Here is the first chapter of Prattle House 1415. If you think it is any good, lobby the mainstream publishers for me to have this book published. The Joy of the Season to you all.
Packed off to Grandma’s
“Elizabeth!” yelled mother, who was rushing around in her usual manner, teetering on high heels that made a loud clacking sound on the highly polished floorboards. Mother was constantly in a hurry. Her mind was always concentrating on the next thing she had to do, and it was sometimes hard for other members of the household to keep up with her. It was probably quite true that she had a million things on her mind, but Elizabeth was pretty sure that most of mother’s problems were entirely self-inflicted. If only she would stop for a minute, maybe she could catch her breath and calm down, which would have the wonderful effect of allowing everyone else in the household to breathe easy for five seconds.
Trying their best to stay out of mother’s way so as not to cause any further problems, Elizabeth and William had stayed in their rooms away from the hustle and bustle. It was much quieter there, and they could attend to their suitcases themselves anyway. They were about to be packed off to Grandma’s for the entire summer holiday, and as they had never even met Grandma before, they were feeling a bit put out.
Mother and Father were high flyers. Ninety percent of the time they were Janet and Alfred Hollow, career people. They seldom actually played the role of mother and father. Janet was a lawyer who had worked her way up through the ranks of her law firm and was now a partner. She was thirty-two years old when the twins were born, and had taken little time off from her career before hiring a nanny and going back to work. Alfred was the CEO of a major company and a director on the boards of several others. The twins did not precisely know what their father did, because they hardly ever saw him. At least mother would fly in through the front door of an evening and see them for half an hour or so before they went to bed.
Freda was the one they spent most of their time with. She was the housekeeper and lived with the Hollow family, her room being at the back of the house. Her main tasks were keeping the house clean and cooking the family meals. That usually meant she cooked for herself and the twins, because Father was so often interstate somewhere and Mother often had her meals at the office while she worked. However, poor Freda had had a scare yesterday when a letter came for her saying that her own mother was very ill and she needed to go home to Germany to look after her. That was why the twins were now packing in readiness for their journey to Grandma’s.
Mother had not mentioned Grandma much at all. They knew she existed but never knew where she lived, what her name was, or what she did. Last night they had asked Mother all sorts of questions about her, but their questions were mostly avoided and they did not find out much. So now they were feeling abandoned, sent away as punishment for something they had done, with no idea what. Elizabeth was packing her case with a scowl on her face and her lips pulled tight when she heard her mother call out again, this time with more desperation in her tone.
“Coming!” yelled Elizabeth as she slammed the lid of her suitcase and walked out to the kitchen where Janet was racing around like a headless chook.
“Elizabeth, I need you to call a taxi to take us all to the station. We have to be there in an hour or we’ll miss the train.” Janet puffed as she pulled at some containers in the cupboard.
“Sure,” replied Elizabeth as she walked over to the phone and picked it up. She had to look up the number of the taxi company and as she dialled the numbers she caught a glimpse of her mother fighting with pieces of plastic, trying to match lids with bases.
“I’d like a taxi immediately,” she told the operator.
“How many passengers?” asked the lady.
“Three,” replied Elizabeth. She gave the operator the pick up address and destination, still watching her mother fighting with lids and bases, and grinned to herself to see such an intelligent woman having a hard time with little pieces of plastic. It was amazing how her mother could cope with difficult cases of litigation but had trouble with some of the simplest domestic duties. Elizabeth thought it was time her mother was rescued from the plastic.
“Here, let me help you with that,” she said, as she gently took the containers from her flustered mother and delved back into the cupboard where she retrieved the correct lids.
Janet click-clacked over to the large, stainless steel refrigerator and opened the door. She stared into its depths. “I don’t know how Freda expects me to organise everything at a minute’s notice like this. She must think I’m superwoman!”
“What is it you are trying to do?” asked Elizabeth in an effort to calm things down.
“I’m trying to be a good mother, that’s what I’m trying to do!” Janet glared at her daughter for a second and then stuck her head back into the fridge. She did not have the slightest idea what she was looking for. She stuck her head back out again and turned to Elizabeth.
“Where does Freda keep the peanut butter?” she asked her daughter.
“Well she doesn’t keep it in the fridge, Mum,” replied Elizabeth. “It will be in the pantry. But what do you want peanut butter for anyway?”
“I’m trying to make the two of you some peanut butter sandwiches to take on the train. And if I could find some cake I’ll pack that up for you too,” said Janet, as she spun around on her high heels and headed for the pantry. “Don’t all good mothers make food parcels for their children to take on the train with them when they go on a long journey?”
Elizabeth put on a wry smile. ‘I think you read too many Enid Blyton books when you were a girl,’ she thought to herself. She watched her mother, who continued to prattle on while she peered into all the shelves in the pantry. This was going to be hard work, Elizabeth could see, and if they were to catch the train at all, she needed to step in and take control. It was quite normal for Elizabeth to have to take over some of the domestic situations in the Hollow household, when it was obvious to her that her parents were not in their comfort zone, and when Freda wasn’t around. She was, in a way, quite mature for a girl of twelve.
