There was a noise upstairs…

Here is an extract from my novel ‘The Double Act’…

Genet is alone at home in the hotel she and her husband Lance own; the guests, a group of architects on a conference are all out for the night and she sits alone, pondering on the strange turn her life has taken. Unbeknownst to Lance, she is pregnant…

The storm didn’t break; there was the occasional flash of lightning and a groan of thunder but apart from the occasional flurry of large rain drops, nothing happened. Genet thought irresistibly of the evening of her parents-in-law’s party. They were still away, if only they would return maybe some balance could be restored with Lance, maybe she could at least talk to him.

She sat for a while in the sun room then restlessly she went back to the sitting room and lay on the settee to watch television. It was mind-numbing and she closed her eyes. She woke to silence, the TV and reading lamp were off, there was another power cut. The police had said there hadn’t been a power failure last time but she knew she was right, the flashing digital display had proved it.

There was a noise upstairs, maybe one of the architects had returned and was blundering about in the dark. The noise came again, as if someone was lifting something and dropping it and Genet went into the hall.

“Hello? Lance? Hello?”

In case there was a confused architect trying to find his way Genet hurried upstairs even though there was no sound of anything now. She called out again and knocked on the doors of the bedrooms. Nothing. She stood at the landing window, staring down into the dark garden. The lights were on in the bungalow. The night was strangely peaceful now, the wind had dropped, there was no sound of the sea or the trees rustling. Silence. Thinking of a cup of tea and a peanut butter and banana sandwich, she turned back to the staircase.

And then out of nowhere there was something behind her and she was shoved violently. She grabbed at the banister but missed as she tumbled headfirst, trying to save herself, arms and legs flailing wildly as she fell. She landed with a crash at the bottom and lay stunned on her back, one leg still upon the stairs.

Something blacker than the dark was descending swiftly towards her and she tried to cry out but was too winded and then whatever it was leapt and almost flew over her and was gone.

She tried to move her arms.  My baby, my baby... She could make no noise, no sound, she couldn’t move. Oh my baby, oh, oh… She moved one arm and wrapped it across her belly. Everything was muzzy, she was dizzy and faint, all she could think of was her tiny child.

She was blinded by light as the power came on and the television was blaring again through the open door. Her other arm came back to life and she was able to move it and as she did so her body was flooded with agony, pain from too many sources to identify what hurt most or where most damage was. She was drifting in and out of awareness, was there a voice, was someone speaking?

© Lois Elsden 2018

Easthope is a quiet, slightly old-fashioned seaside town; nothing ever seems to happen, and Genet McCauley and her friends lead lives almost unchanged since they left school. Genet, married to mercurial Lance and running their small hotel, sometimes feels trapped and often feels bored, but she loves Lance and in most ways is content. Their friends call them the great double act; Genet without Lance? Lance without Genet? Impossible!
But then the McCauleys take on new tenants in a bungalow they own; is it a coincidence that as the enigmatic Dr Herrick and his disabled wife arrive in the small town, a series of acts of vandalism and arson is committed? At first they are, small, petty events, which seem to centre on the group of friends; however, before long they escalate to violence and attempted murder.
When the Herricks come to Easthope, Genet’s life and that of those closest to her, changes for ever. Don’t think ‘The Double Act’ is a romance, this may be a love story… but the other side of love is dark love.

Here is a link to The Double Act:

Going to the bank…

Here is an excerpt from my novel ‘The Double Act’ – its subtitle is ‘Don’t think ‘The Double Act’ is a romance, this may be a love story… but the other side of love is dark love.’ In this episode, Genet who owns a hotel with her husband Lance has gone to the bank – she needs cash for a family party Lance has organised. She’s not particularly looking forward to it – it will cost them a lot of money they can’t afford, and also she doesn’t get on very well with Lance’s family… and to cap it all, he has invited their tenants from a house they own, a very strange couple, Dr and Mrs Herrick…

Genet checked the balance at the ATM outside the main branch of the Strand Penny Bank in the new piazza. They couldn’t afford it but she had to have money to buy what she couldn’t get at the cash and carry. Lance had told her his brother and sisters would share the cost; Genet said nothing, oh yes, that will be the day. And who will compensate us for closing the hotel?

