Saturday, 30 March 2013

Emma vs. Blackbrooke

Working in a bookshop I sometimes come into contact with authors who all seem to have one thing in common - they're not afraid of self-promotion.

Now, you will have seen a lot of Blackbrooke promotion from me since the release of the first book in the trilogy last July but I actually have real trouble promoting myself as an author. A perfect example being that as soon as I typed the word 'author', I cringed and deleted it before deciding that I actually can write that, seeing as I have a book and all.

Before Blackbrooke was even published, I set up a Twitter and Facebook account for it and focused all of my attention into promoting the trilogy. As I always say, I'd rather people read Blackbrooke because of the story rather than the author.

However, am I being a bit short-sighted here?

Once Blackbrooke reaches its dramatic conclusion, what am I going to do? I'll have to emerge from under my rock and become Emma Silver at long last.

I was offered the chance to have an event for my book and my first thought was panic. What if people don't turn up? And, why the hell would they? My friends and family have lives and I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable if they dropped everything to celebrate what is effectively me standing in a room accepting pats on the back.

I've been happy with this stance for the last year but going back to those authors I sometimes meet, I see they have no qualms about self-promotion and public appearances. In all honesty, they can't afford to. These are tough times and the book market is saturated with not just great well-known authors but countless talented self-published writers too. Readers have never had it so good.

So I've reasoned that instead of trying to be self-deprecating and 'noble' by hiding in the background, I'm going to have to come right out and wave 'hello' at everyone. My twitter account is feeble with less than half of the followers of the Blackbrooke account so I should start there. Now, if only I had something interesting to Tweet about...

And you know what? If the opportunity for an event goes ahead then I'll grasp it with both hands. Achieving my dream shouldn't be something I feel ashamed of. In fact, I think my sixteen year old self would give me a slap if she knew I was even considering turning it down just for the sake of saving face.

I just need to stop being so bloody British about it and accept that I've actually done something rather wonderful.

Em x

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Doctor Who is coming back!

I'm really late getting on the Doctor Who craze but now I can safely say I'm hooked. It's because the advert for the 2012 Christmas special with the snowmen (and Richard E Grant) looked so intriguing and it bloody well was! That was it, in true Emma style, I simply had to go back and watch all of the episodes from the beginning.

 It's not everyone's cup of tea, I know that, but it's most certainly mine. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I find Doctor Who fills the void that left behind (more than 10 years later...).

 So, to celebrate Doctor Who being back on our screens very soon, I've written a bit of fan fiction involving a faceless Doctor as I didn't want to impersonate one of the existing ones. Feel free to have a read - or not! - but I'm determined to share my writing rather than leave it as a word document on my computer.

There are probably many mistakes as I wrote it quickly but it was so much fun!

 Enjoy (hopefully)



Ps. Just for the record, Matt Smith is my favourite Doctor ;-)  

