In this series, we invite our Crime Cymru authors to showcase an excerpt from one of their books. This week, Phil Rowlands reveals the chilling experience that sowed the seed of his new book, TimeSlip.
Years ago, living in Fridaythorpe, East Yorkshire, in the heart of the Wolds, I was entranced by the wonderful glacial valley that we could access from the lane where we lived. Its weather was mercurial, its sky tumultuous and the sense of the distant past lingered like a mist that often enveloped you as you walked through the deep cut between the chalk hills. It was a place for thought and balance and a realisation of the timelessness of nature and its effect on us and on those who were here before. There was also the rugged and rough coast and we often used to visit Bridlington, not so much in the summer but in the shadows and showers of autumn and winter. It was here that I felt the first tingle of what was to become TimeSlip.
One late November day, I was walking there with my six months old son strapped to me in a carrier. My wife was working so we were alone. The beach was deserted and as we headed towards the cliffs, I saw an old concrete WW2 lookout post, crumbling but still standing. As we headed towards it the rain started and by the time we got there it was torrential. I decided to shelter in the broken building. It was a squeeze and a challenge to get through its narrow door with all the rubbish and loose rubble but we managed it. Inside it was dark, the single observation slit giving little light and the swirling mix of decaying, salty and fetid smells, sharp and unpleasant. Then suddenly it became colder and darker and there was a strong sensation that there was something else there, that we were not alone. It was uncomfortable and disturbing and my son, sensing my unease, was starting to cry, so we pushed our way out and ran back along the beach and arrived at the car soaking and shivering. Luckily, I had blankets and a change of clothes for my son and with him on the heated front seat of my old Volvo, I relaxed, let him warm up then strapped him into the back and drove home making him promise not to tell his mum. I’d have time to change and stuff everything in the washing machine before she came home – she’d never know, unless my son caught a chill then pneumonia and I’d have to confess. He didn’t and I kept the memory to myself, hidden away until it surfaced as I was planning the book many years later and living in Wales.
The lookout post is where an inciting incident takes place; and the Wolds add a little mystery and some mirth too.
Ian Chambers is under pressure: guilt ridden over an extra marital affair and struggling to complete the first draft of his next novel.
On a stormy midnight North Yorkshire beach walk to try and clear his head, he experiences something terrifying and traumatic that seems to be beyond reason and belief. The devastating repercussions of his chaotic search for a rational explanation threaten all that is true and meaningful in his life… and his very existence.
Ian is walking along a beach holding a large rubber torch, its strong beam lighting up the saturated sand in front of him. Way out the crashing waves bounce, rampage and rattle onto the shore. There is no one but Ian braving this wild night or disturbed enough to be out in it. The wind and the rain, like needles, swirl and slap into his face. The cold and wet is cathartic and there is nothing but the here and now as it batters against him. He stops and turns his head away for a moment’s respite then carries on walking. Battling against something he cannot control has always been a way of avoiding or balancing problems that mostly were of his own making and this edge of the land, this place, was perfect for it. He lifts the torch and explores the darkness and finds an old lookout post, its walls still standing but broken and crumbling in parts. He moves the light around it, then, as he changes the direction of the beam, he touches the cliffs. There’s a loud crack of thunder and he switches off the torch, waiting to see the flash and sizzle of lightning but it doesn’t come. Then on his periphery he catches a flicker of light that seems to edge around the lookout. For a moment it stutters briefly then goes out. Ian walks towards it, shining his torch onto the walls and lighting up a small opening that looks like it was once a doorway. He stands outside it for a moment, listening for sounds that aren’t of the night or his own, then walks around it and comes back to where he started. There is no one else there. The doorway is filled with rubble. Ian shines the torch inside.
There’s no answer. He leans in and moves the light around the small space. It’s empty and stinks of urine, excrement and a rancid mixture of other foul smells. What was the light then? Was it just remnants of the lightning lingering in his sight? He drags and pushes at the rubble and manages to squeeze above the stones and through the tight space. He stands in the centre of the circular shell and looks around at the detritus that’s been left there. He doesn’t want to know what it all is. He crosses to a small look out slit in the wall and stretches up and watches the sea breaking the darkness as the foam rises and falls. Suddenly he feels icy cold, colder than when he was outside. Then a moment of terror as he feels another presence but there can’t be. There was nobody in or outside. He turns round quickly. The torch goes out. That shouldn’t have happened! There were new heavy-duty batteries in it. He’d put them in when he got to the beach. It doesn’t matter now because he’s in a black impenetrable space. He holds the torch in front of him to use as a weapon. He tries to move but nothing works. He shouts but nothing comes out of his open mouth. Then without warning there is a violent wrenching blow to his stomach and an intense pain shoots up into his chest. He screams but, again, there is no sound. An internal blackness joins the outer and he falls heavily to the damp and littered sand, unmoving, still, no breath, no sign of life.
An initial three book deal will see a revised and updated edition of SIENA and a new novel, SINGLE CELL published in early February and TIMESLIP, will follow in the Spring.
And while you’re here, don’t forget the amazing new Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival, Wales’ first ever international crime fiction festival, which will be making its home in Aberystwyth over the early May bank holiday weekend. We’ll be online in 2021, and then in person in 2022 – from 30th April to 2nd May 2022. If you have a 5 year diary then add in we’re online in 2023, in person in 2024. There’s a pattern, we’ve profiled it. For updates, follow us on Twitter at @GwylCrimeFest