Remember Me The Bees – On The Ledge

On The Ledge by Louise BoulterThe 13th story in my debut collection Remember Me To the Bees is one of my stranger ones. It’s called On The Ledge.

It began to form in my mind the day I walked down a particularly unpleasant, narrow pavement to the office I then worked at, and passed the body of a pigeon.

I walked past it day after day, and found it really disconcerting. What could have happened to it? And, more bizarre, why was nothing feasting on its remains? An odd preoccupation, for sure, but when I raised it in polite company, someone suggested it must have been poisoned, by rat poison, most likely, and other animals could sense the toxins in its systems.

My imagination took hold.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from On The Ledge

The next morning, I saw something ahead of me on the road that resembled a discarded glove. It was a sunny warm day, so this seemed unlikely, and as I neared the slumped grey shape I realised it was the body of a pigeon. Poor thing seemed asleep, nestled into the narrow shade cast by a lamppost, but its head had fallen back, revealing the vulnerable feathered throat, and I knew it was dead.

The next day it was still there, untouched by the beetles or spiders or flies who skittered along that stretch of road. The whole thing struck me as rather odd and I mentioned it to Old Dave, who nodded wisely.

“That’ll be the rat poison,” he commented. “Oh, well, they’re vermin and all, just with wings, eh? And plenty more where that came from.”

The following day, as I walked towards the train station, the poor creature was still lying there, wings tucked in neatly, chest feathers ruffled fetchingly by the breeze. Glancing around at the empty road, I picked up the corpse with both hands and slipped it into my handbag.

All the way home, I thought about the dead animal I was carrying along with my glasses’ case and mobile phone, and imagined how horrified my fellow commuters would be if they only knew. The thought made me smile to myself and as we passed briefly through the small tunnel that opens out into south Bristol, I saw myself reflected in the window, grinning like crazy person.

Pigeons cr Judy Darley

Remember Me The Bees – Chrysalis

Chrysalis by Louise BoulterThe 12th story in my debut collection Remember Me To the Bees is one of the shortest tales in the collection, Chrysalis.

Just occasionally a story reaches me in the form of an image, which is exactly how this tale arrived. It began with the idea of a child taking the smallest painted doll from a set of matryoshka dolls and placing it in a nutcracker, in the hope of finding something magical hidden inside.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter. I love the way the doll’s eyes look like two little birds with wonderful tails.

A short excerpt from Chrysalis

Ella likes to line the dolls up and place them one after another on her grandma’s kitchen countertop. That way, if she lies her cheek against the cold surface, she can pretend she’s in a forest of painted dolls. They stretch all the way to the horizon, as colourful as tropical flowers or birds, casting shadows taller than giants. The smallest, the un-openable doll, catches the sunlight and blazes like a birthday candle. If Ella tries very hard she can make it lift into the air – fuelled by sunshine and her imagination – and zoom around the ceiling.

Matryoshka dolls, that’s what her grandma told her they were called, and Ella repeats the unfamiliar word to herself like a magic spell: matryoshka, matryoshka. As she says it, she feels like she’s making something happen. Granddad used to get her to repeat strange words like that to help him do his conjuring tricks. “Repeat after me,” he’d say. “Verucca, pertrucca, kertrucca.” And then he’d open his hands and the coin would be gone, or would have appeared, glowing against his greyish wrinkled palm like a solid spot of sun. She had a feeling he made up some of the words, but she didn’t know all the words yet, so she couldn’t be certain.

These days he doesn’t do magic tricks any more. Doesn’t do anything much. He just sits in his chair in the corner of the living room making strange noises now and again that make Ella jump, sort of harrumphing sounds with a wet, sticky finish. Ella cringes when she hears them, but Grandma just murmurs: “Oh dear” and goes over and wipes his chin.

Sometimes, when he opens his pale blue eyes and seems to be watching her, Ella will kneel down beside him and whisper, “matryoshka, matryoshka”, and close his fingers around the smallest doll, just for a moment. Sometimes when she does this, his lips twitch like he’s about to smile.

Matryoshka doll in nutcracker cr Judy Darley

Remember Me To The Bees – the book launch!

The Birdcage cr Judy DarleyToday is the day of the Remember Me To The Bees book launch – the party I’ve been banging on about for, well, it feels like months!