 The guest list had started at sixty including children, but at the rate Gawain and Lance kept extending the invitation it was likely to be nearer a hundred.

The screen changed and Genet looked in disbelief at the green numbers on the display. They should have more money than that! She had mentally put their balance about five hundred pounds more than what was displayed. Whatever the balance, she needed cash so she keyed in another transaction.

She glanced round at the sound of someone’s step. A gangly youth with a hat pulled down his forehead and his track suit zipped to his nose stood behind her. She smiled and he wiggled his pierced eyebrows. She turned back to the dispenser and took her cash and card then stumbled as she was shoved roughly. She fell against another boy, shorter, slighter, stinking of weed and tobacco. He grabbed her bank card and pushed her violently to the ground and then someone was kneeling on her, forcing her down, and her hand still clutching the money was grabbed and her arm twisted back.

Her cries and screams were muffled by the smelly boy crushing her against the pavement, yelling abuse as he tried to open her hand… And then relief as her arm was released, but an excruciating pain shot up her wrist as one of them stamped on her clenched fist.

As suddenly as it had arrived, the weight on her head and shoulders disappeared and she rolled over, clutching her hand in agony.

Herrick was wrestling with one of her attackers while the other was pounding him with his fists. Several people stood watching, open-mouthed, but no-one interfered.

“Get the police!” Genet screamed, staggering to her feet. “Call the police!” she yelled again, staggering towards the melee. She snatched up an umbrella rolling across the pavement, and swung it down on the boy’s head. He reeled away as the man’s fist connected, his mouth spouting blood.

Herrick stood panting and swaying, his face marked from the tussle as the two attackers tumbled over each other.

A policeman was running up, talking animatedly into his radio and pulling his stick from his belt, flicked it open. People in the crowd found the courage to surge forward and surround the participants and Genet sank to the ground, trembling, and in agony.

There was the blessed sound of siren and moments later a policeman was crouching beside her.

“You OK, Gen?” It was Heath, a friend from her schooldays; he’d had long hair then, now it was short and spiky. He asked about her rescuer, a neighbour she said through quivering lips.

There was a blur of events, voices, radios cackling, sirens… then she was sitting in an ambulance.

“You’re being very brave!” The paramedic was an older woman, stout in her green uniform, but kind and reassuring. “I don’t think anything’s broken except some little bones might be fractured. Nothing serious!”

Nothing serious? She only had a hotel to run and a party to organise for goodness knows how many people! She was shivering with shock, despite the blanket wrapped round her. Herrick sat opposite, flexing his hands and touching a tooth as if it might be loose.

Genet subsided into a dreamlike state as the ambulance raced through the streets, siren blaring. She was unloaded from the vehicle like a sack of potatoes onto a trolley, and wheeled into the hospital and into a cubicle with cheerful sunflowers on the curtain.  A triage nurse appeared and began to take her details. Time passed strangely and she was suddenly on the move again for an x-ray and then to have her hand bandaged, strapped and pinned into a sling.

It was bruised and sprained, she’d dislocated her wrist and there were fractures in several tiny bones. She was returned to the reception area and to her surprise, Herrick was waiting.

One of his hands was bandaged and his face was red and puffy; he looked severe and disapproving but he was merely anxious.

“I’ve tried to ring Lance; he’s not at the hotel and no-one knows where he is,” he said. “I’ll drive you home, my car’s outside.”

If you want to find out more about Genet and Dr Herrick, and what happened at the party, then here is a link to my book:

More on the black shuck and an Essex serpent

I’ve been reading ‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry for my Sunday book club; as you may guess from the title it is about a mythological beast not an actual serpent as in a snake but as in a sort of monstrous wingless dragon (sometimes also confusingly called a worm, confusingly because we thing of worms as small pink eight inch things who live in the earth) There are references to other mythical creatures, including the black shuck – a dog like hound which appears in legends and modern-day sightings across the country, but has that particular name in Essex and east Anglia. We even have local stories published in the newspapers recently about our own Somerset version, seen on the hills of Banwell a village less than ten miles from here.

