The Telegram: Chapter 2

The Telegram is my dual narrative historical fiction serial set in both the 1940s and 2008. You can read the previous chapters here.


Yorkshire, England – July 2008

It was the sound of rocks, crashing and bouncing. It reverberated around the whole valley and then came to an abrupt stop. A great plume of dust rose up ahead.

By the time Lilian caught up with her granddaughter, she found Scarlett on her knees, scrabbling frantically at the pile of stones that was blocking the cave entrance.


Lilian felt a familiar shifting in the pit of her stomach. Her husband Derrick had had a theory about fear.

“It’s like bacteria,” he’d told her as she assisted him with surgery during his first week at Chesbrook Hall. “Let in even a little and it can infect your whole body.”

It hadn’t been her first amputation, but it had been her first civilian. Only a few years older than Issac, their young patient had been sleeping in his Coventry home when the Jerries flew over. As he fought the anaesthesia, his eyes had sought hers, wide with panic, before fluttering into darkness.

A sharp bark from Apollo brought her back to the present. He scrambled up the mound ahead, burrowing furiously.


Lilian jumped as the voice seemed to come from under her feet. A head suddenly popped out the ground near Apollo’s tail. The dog gave a delighted bark, licking the grimy face that was grinning up at them.

Scarlett gave an exclamation of disgust and wiped her hands on her shorts before holding up a piece of broken council tape that had barricaded the cave entrance.

“Can’t you read?”

“Guess what I found, Gran?” Issac said, characteristically ignoring his sister as he wriggled out of the landslide.

“Careful!” Lilian called in alarm as pebbles slithered down.

Issac emerged, triumphantly holding up a leather satchel. At twelve, he was still young enough to desire her approval.

“What have you got there?” Lilian asked, quickly scanning his body for cuts but he appeared unscathed.

“Mail.” Issac opened it to show her.

The bag was indeed full of faded telegrams. She pulled out the closest one. Blowing off the dust, she could just make out the postmark.

8 November 1941.

Lilian felt the blood rush to her head. She dropped the telegram and sat down heavily on a rock. The landscape blurred around her.

“Gran?” Scarlett knelt beside her.

Lilian took a deep breath, suddenly aware of the very fine drizzle that was dampening her hair.

“Let’s get you home,” Scarlett said gently, taking her arm.

Lilian shook her head. “First we’re going to the police.”

They both stared at her.

“November 1941,” Lilian murmured. “Your Great Auntie Enid and I were out walking when we found him – just down there.” She gestured behind her.


“The body of the telegram boy. What you have there is lost evidence from a sixty-seven-year-old murder investigation.”

Scarlett’s mouth fell open.

“Did they catch the murderer?” said Issac eagerly.

Lilian looked towards Chesbrook Hall, which was fast disappearing from view in the mist.

“Well, they thought they did.”


Chapter 3 to follow next week.

The Telegram: Chapter 1

Carrying on from last week’s preface, here’s Chapter 1 of The Telegram.


London, November 1940

It was dark by the time they reached The White Hart. Blackout curtains had been stretched tightly across the windows but the full moon rather destroyed the effect, Lilian thought, glancing behind her where Big Ben was clearly illuminated against the night sky.

“Ready?” said a voice beside her.

She turned and Alan grinned at her, his blue-grey uniform almost sepia in the shadows. For a moment she was reminded of the faded photograph of her Uncle Will, lost in the Great War.

She shivered and hurried inside. It was Roy who spied her first. He had clearly come straight from work, his crumpled brown suit matching the pub’s drab upholstery. From a table by the fireplace, he raised his pint in welcome. Trust Enid to stake the best spot in the house.

“I need a drink before I face the inquisition,” Alan murmured.

By the inquisition, he meant Enid. Roy was alright. More than alright, Lilian thought, as she moved over to greet her sister and brother-in-law. It was Roy who had pulled the bureaucratic strings that would allow her to join Enid as a nurse at Chesbrook. As Alan arrived with drinks, Roy rose to shake hands.

“A pleasure to finally meet you, sir. Lilian tells me you’re with the RAF?”

“That’s right,” Lilian said slipping her arm through Alan’s. “Alan was in the Battle of Britain.”

“Indeed?” Roy squinted at the silver wings pinned to Alan’s breast. “Becoming a pilot was a childhood ambition of mine but unfortunately…” his voice trailed away as he looked down at the spectacle case in his hands.

“Churchill popped into Roy’s office today, didn’t he, darling?” Enid leaned across the table.

