THE WRITER

“…a writer of fantasy, non-fiction, and country [songs]. Oh, and screenplays too.”

“I’m a man who loves to write – I’ve always loved it. As a kid, I constantly found myself lost in writing songs and fantasy fiction. Since my adolescence (my discovery of country music) and its second coming (enrolling on my Creative Writing degree), my writing has evolved and expanded: my fantasy fiction and songwriting – now a modern country – have grown all the more prolific, while I am now comfortable and enjoying the realms of non-fiction, screenplay, and copywriting.”

Current projects:

'Beneath the Surface'

A fantasy series set in the Innerworld, wherein a dragon hatches to ignite a race and war. Book one, ‘The Shekinah Children’, follows two protagonists: Ulrich, a gambling bowman who is thrown into the middle of a brewing war between apes and advocates, and Indigo, a Surfaceling who finds herself in the heart of a race between her circus ship’s captain and an empire.

&

'9 months, my arse'

A memoir-and-advice book that tells the story of Elijah-James Rose and opens up about extreme-premature birth, loss, and life after both. It is written with the support of SSNAP – a charity, set in the John Radcliffe Hospital, in aid of its families and staff.

Examples of past and current work:

‘The First of the Famous Hangover Cures’ (flash fiction)

This is exactly what I need after a long night of pint after pint. Memories return in a blur as I sit down and sigh. This feels good. Of course it does. I’m about to proceed with the first of the famous hangover cures. 

And the kettle is on.

Relief hits me at the presence of the dark substance. Steam rises and strokes my cheeks.

Its warm scent hits my nose. 

I take my time, savouring the cure.

Tissue dabs my steamed cheeks. Then cleans any spillages. One more sigh and I’m back on my feet. A swift move of the hand and I flush the chain, leaving the cure behind me. 

Off to the kettle I go.

And so the second hangover cure begins: coffee.

‘Poole Walkies’ logo, name, and slogan (copywriting)

Brief: “Ah, you’re a creative writing student? Perhaps I can use your creative brain. Dog walking. My daughter wants to start a dog walking business in Poole. But she needs a name.”

Sitting at home, taking a twenty-minute break between ‘9 months, my arse’ and ‘Beneath the Surface’, I came up with the following:

‘Free Men’ (flash fiction)

I surrender.

As I said those words, I thought I had lost my freedom. They took me and tied me, dragged me away. Left me here, sat waiting for my indefinite hell of a new life. All because I was born within particular borders, forced to follow a particular man. Truth is, I had lost my freedom a long time ago.

The men watching me – there were two; the way they spoke, and laughed, and slapped their thighs. They were comrades with a bond. Friends, sharing a bottle of whiskey – drinking as brothers! It made me think of all the people I had lost along the way. They wouldn’t laugh again. So, how could I? How could these men? Was a drop of whiskey all it took?

I couldn’t understand their tongue. Nor the order that their officer gave them. All I noticed was his finger pointing at me as he barked. But as he left, the men did not come to me with cuffs or chains. They came with whiskey.

“Drink!” they said – as if I could understand them. It’s funny. I remember thinking: I bet they’re telling me to drown, the filthy Kraut.

“Drink,” they said, holding the bottle closer.

“Drink?” This time, it was me who spoke. If I didn’t understand the word’s meaning at that moment, I did the moment after.

The bottle met my lips. Whiskey rolled over my tongue, ran down my throat. My thirst, my taste buds, they were all I could focus on. I hardly heard the two men cheer the word I then understood.

They pulled the bottle away. I said my word, “Getränke.” They smiled. I smiled.

“Drink,” they said.

It didn’t feel like long – although I remember both sun and moon. We drank more than just the one bottle of whiskey! When they cheered, I did too. When I laughed, so did they. By the end, the two men were laying on their backs. I was taken away. Their chuckling faded. The happiness ceased.

But I will always remember that moment: the one where the war ended and three men became free men. For that, I will always be grateful for the words: I surrender. They had given me my freedom.

An extract from ‘Beneath the Surface’ (fantasy fiction)

From the rising tiers of the harbour and the star hanging above them, to the theatre wherein the captains of the Avant-Garde gathered for conference, the Great Karikan Globe graced its residents and guests with its spectacle… its ancient prowess – a reminder that the largest empire to have existed in the Innerworld’s history forged its foundations with dragon fire. This day, however, the people were not drawn to the sea or to the city and its faction’s politics: the brutality of the arena pulled them in. It planted a thousand arses on the stools that surrounded a stage stained in scarlet. Said rears jumped from their seats when a darkskin woman – a giant, seven feet and a handful of inches tall – addressed the people they belonged to: “Ezio sends his greetings.”

Lalita had said those words many times before, to many of those currently listening, and yet the people cheered nonetheless – like they were hearing them for the first time… as if Ezio had left them waiting for years.

Only, he had left them waiting a single month.

