Helen, Ruth and One Bee

I’ve had a lot of questions about a sequel to HELEN AND THE GRANDBEEs, so I thought I would release this short story ‘Helen Ruth and One Bee’ from Helen’s life after her fall out with Lily.

You can download it here: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/4tuuxw7ihs

(There are spoilers if you haven’t read Helen and the Grandbees, so try this instead: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/m2qjmrx1x3)


The Curious Incidents of Deptford.

Many curious incidents woke me up in the middle of the night in Deptford, the location my novel HELEN AND THE GRANDBEES.

Deptford bridge over the Quaggy

It began with the police throwing things against my second-floor bedroom window. I needed to move to the other side of the flat because one of the cars in the car park had been set alight, a huge furnace reaching into the sky. It hadn’t been the first car to meet a firey end, recently and frequently the bin cupboard was in the same state. At least it disinfected the fly-tipped fridge-freezers and their haze of blue bottles. 

Then there was the dishevelled doctor who accosted me in my cul-de-sac convinced I had witnessed some terrible crime as I passed by. He gently insisted that this event I had nearly witnessed was intrinsically linked to a plot to get him struck off as a GP, and that he had been stalked ever since. I could only extract myself from the situation by assuring him most sincerely that I would call the police to tell them what I had seen, and even then only just got by without leaving my phone number address, national insurance number, deepest regrets.

I was woken a few weeks later by my intercom being rung furiously and a young woman shouting that she was being attacked on the doorstep. Fortunately, I took the possibly naive step of taking her at face value and letting her in. The following day, she came around to thank me and showed me the bruises on her neck. 

It’s this quirkier, and sadder, side of Deptford that HELEN AND THE GRANDBEES reflects, reminiscent of my experiences growing up in a council estate in Birmingham. Much as I love my adult life which has brought privileges I never had growing up, I have a true affection for the people with whom I shared this life. Some events in the life of my protagonist ‘Helen’ have been truly tragic and she does have to deal with the social housing landscape with all of its eccentricities, but the novel is about how the love of family inspires Helen to be more than she appears to be (a mad lonely woman). It begins when there’s a knock on the door of her lonely one-bedroom flat. Standing at the door is her bee, her lily, given up for adoption as a baby…

You can read the first three chapters for free here.

Or just buy the beautiful paperback or ebook here

Read the Prologue to “Helen & The Grandbees”

We three sat together on the sofa for two. The sofa was made of bobbling grey and white threads. The foam stuck out through the gaps on the arm on April’s side. The gas fire flickered with pale blue lines. Bill was sitting closest to the black and white television, so that when he leaned forwards to pick up his tea, I couldn’t see the picture. But back then, I just didn’t mind. We were warm. We were cosy. Nothing could ever hurt us while we sat here as a three. The bad stuff was yet to come.

The bad stuff. That’s why I can’t bear to call Bill and April Mum and Dad anymore.

That day we had been to a memorial, a memorial for a little girl who had dropped out earlier than she was supposed to. I learned what people do at memorials: They go to a flat field and put daffodils next to a small stone that you shouldn’t sit on. Red-eyed April told me that there would not be a baby sister for me, after all. She shivered in the wind as if the cold was curling around her bones, seeping through the gaps in her sheepskin coat and under her paisley shirt dress. I tried to wriggle my fingers away from the grip of the orange gloves that crushed too hard. And when I remember that bit, I think of her as my mum all over again.

On the way home we took a taxi, me for the first time. In fact, we would not have fitted in the stitched leather seats if there were more of us, if there were four of us. Back in the warm after the metallic tink tink tink of the fire being ignited, we could feel safe on the sofa for two because we all fitted, Bill and April’s knees bunched up together under the Radio Times, my buckled shoes and white knee socks carefully propped over the edge of the fabric. We filled in all the spaces because I was still an eight-year-old girl who had had her first ride in a taxi, who wanted to sit on the memorial stone, who honestly believed it was better that there were only three. We were close. Nothing could come between us. There was never any need for there to be anybody else.

But sometimes you can be too close. Now I have grown old, I want to shout that fact back at the memory of us, the things that happened behind the gloss painted doors. We should have left more space between us on the sofa for two. We should have let other people in. 

It was wrong what happened when we were too close, and I have to blank my mind to forget about it.

So when I grew out of being that little girl, when I stretched into my teenage years and the world looked so different, I left the sofa for two. And when I left, I made sure that no one could find me and take me back.

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