It’s all taking place at vey cool and quirky venue The Birdcage, one of my absolute favourite spots for drinking coffee, browsing vintage clothes, discovering new acts, and hours of people-watching.

Everything kicks off at 7pm tonight. You’ll have a chance to meet the lovely and very talented Louise Boulter, who created all the artwork for Remember Me To The Bees, including the gorgeous cover.

Louise Boulter, artistThe Birdcage is hosting an exhibition of Louise’s artwork for one night only, so make sure you take a look. Actually, I don’t think you’ll be able to miss it! In case you were wondering, the pic above was taken at the Birdcage…

I’ll be doing a few, very brief readings at around 8pm, and then special guest Rabbit City will be taking to the stage for some tunes.

Rabbit City

Oh, and you’ll be able to buy the book, which I promise I will sign for you. But more importantly, this should be a chance to have a drink, have a chat, enjoy some live music and original art, and have yourself a very splendid time.

The book has already been getting some great reviews – Ali Bacon posted a lovely one here and interviewed me here, and The Bristol Magazine have chosen Remember Me To The Bees as their book of the month for April – amazing! Ooh, and I got interviewed in the Bristol Post’s Weekend magazine, as well as the Wild Culture website, who also published one of the stories from the collection, Stalagmite. Feeling like a bit of a celeb!

Dress code for tonight is whatever you fancy turning up in, but be warned, photographer Pete Gettins will be ready to take photos of anyone who catches his eye…

Hope to see you tonight 🙂

The Birdcage parrot cr Judy Darley

Very special star guest – the Birdcage parrot

Remember Me The Bees – Girls in Windows

Girls in Windows cr Louise BoulterHard to believe that the official launch of my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is this coming Monday. Don’t forget, you’re invited to the party!

The eleventh story in the collection is Girls in Windows.

For four unseasonably hot and very happy days in October 2011 my hubla and I visited Amsterdam for a travel piece I was writing for easyJet. We had a wonderful time in this city of extremes, and several of the sights and experiences stamped themselves indelibly on my consciousness, providing the backdrop of this story, which I wrote for and had published in Litro magazine’s Dutch edition. Now all I needed was a plot, which came in the form of a young man apparently stalking the protagonist and knowing her to the core. But how?

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Girls in Windows

In the park we ambled along the paths, pausing to hear the skin-shivering strains of a violin echoing beneath a bridge. You grasped my hand, ejecting me abruptly from my reverie. Forcing me to conceal my annoyance, tell myself you’d meant it to be romantic, had meant well.

Deeper into the park, we walked through a fragrant avenue of hedges starred with white flowers where bees stumbled in drunken bliss. “What a wonderful smell!” I exclaimed. “It reminds me of something…”

As always, you were ready with an answer, sniffing hard then declaring: “Honey.”

I breathed in, catching a note of something richer, almost buttery. Honey wasn’t right – it was caramel that caught in my throat. Despite everything, I wanted to be kind to you on our anniversary, so I just smiled.

We reached a lake besides which bikes lounged in the grass like heat-hungry metallic lizards. Small birds shot overhead from tree to tree, silhouetted against the brightness, flickers of colour showing through.

“Parrots?” I asked disbelievingly. You thumbed through the guidebook, finding no answer between its pages.

Our meandering took us back to the bridge, but the violinist had gone, replaced by a group of kids in their late teens, early twenties; bearing handwritten signs offering free hugs. The sight intrigued me, drew me to them, but you pulled me closer to yourself, proclaiming: “We have all the free hugs we need!”

I forced a laugh, pulled away, and the boy must have seen his chance. His warmth enveloped me, along with a faint smell of perspiration that wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

Vondel Park cr Judy Darley

 

 

Remember Me The Bees – The Scent of Summer

The Scent of Summer cr Louise BoulterThe tenth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is The Scent of Summer. This tale began life in a short story workshop, when we were each presented with a postcard and invited to write a story about it.

Mine showed a family of four standing awkwardly in a back garden. They looked so very ill-at-ease it made me wonder whose garden it was, and why they were there. This made me think about how one misfortune can lead to another, and the strains this can put on an family. As the character of the younger daughter, Jo, grew in my mind, I knew I wanted to give her the mission of bringing the family back together.

An earlier version of the story was highly commended by the Frome Festival Short Story Competition committee. The version of the tale in Remember Me To the Bees resulted in me being invited to read it out at the Penzance Literary Festival 2013 – a fabulous experience!

The artwork is by Louise Boulter. If you read to the end of the story, you’ll understand why I chose to post the photo of poppies too.

A short excerpt from The Scent of Summer

Dad had been a postie for as long as I could remember, rising early each weekday to walk to the sorting office and collect his load. I’d go with him sometimes, strolling through the streets of south Bristol and listening to him greeting everyone he saw.

But a week after we moved in with Aunt Maura he got himself fired for stealing letters. It felt like a big mystery, big enough to hold the answers to all our troubles.

Dad’s bosses at the Royal Mail thought he was trying to rob money, taking the fat envelopes that might contain cash, but I couldn’t believe that. I found a few tucked into his jacket pocket, reeking of patchouli oil, and while he and Mum edged around each other in frosty silence I carried one away with me. Later, I slid the sheet of paper out of its envelope, inhaling the exotic fragrance.

“Kath, what does it say?”

“Where did you get this?”

“It was in the bin,” I lied. “Will you read it to me?”

“It’s a love note,” she said, surprised, then read aloud: “My angel, you keep my world in orbit. Yeurgh! Oh god, this could be one of the letters Dad nicked. Don’t tell Mum – they have enough problems right now.”

I remembered how Dad woke us at sunrise on his and Mum’s anniversary last year and dragged us down to the lawn outside our old house. Dad had rescued Mum’s bridal veil from the attic and she wore it with her nightdress – Kath said she looked like an angel in white glimmering against the shadowy garden.

Poppies cr Judy Darley

Remember Me The Bees – Broken Circle

Broken Circle by Louise BoulterThe ninth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is Broken Circle. The idea for the story began with me thinking about the way our various selves overlap. If you’re not sure what I mean, just think about how it feels when you return to your childhood home or spend time with a sibling – don’t you feel your childhood self bubbling up beneath your adult shell?

I wanted to examine the way all these different, often contradictory, versions of our selves drift in and out of each other, and how these can conflict with the self we’re busily trying to portray to the world. As a diabetic I also wanted to look at how low blood sugar levels plays with perception, so that reality ebbs and flows in much the same way.

Presenting all this within the heady, surreal environment of a fairground visited by the main character Bex and her niece Kayleigh seemed utterly ideal for emphasising the transience of each of the states experienced by Bex, while introducing a note of peril.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Broken Circle

The playing fields throb with screams and laughter, growing louder as we near the blur of the chair-o-planes and glittering waltzers. I gaze at the teenagers kissing, running, cavorting all over the carnival, and feel a faint, deep-buried churn of envy. I used to have that exuberance, didn’t I? Before I got so old. I hear Mum’s tut in my ear: If you’re old what does that make me? But I’m roughly the age now that she was when she died, closer to my forties than my teens.

Kayleigh tugs on my hand, Mum’s old handbag hanging heavy from her shoulder. She looks very small suddenly with her stick-insect limbs and pale cap of blonde hair.

I kneel beside her on the yellowing grass. “If you don’t want to go on the rides we can just watch, Kayls. What do you reckon?”

She shrugs, faking nonchalance, and lets me lead her into the throng, past the swooping turns and spinning lights of the scarier rides to the relative calm of the Big Wheel. “How are you with heights?”

“Not scared if you’re not.” She grins at me and clambers into the seat. The metal bar swings across us, pinning me down but barely touching Kayleigh.

“Hold on tight,” I shriek as we begin to move and I envision Kayleigh sliding out into the popcorn-scented air. I remember being on a similar wheel twenty years or more ago, sitting beside my little sister Melinda and waving at Mum, tiny below us. It seems like yesterday. Part of me wishes I could go back to that time.

As we rise upwards, telltale lights spark at the corners of my eyes and the world turns concave, then convex against the lens of my eye; slippery as oil.

Kayleigh’s chattering about everything she sees, and I try to pay attention, but the air is big and fat around us, and I want to eat it, eat something. I’m eight years old with Melinda beside me, her blonde hair gleaming in the sunlight like spun caramel. That’s what I need – something sugary. My bag is at my feet, emergency jellybabies far out of reach. “Mel…” I say imploringly. “Mel, I need…”

“You called me Mel!” Kayleigh giggles.