Here’s something I wrote a while ago:

I came across an article about travel and tourism which mentioned that an app has been developed by the Bram Stoker International Film Festival so visitors to Whitby can follow a trail which features places the Victorian author of Dracula visited which inspired him.
I used to be a great fan of the Dracula myth, and even for a time was a member of the Dracula society; I recently reread Stoker’s novel with my book club and was pleased that I still enjoyed it and thought it stood the test of time. There are many memorable scenes, of course, but one that I think of whenever I visit Whitby is when the ship The Demeter grounded on the beach and a black dog leapt off and disappeared, Dracula in disguise, of course! I didn’t realise that Stoker saw an actual ship called The Dmitri which had come ashore in a storm.

The article mentioned the word barghest, which is a mythical creature in the form of a big black dog-like animal, said to wander the streets of Whitby and York; although that word is given in Yorkshire to the apparition, ghostly black dogs appear all across Britain, and it is thought they originated way back in ancient pre-Roman times, ,maybe even pre-Celtic, who knows. A fear of big animals with sharp teeth and big claws, creeping invisibly in the darkness must resonate in our deepest folk memories.

I didn’t realise, although I come from East Anglia, that my family home ground also has legends of a black dog, the black shuck – sometimes the shuck only has one eye in the middle of his forehead, sometimes he has no head at all, but stories of his prowlings appear in Peterborough (where my grandparents lived for a while) and Littleport, (where a cousin’s family come from) in Cambridgeshire, Bungay and Blytheburgh in Suffolk, and Dereham in Norfolk.

The only time I have written about anything ghostly or spooky is in ‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’, a story I wrote for disaffected young readers, those who can read but don’t want to. The beast I created was wolf-like, but walked and fought like a man… a sort of were-wolf. I don’t think the barghest or the black shuck have a were-nature, they seem to foretell doom and death, but the idea of a huge canine-type creature appears in myths across these islands, and in many other countries too.

wolves on the campus 3I used this photo of sculpted wolves on Surrey University campus to create a cover for my most recent novel…

If you haven’t read it yet, here is a link:

The other side of love

I have been sharing excerpts from my e-books, and today I have an episode from ‘The Double Act’, published in 2015; the bye-line is: Don’t think ‘The Double Act’ is a romance, this may be a love story… but the other side of love is dark love.

The blurb says: Easthope is a quiet, slightly old-fashioned seaside town; nothing ever seems to happen, and Genet McCauley and her friends lead lives almost unchanged since they left school. Genet, married to mercurial Lance and running their small hotel, sometimes feels trapped and often feels bored, but she loves Lance and in most ways is content. Their friends call them the great double act; Genet without Lance? Lance without Genet? Impossible!

Here is an extract from the third part of the story, entitled ‘Joost’. Joost has escaped police surveillance and is trying to find somewhere safe to hide from them while he considers what to do next:

Joost considered where he could go; he couldn’t live rough, although able to, he wanted to be clean and fed and rested. He wanted time to work out what was going on, because he was sure he had all the answers if only he could put them together.

He followed the line of the hedge downhill until he reached the bottom of the field. He wasn’t familiar with the geography but had a rough idea of the direction he should go. Colin had confused him as well as his pursuers but he guessed he should be heading northwest to reach Easthope.

He followed the boundary away from the lane, found a break in the fence and entered a small copse. He moved through the undergrowth using the sun to guide him until he came across a damp watercourse. He sat for a while in the cool shade, then followed the line of the brook downhill. He came to a stream, a sluggish trickle of water which he tracked until it met a ditch by a field full of cows. A man was wandering among them with a clipboard.

Keeping low and among the trees Joost followed the ditch until it ran into a culvert under a narrow lane. He sunk down and waited, listening for vehicles or voices. When he was sure he was safe he climbed over the wire fence, forcing his way between the brambles and blackthorn and into the lane. There was no way he could get through the other side to continue following the water, the hedge was too thick.

He ran up the lane looking for a way in, then retraced his steps. He stopped as he heard the sound of a tractor coming along the road. He ran back to the stream and looked over the low wall along the edge of the culvert; there was a drop of about eight foot. The tractor was coming closer, he couldn’t wait and vaulted the wall and dropped into the stream and crouched in the dark tunnel entrance. More water flowed now, the stream must have been joined by others. The tractor rumbled overhead followed by a couple of cars.

