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Tom Harris

Writer of edgy Middle Grade & Young Adult Fiction

Month

May 2012

The Badger welcomes Amanda Donovan

[Badger is staring at an old picture of his cousin, Brock, who has his paw around Badger’s missing wife, Belinda. The cheeky look in the young badger’s eye concerns Bagder…his mind is racing…] I bet she’s run off with that little…oh, hello, hope no-one’s cheating on you today… [He twitches] This week I’m delighted to welcome another lovely lady, Amanda Donovan, to the sett. I’m just going to pop round to the Weasel Detective Agency to deal with some pressing business whilst Amanda tells you what she’s been working on, won’t be long…over to you Amanda.

I’m working on Hetty’s Treasure at the moment. It’s a middle grade children’s book set in a world called Airth.  Hetty is left at home when her parents go on a cruise. She finds a parrot, Tazzle, in her garden, but Pirate Jack wants him back. Hetty, Tazzle and her friend, Josh embark on a series of magical adventures through portals into other worlds as they try to get Tazzle back home to Parrotdise, whilst evading the clutches of the evil Pirate Jack.

 Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Hetty’s Treasure.

Chapter One:  Fragile faces

 “Hope your face explodes, Mother!”  Hetty yelled as soon as the car turned the corner.

            She grabbed the frayed string around her neck and felt for the front door key.  What had that teacher said last week?  ‘Hetty’s a lonely latchkey child.’  She frowned and stabbed the key into the lock.  What was a latchkey anyway?  Is this a latchkey?  It had be something to do with being home alone, owning a key and being invisible.  The door opened and Hetty went inside and slammed it behind her.  Why didn’t they take her with them?  She shoved the key back under her t-shirt and went into the lounge.  At least she wouldn’t have to listen to Mother whine about the crack in her face anymore. 

            In the corner of the lounge, loomed Mother’s flowery chair.  It looked like it owned the place, almost as if Mother was watching her, thought Hetty.  She strolled up to it, kicked it, and threw the cushions across the room.  Mother would go crazy.  She always said, ‘My chair is out of boundsDon’t you dare touch it, Hetty.’  Hetty smirked, flopped into the chair and hoped her jeans were filthy enough to dirty the seat. 

            Five minutes ago, Mother had left.  Her goodbye was a shout from the car, ‘Don’t ruin anything while we’re gone or you’ll have to pay for it.  I’ll be checking up on you.’    

            Hetty found a box of chocolates by the side of the chair and took a magazine from the top of the pile.  On the cover, a happy couple sunbathed next to a pool that looked golden in the sunlight.  The headline read, ‘The Surgical Spirit:  The cruise ship with a difference.  Visit our on board Super Rejuvenating Spa – we guarantee you will leave a different person.’  Hetty rolled her eyes and stuffed five chocolates into her mouth.  She wished her mother could come back a different person on the inside too.  The corners of her mouth lifted in a chocolate smile as she wiped her grubby fingers on the arms of the chair.

[Badger races back into the sett, panting] …well we’ll see what Weasel comes up with then…that philandering, good for nothing, Brock … Right, focus…focus…I do love this concept, Amanda. I had a peek at this excerpt before…I had a mother like Hetty’s, she was always swanning off on exotic foraging trips around the countryside, I feel Hetty’s frustration…So, tell everyone what your plans are. What can we expect from Amanda Donovan in the future?

The sequel of Hetty’s Treasure is planned and ready to write.  I never thought I’d write a sequel, but my characters have decided they want more adventures.  I’m planning to turn Hetty’s treasure into a children’s picture book too.

A picture book, that sounds cool! I can just picture a chilled glass of slug squash at the moment – perfect for this amazing weather. Can you finish this sentence – It’s too orangey for crows, it’s just for…

Badgers.

I wish! It’s actually – …me and my dog! I used to love Kiora, the school round the back of the wood, chucked loads of it out one summer and I stockpiled it and drank it with fresh rain water – delicious! I don’t think crows are big fans of oranges as the squash advertisers suggest, but If you could be any fruit loving bird in the world, what would you be and why?

I’d be a Blue fronted Amazon parrot like Tazzle in Hetty’s Treasure.  Imagine the adventures…

Ah, yes, I always wanted to be an astro-badger, the first Meles-meles – that’s our latin name by the way – to take off into outer space. If Hetty’s Treasure took off, what tune would you chose for the title track if your book were made into a movie?

