I have been trying to decide what sort of online serial novel to write. My first choice is a psychological thriller. Second choice is a fantasy. What do you think? I really want to do this but seem stuck on what genre to write. Thrillers are popular but as books or eBooks. Fantasy might work better online? Here is part of the opening section of the thriller…
Olive sits at home feeling relatively happy. The clock is ticking supremely well. A strong wind, coming in from the sea, is animating the privet hedge at the end of the garden. Olive has a slice of coffee and walnut cake and a pot of loose-leaf rooibos tea. David is not back from his week-long trip to London until 7pm.
That morning Olive had walked all the way to Bamburgh Castle and had dreamt of true love. At the end of her walk just as she was about to cross the road in front of the house she caught a drifting leaf swept up by the warm August wind. It literally flew in front of her and she just had to stretch out her hand and grab it. She took it as a sign that she will, one day, find true love. The leaf was placed between the pages of her current read, Desire and Defect, a novel set in Victorian London.
At just after 4 pm Tomi and Chloe arrive back from school. They kiss their mum on the cheek, make toast and then disappear upstairs to do homework and update their social media profiles. Olive will now have to think about preparing a meal for David. Homity pie and salad would be her choice. ‘A red-hot chilli,’ Olive says to herself. That’s David’s favourite, topped with Dorito’s and cheese. She has a nice Malbec on the wine rack and will uncork that when David phones from the station.
Heavy clouds begin to crowd the evening sky. The tail end of storm Clarice is expected to be short but fierce. David arrives back home five minutes later than he had said. He’s frowning and throws his suitcase onto the floor knocking the tall vase at the bottom of the stairs. The vase falls over and rolls across the hall. Tomi and Chloe kiss their dad and quietly make their way to the kitchen to sit at the table and wait for dinner. Olive smiles as she greets David. ‘I’ve made chilli,’ she says.
The kitchen is full of delicious smells and the table has been perfectly laid out. David spots the wine and pours himself a glass. ‘Bloody tractors,’ he says. ‘I got stuck behind a bloody tractor. All the way from London with no problem and then you get to these roads and people think they can just take their time. I should have stayed in Newcastle tonight.’ Olive pulls David’s chair aside. He sits down. ‘Why didn’t you stay in Newcastle?’ Olive asks. David gulps down his wine. ‘Because I’d have had to cook.’
The meal is punctuated by short rants about how farmers think they own the roads and how most of them, except the ones that actually produce food, should be shot. During these moments Olive looks across at her book and wishes she could jump into it. Olive loves Victorian literature. She imagines that she might have been happier in those times. Olive dreams of becoming a writer. She has set her first novel in 1876. It begins in the docks in London. Her main character is a Catholic nun who becomes shipwrecked on an island with an officer from the ship that was taking her to Newfoundland. The novel was started two years ago and remains unfinished.
David slams his fist on the table. ‘What the fuck are you dreaming about now,’ he shouts. Chloe starts to cry. ‘You said you’d never swear at the table again dad.’ David brings his hands together and then sighs deeply. ‘Your mother annoys me when she goes into her dreamworld, I’m sure she annoys you too.’ Chloe tries to smile. ‘I’d like her to be here with us a bit more,’ she says. Tomi nods his head in agreement. ‘Sorry,’ says Olive. ‘I get distracted easily I know.’ David continues eating. ‘You’ll never finish that novel,’ he says, ‘You’re wasting Toby’s time. She got you a great advance but now you’ve spent the money you’re not interested in finishing the book.’
The rest of the meal is spent in silence except for the clattering of knives and forks and the sound of rain against the window. After the meal, David retires to the living-room while Olive and the children clear the table. He sits watching the blank screen of the television. The wind outside has grown stronger and can be heard roaring around the sharp corners of the house. When the table has been cleared, Tomi and Chloe disappear back upstairs. David shouts from the living-room. ‘I’m going to get John to steal my motorbike so I can claim it on the insurance. He knows people who’ll take it and lose it. But I might need your help.’
Olive rushes into the living-room. ‘What do you mean, you’ll need my help. You must be joking, I’m not going to prison for a stupid motorbike,’ she shouts. David laughs. ‘Of course I don’t need your help, what do you think? I was checking to see if you’d grown a backbone yet. You’re so bloody weak.’ David stands up. ‘Where’s the bloody remote?’ he shouts. Olive shrugs her shoulders and walks back into the kitchen. She then remembers a crime she committed a few days before. A crime that may be about to be exposed.
Two days after David left for London, Olive had purchased the very expensive zoom lens she had been told they couldn’t afford. When she first proposed the purchase to David she had insisted that she needed the lens if she was to be taken seriously as a photographer. David had replied that she’ll never be taken seriously as a photographer, a writer or for that matter, a mother. Olive had remained angry for days. She ended up throwing the remote out of the window and buying the lens using David’s credit card.
Olive hears David opening the sideboard. ‘Why did I forget to move the lens upstairs,’ she says to herself. There’s a moment of silence. And then. ‘What the fuck,’ says David. ‘What the fuck,’ he says again. He has found the lens. ‘I thought we said you weren’t going to buy the lens,’ he shouts. Olive starts to cry and slowly walks into the living-room. ‘And the remote’s outside,’ she says, ‘I was angry and threw it out the window.’ David has the lens in his hands. ‘I should throw this thing out the window. You’ll never bloody use it, you know that,’ he shouts. Olive falls into the armchair. ‘I will,’ she sobs. David laughs sarcastically. ‘Okay then,’ he says, ‘I’ll get Gitty to take you out on his boat tomorrow to the Farne Islands and you can photograph those bloody birds you keep talking about.’
One unfortunate thing about David is that he’s good at keeping his word. After a quick breakfast and brief look in the wardrobe mirror to make sure her skirt was not inside out, Olive is dragged to the car and then dumped at the harbour at Seahouses to wait for Gitty. ‘I’ve got several things to do and several people to see so you’ll have to get the bus home,’ David says before slamming the car door. Before driving off he opens the passenger window. ‘Don’t drown,’ he says, winking his eye, ‘I don’t think Gitty is insured.’
At least the weather has calmed down. The howling wind and rain have been replaced by a still, cold bite. Olive pulls her camera out of its bag and takes some shots of a young crow perched on the harbour wall staring at her as if it was trying to fathom out what she was doing there. She also takes several shots of an elderly fisherman throwing lobster pots from a boat onto the quay. The new zoom lens enables Olive to get close up. The old man’s lined face and silver hair is full of character. ‘I’ll be able to sell these pictures,’ she says to herself.
Olive got her first camera when she was ten years old. She remembers that Christmas well, as it was the most expensive present she had ever been given. She had also been given an electronic lightsabre which she beat her sister, Polly, over the head with after Polly had thrown Christmas pudding at her. Olive remembers being scolded for that and then being brought down to the harbour to take pictures of the snow on the boats. The scene was magical. She felt close to her dad then although he had spent most of the time looking across at the Old Ship Inn.
Gitty arrives ten minutes later. He inspects his passenger with a mistrustful eye. ‘You’re not dressed to go out in a boat. If you fall overboard you’ll freeze to death. I’ve got a life-jacket and a blanket. It’ll take us half an hour to get to the island and I’ll give you half an hour for photographs. That’ll be ninety minutes with the return journey. Is that okay?’ Olive wants to say, ‘no it’s not alright can I go home,’ but fears David’s wrath more than the consequences of falling overboard in a skirt.
Olive hates sailing. She has always hated sailing. It’s dangerous and she can’t swim. If the boat sinks she’ll drown. She will never see Tomi and Cloe again. She will not be able to divorce David and will have to stay married to him forever. She imagines her gravestone: Here Lies Olive Jones Drowned at Sea. ‘I don’t want to die Olive Jones she mutters to herself. I’m Olive Parker.’ If she drowns she’ll never know true love – if there is such a thing. If she drowns she’ll not see her mother disappear further into her dementia, which may actually be a blessing. And she’ll never become a published writer unless of course Toby gives her half-finished manuscript to another writer to complete. Then at least she’ll be known as a writer who started a novel.
The sea is calm, very calm. Barely a wave to rock the boat. Olive wonders where the water her boots are resting in, comes from. Does the boat have a leak? She breathes in deeply and looks out towards the horizon. She begins to look out for whales. ‘They could easily tip a boat this size,’ she mutters to herself. There are no whales. Olive momentarily considers that the journey would be completely enjoyable if she would just settle down. The journey along the edge of the Northumberland coast is so unimaginably beautiful. As a child she would play daily on the beach at Beadnell and look out to the distant Farne Islands and hope that one day she would pluck up the courage to go visit them.
Olive wishes that she had been invited to sit in the small cabin with curtained windows at the front of the boat, at least while they made their way to the islands. But Gitty told her to sit at the back on the hard, uncomfortable benches, open to the world. ‘You look sick,’ Gitty laughs. ‘The islands are close now, you can hear the birds.’ Olive had already noticed the increasing cacophony of sounds filling the surrounding blue emptiness. Olive picks up her camera and removes the lens cap. ‘That’s an expensive bit of equipment,’ says Gitty, ‘what’s it worth?’ Olive ignores the question. Gitty taps the side of the cockpit and smiles. It’s probably worth as much as Poppy. She was built in 1964. She smells a bit, but she’s reliable.’ Olive puts her camera back down. ‘So she’s well over fifty years old then?’ she says.
Gitty is another of David’s many ‘associates’ who seem always willing to do him a favour. Gitty is unkempt and by the looks of it, not very good with a razor. ‘Do you live in Seahouses?’ she asks. Gitty grunts. ‘No, I live in Embleton in a cottage along Station Road. My wife’s disabled. If you’ve been to Embleton you’d have probably seen her on her mobility scooter, she gets about a bit. She knows your mum and dad. From years ago. Before your mum got ill.’ Olive nods. She fears that if she speaks any more she might vomit.
Olive distracts herself by watching three seals popping their heads in and out of the water to inspect the boat. Their calm, pleasing faces and big dark eyes make Olive feel calmer and, in an odd sort of way, safer. This is also helped as the boat moves closer to the rocks of the islands. Olive grabs her camera and for several long minutes forgets she’s in a boat becoming completely absorbed in photographing guillemots, artic terns and kittiwakes. She had hoped to see puffins too. ‘You’ll see few puffins if any,’ says Gitty, ‘They’ve finished breeding so they’ll be back out to sea,’