For the Creative Buzz Hop this week, the theme is solitude and I’ve chosen to share with you an extract from Drawings in Sand. In this, the main character, Stella, is busy in her classroom and longing for solitude. The narrative then flashes back to Stella’s childhood as she remembers a time long ago when she was playing on the beach. This extract also shows a little of Stella’s relationship with her Grandmother. Stella’s childhood is a difficult one, but she has a very tender and loving connection with her grandmother, and I loved writing the scenes in which her grandmother features.
Extract from Chapter 11, Waves
It wasn’t even lunchtime – just after break – more than half the day to go. She still had this lesson to get through till she had some free time. She wanted to be anywhere else, anywhere. Her voice kept droning on, and her hands kept moving, tracing the outline of a leather tongue. She was still showing a pupil how to draw.
Again, she felt the urge to paint the walls purple. Then to paint the white heads of foam as the waves broke over the walls, to feel the water breaking over her.
Sam and Stella dig holes in the sand near the shoreline and water rushes in. Before them is the sea, the Firth of Forth. Stella used to get that muddled up when she was younger. The Forth of Firth. The Frith of Froth.
Behind her, on the big wide beach of Gullane, Daddy and Ginny are sunbathing and Mummy is clearing picnic things into the hamper. Mummy scrapes food off plates into a Tupperware container, and puts dirty plates and forks into plastic bags. She saves bags from bread, potatoes and everything else. Waste not; want not, she always says. Poor Mummy spends hours cooking.
Stella eats like a bird. Daddy says she might as well have a box of worms for lunch. Mummy says if it wasn’t for Ginny she might as well give up cooking. Ginny likes Dundee cake, currant loaf, coffee buns, coconut kisses and pork pie. Ginny ate lots of Gala pie. Daddy ate lots too. Daddy has a big round tummy, but sometimes he isn’t hungry. Sometimes he has already eaten, or he just feels like cheese and biscuits and a glass of Guinness. Guinness has iron in it, so if you have it you don’t need to eat.
But whenever Daddy has Guinness for lunch Mummy’s mouth looks tight and her eyes are little slits.
If it wasn’t for the children, she says.
Stella and Sam look at each other when she says that, but even Sam knows better than to ask what she means.
Every time they go on a picnic Mummy makes Gala pie. The pork tastes cold and greasy and the feel of the egg makes sick come into Stella’s mouth. She pushes her slice into the sand when no one is looking.
Oh you good girl Stella, you’ve eaten all your pie. Look Philip, Stella’s eaten up all her lunch.
Poor Mummy doesn’t know how bad Stella is.
Sam digs into the sand and scoops up a handful. A gooey mess of water and sand runs through his fingers. Stella steps away, into the sea. She kicks up bubbles as she walks through the shallow waves. There are no sharks here. It is too cold for sharks in the North Sea. Everyone knows that. Even Stella knows it now, after Ginny told her. After Ginny laughed at her. What a stupid idiot, ha, ha, ha.
Ginny is clever. It’s a good job she is because this family doesn’t have much else to show for itself.
On the far side of the water is Kirkcaldy, and near Kirkcaldy is Granny. Stella could walk through the sea to Granny. The sea would wash her clean and she would get to Granny’s house with no badness inside her.
Sometimes Stella stays at Granny’s without anyone else. Granny’s bedroom window looks out over the sea. On the windowsill is a shiny wooden box, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. When Stella helps Granny she is supposed to dust the outside of the box. She is not supposed to go inside to blue velvet as soft as waves, and she is not supposed to hold earrings to her face nor brooches to her chest. She is especially not supposed to pick up the string of shiny white pearls because pearls are precious things made by shells far beneath the ocean, and besides Mummy has told her a thousand times, Mummy has told her till she is blue in the face, that children are not supposed to go snooping among adult’s belongings.
But the last time Stella was there, the last time she was standing by the window with a brooch in her hand, Granny came into the room.
Stella put it back, and shut the box.
Granny came over. She opened the box, took out the shiny red brooch, and held it out.
You like this one, do you?
Stella hung her head.
Granny put the brooch in Stella’s hand and folded her fingers closed. Don’t tell your mother. She already thinks I spoil you enough. Let’s keep this our secret.
At home, deep in the basement behind some paintings, there is a space between two bricks. The basement walls are made of sandstone, but the smell is mossy and sad. The sand under her feet smells of salt and seaweed and faraway places. The water that washes this shore could have come from the other side of the world where brown-skinned men dive to the bottom of the ocean and take pearls out of oysters. The brooch Granny put in Stella’s hand has no pearls, only red stones, and it is wrapped in a plastic bag. Mummy will never think of looking in the basement. She will never look behind the paintings, and she doesn’t know about the space between the bricks.
Stella is not supposed to go into the basement, and she is not supposed to wade through water that is deeper than her knees. But the tide is coming in now, spilling over the wide flat beach, and Stella is walking to meet it. She can’t swim properly, not without a rubber ring. It might be dangerous to go wading through water that comes up to the top of her legs. The seabed might suddenly disappear.
Behind her a voice is calling. Stella! Come back! Her mother’s voice. You come back right now. Do you hear? Come back this minute.
Stella turns, and waves rush over her head. Everything is blurred and water pours into her, through her mouth and nose, filling her. Her hands flail, reaching for the surface, and something rises inside her as if she is about to explode.
And then she is everywhere, and everything is still and peaceful. She is filled with light and she is floating, floating deep in endless silence.