Parrotdise by Coldplay 

 Nice! Actually, it’s uncanny how well Chris Martin’s lyrics work in the context of your book – cool! Weasel was playing Coldplay in his office earlier, from that iPod thingy he found out by the pond. He used to do a bit of work for the government, you know, on the wire, picking up Parrot chatter. That was before he became a private detective. Have you picked up any parrott chatter from Tazzle about the covert organisation ‘P.O.L.L.Y?’ Are they close to world domination? And can you unravel the acronym for us?

The organisation ‘Parrots Of Loopy Land Year 2012’ think they are close to world domination, but they are all talk.  I know this because I have inside information and if I tell you anymore I will have to kill you.

You do know badger baiting has been outlawed don’t you? I’m not inviting you again!!! MURDERER!!! [Badger screams, but sees that Amanda just looks puzzled by his behaviour. He clears his throat and coughs up a bit of his breakfast] Sorry, bit touchy about death, you see my life was threatened once by an organisation of gardeners called P.E.A.T – Perscute Every Animal Twice. I was saved by one of them who was working undercover. He lived next door to me actually, a very keen gardener called Allan Lottment – do you have any gardener friends and if so, what are their names?

Yes, Jeanette.  She is very helpful and is going to fry some of my chicken eggs in her shed tomorrow.  Don’t mention this to her as I haven’t told her yet.

Right, I’ll make sure we don’t print this answer then, Amanda, I’ll let Tom know he’s pretty reliable and says he always reads this stuff before he posts it. He says he loves my blog, so he should pick up on this…Wow! Fried chicken eggs, slurp, slurp, I love eggs! Talking of food in shells…Is a slug a homeless snail? Discuss…

Wait a minute while I go and ask Jeannette… [Amanda dissapears and can be heard shouting to her friend Jeanette. Whilst she is gone, Badger stares at an old wedding photo of him and Belinda that they took on a discarded human camera and stuck to the wall using slug gravy. He breaks down and cries uncontrollably, he throws a couple of acorn ornaments across the sett in his frustration and anger, just as Amanda returns…] She’s not in!

 Oh, shame! [Badger wipes a tear from his eye with his huge, furry paw] That’s very sad news. I remember when I went to call for Belinda before our first date at The Ugly Bug Ball, she wasn’t in either. So, I went with a French badger, Satine, she was a singer, well more of a growler to be honest, but when Belinda showed up and saw us together she swiped that black beret clean off her pretty striped head. [Badger sniffs and sighs] Talking of attractive warblers, do you know what colour is the cap of a female blackcap?

Black?  I’m pretty sure they carry clipboards too.

Only the one’s who work for the RSPB carry clipboards, but It’s actually orange… I only know that because I met a lot of birds during our neighbourhood watch meetings. I’m on the committee, so I’ve become a bit of an ornithological clever clogs. Do you own a pair of clever clogs – if so, how do they work?

Yes, they are red and sparkly and have tiny pictures of windmills, tulips and mice painted on them.  I wore them last Tuesday and was transported to a windmill in Amsterdam.  I sat on the top of a hill in the middle of a forest and listened to the birds sing and wild beasts roar while I wrote a story about drinking tea up a tree.  All of a sudden, the clogs went crazy.  They went clip-clippety-clop on the stair and I saw a mouse twitching his whiskers and I’m sure he was laughing at me.  Where?  There on the stair!  Right there.  The little mouse had clogs on!

Woah, that sounds pretty trippy! I saw something similar when I went on that mushroom binge. I did know a Dutch mouse called Mr Block, who lived in a windmill, his surname is also his favourite noun and sounds a bit like Brock, the little sh…Anyway, what’s your favourite noun?

 Pirate.

You mean that sign that says no entry that farmers put up? I have trouble making out the small print on those things and have been shot at a couple of times, lucky that cock-eyed Mcgraw was the one hunting me down, I guess. Belinda used to translate these warnings for me, so I don’t suppose I’ll last long without her, especially if Mcgraw has laser treatment [Badger sniffs and wipes his eye] Damn pollen! So, who’s your favourite reader? No pressure!

The badger of course!

Me, really? Well, I was going to chuck you for threatening to kill me earlier, but I didn’t throw Belinda out for that and badgers aren’t hypocritters! So, Amanda, you get my peanut treat!

I’ll just put your song on for you now and then we can discuss the seedy world of parrot crime…[as the joyful sound of I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas plays out, scurrying footsteps can be heard on the stairs. Amanda has vanished like an invisible parrott, making good her escape from the sett as Weasel arrives, clutching a piece of human newspaper in his mouth. Badger turns and accepts the scrap and paws it out on the floor. He can’t read it very well as Belinda is not there to help him, but his eyes are glued on the image of the roadkill. The corpse of a badger with two white tram lines running over its back makes him gasp] It’s Brock’s! He’s dead! [Badger slumps to the ground as the weasel with the eye patch places a consoling paw on the shoulder of his furry client and friend.]

