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Nanowrimo Chapter Excerpt

Hello Readers & Friends,

Some of you may know that a couple of months ago I took part in the Nanowrimo challenge. I reworked an old manuscript and in 30 days came up just short of my 50k word target, hitting 48,100 words, which I'm pretty pleased with.
I'm now padding it out with more dimension, title still TBC but am leaning towards A Girl Called Whisper.

I am so unbelievably excited about this project. I have loved writing a contemporary and feel like I can understand these characters than any others I have written, being set in such a similar setting to the one I grew up in.
I don't have a blurb or anything yet, but here is the current draft of Chapter 1. I hope you all enjoy it.

Also, whilst you're all here, comment or DM me on Instagram with your favourite cover-style from the bottom of the post. I've been playing in Canva and would love your opinion for whenever the day comes to commission official artwork.

Love, C x

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The rabid screeching of my rooster-imitation phone alarm blasts through my ears and I suffer what I imagine is the equivalent of a mild heart attack. I hit snooze clumsily and pull the covers up over my head with a groan.
Mondays are the worst.
Getting up early is the worst.
It’s one of my least favourite activities. On the scale of Activities-Cooper-Least-Enjoys-Partaking-In, waking up early comes somewhere between mixed-gender PE classes and holding in a dump you really need to take because you’re somewhere inappropriate.
I wish I was a vampire so I didn’t have to sleep. I know vampires aren’t real, but for the sake of poetic license, hear me out. I know everybody loves the feeling you get when you slip into your ‘warm and inviting’ bed at night. You supposedly relax, sigh with relief that the long day is over and fall into a deep and comforting sleep. Well, not me. When I go to bed my head tends to spin around in cycles and ideas and I get stressed out even more than usual because I have nothing else to focus on. It starts small, like thinking about whether something I said earlier sounded stupid, and then it quickly spirals out of control until my gut’s clenching and I’m thinking about something dumb I think I remember saying in 2006. It always feels like the silence is screaming at me.
Then I wake up in the morning, sweaty, tired and unrested, faced with another long and crappy day that I’ll probably stress about the next night.
I would happily never sleep again if I never had to wake again either. I suppose that’s a paradox.

Eventually, Mum bursts into my room.
“Cooper? For goodness sakes, Cooper. Get out of that damn bed and sort yourself out, you’ll miss the bus!” Her voice is a cross between a foghorn and a screaming cat. I wince.
She bats at the duvet as though trying to wack me out of the bed and then she scuttles back out again, muttering under her breath. With a sigh, I get out of bed and start to get ready.
I always know to start getting ready when Mum comes to yell at me. This is because she generally waits until approximately 8.20am before coming to wake me up herself, fuelled by the fear that she will miss the start of The Morning Show to drive me into school if I miss the bus.
By 8.20am I have twenty minutes to get showered, dressed, and eat my breakfast before having to leave for the bus. I can shower in five, dress in ten and eat in five. I have perfected the routine down to the last second.
I like to invest a little more time into dressing because it takes me longer to plan my outfit. I like to concentrate when deciding what to wear because I feel better during the day if I know I’m ‘fitting in.’

There are three types of kid at my school who get the most shit: the ones who are socially inept, the ones who look socially inept, and the ones who are both.
I have accepted the fact that I struggle more than most people in social situations. Probably because I like to avoid them altogether. I have an extensive vocabulary (which I do try to dumb down in all fairness,) and an unaccommodating distrust for my fellow classmates. These personality factors make me a tasty target for bullying; a juicy young deer thrown amidst a ravenous pack of well-dressed and poorly-spoken lions.
Dressing to blend in and avoid attracting unwanted attention makes me feel more at ease. It seems to work, too.
It’s a pretty simple algorithm really: I take into account what seems to be trending, make sure I’m wearing it, and keep myself to my damn self. The current ‘cool trend’ are these mini backpacks from the sports store in town. They look ridiculous and aren’t even large enough to be practical for school, but everyone else was getting them, so I got one too. And I saw a kid with a briefcase-style book bag getting food thrown at him yesterday in the canteen, so it just goes to show really. (I have, of course, taken into account that there are a plethora of reasons that John Everist may have been the target of the food-throwing, his bag being only one potential motive. However, all things considered, who am I to take my chances and own a sensible school bag? Rather him than me; it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.)
Today I opt for some inconspicuous black jeans, a white polo-neck shirt which is a bit big for me but they didn’t have it in my size, and the stupid mini backpack. For the record, I am an uninteresting size S. Not quite man enough to reach M, yet not quite measly enough to be XS. Silver linings, my friend.
I put on my generic Nike trainers and head down to breakfast. I wish my school had a uniform, it would make every morning so much more time-efficient with one less thing to worry about. The other school in our town has uniforms. Fancy-ass blazers and ties and even a goddamn crest-embroidered book bag, can you believe? Everyone at my school calls them Posh Twats, and I’ve noticed the kids from there always cross the road away from us on the way into school in the mornings. This is dumb - they should try to hide their discomfort about our presence. It makes them easy targets for after-school tussles, which happen frequently. (Obviously I don’t partake in these tussles, just hear about them. Why would anybody want to spend any time with people in town after school has ended?) One time, one of the fights got so huge that police were called and had to break it up, they turned up in riot vans and everything. It was all anybody was talking about the next day. I like to live vicariously through overheard snippets of conversation from everyone else, so this was a pretty big deal at the time.

