CHAPTER SIX FICTION FOCUS SHORT FICTION
TWO DARK STORIES INSPIRED BY THE NEW FOREST
The editor was deciding which story to run with on the front page. His young assistant Lisa usually had strong opinions on what would attract readers.
'This young man has been missing for three days; lives at home, steady job, good character. He had an argument with his girlfriend, drove off and hasn’t been seen since.'
Lisa frowned 'I still think we should stick with the murdered stallion.'
'He wasn’t murdered, it was a hit and run accident' the editor smiled. 'You’ve been reading too many of Mr. Oak’s letters. There’s another one today, shall I include it in the letters page or do you think the readers are sick of him?'
'Yes link it with your leading item. He has got a point.'
'Banning cars from the New Forest, penalising families because of a few idiots? Mind you, it would stir things up a bit; we haven’t got any good stories this week. Sam’s been out to interview the verderer who found the dead stallion. Hmm, main headline Cars To Be Banned From New Forest, then much smaller Should cars be banned from the New Forest?’
'Me and Gavin are going to the forest tomorrow; a nice picnic by ourselves, then we’re going to his boss’s home for drinks and a dinner party. He’s got a posh house hidden in the middle of the forest; I hope Gav manages to find it.'
What Lisa didn’t tell her boss was that tomorrow she was going to give Gavin the news.
The picnic was lovely; the early spring sun was warm enough for them to sit on a blanket. Lisa was banking on Gavin being pleased, now he had his promotion. She was pleased and surprised with his response.
'That’s wonderful, let’s get married.'
Gavin had realised that he wanted to be a father and he wanted to marry Lisa. He had been reluctant to ask before; the thought of wedding fairs, months of planning and dressing up had appalled him. Now they had the ideal excuse for a small, quiet wedding very soon.
'Let’s get married here, in the forest, a sort of hippy wedding.'
She laughed. 'Why not, but don’t tell anyone this evening, we’ll have to tell our parents first.'
They enjoyed the evening and their shared secret; even looking benevolently on the boss’s ghastly children.
As they drove home, Gavin teased her. 'You’ll get a crick in your neck, you don’t have to keep looking at the speedometer.'
'We have to be careful in the dark; we might not see a pony till it’s too late. I wish you’d let me drive.'
'I’ve only had a couple of pints, you should take it easy now you’re pregnant.'
'We should have stuck to the A 35, it’s creepy out here.'
'You’re safe with me; this is the real forest, not the picnic ground with educational boards and ice cream vans.'
'Did you hear the news this morning? They’ve found that bloke’s car in the forest.'
'The one who went missing; I told the editor it wasn’t much of a story, now it seems it is. There was no sign of him.'
'Maybe he wanted to run away.'
'You could be right; the car was well hidden in the trees, off a remote track. Unless he was kidnapped and they didn’t want his car found.'
'Who found it?'
'That’s the creepy thing, it might not have been found for years; some botanist was looking for rare plants.' Lisa looked at the speedometer; the speed had crept up while they had been chatting. 'Gavin, I thought you were going to be more responsible now you’re going to be…'
Her sentence remained unfinished as they felt a bump and Gavin rammed the brakes on.
'We’ve hit a pony' cried Lisa.
'It’s probably a fallen tree trunk, stay in the car while I look.'
Lisa jumped out of the car and they stood either side of the body, a pair of glazed eyes stared up at them.
'Oh it’s a doe, she’s pregnant. You’ve killed her Gavin.'
'It was an accident; animals should be asleep at night, not darting out into the road.'
'We’re not on the road.'
Gavin followed her gaze; if they hadn’t run into the deer they would have crashed into a large old oak tree.
He was puzzled. 'I’m a careful driver, I had a clear, straight road in front of me, it was narrow, but I had plenty of room.' He went to fetch the torch from the car, then took Lisa’s shaking hand and led her round to the boot. He shone the torch the way they had just come, a tarmac road. 'I’m sorry about the deer Lisa, but she saved us; this must be a dead end road.'
