Give me the Child – Mel McGrath

Give me the Child by Mel McGrath  is a deeply disturbing story about a doctor and her family . Cat  has the perfect family life until one night, a stranger shows up at her door turning her perfect domestic life upside down.  This novel is filled with secrets and lies and utter evil, but this is what makes it such a perfect read. The back story littered through the story only adds to the depth of the present.  This is deserving of a spot on everyone’s TBR pile!

5+ stars! I’d give more if I could!

I’m very excited to be sharing an extract from the Give me the Child today to help whet your appetite! This is from Chapter One…

My first thought when the doorbell woke me was that someone had died. Most likely Michael Walsh. I turned onto my side, pulled at the outer corners of my eyes to rid them of the residue of sleep and blinked myself awake. It was impossible to tell if it was late or early, though the bedroom was as hot and muggy as it had been when Tom and I had gone to bed. Tom was no longer beside me. Now I was alone.

We’d started drinking not long after Freya had gone upstairs. The remains of a bottle of Pinot Grigio for me, a glass or two of red for Tom. (He always said white wine was for women.) Just before nine I called The Mandarin Hut. When the crispy duck arrived I laid out two trays in the living room, opened another bottle and called Tom in from the study. I hadn’t pulled the curtains and through the pink light of the London night sky a cat’s claw of moon appeared. The two of us ate, mostly in silence, in front of the TV. A ballroom dance show came on. Maybe it was just the booze but something about the tight-muscled men and the frou-frou’d women made me feel a little sad. The cosmic dance. The grand romantic gesture. At some point even the tight-muscled men and the frou-frou’d women would find themselves slumped together on a sofa with the remains of a takeaway and wine enough to sink their sorrows, wondering how they’d got there, wouldn’t they?

Not that Tom and I really had anything to complain about except, maybe, a little malaise, a kind of falling away. After all, weren’t we still able to laugh about stuff most of the time or, if we couldn’t laugh, at least have sex and change the mood?

‘Let’s go upstairs and I’ll show you my cha-cha,’ I said, rising and holding out a hand.

Tom chuckled and pretended I was joking, then, wiping his palms along his thighs as if he were ridding them of something unpleasant, he said, ‘It’s just if I don’t crack this bloody coding thing…’

I looked out at the moon for a moment. OK, so I knew how much making a success of Labyrinth meant to Tom, and I’d got used to him shutting himself away in the two or three hours either side of midnight. But this one time, with the men and women still twirling in our minds? Just this one time?

Stupidly, I said, ‘Won’t it wait till tomorrow?’ and in an instant I saw Tom stiffen. He paused for a beat and, slapping his hands on his thighs in a gesture of busyness, he slugged down the last of his wine, rose from the sofa and went to the door. And so we left it there with the question still hanging.

I spent the rest of the evening flipping through the case notes of patients I was due to see that week. When I turned in for the night, the light was still burning in Tom’s study. I murmured ‘goodnight’ and went upstairs to check on Freya. Our daughter was suspended somewhere between dreaming and deep sleep. All children look miraculous when they’re asleep, even the frightening, otherworldly ones I encounter every day. Their bodies soften, their small fists unfurl and dreams play behind their eyelids. But Freya looked miraculous all the time to me. Because she was. A miracle made at the boundary where human desire meets science. I stood and watched her for a while, then, retrieving her beloved Pippi Longstocking book from the floor and straightening her duvet, I crept from the room and went to bed.

Sometime later I felt Tom’s chest pressing against me and his breath on the nape of my neck. He was already aroused and for a minute I wondered what else he’d been doing on screen besides coding, then shrugged off the thought. A drowsy, half-hearted bout of lovemaking followed before we drifted into our respective oblivions. Next thing I knew the doorbell was ringing and I was alone.

Under the bathroom door a beam of light blazed. I threw off the sheet and swung from the bed.

‘Tom?’

No response. My mind was scrambled with sleep and an anxious pulse was rising to the surface. I called out again.

There was a crumpling sound followed by some noisy vomiting but it was identifiably my husband. The knot in my throat loosened. I went over to the bathroom door, knocked and let myself in. Tom was hunched over the toilet and there was a violent smell in the room.

‘Someone’s at the door.’ Tom’s head swung round.

I said, ‘You think it might be about Michael?’

Tom’s father, Michael Walsh, was a coronary waiting to happen, a lifelong bon vivant in the post-sixty-five-year-old death zone, who’d taken the recent demise of his appalling wife pretty badly.

Tom stood up, wiped his hand across his mouth and moved over to the sink. ‘Nah, probably just some pisshead.’ He turned on the tap and sucked at the water in his hand and, in an oddly casual tone, he added, ‘Ignore it.’