Not only did she know how to awaken the crowd, Lalita had also harnessed the ability to have the world forget that Ezio had not once been sighted by anybody – unless he deemed you worthy, of course. And, as Duncan Yamanu studied the crowd of rowdy peasants, the azureskin orc could only assume not any one of them qualified for such worthiness.

Such a pity, he thought.

Unlike the rest of the crowd, Admiral Yamanu watched from within a guarded booth. He shared in watching the marvel with an old friend: Captain Philo Hector – a fellow azureskin, who, as an ogre, bore a broader, rounder, somewhat taller form. And, like his friend, his age had turned the little hair he had left silver.

Beside the Admiral, Captain Hector watched the show put on by himself and Ezio: duellists versus exotics – a show that offered its audience every shade of advocate, from paleskin to sageskin, and, much like the Malabarista’s circus show, a wide variety of fantastical creatures. The audience roared as hobgoblins were butchered, habili were slain, and harpies were crushed. They screamed and gasped as duellists fell to a swarm of kobolds, a pair of centaurs, and a singular troll. Meanwhile, Philo Hector enjoyed every finale on offer. Across from he and the Admiral’s booth, Lalita watched with an expression unchanged.

The show was scripted – a means of protecting both parties’ valuable assets.

And, according to Captain Hector, his next pair of duellists were in for a magnificent victory.

Beneath the booth, at the edge of the arena, his own announcer introduced two halfskin dwarfs: Kylo and Kylian. With minimal armour, their muscular frames were on show for all to see – a cause of whistles from women and men alike. Opposite the dwarfs, Lalita announced their opponent: a habili the size of a giant . . . a yeti.

The advocatial crowd booed at the powerful enemy.

An enemy that, according to the script, would soon fall to the warrior pair.

Admiral Yamanu watched as the axe-bearing dwarfs charged at the habili over thrice their height – to win would be to overcome the audience’s expectation. How would two little advocates slay something so much bigger than them?

But the Admiral knew the quality of his old friend’s roster of warriors.

And that quality would not succumb to the crowd’s doubt.

Though the fight did not come easy.

The yeti, allowed nothing better than a club, landed several blows on the dwarfs, sending them soaring through the air. But the two-on-one handicap, the surprisingly swift feet of the small, stocky advocates, the understanding between the pair – it all took its toll on the yeti. As he swiped at one of the dwarf’s, landing yet another blow, the other dwarf landed the first strike on the yeti. His axe cut into the yeti’s thigh.

Then the other thigh.

With the yeti on its knees, the dwarf struck for the third time; his axe dug deep into the beast’s collar bone.

The crowd erupted as the dwarfs stood victorious, surpassing expectation.

“They will remember Kylo and Kylian,” Philo Hector grinned, “and with their fame, their value will only rise!” He celebrated with a goblet of wine. The ogre’s display of rings and necklaces, it came clear to the Admiral . . . to all who shared in the merchant captain’s company . . . that reigns were a joy of his.

Finishing his wine and pouring another, he leaned back in his chair. “Now,” he said, slapping his friend’s leg, “I am told my next warriors will fall to something extraordinary!”

Duncan Yamanu leaned forward. “Who?” he asked, “what?”

Philo Hector shrugged, glugging his wine. “I trust in Ezio’s choice of a grand finale.”

And a grand finale it would be.

As they waited for the arena to be cleared of the yeti’s corpse, the Admiral heard a familiar voice at the edge of the booth. He turned to see his guards step aside for a small, winged being: a sylph – his sylph.

He rose from his chair and moved away from his company.

Philo Hector waved a hand. “Do not miss the finale, old boy!”

The Admiral ignored his old friend and listened to the sylph’s news: “An Ark approaches the city,” she said, “red sails. Edenese sails. What do you wish to do?”

“Let her in. I will meet with her captain.” He nodded to his sylph – a compliment of good work – before returning his seat. “The duty of my position forever calls,” he groaned.

“Bah!” the ogre chuckled, “here she is . . . listen to her.”

Lalita had stepped forward. The crowd now hushed . . . waited. She winked at the three duellists in the arena and introduced his opponent: “Bellatrix, the Butcheress!”

On cue, the gate to the arena started to rise. A terrifying shriek sounded from the tunnel beyond.

The crowd quivered, falling quiet.

Philo Hector joined the Admiral in leaning forward. “By the Core,” he whispered, “what is Ezio showing off?”

Another shriek sounded – this time, louder . . . nearer.

Lalita called the beast’s name once more: “Bellatrix the Butcheress!”

Then she came: two legs held up the deadly, reptilian frame of a wyvern. Its wings spread wide and its long neck dipped to meet the gazes of its three opponents – soon to be supper. Remarkably, no cuffs or chains controlled the beast.

Admiral Yamanu paled and tore his eyes away from the creature, scanning the crowd. Peasants . . . peasants . . . peasants. Where…? How…? As yet another shriek pierced the stadium, the Admiral returned his attention to the wyvern.

How was this possible?

He only knew one showman who dared to reveal such a beast without the restriction of chains – and he knew every reason why that was possible.