'Let’s go now,' she shivered 'we don’t know the number to ring the verderer, we can ring the police when we get home. We’ll go back the way we came and try and find the A 35.'
'Or we could just ring nobody' said Gavin hopefully.
They both jumped as there was a clumping noise; a large branch had landed on the roof.
'Another lucky escape; that could have fallen on us while we were driving. I’ll pull it off and we’ll go, hope it hasn’t damaged my paintwork.'
As Gavin tried in vain to pull at the heavy limb, Lisa spoke shakily.
'It’s not fallen, it’s still attached to the tree. We must be on a slope, the car’s rolled into the tree.'
Gavin shone his torch and saw the driver’s door was jammed against the trunk.
'I’ll get in your door and climb over. I’m going to put it in reverse.' As he tried to start the engine he felt a heavy thump on the bonnet. 'Quick, get in so we’re ready to go, hopefully that branch will slide off the bonnet. Lisa, this is no time for tree hugging…'
On Monday morning the editor had too much to put on his front page and Lisa wasn’t there to help him. He had just spoken to her hysterical mother on the phone. Lisa was missing and her boyfriend had been found wandering in the New Forest by the search party looking for the missing man. Gavin had been in shock and incoherent so the police arrested him. Everyone knew they had both been to the forest and everyone knew Gavin was the last person to see her.
The Old Forest is one of the stories in the Dark and Milk collection.
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24 May 2016
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Janet Gogerty...What a super writer of short stories. I have read
many of her stories and this collection hits the mark yet again. As a writer myself I marvel at how many she has penned and never once covering the same ground twice. That is no mean feat. There are
twenty seven gems in this collection and they really are a diverse assortment of tales. Amongst my favourites are:
Janus - A frightening look at how genetic tinkering can lead to horrifying results.
Bones on the Beach - A news reporter finally solves the mysterious disappearance of Miss Tyler's lost love.
You have One Friend - You may want to keep an eye on your Teddy Bear and for goodness sake don't leave him unattended near your computer.
I have rated this Collection Five Stars. Well worth purchasing and losing yourself in Miss Gogerty's imagination.
The smell of roast pork tantalised his nostrils and made his mouth water. It was a long time since he had eaten his sandwiches and his circular route through the New Forest should have brought him back to Hinton Admiral Station by now. But there had been no sign of a railway line, let alone a station; no sign of a road, let alone the comforting sight of a gravel car park with notice boards.
He followed the scent trail, picturing a cosy pub, a hidden gem he could boast about to friends at work. Day One of training for Hampshire Tough Man had not gone well, but perhaps something of the day could be salvaged. Tough Man hopeful had left his smart phone and wallet at home as part of the exercise; he was carrying only a small amount of cash so he would not be tempted into a pub or restaurant. He regretted that decision, but hoped his coins would stretch to a cup of coffee, a packet of crisps and a helpful barman to give him directions.
The trail led him down a sandy slope into the trees, muddy hoof prints by a tiny stream made it an unlikely path to a pub and deterred him from his survival plan of drinking natural water. But hope was revived suddenly with the scent of wood smoke mingling with the roasting meat. The sun emerged from the clouds, sending rays piercing through the new green leaves and revealing coils of white smoke. Two more steps and he was in a small clearing, yards away from a squat building receding into the trees on the other side of the glade. Strangely coloured stones jumbled into walls were propped up by a wooden door and overhung by brightly coloured straw thatch. Tough Man was surprised there was no sign, then realised with a jolt that in such an isolated spot it must be someone’s home. They would be unlikely to welcome visitors, but a line of washing, above a small stretch of grass at the side of the cottage, reassured him that this was a family dwelling and he would not have to contend with some suspicious old man.
As he approached, a sweet smell, a blend of pick-a-mix and Lush, overpowered the scent of wood smoke. Stooping to the crooked door he spotted something metallic in the overgrown grass and picked up a mobile phone. He now had a good excuse to knock. The rapper, blackened metal in a shape that reminded him of a hand or claw, produced a muffled tap. As he waited, a flutter of white at the edge of his vision made him look down again. A piece of paper lay on the damp grass, he looked up to see a small square latticed window ajar. He picked up the paper and looked at two scrawled words Help Me.
