Short Story Time

The Grim Reaper

‘Nana,’ says a little voice in my ear. It’s my favourite of all the names people call me: Nana, Mum, Rose, that nosy old woman at number fifteen. ‘Are you all right, Nana?’

It’s Izzy, my six-year-old granddaughter, yet I keep my eyes closed. I don’t want to worry her, but I’m too scared to open my eyes in case there’s another one of them at the end of the bed. I read in a magazine once that patients, moments from death, reported seeing the previously departed in the same room. These are my final hours, I can feel it in my bones.

But why would Sandra Burkett appear to me? I last saw her over thirty years ago. She lived on our street and we brought up our children at the same time. When her son reached sixteen, she ran off with the owner of the corner shop. Imagine that: her and Mr Turnball. She called him Bully, which was quite apt as he had a belly the size of Jupiter.

Anyway, two years later, her son told us that Sandra had died during a hot spell in Tenerife. Terribly upset he was, obviously. I didn’t say it was karma taking a bite, because no one deserves that sort of retribution. But it would be just my luck to end up with her as my companion to the other side.

My husband, Eric, doesn’t believe in all that nonsense. ‘Once you’re dead, you’re dead,’ he says. He tells me I should stop worrying all the time, to just live in the moment, but it’s hard when I might die at any moment.

I don’t know why I’m in hospital this time. The last thing I remember is peeling potatoes at the sink; it was so hot. Was it yesterday? I must’ve been found in the kitchen, sprawled on the floor. It could’ve been worse, though – I could’ve been in the bath or on the loo. My face burns with the shame of it, even though didn’t happen. Vivid imagination, Eric says.

‘Nana?’

‘Don’t bother her, love,’ says another voice. ‘Let her sleep.’

It’s Steven, our only child. I say child, he’s forty-two.

I carefully flicker open an eyelid. Izzy’s playing on her dad’s phone anyway. It didn’t take her long to abandon the notion of receiving precious words of wisdom from her dying grandmother.

The curtains are closed around us and there’s no one at the end of my bed any more. I open my eyes fully, and put my hands either side of me to make a show of sitting up. I know I shouldn’t, but there are certain things to be expected of a woman of my age.

Steven gets up quickly from the plastic chair.

‘Mum, love,’ he says. ‘I’ll help you.’

‘Give over,’ I say, pulling myself up and leaning back against the lovely soft pillow. Stoic as ever, they’ll say when they remember me. ‘I’m fine.’

I want to add I’m not dead yet, but I wouldn’t want to devastate the poor lad when he remembers this moment in a few days.

‘You had us worried for a while,’ he says.

I look around, probably a bit too obviously. He means his wife, Anna, and his dad.

‘They’ve popped downstairs for a coffee,’ he says.

He’s always been good at noticing my little looks, unlike his father. No, no. I’m being factitious now. Eric’s always been a good sort. We married when I was twenty-one and he was twenty-three. By standards these days, we were only starting out, but things were different then.

I should’ve popped Steven something extra in my will – though everything will go to Eric first. Only my mother’s wedding ring is mine alone. It’s quite sad really; I’ve not many precious possessions of my own. But life isn’t about things, is it? Not when you’re in my position. Still, he’d get a few quid for the ring, if he sold it. But I can’t think about that.

When my mother died, it was just me and Dad for years. I was only twelve; it was so sudden. Dad cleared out all her belongings after a just few months and we barely spoke about her. Poor Mum. It was a heart attack in her sleep – she was only thirty-nine.

I often think I could just die at any moment – it’s worried me all my life – that I’d go to sleep and never wake up. I’ve got too much to do, though. I’ve been older than her for thirty-eight years.

If anyone out there is listening, I think to myself, I can’t go now. I have to go to Izzy’s end of term play this Friday and book club on Thursday. I read this month’s novel all the way through this time and I’ve a few things I want to say about it. It would be just typical if I didn’t get there. Especially as Judy, the organiser, had words with me last time for going off piste with my comments on Wuthering Heights, the film version.

Why can’t my mother be the one to come for me? Instead, it’s been left to Sandra Burkett, the grim reaper personified. She was always gossiping about everyone else – I suppose she elbowed her way past those who really wanted to collect me.

No, Rose, I scold myself. Stop thinking like that.

I always thought that when I was about to leave this earthly plane, I’d have wisdom – a love for enemies. Why am I still the same? People will forget I was ever here if I’m still myself, someone ordinary. I sit up even further on my bed and try to think of some insightful observations of life.