But this was not Megalo Bauta’s show.

This was not his two-headed hydra, Ariel.

No. This was a wyvern.

And no Shekinah was present.

Pale, scared, and confused, Admiral Yamanu watched as Bellatrix the Butcheress slaughtered the three duellists with ease – much to the joy and wonder of Philo Hector and the crowd. All the while, Lalita simply smiled at the marvel.

Taste The Wine (lyrics)

It all starts with a “Hello,
What are you doing?
‘Cause I am all alone
And I could do with a friend right now.”
You don’t have to say no more,
‘Cause that’ll get me out my door.

‘Cause it feels so right, I know it’s wrong,
I shouldn’t have your number on my phone,
‘Cause when you call there’s nothing at all
That will stop me coming, baby.
And you’ve got me wrapped around your finger
Like the ring I gave you
And when you said no, I should have known
This was over, but now I am over 
Your house, and there’s a buzz,
I can feel it, I swear it’s love.
And when those lips land on mine
I can taste the wine.

That should be enough
To tuck my tail and run
But I’m having too much fun.

[Chorus]

It all starts with a “Hello.”
And it ends with “Oh no.”

[Chorus]

It all starts with a “Hello.”

‘The Absolute Spectacle that is the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Albans’ (non-fiction, travel writing)

“I’ve had no customers today.”

 Guilt. Sympathy. Whatever it was, we (me and my partner, Gemma) were lured in. How could we say no to this innocent lady? She had such passion (somewhat desperation too) in her eyes – the kind of passion you… well… envied.

“It’s free.”

Any doubt we may have had was gone.

So, here we were, sitting on the pews in the centre of this majestic structure, listening to our newly-found tour guide give us a history lesson on Saint Albans Cathedral – or, as I should say: The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban.

Truth be told, I was too overwhelmed and… I guess… surprised to take it all in. I could follow the words, the facts, but remembering them was something else. However, sitting here on my laptop, with Google just a click away, I can remind myself and recount it for you.

This factual journey began in 793AD, with King Offa and the creation of the Saint Albans Abbey. Little is known of the founding but… well… it’s a start, isn’t it? At least the next point along the timeline is more certain. In 1077, Paul of Caen (the first Norman abbot) set about rebuilding the Abbey church, starting with the great tower – the ‘crossing’ in the cross. It’s in this tower we sat listening to our (in Gemma’s words) cute guide. 

At no exaggeration, the ceiling was far above one hundred feet away. Look at its beautiful design too long and you would notice a twinge in the back of your neck. “Notice the number of red and white roses?” our guide grinned like an excited child – one who was proud of their fact you did not know. We nodded. There was an equal number of white and red, portrayed in a medieval fashion. It’s believed to be a nod to the War of the Roses. During such a time, the bookies of Medieval England couldn’t predict who would walk away victorious. The artist appears to have played it safe, not wishing to upset anybody – a way of protecting his own life and work, it seems.

After our tour guide (who, from now on, I’ll refer to as Mary) spoke for ‘too long’, she led us away from the pews into the north transept. There, we were graced by a beautiful piece of artwork in the form of a circular stained-glass window, hanging on the wall like a collection of pink and blue stars. Such artistry, titled ‘The Rose Window’, had been down to the fine work of Alan Younger. Princess Diana unveiled it in 1989. I’m thankful for stepping into the Cathedral – just for this. Pictures simply can’t do it justice. But… well… we had to take pictures. As a way of remembering, to tell us: go back; see it again.

Mary understood.

By this point, we were already blown away by the grandness of the building’s angelic architecture. Mary’s gift of historical insight simply enhanced every feature a tenfold, opening our eyes to the smallest of features. For example, if it weren’t for Mary, the brickwork would have remained just that (brickwork) instead of becoming paintwork. Every brick line in the Cathedral is painted. It’s a little fact – maybe one that wouldn’t mean much to some people – but, for us, it was incredible.

Walking the northern presbytery aisle, Mary told us how the belief was that pilgrims (a vast number of pilgrims in the Medieval era ventured to Saint Albans) entered through the north transept and walked through this very aisle, bearing gifts. She even pointed out a small slit in the watching loft, no more than an inch wide, which she was sure was used as a sort of ‘spyhole’ to keep tabs on the gifts. Clearly, the church wanted to ensure none of them went amiss. “Why?” I wondered.

“Have you noticed how many pubs there are in Saint Albans?” Mary asked. There were a lot. As it turns out, pilgrims needed a roof over their heads, broth in their bellies, and… I guess… ale. That’s how it’s theorised anyway.

Moving on, Mary showed us the Lady Chapel, before she parted ways with us. The shrine was the last stop of the tour and… you see… the guides don’t talk to us tourists in the shrine. It’s the most (how should I put it?) sacred of places in the Cathedral. Even as we went in, we felt an urge to whisper – and do so more quietly than you would anywhere else that calls upon quietness. Whether or not this was down to the burning candles and the woman deep in prayer, I do not know. But if you’re an enthusiast for silence, don’t try your local library; take a trip to Saint Albans and hit up this shrine of tranquillity and beauty.