Every morning I have toast with marmite on it. I don’t know why, I just really, really like marmite. Enough to have it every morning of my life and not get bored. Also, if I’m running late I can spread it super quickly and just run out of the door, toast in mouth, though Mum nags about me doing this. She thinks it’s rude to not sit down for five minutes with the family every morning. My family aren’t the most exciting people on the planet, so if I do skip breakfast I don’t feel too bad about it. I doubt I miss out on any jaw-dropping, life-changing conversation. No cures for cancer or global warming solutions will be lost on me.
Now don’t get me wrong, they’re good people and all. My Dad is funny and intelligent and I really look up to him a lot. He teaches me new words when he does his morning crossword and I’m pretty sure I have him to thank for myration and logic. He works for a delivery company, but I’m not too sure what he does. (He’s told me several times, but I forget. A sure sign that I’m not due to follow in his footsteps and make it a family business.)
He wears a tie to work though, so he’s probably relatively important as far as delivery jobs go. Of course, you can have an important job without a tie. See: Doctors, chefs, sailors. But I like how ties look - smart and respectful. Unless you’re a door-to-door salesman. Or a politician.
My sister is already at the table. She’s four years older than me - twenty. She has long dark hair and big brown eyes and her name is Bella, which means ‘beautiful’ in Italian. My sister is beautiful, and all the boys in my class fancy her. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, it’s gross, and I hate hearing them say vulgar things about her. On the other hand, I get a lot less shit in my day-to-day life because they somehow respect me for having a hot older sister. It makes no sense, but I don’t dispute it. If having an attractive older sibling somehow gets me higher on the social ladder than poor old John Everist, I’ll take it.
I get on well with my sister but we don’t really hang out together. This suits me, because her friends aren’t the type of people I’d choose to spend my time with. To say it kindly, they’re a little goddamn moronic.
The boys all look a little like well-groomed aliens with a shit-ton of gel in their hair and the girls all use abbreviated words like ‘totes,’ which makes me embarrassed to even listen to. Even Bella speaks like that when she’s around them, though she drops the act when it’s just us at home.
They make me feel uncomfortable as I’m not sure how to speak to them and I feel like I don’t belong. This makes me sweat. You will notice sweating is a frequent occurrence in my miserable life, and it’s boring and gross but it’s part of who I am and as long as I keep wearing deodorant it’s not like it’s hurting anybody. For the record, I use the 48 hour dry protection stuff. And yes, I have a can in my mini backpack. Dad says it’s hormones, but I know it’s to do with my feeling uncomfortable. I let him think it’s hormones. He says it all proud as if he’s finally getting his very own, size Small, man-child.
Back to my sister and away from my body malfunctions: Bella is a hairdresser, but she’s doing a degree in Psychology part-time. This makes her think she has the right to psychoanalyse me on a daily basis. She always has big, back-combed hair
While I eat my toast I can hear the dance music coming out of her headphones, her hair wild and unruly underneath it. She bops her head to the music and eats her muesli. She loves her muesli, says it’s good for you. I think it looks like bird food. She says it will help her to lose weight, which I don’t understand either because she doesn’t need to lose any. Dad says all women want to lose weight, and even if they don’t, they say they do anyway. I don’t really understand this. I don’t understand most other people anyway, but girls heads are even more complicated to figure out. Dad says it’s not worth even trying.
I also don’t understand how it’s not okay for me to grab my toast for an on-the-run breakfast because I should be ‘spending time with the family’, but Bella can stick headphones in and not speak to any of us and that is somehow acceptable. I bring this up a lot with Mum but she doesn’t do much about it. Bella says me acting up about her breakfast ritual is my insecurity complex flaring up, because she is the girl of the family and therefore more likely to be favoured. This is one of many examples of Bella’s Bullshit Brain-Analysis.
I finish my breakfast and say goodbye.
Bella says ‘laters’ and Mum kisses me on the forehead and says what she always does, “have a lovely day, make good choices and be happy.”
Dad looks up from his paper. “Bye, champ.”
The same as any other goddamn day. My life is a series of unstimulating events.