All I can think of is the time it takes to boil carrots.

Izzy’s still engrossed in the game on Steven’s phone.

Anna pulls the curtain aside and places two inches of magazines on my overbed table.

‘I hope these are okay, Rose. I didn’t know which ones to pick so I bought them all.’

‘Bless you, love.’

Anna’s like a daughter to me. I should tell her how much I appreciate her before it’s too late.

The consultant whips the curtain open – I recognise her from my last visit, which is odd as I’ve never had the same one twice before.

‘How are you feeling, Rose?’ she says.

‘Now I think about it, I feel all right. What did I come in with?’

She gives me a quizzical look.

‘Low blood pressure. If you ever feel light-headed again, see your GP. But for now, we’re going to equip you with a monitor for twenty-four hours.’

‘Have you looked at my heart?’ I say. ‘I was always told that there was something wrong with it. Well, I wasn’t actually told that. It’s my mother you see, she died of a heart attack.’

‘We carried out an ECG and an echo of your heart. It’s perfectly fine for a person of your age.’

‘So, I’m not about to die?’

‘I can’t predict anything, Rose, but from your results at present, no.’

Eric comes in … there’s a look to his face. Guilty? No – sheepish.

‘Er, there’s a visitor for you, love,’ he says, eyes wide.

After writing on my notes, the consultant leaves. She’s replaced by an older woman, standing at the end of my bed.

Sandra Burkett.

I look to Eric. What on earth is going on?

‘You can see her too, then?’ I say.

He frowns. ‘Yes, love. We’ll leave you two to catch up.’

‘Wait, no …’ I say, but they’ve already scarpered.

Sandra pulls the chair along the floor and it squeals, just like the voice in my head. She sits down only half a yard away from me.

‘I thought you’d died.’ I say. ‘Your son was distraught.’

She takes off her coat. My shoulders sag.

‘Dead? Me? No, plenty of life left yet. My Peter took a while to forgive me for running off, but he did, thank the Lord. Anyway. We’ve got so much to catch up on. I’ll tell you it all from the beginning.’ She settles into the chair. ‘Well, as you know I ended up in the Balearics, but the weather played havoc with Bully’s overactive sweat glands …’

I lean back against the pillow.

God, if you’re listening, put me out of my misery.

People Short Story

 

‘The Grim Reaper’ first appeared in the Sunday People August 2017

My new psychological suspense is out now – The Woman Downstairs published by Orion

 

 

 

 

The Woman Downstairs is out now!

The Woman Downstairs

Now available in ebook!

Can you ever really know your neighbours?

When human remains are found in a ground floor flat, the residents of Nelson Heights are shocked to learn that there was a dead body in their building for nearly two years.

Sarah lives at the flat above and after the remains are found, she feels threatened by a stranger hanging around the building.

Laura has lived in the building for as long as she can remember, caring for her elderly father, though there is more to her story than she is letting on.

As the investigation starts to heat up, and the two women become more involved, it’s clear that someone isn’t telling the truth about what went on all those years ago…

You can order it here – I hope you enjoy it!

The paperback will be published 6th February 2020 and can be pre-ordered here

 

‘Only a Mother’ will be published 27th December 2018

Publication day for ONLY A MOTHER is getting closer!

ONLY A MOTHER . . .
Erica Wright hasn’t needed to scrub ‘MURDERER’ off her house in over a year. Life is almost quiet again. Then her son, Craig, is released from prison, and she knows the quiet is going to be broken.
COULD BELIEVE HIM
Erica has always believed Craig was innocent – despite the lies she told for him years ago – but when he arrives home, she notices the changes in him. She doesn’t recognise her son anymore.
COULD LIE FOR HIM
So, when another girl goes missing, she starts to question everything. But how can a mother turn her back on her son? And, if she won’t, then how far will she go to protect him?
COULD BURY THE TRUTH

Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell, Louise Jensen, Katerina Diamond, Helen Fields and CL Taylor – a hard-hitting psychological thriller told from the fresh perspective of a killer’s mother.