He knocked at the door urgently now, picturing a young mother taken ill, her children helpless. He almost fell in the door when it was wrenched open and was surprised to come face to face with a smiling old lady, dressed strangely, not in denim like his Gran.
‘Sorry to bother you, only I found your phone and then this note; is someone ill?’
The phone and paper were in the old lady’s hands before he could blink.
‘So kind of you to bother, I must have dropped my phone.’
‘…and the note?’
She ignored his question and beckoned him into a little parlour with a roaring fire, welcome in the chilly spring afternoon.
‘You’ll have a drink of something warm?’
‘Oh yes, a cup of coffee if it’s no trouble, then if you can point me in the right direction I’ll be on my way… uhm, is that your family calling, grandchild?’
He thought he heard the ceiling creak, though it was hardly credible that there could be an upstairs in such a low house. When the old lady suddenly picked up a red hot poker from the fire, he started back in fright, but she merely plunged it into a pewter tankard.
‘Mulled mead, just what you need’ she smiled.
He sipped tentatively; it was a comforting warmth and did not burn his lips.
‘Delicious thank you; I know it sounds ridiculous, but I have no idea where I am. Are we near Hinton Admiral?’
‘Who’s he?’ the woman looked genuinely puzzled.
He shivered as he felt the first panic rising. How could he have got so lost?
‘Perhaps your husband could give me directions.’
‘My late husband never gave nobody nothing.’
‘How far are we from the A35?’
‘Why don’t you just enjoy your drink and stop gabbing.’
‘I should go now, smells as if your dinner is nearly ready’ he stood up shakily, his only desire now was to get out of the cottage and follow the setting sun till he reached civilisation.
‘You’ll stay for dinner.’
‘No…’ he stumbled against the wall, which felt alarmingly soft, but when he pushed at the door it wouldn’t budge. The old woman had her back turned, stoking the fire as if he had accepted the invitation to stay.
Now the air felt sweet and cloying, his head muzzy. He saw another door ajar and slipped through into a kitchen long and low. Heavy copper pans hung on racks and the heat was overwhelming from an old blackened range. The smell of roast pork was strong, the range with its heavy doors was big enough to roast a whole pig, but he had lost his appetite. The door closed behind him with a muffled thud and he looked around in vain for a window or outer door. He tried to think rationally, but he knew something was not right, everything was wrong. For a moment he thought the whimpering was coming from his own lips, then he saw a small cage beyond the heavy oak table. He crept round towards the dark corner, cautious in case it was an aggressive dog. Suddenly a hand thrust out between the bars.
ROAST PORK IS ONE OF THE STORIES IN THE TIMES AND TIDES COLLECTION
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20 September 2017
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Yet another delightful collection of short stories from the irrepressible Janet Gogerty. This time twenty five
stories on almost every subject imaginable.
The variety of themes are astounding and I will only mention a few in this review.
The opening story, Blind Date tells of just that, a blind date between Michael and Jessica accompanied by Michael's guide dog Bella. Not a dog to tangle with.
I loved 'Solar Power' with its idea of a solar powered hat for elderly Daphne. It certainly put a spring in her step. I chuckled over Ms Gogerty's comment of 'Burger Syndrome Spectrum thingy.'
'Up, up and away' was an eye opening story involving a hot air balloon disaster - the method of dealing with the rogue balloon was quite shocking. 'Making an Entrance' Wow! Never upset a fellow thespian.
'Restoration Project' had a very spooky ending...I loved it.
The last story, 'Christmas Eve' has all the elements of just how traumatic Christmas can be especially when guests descend with little warning.
Click the link to open the book.
