Back Water Town

The walls are peeling death
in their old rugged shack.
Her bare feet padding across the bare
floor boards. The baby crying
into the heat. He is sitting in his chair,
Sticking to his chair, Smoking 
hand rolled cigarettes one by one. The lighter’s 
flame bursting, flickering, made hazy 
by the heat.

He looks outside,
through the grubby window. Dirt
lays down, suppressed
to the path. Plants burn 
up brown and hang their heads.
They reach down deep
for water.

She sits down
beside him. Their smells musking 
together: strong and stale. Sweat
has beaded on her legs, beaded 
round her hair line. 

He watches
her in her over-washed dress,
fabric so thin she could be naked.
She looks too young.
He feels too apathetic and stifled
by her heat.

The sun burns 
through the shack, tanning at her legs.
She lies down, writhing sleepily,
slowly: her only energy.
He turns his attention back 
to outside, ashamed
at seeing her dress stuck, dampening
around her curves,
wet to her skin, defining.

He wants a woman from across town,
clean and clear
with transparent skin and summer fruit perfume.

copyright A Head 1998

Original Photo by Kira on Unsplash

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Extracts are available on my website

Everyone goes a little backwards sometimes

The London Book Fair

I was a bit apprehensive about going to the London Book Fair because I’d had a couple of bad anxiety days. Oh, the joy of panic attacks in public toilets. Attending this event meant trains, tubes, crowds, and the unknown. I’d been doing pretty well with the old anxiety, making progress, and so the setbacks did get me down. I turned into a desperate detective, searching for what the attacks had in common so I could regain control and prevent further episodes or worse. Both happened on a Saturday. Should I erase Saturdays from the calendar? I’d drunk Ribena the night before so perhaps that is to blame. I’d eased up on my morning routine so maybe it was because of that. Or maybe, maybe, it’s much worse than that and there is no rhyme or reason. No solution. No way to be better.

In the morning before attending, I completed my usual routine. Coffee as early as possible so there’s time to pee it all out before I leave the house. Then nothing else to drink; my bladder needs to be as empty as possible to avoid stress peeing. I run to burn off that morning blast of cortisol blast you get to wake you up. Like seriously body, after all these years why haven’t you evolved a nicer way to wake us? Mediation to deal with social anxiety (‘I am safe’, ‘I am confident’ , ‘I am a good listener’). Tapping to deal with my fear of upsetting people. Vegas nerve exercises to calm my body down. Making a sandwich for the journey to ensure my sugar levels don’t dip and create anxiety. Packing Sudokus so my brain has other things to focus on. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it’s frustrating that I have to do all these things just so I can act like everyone else.

I made it to the event. Made it without any anxiety attacks — even when someone hogged the only toilet on the train and the toilets at the station were closed. Peeing is one of my safety behaviours and one of my triggers. It can help me head off a panic attack; I can tell myself I’m not going to piss myself because I went only a few minutes ago and not even my bladder can be full yet. Otherwise, I panic about needing a pee which makes me need to piss more because that lovely lizard part of our brain wants to get lighter so we can run away. (How heavy does it think pee is?) I got pushed a lot on this trip. Reframing those inconveniences as tests and trials, seeing if I could cope, helped me to remain calm. I felt pretty powerful when I made it to the event without having a panic attack.

Walking into Olympia, I felt like the children walking into Willy Wonka’s chocolate room.

It’s a whole building full of people passionate about stories. Books. Publishers. Agents. Writers. Everyone focused on books. Bliss. I’d found another happy place and anxiety didn’t have an entrance ticket. When I fucked up and accidentally queue pushed, I didn’t berate myself. Oh well, I thought, I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. I apologised. Me and the people I jumped in front of joked about it. No problem. And rather than feeling like I was the worse piece of shit in the world all day, I moved on.

Now, to take a sharp left turn, I want to share the things I observed … (although focusing on the outside world as opposed to the inner world is one way to help stave off anxiety so it does still kinda fit.)

1—There are a lot of posh people working in publishing. Writers tended to be a more diverse group.

2—Most people seemed to have gone with an agenda, judging by the many important-looking meetings going on. Groups sat around round white tables. So many white tables and white chairs yet nowhere to sit—at least, I wasn’t sure if the ordinary punter was allowed to sit there or if the space was reserved for those with deals to make. There was a whole area fenced off and guarded full of agents. The mysterious realm was called IRC and nothing told you what it is or how to gain entry to these god-like beings. How do we appease them? What sacrificial offerings do they favour?

3—You can’t buy books at the London Book Fair. It’s like being surrounded by sea but not being able to drink it… all these books are on display and yet you can’t actually purchase a copy to take away. I get the event is for the industry but it still seemed a little odd to me. (Maybe I’ve watched too much of The Apprentice where they’re frantically selling stuff.)

4—There wasn’t as much free stuff as I thought there’d be. I did get a book of Maltese poetry that has some beautiful writing.