When the only sound was the water and birds singing in the brambles, Joost stood and waded downstream. He hadn’t replaced his smashed watch and had no idea of the time or how long he wandered through the countryside, following the meanders, climbing through culverts when he could, dashing across lanes and roads when he couldn’t.

The sun was sinking in the sky and his priority was to find somewhere to shelter for the night; he had to rest and sleep. He found a round concrete structure facing north; Joost didn’t recognise it as an old World War 2 pillbox. It reeked of urine and another unidentifiable stench but it was dry and safe.

The night seemed unending as he dozed and roused and slept and started awake. He was roused by the sound of outrage, and when he crept from his hide he found himself on the banks of a river where two swans were attacking each other.

It must be the River Hope. He walked along the banks where he could, scratched by briars, stung by nettles, and back into the water when there was no choice There were houses and for a while the river ran beside a main road but Joost cautiously pressed on along the bank, hungry and thirsty and tired, his head-ache pounding. He was joined by a dog for a while, cars passed him, but no-one on foot, no faces at windows, no fishermen.

The river narrowed, the banks steep, a wall atop one, a rackety fence along the other and Joost realised where he was. On the other side of the wall was the night club he and Genet had visited in search of Lance and her birthday guests. He rounded the bend, swimming in the waist-deep water, and there was the old watermill. Ahead was the bridge over the river where he’d leant several nights ago, the same night he ended up in Genet’s bed, the same night Monique Sands was attacked.

There were voices and music from the old watermill, tables with parasols set up outside for lunch. He walked back to where he could get out of the water and scrambled up the rubbish strewn bank. He shook the fence to see if it was safe to climb but as he grasped the panel, the rotten wood gave way and he fell backwards, dropping back into the river. For a second he let the water push and carry him but then he got to his feet and waded back to the bank. Despite the noise of splintering wood, no-one had come rushing to see what had happened.

Wearily he climbed up the bank into the narrow alley. The back walls and fences were anonymous and Joost struggled to remember which gate he wanted. It wasn’t locked and he went into the back yard, the troughs of summer plants brilliant in the midday sun. Suddenly exhausted he sat on a dustbin; now he was here he was suddenly nervous of his reception.

Something flew through the air and landed at his feet. A cork. He looked round; there were others lying about the yard.

© Lois Elsden

When nothing happens

Like many people I’m on Linkedin (which for a quite a while, for no reason, I thought was called Lindlekin ) I rarely use it at all but occasionally I get notifications and today it was from a writing group, and it was a question “When nothing happens – Do you like stories that have ambiguous endings or stories in which not much happens? For example, instead of being plot-driven, a story can be character-driven?”

Now that’s a very good question! I actually don’t like stories where nothing much happens… I’ve written before about my reading habits, and how I think in some ways I am not as good a reader as I used to be – although recently I’ve had string of successful ‘reads’, so maybe I’m improving! I used to be able to wade through anything and persevere to the end… now ‘when nothing happens‘ I tend to give up! A friend in our reading group loves beautifully written books, loves the language of them… but I’m afraid I want some story line, I want some sort of action! I don’t mean that there has to be a punch up on every page or a chase or a romantic development, but I want to feel as if there is some sort of progression.

It’s the same in my writing, I like to have some sort of progression, people change, relationships begin or end, events occur – unexpected, unlooked-for, sometimes unwanted! I guess I like plots! Characters are everything, and setting, but there must be a plot… and endings… satisfactory endings are vital! A satisfactory ending is not necessarily a closed, completed ending, it can be open or ambiguous – but it must conclude the proceedings! I have a very good friend who very kindly tells me honestly what she thinks of my stories, and I always take great heed of her suggestions and advice; on one occasion she commented that an ending (of Flipside) was too brief – everything was wrapped up and concluded too hastily and although the mystery was solved, the characters were left sort of hanging about! So in the next book I worked very hard on the ending – and I’m delighted to say she approved!

