IN SEARCH OF THE MEANING OF DEATH, SHE’LL FIND THE MEANING OF LIFE.
Seventeen-year-old Scarlett Blake is haunted by death. Her estranged sister has made the ultimate dramatic exit. Running away from school, joining a surfing fraternity, partying hard: that sounds like Sienna. But suicide? It makes no sense.
Following in her sister’s footsteps, Scarlett comes to the isolated cove of Twycombe, Devon, with grand plans to uncover the truth. Alone. But she hasn’t reckoned on meeting two boys who are determined to help her. Luke: the blue-eyed surfer who’ll see the real Scarlett, who’ll challenge her, who’ll save her. And Jude: the elusive drifter with a knack for turning up whenever Scarlett’s in need.
As Scarlett’s quest for the truth unravels, so too does her grip on reality as she’s always known it. Because there’s something strange going on in this little cove. A dead magpie circles the skies. A dead deer watches from the undergrowth. Hands glow with light. Warmth. Power.
What transpires is a summer of discovery. Of what it means to conquer fear. To fall in love. To choose life. To choose death.
To believe the impossible.
Waves everywhere, swirling, surging, seething – a raging melange of foam and salt and inky water biting at me, pulling at me, thrusting upon me a solitary invitation:
As I fought to remain on the flimsy polystyrene surfboard that seemed more bucking bronco than wave rider, I thought: That’s how easy it is – you just let go.Just release the grip on this world that in recent months had seemed so much an effort, and sink into the blue, beneath the waves, where chaos and fury turned to quiet and calm. Like she did.
Was drowning as they claim? I wondered. The easiest way to die – peaceful? How would it feel to give up all the dragging myself through the day, all the struggle to evade the aching void inside? A relief?
Another wave rose me up and slammed me down with breathtaking power. Its force stirred me. You could say a lot of things about Scarlett Blake – she’s a loner, she’s a wallflower, she’s a menace in the kitchen – but no way was ‘she’s a quitter’ on the list of character flaws.
‘Screw you!’ I shouted through the spray.
Funny, sounded like someone shouted back. But who else would be out in this tumultuous sea at six a.m. on a summer’s morning? Solitude was the entire point of hauling myself out of bed in the still-dark and picking my way down the cliff path to the beach just in time to see the horizon light up with the first burnt-orange glow of the rising sun. No one to see me make a damn fool of myself on my first surfing attempt.
‘Trying… yourself killed?’
Definitely a voice. Male. Angry.
Scanning the surroundings for the source proved difficult while lying stomach-to-board. On an upward surge I got a glimpse of the Devonshire cliffs that fringed the cove, all dark, jutting rocks topped by bushes of gorse, and then a flash of the beach. On a downward plummet there was nothing but eye-burning, throat-choking seawater.
‘Forward… next wave!’
The voice was closer now. There was an edge to it beyond the anger. Something raw.
My eyes picked out a black form between the waves. Someone on a surfboard, paddling it expertly seaward. I took one hand off the board to push sticky tendrils of hair from my eyes. Rookie mistake. Turned out holding on one-handed was impossible. The board shot upwards, out of my feeble grip, and then it was just me and Old Man Sea.
Kicking frantically, I tried to keep my head above the surface, but the waves were burying me, one after the other, only a second or two to come up for air before the next one hit. Far away now were thoughts of letting go – I was fighting furiously for life. Never in my seventeen years had I been so desperate. But my legs were tingling with effort, and I knew it was just a matter of time.
When the final wave broke me all I could think was, Sienna. With her name on my lips I inhaled a lungful of water and I sank…
… for all of a second before something grabbed the back of my t-shirt and hauled me upward. Coughing and spluttering, I emerged from the blue and was pulled roughly onto a board, my leg shoved over so that I straddled it. I had the fleeting thought that this board was much sleeker and more substantial looking than the one I’d just lost before my rescuer settled pretty much on top of me and started paddling toward the shore.
With him in command, we crested waves and glided down the other side with apparent ease, though I seemed unable to match the rhythm of our motion and kept taking in great gulps of brine. Over the sound of the waves and the wind and the splash of powerful arms cutting into the water to propel us along, I picked out low, irate grumblings.
‘… idiot tourists… total waste of… all we need… another bloody drama…’
Finally, we reached the shallow waters and he slid off the board and pulled me off to walk to the beach. But my legs didn’t seem willing to respond to basic instructions like ‘walk’ or even ‘stand’ and breathing between wrenching gasps had become a challenge, so he threw an arm around me and half-carried, half-walked me, dragging his board with his spare hand.
Ten steps up the beach he let me down onto the sand.
‘Head down,’ he commanded. ‘Between your legs. Cough it out.’
I did as I was told. Liquid spilled out of me with each retching cough, and the cool air I gulped in burned my throat. I fought the panic, I fought the pain, focusing instead on the shells and stones strewn around. Finally, breathing won out.
