took the skin for the grafts. Sorry, darling, my arse isn’t as nice as it once was.”

Grace touched the two patches where a faint, mesh pattern could be seen in the new skin. “Your arse is just fine.”

“Thank you, darling.” He put his shorts right and sat up once more.

She ran a cautious finger around the edge of the largest scar on his thigh. She wanted him to know that she wasn’t repulsed. Christopher reached for her hand and held it to his face. “Thank you, Grace. Thank you for giving me another chance.”

“It’s all right. I’ll do my best for you, I really will.” She wasn’t sure how or what she faced but it had to be done. She stood up and peered out of the window. “I think you got here just in time. It’s snowing now.” She drew the curtains and crawled under the bedclothes. The snow thudded, softly against the window and the room was cold. Grace reached for the lamp as Christopher curled up against her. She reveled in the warm weight of him as his head rested on her shoulder and she fell asleep, holding him.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Teaser Tuesday - More Poppy stuff

Another excerpt from 'A Poppy for Christopher'

Christopher has been sent home from Afghanistan after being wounded by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). He's been recovering from surgery.

Grace hated January. It was cold, grey and empty. She spent two weeks waiting, as the days became a seamless silence of soft, white mist. Sally phoned, once, to tell her that the hospital had phoned to let them know that Christopher’s wounds were healing as well as could be expected. He had asked to see his parents but that was it. Margaret’s phone call was weighty with things that were left unsaid. Grace listened to his mother’s chatter. He hadn’t spoken much but he was pleased to see them. He cried a bit, but recovered himself.

“I asked him if he was ready to see you.” Margaret said and then, fell silent.

Grace puffed on her cigarette. She knew what the answer was even before his mother said it. She had used the empty days of waiting to do her research. She knew more than she ever wanted to learn about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. “It’s all right.” She told her. “He doesn’t want to see me.” Another draw on the cigarette and her eyes swam with tears. “He’s too broken and damaged and he doesn’t want me there.” She stared out of the window, at the mist. A starling settled on the fence, regarded her with a cold, silvery eye and flew away. The world was so still.

“He says that he’s not that man you fell in love with.”

God, now what do I do? How do I fix this mess? She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. The cigarette burned away to ash in the ashtray. She curled and uncurled her free hand. “As long as he lives to draw breath, he is the man I fell in love with.” Grace wasn’t going to cry, not on the phone. “I suppose, somehow, I need to convince him of that, when the time is right. If there’s a right time.”

“Darling, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. We’ll do all that we can, you know that.”

“I know.”

“He needs you, Grace, he just doesn’t realize it yet.”

She sighed and twisted the cold butt of the dead cigarette between her fingers. “We can’t force him. Not yet.” She wondered how she could sound so calm and reasonable when her guts were being torn to pieces.

“Shall I talk to the psychiatrist? Do you think that would help?”

“It might.” Grace glanced at the calendar; the big, black crosses fell away at the beginning of the month. It was nearly February. He had been home for nearly a month, away from harm, yet, he could’ve been lost in the hinterlands.

“”We’ll do that, then. We’ll arrange to speak to the psychiatrist when we go to the hospital in a couple of days.

She wanted to ask how Christopher looked. Instead, she looked at the photograph on the wall. The one that she had loved, the Guardsman gazing at something that no one else could see.

“Grace, are you all right?”

No, I’m dying, Margaret. I’m dying and I don’t know what to do “I’ll be all right. I think it’s best that I try and keep busy. You know, that way, I won’t think so much.” Maybe it won’t hurt so much.

“I’m sorry. I know how hard this must be for you. How much it hurts.”

Grace’s voice cracked.”Yes, it does. It hurts a lot. Don’t worry about me. Just concentrate on Chris. Help him to get better.”

She put the phone down and stared out of the window again, grateful for the mist. Sunlight would have just been a mockery. She looked at her watch. Morning break was over. It was time to get back to work. She hoped that her father would give her a stupid, dangerous two year old to ride. Something that needed her full attention and, if she happened to break her neck in the meantime, that would be all right too.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Afghanistan - What's the point?

I noticed that Afghanistan has finally nudged its way to the forefront of the news here because of the big offensive to clear the Taliban out of the southern part of the country. It's got me a bit riled up. The whole Afghanistan thing has me riled up because it makes me wonder if anyone responsible for military strategy has ever bothered to read a history book.

'Outsiders' have been trying to interfere in Afghanistan for centuries and have failed dismally. Regiments have been slaughtered wholesale and the bones of British or Russian soldiers from centuries past are buried in the dust there. The big mistake has always been the assumption that, because it's defined by lines on a map, that it is a single isn't. The area has always been a mish-mash of tribal conflict, warlords, intrigue, backstabbing, wholesale slaughter. No one has ever succeeded in conquering Afghanistan. Get that? Good.

I can understand the 'eye for an eye' sentiment that sent foreign troops into Afghanistan back in 2001. I thought it was a bad idea at the time and I still think it's a bad idea. It breaks my heart when I read of British and US soldiers being blown up by IEDs and ambushed by insurgents because it doesn't achieve anything. For every insurgent leader killed, another will rise in their place. It's the way it is in Afghanistan. Foreign armies will never get a grip on the place, they will never subdue it.

Read the history books, get the point, get the hell out and leave the tribes to sort it out between themselves. The sacrifice isn't worth it.

End of rant. As you were.