Friday fiction: Part 2 of The Journey (The Dakota Duels trilogy)

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with part two of a 1st chapter competition entry – this time it’s young adult fiction.

The Journey (The Dakota Duels Trilogy) – Part 2 (final)

 The train flashed into daylight and Hannah could see her cell. Her fingers moving fast, she tracked her calls, searching for the number. Nothing. Caller ID withheld.

            She thought of the voice – a river, a bolder. It sounded like her father, Isaac, her father, leader of The Order, leader of their group of Christian followers, the group who had been chosen by God, who were the divine righteous ones, who would one day see The Plan God had for them, for all, even for the sinners, the doubters, the non-Christian ones who spat and scorned.  Pressing together her lips, she slipped off her shawl and, folding it four times, she placed it on the table. Outside the Dakota terrain washed by, a watercolour of trucks, land, outhouses, fields appearing like a mirage through the sun. Picking up a discarded pamphlet, Hannah fanned her face, thinking, when her cell vibrated. A text. Bolting, she grabbed the phone and scanned the message.  She felt her mouth drain dry. Four words. Leaning sideways, she glanced up and down the carriage, then back to her cell. Four words: They are watching you.

Her pulse fast, her palms sweating, Hannah opened her rucksack and, seizing the parcel, rammed all her belongings into the bag and zipped it shut. In the seat ahead, a man turned and smiled. Hannah froze. The four words flashed across her eyes. Suddenly, everyone, she felt, was looking at her. This was crazy. Seconds, minutes passed and as her final destination came nearer, she tried to slow her breathing.

            ‘Devil’s Lake next stop,’ announced the tanoy.

            Her cell shrilled. She stared at it. It shrilled again. Hand shaking, she took the call. ‘Hannah!’ the voice shot. ‘It’s Noah. Don’t hang up. The man, the Pilgrim Director you are to meet, he is not who he seems. You are not who you seem. Don’t go with him. When the train pulls in, run, run far. I will contact you when it is clear.’

            ‘But-’

            The line cut and the train creaked to a halt. She’d arrived. Leaping up, Hannah tried to think fast. Should she listen to him, this Noah? Stumbling forward, she kept her head down, shivering until she heard the whoosh of the door and felt the heavy heat surge in. Disembarking, she stepped on to the platform, pops of sweat trickling down her back. Within three seconds she caught sight of the Pilgrim Director, and, smiling, she began to walk towards him when something made her stop. He was flanked by two unfamiliar men. They are watching you. Something wasn’t right. Truth, she suddenly thought, the ugly truth. Without warning, the two men sped up. Hannah’s breath quickened. Ahead, the Director lost his smile and strode towards her. Noah. Who was he?  Should she run? What was wrong? Turning, she bumped into a passenger, but instead of helping her, he gripped hard.

            ‘Let go!’ she yelled, ripping away from him, her rucksack flying to the ground. Just as she grabbed it, she spotted them, the men, running now towards her. Scrambling upright, she spied the exit and without looking back, she ran as fast as she could.

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  I’m on holiday at the moment and will post more fiction when I get back. Have a great weekend!

 

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Win a copy of The Boy Who Played Guitar – now out in paperback

It’s Media Monday where I post my views on the latest writing and publishing news: The Boy Who Played Guitar is now out in paperback…

Oh my giddy aunt! I don’t normally pop a post about my own Media Monday news, but I’m off on my holidays so what the heck! My book The Boy Who Played Guitar is now out in paperback and to celebrate – and because you’re all so nice – I  I have a free copy to give away .

To win a copy of the book, simply answer this question:

What was the title of my short story that won the Wotton Arts & literature 2012 Short Story Prize? Was it:

a) The Woman Who Had a Limp

b) The Woman Who Had Piles

c) The Woman Who Walked to School

You can find the answer (if you haven’t guessed already…) by taking a look through my blog posts. To send your answers, just use the ‘contact me’ section to my blog – that way no sneaky answers will appear in the comments section….

The competition closes Monday 6th August when I’ll pull a name from the hat to chose the lucky winner.

If you fancy ordering a copy of The Boy Who Played Guitar, if you know, you feel like it, you can on Amazon. For the UK, click on this link. For the USA, click on this link.

The book’s already received rave reviews, with review site FacE-Bookers saying: ‘It was a flowing story…that had them giggling in some places and crying in others.’

Here’s a bit more about the book…

What do you do when life hits a rut? Stuck in a failing secondary school in Cheltenham, ageing Assistant Principal, Dan McClean, is fed up. His 16-year old pupils won’t learn; the school’s changing to an Academy; his wife can’t have a baby; and his middle is growing faster than Facebook. So when one day the school Principal tells Dan to get his pupils’ grades up or they’re off the higher exam paper, Dan hits on an idea: he’ll start a school choir. But what Dan doesn’t know is that by setting up the choir, he’s starting down a road where life will never quite be the same again.

From columnist and debut novelist, Nikki Owen, a heart-warming, poignant tale of courage, loss and what it really means to find out who your friends are –even if they do like Lady Gaga.

Thanks for tolerating my shameless plug! Have a great week – and thanks so much for following my blog. It’s great us all getting to know everyone.

I’ll be taking a little blog break now, so see you after my holiday. France – here we come!

Nikki

**

Friday fiction: Part 1 of The Journey (The Dakota Duels trilogy)

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with part one of a 1st chapter competition entry – this time it’s young adult fiction.

The Journey (The Dakota Duels Trilogy) – Part 1

Earlier, life had been lighter. Getting on the train at Fargo was fraught, but then it always was when the sun hit 34 degrees and your skirt stuck to your legs like glue after you’d been sat squashed on a bus with no air conditioning for five hours.  Peeling a hair from her mouth, she yawned and flipped open her cell. No messages. She sighed and gazed out of the window.  The Empire Builder. What a strange name for a train. Stretching out her hand she patted the seat to check if the parcel was still there. The envelope rustled under her palm and, reassured, she resumed her gazing. South Dakota was the only state in North America without an Amtrak train service, and for the life of her she couldn’t understand why.

            ‘It is the way it is, Hannah,’ her mother had said to her at the roadside as she prepared to board. ‘After the bus, the train will take you on to North Dakota.’

            Hannah frowned. ‘But why me? Why now?’

            Her mother, a whisper of a woman, reached up and adjusted Hannah’s collar so the white starch circled her neck in the way it was expected. ‘Now, now. We’ve been over this. Your father needs you. You are 18 now, a woman, and as such The Order requires you to make the journey to the annual pilgrimage early, cast your eye on the eligible men.’ Hannah blushed. ‘And besides,’ her mother continued, picking a speck of dust from her daughter’s skirt, ‘you need to deliver the parcel from your father to the Pilgrim Director. Remember your name, Hannah. Remember what it means.’

            ‘Grace of God, mama.’

            ‘Good.’

            Hannah chewed on her lip. ‘Why can’t he mail it?’

            Her mother smiled. ‘Because it is too important.’

            ‘And he trusts me?’

            She nodded. ‘He trusts you.’

 As the train sped forward, Hannah let her eyelids droop, the jostle of the carriage and the crank of the air-conditioning lulling her to sleep.  Around 3p.m. her cell shrilled. Waking with a start, Hannah blinked, then grabbing the phone, she picked up.

            ‘Hello?’

            ‘Hannah?’

            ‘Yes. Hello?’

            ‘My name is Noah…I’m your-’

            The line crackled. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Hannah, one finger in her ear, ‘you’re breaking up.’

            ‘I’m Noah,’ came the voice again.

            Noah? Hannah frowned.  ‘I’m sorry, but, I don’t know a-’

Without warning, what sounded like a gunshot blasted through the line. Hannah jerked up. ‘Hello?’

 ‘Hannah, listen!’ tore the voice. ‘I’m your brother. They’re coming for us. You’ve got to-’

            The carriage suddenly went black and the signal cut. Overhead the lights flickered as the train shot through a tunnel. Hannah’s heart banged against her chest. Brother? He said brother. But why? She had no brothers, church colleagues, yes, families she had grown up with since birth, but no brothers.

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Part two is out next Friday. Have a great weekend!

 

My latest column: Why are women still not allowed to be Bishops?

It’s “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my weekly newspaper column to my blog so you can have a read…

This week my column for the Gloucestershire Gazette is all about equality and why women still aren’t allowed to be Bishops. To read it, simply click to my Column page.

What do you think? Should women be Bishops? Or is that just a preserve of male clergy? Is equality a right or a privilege? 

Look out for tomorrow’s  post, “Friday Fact or Fiction”. This week it’s fiction.  I’ll be posting part one the 1st chapter of a young adult story I wrote for a competition. It forms part of a trilogy called The Dakota Duels**

Diary of a hopeful author: Would you want your old life back?

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

I went to a music festival at the weekend. I know! Get me! It was the amazing Nibley Music Festival and we all had a whale of a time. Many a band played on the stages, some of which were new and local, others which were older and well, not local. One of these bands was The Christians. Do you know them? They were big, in the UK at least, in the 1990s and sung songs like Ideal World and Hooverville. (If you don’t know them I’ve stuck a link below so you can watch them on You Tube.) Anyway, there we all were right by the main stage watching them when it got to in between songs and the lead singer spoke. He talked about how things were back in the 90s when they were really big – and then he said something that made me stop in my dancing tracks. ‘We want our lives back,’ he said. That phrase stayed in my head for the rest of the day – even when I was boogying to Dodgy and laughing my little head off, not that I’d had a festival drink, you understand (red wine).  

Afterwards, as we trooped on home, our legs weary, our ears ringing to within an inch of their lives, I got to thinking about what he had said. What makes someone say that they want their life back? The life The Christians had when they were big must have been amazing – fame, fans, um, fine food …(sorry, was going for an alliterating three fs there…) What must have happened to them along the way to make them want it all back a decade or two down the line? Take a look at our own lives and how does this relate? Do we all want our old lives back? Bachelor days, student days, child-free days, successful days? Aren’t there times in our lives when we all think: I’d just like to re live that time again just once? The whole thing made me think about my writing. When I was younger, writing wasn’t my goal – I was too distracted by other things and my career choice was marketing and I was going to conquer it! (think power suits…I know…I had big hair, too).  Don’t get me wrong, I always wrote a little – poems, plays, bit and bobs – because I did like to write. But it was only as I got older did I realise that it was my passion, that I had to do it, had to go for it. And I guess that’s my point: I never had it, the success, so I can’t wish for it back. Does that make me lucky? Are we lucky if we come to something later than earlier in life? Or is it just a case of whichever way the cookie crumbles?

I do wonder sometimes if my life would be the way it is now if I had gone into writing when I was younger. I might not have met my hubbie, not had my kids – who knows? This week, my book, The Boy Who Played Guitar, officially came out in paperback and when I held the actual copy in my hands on Monday I couldn’t actually speak (miracles do happen…). Tears sprung to my eyes. I have been working at writing allsorts now for 15 years in between everything else – in between getting married, working and commuting to London, having two babies, more work. But do you know what? Even though it was hard all that writing with minimum success, I wouldn’t change anything (okay, except for my feet, I’d change those – they are truly appalling. Who knew nails could get that thick? Sorry.)

We’re off on holiday next week (hoorah!) and while we’re away, the hubbie and I are going to talk (drink French wine) through the launch party for my book (just the phrase launch party makes me want to run around screaming) and finalise marketing things for it (plus synching it with the Kindle version – not quite happened yet, dear Amazon…) Who knew all this would happen? Who knew I’d make great friends with lovely Twitter and blog people along the way who are always 100% supportive (like Make Shift Mummy and Citizen of Ville Joie)? And I’m pushing 40! With some (lots) eye wrinkles!

So if someone said to me do you want your life back, I’d say, nah, you’re alright, I’ve already got one, thanks. Yup, our lives now may not be the ones we had mapped out for ourselves or had lived 20 odd years or so back, but do you know what? They’re pretty okay, actually. So, if you were asked the same question – do you want your old life back – what would your answer be?

Links: Nibley Music Festival

To get The Boy Who Played Guitar in paperback (only if you want to…), here are the links: UK Amazon   USA Amazon Europe search link    PS A bit cheeky of me, but if you do kindly read it, could you stick a review on Amazon or your blog? Enormous thanks!

Out on Thursday “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog. This week it’s all about equality and how women should be Bishops…**

It’s Media Monday: Shouldn’t screenwriters be paid more?

It’s Media Monday where I post my latest views on writing & publishing news…  Writing news

Like dealing with a bad case of piles, finding a job can be tough, right? Well, news out last week was that screenwriters in Hollywood and beyond are now being hammered on the job front. As reported in the i newspaper, screenwriting jobs and wages  in Hollywood have declined for  a second consecutive year, with total earnings down 12.6%.

Okay, so I guess if writers’ wages are down, actors’ wages will be down too, right? Wrong. Take the film Hangover 3. Due out in 2013, its actors are

The Hangover – making a whole heap of money

reported to be receiving more than double the amount of pay they enjoyed for the first film. No wage cuts there then. And remember the sitcom, Friends? By the time the last series was running, the actors were receiving a huge $20m (£12.5m) a year.  And how about the writers? Well they were earning nowhere near as much, nowhere near. And that’s the main question here: why are writers  paid so much less?

Is it right for actors to still receive enormous pay increases  while the screenwriters who create the films for the actors receive less pay year-on-year? It isn’t simply wages either. Recognition for screenwriters’ work in films goes more unnoticed as time goes by. Yes there are exceptions (step forward the wonderful Diablo Cody). And of course writers as a profession do not naturally seek the limelight. But isn’t it only right to dish out recognition where it’s due? And if that means the correct wage packet that reflects the effort put in, then surely that should be done? The trouble with the movie world is that it is littered with inequality: men vs women, writers vs actors, runners vs studio execs. There is a pecking order – and writers are missing out.

So come on, Hollywood, how’s about a little more respect for your writers and a few more dollars in their pay packets? Bet it would make a great movie…

How about you? Have you been paid less than someone working on the same project? Are you an underpaid writer? Or do you think writers can’t expect to receive the same pay heights as others? Let’s start the debate…

 **Look out for Wednesday Wafflings where I post my latest entry of my Diary of a Hopeful Author**

Friday fact or fiction: How to wear shoes in Paris…

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with another of my travel articles for The Guardian newspaper.

Paris – the city of love and sore feet…

‘Shoes?’ says hubbie. ‘But we’re off to Paris. The city of love,’ he cried. ‘Look, Mister,’ I say.’ If we’re going to wander around Paris, love or not, I’m going to require suitable footwear.’

And with that, grateful that we weren’t flying pay-as-you-carry, we set off on our 4-day, 10th anniversary break to Paris. With the weather predicted 24-7 sunshine, we decided to see the city by foot. Having done the tourist sights 5 years before, this time we wanted to potter through the side streets of Paris thankful that: a) we had no kids to entertain; and b) we had no bunions (yet).

Arriving at 4-star Les Jardins du Marais, we high-fived each other when we saw our room (i.e. large – Parisian hotel rooms are notoriously petite). Having jumped on the huge bed and checked out the marbled bathroom, I took one whiff of the heat from the window, opted for Birkenstocks (comfort!) and off we set. Walking around the district of Marais was bliss. A warren of cafes, high-end shops and museums, it was once the place of the Royal residence and is now, as we discovered while on our third cafe noir of the day, the centre of the Parisian gay scene. Oh yes, for the first time since parenthood, we felt hip. Donning our shades, we crossed the Seine into the Latin Quarter, bustling with Sorbonne students and tortured artist types, where we stopped for a petite bierre followed by some second-hand French book purchasing. ‘But you can’t speak French,’ I said to hubbie. Handing the man the Euros, he said, ‘They’ll look good on the coffee table.’ Hmmm, good point. We ended the day with swollen ankles and tapas at a Spanish restaurant, Caves Saint Gilles, frequented by locals where the chef was grumpy, the food cheap but good, and not a Laboutin in sight.

The next three days were a sun-soaked meander of walking and Metro rides. We ambled through the expensive streets of St.Germain (think Gucci, Armani), had our breath taken away in the Opera district (by two things: one, the view of the Opera National as you come out of the metro station – wow; and two, coffees at 9 Euros a pop in the Cafe de la Paix.), wandered the Champs Elysees by night (busy but exhilarating), gawped at the Pompidou centre, and relaxed in the enchanting Jardin de Luxembourg. Our anniversary meal (pre-booked on-line) was at Le Petit Bordelais, a restaurant run by Michelin-starred, and jolly friendly, Phillipe Penecote (choose the ‘Degustation’ menu with wine – yum). My pearl shoe clips fell off on the walk back, but with the Eiffel tower lit up behind us, the last scent of summer in the night air – and French wine in my system – it didn’t matter. I turned and gave hubbie a kiss. ‘What was that for?’ he asked. I linked his arm. ‘The city of love, right?’ He grinned. ‘Shall we head back?’ I nodded. ‘Please. My feet are killing me.’

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

My column’s out now: What to do with our green wheelie bins?

It’s “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my weekly newspaper column to my blog so you can have a read…

This week my column for the Gloucestershire Gazette is all about green wheelie recycling bins and where on earth to put them. To read it, simply click to my Column page.

What do you do with your recycling bins? Do you pimp your bin? Or hide it? Do you recycle? Come, fess up… 

Look out for tomorrow’s  post, “Friday Fact or Fiction”. This week I’ll be posting another article of mine for The Guardian newspaper.**