“Did I?” I pant, pinching the skin on the back of my hand, trying to regain a sense of myself.

Spanish fairground cr Judy Darley

Remember Me The Bees – Stalagmite

Stalagmite cr Louise BoulterThe eighth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is Stalagmite. This atmospheric artwork by Louise Boulter is one of my favourites in the collection.

The initial prompt for this tale was reading some myths connected with the Scottish island of Jura, where it was once an honour for young girls to have their hair selected to be used as ropes for the fishing boats. Mixing that in with a hint of sacrifice, I thought about how a modern day family might be damaged if the father became so obsessed by the myths that he grew to believe them. Oh, and I added a dragon for good measure.

At the heart of my story, however, is the idea of reconcilliation – how might it feel to reconnect with your father after twenty years apart?

A short excerpt from Stalagmite

“What would you like to do first?” Dad asks as he takes me to a battered Morris Minor and swings my case into a trunk strewn with shells, rocks and battered tin cans. “Are you hungry? Tired?”

“Neither,” I say. “Can we dump my stuff at the house then go for a hike into the hills? The old trail?” I’m desperate to see the island – I have an uneasy feeling I’ve romanticised it beyond all recognition.

“The Wolf Walk,” he says softly, eyes flashing with surprise. “You remember that? All right, let’s do it. But first you should know that after you and your mother… I rather downsized.” Downsized turns out to mean a small rusting caravan that lists slightly to one side on a strip of balding, cow-trampled ground.

“It’s not much, but it’s home.” He leads me inside, swinging my bag onto a narrow kitchen table. A sleepy bumblebee fusses in the thin curtains – out from hibernation a touch too early. Dad unlatches a window, ushers it outside, watches it disappear into the sky.

“Is there a bedroom?” I wonder what I’ll do if he says no. Insist on staying at the island’s one hotel? Mum had wanted me to do that anyway, her doe-eyes dilated with concern as she watched me pack.

“Of course there is, silly!” Suddenly he resembles the dad I’d known, laughter rushing out of his mouth in a howl. I grin, simultaneously unnerved and reassured. “You can have it. I’ll sleep in here.”

“On the table?”

“It turns into a bed. Have you never stayed in a caravan before?”

I try to think back, but our family holidays are snarled up amongst his retellings of the island myths. Did we stay in a cave at some point? It seems unlikely, but not impossible. “If we take the long route into the hills we won’t be back by nightfall anyway,” he says. “How do you feel about camping out? I have a couple of sleeping bags.”

A couple? I look at him and he shrugs. “I always hoped, you know, that you…”

He opens a cupboard, drags out two neatly parcelled Four Season bags. I inhale their faint mustiness but stop myself commenting on it. He’s been waiting for this far longer than I’d realised.

Trees and fog cr Judy Darley

Remember Me The Bees – Button Maker

Button Maker cr Louise BoulterOh my goodness, can you believe that it’s barely a month till the launch of my short story collection Remember Me To The Bees? Monday 31st March  – put it in your diary – you’re invited!

The seventh story in my  collection is Button Maker, a bittersweet tale of a fleeting romance.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

I wrote this short story after interviewing a woman who made buttons for a living – her craft really intrigued me and made me think of that moment in small talk at parties when someone asks what you do. Wouldn’t it be fab to say something as unusual as button maker? Once I imagined that beginning, the rest fell into place, with the created character become as elusive and alluring as the idea of her profession.

A short excerpt from Button Maker

She comes to a halt over something shining on the pebbles – large and flattish. It gives off a faint stink like earwax and cod liver oil and vomit. The sky-facing eye has been pecked away, consumed.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” She’s nudging at the fish corpse with a twig. Part of me recoils. What if she asks me to help her carry it back up the cliff, through the forest?

“Fish scales, they’d make pretty buttons, wouldn’t they?”

“What about the smell?”

She pauses, like she hasn’t noticed it till now, then wrinkles her nose, shakes her head. “I’ll remember what they look like, make some from silver. And a series of little dead fish buttons, cavities where the eyes should be! People will buy them thinking they’re cute and never even realise the truth of what they’re wearing.”

She drops the twig, turns and hugs me, whispers hot and loud in my ear: “If it wasn’t for the pebbles I’d like to fuck you on this beach. Right now.”

