“I was a huge bookworm as a kid, and you could usually find me reading something with a dragon on its cover.” – Julie Kagawa.
Talon (Book #1)
“To take her rightful place in the Talon organization, young dragon Ember Hill must prove she can hide her true nature and blend in with humans. Her delight at the prospect of a summer of ‘normal’ teen experiences is short-lived, however, once she discovers that she’s also expected to train for her destined career in Talon. But a chance meeting with a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught.
“As Ember struggles to accept her future, St. George soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian is tasked with hunting her down. But when faced with Ember’s bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garret begins to question everything the Order has ingrained in him — and what he might be willing to give up to uncover the truth about dragons.”
While Thursday Next lives in a parallel universe, The Last Dragonslayer is set in a world of myths, illusions and modern magic.
Orphan Jennifer Strange, a practical teenager, runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management with eccentric magicians who create irregular spells. But magic and dragons are losing power and Jennifer discovers evil King Snodd IV wants to grab the Dragonlands, 350 acres of prime real estate. Jennifer dislikes the King’s greed and so does the last Dragonslayer, an old wizard named Brian who controls dragons with an ancient sword.
Helped by her cool friend Tiger Prawns, and a metal-munching Quarkbeast with frighteningly sharp teeth, Jennifer rallies to protect the Dragonlands. Meanwhile, wizard Brian is hatching a secret plan. Jennifer doesn’t realise she is part of that plan.
This is the first book in Last Dragonslayer/Kazam Chronicles by Jasper Fforde and I loved reading their vital quest. Suitable for 12 years and up, the second and third books are The Song Of The Quarkbeast and The Eye Of Zoltar. There will be a fourth book in the series but at this stage only working titles have been released; possibly Humans vs Trolls or The Strange And The Wizard or The Great Troll War. Guess we’ll just have to wait for the next quirky edition!
My short story mentions a rural event known as a show.
Alternate names can be exhibition, county fair or agfest.
Looks of disbelief washed across the children’s faces. Robbo’s face shone with a self-satisfied smile. Next to his work boots lay Dugger, his Labrador dog, who raised an eyelid then went back to sleep.
A snort came from school teacher, Miss Evelyn, and all eyes turned to her as she gathered up her patchwork squares.
“What a lot of nonsense,” she said as she stuffed sewing material into her carrybag. “Brookfield Show eve and you’re going to fill their heads with fantasy.”
One of the younger children put his hand up.
“Did it really happened, Robbo?”
Robbo said “Yes” at the same time Evelyn snapped “No” and the young boy retracted his hand in disappointment.
“Can you prove it?” asked Angela, an older girl with jet black hair and thoughtful eyes. She was one of many third generation Brookfield students whom Miss Evelyn had known from babyhood.
“Hmm,” Robbo said thoughtfully. If he had a beard, he would have stroked it in contemplation. “I reckon I can try.”
Robbo was a well-known local figure, a carpenter by trade who could turn his hand to any odd job around the residences in the area. He and Dugger were a volunteer Story Dog team at the local school.
Today they had veered off topic and instead of the slow readers reading, Robbo had tantalised them with an opening salvo to his tale.
“Start from the beginning,” Miss Evelyn sniffed “so we can get into the right mood.”
The children chuckled nervously and settled themselves back on the kindergarten cushions. Some of the older boys had objected to being in the kindy room but the seating arrangements were more comfortable than their classroom, currently overflowing with paintings and craft waiting transfer to the Show pavilions.
Miss Evelyn settled herself down again like a kookaburra shuffling her feathers. A couple of the young ones inched closer to her, hoping for motherly support should the need arise.
“Okay,” Robbo rubbed his hands together. “Here goes!” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. A security thumb or two was popped in, soft toys were hugged and someone let off a smell.
“It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, in fact, it wasn’t dark but there was a rain cloud,” began Robbo, lowering his voice, “and two small brown wallabies grazing in a paddock near the Showgrounds.” His eyes roved the attentive audience. “A large crow was sitting high in a nearby gumtree when––” Robbo clapped his hands and everyone jumped. “A bolt of lightning struck the gumtree and the crow flew away. The lightning had ignited the tree and fire was crackling fiercely through it branches before someone in the general store rang the fire brigade.”
Everyone wriggled then settled again, eyes just that bit wider. “The flames had reached the ground and were burning towards the Brookfield Showgrounds at a furious pace.” Robbo looked around. “Where are those two wallabies?”
A hand shot up and the timid voice of Frederick of the smells said “They ran away to safety.”
Robbo shook his head. “No, they were still there. And you know what?” He raised his calloused hands high in the air above his head. “They had turned into giant wallabies.” Then, for extra emphasis, he stood up and reached for the ceiling. His fingers almost dislodged a butterfly mobile but it added to the atmosphere as they fluttered wildly around his uncombed hair.
“These were energised wallabies, they had super powers and were big enough to roll the Ferris wheel away.”
The group froze; Frederick crouched ready to run.
An older boy scoffed “Yeah, but what can they do about the fire?”
Nodding heads inspired him to add “Maybe the crow flew to get help?”
Robbo pulled a face and told them the crow was another story. Sitting down, he attempted a sage storyteller voice.
“They bounded over a fence to Moggill Creek and began drinking lots and lots of water. It tasted a bit like dirt and leaves and stuff but they guzzled until they were full. It was difficult for them to walk so they sort of rolled back towards the outer fence. It flattened and they put themselves right in the path of the oncoming blaze. With puffed cheeks and one big blast like a wall of creek water, they hosed over the flames until they went out.” He cleared his throat. “Of course, the smoke made them cough and they had to wipe their eyes but all in all they didn’t even get their fur singed.”
“What happened next,” shouted two girls in unison, grabbing each other’s hands. “Did they get a medal? Or a free pass to the Show?”
Miss Evelyn pursed her lips and shushed them.
Robbo’s expression sobered. “Not that simple, I’m afraid.”
Dugger shifted position on the floor and put his bony jaw on his paws, the seams of his orange vest creaking beneath him.
“The two giant wallabies heard a sound,” continued Robbo, “and turned to see that stray sparks had ignited inside the main Showground and were crackling and spitting across the dry leaves, past the arena, towards the agricultural buildings and meeting hall. Oh no, historical buildings.”
Nobody saw Miss Evelyn trying to swallow a laugh and regain her composure.
“Surely the local fire brigade would have arrived by now?” she said.
“Their siren could be heard in the distance,” said Robbo, “and the general store had put up makeshift road blocks to stop traffic. The store owner was hosing down the store and the giant wallabies knew if they were seen by him, their cover would be blown. After one mighty spurt of water, they shrunk and hopped off into the distance, far away, up towards Mount Elphinstone. There is a cave high on Mount Elphinstone where, legend has it, two wallabies sit and keep watch over the dry land.”
Robbo surveyed his listeners. “The paint had been blistered off some buildings, and a palm tree was sooty but it survived and a quick paint job fixed the rest.”
“Phew, that’s a relief,” said one of Angela’s younger siblings and everyone laughed. Apparently they shared similar thoughts – the cake pavilion housing their entries sitting under cling wrap on paper plates. “And sideshow alley,” thought Miss Evelyn.
“However,” Robbo spoke at full volume, causing several children to squeak, “whenever there is lightening in Brookfield, or a barbecue out of control, you are wise to stay away from the flames because the giant wallabies will activate.”
“But,” said Frederick gravely, “they are our friends and they would protect us.”
“True, true.” Robbo was momentarily fazed. Even asleep, Dugger thumped his tail in encouragement. Robbo rallied “Just don’t get in the way of giant wallabies at work. Like flood waters, giant wallabies could unleash a wave of water which would wash you off your feet and into Moggill Creek.”
Miss Evelyn puckered her brow. “Robbo, please. No more scary stories.”
Robbo avoided her gaze, patting Dugger and adjusting his leather collar.
“Show’s over, kids.”
Determinedly, single-minded Angela spoke up. “You said you had proof.”
Judging by the looks Miss Evelyn saw on the younger faces, caps nervously twisted between little fingers, they did not want proof.
“Sure,” replied Robbo with an airy wave of his hand. “If you go into the pony club grounds near the Brookfield Cemetery, you’ll spy a bleached eucalyptus tree trunk. That’s the one which got struck by lightning.”
“Also,” piped a helpful voice from the sidelines, “I’ve seen wallabies.”
The collective chatter was enough to wake Dugger. He got to his paws, shook his furry head and looked around. He let out a sharp bark and ran to the open door. With a slight pause to sniff the air, he bounded out of the room.
The space Dugger left seemed suspended, a motionless void.
“Wallabies,” whispered Frederick.
The electronic school bell sounded, breaking the spell.
“Lunch time, children.” Miss Evelyn rose and smoothed her tartan skirt. “After lunch we have choir rehearsal for the opening ceremony.”
As the children helped stack cushions in the corner, Miss Evelyn turned to Robbo.
“Was Dugger motivated by the aroma of tuckshop pies or something bigger?”
Robbo shrugged. “That dog has a great sense of theatre.”
She wagged her finger. “Giant wallabies or not, the Show must go on.”
AUTHOR NOTE: This short story is dedicated with love and respect to Kookaburra Kat of KR, a long-time friend who supports and encourages my literary endeavours and is a passionate wildlife warrior, nurturing and caring for all creatures. GBW.
Excited beyond belief when I found out Jasper Fforde, my all-time favourite post-modern author, has some cool events coming up! Including another book. And the eponymous Fforde Ffiesta rolls around again next year.
If any reader attended a US event, or may be attending a future UK event, I’m jealous but hoping I will read your WordPress review. Of course, I will be writing about Jasper Fforde’s Brisbane Writers Festival 2019 special guest appearances in September! See itinerary below—
Photos by Mari Fforde (hover to see date) Information from Jasper Fforde website (see below)
Feb 21st-22nd, Casper, Wyoming:
Wyoming Humanities Festival 2018
Book signing and lectures. I’ve never been to Wyoming, and the frightfully pleasant people at Casper have been asking me for a while. Talk and Book Signing Courtesy of Windy City Books, and a lecture plus Q&A the following day. Full details at the Humanities Festival website.
1-2nd March 2018, Cardiff Library:
Crime & Coffee Festival, Cardiff
First Crime and Coffee Festival at Cardiff Library. More details to follow, but I am assured the coffee is the crime, and there will be no actual murders of crimes taking place. Either days, or both, details to follow. Cardiff Library Website.
24th May-3rd June 2018
Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Wales:
“May or may not be attending this year––One of the UK’s most imaginative and entertaining authors creates hilarious, often absurd but always compelling adventures within bizarre and zany worlds. Jasper Fforde’s hugely popular The Last Dragonslayer series is packed with trademark magic and invention.”
Information brochure Hay Festival, Wales.
Gretchen’s book review The Last Dragonslayer.
Launch of Early Riser in the UK:
About bloody time too, say I. Likely 1st to 12th August. More details to follow.
August 13th – 18th, 2018, Wales:
Ty Newydd writing retreat, Wales
With Belinda Bauer, the course is called: Crime Fiction: A Twist in the Tale and from their website: “This course is designed for those who would like to write best-selling crime fiction – with a twist. Whether you’re writing your first novel, are switching from another genre, or have only dreamed of being a published author, we hope you’ll enjoy this down-to-earth, fun, and practical course. In workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions, we will be sharing our tried and tested methods of creating character, plot and tension, while helping you to avoid some common pitfalls. We’ll offer advice on a range of issues, from writer’s block and the art of pitching, to how to cope with bad reviews!”