I should say that ‘The Shrine of Saint Alban’ has been an attraction for pilgrims for over 1700 years. That, I must admit, gave us a very strange sensation. Although, at the time, we didn’t know the exact figure. Just… well… that there had been a lot of pilgrims visit the shrine over, what sounded like, a very long time. It is even recorded that Saint Germanus of Auxerre visited the shrine in 429AD.

We left soon after leaving the shrine, grabbing some chips from the café (it must be said: they were very good value) outside the Cathedral. It was ‘Fish and Chips Friday’, how could we not? With our ‘take away’ containers, we meandered back to the Verulamium Park. There, full of chips, we sat outside a lovely café in the centre of the park. Over a latte and green tea, we watched the variety of locals – something we thought was an ideal representative of all the many pilgrims, coming from all over Europe, that appeared to have visited Saint Alban. There was also a rather large number of dogs – which is always good. Great, actually. And, of course, we reflected on our time in the iconic Cathedral and all the many facts given to us by our brilliantly passionate tour guide.

In a world and time, where religion is under such debate and with its power so evident, the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Albans stands as a great example of just how powerful a tool religion was – and still is. It’s like a shield, fending off the lethal foe known as time. Over the many generations and eras, towns and castles have crumbled. Yet chapels, churches, cathedrals – they all remain. Heck, you only have to turn to the ruins of Saint Albans’ Roman neighbour. Verulamium is nothing but the small remains of what used to be a giant, stone wall that surrounded the entire town; the bare bones of the town’s theatre; and a museum showcasing the findings from excavations in the area. Plus, a wonderful display of ancient art: ‘Roman Mosaic and Hipocaustum’.

Even when you look into the history of the name Saint Alban, you can see the power of faith. Alban, a man believed to be of Romano-British origin, gave shelter to a Christian priest – at a time when Christianity was forbidden, punishable by death. He was due to be beheaded. But a fast-flowing river separated him and his proposed placed of execution. It is believed that Alban raised his eyes to Heaven and prayed. The river dried up and he, and those summoned to end his life, crossed. Only, the executioner threw down his sword in awe of the miracle, thus, showing the power of religion – he refused to kill Alban. Sadly, another man stepped up to end the martyr’s life. I wouldn’t be surprised if the original executioner followed Alban to the great abyss.

Like Verulamium, The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Albans had its fair share of challenges throughout time. It even spent a period split in two, with a road passing through it – for this, you can blame the rich nobles of the era for that. However, it always found itself rescued, whether it be by the peasants buying it and turning it into a Parish Church; or the wealthy, such as Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe, who helped rebuild parts of the monumental building – even if his methods and designs did lead to controversy. Between sips of coffee and tea, we asked ourselves: “Why? Why had the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Albans been saved time and time again?”

I say again: one answer stood out. The power of religion is why we tourists can enjoy the absolute spectacle, that is the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Albans.

Extract from’Number 13′ (rom-com screenplay)

INT. STUDIO APARTMENT – DAY

William (27) has the look of a struggling writer – a long beard, tatty clothing, a beanie. He puts on a pair of sunglasses. He beckons to Russel – who is fully grown.

WILLIAM
Let’s go, little guy.

William leaves the apartment with Russel on a leash.

EXT. COFFEE SHOP – DAY

William is sitting outside a coffee shop on the seafront. Beside him, Russel is sitting on a leash with a water bowl.

Anne sits down at the table, wearing smart – somewhat sexy – attire. She quickly strokes Russel.

ANNE
You’ve remembered my order, darling! Tell me, how many sugars?

WILLIAM
None.

ANNE
Just how I like it. Perfect. I’ve got’a be quick, OK?
(pause)
And- it’s the middle of winter, darling. Are sunglasses really necessary? You know what? Don’t worry.

Anne gets out a manuscript and places it on the table.

ANNE (CONT’D)
I want to know what you think of this book of yours. Then you’ll get mine.

WILLIAM
It’s- well- a romance.

ANNE
Pfft! If you think it is! Will, you’re trying to sell me a romance to sell to a publisher to sell to the world. And it’s missing something very- so very crucial. Can you tell me what that is?
(pause)
Love- Will. Love! This is supposed to be a romance. Yet there’s no love. Nothing. Not once. Not ever. You want my opinion? Without it, I can sell it. But nobody- and I mean nobody- will buy it.
(gets up)
Don’t look at me like that. I told you this had to be quick. You may be my favorite client. But you’re not my only one. Goodbye, Will.

As she is about to exit the coffee shop, she looks back.

ANNE (CONT’D)
Put some bloody love in that book!

William looks around red-faced, before turning to Russel – who tilts his head with a look to say: ‘she’s right, you know’.

A woman (70) approaches William. She looks nervous.

WOMAN
Are- are you William Fowler?

William takes his sunglasses off.

