I have always wanted to be a writer. No, that isn’t strictly true. When was 11, I read James Herriot’s books and wanted to be a vet. Later, I thought that working with trees would be good, because I love trees. Then there was always farming; but I didn’t have a farm. I didn’t set out to work in publishing for 13 years – I just loved books. I didn’t plan to be a teacher for 17 years – but I turned out to be quite good at it, and it has its own momentum. No, what I really wanted to do was write. It’s just that the rent needed paying, and still does.
Teaching doesn’t leave you with much spare time. I won’t bore you with the details (I will no doubt, but not today), but it’s not really until the long summer holiday that you get time to shrug off the shackles of planning, marking and assessing long enough to do anything else. In that summer break my mind is released from its moorings and starts to float free, and I return to my writing.
With the combination of a demanding day job and a debilitating lack of confidence sitting on my chest like a giant toad, it took me several long breaks to finish Operation Dodo. I sent it to a few publishers and heard nothing, and tried again recently, but the long list of their submission requirements bored me. Instead of letting the novel sit any longer on my PC, gathering digital dust, I thought I would just publish it myself on Amazon. Perhaps it will sit in a corner there too and gather dust, but I have already sold six copies, which is six more than it was going to get stuck in My Documents.
Here is the first chapter:
Uncle John wouldn’t call for an ambulance, so I’m bleeding all over the cream leather interior of the Rolls as he bounces through the rush hour traffic to get me to Accident & Emergency. He’s hunched over the steering wheel, and from the back he looks like he might actually be chewing it.
As I am thrown into the air by a collision with another curb, I see pedestrians jumping for their lives as we lurch towards them. We are being pursued with unerring speed and accuracy by two black cars with tinted windscreens, a taxi and a white van. It’s hard to tell which is more important: stopping me from bleeding to death, or not being caught by them.
Uncle John loves repeating that the only thing you can hear inside a Rolls when you are driving along is the gentle ticking of the clock in the dashboard, but I can distinctly hear screams, and the squeal of brakes, and Uncle John cursing and muttering ‘idiot’ and ‘damned fool’, and I’m pretty sure he means me and not the woman with the three children who has just back-flipped into a flowerbed to avoid us.
The Rolls comes to a sudden spongy halt and I am thrown – in slow-motion, admittedly – from the leather seat onto the plush carpet below. Light floods my roomy retreat and Uncle John pulls me out by my leg and hoists me up on to a stretcher held by an orderly he’s already commandeered to wheel me into the hospital. I cannot see the black cars and the white van. Can it be that Uncle John has lost them, or are they holding back now that they know our destination?
As we speed through the glass doors, the smell of the hospital hits me in both nostrils. I see a succession of strip lights on the ceiling as I am wheeled away down a corridor, past the waiting room where lesser injuries are clutching their swollen thumbs and twisted limbs. We arrive at a curtained cubicle where Uncle John and the orderly throw me onto the bed. The orderly is gone, and we are alone, finally. The silence reminds me how much pain I’m in and I start moaning.
“Now, don’t start that, boy,” hisses Uncle John.
“But it hurts,” I say.
“It’s an injury. It’s supposed to,” he says. “Now, listen. If they ask how this happened, tell them…”
But Uncle John doesn’t have time to furnish me with his perfectly plausible lie, complete with setting, motive and characterization, because at that moment a doctor steps into our cubicle with her hands in her pocket and a stethoscope draped over her shoulder. She is young and very attractive, and Uncle John immediately turns on the charm. He wipes my blood off his hands with his orange handkerchief and holds her hand as if he is about to kiss it. The doctor turns to him with a smile.
“No!” she says, surprised. “Is it John…I mean Mr Bainbright?”
Uncle John straightens himself to his full 5ft and 2inches and tidies what’s left of his hair in an attempt to look more like the photograph of him, taken twenty years ago, that the public are familiar with.
“Well, yes it is actually. How good of you to know?”
“I’ve read all of your books,” beams the doctor. “I took an English degree before qualifying as a doctor and I did Dodo Summer in my second year. It was wonderful.”
Uncle John flinches at the idea of ‘doing’ one of his books, but says, “Well, it’s kind of you to say so. It is rather good. I suppose that’s why it won so many prizes.”
I decide to remind them that I am here and about to bleed to death with a timely moan. Uncle John glares at me. The doctor switches into her professional mode and gingerly removes my uncle’s purple scarf from my savaged arm. Even she, an experienced A & E doctor, is alarmed at the extent of my injuries and probably wonders how I still have a pulse.
“My, you have been in the wars,” she says. “We’ll soon have you patched up. How did this happen?”
In the split second before I open my mouth, I am wondering how I can explain to this beautiful doctor that I have been attacked and left knocking at heaven’s door by a bird that has been extinct for three hundred years. A bird that, according to historical accounts, was supposed to be docile and a bit dim, but which turns out to be a crafty, scheming, vicious killer.
“An agricultural accident,” says Uncle John quickly, but not quickly enough, because I’ve already said, “A bird.”
“A bird?” repeats the doctor, incredulously.
Uncle John gives me a look which says, “You’re finished, we’re finished, the Operation’s finished,” in that order.
“What kind of bird?” asks the doctor.
“A chicken,” says Uncle John.
“A chicken?” repeats the doctor. She may have an English degree and be a qualified doctor, but she doesn’t catch on very quickly. “Chicken’s don’t do this to people. The boy has lost a lot of blood (I have – most of it inside the Rolls.) There are severed lacerations to the upper arm and three of the fingers of his left hand are cut through to the bone.”
“It is a particularly bad-tempered chicken,” says Uncle John, willing me with his eyes to keep my mouth shut. “And he was trying to remove one of its eggs. They don’t like it, you know.”
“I’m sure they don’t, but still…”
Further explanations are cut short by the arrival of a man in a grey suit. He flashes an identity card at the doctor. I only have time to see the letters UEI before he tucks the card back into his inside pocket. He says, “It’s all right, doctor. We’ll take this from here.”
The doctor doesn’t question who we are; she just cleans up my wounds and hastily wraps a bandage around them before leaving. I am in the middle of trying to work out what UEI stands for when my eyes meet those of Mr Grey Suit. My blood clots. Uncle John has gone limp. It is someone we both recognise, although he appears to have undergone a fashion transformation.
The Operation is over. We have failed, and it’s all my fault.
If you’d like to read more…then that’s great!