For more details, please mouse you way to the Ty Newydd Website.
25th-26th May 2019, Swindon, UK:
Fforde Ffiesta VIII, Swindon, UK
These Festivals are held biannually and oh, what ffun we have – and hopefully a lot more to talk about this year as I will have at least one more book published… Their website is here.
NEWS FLASH !!
THURS 5 SEPTEMBER TO SUN 8 SEPTEMBER 2019, BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA
Event 1 – Workshop ‘Writing Futures’ with Jasper Fforde at QWC: Learning Centre, State Library of Queensland.
Event 2 – Panel ‘Dream Worlds’ at Cinema B, Gallery of Modern Art, South Bank.
Event 3 – Conversation ‘Early Riser’ at The Edge, State Library of Queensland.
Event 4 – Book Club ‘Meet Jasper Fforde’ River Decks, State Library of Queensland.
Event 5 – Lecture / Special Closing Address by Jasper Fforde, The Edge, State Library of Queensland.
March 02031: Asteroid belt and Saturn (technology permitting) More details TBA.
October 02042: 81-year-old Fforde talks to other members of old people’s home: “I used to be a novelist, no really, I did. Is it lunchtime?” More details TBA.
July 02175: Semi-lifelike cloned Ffordesque replicant to tour Gamma Quadrant in the Cygnus Cluster. More details TBA.
Setember 03431: Much improved Fforde cloned back to life to face execution for sedition; all works consigned to erasure.
Janfebry 008910: Last evidence of Fforde’s books vanish forever with the removal of the ‘Formerly Thursday Street’ plaque from what is now W23-61 Rd in the conurbation known as EuroWest-79.
00012972: Visiting archaeologists from Thraal-7 discover incomplete copy of Well of Lost Plots from excavation in landfill. Deciphering takes seven hundred years and a further four hundred years of academic scrutiny before being accepted as historical fact.
“Dark Reading Matter” Bookworld and Thursday Next – adult
“Dragonslayer IV” Ununited Kingdom and Jennifer Strange – young adult
“Shades of Grey II” Colours and Eddie Russett – adult
“The Constant Rabbit” Racism and Mrs Constance Rabbit – adult – available now
The two-storey farmhouse was at the top of a bare hill. The long gravel driveway wound upwards from the road, through dry, patchy grass until it reached the front door. As Susan drove to the top, she saw a dam in the valley beyond, surrounded by trees. The view impressed her with its undulating hills and differing shades of green, framed by a cloudless blue sky. Is this my escape, a comfortable home? she wondered.
Susan parked the car on level ground and looked at the unimposing entry of dull brickwork and unpainted wood. She walked across weeds growing between uneven flagstones to the porch and weather-beaten front door. She knocked as loudly as she dared without getting a splinter rammed into her knuckles. It had taken an hour to drive from the nearest town. The hurly-burly of market day was replaced by this rural solitude, the kind of serenity where sounds are muted by immeasurable distance.
She knocked again. No dogs barked and nobody stuck their head out of a window to ruffle the stillness. As the real estate agent had predicted, the part-time caretaker was not on duty today. The key, thought Susan and went back to the car to collect it. Her daughter, Audrey, was stirring and finally woke up. She looked around, stretched and asked if they’d reached the right property.
“Finally,” confirmed Susan. “We’re going to let ourselves in.” Audrey peered upward from the car window. “The place looks creepy”. “No,” said Susan, “just unloved.” She found the door key in her bag. Audrey hopped on one foot, pulling on a shoe, as they walked to the door. The big old key fitted perfectly and the solid door swung open.
Inside the house, the air was dry and cool. To Susan’s surprise the entry foyer was small but, as she expected, empty. After a debate on direction, they decided to head to the right into an unfurnished, echo-filled living room with faded remnants of mauve wallpaper. “Tiny flowers.” Audrey spoke in a whisper. “It must have been pretty once.”
“Such wonderful windows,” said Susan. She decided to call out in case the caretaker happened to be lurking nearby. “Hey––anyone here?” Her daughter jumped. “Give me some warning next time!”
Susan headed towards an archway at the back of the room, in the direction of what she presumed was the dining room and kitchen beyond. Audrey pulled her back. “Let’s go upstairs.” They went back to the staircase located unassumingly in the foyer. It was narrow and went straight up without a curve. The treads were worn and uncarpeted. On each step, dust rose from under their shoes.
Once upstairs, they split up and walked quietly from bedroom to bedroom, each imagining what the rooms must have been like fully furnished. Susan glanced into a bathroom situated on the corner of the house, hoping for a hint of décor. Sunlight struggled through gritty windows and filled the room with diffused warmth. A large bath dominated the corner and looked out over the landscape. Susan could almost see clouds of steam and fluffy towels and smell the hint of lavender soap. The beige tiling around the bath was unstained. “That’s a good thing,” she said to a beetle on the edge of the hand basin.
Audrey called to her from another room. Susan almost tiptoed down the hallway as it resonated around her, boards creaking. On the way, she noted a single, closed door before locating her daughter through a small doorway into the toilet. “It’s positively ancient,” said Audrey. “What a scream.” Susan stepped inside.
The plumbing was exposed and badly fixed into the sloping floor. A watery noise came from the cistern. The porcelain, off-white and topped by a cracked wooden seat, had a window behind it that was so large it allowed expansive views of the countryside. “That vision works both ways, doesn’t it?” Audrey said. “I wouldn’t want anyone watching me.” Susan laughed “They’d need binoculars.” Audrey said doubtful “A nice curtain would fix it.”
Susan moved aside to let Audrey leave the dismal space and tried to gauge the size of the window. Suddenly the room began to slip. The sloping floor moved under her feet, causing her to slid towards the window. She was unnerved at how quickly the momentum grew. Susan felt as though she was now being sucked towards the glass panes. The pitch of the floor became steeper and steeper until she was hanging on to the metal door handle, desperate to save herself from falling.
Susan scrabbled frantically, breathless and unable to shout for help. She pulled herself up until she found a firm foothold against the doorframe and the hallway floor. With a heave, she pushed herself back through the threshold and stumbled into the hallway. The door swung back and forth a few times as if laughing before it slammed shut.
With a pounding heart and blood was rushing through her body, roaring in her ears, Susan dusted herself off with shaking hands. She was unsure if she’d imagined it. She couldn’t force herself to look back, afraid of what might spring out from behind the door.
Audrey came back. “You look awful. What happened?” “Heaven knows,” gasped Susan and bent double. “I don’t think that toilet likes me.” Audrey’s eyes widened as she peered around the door. “The floor is on a terrible slope.” Susan wrinkled her forehead. “More to the point, why?” Her daughter had a vivid imagination. “I’m going to wait in the car.”
Susan waited until she heard Audrey walk downstairs then watched her through a front window as she got into the car. As she recovered from her slippery encounter, an inquisitive streak in Susan overtook her common sense. She dismissed the toilet’s poor carpentry under the heading of old age. She wanted to see if any rooms at the back of the house were habitable. Without deliberation, Susan turned the knob on the only unopened door in the grimy passage.
Inside, the air was warm and fragrant. There was a riot of colour throughout the room. Rainbows sparked out from a crystal lamp shade. Floral drapes trailed across the floor and plump cushions surrounded children who played on woven purple rugs, unaware of her presence. A large stone fireplace glowed at the far end of the room and, to the side, a cat slept in a sagging armchair.
A man was talking to a woman while he carved roasted meat at a table covered by a velvet cloth and laid with silver cutlery. The woman, wearing a vivid red blouse, saw Susan first and waved cheerfully. She beckoned at Susan to enter. A jolly couple nearby chorused the woman’s cries of “Come in, come in.” The first thought to enter Susan’s mind was that she had intruded. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your meal.”
“Nonsense,” they said and waved steaming mugs of drink. The man carving the roast waved his knife, gesturing her into the room. Better not join them, thought Susan, anything could happen. She looked longingly at the food-laden table then backed out of the room, smiled as politely as she could and shut the door. She hurried out of the house, confused over what had occurred. She locked the front door, slipped the key into her pocket and patted it for good measure.
“You look funny again,” said Audrey and brushed a cobweb off her hair. “I think,” Susan paused. “I think I just met the original owners.” Audrey groaned “Not again?” She pouted and said she didn’t believe her mother this time. As far as she was concerned, except for the toilet, there was nothing out of the ordinary in the old house. Susan rose to the challenge and gave her a lucid description. “They’ve never spoken to me like this before.”
After listening and thoughtfully tapping her chin, Audrey picked up the real estate prospectus and quickly thumbed through it. She held it up and read aloud, “The premises has facility for oil heating.” She snapped the brochure “There’s one way to find out if they are ghosts or not. We can look for smoke coming from a real chimney.” Audrey had jumped out of the car and was walking around the corner of the house before Susan could gather her wits and follow.
Apart from several outbuildings, the back of the house was as barren as the front with no evidence that a garden may have grown there. In an artistic way, Susan found its uncluttered drabness pleasing. She imagined lavender bushes growing here, out of the wind. With a nudge, Audrey brought her out of her landscaping reverie. “Nothing!”
Susan looked up. Between the blank walls and windows, the trace of a thick scar ran down from the upper wall to the ground where brick masonry had been patched with concrete. “Removed?” she said. “I’m almost disappointed.” Audrey gave her a lopsided smile. “You’re either going mad or someone is trying to scare us off.”
“Why don’t you go back inside and have a look?” said Susan. “You are mad.” Audrey tossed her hands in the air. “I wouldn’t go back inside if you paid me.” She stomped back in the direction of the car. “That’s another property crossed off our list.”
“We’ll just have to stay in the house your Dad built,” sighed Susan, “if he’ll let us.” Audrey’s look eloquently conveyed the words fat chance.
Susan guessed the real estate agent would be starting to get exasperated with her. Every old house they had inspected and all the auctions they had attended, finished in the same way. The first owners still occupied their premises. Strangely, except for Susan, no-one else could see these deceased residents. In the beginning, she had thought she could live around them but that didn’t seem right. It was like house-sharing, not home-ownership.
Susan started the engine. “I’ve had enough of intruding on these people, going into their homes uninvited and catching them off-guard.” Audrey pointed her thumb over her shoulder at the house. “From what you said, that lot seemed okay.” With a grimace, Susan said “Forget it, tomorrow we’re looking at brand new townhouses.”
Susan swung the car around and drove slowly down the dusty driveway back onto the bitumen road. That room had such a happy feel, she mused, perhaps the house isn’t unloved after all. As the trees in the valley closed ranks, the house began to disappear from view until only the rooftop was visible. Susan took one last look and noticed a thin trail of smoke rising into the still air.
AUTHOR NOTE:For those readers who like a possibly more romantic ending, the second part of “Home Comfort” follows:
Susan did not want to be drawn into a lengthy discussion with the real estate agent over the suitability of the old farmhouse. She rehearsed her opening line. “It’s obvious why we rejected it.” Her voice lacked conviction. “Decrepit,” said Audrey and gave her a sideways glance.
To Susan’s relief, the real estate agent took the house key without a word. He was ducking and diving between filing cabinets and stationery drawers, hunting for a pen. In the absence of his receptionist, he was attempting to enter data into an unwilling computer and answer the phones. Audrey took pity on him and answered a call, taking a message. Susan was mortified but the realtor took it in his stride.
“We’re returning to the city tomorrow,” said Susan and thanked him. “I regret the unsuccessful outcome,” he said, parrot-fashion but not without sincerity. “Did you see the local caretaker?”