Lilian bit back a retort. Why did everything have to be a competition with Enid? Before Roy could reply, a familiar wail whined across the city. Enid slapped her drink down on the table.

“Well, that’s just typical!”

Down in the basement, Lilian squeezed onto a bench beside Alan. He pulled his coat around her shoulders, but he needn’t have bothered. Her face was already as red as the inebriated patrons around her.

There was a loud explosion somewhere nearby and Lilian was sprinkled with plaster. Coughing, she buried her face in Alan’s coat.


When she opened her eyes, she realised it was the silence that had woken her. Turning her head, she caught Alan watching her, his eyes soft.

“There’s something I was going to do at The White Hart, Lil. Only thing is, I’m not sure if it’s still standing.”

She opened her mouth, but he gripped her hand.

“I don’t know if my luck will run out, but if it does I don’t want to go without…Will you marry me, Lil? Next time I get leave?”

The all-clear siren sounded above. Over his shoulder she saw that Enid had woken, cracked lips parting in a smile. Lilian smiled back before turning to Alan.

“I’d marry you this minute if I could,” she whispered.


Chapter 2 of 10 to follow next week.

The Telegram: A plotting challenge

Ever wondered how the literary greats managed to construct such complex, compelling plots? I certainly have. Plotting’s one of the biggest challenges for me as a writer.  There are so many things to line up. One of the great things about writing for The Story Mint multi-author serials is that I can end a chapter with the characters falling over a cliff and leave it to the next writer to work out how on earth to save them. So I thought it was about time I took on an author-only serial and sorted out the mess myself! All fiction serials on The Story Mint website consist of a preface followed by ten chapters of 500 words each. Every week they’ll publish my latest chapter of The Telegram (so no time for writer’s block!) You can read the preface below.
As for those literary greats, here’s how they did it.

The Telegram – Preface

Written by: Linda Alley

Yorkshire, England – July 2008

Lilian’s calves throbbed as she struggled up the hill. Well, alright. Slope. Beneath her cotton slacks her varicose veins bulged like knotted tree roots.

Ahead, she spied her granddaughter sitting astride the stile. Scarlett’s denim shorts barely covered the tops of her thighs as she dangled her long, sleek legs either side of the fence. As usual, her head was bent over her phone, fingers flicking between the keys at lightning speed.

A warm, moist nose ploughed into the back of Lilian’s legs. Apollo, her Irish wolfhound, deposited a muddy tennis ball at her feet.

“Well, at least someone’s prepared to wait for me,” Lilian panted, tossing the ball.

Apollo streaked down the slope, muscles rippling. Lilian sighed.

The day after Derrick’s death, she had run over a hedgehog and decided it was time to give up driving. If she made one more concession, she would end up like her sister Enid, whose only opportunity to glimpse the moors was from the windows of the Chesbrook Nursing Home minivan once a fortnight.

Lilian shuddered and gripped her walking stick.

“Blake says it’s raining in Leeds,” Scarlett announced by way of a greeting.

“Soon – here – too,” Lilian puffed, clutching her hip and glancing up at the granite sky. “Put that thing away and enjoy being outdoors for once.”

“Like you are?” Scarlett pouted her crimson lips and sprang effortlessly down.

Lilian was reminded of herself at sixteen. She’d even favoured the same heavy shade of lipstick.

“You don’t understand, Gran. We’ve never been separated for a whole week.”

Lilian laughed. “A week? People didn’t see their sweethearts for years during the war.”

“You did,” Scarlett pointed out. “Grandad never left your side.”

There was a distant rumble of thunder. Down in the valley, Lilian could just make out the colourful dots of tourists, making their way around the grounds of Chesbrook Hall. The heritage trust had asked Lilian if she’d like to be a guide since she’d been stationed there when it was a wartime hospital. She’d politely declined. It wasn’t the ghostly waxwork nurses that bothered her, or even the audios of moaning soldiers. Even now, her dreams were still visited by the same wide, glassy eyes. Eyes that peeped unblinkingly over the top of the bedcovers while other men slept.

Lilian forced a smile for Scarlett who had returned to her phone.

“I wasn’t a nun before I met your grandfather, you know.”

Scarlett’s head shot up. “You had other boyfriends?”

“Well, I don’t know if the use of the plural would be accurate here,” Lilian said, suddenly wishing she’d kept quiet.

On the other hand, Scarlett had just slid her phone into her pocket for the first time that afternoon.

“Tell me.”

“We should get home first.” Lilian looked at the sky. “Where’s Issac?”

Scarlett grimaced. “Being a kid. He found a cave to explore.”