WILLIAM
Yes- well- his homeless looking brother.

WOMAN
Oh, I just loved your book, dear. Could I get your autograph?

WILLIAM
Oh- yes- of course.

William signs a napkin for the woman.

WOMAN
I must ask- if you don’t mind, that is. When’s the next love story?

WILLIAM
Soon. Definitely soon.

WOMAN
Good. We’re all waiting, dear.

 

This is exactly what I need after a long night of pint after pint. Memories return in a blur as I sit down and sigh. This feels good. Of course it does. I’m about to proceed with the first of the famous hangover cures. 

And the kettle is on.

Relief hits me at the presence of the dark substance. Steam rises and strokes my cheeks.

Its warm scent hits my nose. 

I take my time, savouring the cure.

Tissue dabs my steamed cheeks. Then cleans any spillages. One more sigh and I’m back on my feet. A swift move of the hand and I flush the chain, leaving the cure behind me. 

Off to the kettle I go.

And so the second hangover cure begins: coffee.

An extract from ‘Beneath the Surface’:

From the rising tiers of the harbour and the star hanging above them, to the theatre wherein the captains of the Avant-Garde gathered for conference, the Great Karikan Globe graced its residents and guests with its spectacle… its ancient prowess – a reminder that the largest empire to have existed in the Innerworld’s history forged its foundations with dragon fire. This day, however, the people were not drawn to the sea or to the city and its faction’s politics: the brutality of the arena pulled them in. It planted a thousand arses on the stools that surrounded a stage stained in scarlet. Said rears jumped from their seats when a darkskin woman – a giant, seven feet and a handful of inches tall – addressed the people they belonged to: “Ezio sends his greetings.”

Lalita had said those words many times before, to many of those currently listening, and yet the people cheered nonetheless – like they were hearing them for the first time… as if Ezio had left them waiting for years.

Only, he had left them waiting a single month.

Not only did she know how to awaken the crowd, Lalita had also harnessed the ability to have the world forget that Ezio had not once been sighted by anybody – unless he deemed you worthy, of course. And, as Duncan Yamanu studied the crowd of rowdy peasants, the azureskin orc could only assume not any one of them qualified for such worthiness.

Such a pity, he thought.

Unlike the rest of the crowd, Admiral Yamanu watched from within a guarded booth. He shared in watching the marvel with an old friend: Captain Philo Hector – a fellow azureskin, who, as an ogre, bore a broader, rounder, somewhat taller form. And, like his friend, his age had turned the little hair he had left silver.

Beside the Admiral, Captain Hector watched the show put on by himself and Ezio: duellists versus exotics – a show that offered its audience every shade of advocate, from paleskin to sageskin, and, much like the Malabarista’s circus show, a wide variety of fantastical creatures. The audience roared as hobgoblins were butchered, habili were slain, and harpies were crushed. They screamed and gasped as duellists fell to a swarm of kobolds, a pair of centaurs, and a singular troll. Meanwhile, Philo Hector enjoyed every finale on offer. Across from he and the Admiral’s booth, Lalita watched with an expression unchanged.

The show was scripted – a means of protecting both parties’ valuable assets.

And, according to Captain Hector, his next pair of duellists were in for a magnificent victory.

Beneath the booth, at the edge of the arena, his own announcer introduced two halfskin dwarfs: Kylo and Kylian. With minimal armour, their muscular frames were on show for all to see – a cause of whistles from women and men alike. Opposite the dwarfs, Lalita announced their opponent: a habili the size of a giant . . . a yeti.

The advocatial crowd booed at the powerful enemy.

An enemy that, according to the script, would soon fall to the warrior pair.

Admiral Yamanu watched as the axe-bearing dwarfs charged at the habili over thrice their height – to win would be to overcome the audience’s expectation. How would two little advocates slay something so much bigger than them?

But the Admiral knew the quality of his old friend’s roster of warriors.

And that quality would not succumb to the crowd’s doubt.

Though the fight did not come easy.

The yeti, allowed nothing better than a club, landed several blows on the dwarfs, sending them soaring through the air. But the two-on-one handicap, the surprisingly swift feet of the small, stocky advocates, the understanding between the pair – it all took its toll on the yeti. As he swiped at one of the dwarf’s, landing yet another blow, the other dwarf landed the first strike on the yeti. His axe cut into the yeti’s thigh.

Then the other thigh.

With the yeti on its knees, the dwarf struck for the third time; his axe dug deep into the beast’s collar bone.

The crowd erupted as the dwarfs stood victorious, surpassing expectation.

“They will remember Kylo and Kylian,” Philo Hector grinned, “and with their fame, their value will only rise!” He celebrated with a goblet of wine. The ogre’s display of rings and necklaces, it came clear to the Admiral . . . to all who shared in the merchant captain’s company . . . that reigns were a joy of his.

Finishing his wine and pouring another, he leaned back in his chair. “Now,” he said, slapping his friend’s leg, “I am told my next warriors will fall to something extraordinary!”