5—Business cards are important. I was helping out on the Alliance of Independent Author’s stand, talking about the benefits of joining. It was great fun to talk to other authors. I was very proud of myself for approaching random strangers and starting a conversation when I find networking so awkward. Before attending, I didn’t think anyone would want to know about me, my writing, or would want to connect in that way. The focus was on Alli. However, I had several people ask for my social media details, the web address for my beta reading business, and information on my books. I’ve always equated business cards with yuppies and people who talk about themselves as a brand. There’s something very American Psycho about a business card. God knows where I got that idea from. Other writers did have business cards. It wasn’t cringy to be offered one and they were all lovely people too. I learnt that preconceived prejudices are like a stone hijacking a ride inside your shoe—uncomfortable, crippling and something that makes you walk funny. Not having business cards was definitely a missed opportunity.

6-It’s hard to talk about my writing and my books. It’s like confessing to some perversion. My voice would go quiet, hesitant, with lots of those hedging words when people asked me what I wrote. What I said sounded more like an apology; how dare I have the audacity to think I could be a novelist. Why do I feel like that? Maybe because writing is something we do in private, something so precious, and so many of us keep quiet about it to avoid hearing disparaging comments. I remember reading a comment a Victorian man had made about reading, likening women reading to masturbation. Oh, the horror! The shame! Writing is something like that—only worse. Maybe we writers need a support group where, one by one, we stand up, say our names and say ‘I am a writer and I deserve to be paid.’

7- It’s important to measure yourself based on where you started from and where you are in the present moment, as opposed to how far away you are from where you want to be. Talking about Alli to others highlighted how far I’ve come because it had me reminiscing about when I’d first heard about the group. It was at a talk about self-publishing about 6/ 7 years ago. I’d read reports on writers who’d gone it alone but had no idea how or where to start. At that talk, I realised it wasn’t just possible for me, it was exciting too. Jump forward in time, and there I was representing Alli. Hopefully, people found me as encouraging as I’d found my first introduction to Alli. This same lesson could be applied to my anxiety. Yes, I’m not where I want to be with it because I’m still having to do all those things I listed above just to get out of the house, but when I compare myself with where I was after my breakdown, I’ve come a long way. Back then, just thinking about being around strangers had spun me out, and leaving the house took several false starts and crying fits. Yet, in 2022, I find myself at the London Book Fair, initiating conversations with strangers and loving life.

So next time I have a few bad days with anxiety I’m going to remember this day. I’m going to remember what I achieved. I’m not going to beat myself up for having a few backwards slip-ups.

Photo by Ajda ATZ on Unsplash

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Extracts are available on my website

My Daddy Owns your Daddy

			My Daddy Owns Your Daddy

My daddy owns a Porsche and a Range Rover
for weekend city driving and mummy’s little run around.

My daddy has a cottage in Devon, a house in London
and a penthouse in Dubai.

My daddy works a 50 hour week and plays golf on Saturday
while Mummy uses his credit cards in Harrods.

My daddy says big business is the future
and Capitalism helps those who work hard.

My daddy will pay for me to go to Oxford,
like his daddy paid for him.

My daddy will get the best for me:
a nice house for my friends and I.

My daddy will pay my bills and my petrol money
and my clothes allowance.

My daddy will get me a job in the city
and find me a man like him. 

And my baby’s daddy will hire
Your baby’s daddy on minimum wage.

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Extracts are available on my website

Asphodel Meadows

I’ve updated the blurb for Asphodel Meadows, which you can read below. To celebrate this, I thought I’d talk a little about the journey to publication and why I decided to self publish.

The picture in this blog is the first mock-up I created for the cover. Yeah, it’s pretty basic but, as I’m sure you’ve realised, I’m not a designer. While editing and re-editing and restructuring the book following some advice from a publishing company, I started losing faith in the manuscript ever becoming a
book. Creating the cover was a way of motivating myself to keep on with the hard work. It was a metaphorical finishing line.

There were some close, almost, maybe, fingers-crossed moments of potential success. An agent made an informal request to see the manuscript while chatting to one of their authors. I was longlisted for the Mslexia first novel award. Publication felt so close I could almost smell the ink setting on the page. I imagined my book in Waterstones, in libraries across the land, readers crying and laughing and analysing the shit out of my intentions.

Then that finishing line moved. Not just a few inches. Not just a new county but a whole new time and dimension. Life loves to throw curveballs our way. Even though it isn’t about us, if we’re honest, we can all get into that slump where it feels like it is about us. And it’s alright to wallow in that for a bit, like a day maybe. As long as you keep it to yourself.

In 2017 a tragedy happened in the UK where the events and setting were eerily similar to those in Asphodel Meadows. It wasn’t just a tragedy but a scandal too*. There was no way that an agent or publisher would touch my book because it would be incredibly insensitive to publish it. I felt a bit icky sending it out too, worrying people wouldn’t spot the nuances that made it different. Would they think I was commenting on that tragedy? I put the manuscript away, thinking I’d try publishers again in a few years.