“How about you go and see how William is getting along with his packing, Mum, and I’ll make the sandwiches,” said Elizabeth.
Mother put her hand on Elizabeth’s cheek and looked at her for a short time and smiled. “You’re a great kid, Elizabeth,” she said. “I’ll miss you these holidays while you’re at your grandmother’s.” She took her hand away quickly and started to teeter across the family room in the direction of William’s bedroom. The moment had been brief, and as Elizabeth watched her move away she seriously doubted that her mother, or her father for that matter, would notice they weren’t there. She quickly made some sandwiches and put together a nice lunchbox each for her and William.
Ten minutes later they were in the taxi heading for Southern Cross station. The city skyline ahead of them was covered in a slight haze, as was common for Melbourne. They lived close enough to the city to be able to reach the station within twenty minutes. It was not much longer before they were seated in the train and Mother had kissed them quickly, tottered off the train and was standing on the platform waving them goodbye. She had not been able to resist a quick glance at her watch, and Elizabeth sighed to herself, thinking that it would not be long before her mother was back in a cab racing off to work, even though it was Saturday. Oh well. Mother was happiest when she was working.
Elizabeth put on a happy face, smiling at her mother as the train jerked forward. She nudged William in the side to remind him to do the same, and together they waved goodbye as the train picked up speed and headed out of the station. William went back to reading the book he had brought with him and Elizabeth looked out at the passing buildings. They were heading for Ballarat, where their grandmother would meet them. She lived in a small place in the goldfields, called Last Metle River, which was an hour’s drive from Ballarat, but the train didn’t go near there and Grandma didn’t like to drive in the city. They had a two-hour journey ahead of them, plenty of time to wonder what Grandma was like.
“Hey, William!” said Elizabeth, giving him another nudge in the side, which jolted his book more than the train was already managing. William scowled and looked up at her. He always had his nose in a book. William was a quiet boy, younger than Elizabeth by all of five minutes and never allowed to forget it. He thought she was a bossy older sister, but it didn’t much bother him. He just liked to make her think it annoyed him sometimes. He kept to himself generally and was a lad of few words. Elizabeth had worked out, though, that when William had something to say it was usually profound and important.
“What do you think Grandma will be like?” Elizabeth asked her brother.
William shrugged and went to go back to reading his book, but Elizabeth was bored and wanted to talk.
“How will we know who she is when we get to Ballarat?” she asked.
William shrugged again. “I don’t know,” he helpfully offered. “Maybe she’ll be holding a sign with our names on it. You know – like they do at the airport.”
“Don’t be silly,” Elizabeth chided. “Why would she do that?”
“Well you do realise she doesn’t know what we look like either,” William ogled his eyes at her as he said it. “It would be a very practical way of finding us amongst all the other passengers,” he said.
“True,” Elizabeth admitted. “And I suppose the train isn’t actually very full, is it?” she said.
“I don’t think there will be very many sets of twins getting off at Ballarat station, all expecting their grandma’s to be there to pick them up.” William said. Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Even though we don’t exactly look like twins.”
That was true. Whilst they both had dark brown hair and were fairly skinny, they did not in any way look the same. Elizabeth had a heart-shaped face, fair skin with some freckles upon her nose, whereas William had a round face, olive complexion and was shorter than Elizabeth by a full six centimetres. Elizabeth also had one very distinctive feature, but you could only see it if you were close to her. Her eyes were two different colours – one blue and the other green. It was quite an unusual feature and people would often forget what they were saying when they noticed the peculiarity. William, on the other hand, had two perfectly ordinary blue eyes.
“Well what do you think she looks like,” Elizabeth asked for a second time.
“I don’t know,” William responded, resigned to the fact that he was not going to get back to his book in a hurry. Elizabeth was on for conversation, and as he was the only one in the vicinity that she knew, he was a captive audience. “Aren’t grandma’s supposed to be fat and grey?” he offered.
“Ewww! That doesn’t sound the least bit appealing” said Elizabeth. “Can’t she be thin and dye her hair?”
William rolled his eyes again. It wasn’t going to make a scrap of difference what he said, it would probably be the wrong thing. So he threw the ball back in her court “Well what do you think she will be like?”
Elizabeth contemplated for a while, trying to imagine her ideal version of a grandma. “I reckon you’re right, William” she acceded. “Grandma’s are cuddly. That’s much better than saying they’re fat. And I suppose she must be really old so she would have grey hair.” Elizabeth was starting to form a picture in her mind. She continued to describe it out loud to William. “She will have a jolly round face, probably an older version of you, William!” she laughed and nudged him in the ribs yet again. He grimaced and moved in his seat to make it a little harder for her to jab him in the ribs. “She will have a hanky in her hand and she’ll wave it at us when she sees us.”
“What’s a hanky?” asked William.