Duncan Yamanu leaned forward. “Who?” he asked, “what?”

Philo Hector shrugged, glugging his wine. “I trust in Ezio’s choice of a grand finale.”

And a grand finale it would be.

As they waited for the arena to be cleared of the yeti’s corpse, the Admiral heard a familiar voice at the edge of the booth. He turned to see his guards step aside for a small, winged being: a sylph – his sylph.

He rose from his chair and moved away from his company.

Philo Hector waved a hand. “Do not miss the finale, old boy!”

The Admiral ignored his old friend and listened to the sylph’s news: “An Ark approaches the city,” she said, “red sails. Edenese sails. What do you wish to do?”

“Let her in. I will meet with her captain.” He nodded to his sylph – a compliment of good work – before returning his seat. “The duty of my position forever calls,” he groaned.

“Bah!” the ogre chuckled, “here she is . . . listen to her.”

Lalita had stepped forward. The crowd now hushed . . . waited. She winked at the three duellists in the arena and introduced his opponent: “Bellatrix, the Butcheress!”

On cue, the gate to the arena started to rise. A terrifying shriek sounded from the tunnel beyond.

The crowd quivered, falling quiet.

Philo Hector joined the Admiral in leaning forward. “By the Core,” he whispered, “what is Ezio showing off?”

Another shriek sounded – this time, louder . . . nearer.

Lalita called the beast’s name once more: “Bellatrix the Butcheress!”

Then she came: two legs held up the deadly, reptilian frame of a wyvern. Its wings spread wide and its long neck dipped to meet the gazes of its three opponents – soon to be supper. Remarkably, no cuffs or chains controlled the beast.

Admiral Yamanu paled and tore his eyes away from the creature, scanning the crowd. Peasants . . . peasants . . . peasants. Where…? How…? As yet another shriek pierced the stadium, the Admiral returned his attention to the wyvern.

How was this possible?

He only knew one showman who dared to reveal such a beast without the restriction of chains – and he knew every reason why that was possible.

But this was not Megalo Bauta’s show.

This was not his two-headed hydra, Ariel.

No. This was a wyvern.

And no Shekinah was present.

Pale, scared, and confused, Admiral Yamanu watched as Bellatrix the Butcheress slaughtered the three duellists with ease – much to the joy and wonder of Philo Hector and the crowd. All the while, Lalita simply smiled at the marvel.

“I’ve had no customers today.”

 Guilt. Sympathy. Whatever it was, we (me and my partner, Gemma) were lured in. How could we say no to this innocent lady? She had such passion (somewhat desperation too) in her eyes – the kind of passion you… well… envied.

“It’s free.”

Any doubt we may have had was gone.

So, here we were, sitting on the pews in the centre of this majestic structure, listening to our newly-found tour guide give us a history lesson on Saint Albans Cathedral – or, as I should say: The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban.

Truth be told, I was too overwhelmed and… I guess… surprised to take it all in. I could follow the words, the facts, but remembering them was something else. However, sitting here on my laptop, with Google just a click away, I can remind myself and recount it for you.

This factual journey began in 793AD, with King Offa and the creation of the Saint Albans Abbey. Little is known of the founding but… well… it’s a start, isn’t it? At least the next point along the timeline is more certain. In 1077, Paul of Caen (the first Norman abbot) set about rebuilding the Abbey church, starting with the great tower – the ‘crossing’ in the cross. It’s in this tower we sat listening to our (in Gemma’s words) cute guide. 

At no exaggeration, the ceiling was far above one hundred feet away. Look at its beautiful design too long and you would notice a twinge in the back of your neck. “Notice the number of red and white roses?” our guide grinned like an excited child – one who was proud of their fact you did not know. We nodded. There was an equal number of white and red, portrayed in a medieval fashion. It’s believed to be a nod to the War of the Roses. During such a time, the bookies of Medieval England couldn’t predict who would walk away victorious. The artist appears to have played it safe, not wishing to upset anybody – a way of protecting his own life and work, it seems.

After our tour guide (who, from now on, I’ll refer to as Mary) spoke for ‘too long’, she led us away from the pews into the north transept. There, we were graced by a beautiful piece of artwork in the form of a circular stained-glass window, hanging on the wall like a collection of pink and blue stars. Such artistry, titled ‘The Rose Window’, had been down to the fine work of Alan Younger. Princess Diana unveiled it in 1989. I’m thankful for stepping into the Cathedral – just for this. Pictures simply can’t do it justice. But… well… we had to take pictures. As a way of remembering, to tell us: go back; see it again.

Mary understood.

By this point, we were already blown away by the grandness of the building’s angelic architecture. Mary’s gift of historical insight simply enhanced every feature a tenfold, opening our eyes to the smallest of features. For example, if it weren’t for Mary, the brickwork would have remained just that (brickwork) instead of becoming paintwork. Every brick line in the Cathedral is painted. It’s a little fact – maybe one that wouldn’t mean much to some people – but, for us, it was incredible.