I hold her close but can’t help shivering at the thought of baring my skin to the elements. The heat of passion is locked away deep inside me, far from the wind that is sawing away at my face. In the city it never gets this cold. The buildings give off heat like I imagine stabled cattle do.

I bury my face in her hair, inhale the green apple smell of her. “Can we go back to your house?” I ask, thinking of her room full of buttons, the warm, blanket-laden bed where we cocooned ourselves till daybreak.

Cornish beach cr Judy Darley

Remember Me The Bees – Rabbit Hunt

Rabbit Hunt cr Louise BoulterThe sixth story in my short story collection Remember Me To The Bees is Rabbit Hunt, which tells the tale of schoolyard bullying, from the bully’s point of view.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

I originally wrote these scenes as part of a novel, but lifted them out to create this short story. I often find that doing this – taking scenes from a novel-in-progress and revising them to suit the short story form – tightens and strengthens them, ready to be reinserted into the longer storytelling form.

In this story, I wanted to explore the feelings of the bully faced with a new potential victim, in this case a progressive mute, and how the bully’s emotions might become confused through their interaction.

A short excerpt from Rabbit Hunt

Sue and Abi loiter nearby – ready to grab Rabbit if she tries to break away.

“Why d’you do that, Rabbit?” Letty asks, trying to sound reasonable. “Why get us in trouble like that? Didn’t I try to be your mate? Why turn on me when all I’ve been is nice?”

Letty widens her eyes reproachfully and the girl shrugs her shoulders ever so slightly. The movement shifts Letty’s palm from her arm and Letty scowls, slapping both hands onto her shoulders and knocking her backwards against the trunk of an old oak.

“Why couldn’t you just take the blame for us?” she snarls, fury crackling through her. “What harm would that have done? Worst you’d have had is a telling off. Me, I’ve got a letter for my mum that’s going to ruin her week, and Sue and Abi have the same. What’d you rat on us for? We’re in deep shit, and all because you weren’t mate enough to take the blame.”

“Smack her one, Letty,” Abi says, edging closer. “Whack her in the face and give her a nosebleed. It’s not like she’s going to tell on us, is it?”“I could do that.” Letty narrows her eyes in a way that she hopes makes the rabbit feel like she’s being sized up by a hungry cat. “Or I could do something a bit more lasting.”

She lets go of one of Rabbit’s shoulders and takes a cheap lighter from her pocket. Still eyeing the girl, she fingers the lighter, stroking her thumb over the red plastic and trying to look menacing.

Abi nods eagerly. “Oh, yes! We haven’t done a branding in ages!”
That does the trick. The girl gasps for air, body twitching as fear spikes through her.

Cornish rabbits cr Judy Darley

Remember Me The Bees – Condensation

Condensation cr Louise BoulterThe fifth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is Condensation. The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

This story went through a variety of versions before it appeared in this form. I knew I wanted to write about the influences of the past on the present and how you might attempt to reconcile the two, and I knew I needed letting go to be a big part of that. So it seemed natural to give the main character, Yolanda, a beloved mother who was dying from cancer, and a young daughter who had grown up in a different culture to her own.

A short excerpt from Condensation

Their first months in the village had been hard. Beatriz insisted they speak only English at home, to help them along, but there was far more to learn than the words. Yolanda found herself picking the vocabulary up faster than her mother, as well as learning new ways to behave, to dress, to eat. Even years after their relocation, when Yolanda had shed almost every trace of her Mexican identity, Beatriz continued to seem foreign, different.

When her mother came back from the village grocery shop, having failed in her search for fresh avocados, Yolanda’s teenage self cringed as Beatriz complained in her thick Mexican accent about the woman behind the cash register. “She was so condensation to me!” Beatriz exclaimed.

“Condescending, Ma, not condensation!” Yolanda shrunk into herself with embarrassment.

Now, Yolanda’s own daughter, deliberately named Ellen rather than Elena, had begun asking questions about her heritage. Yolanda was reluctant to talk about the country they’d left behind. At just the thought of it alarming sensations stabbed through her – desire, trepidation, and bitter, brutal heartbreak. She would swiftly change the subject, avoiding Ellen’s questioning gaze, and bury the emotions as deeply as the animal bones in the garden.