Autumn Already?

Smiley Son

Smiley Son

What happened to September? Someone stole it while I wasn’t paying attention. I can’t believe it’s October already (and nearly my birthday!) Despite the glorious warm and sunny days we’ve had recently, autumn is still in the air as we shiver our way to school in the morning, through rainbow coloured leaves and fallen conkers.

I love autumn, I think it’s my favourite time of year. Misty mornings, crisp afternoons, riotous colour everywhere and an excuse to wear jeans again.

My daughter has Harvest Festival today and I feel that I also want to celebrate the abundance and beauty around me. It’s been a year of ups and downs but, despite everything, we’re still muddling through, still smiling.

I’ve recently altered the time of day I take my meds and have realised just how much they give me. Returning to the twitchy, ranty insomniac for even a few days was enough to be grateful for the change. I might have become a little more dozy, a little more befuddled, since starting on SSRIs, but I’m definitely happier.

My challenge for this month is to concentrate on finding things to be happy about rather than things to worry me. Good enough parenting, good enough housework. I’m taking up piano again and knitting like a demon. I even enjoyed spending time with my son yesterday, as he took a break from being a whiny, greedy, annoying four-year-old and (briefly) became my little boy again.

October is also about getting Dragon Wraiths entered into the Times / Chicken House competition (the deadline is sneaking up fast. Thank goodness for my editor who has agreed to proofread it in a hurry). I’m almost convinced I shouldn’t waste my time and money, having had another half-dozen rejections on it in the summer. Almost, but not quite. Got to be in it to win it, isn’t that what they say? 🙂

Meanwhile, Finding Lucy is slowly taking shape and Baby Blues is doing well on the new Kindle Unlimited. I have no idea yet if that earns me any money, but it’s nice to see the numbers ticking over.

That’s life in the Martin household at the moment. What does autumn mean to you?

Autumn Sun: 2013 365 Challenge #310

Sunlit walk

Sunlit walk

Back in the summer I did a freewrite on the season and had a vague idea of compiling a seasons thesaurus. Add it to the list of projects. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take some notice as the weather changes. Here are my thoughts on a sunny autumn day.

The wind chills my cheeks as I walk, but it’s refreshing after weeks spent indoors watching the rain. I feel like I’ve been breathing the same air for too long and my skin feels clogged.

The sun paints long shadows across the fields, as it drops to the horizon despite it only being mid-afternoon. Beneath my feet, soggy leaves lay scattered in a random pattern of yellow and brown. Those on the trees look tattered. Hanging on against the odds.

When the wind drops the sun brings warm memories of summer and hope for a swift return although autumn is only just here. Across the endless azure sky tufts of cloud are hurried like so many sheep before the biting wind. The wind whistles in my ears like the sound of rushing blood or an angry sea. It drags tears from my eyes and makes my nose run.

Autumn sun

Autumn sun

My shadow marches at my side, long and dark against the bare hedges. Muddy puddles make a playground for the dog and tractor wheels have dug deep furrows in the road.

The fields dance with short stems of green as a winter crop pokes optimistically about the earth. Seagulls searching for wormy treats swoop and dive over the green landlocked sea of soil.

As I walk beneath the trees the wind stops and I hear the bird song, adding welcome decoration to the endless green, blue and brown. The sun sparks a fire in my heart – so precious after weeks of rain and grey skies. I walk slowly to savour the warmth on my skin, feeling too hot and bundled in my thick coat.

Despite the cold cheeks and wind-battered face I am reluctant to return home. The house feels like a dark cave, gloomy and dead, with stale air and artificial light. Somewhere to hibernate like a hedgehog.

The dog brings me a muddy stick, and throws it playfully at my feet. She runs with glee through the mud as it squishes between her claws. My house won’t be clean again until spring

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire gripped the rail with two hands as the spray from the sea glistened on the wood and made it slippery beneath her fingers. Her thighs burned from climbing the steep steps, but she refused to stop for a breather. If she looked around she might notice the steep drop down to the rocks below, visible beneath the white froth of the crashing waves.

Trust me to come on a windy day. I should have waited until it was calmer.

The manager at the hostel had said a visit to Tintagel castle would be all the more impressive against the backdrop of the rough sea. She’d failed to mention the perilous climb or the narrow stairway.