As I retreated into the bedroom, the bell rang again. Whoever it was, they weren’t about to go away. I went over to the window and eased open the curtain. The street was still and empty of people, and the first blank glimmer was in the sky. Directly below the house a patrol car was double parked, hazard lights still on but otherwise dark. For a second my mind filled with the terrible possibility that something had happened to Sally. Then I checked myself. More likely someone had reported a burglary or a prowler in the neighbourhood. Worst case it was Michael.

‘It’s the police,’ I said.

Tom appeared and, lifting the sash, craned out of the window. ‘I’ll go, you stay here.’

I watched him throw on his robe over his boxers and noticed his hands were trembling. Was that from having been sick or was he, too, thinking about Michael now? I listened to his footsteps disappearing down the stairs and took my summer cover-up from its hook. A moment later, the front door swung open and there came the low murmur of three voices, Tom’s and those of two women. I froze on the threshold of the landing and held my breath, waiting for Tom to call me down, and when, after a few minutes, he still hadn’t, I felt myself relax a little. My parents were dead. If this was about Sally, Tom would have fetched me by now. It was bound to be Michael. Poor Michael.

I went out onto the landing and tiptoed over to Freya’s room. Tom often said I was overprotective, and maybe I was, but I’d seen enough mayhem and weirdness at work to give me pause. I pushed open the door and peered in. A breeze stirred from the open window. The hamster Freya had brought back from school for the holidays was making the rounds on his wheel but in the aura cast by the Frozen-themed nightlight I could see my tender little girl’s face closed in sleep. Freya had been too young to remember my parents and Michael had always been sweet to her in a way that his wife, who called her ‘my little brown granddaughter’, never was, but it was better this happened now, in the summer holidays, so she’d have time to recover before the pressures of school started up again. We’d tell her in the morning once we’d had time to formulate the right words.

At the top of the landing I paused, leaning over the bannister. A woman in police uniform stood in the glare of the security light. Thirties, with fierce glasses and a military bearing. Beside her was another woman in jeans and a shapeless sweater, her features hidden from me. The policewoman’s face was brisk but unsmiling; the other woman was dishevelled, as though she had been called from her bed. Between them I glimpsed the auburn top of what I presumed was a child’s head – a girl, judging from the amount of hair. I held back, unsure what to do, hoping they’d realise they were at the wrong door and go away. I could see the police officer’s mouth moving without being able to hear what was being said. The conversation went on and after a few moments Tom stood to one side and the two women and the child stepped out of the shadows of the porch and into the light of the hallway.

The girl was about the same age as Freya, taller but small-boned, legs as spindly as a deer’s and with skin so white it gave her the look of some deep sea creature. She was wearing a grey trackie too big for her frame which bagged at the knees from wear and made her seem malnourished and unkempt. From the way she held herself, stiffly and at a distance from the dishevelled woman, it was obvious they didn’t know one another. A few ideas flipped through my mind. Had something happened in the street, a house fire perhaps, or a medical emergency, and a neighbour needed us to look after her for a few hours? Or was she a school friend of Freya’s who had run away and for some reason given our address to the police? Either way, the situation obviously didn’t have anything much to do with us. My heart went out to the kid but I can’t say I wasn’t relieved. Michael was safe, Sally was safe.

I moved down the stairs and into the hallway. The adults remained engrossed in their conversation but the girl looked up and stared. I tried to place the sharp features and the searching, amber eyes from among our neighbours or the children at Freya’s school but nothing came. She showed no sign of recognising me. I could see she was tired – though not so much from too little sleep as from a lifetime of watchfulness. It was an expression familiar to me from the kids I worked with at the clinic. I’d probably had it too, at her age. An angry, cornered look. She was clasping what looked like a white rabbit’s foot in her right hand. The cut end emerged from her fist, bound crudely with electrical wire which was attached to a key. It looked home-made and this lent it – and her – an air that was both outdated and macabre, as if she’d been beamed in from some other time and had found herself stranded here, in south London, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, in the middle of the night, with nothing but a rabbit’s foot and a key to remind her of her origins. ‘What’s up?’ I said, more out of curiosity than alarm. I smiled and waited for an answer.

The two women glanced awkwardly at Tom and from the way he was standing, stiffly with one hand slung on his hip in an attempt at relaxed cool, I understood they were waiting for him to respond and I instinctively knew that everything I’d been thinking was wrong. A dark firework burst inside my chest. The girl in the doorway was neither a neighbour’s kid nor a friend of our daughter.

She was trouble.

I took a step back. ‘Will someone tell me what’s going on?’ When no one spoke I crouched to the girl’s level and, summoning as much friendliness as I could, said, ‘What’s your name? Why are you here?’