I walk down to the bus stop, the rows of uninteresting same-same suburban houses passing me by. The postman waves at me and I nod back. It’s a nice sunny day, and there’s a crisp freshness in the air. When I reach my stop I stand on my own and wait for the bus while everyone else stands in their groups of friends, catching up on their weekends. I don’t have any proper friends at my school. My best friend is Harry, who lives next door to me. He goes to Post Twat school, which has led to his being christened with the nickname The Prince - also because he coincidentally shares a first name with Britain’s favoured royal. I see Prince a lot, but times like this I wish he went to my school so I had someone to chat to while I wait. Instead I put my headphones in and lean against a small brick wall, staring at my feet as I listen to the clash of Wolf Mother.
Everyone at my school is into commonly ‘cool’ things, like football and hip-hop. I like to paint and read, so I don’t quite fit in. We actually applied for me to go to Posh Twat school (to be labelled PTS from here on end), but they were oversubscribed. Most likely with all the other uncool people from Bennesons (my school) who, like me, are trying to climb their way into some sort of social spotlight in an alternative educational environment. Imagine a world where brains won over brawns? Fantasy.
Mum even wanted to send me to a goddamn ‘special school’ for a while, because she thought my struggles to fit in were worsening my diagnosed anxiety. Can you believe that? Being on the special bus is the last goddamn thing I need.
After that horrendous suggestion I made a conscious effort to fit in better and to stop talking about the things that worry me. And I must admit, since doing so, alongside taking my prescribed medication, I haven’t felt half as anxious as I did before. Placebo effect? Perhaps.
Dad’s on my side too. “There’s nothing wrong with my boy, he’s a great lad and everybody should stop fussing and leave him be,” he said.
So Mum left me to be.
I’m just a bit socially awkward, that’s all. No big deal.

The bus arrives and I wait for everybody else to board first before getting on and taking my usual seat at the very front with the bus driver, Marvin.
“Good morning, Marvin.”
“Good day! How are we, young Cooper?” he asks back jovially.
“Alright,” I reply.
Marvin nods and off we go.
I always sit at the front because when I sat elsewhere, the other kids used to give me trouble. This was a long time ago, when I first came to Bennessons, but they called me names and pulled at my clothes and antagonised me into fights. Sometimes I struggle to control my temper. One time I got really angry and hit this boy, Blake, because he was calling me a retard. The school let it slip that one time, but after that Mum said I should sit at the front and take no notice of what anybody said to me, so that’s just what I did. That fight was in my first week of Bennessons when I was eleven. I’ve sat here, with Marvin, ever since.
I like to use the bus journey to read, anyway. Usually I don’t read in public as part of my method for fitting in, but when I sit at the front with Marvin everyone acts like I’m not here. This suits me fine, because I can read in peace and nobody gives me any shit for it. Also, if something great happens in the storyline, I tell Marvin about it and he nods and asks questions, which I like. I always read fantasy stories. They’re usually fat and bulky and take up a lot of precious mini-backpack space, but I love how anything can happen in these worlds. Magic and apocalypses and crazy shit that doesn’t exist… it can all happen in these stories. I think it’s cool, like whoever has written it has bent the rules of the world to create something totally new. When I’m reading it’s like I can envision it all happening in my head so clearly, sometimes I go back home and recreate scenes as drawings.

We arrive at school and I wait for everybody to get off before I do, ears pricking up and catching slithers of conversation as people bustle past me.
“And then she told him no way- “
“She was like, amazing, and he was like, isn’t it? And -”
“So then I looked in the toilet and this dump was freaking huge man, like-”
“I swear my Mum is the biggest bitch I’ve ever -”
And then it’s time for me to get off, so I swing my dumb backpack onto my shoulder, grab my folders and shuffle off, giving Marvin a nod of departure.
“See you on the way home,” he waves and pulls away, the door closing after me. He’s a good guy.