Nadia: A Doctor Who story

She threw a terrified glance over her shoulder and saw the shadow of the dog loom up against the wall of the alleyway.
Frowning, she tucked her chin into the high collar of her black jacket and propelled herself faster.
“Who,” she hissed, reaching a chain-link fence and immediately pulling herself up and over it, “has guard dogs these days?”
She dropped down on the other side just as the Rottweiler smashed into the wire. She wiped its spit shower from her face in disgust and stood, hand on her hips as it attempted a jump. “What’s the matter, doggy?” She held up the small sack which hung from her wrist by a gold rope. “Looking for something?”
The dog span in a circle, howling frantically. She laughed but quickly stopped when the beam of a torch illuminated her face.
“Stop right there, miss!”
No, no, no. She bolted again, dodging smelly bins and jumping over wooden crates in her path.
Had they seen her face? If whoever held the torch had then it was game over.
She grimaced from the memory of the last time she was spotted. It was a smaller job, a convenience shop on her estate, but the shopkeeper saw her. She was arrested and there was court…
Luckily for her, the jury deemed racism less acceptable then theft.
“Yes, I can identify her!” the shopkeeper had pointed, his face puce. “It’s her! That paki with the blue eyes!”
Unfortunately, she’d heard this particular insult a lot on the estate she grew up on. They weren’t the only family from Pakistan but any hopes to blend in were firmly out of the window with her eyes. They weren’t a deep ocean blue that could be disguised with a heavy fringe or a bright headscarf, but a pale, icy blue. People would recoil when she turned to face them. Some said they were beautiful but she likened herself to a zombie. Either way, she didn’t care. Her only concern was being identified and the eyes were a very distinguishable feature.
She lowered her head further and rounded a corner. At one point she could have sworn she heard police sirens but now there was silence. They’d be back though. Of course they would. She wasn’t stealing from corner shops anymore, this was the City Museum and the necklace was ‘priceless’, not a word in her vocabulary.
Everything had a price.
She gasped at the voice and started to run again. It felt as though she’d been running all night. In truth, it was probably only about an hour but her legs were starting to ache and her lungs seared.
The alley forked and she scooted down a dark narrower path, letting out a cry as her trainers soaked in a puddle.
“I’ve lost them!” she whispered triumphantly. She threw one last glance over her shoulder at the shadows and-
She blinked and found herself looking at the narrow strip of stars between the rooftops. Her back was cold and wet.
I’m on the floor, she thought stupidly.
She hauled herself into a sitting position rubbing her head. She could feel the start of a lump forming on her forehead. She’d ran into something.
But how when the alley was completely empty?
“What the hell?” she quickly jumped to her feet, ignoring the sudden dizziness and looked all around. She wondered whether it was a bat or a bird that had flown into her.
I didn’t see one though…
“Shhh,” she warned her own spiralling thoughts as she continued.
This time she didn’t fall, but jumped back. All of the hairs on her arms stood up and her heart pounded from shock rather than exertion.
She cocked her head to one side, shuffling forward slowly. She couldn’t help but gasp when her fingers touched something that felt a lot like wood. There was nothing she could see but there was definitely something there.
She curled her fingers into a fist and knocked on the material lightly.
“You found it!”
The scream bubbled from her lips before she stop it and she whirled to see a young man striding towards her, arms outstretched either side of him.
She tried to run but once again hit the thing that wasn’t there but was.
“I’ve been looking and looking!” he laughed to the heavens. “Do you know how difficult these things are to find when they’re invisible? It’s like a…” He trailed off and glanced down in surprise at the weapon in her hands.
“Don’t come any closer,” she growled.
He pointed to it before returning his hands to a surrender pose. “Is that a screwdriver?”
“So what if it is?” she said haughtily, poking it closer to him.
He interlocked his hands behind his head. “No, I’m not mocking it. I have one too, that’s all.”
“Just…stay away from me.”
The man sighed thoughtfully and she flicked her eyes over his outfit. It was strange, certainly by Manchester standards.
Is that a frock coat?
“Close. It’s sort of a…” he frowned, “well, yes I suppose it is a frock coat.”
Her mouth dropped open and he winced. “Oh yes, sorry about that. I’ve just come from the Salem witch trials and there’s a spell on me. I can read your mind, give or take of course.” He touched his chin. “My first outing with this face and I end up with a mix bag of witchy anger all over me.”
Her mouth dropped open.
He placed his hand in the pockets of his black trousers and kicked at a stone. “They weren’t really witches. That was a rouse to disguise the rather facially challenged and bad-tempered ladies of the planet Salem. Had grand delusions of taking over Earth, of course.”
“Of course,” she repeated, her eyes glassy. “Listen, am I dead or unconscious or something?”
“No!” she jumped in surprise when the man dashed over and took both of her hands. He jigged them up and down that little bit too hard and her whole body flopped like a rag doll. “You’re very much alive! And you found my TARDIS, you lovely little thing you!”
She curled her lip and pushed him away. “I really need to go. I’m not hanging around in an alleyway for the good of my health.”
He nodded excitedly. “You’re not! You helped me to my TARDIS and I’m eternally grateful! Now,” he took her shoulders and gently moved her to one side, “you stay here while I figure out how to get into this thing.”
She folded her arms hotly. “I don’t think you heard me, I-”
“You need to go,” he finished for her, taking a strange device from his pocket that she thought looked like a giant pen. Or indeed a screwdriver. He pressed a button on the side and a green light flashed on. She watched, too surprised to move, as the strange man moved around an invisible box, running the light up and down.
“Hmmm,” he stepped back at last. Eventually, he turned to her, looking hurt. “Why are you thinking about hitting me?”
She gasped and felt her cheeks colour. “I-I’m not thinking about hitting you. I just…well, if you turn out to be a weirdo, I was thinking that I could probably take you.”
His brown eyes darted to the side. “Take me where?”
She didn’t respond and waited for him to put two and two together.
“Right,” he said slowly, pushing the button on the screwdriver thing again. “‘Take me’ is some kind of slang for hitting me which can only mean…we’re somewhere in the twenty-first century. In fact,” he pointed to the heavens, “I’m going with the noughties.”
“It’s 2013,” she returned, unimpressed.
He looked her up and down and curled his lip. “You’re not really dressed for it.”
Despite everything, she laughed. “Neither are you.”
He shrugged and returned to his work, tongue sticking out of his mouth. He had a flop of dark blond hair that fell into his eyes and she thought he didn’t look much older than her. His strange outfit made him appear older. She knew she should have been running but her feet were rooted to the spot.
“So…” he trailed off expectantly. 
She chewed the inside of her mouth before relenting. “Nadia.”
“Nadia,” he grinned, eyes flashing, “why are you dressed as a cat burglar.”
She didn’t respond and he shrugged, moving to the other side of the imaginary box. “Okay, let’s try a different tact. What do I look like?”
“An idiot,” she shot back, without hesitation.
To her horror, he looked stricken. “Really? That doesn’t bode well. I’m young, I know that. Weak too. That’s why those delightful lady folks were able to cast their little spells on me. Spells that help me read your mind but unfortunately…” he stepped back, looking defeated, “spells that mean I can’t take the invisibility cloak off the TARDIS and nor can I remember how to get in it.”
Nadia stepped closer. Once again she reached out her hand until it met the wood. There was definitely something there. She started to walk around it slowly, keeping one hand on it to try and get an idea of its size. “What is a TARDIS anyway? And who are you?”
He placed the screwdriver between his teeth and removed the frock coat, rolling up the sleeves of his cream shirt. When he started to talk she motioned for him to remove the item from his mouth. “I’ll tell you what, while I figure out how to get back into it, why don’t you guess what the TARDIS is?”
He dropped to his knees and pointed the screwdriver again, one eye closed as he took aim.
“Okaaay.” She walked all of the way around it, before placing her hands on her slim hips. “Is it a…time machine?”
He stopped and frowned at her. “That never happens.”
She let out a surprised laugh. “I was kidding. Are you telling me this…thing is actually a time machine?”
“That’s correct, Nadine.”
“It’s Nadia.”
“Sorry,” he pointed to his head. “Short term memory took a beating as well.”
She crouched next to him, her movements cat-like and graceful. “If this is a time machine, then who are you? The time lord?” She giggled but then stopped abruptly when he eyed her. “Oh my god,” she watched him get up and walk away, smacking the screwdriver into his palm and then listening to it. “Am I right?”
“Forget the spell a second,” he ignored her and tapped his temple. “Why did I come here? There must be a reason I landed in…”
“Right,” he snapped his fingers, “there must be a reason I landed in Manchester in 2013, but why? Oh, my damn memory and damn baby-faced attractiveness…” he trailed off and looked at her hopefully. She shook her head apologetically. “Oh well, you can’t win them all.”
She struggled to hide a smile. In truth, he was quite attractive. If you were into that twitchy, nervous thing.
His head snapped to her and he winked.
“Oh, get out of my mind,” she fumed, turning away and kicking the bottom of the invisible TARDIS.
He continued to work and, to her surprise, she remained there watching him.
“Why were you here tonight?” he broke the silence, frowning. “You’re a young girl and it doesn’t look like the best of places…”
She looked at the pouch hanging from her wrist and hoisted it up so it was in her hand. “I was just out walking.”
“Really? What’s in the bag?”
“Ahh!” she grabbed her hair in frustration. “Leave me alone!”
He rose up, face serious. He eyed her hand containing the pouch. “What is that?”
She swallowed, feeling nervous all of a sudden. The bag almost felt as though it was throbbing in her hand but she knew that was impossible. “I take things sometimes. Things that don’t belong to me.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Bored little rich girl?”
“No, genius,” she spat. “More like abandoned teenager who has to pay for her sisters education. It’s not fair she should suffer just because our mum upped and left and hoity-toity school dropped the scholarship option. There’s something I’m good at though,” she pointed in his face. “I’m great at taking things that don’t belong to me. Probably the best.”
He leaned back as she jabbed him in the chest after every syllable. “You have the…bluest eyes-”
“For a Pakistani?” she cried. “Go on, say it! I’ve heard it before.”
He looked genuinely confused. “Noooo. Why would I say that? After all,” he pushed past her, back to the TARDIS, “you humans look the same to me.”
She rolled her eyes and felt her cheeks burn in embarrassment at her outburst. Not everyone was a complete moron it seemed. It was easy to forget that, growing up where she did.
“We’ve established you steal to pay for your sisters education.” He looked like he was running his hand down the seam of a door. “But I still haven’t found out what’s in the bag.”
“Nothing,” she said too quickly. “It’s just something I took that I’m going to sell.”
He stood in front of her again, looming tall. “How much money could you possibly get for a light?”
“A light?” She followed his gaze to the pouch in her hand. Even with her fingers wrapped around it, the bright red light shone right through exposing the bones in her hand. She gasped and almost dropped it. “It wasn’t doing that before.”
“What did you take, Nadia?” he asked through gritted teeth.
She backed away, feeling a prickle of panic rise up her spine. “Go away. Who are you anyway?”
“I’m the Doctor,” he pointed at himself but didn’t take his eyes off her. “Nadia, I really need you to hand that bag over to me. If that’s what I think it is then we’re in really big trouble right now.”
She shook her head and pressed her lips together.
“Nadia,” there was a tremble in his voice. “Please, I can’t really remember everything yet but I think you should show me what you have.”
“It’s only a necklace!” she blurted. “It’s some measly necklace from the City Museum that I took.”