I was reluctant to look up. For starters, I knew I must look a mess – long hair plastered to my head rat-tail style, face flushed and salt-burned, eyes teary and bloodshot. And then there was the fact that this guy, whoever he was, had just saved my life, and was evidently pretty mad about having had to do so.
‘Hey, you okay?’
I lifted my head slowly. Took in broad thighs clad in black neoprene; hands reaching out, palms raised; a wide, muscular chest; a striking face – rugged, square jaw, full lips, ruddy cheeks, Grecian nose bearing a thin scar across the bridge, thick black lashes framing eyes… oh, his eyes.
I opened my mouth, tried to speak, but I was paralysed by his gaze. All at once I was home in the cottage, tucked up beneath the blue patchwork quilt of my childhood; I was watching my grandmother remove vanilla-scented fairy cakes from her powder-blue Aga; I was running through a meadow of sky-blue forget-me-nots with my sister – free, exhilarated, happy. The memories took my breath away. I felt the familiar burn in my tear ducts.
His eyebrows pulled together and he placed a hand on my trembling knee.
‘Are. You. Okay?’ he said with exaggerated care, as if he were speaking to an elderly lady having a turn at a bus stop.
I blinked, cleared my throat and managed a husky, ‘Yes. Th-thank you.’
Concern melted into exasperation.
‘What’s the deal,’ he demanded, ‘out there on your own, clearly no idea what you’re doing, children’s play surfboard… you got a death wish or something?’
I cringed. I’d known the board was short, but I’d thought it was me-sized – at five foot three, what use was some enormous board?
‘You would’ve been sorry if I hadn’t seen you.’
‘I just wanted to get a feel for it. I didn’t realise it was so rough out there.’
‘Rough? That’s not rough. Not even optimum surfing weather. Piece of cake for someone who actually knows how to surf…’
He paused when he saw a tear escape my eye and roll traitorously down my cheek. Furrowed his brow, combed his fingers roughly through dark hair that was drying fast in the breeze.
‘Listen, I didn’t mean to…’
I brushed the tear away furiously. Enough with the vulnerability.
‘Right, well, thank you…’
‘Luke. My name’s Luke.’ The stress lines in his face smoothed out and his lips curved. Like this, smiling and relaxed, his scrutiny was a touch less unsettling. ‘And you are…?’
‘Thank you, Luke, for your, um, help, but I’m sure you’ve better things to do, so I’ll just be…’
Before he could protest, I launched myself to my feet. He instinctively rose with me, and my water-fogged mind registered belatedly that my rescuer was a giant of a guy – my head was at the level of his chest. As I looked up to take in his stature I staggered slightly and he reached out to right me, but I stepped backwards. I didn’t need his kindness.
He looked awkward, unsure of himself, as he towered over me. ‘Hey, will you be okay?’
‘Yes, yes, I’m fine. I’ll just head home.’
‘You live close?’
I pointed vaguely west. ‘Yes, not far.’
‘Up there?’ He looked puzzled, and then interest sparked in his eyes. ‘You mean the Blake place?’
Busted. Of course being vague was pointless. My grandparents’ ramshackle cottage on the western cliff was the only building up there.
I made a noncommittal mnnnhnnn noise, but Luke was not to be deterred.
‘But that place has been empty since…’
He was looking at me now with such scrutiny that I took a further step back. I saw the cogs turning in his mind as he took in the classic green Blake eyes and then compared her – short, spiky red hair, eternally crimson lips, tall and impossibly slender – with me – petite and curvy, hair more blond than auburn reaching to the base of my spine and a pallor worthy of a vampire. His eyes widened.
‘Scarlett? Scarlett Blake!’
There was shock in his tone, and then sympathy.
Once upon a time a little girl told her grandmother that when she grew up she wanted to be a writer. Or a lollipop lady. Or a fairy princess fireman. ‘Write, Megan,’ her grandmother advised. So that’s what she did.
Thirty-odd years later, Megan writes the kinds of books she loves to read: young-adult paranormal romance fiction. Young adult, because it’s the time of life that most embodies freedom and discovery and first love. Paranormal, because she’s always believed that there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. And romance, because she’s a misty-eyed dreamer who lives for those ‘life is so breathtakingly beautiful’ moments.
Megan grew up in the Royal County, a hop, skip and a (very long) jump from Windsor Castle, but these days she makes her home in Robin Hood’s county, Nottingham. She lives with her husband, a proud Scot who occasionally kicks back in a kilt; her son, a budding artist with the soul of a paleontologist; and her baby daughter, a keen pan-and-spoon drummer who sings in her sleep. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her walking someplace green, reading by the fire, or creating carnage in the kitchen as she pursues her impossible dream: of baking something edible.