Just to briefly look at the endings of my novels…

  • Farholm – the puzzle is solved, the mystery revealed, but for the characters there will continue to be difficulties after the conclusion – grieving will continue, an unhappy relationship struggles on, and another relationship will never even start
  • The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – the stalker is revealed, but  a new relationship based on a rather precarious foundation begins on almost the last page
  • Loving Judah – a resolved ending, but I hope I have pointed the reader towards realising there will be a rocky road ahead for two of the characters
  • The Double Act – a complete conclusion – but when I came to do the final edit, I had to add an extra bit – an epilogue I guess you could call it. The dramatic action had ended in a flourish, but the reader needed a come-down, so I added a final piece when the two main characters are visited by the investigating police officer some months later; readers can imagine an optimistic onward journey, I hope
  • night vision – all the secrets are revealed, and the main character is overwhelmed with happiness and relief, but I hope the reader will see that in actual fact, her optimism might be misguided
  • Lucky Portbraddon – for some of the Portbraddon family, their lives seem settled and hopeful at the end of the book; for others there are unresolved issues, but I hope it is a satisfactory ending since the characters all seem in a position to deal with an unsettled future
  • The Radwinter stories – the first novel, Radwinter, was supposed to be a stand-alone story with a complete conclusion and a short epilogue to pull everything together; it could have remained like that but I realised only half the story was told, and so a sequel appeared… and then it seemed somehow a series emerged. I hope each one is also stand-alone, and I try to tie up the different narrative strands satisfactorily

So to answer the original question – I don’t like books where nothing happens, I don’t mind an ambiguous ending, but it must be a satisfactory ending!

Here is a link to my books:

Promoting my stuff

If you’re just an ordinary person, bragging about yourself is totally alien… If you’re an ordinary British person, it’s even more so. We’re not good at receiving compliments, modesty and self-deprecation are qualities ingrained, so now for me, when I want to reach an audience for my books, it’s tricky to balance overcome my natural unwillingness to blow my own trumpet. I guess that’s where agents come in, agents can promote work, and get it out there in an expert way. However, I don’t have an agent, and in a funny sort of way, now I have been self-publishing and self-promoting for five years, I sort of like it – every success is down to me! Oops, am I blowing my own trumpet?

Why do I want people to read my stories? Why do musicians want an audience? Why do artists want the world to see their work? Why do actors get up on a stage rather than prancing around in front of a mirror? For me, being a story-teller is natural, it’s what I am, in my every day life I’m for ever going on about something or another, something that happened to me, something I saw/did/heard/learnt/took part in. When I was a professional teacher, the kids would always say ‘oh no, not another story’, when I launched into something – I think (hope) they actually liked my ramblings… I did it almost without thought, my mind leaping from the subject in hand to something which happened to me or a friend or a cousin, or something I just randomly made up to entertain.

An example of the ‘made-up’ stories I told my students, apart from ‘the ghost of the fourth floor’ which became a college legend, was about my teaching assistant, Sally. I can’t even now remember how I got onto talking about what we had done in our lives apart from working in schools, when I went into a lengthy description of Sally’s past life growing up in a circus, being a trapeze artist with spangly tights and revealing costume, how in her free time she was exceedingly modest ad wore long dresses, and her future husband fell in love with her when she was looking after the coconut shy and he caught a glimpse of her ankle as she bent down to pick up a fallen coconut…

So back to my trumpet blowing… Yes, I want people to read my stories! yes I actually think they are not too bad – self-deprecation alert – they are quite good! So… if you haven’t read any yet – here is a really brief fanfare for each:

  • Radwinter – Thomas finds out more about himself and his own family than about his ancestors… who actually had quite a dramatic time, fleeing 1830’s war-torn Warsaw and jumping ship in Harwich
  • Magick (Radwinter 2) – the rather terrifying father of Thomas’s step-son comes in search of ‘his boy’
  • Raddy and Syl (Radwinter 3) – mysterious Moroccans preying on an old woman, a disappeared woman who may not have even existed, and shocking truths about his own family – Thomas has quite a difficult series of event to deal with
  • Beyond Hope (Radwinter 4) – Thomas meets a dangerous psychopath, and somehow gets involved in people smuggling
  • Earthquake -(Radwinter 5) – a haunted hotel, an eighty year old mystery which brings danger to the present… Thomas is really under pressure
  • Farholm – who  killed young girls on the island of Farholm? Is he still on the loose, or was a recently widowed woman’s dead husband responsible?
  • The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – who stalked Rosa to her death… and has s/he moved on to a new victim?
  • Loving Judah – can Aislin and her husband Peter ever get over the death of his son Judah?
  • night vision – a thirty year old murder is discovered
  • Flipside – is a war damaged veteran responsible for a series of dreadful murders… or is he a victim pf more than his war service?
  • The Double Act – Don’t think this novel is a romance, this may be a love story… but the other side of love is dark love
  • Lucky Portbraddon – perhaps the Portbraddons are not so lucky, murder, drugs, madness, modern slavery… but also unexpected love

