Review: The Loney by Andrew M Hurley

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In ‘The Loney’ an annual Easter pilgrimage is undertaken by a group of devout Catholics to a shrine in a desolate, seemingly God-forsaken ‘nowhere place’. The pilgrims take lodgings in a decrepit old house that used to be a sanatorium for terminally ill children. Both the house and the area hide unspeakable secrets. So do the local residents.

The pilgrimage is led by a charming and fresh-faced Father Barnard, but the figure of his predecessor, Father Wilfred, is looming over the story, large and intimidating. Father Wilfred died unexpectedly and in inexplicable circumstances shortly before the trip, and as the events unfold, his story is told in parallel and at some point it takes over the spotlight.

The purpose of visiting the shrine is to receive a miracle for Hanny. He is the younger of two brothers and he is mute and apparently retarded. His older brother, Tonto, takes care of him. He is also the narrator of this story. The reader sees things through the eyes of a teenage boy, and grows with him as his understanding of events deepens as the story goes on. The innocent play the boys engage in out in the wild is overshadowed by the eerie discoveries they make and by suspicious characters who barge into the storyline. Alongside Tonto the reader struggles to make sense of the place and the people.

This is a beautifully presented moment in time seen through the eyes of a child, unexplained in logical or linear terms, but one that can be felt, feared and marvelled over. It is about shades of faith of different shapes and sizes, but with a common denominator of the ‘beyond reason and common sense’ mystery. The line between belief and superstition is blurred. Nothing is confirmed, but the sense of alternative reality is all-pervading.

I loved this book for it its non-conventionality, its mystique and its structure which seems to lead nowhere and yet in the end it opens your eyes to see something you are unable to describe in words.

Medicinal value

My teapot and I have suffered minor contusions of late: I’ve been constantly knocked down by bouts of colds and flu, and my teapot’s lid was dropped (by me) and a chunk of it chipped off.

My mother always told me that there was nothing a plaster could not cure, so I plugged the crack in my teapot with a strip of waterproof plaster, and voila it is as good new! See?

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Unfortunately, no amount of plasters could stem my runny nose… Perhaps a bandage? Has anyone tried that remedy?

Ageing disgracefully and with style

I put on the skates, and I am a little girl again: eight or ten at the most. The blades of my skates slice through the ice. I can hear a clank and a swoosh, the wind in my pompom, cheeks burning, cold air in my nostrils, expelled in rapid vapours, forming frosty droplets on my scarf. I’ve lost my gloves – again. My fingers are red numb claws. I perform a pirouette, the spikes of one of my skates are the pivot and I draw a circle with the other foot. The air can’t keep up with me. I halt, let it catch up, and proceed backwards, knees bent slightly, bum defying gravity as I draw curvy patters on the ice. Another twirl, and I launch forward. I used to be able to do this – I lift one leg, an arabesque begins to form, a bit floppy, like a penknife that I can’t quite fully open. But I gather speed – I’m a bird swooping down-

-and down I go.

The spikes on my blade catch on something; I am catapulted – briefly, given just enough time to realise that I’m going face down, crash landing into the unforgiving ice. Just enough time to twist in the air to save my face. Hip first. Knee caught halfway through a protective kick. And then the ribcage slams down.

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Someone asks me if I’m all right. I nod, but I’m lying. Too embarrassed to admit that my vision is blurred and the blood has drained from my brain, leaving me lightheaded and faint. Daughter drags me to a bench. ‘You told me to fall on my bum. Why didn’t you?’

Where was my big, cushioned bum when I needed it…

Today, the day after, I am no longer a little girl of eight or ten at the most. That girl would be back on ice despite those minor bruises. She wouldn’t even remember that fall. She has run away and I am left on my own: an old woman and her swollen knee, her cracked ribcage that hurts with every intake of breath, and a huge purple bruise on her hip. I can’t recall where and when the hip came into it.

Husband offers an anti-inflammatory painkiller and I say no. I refuse to grow old gracefully. Whenever would I take a painkiller after scathing a knee when I was eight! I am not going to start now. I suffer my debilitating aches and pains in dignified reticence.

I will be back to the ice rink next week. Wearing knee pads.

O Come All ye Faithful to Malmesbury Abbey

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On Saturday night, I feasted on music, gorging on the angelic singing of Malmesbury Community Choir, and delighting in the heavenly voices of the Westonbirt Girls’ School Chamber Choir. It was quite a treat and it conjured up Christmas on a count of four!

I tried to join in with some of the singing, alas my sheepish bleating failed to rise to the occasion. God and all His Saints must have been cringing up in Heaven at my tragic rendition of O Come All ye Faithful.

The beautiful Malmesbury Abbey was packed and bursting at the seams, so we had to find a place to sit beside King Athelstan’s tomb, on – as it happened – a very cushy little sofa, left there for the sole purpose of accommodating late arrivals from the far end of the county. We also had an unorthodox view of the goings-on. We were looking at the conductors, observed their animated faces and even more animated bodies.

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Watching a conductor in action is something else! The male conductor’s hands were in constant motion as if he was kneading dough: squeezing and stretching it, massaging it with his fingers, pulling, flicking and leaving it to rise. The lady conductor was like a weaver: picking thin strands of wool and dragging them through the air, then feeding them into the body of the melodic fabric, extracting loose ends on the other side, tying them into small knots and snipping the frayed bits at the end. It was all like some mysterious sign language that only the singers could understand, and respond to with their song.

And then at the end, the conductor put his finger to his lips. Motionless silence.

I sang carols all the way home, just like the fifth little Piggie, to my poor husband’s utter dismay. All stars ran away from the firmament, leaving only one crestfallen Moon and one disoriented Star.

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The importance of being idle

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I am not a natural early riser. My alarm clock and I aren’t the best of friends; more like cats and dogs. Every morning the bloody thing growls at me, digs its teeth into the delicate fabric of my dreams and shakes me awake, my dreams shattered in an instant. I fight back, best as I can. I kick and scratch, I hiss, but I stand no chance. In the end the damned yapping ankle-biter wins. I hate the bastard.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are my Fridays: late-rising days. The yapping ankle-biter is where it belongs – in a dog-house. I sleep. Dreams seep into my slowly unfolding reality. Ideas form in my well-rested brain, come and go, sometimes vanishing without a trace, leaving only a hint of themselves, a niggling something that follows me around like a scent of something I once knew, a long time ago, in my childhood. Books and stories write themselves before my closed eyes, and they are out of this world – unique, one-and-only, unimaginable. If only I could remember them…

I love my late-rising days. Idleness breeds creativity. A well-rested brain busies itself with its own occupations, because let’s face, one is never quite perfectly idle. There is always some activity. Only when we go about our daily routines, imposed on us by the circumstances of our everyday obligations, we lose that subtler, more refine side of us, that side that is so ethereal and so elusive that it evaporates on contact with the hard-biting reality (in my case, my hard-biting alarm clock), like camphor. I so love capturing it on those blessed Friday mornings. It feels like stealing, like catching beautiful butterflies in a net. It is bad and frowned up by our labour-intensive reality, but God, it feels amazing!

I can understand now why great writers need to take the risk of abandoning their day-jobs to be able to write. Writing is a take-it-all occupation, which requires late rising and altogether a form of firm detachment from time and place. It is a risky affair, an affair with impropriety, a costly affair at that! But that is the choice one has to made: forsake one’s financial security to capture those elusive snippets of dreams and stitch them into a grand new story. I bet Jane Austin never had to use an alarm clock. I don’t believe Stephen King does, either.

A remedy for a cold winter night

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Watercolour, ‘Water Villa, Meeru Island, The Maldives’ (c) Steve Wylie

 

Chilled to the bone by the wintry weather, I have no choice but to reach for ‘Swimming with Sharks’ and immerse myself in the sweltering-hot world of a Maldivian island. A gentle touch of heated mystery will go a long way.

I see offers of new paperbacks of ‘Swimming with Sharks’ at a humble £2.74, lower than the kindle price!  For link, click here:   https://www.amazon.co.uk/Swimming-Sharks-Gillian-Marsh-Legat/dp/1783759658/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

What speakers do best

I am a proud owner of the first draft of Wide Angle, a Gilbert and Alice mystery. It is a light-hearted look at crime, something one would call cozy crime, the sort you’re not afraid to take to bed with you at night. Murder happens, naturally, but amidst all that bloodshed there is room for quirks and oddities, eccentricities of the highest order and outright silliness – generally speaking: my life and the people that populate it.

Don’t let any writer tell you that any similarity between the characters in their books and any living (or dead) persons is purely coincidental. No such thing as absolute fiction!

To give you an example of the kind of real life incidents you may find yourself cosied up to in bed when reading one of my books:

Yesterday, I asked Daughter to carry a pair of heavy speakers to Husband’s study. My back, you see, is shot due to a spot of aeroball. She obliged (grudgingly) and placed the speakers oddly in the doorway, kind of facing each other, like so:

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I was intrigued and confused by that awkward positioning, but you see, I shouldn’t be at all, because the speakers were doing what speakers do best – they were speaking to each other!

You can see it, can’t you?