Fast forward to 2020. There are still unanswered questions, fights over responsibility and compensation, and how to prevent such a tragedy happening again. I couldn’t see this issue becoming less emotive for many more years. A publisher would still be cautious about taking on my book, even if it was Steinbeck crossed with Dostoyevsky with dashings of Hemmingway and shot through with a bolt of unquantifiable uniqueness. (Does that sound arrogant? Eck! Trust me I know I’m a long way off from their greatness). If I held this book back much longer though many of the things mentioned could potentially be obsolete—already one of the TV programmes referenced had been taken off air and people had stopped buying porno mags in such volume. I decided to go for a tentative release, trusting that my readers would understand the subtext of the book and realise it wasn’t casting judgement on those events. Also, the world is bigger than the UK and what is a big deal here might not even get reported on elsewhere. And so I self-published. I crossed that finish line and although there was no official there cheer or offer me one of those tinfoily blanket-type things or give me a medal, I was still proud of my achievement. I am still proud of my achievement.

You wanna hear a good joke? End of 2020 I finished the first draft of a follow-up to the Waiting Usurper. It had a plague in it. As I say, I know it’s not all about me but … Goddamn it, universe.

*Sorry to be so vague about what this tragedy involved. It’s not my intention to be all mysterious and drum up interest that way. It’s more that if I tell you the tragedy you’ll get a major spoiler.



Welcome. Welcome to my story. I’d shake your hand only, well, it’s just a story. My story.
Who am I? I guess you want to know that. Well, I’m that presence following you home. That presence you can feel just behind your right shoulder but can never see. I’m the one who knows everything about you. Everything. Don’t believe me? You’ll soon see.
    My name’s Jamie Scott and I’m your narrator, guide, whatever. I live on the seventh floor between the Lotts’ and the fire escape. I was born in this shithole thirteen years ago and I always thought I’d die in this place too. Time is nothing in Asphodel Meadows: day is day is day and nothing changes—ever. And EastEnders is on TV again, and it’s scraps from yesterday’s dinner again, and it’s the same conversation never concluded that you hear around every walkway every day and every night.
            Except for tonight. Tonight is not the same as every other night. 
            It’s seven o’clock, 6 September, and they’re here. Finally. 

Jamie’s a precocious teen with a messiah complex. And he wants vengeance. Skulk along the walkway with him as he spies on his neighbours and he’ll show you why he’s called four malevolent strangers to the tower block.

You’ll meet Kath, recently divorced and sacked after an affair with a student; Paul, a writer who can’t write; Jamie’s abusive mother, the Fat Beast; Char, a sex worker and her clients; the strangely perfect Lott family; and Sam, the resident drug addict as they struggle with forgiveness, missed connections, and loneliness. 

And if you’re lucky, Jamie will give you the best seat in the tower block for the final act.

If you’re interested in reading Asphodel Meadows, you can read for free with Kindle Unlimited, order a copy from your favourite bookshops, or buy from Amazon.

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website


The cold is constantly here,
now the sky is black.
I try to find my own light
candle pooled
thick and wrinkled
wick bent down
trying to soak up
all its liquid.
I find
I’m not thinking of you.
Light a match
with a puff,
a fizzle
against the broken heel
of my shoe.
I hold it out, burning
it down
bites as a chill
my cold fingers
Steam of pork
fills my nose.
I do not ignite.
I do not flash.
The last match
tossed to the floor.
Loudly, I curse myself.
The wick plops
sinks into the wax.
Given up.
Find myself not thinking
of you.

I found this old poem and I thought I’d include it here because it taught me an interesting lesson that I thought I’d share. When I read this out one person hated it, didn’t understand it, and was very vocal about that. Never mind, some poems are unsuccessful. It hurts the ego to get criticism but … well … there is always another poem waiting. The next day though, someone else in my class came up to me and told me that their daughter who was doing a PhD in Freudian psychology had loved it, finding layers of meaning that had excited her. It blew my mind how different the reactions were. I learnt a valuable lesson: you can’t please everyone and you can’t control how people react to what you create. Everyone brings themselves to what they’re reading/listening to/watching and will react differently. This means that there is no objective truth about a piece of creative work. I can only aim to satisfy myself and get my writing to be as close to how I envision it as possible. The rest is none of my business.

Copyright A Head 2000

Photo by Anjo Antony on Unsplash

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website

Restarting New Year’s Eve (or it’s all just a feeling so last night I partied like it was 1974).