Are you tempted? They are all available as e-readers, Radwinter is also available as a paperback


Piecing it together

I guess each writer has their own way of working, and what seems the most obvious and straightforward and sensible thing to do for one person, seems eccentric to say the least for someone else. Some people like lists  and flow charts, tick sheets and filing cards and have planned the whole thing meticulously before they even start writing the introduction, others just plunge in completely randomly and make it up as they go along… I am not exactly a plunge right in at random person – but neither am I a plans and lists person.

I guess I do a lot of planning before I actually start (most of the time – but there have been stories which I just randomly started writing!)  but my planning is mental, I spend car journeys, or waiting in queues, or pondering as I drift into sleep, I think of characters, and situations, and puzzles and coincidences, and weird things which happen to ordinary people. During this period I might do a little bit of prospective writing, maybe a few pages, maybe a few chapters; usually these embryonic starts are abandoned, sometimes they get rewritten, sometimes they become something else completely, sometimes they are included almost as they were first written.

As my writing proceeds I do occasionally do jottings on paper – when I wrote my first Radwinter novel I had huge sheets of paper with family trees, because it was so complicated – for me, not the reader, I hope! I had tried to follow the pattern of a lot of families, with recurring names – names from parents, grandparents, ancestral and maternal surnames included, but I had to make sure it was clear in my mind, in order for it to be clear to the reader!

In the sequel to ‘Radwinter’, ‘Magick’ – the maternal line of the family, I also had mighty sheets of paper with family trees, because at one point a family changed its name, there were several branches of the family which interwove, there were all sorts of complications – for me – once again, I hoped the story was clear and uncomplicated for people reading it!

In the new, as yet untitled Radwinter novel, which I’m getting into, there is a genealogical investigation, but it is quite linear and so not too complicated (although there are mysteries, of course!) but I have another task which needs to be sorted out before I get full-on with the actual writing. You see, in my previous book in the series, ‘Earthquake’, there were as usual several story lines – but a couple too many! I had done a lot of writing, so, with the wonders of modern technology, I was able to cut out the extra storylines, and save them for another time.

This is what Earthquake was originally:

  • a family tree/history/genealogy
  • the mystery of a school girl who died in 1931, and her twelve classmates
  • an earthquake (of course, since it’s the title of the novel!)
  • a new arrival in the Radwinter family, a new arrival who has an unhappy history
  • two of the four Radwinter brothers struggling in different ways with what I guess you could call ‘personal issues’
  • a young woman with amnesia
  • a haunted hotel
  • the everyday story of Thomas Radwinter and his family
  • an old cake-making gentleman

… so you can see it would have been far too long and far too complicated! The main stories I cut out were the family history  story, and the girl who had lost her memory. I had written nearly forty thousand words on these, so you can see it would have been a very long book indeed.

Now, in my new Radwinter story, there is plenty of room, to use these story-lines, much slimmed down I have to say, but there are also other new ‘adventures’ too!

  • one, if not two stalkers (of different characters)
  • house-hunting
  • obsessive jealousy/possessiveness

Because most of my stories are set in the small imaginary seaside town of Easthope, it has struck me that characters from different novels must ‘know’ each other. The manager of the bookshop (owned by a character from ‘The Double Act’) in the town, must know or at least know of, the most famous local writer who was a main character in my 2016 novel, ‘Lucky Portbraddon’… and somehow in this new novel, characters from ‘Night Vision’ have started to appear! I don’t know how they sneaked in!!

So… back to my weaving!

Here are links to my books:



night vision:

The Double Act

Lucky Portbraddon

…and all my stories: