It’s been 9 months or so since I self-published my first novel, and what a journey so far. I won’t lie, it was slow in the beginning, but as the book has picked up support and love and I printed paperbacks, a small but cult following has begun to emerge — along with amazing reviews and mad-crazy-following support on Twitter. Just today Disability Cornwall sent me their new issue, which features the book on an entire page (click the link to subscribe and read online if you like). God I must sound like such a bighead, but still, it’s exciting to know that my novel, inspired greatly by Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time wasn’t a total waste of my writing time. Scroll down to read the sample chapters or read this next bit. AND please excuse the stupid formatting for the chapter titles below…this is NOT how it looks in the book, it’s just WordPress being childish.
I HATE HATE HATE Amazon’s Look Inside feature. Just thinking about it makes me feel a little bit sick. Look inside what, exactly? A bag in the summer filled with smelly old skid-marked pants? OOOooooOOOOh, YES PLEASE AMAZON! Really…for such an enormous company, Amazon really haven’t got the first bloody clue about how to show potential readers a sample of what they might expect. You spend a year-and-a-half slaving over your debut novel, then you upload it and find that the first impression of it looks completely crap…the text running into the next paragraph at every opportunity, the whole thing thrown together to form nothing less than a monstrosity…
Which is why I have invented, as of fifteen-minutes ago, Chris’s LOOK AT THIS, YOU CAN ACTUALLY READ IT. Revolutionary, right? It’s basically a sample of The Number 3 Mystery Book as it actually appears (although the paperback version is formatted so the chapter headings begin on new pages) because I realised tonight that although I do have some novel samples elsewhere on this blog, I had never made a sample accessible on the front page. Well done Chris, you’re a little bit thick.
At least I didn’t include a picture of the book. I mean, it isn’t as if you could really miss it…
NEW Paperbacks are back in stock and Amazon UK and US are where you need to go for the digital copy. If you’re one of those really nose people then you can even find a 5 star review here. Want to see how the book cover art evolved into the end result? Then you can go here. Just please don’t Look Inside…
Chapter 1: Full-On Mega Disbelief
I was waiting in the dark for the door to open and it was very late. Imagine a really hungry, really frustrated short-necked Giraffe that has finally spotted a gang of leaves low enough for him to eat and this is precisely how excited I was. So much had just happened and all I kept thinking was I don’t believe it I don’t believe it I don’t believe it but wait…I DO believe it! and it needed to be told to someone quickly before the amazingness of the moment wore off, which would be a tragedy for humankind and the world as we know it. That someone was Mr Grundy. Since the place where my fantastic discovery had happened was owned by him, it was only right that he was that very lucky person.
“Mr Grundy!” I said, soon as I sensed motion and a bitter old man’s face appearing in the door-way. “You’ve got to hear my amazing stor-”
He put his hand up and a sort of Grundy-grunt came out of his mouth: wild boar with his snout out in the forest, I thought. Farmers had their very own code of unique snouty grunts.
“But Mr Grundy,” I said again, but whispering it this time to make me sound like listening was the only option for the old man to take. “Seriously, you don’t understa-”
He put his other hand up and clapped them together hard, his head all a-shaking. I honestly think that if he could have levitated on his big old bum in the air, he’d have put both his feet up to silence me too.
Mr Grundy then began a typical Grundy speech and no matter how hard I tried to interrupt him to talk about my discovery, I failed. The main thing he was saying was that he was not amused by me knocking on his door late at night. He is a farmer and Mrs Grundy is a farmer’s wife, so being not amused is often the case for both him and her, seeing as it’s always raining and he spends so much time outside working very hard for not very much money while everyone else sits at computers and earns loads of money without barely even needing to do more than just hit three buttons and lean back with eyes half closed and a coffee on the desk. Mr Grundy says that it is “a sick joke on all the hard-working farmers of the world that life is like this.” Also, they are both ages and ages old, which only make them even worse. You could say Mr Grundy is an expert-professional at being not amused. He is even better at being grumpy.