Walking the northern presbytery aisle, Mary told us how the belief was that pilgrims (a vast number of pilgrims in the Medieval era ventured to Saint Albans) entered through the north transept and walked through this very aisle, bearing gifts. She even pointed out a small slit in the watching loft, no more than an inch wide, which she was sure was used as a sort of ‘spyhole’ to keep tabs on the gifts. Clearly, the church wanted to ensure none of them went amiss. “Why?” I wondered.

“Have you noticed how many pubs there are in Saint Albans?” Mary asked. There were a lot. As it turns out, pilgrims needed a roof over their heads, broth in their bellies, and… I guess… ale. That’s how it’s theorised anyway.

Moving on, Mary showed us the Lady Chapel, before she parted ways with us. The shrine was the last stop of the tour and… you see… the guides don’t talk to us tourists in the shrine. It’s the most (how should I put it?) sacred of places in the Cathedral. Even as we went in, we felt an urge to whisper – and do so more quietly than you would anywhere else that calls upon quietness. Whether or not this was down to the burning candles and the woman deep in prayer, I do not know. But if you’re an enthusiast for silence, don’t try your local library; take a trip to Saint Albans and hit up this shrine of tranquillity and beauty.

I should say that ‘The Shrine of Saint Alban’ has been an attraction for pilgrims for over 1700 years. That, I must admit, gave us a very strange sensation. Although, at the time, we didn’t know the exact figure. Just… well… that there had been a lot of pilgrims visit the shrine over, what sounded like, a very long time. It is even recorded that Saint Germanus of Auxerre visited the shrine in 429AD.

We left soon after leaving the shrine, grabbing some chips from the café (it must be said: they were very good value) outside the Cathedral. It was ‘Fish and Chips Friday’, how could we not? With our ‘take away’ containers, we meandered back to the Verulamium Park. There, full of chips, we sat outside a lovely café in the centre of the park. Over a latte and green tea, we watched the variety of locals – something we thought was an ideal representative of all the many pilgrims, coming from all over Europe, that appeared to have visited Saint Alban. There was also a rather large number of dogs – which is always good. Great, actually. And, of course, we reflected on our time in the iconic Cathedral and all the many facts given to us by our brilliantly passionate tour guide.

In a world and time, where religion is under such debate and with its power so evident, the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Albans stands as a great example of just how powerful a tool religion was – and still is. It’s like a shield, fending off the lethal foe known as time. Over the many generations and eras, towns and castles have crumbled. Yet chapels, churches, cathedrals – they all remain. Heck, you only have to turn to the ruins of Saint Albans’ Roman neighbour. Verulamium is nothing but the small remains of what used to be a giant, stone wall that surrounded the entire town; the bare bones of the town’s theatre; and a museum showcasing the findings from excavations in the area. Plus, a wonderful display of ancient art: ‘Roman Mosaic and Hipocaustum’.

Even when you look into the history of the name Saint Alban, you can see the power of faith. Alban, a man believed to be of Romano-British origin, gave shelter to a Christian priest – at a time when Christianity was forbidden, punishable by death. He was due to be beheaded. But a fast-flowing river separated him and his proposed placed of execution. It is believed that Alban raised his eyes to Heaven and prayed. The river dried up and he, and those summoned to end his life, crossed. Only, the executioner threw down his sword in awe of the miracle, thus, showing the power of religion – he refused to kill Alban. Sadly, another man stepped up to end the martyr’s life. I wouldn’t be surprised if the original executioner followed Alban to the great abyss.

Like Verulamium, The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Albans had its fair share of challenges throughout time. It even spent a period split in two, with a road passing through it – for this, you can blame the rich nobles of the era for that. However, it always found itself rescued, whether it be by the peasants buying it and turning it into a Parish Church; or the wealthy, such as Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe, who helped rebuild parts of the monumental building – even if his methods and designs did lead to controversy. Between sips of coffee and tea, we asked ourselves: “Why? Why had the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Albans been saved time and time again?”

I say again: one answer stood out. The power of religion is why we tourists can enjoy the absolute spectacle, that is the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Albans.

Taste The Wine

It all starts with a “Hello,

What are you doing?

‘Cause I am all alone

And I could do with a friend right now.”

You don’t have to say no more,

‘Cause that’ll get me out my door.

‘Cause it feels so right, I know it’s wrong,

I shouldn’t have your number on my phone,

‘Cause when you call there’s nothing at all

That will stop me coming, baby.

And you’ve got me wrapped around your finger

Like the ring I gave you

And when you said no, I should have known

This was over, but now I am over 

Your house, and there’s a buzz,

I can feel it, I swear it’s love.

And when those lips land on mine

I can taste the wine.

That should be enough

To tuck my tail and run

But I’m having too much fun.

‘Cause it feels so right, I know it’s wrong

I shouldn’t have your number on my phone,

‘Cause when you call there’s nothing at all

That will stop me coming, baby.