“I saw a family.” With a hint of a smile, Susan added “I’ll let them rest in peace.” The agent was not listening. “It is rather quiet up there, isn’t it?” He started searching for a paper clip and sent a sheaf of papers cascading onto the floor. Audrey cried out and pounced onto a pale grey sheet of paper. It had been folded and unfolded many times and was fuzzy around the edges. “Townhouses,” she read. “Just what we’re after!”
“Selling like hotcakes,” mumbled the real estate agent. “I’ll give Ben a call. He can give you a guided tour.” Within an hour, Susan and Audrey were standing on the lawn outside a new townhouse built in the style of a much older terrace house. The wrought iron lacework would look great with a flowering vine, thought Susan.
Ben was tall and friendly and had a disarming way of staring deeply into Susan’s eyes as he spoke. Nothing else existed while he told her about the suburb and mod cons of the townhouse, the last one at the end of the terrace row. “It’s the only one left for sale,” he said. His smile made her feel absurdly warm. Also, he looked vaguely familiar. Susan blinked a few times. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Have we met before?” Ben’s tanned face looked as though he was having difficulty pigeon-holing her and he rubbed his jawline. “Did you go to the furniture auction at Lavender Lane farm?” Susan wondered if this was his favourite pick-up line. “That name doesn’t sound familiar.” She tried not to catch Audrey’s eye because she was fairly sure Audrey was winking furiously and just short of nudging her in the ribs. “Do you live there?” she asked.
“Generations of my family used to own it.” Ben described the route they had driven earlier in the day. He outlined a house on a hill. His description of a hillside once covered in lavender bushes made tears form in Susan’s eyes.
“She’s going all mushy,” said Audrey. Ben shuffled his feet. “Are you allergic to lavender?” Susan gave a weak smile and tried to quell her emotions as she searched through her handbag for a tissue. “I’ve got a bad case of ESP.” Ben gestured towards an outdoor seat. It reinforced Susan’s vision of another beckoning man. Audrey let out a squeal. “Oh, you mean the ghost house!” Ben’s face lightened. “They do reckon it’s haunted.”
“Your relatives still live there,” said Susan. Weak-kneed, she sat on the bench. She grasped an old tissue and, as she pulled it out, the much-folded piece of paper flipped out onto the mown grass. As before, Audrey swooped down and picked it up, only this time it was blank. In a hushed voice, she explained to Ben that it was a leaflet advertising the townhouses, “But the words have faded away.” Ben frowned “We didn’t print leaflets.”
Susan reacted by slapping her own knee. It broke the sombre mood and cleared her head. “I think we’ve been set up,” she said. Ben turned the ragged piece of paper over and over in his hands. “By my family?” He appeared sceptical, unsure about the motive behind Susan’s words. “By a set of coincidences,” replied Susan. “Let’s go on that guided tour.”
Audrey was on the doorstep before she had finished speaking. Ben ushered them down the corridor, through the freshly-painted townhouse. “First, I have to show you the rear garden.” The curtains were drawn so he took them to the back door. “Normally you can walk straight into the garden through the French doors.” Audrey sighed and stared at the back of Ben’s head. “How romantic.”
With a flourish, Ben stood back so they could precede him. His smile was as radiant as the rows of fragrant young lavender bushes lining the path in the cottage garden. “Cultivated from the original farm plants,” he said with obvious pride.
Susan was momentarily lost for words. Her mind was in turmoil, alternating between the real and the imagined. Slowly the distinctive perfume wafted around her. She breathed deeply and let the lavender soothe her. An inner calmness gradually infused her muscles and she relaxed. As they stood quietly in the warm sun, Susan tapped her shoe on the paving. “I recognise the brickwork.” Ben smiled “It’s from the old farmhouse chimney.”