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Consumed by a story world
Books have always been a means of escape for me. As a reader, I love nothing more than to be immersed in a fictional world so deeply that reality, the present, falls away – and I love to go back to ‘the real world’ later and feel that other world still resonating. The enjoyment of immersion was one of the reasons I decided to write my first novel. I expected it to be sheer bliss to be lost in a story world of my own making, living and breathing the characters’ lives. What better way to live for a lifelong dreamer and romantic like me?
But the reality, I’ve discovered, can be a little removed from the dream. As I’d suspected, my fiction writing did indeed consume me. And sometimes that was brilliant. I’d spend a night holed up in a local hotel doing a writeathon, and then emerge exhausted but euphoric the next day.
However, being taken over by a story world isn’t always just fabulous escapism. Sometimes, often, as a mum and wife and businesswoman, I actually need to be in the real, present moment. Daydreaming about surfers and first kisses and hands that heal isn’t ideal when you’ve let the kids loose with the finger paints or have a five p.m. work deadline to meet.
Then there’s the lack of selectivity in which aspects of the story world haunt you. I don’t mind so much when a funny or romantic scene is distracting me, but when it’s a difficult part of the series – a scene dealing with death or loss or betrayal (and those are big themes in the book) – then the emotion that creates can be hard to shake off. Once, I stood in the playground waiting to pick up my son and found myself fighting tears, because although I was right there, on a blustery and frigid winter’s afternoon at a school in Nottingham, I was simultaneously on the south coast, in the summertime, watching a girl and a boy grieve over the people they’d loved and lost.
In truth, I don’t mind how writing affects me, for better or for worse. So I’m absentminded sometimes. So I’m an insomniac. So I’m muttering darkly to myself in the corner of a cafe while shaping a chapter. So what? This is what it means to be a writer – this is the path you must tread if you want to create a story that comes from an authentic place. If you want your reader to escape into your story world, then I firmly believe you must be prepared to do so yourself.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m Megan, I’m a writer and I’m an incurable romantic. I grew up in the Royal County, a hop, skip and a (very long) jump from Windsor Castle, but these days I make my home in Robin Hood’s county, Nottingham. I live with my husband, a proud Scot who occasionally kicks back in a kilt; my son, a budding artist with the soul of a paleontologist; and my baby daughter, a keen pan-and-spoon drummer who sings in her sleep. When I’m not writing, you’ll find me walking someplace green, reading by the fire, or creating carnage in the kitchen as I pursue my impossible dream: of baking something edible.
Tell us about your book.
Death Wish is quite personal to me, based on a mix of experience and fiction woven from my imaginings and ponderings. The setting – in a part of coastal Devon where I spent every summer as a child – was a key inspiration. But the story, about love and loss, light and darkness, good and bad, is based on my own efforts to make sense of a world in which people close to you can die; in which being true to yourself can be incredibly difficult; and in which love – for people, for places, for a way of being, for a passion and an ethos – is the only reason to hold on.
What got you started in writing?
My grandmother. When I was little I couldn’t decide what I most wanted to be: lollipop lady, fairy princess fireman or writer. Nanna guided me firmly down the writing path. She always believed in my writing; after she died, in fact, I found one of my books on her coffee table – she’d been reading it, even though it wasn’t remotely her thing (it was a non-fiction title I wrote under my professional name).
Writing is really the only thing I’ve ever felt truly passionate about (well, there was a brief dalliance with the theatre, but that’s best left in the past!). I always wanted a job that involved writing, and I fell into one after uni, but then realised pretty soon that any old writing wasn’t going to cut it – the writing had to be meaningful to me. I’d been writing professionally for years, for companies, publishers and authors, before I considered myself a ‘proper writer’: the day my first book was published.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write?
At home I write in my writing room, which has a big desk overlooking the garden. But sometimes I need a change of scene and a bit of a buzz – and coffee! – so I decamp to a local cafe. My other favourite writing spot is in the arts library on the university campus near my home. The smell of old books there is intoxicating.
All I need in order to write is my laptop and a pair of earplugs to help me filter out background noise. I love music, and it inspires me a lot in my writing, but sadly I need quiet to be able to write (lyrics distract me). Instead, before putting in the earplugs, I start a writing session with a blast from my ‘Writing’ playlist.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
I have many inspirations, from settings to culture to books. Often, the idea for a story comes to me when I let my mind wander – usually while I’m out walking or just about to fall asleep. I keep a notebook with me all the time to capture ideas, many of which go nowhere, but some of which gel together into a book concept.
What do you like to read?
I read voraciously, and have done since I was a child. For my day job (I’m a publishers’ editor) I have to read a lot of books, but I also make time each evening to read novels for myself. My taste in fiction is eclectic – I read across many different genres, from crime to romance, literary fiction to humour. My favourite genre is, of course, young adult.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Have fun and keep writing! In my day job I’ve worked with plenty of authors who risk killing the joy of writing and sharing that writing by getting bogged down in the business of being an author. I try not to take myself too seriously. I love to write, and if others enjoy reading what I write, that’s a brilliant bonus – but either way, I’ll still write.