The second thing he said to me after opening the door in his tractor-pattern slippers was “Look Barney, it’s bloody late, it’s past midnight, what the hell do you think you are playing at?” To display his not-amusement so I could absolutely not miss it he put a lot of effort into making a big wrinkly face, or what Wonky my best friend once called “looks like an actual scrotum.”
I had been rehearsing this next bit since leaving the pond a few minutes before, so I said: “I’m sorry but I had to come right now Mr Grundy, I simply had no choice. I am also not amused, but that’s the way things go at the cutting-edge. It’s really not my fault, I am but a slave to the cutting edge and that’s just the way it has to be.”
He was still just staring straight at me. “The cutting edge again,” he said, “I’m up again at 5am tomorrow. Get to the point fast, boy.”
I continued: “well the point is this, Mr Grundy. I am still half terrified out of my wits from what I saw lurking in your pond earlier today, after I got home from school.”
“Lurking? Earlier today?” As Mr Grundy’s eyes focussed his eyebrows became like a big black bird diving straight at me. “You weren’t there at the pond just now were you? Because you’d better bloody well not have been,” he said, crossing his leathery hairy arms. “If I’ve told you once then I’ve told you a hundred flippin’ times boy…”
I was prepared for him saying this, I couldn’t very well not be the amount he’d warned me never to go to the pond at night, and so I said, “of course not Mr Grundy, what do you think I am? This was earlier today like I told you before.”
“I think I had better not answer that first part,” he replied, shaking his head.
I continued with my routine like I had cunningly worked it out. “Oh, I know the perils of the anti-heron fence, Mr Grundy,” I said. “And I know how forbidden going to the pond late at night is. I can assure you I did not do it and will never do it, not as long as I have hairs on my head, and I reckon that should be for at least twenty more years yet.”
Under his moustache I thought I could see Mr Grundy making a half smile. He followed this up with a deadly serious sigh what made his crops probably fear for their lives when they saw Mr Grundy and his scary tractor coming. “Good, good. And very glad to hear it. Just remember that the pond is no place to be at night Barney, not for anyone, especially not a thirteen year-old boy.”
“No way Mr Grundy, definitely not. I’ll never forget it for as long as I live. And I’m like an especially clever Elephant in the memorising respect.”
Inside my head where it was safe I did a big jump in the air and congratulated myself for lying really well and appearing totally believable.
Mr Grundy pointed his finger at me and I thought that dressing gown is ten generations of farmers old and you really should get a new one. “I bet if your dad knew you were out now he’d serve you a damn good hiding. I know I would if you were my son. Mark my words on that one, Barney.”
“Probably he would, but he’s not here as per usual,” I said. “Anyway Mr Grundy, few people,” I said with pride, “are as lucky as you are, and that makes you extremely privileged, you know.”
“Well, I should be thankful then,” said Mr Grundy. “Silly me…”
“Exactly. This is the real thing what I’m talking about. This is the big-time. I’m sure you understand what I’m saying Mr Grundy. We have things to discuss. Like what exactly I saw in your pond much earlier today.”
“I think I get the picture, Barney.”
I could see on the clock in the hall that the time now was just before one am. It was very late, yes, but lateness was a small price to pay for knowing such classified information. I could see Mr Grundy was beginning to realise this too, and it was about flippin’ time. “Now look here,” he said, “much as I love being woken up in the dead of night to hear all about the cutting-edge, please just go home Barney.” And his moustache did a funny farmer’s wiggle. “Come and tell me about all this once I’ve had some sodding sleep, and let’s not be making this kind of thing a habit, right? Some of us have got fields to harvest and weather to curse.”
I said, “sorry and yes. Yes I most certainly will do that. You have my absolute word. And I may be only thirteen years old Mr Grundy but-”
“You’re a boy of your word.”
He sighed. “Yes lad, I thought you might be.”