Lilian’s face paled. A large crash echoed across the valley. But this time it wasn’t thunder.


Time for some serious plotting! I’ll post Chapter 1 next week.

Short fiction: dancing and driving school

What if someone decides to open a school that specialises in both driving and dancing lessons? Ken Burns explores this intriguing business idea in his entertaining preface to the multi-author serial ‘d.a.d.s’

Ken’s opening:

d.a.d.s = dancing and driving school:  That is my new business idea. I need a job that is not based on someone else’s world view.  Dancing is for girls and driving for boys. Over the last six months it’s succeeded. Word of mouth about my abilities is spreading in this small-town community and I’m earning a living.

Today’s sunny morning shift is in a small, automatic transmission training car.  I have a 16-year-old student, Rory, coming for his first driving lesson.  Boys can be cocky and confident so it will be interesting to see how this goes.

A tap on the window at the driver’s side startles me.

I push the electric button to lower the window and I see a tall, dishevelled schoolgirl in uniform. She pushes her head through the window and as I reach across to lower the window further our foreheads crash together…  Read more

The girl turns out to be Rory’s twin sister Ramona. He’d rather be dancing and she’d rather be driving. Story Mint founder Suraya Dewing continues the story in Chapter 1, followed by talented writers Anna Zhigareva, Ray Stone and Hemali Ajmera. I joined the serial at Chapter 6 which you can read below.


Chapter 6 by Linda Alley

I reach down for the car keys that Nijinsky, my Russian Blue has knocked from the hall table in one of his gravity-defying leaps.

Lorraine folds her arms. The tip of her ears have gone red. A very bad sign.

“You can’t be serious?”

“How else will she get home?” I risk a glance at Ramona. “You can come and pick up the rattler tomorrow. With your dad,” I finish firmly, then wince slightly.

Nijinsky’s just landed on my head with considerably less elegance than his talented namesake.

Ramona flashes me a demure smile and reaches up to stroke Nijinsky who purrs contently.

“Whatever you say, Mr. Daniels.”

“I’ll come with you then,” Lorraine says firmly.

My heart does a backwards flip. Or at least that’s what it feels like. Surprisingly, it’s Ramona who comes to my rescue.

“I get nervous when I carry passengers and in weather like this I really need to concentrate. Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of your fiancé.”

Lorraine goes rigid. I rush for the door, eliciting a loud yowl from Nijinsky as he tumbles onto the carpet.

“Won’t be long!” I call too enthusiastically as I make a dash for the car, not even noticing whether Ramona does the mandatory mirror check or not before she pulls out.

“We’re not engaged you know,” I say through gritted teeth.

“I know,” Ramona says cheerfully and I bounce an inch in the air as she hurtles over a speed bump. “I saw her fingers.”

“Take it slowly!” I snap.

“Is that what you’re doing? Mum works with Lorraine. She says you’ve been together for three years.”

I close my eyes, head throbbing. The heating’s on full blast, circulating a pungent aroma of wet wool mixed with that sickly sweet deodorant that teenage girls insist on using.

“Left or right?” Ramona asks and my eyes flick open.


“You should really make a decision,” she says turning left into the high street. “Why don’t we go to the jewellers now? I can help you pick.”

I slam my foot down on the instructor’s brake pedal. The car skids on the wet tarmac. Ramona shrieks, grabbing the steering wheel just in time to avoid ploughing through the front windows of Maxwell’s Furniture Store.

“What did you do that for?” she demands.

“Go into the carpark,” I tell her, my heart thumping as loudly as the rain drumming on the windscreen.

I’m not sure what scares me the most – our near collision or the thought of spending the rest of my life with Lorraine.

Ramona pulls smoothly into an angle park beside a green Fiat that looks vaguely familiar.

“Hey, isn’t that Miss Stephan…” my voice dies away as the dance teacher leans over and caresses the cheek of her male passenger.

Even though his back is turned to us, I recognise that thick neck with its fatty rolls. I glance at Ramona and from the wicked grin she gives me I know she’s recognised him too.

Mr. Baldwin.


Short Fiction: Liberation


London, 1944

They should have chosen a warmer place to meet, Helen Coles thought as she huddled at the end of a bench next to Cleopatra’s Needle. The ancient Egyptian obelisk offered little protection from the biting wind that was buffeting down the Thames. The sky was as murky as the river. A pale young woman wandered into view. She sat down beside Helen, propping a battered umbrella against one knee. As the woman’s fingers absently caressed a sizeable chip in the wooden handle, Helen glimpsed the gold rim of a wristwatch.

“Excuse me, what time is it?” she asked.