Now that Amanda is free from the traumas of Badger’s sett, you can catch up with her at her blog:  Amanda’s Blog

She’ll be updating it soon with some book reviews and Allotment Tales featuring Sid the golden slow worm.

She’s also been busy starting up as a freelance writer and manuscript reader.

You can also Tweet her and Tazzle at Amanda’s Tweets.

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Youth Tube: Self As Child – The Wooden Heads

I’m honoured to be part of the blog-hop orchestrated by the wonderful Niamh Clune over at The Plum Tree to celebrate their Youth Tube initiative; to encourage early literacy and creativity in children. You can find out more about the project by following the links below…

On The Plum Tree Launching Youth-Tube: Self as Child

Youth-Tube @ Plum Tree Books

So, how could I best express the set theme of ‘SELF AS CHILD?’

As a writer of Young Adult Fiction, I’m not sure where the inner child and the… ahem…adult end and begin to be honest. I thought the best way of sharing this was through my completed and edited thought processes via a short story.

I hope you enjoy my depicition of this theme for even though my body may be walking the streets of reality, my mind can usually be found escaping to places like Barngate and the fantasy and the adventure that they represent; returning to thy self as child, all too frequently…

I hope you enjoy this short journey with me.

 

THE WOODEN HEADS

He clicked on the hazy, purple image of the Mudman on his website. Daniel had really captured the true malevolence of the demon. Close up, he could still see the reflection of its last unfortunate victim in those massive red eyes. This image was in his top five demonic photos of all time, but he was waiting on news of a potential chart topping opportunity.

Sitting at the desk in his bedroom, he felt the chill of the November evening on his bare arms. He raised his hot chocolate to toast the Mudman and his body tingled as he slurped up the melted marshmallow skin from the side of the mug.

The posters of blown-up demon photographs on his bedroom walls blurred into a gruesome supernatural mesh as he spun around in his new leather swivel chair; a present from his absent father for his fourteenth birthday. His laptop beeped. He’d been messaged by Kai.

You’re not gonna believe this Daniel, they’re here in Barngate!

Daniel’s body twitched. His iPhone buzzed on the desk. Gooseflesh ran all over him like he was turning into a Gedi Sanniya; he shivered as he recalled his encounter with the Sri Lankan boil demon as he read the text. It was from Marla.

They’re here!

No way! Kai could have been winding him up, but not Marla. Never Marla. He quickly replied to their messages.

Mine. Now.

After all these years tracking them down, the Wooden Heads had come to him.

~~~

Following a polite knock, Marla appeared in the doorway of his bedroom. She was dressed from head to toe in black; a tight woolly jumper, jeans and a beret. Each time he saw her, his skin prickled like he’d just been electrocuted.

At the same time, his window shot open and Kai climbed through it in black jeans and a black jacket. His friends long black hair swept across his oriental features, but Daniel could tell he was smiling.

“Can you believe they’re right here in Barngate!” said Marla, as she threw Daniel his long black leather jacket as he tied up the laces on his Doc Martens.

“This is so…so…amazing! Demons hardly ever come here. I’m more nervous than the time we found that Kappa in the privet down the road. That was one scary tortoise,” said Kai, brushing his hair over his eyes.

“It’s true, Daniel! I’ve heard it from all my sources,” Marla confirmed with an excited soft hand clap.

He smiled and breathed out. “So, this is it!” he said, strapping his camera around his shoulder. “Well, what are we waiting for – you got a GPS position yet, Kai?”

“Numbskull should be sending it to my BlackBerry any minute…Remember when we got the location to that sea demon and my battery died,” he snorted.

“When we almost missed out on seeing that Nickar, you mean?” said Daniel, who wasn’t smiling.

“Yeah, sorry…that was unprofessional; it will never happen ag…”

“Of course it won’t, Kai…we believe you,” said Marla, smirking as she left Daniel’s bedroom. “Come on, let’s get going. My sources say they’re around the park off the industrial estate. Let’s head over there and wait for the exact coordinates.”

“Sound’s good,” said Daniel.

“If we actually see the Wooden Heads, how many will that be?” asked Kai.

Daniel shook his head and stared at his friend. “Don’t jinx it!” he said at the same time as Marla.