The girl’s eyes flickered to Tom, then, giving a tiny, contemptuous shake of the head, as if by her presence all my questions had already been answered and I was being obstructive or just plain dumb, she said, ‘I’m Ruby Winter.’

I felt Tom’s hands on my shoulder. They were no longer trembling so much as hot and spasmic.

‘Cat, please go and make some tea. I’ll come in a second.’

There was turmoil in his eyes. ‘Please,’ he repeated. And so, not knowing what else to do, I turned on my heels and made for the kitchen.

While the kettle wheezed into life, I sat at the table in a kind of stupor; too shocked to gather my thoughts, I stared at the clock as the red second hand stuttered towards the upright. Tock, tock, tock. There were voices in the hallway, then I heard the living room door shut. Time trudged on. I began to feel agitated. What was taking all this time? Why hadn’t Tom come? Part of me felt I had left the room already but here I was still. Eventually, footsteps echoed in the hallway. The door moved and Tom appeared. I stood up and went over to the counter where, what now seemed like an age ago, I had laid out a tray with the teapot and some mugs.

‘Sit down, darling, we need to talk.’ Darling. When was the last time he’d called me that?

I heard myself saying, idiotically, ‘But I made tea!’

‘It’ll wait.’ He pulled up a chair directly opposite me.

When he spoke, his voice came to me like the distant crackle of a broken radio in another room. ‘I’m so sorry, Cat, but however I say this it’s going to come as a terrible shock, so I’m just going to say what needs to be said, then we can talk. There’s no way round this. The girl, Ruby Winter, she’s my daughter.’

Do you want to read more (silly question, of course you do…). I have three copies of Give me the Child to give away.  To be in with a chance, please comment below.  Winners will be picked at random. You can also buy the book here.

Good luck!

The Graduate

I know you’ve all been sitting there hitting refresh every five seconds, but I am shocked to learn that it is over a year since I posted here.  I’m not going to excuse it – life got in the way as it tends to.  Anyway, as of today I am officially a graduate.

I got my final OU mark today (90% on my exam and a distinction overall) and am in line for a First class degree.  Go, me!  It’s been a long four and a half years with many tears and tantrums along the way, but I’ve done it!

As soon as I opened the email, I burst into tears as relief and happiness washed over me.  This particular module was a tough one.  As well as the immense workload, Ive had a busy, busy year. I started a new job last October, re-entering the world of full-time employment which added to the pressure.  We’ve set a wedding date (eeeek) finally and so that has taken up time in venue hunting, dress shopping and the million and one other things that go along with it. Every deadline seemed to coincide with something major – two deaths in the family, a huge bus crash which resulted in a broken wrist on deadline day (the day I said ‘Oh, it’ll be fine, I’ll just do my bibliography and conclusion when I get in from work…’ ha – yeah.  The references ended up in no logical order with typos and the conclusion was, to quote my tutor ‘odd’).  Then there was the bout of pleurisy.  It’s been a fun year.

I apologise for blowing my own trumpet – actually, that’s a lie.  As much as it goes agaisnt my character, I am bloody proud of myself.

Now my degree is done (did I mention that?) I’m starting to write more.  I’m reading for pleasure more (18 books in the month since my exam) and of course, planning the wedding of the decade.

REVIEW: Self Publish Your Book by Jessica Bell

downloadThere are so many ‘how to’ writing and publishing guides on the market and like any self-respecting procrastinating writer, I have read a lot of them.  This guide from Jessica Bell is by far, my favourite.

Every step from formatting to cover design to actually getting your book out there is covered in step-by-step detail.  Jessica manages to spell it out in simple detail without being condescending.  I love the bullet points; not only can you tick off items as you do them, but it breaks down what can seem like huge tasks into bite size, manageable chunks.  I’m not the most technical person, but I managed to follow each and every step with ease.  A quick example: before reading this book, I spent days (probably more like weeks) messing around trying to format my book.  With this book, I had it all finished in one day. That is how good this book is.

I seriously cannot recommend this book (or the others in the In a Nutshell series – I have them all) enough.  If you’re serious about self-publishing, you have to buy this book.

The book is availble now in Kindle or paperback format.