I was about to leave, but before he could close the door and I could step away, Mrs Grundy and her big old massive ankles shuffled up behind Mr Grundy asking about what The Devil is going on here and such like. I don’t like it when people mention the Antichrist and look directly at me as though I might have seen him in the last few days and might be able to answer on his behalf. I already get teased at school with enough names for having such a strange-looking-massive-face and so I have a habit of “taking these things to heart.” Mum tells me this is perfectly understandable considering how things are for me but that I shouldn’t let it worry me because I am normal like everyone else even if I am affected by an unfortunate disease like the Elephant Man had (it isn’t actually Elephantiasis though, it’s called Cherubism. Cherubism makes you look strange, hurts your eyes and it really isn’t what you want when you’re a boy or anyone, because it messes up your teeth quite bad).
Mr Grundy whispered “he’s just going, love,” to Mrs Grundy. He looked at me with one stare-ey eye. “Aren’t you now, Barney.”
But she always did ignore him.
“Well hello Barney, it’s just gone one in the morning,” said Mrs Grundy, all dressing-gowned up, eyes much more open now. She shot Mr Grundy a look of womanly doom that I’m sure has killed many a weaker man in similar circumstances and then she crossed her arms across her big wobbly mountain-range of a chest. “Dear-dear, when our lad was your age…how old are you now Barney?”
“Thirteen Mrs Grundy,” I told her. “But getting older all the time.”
She leaned forward and spoke quietly just to me, which seemed to annoy the bitter old farmer even more. “…You don’t say…well, I used to put mine over my knee and spank his bottom for lesser crimes than this. What’s going on here at one a clock in the morning? You know damn well it’s much too late to be knocking on our door Barney Delaney. Whatever would your dad say if he knew you were here?”
I didn’t want to think about dad again so soon, so instead I thought of something else: I had always wondered why Mrs Grundy’s arms had so much flappy skin on the under-sides. Here was the answer at last: she had done way too much bottom spanking and it had made the flesh go all stretchy and elastic. Obvious really.
I said “I do know damn well Mrs Grundy, but I was acting out of fascination and extreme desperation and those two things when you put them together are greater than the most powerful under-sea dynamite, Mrs Grundy. What can I say, that’s what it’s like on the cutting-edge sometimes. You just have to deal with these things when they happen.”
They looked at one another and back at me and Mrs Grundy said, “If you say so, dear.”
“And I do,” I said, thinking again about the potential of my discovery. “And if anyone would know then I would.”
There was a small pause where new creases appeared on their faces and they had a kind of conversation which I was too young to join in with.
“Well sod this, I’m going to bed,” Mr Grundy said. “This is all very good and well but bugger off with you Barney. Go home before you get in any more trouble. And never go near the pond at night. Are we clear as muck on that?”
“Language,” said Mrs Grundy, and she poked him hard with her elbow.
Mr Grundy gave her a right old dirty look and I thought marriage, forget it!
“He doesn’t mean it Barney-”
“Don’t I? I think you’ll find I bloomin’-”
Mrs Grundy put her hand on his cheek and pulled the skin and it was like old bubble-gum. “He’s just a bitter old farmer from a long line of bitter farmers, is all. But of course he’s right, you’re never to go to the pond at night. You can’t see what you’re doing around there and besides that, it’s not safe.”
“Consider me gone,” I said, “Consider I was never here at all.”
“I should be so lucky.”
For that, Mr Grundy got a look of razor-sharp-woman’s-daggers, and I wondered how much more an old bitter man could take.
“Do excuse his swearing,” Mrs Grundy said, slowly shutting the door. “And mind you don’t pick any of it up, won’t you?”
I said he was excused and I had barely even heard it, and as the door finally closed I said, just to myself, that I would banish the swearing from my mind like I did whenever Wonky opened her big mouth and had her way with her wicked opinions.
So I buggered off with me like I was told: what you need to know about Mr Grundy is that once he got his thumb caught in some farming machinery and it got ripped off quicker than quick and so when he says don’t do something he really does mean business and you should not mess with him. You should do as he says, always, no exceptions.
Unless it is very important, like it was with my discovery. In which case it’s for the good of Science that you ignore the rules and make your own up.
