The third recent story was a little darker than the others. It appeared in the online magazine ‘Electric Spec’ towards the end of last year. The title was ‘Lenin’s Nurse: Notes for a Dissertation’.
This features the mysterious Elizabeth, from my novel ‘Among the Living’, but takes place a few years after that story ended. It was great fun to write. Not just because of the pleasure of renewing acquaintance with an old character, but also because the story features extracts from a range of historical documents. All made up, of course!
Here is a taster, of the opening paragraphs. You can read the whole story (and plenty of others, all for free) at Electric Spec online. You can also read a blog post, about the writing of the story, here.
Lenin’s Nurse: Notes for a Dissertation
‘. . .it was said and printed that the Red Guards. . .had killed some of the ministers in cold blood. . .An astounding jumble of rumours, distortions, and plain lies. All these stories were swallowed whole, even preposterous tales of sacrifice and fanatical Bolsheviks who bathed in or drank human blood, such as the notorious revolutionary fighter referred to as Veta B. . .’
–John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, New York, 1919 (uncorrected draft)
“Priceless stuff. Now I see why you stuck at it after Moscow.”
Daniel drapes his flamingo body across the train seat while he reads my notes. He looks like he could be in his usual perch in the senior common room. We are fifteen minutes out of Croydon and already rattling through open countryside beneath steep hillsides furred with trees.
“Everyone said you were losing it. But I told them, don’t underestimate Will’s creativity.”
We shoulder our packs and step out of the train at Penshurst station, descending a ramp onto a quiet country lane. Daniel says, “Your little detour isn’t going to take too long is it, Will? You promised me lunch in the Spotted Dog.”
“The path goes right by the cottage. It won’t delay us much. Even if there’s anyone there.”
“Pity if they’re not. I’ve been looking forward to hearing you explain your, ah, quest.”
It takes us half an hour to walk to the village. Daniel keeps up a constant stream of chatter. Next week he’s playing golf with the chairman of the research grants committee, has he told me about his invitation to that reception at the House of Lords, pity I didn’t get invited, but never mind, it will come.
“Shame your Zoe couldn’t come today,” he says. “Always lovely to see her.”
Lovely, I think.
A hot wind blows into our faces. Whenever we step out of the shade, I feel my skin evaporating in fierce sunlight. I drank a whole bottle of water on the train but my mouth already feels as if it is lined with dry denim.
We don’t pass anyone, which is good. I thought it best to keep away from the roads. We approach Penshurst across fields baked yellow by the August heat and finally through a churchyard. Most of the gravestones around the church are old and faded. Daniel can’t resist reading aloud from the stones. He stops at one and squats.
“Christ! Look at this: the children of Frederick and Martha Cowell. Three of them, all died between May 1876 and February 1877, aged eight years, ten years and six months. Nothing like a bit of history to make you glad you live in the present.”
He walks on and I read the lines of verse at the foot of the Cowell children’s stone:
‘Blessed are the dead, no weal or woe
Can touch them when from us they go
And we that are left long more and more
To join the loved ones gone before’
We emerge into a narrow lane. On the far side there is a wooden gate in a high hedge. Beyond, a gravel path leads between rose bushes to the front of a two-storey house. All of the windows are blind with internal shutters, throwing back the sunlight as if from a mirror.
This is it: the childhood home of Charles Oates….
(Read the rest at Electric Spec.Com)