Novel #9

Brooke was written quite quickly – I had an idea and it just came out onto the page.

However, it was written in the middle of my writing the next novel – Brothers In Arms. This one I was really happy with. Clocking in at 78100 words, it was also the first novel to break that 72000 word barrier, and so be officially classified a novel by every publishing house I knew at the time (I have since found some that consider 78000 words to be the cutoff, and it breaks that as well, albeit only just). It falls into that genre of supernatural horror, with demons and the living dead and lots of death and destruction.

Brothers In Arms tells the story of a young man, recently divorced, whose parents and twin brother have all died, as well as a young son. But his brother somehow comes back, and is pursued by otherworld entities that do not wish the dead to return to Earth. While these monsters are the “bad guys”, I like to think I put enough shades of grey in the story for the reader to think they were just doing their job; after all, what would the world be like if the dead could come back at will? And yet, in the end, there is a hint that maybe it was allowed after all…

The story follows along smoothly. I like the character development, even though yet again I have a whiny, neurotic main character. His ex-wife is well developed, though, and the brother who comes back has just enough manic presence to be believable (I hope). The secondary hero – a cop – is a bit of a two-dimensional stereotype, but he is only important at the very end.

I also like the way I have set up Adelaide, Victor Harbor and Port Hughes. I think I’ve captured a little something of the towns/cities in winter. The destruction is also surprisingly subdued for me.

The biggest complaint I’ve had from readers is my description of the hunter at the very end of the story. The general consensus is that I put in too much description, and should have left more for the reader’s imagination. As it is, I described it using a Hieronymus Bosch creation as the template, and I probably agree with it. If I ever do go back and try a re-edit, I’ll definitely reduce the physical description in this case.

I was so happy with it that over the next year I sent it out to 6 publishers and 2 agents. I got one response, from an agent, who said it was not “the genre” he sold, even though supernatural horror was prominent in his advert. I tried again in 1999 with (according to my records) 5 publishers, including one I’d sent it to before, albeit inadvertently. Surprisingly, it was this second try publisher who was the most encouraging. They wanted the full manuscript, and an alternate ending. I gave both. 6 months later a “sorry” rejection, but with 3 suggestions for improvements: amp up the blood and gore aspects, amp up the relationship between hero and ex-wife, and get into the hero’s emotional head a bit more. But by now I was rewriting another novel, and so put it on the back-burner, and never got around to it.

Rejection total: 17 + 13 = 30

Excerpt

“Relax…” the husky voice said soothingly. “Just calm down…”

“What?” Panic had taken a firm grip on Robert’s mind. The sight before him was one which should not even exist in his nightmares… but here it was. Tony, his own brother, drowned at Port Hughes ten years ago, was standing before him… although it wasn’t Tony, was it? It could not be him… No way known…

“Robbie, I need your help,” the person pleaded.

“This can’t be happening,” was the muted response. Robert could feel his mind going numb again… but he also knew he had to fight it. If – just if – he let go this time he probably would not come back… “You’re not real.”

“But I am.” The figure shook his head sadly, but never took his eyes off Robert. His eyes… and finally a smile crept across Robert’s lips.

“You can’t be Tony,” he whispered. “Tony had…”

“Blue eyes, I know.” An uncomfortable pause, then: “And brown hair, like yours. My eyes are black, the eyes of death. And my hair has gone white. It’s just the way it is…”

“NO!!” Robert started to scream, but a firm hand over his mouth silenced him. A cold, clammy hand, waxy to the touch, slightly damp… He shivered violently and the Tony-person released him.

“Please, listen to me,” he begged. “It is me, Tony, Anthony, Tone, as you called me, whatever you want, but it is me…”

“A ghost,” Robert stated firmly, nodding, grasping at this new conviction firmly with his mind. “If this isn’t a dream, then you’re a ghost… ow!”

The figure slapped him hard across the side of the face. “Can ghosts hit people?”

“Poltergeist, then…” Robert rubbed his jaw slowly, not really feeling either the blow or his hand on his skin. Despite all his best intentions, he could definitely feel his mind slipping away from him, going fast, going forever… “If you’re real, and this isn’t all just a bad dream…” And that comment seemed to stir something in the dark recesses if his mind. “You can’t be real. I just think you look like Tony. You’re just some little punk playing stupid fucking games with me, aren’t you?” He grabbed the collar of the too-big jumper the teenager before him was wearing and shook him hard. “So who put you up to this? Who’s making you do this to me? Answer me, dammit!”

The look of fear which came over the other’s face was instantaneous. “You used to call me Toto because you knew I hated it,” he muttered. “And I called you Robber Robbie because you stole two dollars from mum’s purse when we were ten or eleven. You caught me sleeping with Jody Harmer’s undies one night when we were fourteen. And I saw you kissing our sister Kathleen’s best friend when we were fifteen and she was nineteen! You lost your virginity when you were fifteen to that Margie Carlyle girl from up the road! What more do you need to hear? I’m your brother! I’m Tony! And I need you now!”

Robert’s whole body shook madly, without restraint and he was doubled over in pain. He could sense the nausea rising strongly in his chest and into his throat, but he did not want to go through that again. “I don’t believe you…” he growled.

“But you’ve got to,” was the response. “I need your help…”

“You’re a ghost, if you even exist. And ghosts don’t need help…” he returned thickly. His tongue was growing thicker in his mouth, or so it seemed, making speech difficult… and, for some reason, thought as well.

“Robbie…”

“I don’t think you’re even real…” Robert muttered as thought he teenager wasn’t even talking. “It’s the cold, and my grief and everything else. I’m imagining things. I’ve just got to see a doctor and everything’ll be all right, I know it will…”

“Robbie…”

“…I just know it will. It has to be. I’m seeing things and hearing things and feeling this and it’s just not right…”

“Robbie, please…”

“…I need help…”

“Robbie…”

Suddenly Robert’s head snapped up and his angry eyes seemed to push the youngster back. “Go!” he growled. “Just leave me be. I don’t want to know about it!”

“But…”

“GO AWAY!” he screamed, dropping to his knees and leaning his head on the damp ground, his wet hair plastered about his face like a coating of wet mud. Nothing came to him through his mental anguish… then footsteps walked briskly away, fading into the distance. He was alone again. Alone with his feelings and memories… alone in a world all his own…

 

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