 ~~~

The swings at Helium Park rocked gently on the breeze, squeaking like giant mice. Kai cursed from under his hair, still waiting on the coordinates as Daniel scanned the area through his camera.

“Anything?” asked Marla.

Daniel shook his head. “Nothing, mate…Nothing at all…”

Marla laughed. “It’s funny how you found out you could see demons in that thing…” she nudged him. “Oh, go on, you know you want to!”

“I’ve told you this story a thousand times, Marla,” he smiled softly.

“I know. I just like to hear it.”

“Right, the abridged version…Once upon a time, on the day before that school project…differences in darkness…was due in, I was struggling for ideas as usual…” he grinned. “So, I decided to photograph next doors cat from my bedroom window and then take a close up of my black coat and call it Day CatNight Cat…”

“Because you’re a funny guy!” said Kai, clicking and pointing his fingers as he sat down on one of the swings.

“Yes I am,” he scowled, before cracking a smile. “So, when I saw next door’s cat in the garden, I took the shot…”

“I know this next bit,” said Marla. “When you looked at the digital image the cat appeared in the shot illuminated in a purple haze, but it wasn’t a cat!”

“It was in its true demonic form as an Egyptian goddess…boring,” interrupted Kai, still swinging.

“Boring! Without Daniel, no-one would know!” said Marla, shooting Kai a frown.

“Well, you’ve seen the photos of the Bastet on my website,” said Daniel, leaning against the climbing frame.

“Yeah, but being the first…What a buzz!”

“No wonder you’re addicted,” said Kai scuffing his trainers on the floor to stop the swing, as he held aloft his BlackBerry. “Hang on!”

Daniel and Marla turned to Kai.

“We got ‘em, they’re at the huge carpet warehouse on the industrial estate…let’s go!”

Daniel frowned at his friend. “I’m not addicted, Kai…alright! It’s just a hobby.”

“Yeah, I know, the demonic version of a twitcher right, but instead of rare birds, we go after rare demons. Admit it, guys, we’re all hooked…”

“Don’t listen to him, Daniel…” said Marla, stroking his hand as she moved past him.