Claire pulled into the side to make way for an elderly couple, holding hands and giggling as they skipped down the steps like teenagers. Claire wondered what they found so funny.

At last she reached the castle, perched on the cliff top overlooking the sea.

How on earth did they build this, all the way up here? In the dark ages, with no equipment? Crazy.

With the wind threatening to drag her from the cliffs, Claire wandered around the ruined castle, trying to imagine what it must have been like when it was complete. The views stretched for miles, even on a blustery day, with the scudding clouds chasing each other across the sky.

Turning to see how far she had come, Claire held her breath at the sight of the castle walls, looking like piles of balanced stones or sand castles, climbing the steep rock face, with the tiny archway leading through to the endless steps back to the mainland. Overhead, seagulls screamed their defiance to the wind, swooping and diving in an endless dance.

With effort, Claire blocked out the sounds of the tourists, the giggling children, the frantic mothers, the bored teenagers up to mischief. She focussed on the cry of the birds and the howl of the wind and felt herself transported to another time.

Who knew all this beauty was here? So much history crammed into one place and I would never have come if it weren’t for this project.

For a moment all the fear and doubt seemed worthwhile. It seemed a shame to come back to the present and take notes for her report.

I have to remember I’m being paid to be here, I’m not on holiday.

With a sigh that was instantly whipped away from her mouth by the playful wind, Claire began her exploration of the site, taking notes of all the things people seemed to enjoy.

I wonder if the castle in Dorset is this impressive. What’s it called? Cough castle or something like that. I’d better look it up.

*

It was getting dark by the time Claire finished her tour of the island. She’d covered every element – from the gun house to Merlin’s Cave – and her legs throbbed while her mind swirled with the history and mythical stories she’d consumed.

Looking up at the castle from the café, it wasn’t hard to imagine Arthur and Guinevere standing in an open window holding hands, or cosying down on a rug in front of a roaring fire, while Lancelot stormed across the cliff tops in a jealous rage.

Blimey this place does bring out the romantic. What tosh.

She smiled at the thoughts, ignoring the prosaic part of her mind that told her it was all just legend anyway.

What difference does it make? Real historical figures are only as real as the representations of them, passed down through the centuries. Arthur and his missus are as real as any European king. Probably more so, seeing as we know more about him.

Trying to drag her mind back to her work, she wondered if there were any legendary characters lurking around Conor’s stomping ground that could be used to good effect in her report. It wouldn’t hurt to look like she’d done her homework.

Claire cupped her hands around her mug of coffee and let her mind drift, until the images of Arthur ravishing his queen morphed into Conor’s boyish face; his hair windswept and his green eyes full of love. With a quick shake of her head she dispelled the image.

He wouldn’t spend five minutes in a remote place like this. Not enough people.

She drained the last of her drink and headed back to the car.

***

Ode to Autumn: 2013 365 Challenge #250

Cobwebs

Cobwebs

Ah autumn how I love thee. The season of jeans and jumpers, pyjamas and slippers, hot chocolate and stew with dumplings. Dewy cobwebs and the smell of wood smoke. Misty fields and blackberries in the hedgerows.

It turns out that the 28C heat of yesterday was summer’s swansong: it was 16C today. I had to put a jumper on and close the doors. I was also reminded how much longer the day feels when the children spend most of it indoors. We rushed around for three hours this morning, desperately cleaning before my daughter’s teacher came for the home visit. I swear the house was dirtier within minutes of her leaving than it’s been in weeks.

Time to buy spare wellies and waterproofs so relentless rainy days don’t leave me scuppered (at least until the heating goes back on and boots can be dried over night). Children are easier to manage outdoors.

Meeting Spencer the school bear

Meeting Spencer the school bear

After spring, autumn is my favourite season. The days are just long enough, without the sun nudging in unwanted at 5am. The weather is warm enough for a t-shirt but not so hot I have to shave my legs and find some shorts. In autumn it becomes cool enough to think (I’m like a troll from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels: my brain stops working in the heat) and I don’t hear the children telling people, “Mummy gets grumpy when it’s hot”.

The good stuff starts on TV in the autumn, (Strictly Come Dancing, bring it on!) and the kids’ demands for toys can be fobbed off to Father Christmas. Curling up with a good book becomes an acceptable way to pass the time, without feeling guilty for not making the most of the sun.