In the nineteen sixties many ‘ten pound pommies’ had never left England before and most expected never to return or see loved ones again. George Palmer saw Australia as a land of opportunities for his four children, his wife longed for warmth and space and their daughter’s ambition was to swim in the sea and own a dog. For migrant children it was a big adventure, for fathers the daunting challenge of finding work and providing for their family, but for the wives the loneliness of settling in a strange place.
Prologue December 1963
As autumn brought dark evenings and the walls of their terraced house closed in, George began visiting Australia House in his lunch hour. The winter of ‘63 had been the last straw. George and Helen wanted to emigrate to Australia. They did not expect to make their fortune, but reasoned they would rather live on a tight budget somewhere warm. During the summer of 1963 they had faltered; to move to the other side of the world and never return seemed unthinkable; but late one December evening, alone in their small dining room, George and Helen whispered and pored over brochures and forms.
‘One thing’s for sure,’ said Helen ‘we’ve grown out of this house.’
Her third pregnancy had been a surprise and the arrival of twins a shock; owning their own house had been a dream come true until then.
‘When they built these little houses in the thirties, people were thrilled to have an inside bathroom’ laughed George.
‘...and a garden’ added Helen.
‘Everyone lives in detached houses in Australia, with a laundry as well. By next Christmas we could be in a new house on a quarter acre block of land. Jennifer could have all those pets she wants and I could have my workshop.’
‘Oh George, I don’t think I could bear it if they turned us down.’
‘They won’t, it’s an enormous country with hardly anybody in it; why else would they be paying our fares? Ten pounds to fly across the world.’
‘Or voyage across the oceans.’
‘Six weeks at sea with our lot, no thanks. Besides, I’ve looked into it; if we opt to fly, we should get our passage much quicker.’ He gathered the attractive brochures into one pile and the forms into another. ‘If we post these off, we’re going to go, no turning back. But we can not tell anyone yet, not your mother, or your sister or Joyce and certainly not the children; it wouldn’t be fair to get their hopes up until we’re absolutely certain.’
She kissed his cheek and handed him the pen.
Quarter Acre Block is based on our family’s experiences, but is not autobiographical. Readers ask which parts are real? I needed my mother’s help to get the adult point of view, but the Palmer family are not my family. I wanted the story to be realistic, so the Palmers follow the same journey as we did. The ‘six week holiday of a lifetime’ sounded fun and I was envious of those who had come by ship, crossed the equator and met King Neptune, but the Palmer family had to fly.
I knew no one who had been in the migrant camps: I don’t think my father would have persuaded Mum to go at all if she had to face the prospect of a camp! Dad knew ‘someone from the office’ who had migrated and they sponsored us. The chap met us at the airport, put us in a caravan well gone midnight and returned at nine am to take us down to Scarborough Beach. His family had taken to beach life and were living ‘the dream’. My younger brother and sister were terrified of the waves and I clung to a plastic surfboard, too embarrassed to tell their children I couldn’t swim. After that experience the only beach my parents wanted to sit on was Crawley Beach by the Swan River. It was very pleasant and I taught myself to swim there. I have always loved the water, but my parents hardly ever ventured in.
You can read a little of what my life was like in the six months leading up to our departure in my Tidalscribe blog
- Quarter Acre Blog.
17 October 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book was written by my friend at writing class. I absolutely loved its clear and incisive descriptions of life for the Poms who decided to make new lives in Australia. She has written several more books and collections of short stories and I would recommend them to anyone.
I did have an excellent teacher for my two months of primary school at the end of the Australian school year. With a totally different curriculum, he encouraged me to get good results in the tests so I could start high school a year early. We moved to our new house and suburb before Christmas, in time to meet some local children before I started at my new high school. A large school, much as I describe in the novel.
By Jayne Lucas on 16 March 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters were three dimension and ‘real’ and I felt part of the family. It kept my interest all the way through and I was disappointed for it to end – will there be a sequel? I found myself wanting to know how the story developed and what happened to the characters. I shall be looking for other books by the same author.
By Mr M G Stratford on 29 November 2013
A fascinating insight into the cultural changes and challenges experienced by a family emigrating from the UK to Australia in the 1960s.
By Jane Deans on 5 December 2012
Quarter Acre Block is the story of an ordinary,
middle class English family of the sixties' experiences as they make the momentous decision to emigrate to Australia to obtain a better standard of living. Told mainly through the eyes of the young
daughter, Jennifer it is both heartwarming and evocative of the era. Anyone old enough to have been subjected to the delights of Spam, The Beatles, Tupperware parties,Sunday church and transistor
radios will appreciate the detail.
As they grapple with the difficulties that face them in their newly adopted country the family encounter many new characters and experiences. Dad, George must find employment, they need somewhere to live and Mum, Helen has to adjust to life as a housewife and mother in an environment that is totally alien.
The story is told in an anecdotal style and charts the family's progress during their first year.
This book is a gentle read, with no major shocks or thrills, but nevertheless enjoyable.
By Rea on 22 July 2016
Quarter Acre Block from Janet Gogerty is a
fascinating peek into a year in the life of a "ten pound pom". Following the decimation of World War II and as an encouragement for immigrants to come and repopulate Australia, many British families
were offered the opportunity to emigrate to Australia, for just ten pounds fare.
Quarter Acre Block follows the first year of the Palmers' new life in Perth, Australia. I found the story very interesting and was able to identify with so many of the issues facing this young family; loneliness, homesickness, finding employment and just making new connections on the other side of the world.
This was a really good story, well written and easy to read. Although it is a novel, there is clearly some autobiographical influence from the author in this story. If you like stories about real people facing real problems, you'll love this book. I can definitely recommend it.
By Jane Krabbeler on July 13, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Quarter Acre Block
BY: Janet Gogerty
Reviewed By: Long Island Dreams Book Reviews
Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars
George and Helen Palmer are loving and caring parents who desire to give their four children every advantage that life has to offer. When the opportunity arises to emigrate to Australia from their native England, the Palmer family seizes the opportunity.
Quarter Acre Block follows the Palmers as they embark on the journey of a lifetime. You will cry as they say goodbye to all their family and friends and travel around the world to their new home.
The author spins this tale in such a way that you will completely identify with the Palmer family as they begin to adapt to their new environment. You will feel their apprehension through out all their firsts, from taking the bus to the shops, starting a new job and attending a new school.
I have no doubt you will feel their joy as they see the beach for the first time, learn to swim, make new friends, buy a new home and so much more.
You will feel Helen Palmers loneliness as she struggles to adjust to her new life away from her extended family and all that she has known. I have to say Helen Palmer jumped off the page at me. I wanted to wrap her in a warm embrace and reassure her that she George and the children would triumph in their new home.
Quarter Acre Block is a heart warming story of love and perseverance. I found myself laughing, crying and cheering for this family. This is a four star page turning hit, that you definitely won’t want to miss.
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READ EXCERPTS; the story of the Palmers' new life is told from both mother and daughter's point of view.
That evening she was allowed to stay up later, till the twins were safely asleep. The television was switched off and she and Simon were told to sit in the front room to hear important news.
‘Australia,’ exclaimed Simon ‘why didn’t you tell me?’
‘We are telling you now’ grinned his father. ‘We haven’t even told your grandparents yet, no point in getting everyone excited or upset till we know for sure.
‘I’m excited,’ said Jennifer ‘going on an aeroplane to a hot country; I could learn to swim and we could have a dog.’
‘I’m sure you can, when we’re settled’ smiled her mother.
‘Or a horse… like those children on television.’
‘What about my friends?’ complained Simon.
‘They can come on holiday to see you’ said Jennifer.
‘It’s a bit further than the Isle of Wight’ he sneered.
‘You’ll make new friends son’ his father reassured him. ‘Besides, the way things are going, you won’t be the only boy at your school emigrating.’
She and Simon were sworn to secrecy; the twins must not know yet, they were sure to tell. No one must know, just in case; in case of what Jennifer wasn’t sure. Perched on top of the concrete coal bunker, nibbling her Easter egg in the watery spring sunshine, she hugged the secret to her eleven year old self.
