13 September 2008

The first 120 words of each book

These samples should give you an idea of the style of prose in each of my novels. To go on and read the rest of an opening chapter, follow the link to “First chapter”; more about each book can be found on its summary page.


Tagart came out of the woods and stood facing the broad downhill sweep of the cereal field. The feeling of openness seemed strange and sudden after the embrace of the trees; he sniffed at the smell of the evening, almost cloudless now after the storm, a soft wind coming off the sea, bending the stunted ears of barley, fluttering the leaves of hazel and whitebeam.
    A hundred yards away the labourer stood upright and leaned on the handle of his mattock. He had only just become aware of another’s presence; yet Tagart had heard the man at work minutes ago, from the depths of the wood, whose floor he had traversed without so much as the snap of a twig.


Fodich felt his fingers move. He touched the hard spikes of gorse. He closed his hand and made it bleed.
    He was alive.
    He was cold.
    Needles of rain hurt his back where the flesh was open, rain in the wind like the soldier spikes in his palm.
    Fodich was hallucinating. They had nearly killed him, tied him to a ladder and rendered him useless, and thrown him away to die. Night had come, yet in his head it was still morning and he was at the ladder. That first moment had not ended. All day it had been with him, receding, coming back, filling his mind. In his mind he was still hanging by his forearms, and it was


In the grounds below his fortress Lord Heite, Gehan of the Gehans, had built a small pavilion by the lake. On spring mornings such as this he liked – when the burden of his duties allowed – to come here to meditate or perhaps to receive in privacy an especially favoured guest. Constructed of fragrant timber, five-sided, and with a gently sloping roof, the pavilion stood at the water’s edge and allowed the occupants to hear each nuance of the quiet surge of ripples on the shore.
    The sun had just come out: the ripples were being repeated as a network of light on the cedar uprights and supports, on the lintel and across part of the ceiling. A chiffchaff


Routledge became conscious. A foul taste was on his tongue; he felt nauseous, drug-sick, and at first he thought he was emerging not from sleep, but from anaesthesia. It followed that he must be in hospital, in pyjamas, but his skin and limbs returned a contrary sensation. He was fully and heavily clad; and hospitals smelled of disinfectant, while this place smelled of damp wood, and stone, and salt air, and an unpleasant acridity which he could not quite recognize. Then he remembered a recent fragment of dream. He must after all have been asleep: was he dreaming still?
    Above him, dimly illuminated, as if by a single candle some distance away, he could make out the form of a

REFUGE (2008)

Suter halted, his heart pounding, and crammed his binoculars to his eyes. What he had just glimpsed now lay before him in fearfully magnified view, snagged in the branches of a fallen willow some way downstream.
    A man’s body. Putrefying.
    His terror was complete. It was a measure of his character that he could make himself stand there for as long as he did, adjusting the focus, examining and exploring the image.
    At last, unable to bear any longer the torment of looking, he got behind the bole of the riverside copper beech and tried to think.
    Where had it come from? How long had it been in the water?
    “No,” he insisted. “You’re seeing things. When you’re


Ralf turned to look at his sister and found her still sleeping, curled up behind him in a bed their mother had contrived from a fleece. Now that the shadows had lengthened, Imogen’s hair, silver-blond like his own, was no longer catching the sun. Her thumb had returned to her mouth. In the enclosed space among all the furniture and baggage, her features had taken the inward reflections and made them into a serene and private thing, entirely her own.
    That she, and not he, the son, the firstborn, was his parents’ favourite seemed to Ralf not only proper, but natural. So completely did he share their view that, aged nine, he was fashioning himself into her third guardian.


The boat was done for. And so was he, but he would not admit it. During the second set of explosions he had been thrown against a bulkhead and he was in pain, but far worse was the noise inside his skull, a blare grown monstrous from a tiny seed: the very first sonar ping of the ASDIC.
    Soon after the seawater had reached the batteries, those men who had not already been killed and who had been unable to don their Dräger lungs had been choked. Georg had heard some of them quacking like Donald Duck, their voices distorted by the chlorine gas; yet it was even now possible that, elsewhere in the hull, others were being kept alive


Brenda was in the lingerie department when she first saw her, a blonde girl of about her own age, attractive, well dressed, inspecting a display of cotton slips on special offer. Because of the hot weather, the store was almost empty. Brenda preferred shopping at such times, especially for clothes. She went and examined the slips too, holding one up.
    “They are good value, are they?” the blonde girl said. She spoke with a foreign accent, German or Dutch, something like that. Her voice had a smoky quality Brenda found intriguing.
    “Very good value,” Brenda said.
    The girl’s blue eyes held Brenda’s for a moment before they looked away. The conversation was over, a commonplace exchange between shoppers.


“Laurence. Laurence.”
     He was not yet fully asleep.
     “What is it?”
     With the same urgency, she whispered, “There’s someone downstairs.”
     “I heard a noise.”
     His wife had become obsessed by her fear of burglars. That was why he had installed the alarm. If an intruder so much as tried to open a door or window or fiddle with the wiring, the bell would start and the light flash and an automatic message would go to the police. Since the bell wasn’t ringing, no one could be downstairs.
     The alarm was so sensitive that it sometimes went off for no reason. Annie distrusted it. For all the reassurance it had given her, Laurence might as well have followed his inclination


A commotion outside made him get up and put his face to the window. The ginger cat was tormenting something at the edge of the lawn. Cries of alarm were coming from the parent blackbirds: the sodding thing had got hold of one of their chicks.
    As ever, the sound of the back door opening scared it away. It dashed into the shrubbery and escaped through one of its usual holes in the hedge.
    His slippers wet with dew, Adrian reached the fledgling and saw that it was beyond hope. The cat had not only opened its breast but hooked out one of the eyes. As gently as he could, he picked up the young bird and crossed to the rockery.

First chapter : Book summary


From his desk, Howard was watching the grey procession of incoming waves. As ever, they were approaching without cease; but then other waves would be going in the opposite direction, towards the French side. How did that work? Was there a central, equidistant boundary where a wave decided, or was directed according to some obscure law of physics, which way to go?
     The waves were crested here and there by the same south-easterly breeze that would be blowing aslant his cousin’s face were she leaning on the taffrail, assuming the taffrail was where he thought it was, at the stern. He rather supposed she might be, puffing on a Gitane she would flick into the sea a quarter finished, deciding after all that she hadn’t wanted it.

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