Daniel shivered like he’d just seen the lord of flies, Beelzebub, himself, and sighed.

~~~

Kai showed them the BlackBerry screen and the bouncing red dot that their blue dot was closing in on.

“According to Numbskull, the Wooden Heads were in that warehouse over there,” said Kai.

Daniel checked the building through the lens. Everything was dark. There was no sign of the Wooden Heads.

“Is Numbskull sure?” asked Marla.

Kai tutted. “Never wrong!” he said, as they paced down the path towards the warehouse door. “He has this new Demon App. It’s brilliant! Got it through his old man… Government, nudge, nudge, wink, wink…”

Daniel stretched his fingers. Many had sketched images and written of close encounters, but no-one had any evidence that the Wooden Heads existed. He shivered as Kai pulled on the door handle.

“It’s already open!” Kai said.

Daniel heard him gulp.

Through the camera lens, everything inside the warehouse was murkier without the natural backlight of the moon and the stars. The smells of carpet stores he’d visited with his parents as a kid, flooded back and he was bombarded with memories of hide and seek with his dad, in a better time, before the affair.

“Can you see anything?” asked Marla as Daniel scanned the huge warehouse.

“Not yet, let’s try that way,” he said, pointing.

“This place is so creepy, guys, it reminds me of when we saw the Tora Bora Cave Demon in the subway,” said Kai.

“We’re pretty unlikely to see a giant bat in a carpet warehouse in Barngate, Kai!” said Marla.

“You say that, girl, but who would have thought we’d have Wooden Heads here?”

“Yeah, but we haven’t seen them yet,” said Marla, lowering her tone to a whisper. “Where’s the GPS locator now?”

“We’re right on top of it. This is where Numbskull said they’d be.”

“Did you hear that?” said Daniel, but nothing appeared in the camera lens. Echoing within a thousands rolls of carpet was a Toc Toc sound as though someone was knocking on a huge wooden door. Daniel could hear himself breathing as he tried to pinpoint the noise. It was close.

“Quick, behind here,” said Marla, dragging his arm, forcing him to lift his head away from the camera.

They settled in behind a huge contraption that held horizontal rolls of carpet; it looked like a smaller version of the Barngate Ferris Wheel. Toc Toc, came the sound again. Toc Toc, Toc Toc, Toc Toc, it echoed.

“Oh, my god, I am so bricking it!” said Marla, reaching out for Daniel’s hands in the darkness. His pulse was racing and he gripped back hard. The noise appeared to be coming from their right, but the aisle was empty. Toc Toc, Toc Toc, Toc Toc,

“I don’t like this one bit,” said Kai. “Where the hell are they?”  

Marla swore as they clung to one another and she crushed Daniel’s fingers in her grip. Toc Toc, Toc, Toc, Toc Toc…

“Shush,” said Daniel. “I think it’s stopped…”

Behind him Kai stumbled against a roll of carpet propped up against the wall. A soft thump was followed by another and another as the vertical rolls fell like dominoes around the warehouse. Daniel closed his eyes and cringed, until the chain reaction stopped with a thump.

“Sorry!” said Kai.

Toc Toc, Toc, Toc, Toc Toc… It was louder than ever.

“They’re above us!” Daniel whispered, raising his head and lifting the camera to the ceiling in his trembling hands. The Wooden Heads were not coming down the aisle because they didn’t walk on the floor.

Above them the pack of Wooden Heads stared down like giant marionettes.

“It looks like Pinocchio’s being working out at Geppetto’s gym,” said Kai.

Daniel would have laughed had he not been terrified.

A solitary, black, emotionless line of a mouth spread across their huge varnished faces and a wooden nose stuck out like a jumbo sausage above it.

“Run!” Daniel shouted and they sped off down the aisle, towards the exit. Toc Toc, Toc Toc, Toc Toc echoed above them as Daniel watched the Wooden Heads striding across the ceiling; his heart felt like it was going to smash through his ribcage.

“Quick, come on, we can make it!” called Marla, but as they reached the door the three demons stomped down the wall and hung before them like giant praying mantis’.

“They defy gravity,” said Kai. “They’ve got more moves than Jackie Chan!”

Their huge arms and legs were like log flumes and their bodies were covered in bark-like clothes above the smoother wooden skin. The Wooden Heads stretched their necks out and bobbed from side to side, as if weighing up which of the humans they were going to eat first. Daniel shuffled forward but got caught in the glare of the dead black orbs that reminded him of the coal eyes on snowmen.

Be careful what you wish for! Mum had said to him when his dad had left them. She was right. His short life was about to end, just as he fulfilled his greatest desire…and so Daniel did the only thing he could.

His finger hovered over the silver button and he adjusted the zoom to get all three of the demons in the shot. As his finger twitched, the Wooden Heads shuffled together on the wall. Each of them placed an arm across the shoulder of the other, joining as one. As Daniel centred the digital image and pushed at the button, the single black lines on each wooden face curved into a smile…

Daniel released his finger and their smiles flat-lined. The Wooden Heads turned in perfect synchronicity and clomped back up the wall onto the ceiling. Daniel watched them through his camera as they disappeared into the shadows of the warehouse. Toc Toc, Toc Toc, Toc Toc…

~~~

Daniel swivelled around on his leather chair, a blank expression on his face as he watched Marla and Kai tapping away on their electronic devices, sharing their experience with the global, on-line, demonic community.

He stared at the new photo on his website and curved a smile just like the Wooden Heads. It was hard to believe that they had come to Barngate to have their photo taken by Daniel Hollander, but they had.

THE END

The Badger welcomes Lynne Blackwood

It’s a true pleasure to welcome Lynne Blackwood to the sett today, especially as her short – Remember Me – won the Style of Wight writing competition last week – here’s the link [The Badger hugs Lynne, who squirms to get out of his grasp as his breath reeks of earthworms and his claws need clipping]

Remember Me by Lynne Blackwood

Lynne is the first female to enter the sett since Belinda left, so I’ve tidied up and promised not to scratch myself inappropriately while she’s here. I’ll let Lynne introduce herself as I’m off to grab a slug snack – take it away Lynne!

I’m working on a supernatural mystery novel set in Paris. It’s about Guy, a man who is bored and ‘wants more’. He meets an enigmatic woman, Liana, who draws him into her very strange world. Guy finally loses touch with reality, only to be rescued in extremis by his long-standing friend, Marc.

There is a moral tale about being happy with what you already have that I’d like the readers to experience, as the novel becomes denser in atmosphere and Guy nears the demise of his own making. But I won’t say anymore apart from the title: CATOPSIS!

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The second encounter was equally intense.  After-office socialising was an almost daily event in Paris and I sometimes wondered if people actually slept in that city.  I was drinking myself into oblivion at one of those falsely intellectual art exhibition openings, where well-dressed creatures swanned elegantly from one canvas to another, purring with suavity at some extravagantly gaudy painting posturing as the latest art scene discovery.

