The Novel – 2

I’m about to go pitch my novel at the Curtis Brown Discovery Day, at Foyles on Charing Cross Road. It’s a kind of literary speed-date, where you get 30 seconds to pitch your idea, and an agent reads the first page of the book.

It’s an agonisingly small sample, especially as my prologue only runs to two pages. Clearly I’m taking both, in the hope I can push the second one under their nose. 

It’s the section I posted here back in September. If you’re interested, I’ve pasted the version I’m going with below. (The whole thing, that is.) If anything exciting happens, I’ll let you know...


In the dream, Danny is standing at one end of a bridge. 

Late evening. Twilight ripens into night. 

The air is fogged: it’s hard to see. What must be two huge trees on the far side of the bridge appear as towering columns of heavy smoke, restless against a plum-coloured sky.

From somewhere nearby comes a fluttering whisper: a breeze searching through leaves. And behind it, the low, steady thunder of a river, far below. Gleaming black rocks lead down.

A light glints in the gloom across the bridge, like a coin glimpsed in a well. Refracted gleam of gold. It vanishes and reappears, vanishes and reappears – as if travelling through dappled shade. His eyes pluck like needles at the tightly woven dark. 

The light gathers strength – grows larger, more intense. 


Something is coming over the bridge to meet him. 

Cold feathers in his belly; a thud at the throat. But alongside the fear, something else. Something that nudges him forward, squinting into the fog that seems to pulse and churn around him, thinning briefly to hint at details on the bridge.

The advancing light slows, then stops, somewhere out on the bridge. The whisper of the wind bunches into urgent sounds, like words. 

He listens. Listens. 

He holds his hands up in the fog, as if he might grasp and shape it like clay. He narrows his eyes and leans into the air, searching the mist, using the few details he’s glimpsed of the bridge to begin constructing an image. 

Towering brickwork arches. A shaped stone balustrade. Statues? 

He has the curious sensation that either he or the world is a mirror – but he can’t tell which. Are the images in his mind a reflection of this world, or is the world reflecting the shapes he’s constructing in his mind? 

The light on the bridge intensifies. It is no longer moving but growing. Brightening. A copper blaze. The whisper shapes itself inside his ear. 

Gently, the mist lifts. Shapes resolve. Yes, there are statues on the bridge – dragons? gryphons? – the light –

He freezes. 

The light is floating, or being held, above something like a face: a gleaming, silvery

ovoid that has the look of being freshly formed – still settling, the way mercury gathers itself into a trembling bulb, barely holding its shape. 

There’s no sign of a body below it. The face – if it is one – emerges alone from the dark. As if Danny were looking down on the surface of a lake, and a swimmer had risen to press its face through the skin of black water into the air.

Captured in the cast of rich gold light, the shape glitters, as if reflecting stars. But these stars are not still: they eddy and billow, like windblown snow. (He thinks of white flecks in a glass dome, shaken into a blizzard.) 

And although it shows no features he can recognise, Danny feels that the shape is watching him. He senses the intelligence of its gaze on him. There is something almost physical about its attention, like the questing touch of a spindle-legged spider on the skin.

The wind dies. Nothing moves. 

The moment extends – drifts loose of the clock. 

The face on the bridge alters: the stars in its depths coil and bloom, form new configurations. The glow above it pulses, reddens. Somehow, Danny has the impression of a smile.

Then the fog creeps back. First a softening of details, then a thickening of the air. A cataract. The golden light trembles like a flame. The face sinks slowly back beneath the surface of the dark, and vanishes. Danny is surprised by a sudden ache of loss. 

The whisper comes again, and this time he’s in no doubt: it’s more than a breeze. There are words in it. Words he can understand.

As the image of the bridge collapses, both in his mind and out there among the soft dark, he grabs hold of each word as if plucking snowflakes from the wind. Three words to match the sense of a smile from that star-mapped countenance: