‘A superb collection’ – Karen Maitland, author of ‘The Vanishing Witch’
‘A rare treat’ – J.G. Harlond, author of ‘The Empress Emerald’
Meet people you will never forget: the night photographer, the gynaecologist’s wife,
the rescue dog. Dip into whatever suits your mood, from comedy to murders; from fantastic stories to blog posts, by way of love poetry.
Fully illustrated by the author; Jean Gill’s original photographs are as thought-provoking as her writing.
An out of body experience for adventurous readers. Or, of course, you can ’Live Safe’.
Not for you
the blind alley on a dark night,
wolf-lope pacing you step for step
as shadows flare on the walls.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This book breaks all the rules and that’s what I like best about it. My editor said ‘This is who Jean Gill is and what she writes’ so we included a photo of a teddy bear on an empty swing to go with a poem on childhood; a photo of my husband and dog posing as homeless beggars to go with a short story about a street dweller’s dog; and a photo of Death the Reaper to go with a story about a night photographer. It was tricky getting Death to pose but I think the shot worked well. I wrote from the heart in this book even more than I usually do and I think you’ll know what I mean if you read it.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Some of the pieces are autobiographical; the rescue dog Lou is real as are my fellow bee-keepers and both my sisters. The gynaecologist’s wife was someone I imagine while I was keeping an appointment. I started wondering about the sex life of a gynaecologist..
Going to the Dogs
The mirror had always been an untrustworthy friend, the kind who said ‘You look good in pink’ but sniggered behind your back. Debra looked at her fifty-four year old self and missed the days when the mirror sniggered behind her back. Now the contempt was in the open; her face was a ploughed field, furrows drooping her expression into grim, muddy trenches; her hair was lank swathes of grey, thin on top and trailing its thirty year old style into rats’ tails with split ends below her shoulders; her red-rimmed eyes had been a watery, dim brown even before they filled with self-pity; and the contents of her loose polyester top were rolling towards the bulges in her trousers in the anonymous movement of bagged vegetables. Once, she could walk into a room, her feet and head light as dancing, and time made a hiccup for her entry, a heart-stop when the right eyes would find her across the room, and the wrong eyes would notice, then look away. It had been the longest time since the right eyes found her, since her own had dimmed with the hamster-wheel of day-to-day, the deaths and dusting, leaving her alone. Magic? There was no magic. ‘You,’ her reflection told her, ‘are going to the dogs.’
A whine, and a paw scraping her calf demanded her attention because, she corrected herself, she was not alone at all. ‘You started life with more wrinkles than I have now,’ Debra told the dog sitting beside her. Encouraged, the pug stood on her back legs, scrabbling at her mistress’ trousers, whining and beseeching, the deep folds of furry skin making her face look like an aerial view of the Rockies, black lakes for ears, chin and eyes. ‘That’s enough, Chuckie.’ Debra’s hand caressed the taupe fur, soft as moleskin. She stared out the woman in the mirror, the only other person she saw these days, apart from the business of living, the necessary check-out assistants, bus drivers and workmen. This was certainly the only other person with whom she was intimate. She shook herself. This wasn’t another person. She smiled ironically. And it certainly wasn’t someone she liked. She stroked the little dog again, Chuckie’s fur was warm and comforting against her hand. ‘You wouldn’t notice a few more wrinkles, would you, pet. I wish you’d take all of mine.’ Debra’s skin tightened and tingled, probably some bloody allergy she was going down with. She sighed and went to clean the kitchen. That was as exciting as the day got.
For several days, Debra avoided the mirror. It did her no good brooding over what she’d lost. Far better to take Chuckie to the park and play ball with the one friend who could be trusted. No moods, no lies, no walls of silence. Debra had finished with all that. She’d gone back again and again, offering a fresh start, remembering only what was good, opening that place deep deep inside herself to whatever life brought her. And it had been the same every time; twin thoughts and roses, followed by misunderstandings and barbs, and then the wall of silence. Distance or death, it was all the same. Debra threw the ball for the umpteenth time, knowing that Chuckie would always come back, wagging her tail, panting with the rightness of her world. Until the umpteenth and first time, when Chuckie disappeared behind a clump of rhododendrons and no matter how often Debra called, no Chuckie.
Irritated, Debra marched into the shrubbery to find her dog whining and sniffing bottoms with a sad quivering scrap of a mongrel. All was clearly not right with his world. He was tied to the leg of a park bench with a rope long enough to allow him to crawl into the shrubbery and hide. Half-starved and greasy, his eyes bloodshot, he stared at Debra without malice, waiting for a kick. She should take him to the RSPCA but it didn’t take a genius to guess that he’d been abandoned and that no owner was going to show up, tearfully happy at being re-united with their Bonzo or Rex. Instead, she took him home and Chuckie expressed her approval by wagging her tail and peeing in the house.
Bathing the new dog was mostly a question of transferring dirt from the animal to the bathroom walls but there was an unexpected reward. Cleaned up, and after a week of being fed a teaspoon of fish oil with his biscuits, Barnaby, as he was now called, had the rich russet coat of a setter, long and silky. Strands of Debra’s own grey hair mingled with Barnaby’s rich red as she cuddled him. ‘You wouldn’t notice a few grey hairs among all of this,’ she told him. ‘I wish you had mine and I had silky red hair like yours.’ Debra sighed and scratched her suddenly itchy scalp, then got on with the chores.
Jean Gill is a Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with a big white dog, ascruffy black dog, a Nikon D700 and a man. For many years, she taught English in Wales and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Carmarthenshire. She is mother or stepmother to five children so life was pretty hectic. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.
Publications are varied, including prize-winning poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, and a cookery book on goat cheese. ‘One Sixth of a Gill’ is her seventeenth book.
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