Champagne flowed, lubricating cheque book hinges and enticing well to do attendees into a competition of who would buy that wonderful painting every one wanted so badly. Several overflowing champagne glasses and an empty stomach had done wonders for my mood and I delighted in observing, cynically dissecting these caricatured creatures around me.  I wasn’t part of their world, just a visitor when it suited, an outsider by choice because I had always wanted more, so much more.

 She was almost diaphanous, a translucent shade, only her shimmering light brown, waist-length hair betrayed her presence.  I saw her and was immediately drawn to her.  The same odour as in the hot boulevard but this time distinct, uniquely hers, exuded by her present and visible body, unadulterated by the distracting influences of that first fleeting encounter.  My eyes could now take her all in.  Slender, fine-boned yet there was underlying strength in her sinewy limbs. Her breasts were heavy, disproportionate, reminding me of an ancient ship’s wooden prow figure with bust thrust forward, chin lifted to the wind and hair flowing behind.  Despite her seeming fragility there was a magnetic force so subtle that it pulled you in, the trap closing quietly without a sound or whimper.

…What a wonderful image, she reminds me of Belinda [Badger sniffs as he chews] You know if you dip the slugs in the salt spillage in the picnic area, they fizz in your mouth – well cool! So, Lynne, can you tell us what you’ll be working on next, what can we expect from Lynne Blackwood in the future?

I’m actually working on reviewing and collating my seventy odd poems. Yes, I write poetry as well! I’m trying to pull an anthology or pamphlet together and attempting to publish it, probably in the autumn. I‘ve also started a collection of short stories on the theme of ‘Strange Happenings,’ (provisional title) drawn from my own and other people’s supernatural and spiritual experiences. No publishing date for that yet, probably in 2013. My priority is to finish ‘Catopsis’ and ‘get my work out there,’ as they say!

I’ve had to get the ‘wok out of there’ once when I was searching for scraps around the bins of the local Chinese. The same guy had an issue with me for dangling my plums in the sauce when I broke into the kitchens too – good job it was off the heat is all I can say. You’re a poet Lynne – if I wrote a poem about soreberries, I mean strawberries, would I refer to it as a sonnet or a punnet?

Well, I’m not sure – how about a sunnet or ponnet? I mean, a ponnet of strawberries or a sunnet of strawberries? A sunnet of strawberries is a bit of a (delicious) mouthful, isn’t it!

Talking of delicious – Is the gorgeous Elke Summers an actress or merely a moose on holiday?

Both. One’s a blonde moose and the other an actress with antlers and a big flobbery mouth…and both eat lichen all day!

I’m a likin’ your answer there, Lynne. Belinda, my estranged wife – who I don’t like to talk about – used to be an actress. She was an extra in Watership Down and she had a bit part in an independent wildlife documentary about Badger gambling, you know cards, dominoes and bridge that sort of thing. I just wondered though, have you ever burnt your bridges? If so, how many did you own? Where were they located and why did you burn them…god damn it! Why?

Loads; mainly in France, but the biggest was the Channel Bridge after leaving France – I secretly have a stash of C4 at home for further detonations. I did try Tower Bridge but they sentenced me to a lifetime of writing.

I bet your name was mud when you left France. Hey, I know there’s a rock group called Mud, but can you name a song about soil?

How about The Hippopotamus Song, better known as Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud? Flanders & Swann, I believe, though my recollections are of Rolf Harris singing it. That shows my old age, doesn’t it!

God, that brings back some unwanted memories [Badger’s eye begins to twitch and his back leg begins to shake] just having a flashback from when me and Belinda turned up at that weird club in Australia where they tied that Kangaroo down. That was when we met Jake Peg too, he had a wooden…guitar, which reminds me – what tune would you chose for the title track if your book were made into a movie?

Not sure about this one. I hadn’t even though of it! But it would have to have a sense of mystery and drums. Something like Dead Can Dance’s ‘Indus’, without the vocals.

Dead Can Dance ‘Indus’

That’s that human who sings on that Gladiator film isn’t it! Me and Belinda saw that when we snuck into that building where humans throw all their food on the floor and watch the giant telly – love that place! The name of the tune reminds me of the maker of the Crispy Pancake, which me and Belinda used to schnaffle out of the school bins at the back of the wood. That’s also where my parents found a copy of Animal Farm, which was my favourite book as a cub – what’s the best book you read as a child?