Chapter 2: That Thing
I Could Never Forget
“I am Barney and I am a thirteen year-old Cryptozoologist. Later you shall meet ‘Wonky’ whose real name is actually Jenny. She is my best friend and also the second most major character in this book. This what you hold in your hands here is a tale of epic discovery and excitement where things can and do go wrong and life is never the same again as me and my friend Wonky know it. And I’ll tell you for why, but you will need to buy this book to find out more, so there!”
When all these many words become a book then this is what I shall write in the ‘blurb’ on the back cover to ‘draw people in’ and make it a ‘page turner.’ They will be powerless to resist! I should also warn you now that you need to be a bit tough to read my book, because like in all good books, it’s a ‘rollercoaster of emotions’ and it isn’t always a time for smiling. As my dad would say when he’s in one of his massive great stinkers: “I’m being deadly serious. No mucking about!”
But now I realise that it is only Chapter 2 and I have already made a really big mistake of novel writing. One which would have Mr Novel (or whoever invented novels) banging on his coffin and screaming If I turn in my grave anymore I’m going to be sick!
In my excitement, you see, I totally forgot to tell you what my discovery was and why I was in such a rush to see Mr and Mrs Grundy so late at night. Woops. I am correcting this now otherwise it will not be a good book, it will be a very confusing book.
What happened before I knocked on the Grundy’s front door…
I won’t ever forget it. Like I said before, it was night-time, and I was at the big pond at the end of my road doing two things what Mr Grundy had told me many times not to do. I was 1) at the pond at night-time which was completely criminally forbidden and I was 2) standing dangerously close to the electric anti-heron fence what I had never seen kill any heron but I knew was highly ferocious (Mrs Grundy said that one time, a very unfortunate pigeon had landed backside-first on it, and probably his pigeony friends wouldn’t ever let him forget for as long as he flew, because pigeons had quite a good memory actually). That was when the incredible event which would change my life forever happened: a flash of silver rose up out of the water in the middle of the pond…and disappeared again quick as a flash, leaving only a few bubbles, making a proper Plop! as it went (like what you’d get if you had massive sky-scraper arms and held an elephant over the water and it did one almighty poo). I couldn’t even speak I was so stunned. In all the times I had secretly and illegally been to the Grundy’s pond at night I had never seen anything like this. It was the kind of thing to make even the wildest of dreams jealous and say: “I wish I’d have thought of that!”
Instantly and without needing to think about it anymore than you do walking along in a straight line or picking a bogey and flicking it at the back of someone’s head in class I knew that here was a creature that I had not seen and nobody in the world had ever laid their eyes upon either. What’s more, I knew that I had not imagined it and it was concrete fact and really had happened because a) it takes nearly ten minutes to walk around the pond and the entire thing was affected by ripples and b) If Mr Grundy or somebody in the world had seen this incredible creature then Mr Grundy’s pond would not be the peaceful place it always is, oh no. Why not? Well, because there would be reporters from National Geographic and people with cameras and crowds of screaming people, lots of them. My dad would call something like that a Media Circus. And I’ll tell you something for free: Media Circus’s do not happen in places like where we live, in this sleepy village outside of the university city of Cambridge where all the posh professors do their boring academic studying and live to be one-thousand years old. There once was a minor Media Circus a few years back when people first noticed there was something odd about the way my face looks compared to other people, but since then it has been very quiet on the Media Circus’s front and nowadays people mostly leave me alone to get on with my fascinating Cryptozoology business. This is lucky for me because large unidentified animals are often scared off by more than a couple of human beings (which is a fact: read any Cryptozoology book if you don’t believe me).
And this event? This was it for me. What I had been waiting for my whole thirteen years of life: an unidentified animal which I could identify. One which I could name! My whole life I’d been thinking I’d have to trek out to the Amazon rainforests or the Congo to find my mysterious creature, and here it was, at the end of my road in the pond I’d walked past every day!
I knew at that moment, as I stood there in the dark all rigid, that my dreams would now be full of Plop! and silvery-pinkish flash and probably not much else for a long time to come.
If you’re not sweating and feeling a bit sick with anticipation reading my account then you really should go and see a Doctor.
Once I had got my nerves back I punched myself hard enough in the face to wake myself up, just in case this was all a dream (everyone knows that pinching alone won’t do it). It was no dream. I was still standing in the darkness and I had not woken up and I was mega rigid.
Before I continue with what happened next, after the ripples had finally vanished, I should really tell you about precisely how terrified I was when the monster silvery fish-thing appeared. It’s very important to capture that, I think. I call it a fish-thing because it looked like a fish but was much too big to be any kind of normal live-in-a-pond kind of fish. It was the size of something much bigger, at least as big as Mr Grundy’s one-man boat, and the kind of thing you see on TV and say: “well that can’t be real, I bet that’s all computer graphics.”
I do not want to ‘go silly’ with describing my fear of the fish-thing, as my mum might say, so I am going to assume that most everyone who reads this book understand what big-fear is like and just how awful it can be when it strikes you down quick and hard without warning. After all, you’re a reader, so there’s a good chance you’re not thick. But for everyone who doesn’t know what big-fear is like, or who is a bit thick – because statistics say there has to be some, and you can always trust in them statistics – I have devised a way for you to understand it perfectly. The following demonstrates big-fear.
Still big fear…
Big fear not even close to being shown how scary it is…
Here I am. Now, imagine that all the masses of white space between the last paragraph and the start of this paragraph symbolises big-fear, and that the space between each of these words here is normal everyday fear that just makes you jump a bit (a small spider creeping out from under the bin, for example). Now I think you get a much better idea of the terror of what happened inside me at that precise moment when I saw the fish-thing. Now we can move on.
And before you ask, Yes, I was certain that Mr Grundy knew nothing of the mysterious fish-thing, which meant that Mrs Grundy couldn’t know either, of course, because she never came out to the pond, and she did not like fish. Mr Grundy is a farmer and very straightforward and he does not and never has had a habit of lying or keeping things of this massiveness a secret.
So, I was still standing there with what felt like concrete in my veins. I know that the best way to begin a good book is not imagining a thirteen year-old boy standing in one place staring out at a pond in the night with concrete in his veins, but I can’t change the facts, can I? This was how it was.
I tried to move. It did not work well, mainly because my eyes were being selfish and wanted only to stare out without being made to look at other things. Once the big-fear had worn off a bit I decided to stand still three feet to the right of where I had been and do my thinking calmly like that, with my arms crossed tight, as I find is best for the utmost concentration to happen smoothly. There was another reason for standing still too, and if you’re a Cryptozoologist then you’ll have already worked this out ages ago and be feeling really smug. It was to become part of the pond, like a tree or a bush or something like that. If the fish-thing decided it wanted to make another appearance then it would have no idea there was one of them odd pink creatures watching.
So I waited a bit more.
Disappointingly, but as often happens to you when you are at the cutting edge of rebel science, the fish-thing did not make another appearance in the minutes after that. The pond was calm again like there had never been the Plop! and I checked over every bit of it but there were only small bubbles from small fish and the occasional Riiiiibet! from a frog that must have known much more than me. I waited for a full ten minutes to give the fish-thing time to make its enormous mind up and then I left to tell Mr Grundy about this most spectacular happening, reminding myself that I was absolutely forbidden at the pond after dark. Wait a moment, actually, that what I just said was a bit of a white lie: I didn’t leave immediately, because that would have been really unprofessional Cryptozoological madness. What really happened was I started to walk away and then I remembered myself: I hid behind a bush and then I came back to exactly where I had been, very slowly, creeping on the dry grass on all fours like an animal would do if it wanted to surprise its pray and rip its throat out. The fish-thing was still not there, but it could have been, why not? The fish-thing might be a sneak and of course it would want to remain a secret because it had this long and to not be a secret any more when you had been such a huge success of one would not be good at all for the self-esteem. It could be very depressing for any creature of any size, with or without fins, couldn’t it?
Once I had got almost to Mr and Mrs Grundy’s house, which is located bang smack next to the pond behind a hedge, I crept back all the way again for a second time, but I was still all alone in the dark. And that was when I said enough is enough and properly went to Mr and Mrs Grundy’s.