‘Hampton Loade Station, July 1942’ – new #FlashForFriday

Greetings everyone. I apologise that I haven’t been posting much. As most of you will know by now, my first novel, Zero, a SciFi romp of space pirate adventuring, is set for release by Dagda Publising Aug 16th 2014 and I have been very busy with all the things you don’t realise need doing when you have a book coming out. As well as promoting the Crowdfunding campaign (that has done amazingly so far with raising money to market the book – thank yo so, so much everyone who has contributed), I have also been fine tuning the very final edit as well as producing some exclusive pieces of flash fiction that tell side-stories about some of the characters.

(These side-stories will be featured on the USB Stick e-book bundle of Zero, exclusively available through the Crowdfunding campaign. There’s four stories altogether. Two I have published already, Promise and Downtime. Two more, called The Game and Their War are readable nowhere else but with this bundle, so you really are getting something exclusive if you order it!)

I also have the book launch to look forward to, and boy am I looking forward to it! This will take place at Fantasticon – a SciFi and Gaming convention in Hull, UK on Sat 16th August. Zero will go live on Amazon the same day. At the convention, I get my own table and will be signing hardcopies and am looking into getting Zero cupcakes made for the first few people to buy! I’ve also heard that, not only will there be a darlek present, but that you will be able to get your picture taken on a speeder against and Endor Forest Moon backdrop.

I’m going to be first in the queue for that one.

So, in short, there’s a lot going on. But anyone who has followed me for any length of time knows I can’t just have on brand in the fire. I’m a big believer in keeping moving forward. Just because I’ve got lots to do with Zero doesn’t give me an excuse to stop writing. Of course, I hope Zero does well and that people like it, but the only way I’m going to get anywhere in any significant way is with more than one title to my name. And so Haven, Zero’s sequel, is currently in the drafting stage and I’m enjoying touching base here with WordPress and keeping my hand in by posting short fiction and book reviews etc.

In the spirit of this, I feel that it has been far too long since I’ve actually shared some fiction. I’ve talked a lot about writing it but it’s been too long since I’ve written anything set outside of the Zero universe.

So, today, here is a brand new #FlashForFriday. The idea for this story came to me over the weekend. Anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter will know that I visited my family in Shropshire for a break and on Monday we spent the day on the Severn Valley Railway, a heritage railway that runs between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster. It still runs with the original signal systems, steam engines, compartment carriages and stops at stations which have not changed since the forties.

It was a truly inspirational day. It felt like stepping back in time.

The station of Hampton Loade, picturesque, quiet and secluded, really touched me. I couldn’t help but think what it must have been like for the families that waved goodbye from the platform to sons and daughters called away to service during WWII, or for the children evacuated from London stepping off the train there, alone and in such a different place from the city. If you are ever in the Bridgnorth area, I highly recommend this as a day out. Writer or not, it’s a wonderful experience.

Hampton Loade Station, July 1942

Hampton Loade Station, Shropshire

It was the most glorious day of the year so far. Summer was finally here, filling the trees with bright green leaves and the sky with skudding white clouds and blazing sunshine. There were pansies in the flower boxes on the station platform, patchwork faces turned toward the sky and a fresh breeze brought the smells of the river and the sound of the songbirds. It didn’t feel like a day to say goodbye.

“Did you pack the extra jumper, Anne? The thick one?”

“Yes, Mother, I packed the extra jumper.”

“And your thermals?”

“Yes, yes, I packed everything you left on the chest. But don’t worry, Mother. It’s only London, not the North Pole.”

Mother pursed her lips, something she always did when she didn’t agree with me but didn’t think it was ladylike to argue in front of the twins.

I knelt down and gathered Tilly and Jack to me. The clung to me, little hands gripping my coat. They had been oddly quiet ever since we got to the station, not crying but not chattering either.

‘Do your bit.’

“Now, you two are going to be good while I’m gone, aren’t you? And behave for Mother?”

“Yes, Annie,” Tilly said, wiping her nose on her sleeve. It showed Mother was distracted when she didn’t scold her.

“Are you coming back?”

“Of course I am, Jack. I’m just going down to London to help all the people that have lost their homes. They have big places where they can find food and shelter and I’m going to help them.”

“Why can’t you do that here?”

“We’re lucky here,” I said, brushing Jack’s corn-blonde hair, exactly the same shade as our brother Matthew’s, out of his eyes. “No one has lost any homes yet. Don’t worry, Jack. I’ll be back before you know it.”

“And Matthew too?”

I glanced at Mother but she was watching the train pull in with her lips still pressed into a thin line.

“And Matthew too,” I said, keeping my voice steady with an effort. “Now give me a kiss.”

Tilly and Jack both dropped sloppy kissed on my cheeks and I got back to my feet. Mother was still looking anywhere other than me. There weren’t many people on the platform today. I had hoped that Margaret might have been here to catch the 10:30 with me, then our mothers could have taken the twins to the Unicorn for afternoon tea and eased themselves with disproving discussion of ‘girls these days’ and angel cake.

But they weren’t there. Margaret was meeting in me in Kidderminster and was likely there already. She was always one to be prepared.

The engine driver was leaning out to chat the station master, shouting over the huff and clunk of the resting engine. The steam swirled along the platform, smelling like oil and metal.

“Well, I better get aboard. Mother?” I prodded when she still hadn’t said anything.

“Just promise me you’ll be careful,” she said after taking a breath.

“I’ll be careful. I promise.”

Mother nodded, though she was looking past me, a hand on each of the twins’ shoulders.

“If we had choice, Mum,” I said quietly. “We’d be here with you. Father, Matthew, all of us. But the WVS is important. I feel like I need to do my bit.”

“I know, dear. I know that. It’s just…” I kept still. The twins looked between us with wide eyes. Unless it was about dress making or bridge, Mother never said much about what she felt. But she didn’t have to say anything. I’d never seen her face so open or her eyes so troubled. “It feels like something that’s nothing to do with me is taking my family away from me.”

I hugged her. The station master called and the engine tooted. There was the rhythmic clunk of the carriage doors shutting. Mother went stiff. This was the first time I’d hugged since I was ten years old. But after a second I felt her relax and she clung to me, just like the twins had, clutching my clothes and pressing her face into my shoulder.

The engine rattled as it gathered steam and I pulled away.

“I’ll be back, Mother. I promise. I’ll write.”

All aboard for Kidderminster

“I should think so to,” she said, voice high with chained emotion. Her eyes were bright with tears but she straightened her back and nodded. “Hurry, young lady. You’ll miss the train and I’m not walking all the way back here again for you to catch the afternoon one.”

I clambered into the closest compartment and the station master clacked the door shut. I lowered the window as the train started to pull out of the station and leant out as far as I could. Tilly and Jack ran the length of the platform, waving and shouting. They were smiling now, at least. I pulled out my handkerchief and waved it just like I’d seen heroines do in the films. Mother stood on the platform surrounded by billowing steam. She didn’t wave but she didn’t look away and I waved hard enough for both of us until the platform, the station and my whole world disappeared round a bend in the rail.

I sat down in the musty compartment and closed my eyes, keeping the sight of my family, the trees and the platform in my mind as long as possible, swearing to myself that I would keep my promise. I would be back. After I had done my bit.

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