A short bus ride took the family to the house that George had grown up in; the road was identical to the one they lived in now, the terraced houses exactly the same layout. Privet hedges and creosoted fences were a feature of nearly every garden in the street; George and Helen stood at his mother’s neatly painted narrow front gate and knew they were making the right decision.
He climbed up into the small loft at his mother’s request; no one had been up there since his father died. Peter and Tony delved into the box he brought down.
‘I should have passed it on to you ages ago, for your boys’ said his mother.
Inside were books and toys he remembered, but had no idea his mother had kept.
‘Sort out which ones were Dennis’ then take the rest, they should go with you, don’t forget the past.’
He opened a book and showed Helen the fly leaf.
To George on your tenth birthday, 1935, with love from Mother and Father.
‘How long ago that was, they were happy days weren’t they Mum?’
‘Yes indeed they were; your father and I were so proud to have our own house and be bringing up two fine sons.’
12 October 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
What an insight into taking the plunge to live in Australia. This is a well written story with believable characters and real experiences of living over the other side of the world. I shall look forward to reading more of this author’s books as she certainly kept me turning the pages. Mark Laming
Dad’s family followed us all out. First his brother and family who went on to have an Australian baby, then my grandparents and my aunt. But it was many years before one of my mother’s sisters came out on holiday. Dad insisted we would never go back, which is the best way to settle in. If migrants did not stay for two years they had to pay their outward fare back to the Australian government, some migrants took that as trying it for two years, while others treated it as a two year holiday, yet others planned to try Sydney if they didn’t like Perth. Most migrants assumed they were there for good and could not afford any other option. There were some who were winging poms and others who went to the other extreme, dismissing Britain as 'finished', as if to justify their decision.
My relatives are spread far and wide with a variety of careers and lifestyles; some own land, have camped around Australia, gone scuba diving and done other very Australian things. There have been plenty of ups and downs like any family. I imagine that at least some of George Palmer’s family went on to live up to his hopes for them.
If you have any questions about the book or Australia you are welcome to e-mail me at email@example.com
REAL LIFE - THE DARK SIDE
But there is always a dark side; the Vietnam war was raging, Simon Palmer would have been eligible for conscription by ballot when he was twenty, the voting age was twenty one. ‘All The Way with LBJ’ - Australia would not let down the USA after their help in the Second World War. The boys in my class at college were very happy when conscription was abolished just before their twentieth birthdays.
There were other hazards for migrants. Some new migrants did drown in the Indian Ocean. Everyone got their driver’s licence at seventeen and old bangers were cheap for teenage boys to buy and bomb around in. One of the English boys in my class was killed in a car accident; unlike the modern way of counselling, special assemblies and flowers at the gate, no official mention was made at school of his demise!
REAL LIFE –DARK HISTORIES
In 1964 we knew little about the Aboriginals, I guess we assumed they were living happily in their natural habitat out in ‘the bush’. Mixed race aboriginal children were taken from their families and put in orphanages. Whatever we came to know later on, there is no escaping the fact we were living in someone else’s country.
Nor did we know about the British children shipped out as ‘orphans’ and left in the ‘care’ of such as the Christian Brothers in boys’ homes out in the countryside. The dark side of migration for sure.
But human beings have always moved around, exploring and colonising. In the sixties Perth was full of English, Italian and Greek migrants and many others from Europe. The Mediterranean people were hard workers, better used to the heat no doubt and were brilliant at market gardening and corner shops. But that did not mean the British were lazy, in the work place and the arts they were at the forefront, taking the initiative. Asian students appeared, but were expected to go home after their studies at university! Fortunately Britain joining the Common Market was a sharp reminder that Australia needed to make friends and trade nearer home. Modern Perth has grown out of recognition in size and character.
TURN TO CHAPTER ONE TO READ ABOUT MY OTHER BOOKS
THE WEBSITE OF AUTHOR JANET GOGERTY