The Swallows' Flight- introducing the characters (and, of course, the dog).

The Swallows' Flight will be published in May 2021. Meanwhile, the proofs are out, and I plan to introduce the main characters here, with a few words for each from the text.

So, here's Ruby and Will:

I’ve never heard of an amaryllis,’ said Ruby’s grandmother.
    Neither had Violet. The name had been in a library book about gardening. There hadn’t been a picture, just a list at the end of a chapter: ‘Rewarding rarities’ and the lovely word: Amaryllis, that rang like a chime and a charm. Ruby’s father had read it aloud and it had caught Violet’s heart.
    ‘Ruby Amaryllis,’ she said proudly.  ‘Her dad’s looked it up and everything. He says it’s a flower like a lily, but better.’
    ‘It’s even fancier than Ruby!’ said all the horrified relations.
    ‘Good,’ said Violet.

It hadn’t stopped there. The christening had been as extravagant as the new baby’s name. Violet had sewn white silk into a christening gown and her best friend Clarry had brought from Oxford a shawl of snowflakes in soft white lace. Clarry was to be Ruby’s Godmother, and she arrived for the christening with other presents too:  a rattle with silver bells, and a whole collection of parcels for Ruby’s eight-year-old brother, Will.
    Will was already sick of the whole business, the fuss, the new clothes he was required to wear, and the bone-deep knowledge that he would never again be loved as exclusively and completely as he had been loved before the arrival of the ugly, wailing baby. Therefore he unwrapped his torch, his book called The Pirate’s Parrot, his jar of sweets and his box of coloured marbles with very bad grace and when prompted to say thank you, said, ‘They’re just to shut me up.’ 

 

And here's Kate, and her brothers and sisters.

 

Kate was the last of the Penrose children, who had begun with Janey, who was brainy, swiftly followed by untidy, merry Bea. Bea wore glasses that she lost so often she tied them on a string, and ran a farm on her bedroom windowsill: carrot tops growing in saucers, two mice in a box and a flowerpot of earth where she planted apple pips.

Janey and Bea were a team, and Simon and Tod (whose real name was Rupert), the good-looking musical twins, were another. After Simon and Tod came noisy, impulsive Charlie. And then there was Kate, who was not brainy or untidy or merry or good-looking or musical or noisy or impulsive. Kate was shy and breathless and had to be looked after and have orange juice with cod liver oil because she caught illnesses so easily.  This meant she missed a lot of school and in winter was wrapped in extra warm layers, in foggy weather kept indoors, and on rainy days was steered around puddles and had umbrellas held over her head. Even in summer, Kate sneezed and sneezed with hay fever, although she lived on a street in Oxford where there wasn’t any hay for miles.

 

And this is Erik and Hans, when they were 10 years old, in Berlin.

 

‘Yes,’ agreed Erik, hanging out of the window to watch. ‘Imagine being a swallow. Racing about like that!’
    ‘You’d have to eat flies though,’ pointed out Hans. ‘What do you think they taste like?
    ‘Pretzels and lobsters,’ said Erik, so matter of factly that Hans started shouting and flinging his arms about and exclaiming, ‘Erik? You didn’t! Hey, tell me you didn’t! You can’t have! Are you crazy? Are you joking?’ Then he stopped jumping about and came up close to look into Erik’s face. ‘You are joking,’ he said. ‘Aren’t you?’
    ‘Yes.’
    Hans pushed his shoulder affectionately. Erik pushed him back. They both, at the same moment, realised how much they liked each other. Hans remembered how Erik had leaned over the bridge and leaned over the bridge and leaned over the bridge, and said, ‘Oh dear,’ and vanished with hardly a splash. Erik remembered how quickly Hans had pulled off his jacket to wrap him up when they fished him out again.
    ‘Nutter,’ said Hans, catching Erik in a casual headlock.
    ‘Nutter yourself,’ said Erik, wriggling out backwards and dumping Hans flat on the floor.
    ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if they did taste like pretzels and lobsters,’ said Hans, thinking about it, stretched out on his back.  ‘Perhaps you are not so crazy after all. Perhaps one day you will be head keeper at Berlin Zoo.’
    ‘Perhaps,’ said Erik, hopefully, once more gazing out of the window. ‘Do you know, Hans, those little birds will go to Africa.’
    ‘Oh, here you go again!’ said Hans. ‘Africa! I was wrong, you really are a nut… Hey! Erik!’
    Erik’s brown curly head was suddenly nodding. He wobbled where he stood, leaning against the comfortable wooden window-frame. Only four hours sleep for two weeks and three insatiable babies all day, and now night was coming in over the rooftops. 
    Hans leapt and grabbed him just before he toppled out of the open window.
    ‘Thank you, Hans,’ said Erik.

 

 

Last, but not least, here is Dog.

 

Scrapyard, East London, exact date unknown
There was a dog who lived in a scrapyard. It had lived there so long that it had become part of the landscape, like the rust stains on the ground, the lace edge of broken bottles that topped the scrapyard walls, and the rattle of the gates in the wind.
All the good things about dogs were not true of this dog. It loved no one, and trusted no one. It wasn’t loyal or merry. It didn’t have wise brown eyes, or a hopefully wagging tail, in fact half of its tail was missing. Also its fur was coarse and greyish and matted behind its ears. Its legs were long and knobbly at the joints and they ended in paws with thick black nails, chewed down to iron stumps.
The dog made its living by its bark, which was harsh, like stone dragged on stone. Also by its lunge at the end of its chain. The chain was the dog’s home.
By day the chain held the dog, but at night its ears fluttered, and its paws flexed and twitched.
By night the dog ran in its dreams.