None were the best. They were all great. But a few worth mentioning. King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov. Also, The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I was about 9/10 when I read these. Yes! Really! Interesting to see I was already on a multicultural bender, eh?! When I was younger, I devoured all the works of Rudyard Kipling, including the poems. Dad was Anglo-Indian and had the full collection! Oh yes, and Edward Lear!

We have our very own Edward ‘Leer’ in the wood. ‘Teddy’ as we call him was done for stalking some female hunters last week down by the river – you have to love the irony, but he’s such a furry old letch of a bear. Love Rudyard Kipling’s poem about setting fire to tigers and the one about his exceedingly good cakes. I’ve been doing some baking recently, but ran out of foil to wrap round the soil, far too much toil, but how much oil would a gumboil boil, if a gumboil could boil oil? In litres please.

All conjecture, but maybe the gumboil could boil a gum’s worth of oil, which would make it a mouthful to speak and in quantity – approximately an eighth of a litre?

I’m no good with measurements, but I like words. I like ‘tearfully’ a lot at the moment – what’s your favourite adverb?

Cool! The question is cool and I am drinking a cool beer between cool sheets on a hot summer evening, so cool!

You’re drinking a bear? How is that possible? Ah, you mean that stuff that makes the humans go crazy when they drink it – got ya! I used to share a sett with a boozy badger named Edgar Allan and I once trod in his poo! Have you encountered a similar experience?

Oh Poe and Poo! He’s my blood friend, you know. He was my Great-Grandfather’s cousin’s (Algernon Blackwood ) friend. I did have a nasty black and white TV encounter with one of Poe’s stories when I was a child. It was probably ‘The Tell Tale Heart.’ I nearly Pooed myself out of fear!

Yes, well last week, as you know, I had a bit of a sticky situation after my beetle breakfast gave me the runs. So, I had to go to the new comb-out salon in the wood to sort my fur out – those Hedgehog’s are prepared to do anything for snails! One of them even makes reed cages to stop cuckoo’s laying their eggs in the warbler nests which brings me onto the final question – who’s your favourite reader? No pressure!

Maybe you….?? J Probably you? J YES! It IS you!

Wow! That’s very kind Lynne, considering we’ve only just met. In that case I will instantly award you your peanut treat!

You know I haven’t thought about Belinda for at least a couple of minutes today. I’ve not heard from my cousin Brock either, which is a bit weird! He was always at the sett, talking to Belinda when I got back from work, but I rarely see him now! He’s probably busy chasing some of the young sows around – he’s a right lothario! Thanks for taking my mind of Belinda though, Lynne. I’m really pleased you came by today. Let me just pop some music on and then we can work on some poetry together…er, Lynne? Lynne? She must have popped out for a bit of fresh air. I’m sure she’ll be back in a minute…

[The sounds of eastern European gypsy jazz from Emir Kusturica’s ‘Unza Unza Time’ linger in the wood as Lynne makes her escape through the trees. Back at the sett, Badger is staring at a picture of Belinda. He stands back and urinates on it. He’s not bitter – he’s just a badger.]

Now Lynne has Unza, Unza, Time on her hands, you can catch up with her on-line.

Facebook: Lynne on Facebook (the photo of me is atrocious but never mind!)

Email: Lynne’s E-mail

Twitter:  Lynne’s Tweets

The Badger welcomes Steve McHugh

My first visitor to the sett is Steve McHugh. His debut novel is called Crimes Against Magic, which he’s going to tell you about. He’s also posting a small excerpt to whet your collective whistles. So, you have a look at that while I just go for a shit in the woods; beetles for breakfast are never a good idea when you’re working. Also I need to get that cash back from Bear, you can guarantee he’ll be there – he’s as regular as clockwork! Schanffle you in a bit. Over to you Steve, tell us about Crimes Against Magic…

Crimes Against Magic is an action-packed, fantasy adventure that mixes the present day with flashbacks to fifteenth century France, in a story that sees Nate fighting against an enemy he can’t remember, but one who will stop at nothing to destroy the man he’s hated for millennia.

 

Prologue:

 

Soissons, France. 1414

Rumours of how the French had murdered their own people reached me long before I’d arrived at Soissons. Even as an Englishman, and despite the never-ending conflicts between our countries, I couldn’t accept that the French would do such a thing. But when I walked through the city’s open gates and saw the multitude of bodies lying side by side, I believed.

The town had been ripped asunder in an act of exceptional brutality, the inhabitants torn to pieces—men murdered as they defended their families, women brutalised and raped until their captors tired of them and left them to die. Not even children were spared, killed alongside their friends and families. The carrion took over, desecrating the remains even further. A city of a few thousand people, reduced to food for crows and rats.