It’s been a strange holiday period that has felt decidedly unholidaylike. I’d say it’s just me but it isn’t. I’ve been excited for the break, for glitter, for tinsel, for eating too much, for relaxing and reading and watching films. I’ve been looking forward to that Christmas morning excitement where the air is chill and the house is too warm because the fire is on, and my face is warming from the inside out because I’ve started drinking early. Then new year’s eve with all the anticipation of a brand new, unspoilt year— a new chance to get things right. Like when you have a nice new notebook and a determination that your handwriting is going to be a work of art with no spelling mistakes or crossings out.

I’ve not seen this excitement reflected from other people or the media though and so my optimism kinda dissipated faster than soap bubbles in a hard water area. It didn’t feel like Christmas or new year when the days arrived because there’d been none of that collective excitement. I wonder if this is because the new Covid variant made people reluctant to get excited or make plans in case another lockdown was sprung on us last minute, same as it was in 2020. Also, so many people were going down with the new variant and having to isolate that relying on anything to actually happen might have been a bit foolish. When I asked people if they had plans for new year’s eve no one did. Everyone seemed resigned, or rather despondent.

As mentioned, I like new year’s day because it’s a fresh start. It’s a chance to leave stuff behind, to set new intentions and spend time reflecting on the previous year.  We don’t often get a chance to do that because society is so focused on moving forward, achieving, doing. Sitting and pondering in stillness is very much what this holiday period is for and as someone who needs permission to just chill, I appreciate that. Now I can’t be arsed to chase after the perfect new year’s party, I like to spend new year’s eve cleaning myself and my surroundings so in the new year I am that unused notebook.  I meditate and set intentions. I do yoga to squeeze out from my body any emotions I don’t like. These acts feel part of a magic spell or a plea to the universe: please can I leave behind this thought, this feeling, this person? Please can I be new and clean and better in this new year?

This new year I didn’t get to do any of that, partly because I have a new job that involves me being on my feet all day and then a 50-minute walk home. By the time I got home, I was far too tired to complete any of my rituals. It also didn’t help that my body woke me up with a bitch of a blast of anxiety at 4 am. I hadn’t been worried. My head wasn’t thinking negative thoughts. Still though, my chest and stomach wanted to throb with anxiety and keep me awake. I’m safe. I’m safe I kept telling my body. It didn’t care. I’d been doing really well with the anxiety; it had become a little tickle at times but controllable. The worst thing about it waking you up is knowing it’s already out of your control. The anxiety has won like it’s been lurking, watching for the perfect moment to attack, waiting for your mind to be defenceless. Your body is against you and it’s going to make the coming day even worse because now you have to face it tired and not able to fully function. I’d had a recurrence of my old anxiety dream too. The one where I have to get people to leave a room but they don’t listen to me and keep returning even though I get more and more violent, more and more shouty. I literally throw people. I smack them. I yell so forcefully that I’m spitting. I can’t close the door to stop them from returning to the room. Wish I knew what that was about. This resurgence of my anxiety didn’t exactly help me feel that there was potential for change in the coming year. Rather it was more same old bullshit.  And so on new year’s eve, I didn’t even make it to midnight.

New year’s day started shinning and bright.  Maybe I could celebrate now instead. But then the sky became a grubby grey. It got cold. My heating had broken. And so I got pissy, wondering why we don’t move new year to spring when nature is spurting with new life and the sky is full of bright optimism. January doesn’t look new but rather like an old sock left to dry crusty in the bottom of a sports bag. The cold keeps windows shut and the air stagnant, full of the thick weight of central heating. It’s not a time for striding out to new goals uninhibited but rather a time to hibernate under blankets and jumpers. Sleep. It’s a time of tiredness when not even the day can be bothered to start, just kind of half arses it with murky light—like an energy-efficient bulb that’s going to die any moment. The dampness of January gets in your bones too, at least in the UK, so you’re left feeling like you’re made up of mushy leaves.

That was the background noise in my head as I attempted my usual year review. At first, listing my achievements did cheer me up a bit because I have done a lot: I published two books, created my author website, designed and made the cover for The Family Care, increased my Instagram followers, attended a course on Amazon ads, learnt Russian and studied contemporary Russian literature. There were so many things to be proud of. But then I hit that January feeling again. How could I post my figures when compared to everyone else I’d been a failure? Total transparency… last year I sold 8 books. 8. I increased my Instagram followers to 104. Try putting that out there without feeling like you’ll be laughed off the internet.  Yet, I think I can take some pride in those numbers because these are strangers buying my books, strangers following me rather than friends and family. That has a tinge of the professional writer. It is a start. I can’t remember who talked about it (maybe Blindboy Boatclub on his podcast) but bands start performing to friends and family and then the next level of success is playing to a handful of strangers who are enjoying what you do. That’s where I’m at: I’m a support band playing to an almost empty room and gathering my people.