The young woman glanced at her wrist. “A quarter to twelve.”

Ralph was forty five minutes late. Helen laced her fingers together. It wasn’t as if her brother was the most punctual of men, she reasoned, even before the inevitable wartime delays to public transport. She glared at the river, thinking of all the things she would like to say to him when he finally arrived, but knowing she’d be so relieved to see him that she wouldn’t say any of them.

This would be only their third reunion since the war began. The first time had been after Dunkirk where Ralph had been rescued by a fishing boat from Ramsgate. That was the last time the four of them had been together. Six months later, Jerry dropped a bomb on the Coles’ terraced house in Bermondsey.  Ralph was back in Europe. Helen was at the pictures. But Mum and Dad were in the kitchen.

The next day, Helen had signed up for work in the munitions factory.

Now, the young woman beside her had taken out a novel. The title was French, but Helen knew it immediately: a translation of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. After her parents’ deaths, Helen took her old sixth form grammar book down to the shelter. As shrapnel screamed above her, she would conjugate French verbs, clenching the book until her knuckles were white.

A young man in civilian clothes limped into view, leaning on an umbrella. She offered him her seat, which he gratefully accepted. Helen walked behind the monument, hands in her pockets.

“Where is he?” she murmured to one of the sphinxes, but it gazed cryptically back it her.

Big Ben chimed the hour. A raindrop splattered against the brim of her hat. With a sigh, Helen set off up the Embankment. Just ahead, she recognised the man she’d offered the seat to. His limp seemed to have miraculously disappeared as he was striding up the street as if Hitler himself was after him. Thrust under his armpit was an umbrella, only it wasn’t his umbrella. Even from here, Helen recognised the chip (a bullet hole?) in its handle.

As the downpour started, the man stopped and pushed up the umbrella. It was only a second, but enough for Helen to see him slip a paper from its folds. He crushed it into his pocket before continuing on his way.

To be continued.


What’s going to happen next in Liberation?

That depends on the talented community of writers at The Story Mint who will be continuing this multi-author historical fiction serial. But for now, I can tell you the story behind my serial starterWartime Britain has always held a special fascination for me, perhaps because I’m half-English. My British grandfather served on an aircraft carrier and my grandmother’s last wartime posting was at Bletchley Park (although she didn’t come across any coded messages inside umbrellas!)

Like many Kiwis, I did the obligatory O.E. to London in my twenties and spent several years working in offices close to the Thames. Wandering up and down the river during my lunch breaks, I would often marvel at how one city could hold so much history. What had life really been like for the people who lived here during the Second World War? My generation’s lucky enough not to know that. The closest I got was being in London during  the 7 July bombings , which although terrifying, were one day.

Liberation is a complete work of fiction. I’ll never know what it was really like for people like Helen, or my grandparents, but I do believe that stories can help us to imagine.

If you’re curious to find out what Helen does next, you can follow the rest of the serial on The Story Mint website. I’ll also post Twitter and Facebook updates when a new chapter is published. Upcoming contributors include historical fiction authors Suraya Dewing and Ray Stone.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Short Fiction: Josephine

Josephine has been an intriguing serial to continue. I wasn’t given an exact time period, but this multi-author historical fiction saga seems to be set sometime before the French Revolution. Josephine is on her way to marry Marquis Guy Leroy Hamelin de Auvergne when her coach plunges into the river. When I take up the story in Chapter 2, she’s just been rescued by passing soldiers.

horse and carriage

Chapter 2 

“Capitaine général! We’ve found the coachman.”

With considerable effort, Josephine turned her face away from the handsome General Alexandre to the scrawny soldier who was struggling along the muddy river bank towards them, grasping at the reeds to stop himself sliding into the river. A pungent odour of horse dung was rising from the faded  garments that hung loosely over his gaunt frame.

The soldier boldly met Josephine’s gaze, before allowing his eyes to travel over the entire length of her body, resting on her chest. Instinctively she cupped her hands over the damp silk folds of her dress to ensure it had not slipped during her ordeal. Although her modesty was still intact, the filigree brooch was not. Dismayed, she stared down into the swirling river before turning back to the soldier.

As he held her gaze for the second time she realised it wasn’t lust in his eyes, but something far worse: contempt. And yet he was a good foot shorter than she was. How had he had the strength to pull the burly coachman from the river? A sudden suspicion trickled into Josephine’s mind like the drops of water that were dribbling down her spine. A chill spread through her body. Glancing down at the soldier’s hand, she saw his fist was curled into a tight ball, almost as if he were concealing something.