Only A Mother is brilliantly observed, both tender and heart-breaking, without once flinching from harsh realities. Taking on a traumatic subject, combining realism with drama, is an incredibly difficult task but Carpenter handles it with breath-taking skill. Highly recommended, this is exactly the subject matter that book clubs have been waiting for’ (Helen Fields)

A refreshing move forward from the sometimes exhausting twists and turns of some psychological thrillers, Only a Mother is nevertheless a real rollercoaster of a read, with an emotionally resonant ending that left me both moved and humbled by the strength of a mother’s love. I couldn’t put this book down (Charlotte Duckworth author of THE RIVAL)

Tense, shocking and terrifyingly believable. Only A Mother turns the psychological thriller on its head, coming at the genre from a wholly original angle. The writing is sharp; the characters complex and compelling; the story skillfully plotted. A fantastic read. (Rebecca Tinnelly, author of NEVER GO THERE)

An unsettling, consistently compelling thriller with a terrific sense of foreboding. (B.P Walter, author of A VERSION OF THE TRUTH)

Elisabeth Carpenter skilfully portrays a mother’s love with unflinching honesty and tenderness. But is it misplaced? I recommend reading this tense and compelling thriller to find out. (Caroline England, author of MY HUSBAND’S LIES)

ONLY A MOTHER will be published 27th December 2018 by Orion and can be pre-ordered here.

I hope you enjoy it!

11 Missed Calls

11 Missed Calls Cover

Here are two things I know about my mother:
1. She had dark hair, like mine.
2. She wasn’t very happy at the end.

Anna has always believed that her mother, Debbie, died 30 years ago on the night she disappeared.

But when her father gets a strange note, she realises that she’s never been told the full story of what happened that night on the cliff.

Confused and upset, Anna turns to her husband Jack – but when she finds a love letter from another woman in his wallet, she realises there’s no one left to help her, least of all her family.

11 Missed Calls will be published 26 July 2018 and is available for pre-order here

Guest Post: My writing day by Caroline England

Thanks for inviting me onto your blog, Libby. At least I think so – I have just spent the last twenty minutes tidying my study for the photograph! Hm, still doesn’t look very tidy, but it’s certainly the place where I’m most focused and productive!

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Caroline’s Writing Space

So, my writing day… I’ve hardly done anything at all over the summer as I’ve been happily distracted by having my three daughters at home. No more excuses, though; my eldest has now moved to London, my middle is back at university and my youngest at school, so my plan is to get back into the writing zone!

Typically I start the day waving Emily off to school. Then I feed the pesky cats and make a huge cup of Yorkshire tea. I head to the study, sit at my desk (which looks messy, but is actually very ordered) and fire up the laptop. I reach for the first letter in my in-tray, then look at the top item on my to-do list. I read an email next, then go back to the tray. I bet you wish you hadn’t asked! I play these silly games to make admin more interesting. Or maybe I’m just odd!

Of course most items on the to-do list are crossed off and put on a new list (that counts as DONE, doesn’t it?) but when I’ve finally cleared the admin decks, I open the latest manuscript and start work. Though what is ‘work’ exactly? It isn’t necessarily ‘writing’. In recent months it’s been more editing, amending and polishing than creating new sentences. And when I do go back to new writing, I have to spend far too much time reading the novel-so-far to remind myself what it’s about! Then, of course there’s thinking moments, or minutes or hours. The bath, a run or the car seem to be the best for that, but when I’m in the study I gaze at my bookcase. Top shelf, books to be read and photos of those I’ve loved and lost. Next two are mainly poetry collections interspersed with lovely cards and recently read novels I haven’t yet squirrelled away in other rooms. I do love this bookcase, not only because it gives me inspiration for character’s names, but because my own novel is on it, a dream finally come true! Coincidentally it’s sitting on top of three other books by fabulous Avon HarperCollins authors, including you!

So back to the zone. Ah yes! Plenty more Yorkshire tea, an early lunch (a toasted chicken and gherkin wrap is the current sandwich de jour), then back to the laptop for another couple of hours until Emily comes home. Then I continue to work fitfully until I realise it’s my job to make dinner. So I peer in the veg basket and gaze in the fridge, hoping my creative endeavours will extend to cooking…

Thank you, Caroline, for sharing your writing day with us. Beneath the Skin, Caroline’s debut novel is available here.

 

 

 

Is it ‘who you know’, or ‘what you know’? Does having industry contacts help a writer get a book deal?

Before I began writing novels, this was a question I often asked myself. I thought novelists belonged to a special kind of club only accessible if you knew someone already in it. I had only written short stories up until then and I wrote alone – I thought that was how it should be done. I also believed that writing a whole book required a unique knowledge – that it just came to the author like an epiphany. It all seemed so out of reach to me.