I found someone else to compare myself too and this might sound arrogant but fuck it… I’m aspiring to Jack Nicholson levels of success. The world sends us these people when we need a specific lesson. This time it sent me Easy Rider (or rather Netflix did) and boy, oh boy did I get blown away by Jack Nicholson in it. Having an obsessive personality meant I went looking for more of his films. Being skint meant I was watching the free ones on Youtube and these were mainly from the very early days of his career. Watching The Wild Ride led to an epiphany: not even Jack Nicholson was The Jack Nicholson in those early days. He was good but he didn’t have that … that … whatever it is that makes for a captivating actor. Charisma? Craft? Charm? From 1960 to 1969 something happened that turned him into The Jack Nicholson. It was probably nothing more magical than hard work and practising his craft, possibly with a touch of growing confidence in his abilities and maybe life and being patient?

There’s something encouraging and reassuring about seeing the progression of someone considered a master at what they do. He’s won 3 Oscars and is the most nominated male actor, but watching The Wild Ride you wouldn’t presume this was in his future. That’s a valuable lesson for anyone: keep on, you’ll get better. Keep on and you might reach Jack Nicholson levels of greatness. He acted in 19 films before Easy Rider and his first Oscar nomination. This makes my selling 8 copies feel less pathetic. I only need to write another 16 novels before I get that Booker nomination so I better get on with it rather than dwelling on what didn’t come my way this year.

Besides, I have an overactive imagination—doesn’t my anxiety tell me that?  It’s time I used that power for good instead of evil. And so I wasn’t in bed by 11 am on new eve’s year after another anxiety attack. No. I was in Mulholland Drive, it was 1974, and I was snorting cocaine off Jack Nicholson’s chest while he recited poetry. That feels like a much more auspicious start to 2022.

Here’s to all of you having the 2022 of your dreams. Feel free to borrow my fantasy if you need to redo your new year’s eve too.

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

Like this blog? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website

The Sewer Refugees

I was a rat.
A bent double, dirty sewer rat
with yellow eyes.
Eyes made bad and bruised
by my sluggish liver.

I was dragged through thin pipes
that I caught skin on. In flickering,
rationed light I couldn’t see
how the sores weren’t healing.

Some days there was singing — godly songs
but I didn’t understand the words.
I was a sewer rat.

I developed a cough.
Chesty. I spurted mucus
thick, like the slime leaking
down the sides of that storm basin.

We came here so long ago
we forgot to get out.

Inspired by accounts of refugees hiding in the sewers during WW2.

Copyright 2021 A Head

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

Like this poem? You can show your support by buying me a coffee @ or by buying one of my books (The Waiting Usurper, Asphodel Meadows, The Family Care.) They can also be borrowed via Kindle Unlimited.

Extracts are available on my website

The Family Care

 I wasn’t always like this, I want to tell the receptionist. Not because I care what she thinks but so she’ll stop giving me that patronising head-tilted, forehead-rumpling smile that doesn’t reach the eyes. I was different and kind. A good sister. I used to shower and change my clothes, instead of living and sleeping in this oversized blue jumper that isn’t even mine. My dark brown hair used to be a sleek bob with a neat fringe that my twin sister, Patsy, would help trim, instead of this mass of greasy knots and tangles. I didn’t have bitten nails or scabs on my arms. And I was naive and stupid and … someone else. I’ve chosen to be this, so she can take her fake pity and shove it up her arse.
   ‘Jane’s waiting for you,’ the receptionist says. ‘Second door on the right.’
   I traipse down the bland hallway, scuffing the bottoms of my soggy trainers along the beige carpet titles. Ordinary, is what I was. I had a family and a home and no secrets worth keeping. If only I could click my heels three times and go back. But I’ve been dragged here because, apparently, it’s good to talk. I stop outside Dr Jane Fielding’s door.
   Don’t say anything—ever. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t be anything other than okay, all right, fine. Silence. That was the family motto. Will I speak this time and tell the truth? Maybe if I imagine the past like a film it’ll be easier. I always wanted to be a director, despite the career advisor at school saying it was unrealistic for people like me. I was never very good at being realistic. Will Dr Jane Fielding pick up on that?
   I shut my eyes, shut out the world, and imagine a title sequence playing. A wide shot taking in an April sky, changeable and patchy, over Elmswood Estate. Our names scroll over this image: Faye, Kate, Cameron, Mark, Nathan, Patsy, and me—Milton. The Joneses. Some of us play ourselves, some of us don’t. The camera pans down to our lopsided black gate. There are rain drops on it and paint is flaking off, exposing the rust beneath. With a tracking shot, the camera pans up the path, where the long grass curls over the sides, to the cherry-red front door of my home: 8 Addle Close. The number disappeared years ago. There’s always a layer of dust on the door from the busy road out front, like it’s been using one of Patsy’s cheap face powders.
   Inside, the sofa and armchair are floral and outdated. The blobs of plasticine squashed into the brown carpet have blackened over the years. A rag rug in the centre of the room hides a coffee stain created when a mug got smashed against the floor during a fight. We’re all crammed into this front room. Our bellies are full and content. The TV’s glow competes with the fading sunlight coming in through the patio doors.
   It’s Sunday. Sunday used to be my favourite day because it was the only day we’d all be together. Faye’s shift at the supermarket ended early and she didn’t have to go to her second job at the care home. Kate always came over with her husband, Derek, and cooked a roast. We’re watching a TV drama that involves a lot of people shouting and crying. I’m not sure if anyone but Faye is enjoying it; I’m not: the acting is too consciously acting.
   Cameron and I are sprawled out on the floor, him on his front. He’s reading Wuthering Heights for his university module on the Brontës. Tucked behind his left ear is a green pen, ready for him to make neat notes in the margins. Because the TV is loud he mouths the words he’s reading and squints at the page to maintain his concentration. He’s growing out his sun-streaked brown hair; it’s at that awkward stage where it grows out instead of down. We dress alike, him and me. His t-shirts are faded and old because what money he has left from his student loan, after he’s paid Faye, goes on books, vinyl, and my drama group. In this scene, his t-shirt is dark green with a cartoon face on it. The name of the band has worn away. My t-shirt is blue and has an elephant on the front. I’m wearing fluffy slippers because my feet are always cold. Drifting in and out of sleep, I use Cameron’s bum as a pillow and drool onto his black jeans.
   And that is Sunday. Peaceful. Predictable.
   But she won’t want to hear about a typical Sunday, this Jane Fielding. She’ll want to know about the Sunday when everything changed. The inciting incident. It’s too hard to talk about that. Retreating into my blue jumper, I inhale my stale smell of rubbish bins and gravy, and peel a bobbly scab from my forearm.
   That Sunday Faye had agreed to cover a shift at the care home and, just like that, the familiar routine of the day had been broken. A text from Cameron woke me from an afternoon nap. Come downstairs, it said. I traipsed out of his room onto the landing, head groggy and dazed from dozing, so everything had a fogginess to it. It felt different—the landing, the house, the hushed whispers from downstairs. Or is it hindsight telling me that? Something made me crouch down and scoot up to the banister. I peered through the wooden slats, the paint scratchy against my forehead.
   They’d all gathered downstairs in a semi-circle, almost sitting in age order: Kate, Mark, Cameron, Nathan, and Patsy. Mark and Cameron just needed to swap. Cameron sat in front of the patio doors on a kitchen chair, so still. Unnervingly still compared to how restless he’d been all day.
   ‘Are we done now, then? Can I go?’ Mark stood. ‘Or, Cameron, was there another reason you dragged us together?’
   When Cameron spoke he sounded exasperated, as if he’d said the same thing many times. ‘Milton needs to know.’
   My chest tightened. What did I need to know?
   ‘And I’ve already said no.’ Mark bumped back into the armchair.
   ‘It isn’t up to you,’ Cameron said.
   ‘It’s not up to you, either.’
   ‘Shut up.’ Patsy’s voice hinted at tears to come. ‘Do we have to … can’t we forget …? I don’t want it all … no.’
   With the sun behind him, Cameron’s face was hidden from me. The faded picture on his t-shirt showed only one of Bowie’s eyes staring at me—the permanently damaged and dilated one. I picked a lower gap in the banisters to stare through. It didn’t help.
   ‘I say we wait.’ Sunlight glinted off Kate’s tortoise-shell hairband. ‘It’s an important year—’
   ‘It’ll always be an important year,’ Cameron said. ‘GCSEs, college. When if not now? She’ll be sixteen on Wednesday. I thought, with her birthday coming up—’
   ‘Yeah, nice birthday present,’ Mark said.
   Nathan spoke calmly from beside Patsy on the sofa. ‘We should ask Mum first.’
   ‘Ask Mum?’ Mark spluttered. ‘Ask Mum? Are you off your fucking head? We’re not asking Mum. She’s enough on her plate worrying about the house, the divorce, Dad and—no. Now can I go?’
   Did I want to hear? Did I want to know? I wanted water, wanted it like I hadn’t drunk in months, my mouth so dry and sticky, and yet I needed a piss too. And to hear, whatever they didn’t want me to. Did I? I shifted my weight. A floorboard creaked. Cameron’s head moved. Did he see me? I nodded, in case he could. And then, he spoke so loudly and clearly he must have meant me to hear. ‘We have to tell Milton she’s adopted.’
   I lurched up, banged into the banisters.
   ‘For fuck’s sake,’ Mark said.
   Patsy sobbed and covered her mouth.
   ‘Milton, love,’ Kate said.
   ‘Thought you said she’d gone out,’ Mark moaned at Cameron.
   I couldn’t see Cameron’s expression and I needed to. It would show if he was lying, or teasing, or something else … I bolted down the stairs, half-tripped, half-slipped. Adopted. Not my real mother. Not my real siblings.
   I stopped short of entering their semi-circle, clung on to the back of the sofa. ‘I—I—I.’
Cameron’s watch caught the sunlight as he gathered his hair off his face and stared at the floor—too sheepish, too guilty looking.