He stopped and a wave of disappoint passed over his young features. Pink tinged his cheeks and he slumped with a sigh. “Oh dear…”
She watched in surprise as he turned back to the TARDIS and started to use the screwdriver, more frantically this time. “I’m going to need to get you out of here. We have to head back in time and stop you taking that necklace.”
“Why?” She stalked to him.
“Because!” he snapped, his face contorted with rage. She stepped back in surprise and, much to her disappointment, fear too. “That necklace has been in the City Museum all of this time for a reason. It belonged to a colony of beings you once shared the earth with, it was worn by the queen.”
“That’s impossible, we’d know-”
“No, you wouldn’t!” he shouted. “No one remembers because the powers-that-be decided it was better to erase everyone’s memory. Anyway, an agreement was made with the Mook people they would stay away from earth as long as we remembered their queen. It was agreed we’d keep the necklace where everyone would see it. She was a fan of Manchester, heaven knows why…Ow!”
“Don’t badmouth Manchester or you’ll get another slap.”
He rubbed his arm childishly. “It was to be kept in there and never, under any circumstances, moved. If it is, the Mook return to earth and finish what they started.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Nadia made a face. “They walked away as long as we put a stupid necklace in a dusty museum.”
“What can I say?” he snapped, putting his face in hers, “the Mook have a greater respect for the arts than you Neanderthals.”
He turned back to the TARDIS, looking angrier.
“Why are you talking as though you’re not a human too?”
“I’m not!” he snapped. “For whatever reason, that I can’t quite remember now, I’m feeling nothing but ill will towards you lot at the moment. But I’m not about to see my hard work come undone just because some silly little girl robbed a museum. Not only did she do that, which is utterly criminal, but she took something that she’d never, ever be able to sell on because its so distinguishable. How stupid can you get?”
He was muttering to himself and she watched him with interest.
“Ah ha!” he yelled out. He pulled on an invisible door revealing bright light and clapped. “I’m in! I got in the TARDIS! Stick that in your pointy hats you Salem witches!” He air punched and unfastened the top few buttons of his shirt. He turned and surveyed her the way a disappointed parent would with their misbehaving child. “Now, get in and let’s fix this before you’re single-handedly responsible for taking out the entire human race.”
She nodded and he held the door open for her to walk under his arm. “Taking the necklace was stupid,” she said as she approached. “Not as stupid as this though.”
She moved lightning fast, much faster than he was prepared for. The screwdriver was ripped from the top pocket of his shirt and she pushed him roughly. He eyes widened in shock as he stumbled into some metal bins and tumbled over them.
“See,” she hopped into the TARDIS and threw the screwdriver in the air, catching it artfully, “I told you I could take you.”
“Nadia! No!” he reached out, just as she closed the door and leaned her back on it. She was breathless and laughing in excitement. Her smile quickly fell as she took in her surroundings. “It’s….”
“Bigger on the inside!” came the Doctor’s voice as he started to hammer on the door. “Let me in! We’re both in real danger here!”
Without giving it much thought, she pointed the screwdriver at the door and pressed it. There was a locking sound and she eyed the tool in admiration. “Wow, this thing is great.”
“Nadia! What are you doing?”
She walked towards the centre of the TARDIS in awe, around what she presumed was its engine and navigation system. “You know, Doctor. Goodness knows how much money I would have got for that necklace.” She looked at it, still pulsing red in her hand. Before she could change her mind, she launched it at the door the Doctor was still banging on, letting out a manic laugh. “But heaven knows how much I’ll get for an actual time machine.”
She pulled on a few of the controls and pressed some buttons.
“Nadia!” the Doctor’s voice was increasingly desperate. “You don’t know what you’re doing in there! It’s very dangerous!”
Her lips curled into a smile as she wrapped her fingers around a very large and important looking lever. “It was delightful meeting you, Doctor. Now I really must dash.”


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Storms: A Blackbrooke short


One of the great things about writing a trilogy is expanding the world you create. Blackbrooke, in its infancy, was a one book affair but that quickly changed as I started to write and the town grew and grew. The main plot ended up sprouting offshoots of stories in my head which I've been jotting for a while.

I've made no secret of my affection for the character of Denzil Rathbone. After all, he is the voice of the reader - bringing Liberty and her friends back down to earth when they spiral. Having written the first book where his relationship with a certain lady is introduced, I started to think about the story of their love and found myself writing the short story, Storms.

There are many more (probably enough to write another book) and if people want to hear more of the story of this budding romance then I'll be more than happy to post it ;-)

Until then, I hope you enjoy :-)

Also, see below for a competition to win a paperback copy of Blackbrooke. There are FIVE to giveaway and the competition is running until the end of March. Anyone can enter from anywhere in the world!

Now, make a brew and get comfortable....

Storms: A Blackbrooke short

His grubby trainers squeaked on the floor as he bolted down the corridors of Blackbrooke Academy.
Third strike.
This was it. He’d been given three chances not to mess up and this was the last.
To make matters worse, he had a legitimate excuse this time. His grandmother had the worst coughing fit in a long time and the pool of blood soaking into her handkerchief was enough to tell him not to leave her until it had stopped.
“I’m sick, Denzil,” she’d smiled sadly. “You know that.”
Of course he knew. It was just easier to forget but the dark blood on the crisp white cloth made it near impossible.
Now he was late.
Biblically late.
The headmistress taught Blackbrooke class so there was no way she was going to let this one go.
Would it be easier if I disappeared and pretended I’d walked out? He thought feverishly as he slammed his hands into a set of double doors. Would that be the best option all round?
He knew, sick or not, that his grandmother would clobber him if he got expelled. Iris was one tough cookie and despite how frail she’d become in recent months, he knew better than to cross her. In fact, she was the only person left in his life he had any respect for at all.
His teachers were a joke with their too serious faces and love for this godforsaken town and as for his peers…
He skidded to a stop and turned, lip already curled into a snarl at the person who dared to stop him.
“Hiya.” David Connor raised his hand in a feeble wave as he stepped out of the boys’ toilets. “Listen, I-”
“In a bit of a rush here, mate.” Denzil gestured to the door he was holding open. “Make it quick.”
“Of course,” David said worriedly. He fumbled in the pocket of his school trousers and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Denzil raised an eyebrow as he watched him, anger evaporating immediately. Although he played on the football team and therefore deemed as one of the ‘cool’ kids, David wasn’t so bad. He kept himself to himself and left Denzil alone, until that point. “I was wondering if you could get some…stuff.”
David’s cheeks flushed pink as Denzil snatched the note and proceeded to scan the scrawled handwriting. His eyes flicked back. “I need payment in advance.”
“Sure,” David flushed even redder and reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out several neatly folded notes. “Can you get it all?”
He almost laughed. Of course he could. All David wanted was alcohol and cigarettes from the Outside. Items that were readily available in Blackbrooke but they were still two years away from being old enough to make those purchases. “It’ll be tough but…” he snatched one of the notes out of David’s hand that he’d retained, “I’m sure it can be arranged.”
“Great!” David looked that bit too excited. “We’re having a party and I really want to-”
“Shh,” Denzil raised an index finger to his lips as he read over the items again. “I don’t want to know. I never need to know.” He grinned. “Come to the shop on Thursday to collect it. And David?”
David turned, eyes darting in both directions. “Yeah.”
“If you ever,” Denzil stepped so they were stood toe to toe, “stop me in my tracks to place an order again, or pass me an order in the Academy…”
David opened his mouth to defend himself but Denzil raised his hand.
“Shut up. You know the rules. You place orders in the shop, not in the Academy in full view of anyone who might be keeping a beady eye on me.”
“Got it,” David said tightly.
“Great!” Denzil grinned, moving his head so his overgrown hair wasn’t in his eyes. He reached into David’s shirt pocket and pulled out the remaining money. “This is for the inconvenience.”
David didn’t argue and watched as Denzil turned and bolted for the classroom.
“Ah Mr Rathbone,” Miss Prince said with a snarl as he let himself into the room. “You decided to join us.”
Denzil made for his seat at the front of the class and plonked himself down. “Sorry I’m late.”
He clenched his jaw waiting for the ancient Miss Prince to tell him to get out and never come back to the Academy. The rest of the class was quiet aside from the odd giggle coming from the Academy bimbos sat at the back.
“That’s okay,” Miss Prince fixed her stare on him over her crescent moon glasses and smiled sweetly. “It’s absolutely fine, Mr Rathbone because you have a chance to redeem yourself today.”
She chuckled at his puzzled expression and moved to walk up and down the desks. Miss Prince was a dragon and everyone feared her. She was probably that bit too old to still be working but no one dared to suggest otherwise. Even the other teachers in the Academy avoided her like the plague as she stalked by in her trademark pristine brown loafers and beige trouser suit.
On occasions Denzil wondered with morbid curiosity whether Miss Prince had ever had sex. He always concluded it was a resounding no and then would imagine how different she’d be if she’d got married and had children. Probably a pussycat.
“You have the chance,” she repeated, her voice coming from the back of the room, “to volunteer yourself to be the first in the class to present your half term project.”
Oh shit. What project?
As though reading his thoughts, Miss Prince was immediately at his side and leaning down to speak in his ear. “The project I tasked you all with before half term.” Her breath stank of coffee. “Practise for your final assessment. You need to stand up and talk for two minutes on a topic of your choice. Are you ready, Mr Rathbone?”
He felt a grin tug at the sides of his mouth. He was born ready. One thing he was never short of was words.
“And don’t think you can just stand there and talk,” Miss Prince was inside his head again. “This is a presentation but I trust you have all of your materials ready and waiting in your bag to present to everyone.”
It wasn’t a question. They stared at one another and he felt his forehead prickle with nervous sweat.
“Because if you’ve failed to bring your materials with you, you’ll be looking at a very serious punishment. One that will require your grandmother to come into the Academy and bear witness to.”
He gulped and lowered himself further down.
“As we have no volunteers,” she continued, clearly enjoying herself, “it’s my choice and I choose you. So, are you ready?”
Denzil could hear the blood pumping around his body. He was going to be expelled. Not only that, he was going to be expelled in the presence of his grandmother. He could just imagine the look of sheer disappointment on her face and the small shake of her head she always did whenever she was upset. His throat seared hot with emotion. He’d let her down continuously since his parents walked out. All of the little acts of rebellion had hurt no one but her and the one thing he’d promised was that he’d try his best at the Academy and take his exams. That was all she asked of him.
“Well?” Miss Prince demanded, jabbing him roughly in the shoulder with her knobbly finger. “Do you have your project, Mr Rathbone? Or do I have a phone call to make?”
He lowered his eyes to the desk and was horrified when they filled with tears.
The other pupils were deadly silent as they watched one of their classmates effectively hung, drawn and quartered in front of them.
“You have a phone call to make,” he croaked, not looking up.
“Excuse me?” she cupped her hand around her ear for effect. “I didn’t quite catch that. Can you speak up, Mr Rathbone?”
He clenched his jaw. “I said, you have a-”
“I’ll do it.”
The pupils shifted in their seats and Miss Prince squinted at the back of the room. “Who said that?”
Denzil frowned and slowly turned.
One of the bimbos was on her feet with her hand raised in the air. She shot a worried look at Denzil before settling her eyes back on Miss Prince. “I’ll go first. I have all of my things with me.”
Miss Prince pulled on the bottom of her jacket, clearly flustered. “Miss Picton, you’re permitted to go after Mr Rathbone. I’ve made my decision and-”
“But you said,” the bimbo piped up before turning scarlet and lowering her voice, “You asked, before Denzil came into the classroom, whether anyone wanted to go first but I-I didn’t,” she stammered. “I do now though. I’ll go first.”
Denzil narrowed his eyes. This girl knew his name. He didn’t know why he was surprised, he was quite well known in the Academy for being able to get items from the Outside but it wasn’t usually the girls who handled that dirty business. Especially not the bimbos, they got their boyfriends to sort that with a flick of their hair and a flutter of eyelashes.
Miss Prince glared at the girl who’d dared to interfere with her grand punishment. “Fine, Miss Picton. Come to the front. Mr Rathbone can go after you.” She smiled triumphantly.
The girl’s chair scraped and she made her way to the front. “I’ll try to make this quick,” she said, rummaging through her bag on Miss Prince’s desk. “But I’ll apologise in advance if I end up chattering away until the end of the lesson…”
She flashed Denzil a meaningful look and he stared back in surprise. She was covering for him. He didn’t know who she was. They all blended into one person from the bimbo batch, looking like Hitler’s dream hot tub party with their long blonde hair and blue eyes. Perhaps he’d got her boyfriend some contraband recently and this was her way of saying thank you. Either way, he was grateful to this Picton girl. He picked up his pen and started to doodle in his workbook as the girl removed several items from her bag.