REVIEW: ‘Normal’ by Graeme Cameron

normalUsing the point-of-view of a serial killer, this debut novel offers a fresh approach to what might otherwise be a little bit tired in the way of premise.  The (unnamed) protagonist is your average man.  Normal.  He smiles at strangers.  He helps people.  He’s just normal.  Aside from the fact that his hobby is murder.  He has an elaborate cage in a special cellar built under his garage; yet he treats his captives with an almost kindness.  As far as the storyline goes, there isn’t much that hasn’t been done before. The first person narrator, however, makes it creepy as hell.  The worst bit?  He’s actually really quite likeable.  Yep.  I found myself rooting for him as the police closed in.  I was on the side of a serial killer.  Now, that is terrifying and that is what makes this book stand out from the crowd.  When I finally finished, I felt slightly shell-shocked.  What does it say about me that I feel such empathy for such an evil man?  I actually think it says a lot more about Cameron that he can create a humanness in such a vile character.

Quite a lot is left to the imagination in Normal.  It does get quite gruesome in parts, but these parts are understated.  The gore isn’t spelt out to the reader, rather dropped in in a scarily matter-of-fact way.  Several times, I stopped and went back to re-read bits, convinced I had mis-read the first time.  For the main character, his murdering lifestyle is ‘normal’ and it becomes that way for the reader, also.  It is also darkly humorous in parts.  I would laugh out loud, then catch myself and think ‘why the hell am I finding this funny?’. It made me question my sanity in a way few other books ever have.

It’s really difficult to say much more without giving away the entire plot; so I will leave it with this:  this book is possibly the most psychologically scary I have ever read.  It probably won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I do recommend it to anyone who loves a good thriller but is looking for something fresh.

Best Twentieth Novel

For my final assignment on my current OU module,I have to choose the best novel of the Twentieth Century from a shortlist of four plus one not studied.  Picking which midule text to cover is always difficult enough, but picking my own – impossible!

There are far too many amazing novels I could use.  Just scribbling down ideas off the top of my head yielded two sides of A4 paper.  I’m trying to think logically, finding a novel to fit with the argument I’m tattoed girlmaking and one which I can find an abundance of critical resources on, but my heart is getting in the way of my head.  Just for a change.  Writing the essay will be a piece of cake after the hell that is making my choices.

In other reading news, I have been on a bit of a Joyce Carol Oates binge, reading ‘The Accursed’, ‘The Gravediggers daughter’ and currently ‘The Tattooed Girl’.  I love and am in complete awe of her writing style.

In kind-of-reading-related-news I have discovered wfgaudio books.  I’ve never really got on with them, my mind has a tendency to
wander and listening isn’t the same as reading.  But, I have been listening to books as I clean or walk to work and it does make it more enjoyable.  I have just finished listening to Joyce Carol Oates’s ‘Blonde’ a fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe which I absolutely loved.

I have also been reading Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ for an assignment which I am enjoying a lot more than I imagined I would.

What is your favourite Twentieth Century novel?  What have you been reading?

Golden Opportunity

Exciting news: ‘Golden Opportunity’, a short screenplay I was working on a while back is being produced.  The original short story, by the fabulous PJ Kaiser, was part of the eMergent Publishing anthology ‘Nothing but Flowers’ and I adapted it for the screen under the expert guidance of producer/director Devin Watson.

The trailer has just been released and it looks amazing, even if I say so myself.

I have loved every second of working on this project.  Writing for the screen was both challenging and exciting and I have loved watching it all come to life over the past few months.  I have yet to see the finished product, but I literally cannot wait!

Want to see more? Head on over to the Facebook page and give it a like for up-to-date information, behind the scenes photos, stills from the footage and more!

 

Reading challege

Anyone who has read my last posts, will be glad to know that I am done with my Virginia Woolf assignment – yay – and have dodoes
moved on to Philip K Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ and Allen Ginsberg’s poetry collection ‘Howl’.  I love them both and am having difficulty deciding which to concentrate on for my next assignment.

In non-studying reading, I’ve been enjoying some lighter books.  After reading Kate Atkinson’s ‘Case Histories’, I’ve revisited ‘Life after Life’ and ‘One Good Turn’.  I love Kate Atkinson’s books and plan to buy more.

casvacAt the top of my TBR pile is ‘A Casual Vacancy’ by JK Rowling.  I bought this shortly after it was released but never read it.  I watched Sunday evenings television adaptation, though and am desperate to read the book before the final part airs. It is sitting on my bedside table waiting for me tonight.   I’m also planning to re-read ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ ahead of the sequel being released this Summer.  As much as I love re-reading books, I’m always a bit anxious about re-reading a firm favourite in case it doesn’t live up to its memory.  This happened with Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ last year.  It was one of my favourite books of my late teens.  I had a bit of a Plath-crazy phase and read everything I could get my hands on. I built up the ‘Bell Jar’ so much in my kambmind that when I re-read it in my thirties, though I loved it, it wasn’t a patch on the version in my head.

I move house this week, so I envisage lots of procrastination time for reading.

What are you reading?