 

Clueless in Honolulu – Virginia King

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A big welcome to Virginia King, author of  The First Lie! She is dissecting the process of writing a mystery that has the capacity of taking the reader by surprise. How is it done? Over to you, Virginia…

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How does a mystery writer create the unpredictability needed for a mystery to be ‘mysterious’? Experienced reviewers often comment that after you’ve read a few mysteries and thrillers they can start to feel formulaic. Why?

The Limits of Plotting

Here’s the blurb for a writing workshop on plotting:

Time spent planning a story before sitting down to write can prevent a laboured or stalled work. Lack of planning can result in flawed plots, stereotyped characters, clichéd dialogue and derivative style.

Sounds good in theory but exactly the opposite is true for me. In my experience a blue-print is too static. It kills the freshness of an evolving story, especially a mystery. And a character profile is like a straightjacket. Goodbye unpredictability. Any ideas I have at the beginning need to evolve in unexpected ways with the writing, not limit what happens by being set in place at the start.

When prize-winning author Kate Grenville created an outline of her first novel, she wrote later: “A weariness came over me at the thought of fleshing this out. I closed the exercise book and put it away. I never wrote in it again.” Then she says about her process: “I’d … write without a plan, following thoughts and images into the unknown … The criterion was energy.”

The Energy of ‘Clueless’

I approached my psychological mystery The First Lie with no idea what was around each corner. The resulting mystery contains layers I could never have plotted. If the writer is on the edge of their seat wondering what the hell is going to happen next and why, then so is the reader.

Without a plan in mind, I dropped my main character Selkie Moon into Honolulu because the story hadn’t been working when it was set in Sydney. What felt like a ‘crisis of place’ flipped into something edgy and unpredictable. If I’d stuck with a story plotted in Sydney I would have laboured away at a location that lacked spark. The move to Hawaii was exhilarating – and terrifying – for me and for Selkie.

Here are some examples of how Honolulu inspired a ‘clueless’ approach to The First Lie:

The role of the stranger

Selkie is all alone, a malihini (newcomer) in town, bringing an edge to her relationships and experiences. When a voice in a dream says, Someone is trying kill you, she’s forced to investigate what it’s got to do with her. A new friend tells her that in fairy tales it’s the newcomer who heralds the truth. This message becomes the theme of the book.

A cauldron of cultures

The Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, American, English, Irish and many other cultures who inhabit Hawaii create opportunities for quirky characters. How about a kahuna who lives in the bus shelter, available for roadside prognostications? She only speaks Hawaiian or pidgin (tricky for me as a non-speaker) so she’s an oracle who gives one-word pronouncements: Pilikia, she warns Selkie. Trouble.

A smorgasbord of mythology

You can’t wander around Hawaii without falling over an old graveyard full of ghosts, or a visionary mirror, or a cursed lava rock, or a character from folklore such as Pele the volcano goddess, who might hitch a ride with you on a dark lonely road. These mythical motifs created layers of clues for the ‘clueless’ author.

One Way to Go ‘Clueless’

My process is to write a scene, letting it create itself and following up any thoughts that pop into my head with research. Then I allow my subconscious to explore everything (usually while I’m asleep).  Most mornings I’m scribbling my overnight thoughts – connections I didn’t know were there, snippets of dialogue that give me new insights into characters, tangents and twists that might work, links to experiences I’ve had or things I’ve read or overheard. Then I weave these ideas into yesterday’s scene. I don’t control the story, but I use my judgement to shape and cut it when I’m redrafting.

Now I’m writing Book Three in this way. Selkie is drawn to an Irish mystery dating back to the 1890s, so I’m ‘clueless’ in County Kerry!

The First Lie is a winner of a B.R.A.G. Medallion.

The First Lie ebook 300 KBThe First Lie by Virginia King

Description

Someone is trying to kill you.

When Selkie Moon flees Sydney to start over in Hawaii, it’s to live life on her own terms. But Life has other plans.

Though she tries to dismiss the warning as just another nightmare, it soon becomes apparent that someone, or something, is stalking her. Attacked by frightening visions and mysterious compulsions, she must piece together the fragmented clues before time runs out.

Virginia King effortlessly blends funky creativity and deep spirituality – with a dash of Celtic folklore – to craft a story of one woman’s fight for truth, and her discovery that the lies we tell ourselves are the most dangerous of all.

You can read more about Virginia’s ‘clueless’ writing process in her recent interview about her first draft on Rebecca Bradley’s blog: https://rebeccabradleycrime.com/2016/05/20/whats-your-first-draft-like-virginia-king/

A Free Ghost StoryGhost

This is how I wrote Laying Ghosts, a 24-page standalone haunted house story tangled up in a Russian folktale and a murder ballad dating back to the 1700s. It’s also the prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery Series and explains to the reader (and the author!) just why Selkie suddenly took off to Hawaii. Download your free copy http://www.selkiemoon.com/#popup