It soon became apparent that there would be no survivors to the massacre. My search of the city only brought more dead, and even more questions, but few answers. Most had obvious sword and axe wounds, or heads crushed by hammer, but some had claw marks across the throat and torso. Something far worse than simple armed soldiers stalked the city.

I stopped by a partially eaten body. The man’s sword had fallen onto the path beside him. His stomach was covered in bite marks. Whatever had attacked him had devoured his internal organs. The bite marks could have belonged to a large wolf, but I knew I wasn’t going to be that lucky.

…I know it’s a gripping read, but you don’t have sticky arse fur do you! Just give me a minute in the duck pond to wash it out…Oh, right, okay, you’re back! Then we’ll begin.

So, Steve, Crimes against Magic sounds pretty cool, but what are you working on next? What can we expect from Steve McHugh in the future?

I’m currently working on the sequel to Crimes Against Magic – Born of Hatred. Which should be out within the next six months. I’m also working on the third book – With Silent Screams.

Excellent stuff! I suppose it’s nice to have future plans. I was going to be the first animal to win Britain’s Got Talent, until I was gazumped by that dog at the weekend. I’ll be speaking to my legal team, B.D.N Rowan just as soon as I’m done here. So, are you clever enough to come up with an anagram of a famous writer, Steve?

Not even slightly, I suck at anagrams.

Me too, although I do know a Carthorse who played in an Orchestra who was very good at them. Could you recommend a great TV programme that’s out now?

Archer. Everyone with a TV should watch the show. Funniest thing I’ve seen in years.

Cool! I’ll nip down to that Tudor cottage in the village – they leave the curtains open which is cool when the TV is on, but a little disturbing when they make their own entertainment. Talking of Tudor, what era would you have preferred to have been born in, and why?

I’m happy with this era. I don’t think writers were all that fondly thought off at most other points in history, and writing a 100k novel with a pen and paper or typewriter would be horrific.

Try writing with claws like mine! The Daleks have issues with writing too you know. Just thinking out loud here, but if you were to become the next Doctor Who, what would you wear?

An expensive tailored suit, because Dr Who has to look as sharp as possible.

I’d wear a nice white coat, just like my friend rabbit, which reminds me, is Alice really in Wonderland or just off her tits?

Utterly off her tits.

I thought so, I’ve been looking for that place for years. I even went as far as the river Thames in my search. Maybe you can help actually – Do you know how many times it takes to visit the jewellery quarter in London before you feel whole again?

I’m beginning to think you’ve been taking whatever Alice did.

Shush! Don’t alert the Pigs whatever you do! They’ve already been on to me for schnaffling their truffles, I don’t want to get done for the missing mushrooms too. Do you think birds can buy Human Custard?

That’s one of the more disturbing images in my head. I don’t think I want to know the answer.

Blimey, I was only asking! Anyway, here’s a question I’ll be asking everyone. What tune would you chose for the title track if your book were made into a movie?

I wasn’t really sure what to put here, but as Foo Fighters got a lot of play time as I was writing, it felt only right that I went with one of theirs. Foo Fighters – Times Like These

Love that track! You’re a hell of a dancer, Steve – what a great Tango that was. The Tango has a 4/4 meter I believe, which reminds me – what’s your favourite metaphor?

My favourite was one I read a while ago: He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

I ate a lame duck once with my cousin Brock, but it got a bit ugly when I suggested we split the bill. Who’s your favourite reader by the way? No pressure!

My wife. It’s not like I’m going to pick anyone else!

Wise choice! I would have chosen my wife, Belinda if she hadn’t…Oh, I’m just not going to go there I hardly know any of you and the wounds are still fresh. [badger sniffs]

Anyway, thanks for stopping by the sett, Steve, loving your work. Crimes Against Magic is a great debut. And I’m awarding you a peanut treat.

I’d love for you to stay and hang out, Steve, we could do loads of stuff together…it’s going to be great having you living in the sett. It’s far too big for me on my own ever since Belinda…Steve? Steve…?

[Outside the sett Steve does the Tango and disappears over the horizon whilst whistling to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird whilst back in the wood the sun sets on a lonely badger, licking the brown bits out of his fur]

Now Steve is as free as a bird, you can find out more about Crimes Against Magic and get in touch with him on-line at…

 Blog – Steve’s Blog

Twitter – Steve’s Tweets

Goodreads – Steve on Goodreads

Facebook – Steve on Facebook