   He fidgeted but didn’t lift up his head.
   ‘Is it …? You’re joking, aren’t you?’
   ‘You think we’d joke about something like this?’ Mark snapped.
   Kate said, ‘Come sit down. We’ll talk.’
   I didn’t want to talk, not to Kate. I moved around the sofa, though, nodding as if everything made sense when nothing did. Sweat stuck my fringe to my forehead. I hunched into my cardigan, covering my mouth with the material. The zip scraped my lips. There was no space for me on the sofa despite only Nathan and Patsy sitting there, and I wouldn’t make it onto the floor without my legs giving way, so I stood. A staticky sensation surged through me as if I’d become part of the house’s wiring. Run, run, it urged me. Shout. Do something. I gripped the inside of my jeans pockets tighter.
   Mark’s eyes narrowed as he stared at Cameron. ‘Did you …? Were you texting her?’ He jabbed his thumb towards me.
   Cameron slouched lower in his chair. His index fingers arched over his mouth, the nails recently bitten low. ‘She deserves to know.’
   ‘And you thought you’d just, fuck sake. Why bother fucking asking us? Right, well, now what? She knows,’ Mark said. ‘Cameron? Come on. You tell me. What now? What’s the plan? Hmm?’
   Mark’s foot tapped, marking the seconds that Cameron didn’t speak. Why wasn’t he speaking? He always knew the right thing to do. Not my real brother. Not my real family.
   How could I not have realised?
   Kate was tall and slim with bulky upper arms like her mum. Her short-sleeved shirt and crossed-arm posture drew more attention to them, creating dimples in the flesh.
   ‘Well?’ Mark said. The second oldest brother, he had mousy-coloured hair the same as his mum’s natural colour. Other than that he resembled his dad, prominent chin and grey eyes, but shorter and stockier like Uncle Ron. His hair was gelled and fashionably cut, as always. His aftershave dominated the room, the tones leathery and spicy like Clint Eastwood had been rung out into a bottle. Same as his dad wore. Why was he scowling at me? I pulled my hood up against it.
   An elastic band snapped. I jumped. Nathan mumbled an apology but continued fiddling with the band. He was the youngest brother at seventeen; his watery-blue eyes were the same shade as their mum’s and the tracksuit he wore, muddy from his earlier game of football. His light brown hair, overlong and floppy, had lost the style Patsy had cut into it.
   I turned to her. My twin. Her hair was the same dark brown as mine, but longer and she’d added soft curls. Our eyes were dark brown, hers enhanced by mascara and eyeliner. We had other slight differences: her cheeks thinner than mine, her nose without a bump on the bridge and longer, giving her a feline appearance, and her lips protruded less than mine because I had a slight overbite. She grabbed a rainbow cushion and hugged it close. She started crying. No one else noticed because they all stared at me.
   ‘Still waiting,’ Mark said. ‘Come on, Cameron. You must have thought it through, what’s gonna happen next? You’re the smart one. You going to explain this all to Mum? Tell her she’s got to deal with all this … this … bollocks on top of everything?’
   ‘Mark, calm down,’ Kate said.
   ‘Or did you not think this through? Is that it?’
   Cameron had got so slight and small in the kitchen chair. Did he regret telling me? I didn’t want him to regret it and so I stayed quiet, gripping my pockets tighter as he said, ‘It was the right thing to do.’
   ‘Right? Right?’ Mark’s bouncing foot sped up.
   Kate held it still. ‘We’re going to sort this out like adults.’
   ‘Sorry.’ I stumbled over the word. Was I sorry? What was I sorry for?
   Derek came out of the kitchen with a tray of tea. He knew. Patsy knew. Everyone but me had known. I tugged on a loose thread in my pocket. Derek put the tray on the floor by my feet. No one took a cup. They continued staring at me. Patsy sucked on the ends of her hair. Derek sat on the floor.
   ‘It doesn’t matter,’ Nathan said. ‘It’s done now.’
   ‘It does matter,’ Patsy yelled. ‘He had to bring it back up again, didn’t he? It was done and it was fine and now … now …’ She threw the cushion at Cameron, missing him. ‘All he cares about is her. What about me? About Mum?’
   He picked it up from the floor. Her snot and tears had left a wet spot on it. ‘I do care about this family.’
   ‘It is done.’ Mark snatched the cushion from Cameron. ‘We’re not talking about this again. We’re going to forget about it, like Dad said.’ He shoved it behind him on the chair. ‘It’s settled. It’s done. Nothing changes.’
   ‘But—but—’ I stammered.
   Mark’s foot hit the ground as he lurched forwards. ‘Yes?’
   ‘What if—what if …? I might have questions?’
   ‘Do you?’
   I yanked my hood forwards. ‘Erm.’ I didn’t. Thinking made me dizzy. ‘Where’s my mum?’
   ‘At work. As always.’
   I hadn’t meant Faye. Why was he playing dumb? I rocked on my heels, the thick soles of my slippers resisting. ‘No. My real mum. Our mum.’ I pointed at Patsy.
   She flinched as if I’d pinched her. ‘She is my mum.’
   ‘Why’s that important?’ Mark asked.
   ‘It’s my mum.’
   ‘She obviously didn’t want you, did she? She dumped you on our fucking doorstep.’
   ‘Mark!’ Kate’s voice hurt my ears.
   ‘What? It’s the truth? Have we got to dress it up, make it …?’ Mark shook his head. ‘This is exactly why I didn’t want to tell her.’
   ‘I had to,’ Cameron said.
   ‘You didn’t have to do anything.’
   ‘I need to sit down,’ I mumbled.
   Patsy glared at me like it was my fault. Was it my fault? Nathan pushed her legs off the sofa and stood. I didn’t sit and I shied away from him when he tried to guide me into the spot. My heel connected with the tray, knocking over two cups of tea.
   ‘See. See,’ Patsy said. ‘I told you she’d react like this.’
   ‘It was an accident,’ Derek said.
   ‘No, it wasn’t. She ruins everything. Everything.’
   ‘Sorry … I …’ The spilt tea broke up the patchy pattern of chickens on the tray and I was vaguely aware that I should do something about that. ‘How am I supposed to react, then? How’d you react? Patsy?’
   Derek righted the cups and vanished off into the kitchen.
   ‘You’re doing fine,’ Kate said.
   ‘Better than you.’ Patsy stretched out into the space Nathan had created for me.
   ‘It’s just spilt tea,’ Nathan said. ‘It’s okay.’
   ‘It’s not okay. Mum’s due back in fifteen minutes.’ Mark checked his phone. ‘No, make that five minutes, and I’m not having her upset by this.’
   Derek returned with a tea-towel and soaked up the tea. ‘All sorted.’
   But it wasn’t sorted and Mark was still angry—his face splodged red and his right eye twitching.
   ‘How about, how about coming to stay with us for a bit, huh?’ Kate said. ‘Wouldn’t that be nice? A break. How about that? Some time to let it all sink in. Would you like that?’
No. No, I wouldn’t. I ground my fists against my temples, against that pooling staticky-sensation.
   ‘We’ve just finished decorating the spare bedroom.’
   ‘You’re welcome any time,’ Derek said.
   ‘That’s the first sensible suggestion I’ve heard,’ Mark said.
   ‘No.’ The word came out weak and small. Surely they didn’t want me to go, just because I’d knocked over the tea? Because I’d found out? ‘Do you …? I can handle it. I can. I don’t want to go. I don’t.’
   ‘It’s just an option,’ Kate said. ‘If you need some space to come to terms with it.’
   ‘No. I don’t—I don’t have to, do I? That’s not why you told me, is it?’
   ‘’Course not,’ Cameron said.
   Mark spoke over him. ‘If you play up, upset Mum, don’t think I—’
   ‘Stop it.’ Cameron shot up. ‘Have some compassion, will you? Jesus Christ. It’s my fault, not hers.’ His hand rested on my shoulder and he whispered in my ear, ‘Don’t let him get to you.’
   ‘You’re doing fine,’ Kate repeated as a car pulled up outside.
   ‘Fuck! That’ll be Mum,’ Mark said.