I turn to face the dreaded doors of Bennesson and sigh, trying to pump myself up for the day. The Dreaded Doors of Bennesson - that would be a great book name. I should log that somewhere. Everybody around me is chatting excitedly about their weekends, exchanging gossip and sharing uninteresting opinions about reality tv shows I don’t watch. The building looms up into the sky and looks… depressing. Grey and bleak and depressing. Inside isn’t much better, gross green plastic-like flooring and fluorescent lights that, I’m sure, were designed specifically to highlight sixteen-year-old-boy’s pimples as brightly as possible.
On cue the bell screams and there is a collective groan as everybody starts hustling towards class, lockers slamming and footsteps padding down the halls.
I don’t have first period today. I get to miss my first class to go and see Suzie.
Suzie is the guidance counsellor and I have a private session with her twice a month, which is great for getting me out of class.
I wait outside her office and try not to jiggle my knee, which is something I do when I’m anticipating any sort of discomfort. It’s not that Suzie makes me uncomfortable, it’s that I’m not sure what I’ll talk about today and feel uncomfortable going in without a set plan. I like plans.
Her office is beside the Head Teacher, Mr. Gray’s office. Opposite me sits Miles Jenson, one of the more popular kids at school. He’s sat with his legs spread wide, slumped into the chair with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face, a hood hanging low over his forehead. He looks like he may want to stab me. I try to avoid eye contact but I can feel his eyes boring into me and it makes my pulse quicken as I anticipate an altercation about to begin.
I glance quickly to the side and clench and unclench my fists. My knuckles crack.
Mr Gray’s door swings open. “Come in, Jenson. And pull those blooming trousers up, for christ sake!”
I watch as Miles trudges up and follows Mr Gray into his office, the door shutting behind him, and let out a sigh of relief. No altercation after all.
“Come on in, Cooper!” Suzie’s head pops around the door and I get up and trail into her office. It’s small and painted yellow, a bunch of Thank You cards on the desk from parents and students. She smells of soap and has really long, red wavy hair. Her voice is really gentle and lullaby-esque, so when she speaks everything else around me somehow gets quiet and my insides feel still and my head calms down. She smiles and sits down at her desk, looking at me expectantly.
I see Suzie for my anxiety. It’s not a learning difficulty - I’m of above-average intelligence for my age group. My anxiety just makes it a little harder for me in certain social situations, which in turn makes me less confident, which makes me more anxious. It’s a raging cycle of useless behavioural patterns. Suzie helps with this sort of thing. I don’t necessarily have to see her anymore now that I have my panic attacks under control, but I like to keep going anyway because it gets me out of class for an hour.
Kids go to see her for loads of different reasons; when their parents are divorcing, if they’re hurting themselves, if they’re too thin, if they’re bullying people… the list is extensive. Sometimes they are forced to go by Mr.Gray as punishment for something, but usually they go by choice. In general, if someone goes to see Suzie nobody gives them shit, because she’s helped so many kids with family problems that there’s an unspoken respect for her and anybody who needs to speak to her to deal with stuff. If anyone asks why I’m going to see her, I man a conscious effort to look very sullen and say, ‘family issues’ and then the person asking will look empathetic and nod. It’s the unspoken rule at Bennesson’s: nobody gets crap for seeing Suzie, because she’s the goddamn nicest woman to live on this earth.
I like my time with Suzie. I show her sketches I’m working on and talk about books I’ve read. She likes my paintings a lot, so sometimes I do special ones just for her as gifts. Only when I’m feeling nice, I don’t make a habit of it or anything. I don’t want it to get weird and her to think I fancy her or anything. Christ, imagine. I talk about wanting to go art school a lot and the anxiety it brings me that I might not get in. And the anxiety it would bring me if I did get in and had to socialise with all new people in all new surroundings.
In return for my paintings, she gives me book recommendation lists which she thinks I will enjoy. It’s like having a friend at my school, only she’s way older than me and I can only speak to her twice monthly. We go over coping mechanisms for anxiety and I talk to her about anything causing me particular stress at the time.

Today nothing is particularly bothering me, but I need time to drag out because my first class is Math which I really don’t excel in, so I want to miss as much as possible. I’ll have to pull something good out of the bag. Out of the bag...
“My bag is stressing me out.” I tell her, my face sombre.
She glances quickly at my bag, which is sat by my feet. I kick it to emphasise my distaste.
“Why is your bag stressing you out, Cooper?” she asks me with her baby-voice. She says my name a lot. I think she does this to feel like she is connecting with me and to encourage me to open up more.
“It’s not big enough for my folders.” I hold up my folder to magnify the severity of the situation, “which means I have to carry them, in which case I may as well not even have a bag and just carry all my stuff into school by hand like a stockroom assistant.”
She nods slowly. I can’t tell if she’s humouring me or not, so I carry on, feeling like I’m on a bit of a roll.
“It cost me seventeen quid down at Sports Bucket and it probably cost an overseas factory worker about twenty pence to make. It’s a daily reminder of my conformist attitude and I hate it.” I glare at the bag to make my point.
“So why don’t you buy another bag?” Suzie asks. It took her two minutes of listening to my made-up rant before asking me this, the most obvious question. Suzie is a good listener.
“Because I’ll get beaten up,” I announce, feigning exasperation.
Sudden inspiration hits and I begin to improvise a speech Mr Luther King would be damn proud of.
“Some kid the other day with a briefcase big enough to fit all his folders, and probably mine too, got Baked Beans thrown at him at lunchtime. Of the Heinz variety,” I add, as though it makes a difference. “You think that’s a coincidence, Suzie? Because I sure as hell don’t. So here I am, paying my seventeen bucks and being a sell-out because society is telling me that if I buy an appropriate and sensible school bag, I’ll get Beaned.” I pause, impressed by my use of the word ‘beaned’ as a verb.
“Who got Baked Beans thrown at him?” Suzie asks sharply, snapping to attention.
I fold my arms. “Snitches get stitches,” I reply.
I sit and half-listen to Suzie give an empowering speech about being myself and spending my money on things I want to buy without caring what other people think. She tells me anybody who gives me trouble can be reported in confidence and they’ll get their just comeuppance. Snitches get stitches, I think to myself.
“You can go now, Cooper. I’ll see you in a fortnight.” She smiles at me and I pick up my Conformist Backpack and head back just as the bell for English rings. I’m going to be late.

I walk in after everybody else has sat down, clenching and unclenching my fists as I feel the teacher pause mid-sentence to look at me, The Late Arrival. I’m sure everybody is looking at me, laughing inside, but I stare fixedly at the floor. That’s when I notice a pair of battered lace-up boots. There is a girl I don’t know standing at the front of the class with our teacher and she looks over at me with her big blue eyes and I feel myself get hot. This means I’m probably going red, for which I loathe myself. I want to jump into a lake of starved crocodiles, hungry for my not-very-meaty prepubescent body.
“Sit down, Cooper. You’re late.” Mrs Hadlow gestures at a seat, peering at me with a look of contempt over her glasses. “I was just about to introduce your new classmate.” She turns back to address the room as I shuffle over to my desk, my face burning with… shame? Embarrassment? Awkwardness? Unwanted attention?
“Everybody, this is Whisper, she has moved from London to join us. I hope you will make her feel welcome,” she continues.
The class snigger at the girl’s name and she stands there steely still, glaring out into the room with a slight pout.
I don’t snigger, despite my usual intention to follow the crowd.
She is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.
Her hair is metallic black and short, scraped up in a messy and stubby ponytail. She’s wearing red lipstick which makes her look so much older and more sophisticated than the other girls in the class. Her cheeks are rosy and she’s wearing a ton of black eye makeup, which make her eyelashes look like fat little spiders legs. Her blue eyes look even colder surrounded by the black as she glares out into the room.
She has a tiny nose stud that sparkles when light catches it and her nails are bitten right down, but she’s painted them with black nail varnish so they still look fascinating somehow. Her skirt is hitched right up and her jumper is tight against her curves, which makes me hot again when I realise I’m staring. She’s blessed with infinite beauty and I’m cursed with aching wonder. If she’s a whisper, I’m deathly silence.
Our teacher tells her she can take a seat and Whisper stalks over to the last free chair, two rows along from mine. Her boots squeak on the linoleum floor. She slumps over her table chewing strawberry bubblegum that I can smell from where I’m sat. It must be fresh out of the packet.
She fiddles with her pen, weaving it around her fingers and stopping to doodle flowers and stars on her notebook sporadically. I watch her as she writes ‘Whisper’ in swirly, cursive writing over and over again at the top of the page. It reads like goddamn poetry.
She glances over and catches me staring at her, open-mouthed. I feel my skin burn again, but instead of ignoring me or laughing at me like anybody else would do, she winks and gives me a smile that’s full of trouble. With that smile, I am hers.

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