“A handkerchief” exclaimed Elizabeth, and she tried to nudge him again, but he was quicker this time, and moved out of her way before she could manage a good jab. “A handkerchief is a square piece of fabric that you blow your nose on, like a tissue only you can wash it and use it again.”
“Ewwww, barf!” said William. “That sounds revolting. I hope she doesn’t wave anything like that near me!”
“Don’t be silly” said Elizabeth looking haughty, “all grandma’s must use hankies. It’s old fashioned and grandma’s do old fashioned things.”
Elizabeth was starting to sound like she thought she was an authority on grandmas. William thought her imagination was probably running away from her. Unfortunately she continued.
“She will be wearing a pink dress and carrying a handbag. In her handbag she will have a red purse, a nail file, cough lollies, a spare hanky,” William rolled his eyes but Elizabeth kept going. “her keys, a pill bottle…”
“What?” William interrupted her. “I suppose she has a multitude of ailments because she’s so old, does she?”
“Oh yes,” said Elizabeth “she probably has high blood pressure and heart problems, maybe she even needs a stick.”
“A stick!” cried William. “Oh, I know, that’ll be to beat you with.”
“No, der-brain!” said Elizabeth, attempting a nudge. “A walking stick.”
“It’s a wonder she’s able to meet us at the station.” William said half to himself, half to the train window. “She’s so old and sick I can’t imagine she is able to drive a car. She must have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin.”
“Well if you’re so clever” said Elizabeth “what do you think she will look like?”
“I don’t know,” said William. “I’m sure we’ll find out when we get to the station.” And with that he finalised their conversation by opening his book and beginning to read.
Elizabeth just huffed and looked out the opposite window. It was just so typical of a male to end the conversation like that. It was going to be a long two hours if William was not going to entertain her with conversation at all. She crossed her arms and gave him a glare. He didn’t respond so she was left to her own thoughts once more.
Actually she was feeling a bit scared. Despite all the self-assuredness she displayed on the outside, inside she was feeling worried and anxious. Here they were heading off into the country, two city kids, to spend the next eight weeks with a relative they had never met. She had asked her mother a few questions about Grandma the previous night, when Freda had told the family she was urgently needed by her own mother and could not be with the twins for the summer holidays. Mother had gone into a flap about what to do. It was such short notice there was no way she could hire another housekeeper straight away. It had been many years since Janet had spoken to her own mother, the twin’s grandma, but she had resolved that it was the best solution to a difficult problem and had phoned her. Elizabeth had thought that they must have had some sort of contact for mother to know where to call. There was something strange about her mother’s relationship with Grandma, but when she asked questions she was told to be quiet.
She did learn a few things about Grandma though. Grandma had recently returned from overseas and was now living in the goldfield district of Victoria. She was in her late seventies and had finally retired after spending most of her life travelling the world. Just what she was doing travelling the world Elizabeth didn’t know. And that was the sum of what she did know.
To Elizabeth’s surprise she had been daydreaming for a while because when she gathered her wits about her she found they were well into the countryside. The paddocks were brown and parched as a result of a long drought that had hit the country areas hard for several years now. In the distance she could see some mountains. They were not very tall but they did make shapes along the horizon. She nudged William who elbowed her back this time.
“Look at the mountains, William” she said.
William looked up from his book and stared out of the window. “What mountains?” he asked.
“Over there” Elizabeth pointed.
“They’re not mountains,” said William in disgust. “They’re just hills.”
Elizabeth didn’t bother to argue with him this time. He was back to reading again so she decided it was best to amuse herself with her own thoughts for the rest of the journey. She looked at her watch. It was 11:55 am. The train was scheduled to arrive in Ballarat at 12:30 pm, so with another half hour to go Elizabeth decided it was a good time to pull out the lunches she had made for herself and William. She handed William his lunchbox, and he opened it and started eating his sandwiches without skipping a line in his book. Elizabeth opened her own and started eating in the hope that some food in her stomach might rid her of the butterflies that had been there for most of the journey. They would soon be there.
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
In my next blog I will be giving you a gift for Christmas - the first chapter of my tweens novel titled Prattle House 1415. Here's a little competition for you: Can you work out what "Prattle House" is an anagram for? Leave a comment with your guess.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Here I am standing on top of the tower at the Botanic Gardens, Daylesford - white knuckled because I'm afraid of heights (but trying to overcome this)
Well, haven't I had a few weeks of frustration! - becuase I couldn't do everything I wanted to do. The day after my last post I came down with blood poisoning after a sore on my ankle became infected (I was even sick for my birthday!). I was laid up for a few days, quite ill until I was able to get to the doctor and start antibiotics. It meant I didn't get my full week away to research in Daylesford, but we did manage a few days there. I was very tired and unable to concentrate particularly well, however, the trip was not for nothing and I came away with plenty to work with.
Since then I have struggled with tiredness, perhaps due to the antibiotics, so computer stuff has been on the backburner. I hope to blog a lot more often now and tell you how my writing and patchwork is coming along.
Today I can tell you that I have begun the writing of my ghost story - the first steps in the long journey have been made.
Want to come along for the ride?