Audrey moved between Susan and Ben and linked arms. Her look was innocent. “Did we follow Lavender Lane to a dead end?” Susan laughed. “I think it lead us home.”
As a dyed-in-the-wool Jasper Fforde ffan, I recommend Shades Of Grey. No, not that one!
Shades Of Grey deviates from Fforde’s brilliantly off-kilter, zany other-Britain adventures of Thursday Next, a LiteraTech operative for SpecOps-27, a crime fighting division inside literary fiction – literally – but there is some serious world building going on. The Fforde trademark of inventiveness and unusual plot twists is there but the tone is sombre, the protagonist Eddie Russett lives in a tightly controlled world with a rigid hierarchy based on primary colours. However, Eddie is not stupid and rises to the challenge of solving a perplexing mystery with the aid of some ‘colourful’ locals and a feisty Grey woman, Jane.
I have to say it is not my all-time favourite book in Fforde’s repertoire: Thursday Next wins. I found the ending unsatisfying (except discovering where spoons go) although I do think it has been left open for a sequel. If you’ve read the odd humour of Douglas Adams or inimitable Terry Pratchett and want a neo-noir version, try Jasper Fforde for ffun. There’s enough books to keep you going!
Fforde has also written humorous Nursery Crimes series, and The Last Dragonslayer series about teenager Jennifer Strange. Her agency, Kazam, employs weird and wonderful wizards who create magic and mayhem.
Julia spun around and saw a tiny green blur scurry across the bookcase. A scrabble of feet, a tiny sneeze, something squeezed out of sight. A book of fairytales flew off the shelf and hit the floor with a thud. “Who’s there?” Julia imagined a spiky grasshopper.
Carefully, so carefully, she put the book back where it belonged.
A tiny hand, a papery scrape, a puff of dust and the book whizzed off the shelf again.
“Ouch!” It hit Julia right on the nose. “That wasn’t very nice.” Zing, clunk, thump! She heard a chuckle as more books pinged off the shelf.
“Stop that.” Julia rapped on the bookcase. “Don’t you like books?”
“No!” a tiny voice squeaked. “Hobgoblins hate books!”
And out of hiding came a tiny green hobgoblin.
He had a gold buckle on his pointy hat and gold buckles on his pointy shoes.
She replied firmly. “Then please leave my books alone and go away.”
“Was planning to make a pile of books up to your window,” he grumbled.
Julia thought for a moment. “Use a chair.”
“Can’t move a chair all by myself,” he mumbled.
The hobgoblin watched as Julia pushed the chair under the open window.
“Difficult for me to get way over there,” he huffed, arms folded.
Quickly Julia gathered the books and stacked them like a staircase.
It wobbled but the hobgoblin skipped down as light as a feather.
He tapped his foot while she built another staircase up to the seat of the chair.
He scrambled onto the leather seat and stopped. “Can’t grab the window ledge.”
With a voice like her mother’s, Julia said “Try.” Bounce, bounce! The tiny hobgoblin tried kangaroo hops.
Several books shook, but it didn’t work.
He changed his frowny face into a crooked smile.
He raised his tiny green arms. “Would be most grateful if you’d pick me up.” Julia felt uncomfortable, she wondered if he might bite. “Miaow.” Julia’s cat prowled into the room.
With a squeal, the hobgoblin jumped high in the air and flew out the window.
In a flash, the cat raced after him.
Julia ran to the window and saw the cat jump down as the hobgoblin flew up.
The hobgoblin’s tiny, shiny wings caught the breeze and he flew over the fence.
Julia looked down at her wide-eyed cat. “Well, that was a mystery.”
The window stayed open as Julia heaped her books higher and higher and higher.
She placed her favourite book of fairytales on top. Meanwhile her cat sniffed at a speck of green on the window ledge. It was a tiny pointy hobgoblin hat.
Julia snatched it up and something fell out.
A teeny tiny book with a gold cover.
She laughed. “He does like books after all!”
Something tiny and green hovered just outside her window.
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