“Well, Gerard?” Alexandre’s eyes were on a group of soldiers on the opposite bank who were attempting to rescue one of the thrashing stallions.

The soldier Gerard slipped his fist into his pocket. “He’s ready for the eternity box.”

Josephine’s stomach churned. She gripped Alexandre’s arm to steady herself. Gerard’s lips curled into a sneer at this, but Alexandre didn’t seem to notice. He stood up carefully, lifting Josephine in his arms. “Were there others?”

She shook her head.

“Bring my horse, Gerard,” Alexandre ordered. “Do not be afraid, Mademoiselle. We’re ten miles from the border of Auvergne. We will accompany you to the château of Marquis Guy Leroy Hamelin. He is an honourable man and will see to it that you are safely reunited with your family.”

Josephine spasmed at the mention of the Marquis.

Alexandre, misinterpreting her movement, called after Gerard. “And bring a blanket and some brandy for the lady!”

“Yes, sir,” said Gerard but he wasn’t looking at his superior. His eyes were on Josephine again and she knew that he at least had read the fear in her eyes.

He gave her a barely perceptible nod as if to confirm it before striding away.

“Now, Mademoiselle, may I ask who I have the pleasure of assisting?” Alexandre said.

She looked up into his deep, amber eyes, wide with concern. She didn’t want to lie to eyes like those, but as she watched the General’s men digging a grave for the poor coachman she knew that God had given her a second chance.

“I am Dame Annise Yves de Aquitaine,” she whispered, blinking, as the rain stung her eyes.


Read the other chapters here.

Short fiction: Storm

Graduation is supposed to be the beginning of great things, but for Angelica, it feels like life is falling apart. Unemployed and abandoned by her long-term boyfriend, she is contemplating her future without enthusiasm when she encounters a strange, old man in Albert Park. However, she’s not the only one to notice him.

Storm is a multi-author contemporary fiction serial set in New Zealand. It was started by Suraya Dewing, founder of The Story Mint where you can read the previous chapters. My contribution is Chapter 2.


Chapter 2 

Angelica had never witnessed a hush like this descend on a crowd. Even the thrum of traffic had been muffled to the whirr of a mosquito. She squeezed in beside a heavily-tattooed couple who were staring rapturously at her former companion.

“Who is he?” Angelica whispered.

“Shh!” hissed the couple.

“Where the hell have you been?” On her other side, a cameraman from one of the national channels raised his eyebrows at her.

That’s exactly where I’ve been, Angelica thought, while mumbling something about being too busy to watch the news.

“That’s Dr. Jeremiah Noland.”

Angelica stared. As she glanced back to the Morton Bay Fig tree, a deep sadness suddenly welled up inside her and she was mortified to find tears spilling down her cheeks.

Dr. Noland had been the reason she’d chosen her major. In an age where remote cultures could be accessed with the click of a button, the famed anthropologist had travelled the globe, consistently showing the world there was always more to learn.

Or at least he had done so until his plane plunged into the Pacific Ocean nineteen years ago. He had been on his way to French Polynesia with an international team. Shortly before they lost contact with air traffic control, the pilot of the chartered flight expressed concern about an unexpected storm that was advancing rapidly towards them. Search and Rescue had combed the area for weeks afterwards, but the wreckage was never found. The world assumed there were no survivors until two years ago when Dr. Jeremiah Noland floated into the Hauraki Gulf on a driftwood raft.

He was barely coherent, babbling about years spent on an island with a tribe who had never had contact with the outside world. He had no recollection of the crash itself, and when he was told that nearly twenty years had passed, he broke down completely and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. When he was released, a few loyal supporters attempted to validate his story but Noland was unable to pinpoint the island’s location. He faded from public life and became something of a joke in academic circles.

Now, as twilight settled over the park and the lights of the city’s skyscrapers blinked above him, Dr. Jeremiah Noland rose creakily to his feet. His voice was soft, but it floated easily to the back of the clearing.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in the words of Marco Polo, ‘I have not told half of what I saw.’”

The crowd leaned in closer like a forest in the breeze.

“Both of us knew we would not be believed.” Noland surveyed the crowd, glancing at the cameraman. “Yet there is still one island on this Earth where people have never seen a camera. Heck, where people have never even seen their own reflections, except in a river.” Noland’s blue eyes rested on Angelica and she saw them light up with the same enthusiasm she had seen so many times on his documentaries.

“And now I can prove it.”


To find out what happens next, look out for the subsequent chapters on The Story Mint website. Each chapter will be written by a different author and a new chapter will be published every 1-2 weeks.