My thinking changed when my partner, Dom, brought home a copy of Writing Magazine. He wanted to start writing. But, before he had a chance to read it, I had a flick through. There was a whole world of writers out there: writing groups, conventions and festivals. It felt like coming home! But there was still that burning question: did it help a writer to know people in the industry? How did writers get their books published – would attending writing events and festivals help?

After working on my first novel for a few months (oh how naïve was I?), I entered it into a national writing competition. Of course, I wasn’t shortlisted, but I met several other entrants online who were all in the same boat. We formed an online writing group.

This gave me the confidence to go to the York Festival of Writing. I’d been working on my first manuscript for nearly two years; I felt I was nearly there.

It was another revelation. There were loads more writers out there, just like me; writing and hoping that one day we’d be just like those authors who hosted the workshops we attended. Our day will come.

As part of this festival, I paid to have a one-to-one with a literary agent who would critique a few pages of my first ever ‘masterpiece’.

The agent said the writing was good, but was I really going to keep working on this story? ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I believe in it.’ The agent put his head in his hands. Literally.

As I talked to other writers, there were rumours that some ‘lucky’ writers had been asked for full requests after their one-to-ones. It was a brilliant day, though I left York thinking, It’s not my time. Yet I took with me hope that one day it would be. But it wouldn’t be with the book I had spent so much time working on.

The next event I went to – a year later – was Getting Published, organised by literary agency Janklow & Nesbitt in conjunction with Mumsnet. We, the audience, listened with piqued interest, as established authors told us about their paths to publication. We heard anecdotes from respected agents and editors. Then came the pitching session. I had never done one of these before. At York festival, the agent had read my work, but now I had to actually speak. I ended up reading from a sheet of paper, my mouth dry with nerves. The agent couldn’t have been more lovely – she was a normal person! ‘When it’s ready,’ she said, ‘send it to me.’

I sent her the fourth manuscript I’d been working on (I’d completed two NaNo’s in this time, but these will never see daylight!). Surely – after writing four whole books, this would be the one! I could mention in my cover letter that I’d actually met the agent. It took only minutes for the agent to respond to my initial submission – she wanted to see the rest of the manuscript!

Other agents requested this book, too, and it was longlisted in several well-known writing competitions. But ultimately it wasn’t the one for the agent I met – nor any of the others.

Whilst submitting my fourth book, I’d begun another called 99 Red Balloons. I was determined never to give up – I’d come so far. I’d also thought of another idea if this one didn’t ‘work’. I was a few weeks off finishing 99 Red Balloons when I registered for the Curtis Brown Discovery Day.

There were hundreds of writers there, queuing along the bannisters of three floors inside Foyles book shop in London, clutching their first pages that a Curtis Brown agent would read. My legs were shaking, my hands were sweating. When I sat down in front of the agent, my mind went blank. I babbled a bit about what I’d written in the past and was so relieved when she started to read my page. ‘Send it to us when you’ve finished,’ she said. I’d heard that before, but I had confidence in this novel. (Yeah, okay – I’d felt that about the others.)

When I completed my manuscript, I submitted to Curtis Brown. It wasn’t for them, but I had also sent it to a handful of other agents (that I’d never met) who’d expressed interest in my previous work. Several of them liked it enough to offer me representation.

Attending these events was brilliant for meeting other writers and seeing that agents and editors are ordinary people in search of a great book. They aren’t scary gate-keepers to a secret society. There are no rules; there are no special clubs. Even if you have an agent as a best friend, they’ll not represent you if she or he doesn’t like your book.

What it came down to, for me, was to write and write until you’ve written the best book you can at that moment in time, even if you won’t know if it’s the ‘right’ book until you send it out there. The more you write, the better you get.

I heard this phrase once, several years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since: The harder I work, the luckier I get. I think it’s true.

99 Red Balloons is available here

 

As One Would

My good friend Lydia and I went to see the amazing Margaret Atwood last week.

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Margaret Atwood reading from Hag Seed. (Apologies for the terrible quality of this photo. It was taken on my phone and we were up in the stalls!)

She talked about her recent novel Hag Seed, which is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Lydia and I celebrated (writers celebrate EVERYTHING!) with these:

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So, although I did make some notes, they are largely jibberish and a shorthand of a different time and place. But I did come away with some quotes:

Margaret’s favourite book is A Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

‘It is impossible to write a novel that isn’t a social commentary.’

‘Novels allow a reader to imagine they’re someone else. They foster empathy.’

margaret-atwood-1