To read more, buy on Amazon or borrow for free with Kindle Unlimited

For the UK

For the USA

It’s in all Amazon stores worldwide and will be available from shops in the new year

New Book Available

Super excited to announce my new book is now available on Amazon. It’s a story that’s been with me since I was a teen and obsessed with Virginia Andrews books. The story is my homage to her books and Wuthering Heights. I think teen me would be happy with how it turned out. Here it is…

The Family Care

I wasn’t always like this. I was different and kind. A good sister. I didn’t have bitten nails or scabs on my arms. And I was naive and stupid and someone else. Someone with no secrets worth keeping. I’ve chosen to be this.

Life used to be simple. Cameron was her brother. Milton knew who she was and she wanted nothing more than to travel and become a film director. Then she discovers the family secret.

She’s not Milton Jones and Cameron isn’t her brother.

The truth doesn’t set you free, especially when the family motto is don’t say anything—ever. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t be anything other than okay, all right, fine. But it isn’t as easy as it used to be. Soon her secrets are multiplying out of control. And she’s unravelling.

She could always rely on Cameron. Her prince. Her best friend. But he’s pulling away and things between them are getting messy. Will he abandon her, too?

The Family Care is a heartbreaking story of forbidden love that explores complex issues of self-esteem, identity, and the darker side of family life.

Buy it on Amazon or borrow for free with Kindle Unlimited

For the UK

For the USA

It’s in all Amazon stores worldwide. Soon to be available from shops too.

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