And you’ve got me wrapped around your finger

Like the ring I gave you

And when you said no, I should have known

This was over, but now I am over 

Your house, and there’s a buzz,

I can feel it, I swear it’s love.

And when those lips land on mine

I can taste the wine.

It all starts with a “Hello.”

And it ends with “Oh no.”

‘Cause it feels so right, I know it’s wrong,

I shouldn’t have your number on my phone,

‘Cause when you call there’s nothing at all

That will stop me coming, baby.

And you’ve got me wrapped around your finger

Like the ring I gave you

And when you said no, I should have known

This was over, but now I am over 

Your house, and there’s a buzz,

I can feel it, I swear it’s love.

And when those lips land on mine

I can taste the wine.

It all starts with a “Hello.”

I surrender.

As I said those words, I thought I had lost my freedom. They took me and tied me, dragged me away. Left me here, sat waiting for my indefinite hell of a new life. All because I was born within particular borders, forced to follow a particular man. Truth is, I had lost my freedom a long time ago.

The men watching me – there were two; the way they spoke, and laughed, and slapped their thighs. They were comrades with a bond. Friends, sharing a bottle of whiskey – drinking as brothers! It made me think of all the people I had lost along the way. They wouldn’t laugh again. So, how could I? How could these men? Was a drop of whiskey all it took?

I couldn’t understand their tongue. Nor the order that their officer gave them. All I noticed was his finger pointing at me as he barked. But as he left, the men did not come to me with cuffs or chains. They came with whiskey.

“Drink!” they said – as if I could understand them. It’s funny. I remember thinking: I bet they’re telling me to drown, the filthy Kraut.

“Drink,” they said, holding the bottle closer.

“Drink?” This time, it was me who spoke. If I didn’t understand the word’s meaning at that moment, I did the moment after.

The bottle met my lips. Whiskey rolled over my tongue, ran down my throat. My thirst, my taste buds, they were all I could focus on. I hardly heard the two men cheer the word I then understood.

They pulled the bottle away. I said my word, “Getränke.” They smiled. I smiled.

“Drink,” they said.

It didn’t feel like long – although I remember both sun and moon. We drank more than just the one bottle of whiskey! When they cheered, I did too. When I laughed, so did they. By the end, the two men were laying on their backs. I was taken away. Their chuckling faded. The happiness ceased.

But I will always remember that moment: the one where the war ended and three men became free men. For that, I will always be grateful for the words: I surrender. They had given me my freedom.

Brief: “Ah, you’re a creative writing student? Perhaps I can use your creative brain. Dog walking. My daughter wants to start a dog walking business in Poole. But she needs a name.” Sitting at home, taking a twenty-minute break between ‘9 months, my arse’ and ‘Beneath the Surface’, I came up with the following:

INT. STUDIO APARTMENT – DAY

William (27) has the look of a struggling writer – a long beard, tatty clothing, a beanie. He puts on a pair of sunglasses. He beckons to Russel – who is fully grown.

WILLIAM
Let’s go, little guy.

William leaves the apartment with Russel on a leash.

EXT. COFFEE SHOP – DAY

William is sitting outside a coffee shop on the seafront. Beside him, Russel is sitting on a leash with a water bowl.

Anne sits down at the table, wearing smart – somewhat sexy – attire. She quickly strokes Russel.

ANNE
You’ve remembered my order, darling! Tell me, how many sugars?

WILLIAM
None.

ANNE
Just how I like it. Perfect. I’ve got’a be quick, OK?
(pause)
And- it’s the middle of winter, darling. Are sunglasses really necessary? You know what? Don’t worry.

Anne gets out a manuscript and places it on the table.

ANNE (CONT’D)
I want to know what you think of this book of yours. Then you’ll get mine.

WILLIAM
It’s- well- a romance.

ANNE
Pfft! If you think it is! Will, you’re trying to sell me a romance to sell to a publisher to sell to the world. And it’s missing something very- so very crucial. Can you tell me what that is?
(pause)
Love- Will. Love! This is supposed to be a romance. Yet there’s no love. Nothing. Not once. Not ever. You want my opinion? Without it, I can sell it. But nobody- and I mean nobody- will buy it.
(gets up)
Don’t look at me like that. I told you this had to be quick. You may be my favorite client. But you’re not my only one. Goodbye, Will.

As she is about to exit the coffee shop, she looks back.

ANNE (CONT’D)
Put some bloody love in that book!

William looks around red-faced, before turning to Russel – who tilts his head with a look to say: ‘she’s right, you know’.

A woman (70) approaches William. She looks nervous.

WOMAN
Are- are you William Fowler?

William takes his sunglasses off.

WILLIAM
Yes- well- his homeless looking brother.

WOMAN
Oh, I just loved your book, dear. Could I get your autograph?

WILLIAM
Oh- yes- of course.

William signs a napkin for the woman.

WOMAN
I must ask- if you don’t mind, that is. When’s the next love story?

WILLIAM
Soon. Definitely soon.

WOMAN
Good. We’re all waiting, dear.

 

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