“Okay, today I’m going to talk to you about…” she stopped and bit her lip. Her eyes flew to the ceiling as though she was debating whether or not to continue. “Well, I suppose you could say I’m quite interested in…storms.”
A couple of her bimbo friends at the back giggled and her cheeks reddened again. She looked at her feet. Denzil noticed one of her grey socks had slipped down while the other remained pulled up above her knee. He shook his head and returned his eyes to the workbook.
“I’ve always been interested in storms and their causes,” she said, still avoiding everyone’s eye. “A storm is a violent disturbance in the atmosphere, usually resulting in rain, thunder, lightning and sometimes hail and snow-”
“No shit!” Someone piped up and the whole class laughed.
She looked mortified and stared at the floor.
Denzil turned and locked eyes with the smart arse culprit whose smile quickly diminished as he shrank back.
She coughed and looked down. “If you want me to stop then I will.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Miss Prince folded her arms. “Start again and introduce yourself properly. You’ll receive an instant fail if you don’t introduce yourself in the final presentation.”
Bitch, Denzil thought, narrowing his eyes at his teacher. He returned his look at the girl. She looked as though she wanted the ground to open up and swallow her so he couldn’t understand why she’d been so keen to take his place.
“Sorry. My name is Marie Picton and I’m going to talk about storms.”
Someone blew a raspberry at the back and everyone laughed.
“For the love of fuck!” Denzil slapped his hand on the desk and turned again, his chair scraping loudly. “Shut up and let the girl speak.”
“I’ll do the teaching thank you, Mr Rathbone,” Miss Prince snapped.
He locked eyes with the girl he now knew was Marie as he turned back to the front. She bit her lip and looked worried. He gave her a serious nod as though he had the authority to command her to continue. He didn’t of course, but she started to talk anyway.
“Storms are created when low pressure develops with a system of high pressure surrounding it. It’s these opposing forces that can create winds and result in storm clouds, such as…” she stopped and looked to the ceiling as though struggling to find the word. She rubbed her lips together and Denzil looked back at the paper in front of him.
“I can’t remember what they’re called,” she waved her hand dismissively, developing more confidence by the second. “Anyway, there are many different types of storms including ice storms, blizzards, snow storms, fire storms, dust devils, tropical cyclones…”
Denzil’s eyes seemed to have a magnetic attraction to her and he felt the corners of his mouth turn up as she grew more animated, reeling the names off on her fingers. He listened with interest as she went on to describe some of the biggest storms recorded in history and was even oblivious when chatter broke out around him between bored pupils. Even Miss Prince had taken to reading her book at the back of the class.
Only receiving eye contact from Denzil, Marie spoke directly to him. She tucked a stray hair that had come loose from one of her braided pigtails behind her ear. “What I really love is Greek mythology because they have many gods of storms. I love the idea that they get really angry and command the clouds to rain hell on the world.”
Denzil tipped his head back and laughed. “Sounds like me on a bad day.”
She let out a small laugh and looked at the floor again.
He wondered how someone so pretty could be so self-conscious.
“Briareos is the god of sea storms, that’s the only one I can remember.”
Denzil frowned and tapped his pen against his lips. “That makes me think of the Hokusai painting-”
“The Great Wave!” she jumped in excitedly. “Yes! I love that painting, it’s one of my favourites.”
“Mine too,” he grinned.
No it isn’t! his brain screamed. You don’t give a toss about art. You only know it because your Gran does!
He mused as to why he’d just lied to this girl.
When the bell sounded for the next class, the pupils couldn’t move out of there fast enough and pushed for the door in one big rush. 
Denzil watched the bimbos from the back of the class descend on Marie like pastel vultures. They giggled and chattered loudly as she packed her posters and newspaper clippings of storms back into her bag.
As they walked out of the classroom, Marie raised her hand to wave at him and flashed a perfect toothy smile that made her eyes glitter.
He didn’t move. His hands gripped the edge of the desk. How was it possible that someone who less than an hour ago was just another bimbo at the back of the class was now the most amazing girl he’d ever seen?
“Are you planning on leaving at any point today?” Miss Prince was over his desk, arms folded.
He sprang to his feet and bolted without a word.
Damn you, Marie Picton, he thought as he stalked to his next lesson. Damn you and your storms.

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