I just need to find new ways to wear out my kids and find time to walk the dog before six o’clock, when the fields become treacherous underfoot in the gloom. And, in the interests of fairness to the other seasons, there are some things I don’t like about autumn: mostly they are muddy paws, daddy long legs and extra laundry. But I can live with it, after weeks of sun cream battles, lost hats, dehydration and muggy sleepless nights.

I’ve had an amazing, sticky hot, summer, and the kids have loved it. But all hail autumn; you are most welcome.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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The kayak felt like it was floating in the air rather than resting on the water. Beneath her, the transparent sea concealed nothing of the sandy depths. Claire felt as if she could reach down a hand and touch the bottom, even though the tour guide had told her the water was several feet deep.

Around them, seals swam and bobbed, some coming over to stare at the newcomers or show off their tricks. Claire turned her head left and right, trying to take it all in and feel connected. Her head told her it was breath-taking, beautiful, something to be treasured in her memory forever. Her heart and her body were too concerned with the silent figure in front of her to have time for anything else.

Josh had barely spoken since they’d left the beach. A double kayak wasn’t the place for intimate conversation. Claire realised that it was the perfect way to avoid a confrontation: more so than if he’d been in another craft, where she could have seen his face.

She found herself trying to read his shoulders. Were they tense? Disapproving? Disappointed? Resigned? He seemed to have got the message that she didn’t want a fling, and now the thought that she had wounded him twisted her stomach.

It also seemed that, now she had made her decision, she wanted nothing more than to bury her fingers in his hair and pull him in for a kiss. Claire sighed and reached down for her camera.

I’d better take some pictures so I can at least look back and remember how gorgeous it all was.

She hated the feeling of disconnectedness: of watching the world from inside a bubble. Of knowing she should be moved but feeling nothing.

If this is what obsessing over a bloke does to me, I think I prefer being alone. In fact, I didn’t feel lonely before, when it was just me, with the occasional text from Conor.

Now, even though the man she had loved for months was sitting mere feet in front of her, she felt close to tears.

Life sucks. Why can’t I just have no morals? Then I could have him, and not care about Fiona or the sprogs.

She tried to imagine what that might be like, as Josh dipped his paddle in to steer the kayak after the rest of the group.

When all’s said and done, I’ve only known him for a few weeks. And, now, I’m not sure I knew him at all. The Josh in England wasn’t clingy and needy, sulky and pushy. Or maybe he was and I just didn’t notice.

Claire tried to remember what travelling with him had been like, but her memories were a blur. There had been laughter but, now she thought about it, most of it seemed to be directed at her: at her fear of heights, at her getting drunk and singing in a bar.

And then, of course, when she’d seen him with Fiona and the kids, she’d fallen for the family man, the husband, the life partner. He was none of those things now: he was a potential cheat and a coward.

She shivered at the relentless thoughts. Desperate to get out of the kayak and away from the cause of her disquiet, Claire dug her paddle hard into the water. The kayak rocked sharply and, before she knew what was happening, Claire felt herself submerged in icy water.

There was no time to remember what she’d been told to do. Her only thought was to free her tangled legs and find a way to breathe.

Through the clear water, she saw Josh free himself and turn to see if she was out. He hesitated, as if unsure whether to free her or go for help. He disappeared from view and Claire gasped, losing the last of her air. Panic rose inside her as water filled her mouth and she struggled against the boat, desperate to be free.

A wrenching movement made her swallow water and she felt as if she was drowning. Then she realised she was upright, as her sight cleared and the wind froze her wet skin.

Coughing up water, Claire collapsed forwards over the craft. A hand patted her back hard, and she wanted to ask it to stop, but her lungs didn’t contain any air.

At last she could breathe. Tears streamed down her face and the sobbing made her ribs hurt.

“Christ, Claire, what were you doing?”

Josh’s voice cut harshly through her pain.

“If you wanted me to go, you could have just asked. You didn’t need to drown me.”

Claire looked up, ready to defend herself, and saw the concern in his eyes. He was standing waist deep in the water, his lips blue from the cold. She managed a weak smile, and Josh’s face twisted. He reached for her and pulled her close.

“Don’t do that again. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

And then he, too, began to cry.

***