About the Author  

After a long career in sales and marketing, Liz is now concentrating on making her long held ambition to be a published writer come true. Concentrating on short stories and crime fiction, Liz has now amassed enough material to keep the Bridgnorth recycling facility in constant use although she's starting to realise that literary output grows much faster if the work in progress stays out of the bin. Highly commended in a couple of short story competitions, Liz is working on a novel set in 1930s Shropshire. Liz lives in Bridgnorth with her family and a pair of rescue dogs. Liz has been part of the Bridgnorth Writers' Group for a year and has found the meetings stimulating and the talent of the other writers humbling.

Examples of Work                         

Excerpt from Going to the Shed, a short story about a father’s last walk outside.

As he nears the door, he sees us standing there and the smile widens. I say, “Hello, Dad, welcome home,” and he puts a hand up to me in a sort of wave. His gaze is all for Mum though, searching her face for a happiness to match his own. I look sideways at her. Her mouth is twisted in an attempt to answer his smile but I can see that too many things are getting in the way. It seems to me that this man, her husband of decades, a good provider, writer of cheques, putter-up of wallpaper is reducing down in her thoughts to just another function to manage. For the moment, I guess, she’s lost him amongst a future of lifting, wiping and changing.

            The stroke has left Dad sluggish on the left side but he can speak and says, “Glad to be home.” Then Mum breaks, leans into him as he reaches the door, and buries her head in the wool of his hand-knit pullover. They stay like this for a good couple of minutes while the ambulance men wait without speaking and I look away. She pulls back and re-steadies herself on her stick as the men push on by and take Dad in to the front room. They settle him into the high-backed chair, make sure he’s comfortable and leave. Mum and I come in and she sits too, on the chair opposite. The full-on gas fire in its tiled surround marks the place between them and makes the only noise. I feel my chest contract as the heat mixes with the scent of talcum powder and hospital soap and I go out to the kitchen to make tea.

            As the kettle boils, I run my finger over the stainless steel draining-board, feel the nicks and grooves of years of wear. I’d never thought their lives would change, never thought this kitchen with its boiled dishcloths and creaky lino would be anything other than spotlessly ready for me to come home to. They were timeless, Mum and Dad, until the stroke. A constant twenty years before their late baby came along, another thirty since. Unchanging. Or maybe I just didn’t notice.

            The next day, Mum’s managed to get Dad clean and fragrant, with the help of the carers. The hair is back in oiled control, the stray bits of white stubble which the hospital orderlies had missed have been removed. He has on a clean shirt and tie. He sits in his chair and tries to read, but his agility with words has gone and he can only manage a few paragraphs before his eyes close and the book falls to his lap. He’s spent so long on one page that it’s become illegible underneath the tea drips and butter finger marks. I wonder how he feels when he sees his Encyclopaedia Britannica collection in the hallway bookshelves. The books are an announcement to anyone who enters our house; he’s a self-educated man, he’s pulled himself up by his bootstraps. I start to read to him but I can see him drifting and the meaning getting lost in the haze. I lapse and we both sit listening to the tick of the carriage clock on the mantelshelf.

Excerpt from The Ironmaster’s House, a short story with a supernatural theme

The van rattles off down the lane and I’m finally alone in the overgrown, sunlit garden. I listen to the Severn tumbling beyond the lawn. I imagine water fragmenting against scattered boulders, shimmering up into shards of light. I close my eyes, feel the sun on my face, breathe in the peace.

“This house is just perfect.” I tell my father, later, on the phone. “All on its own at the end of an old wagon track and sort of nestling into the hillside. You’ll have to come.”

He says he will, when I’ve settled in. I know he’s concerned about disturbing my work.

I reassure him with a lie. “I’m writing already, don’t you worry. I’ll have plenty of time to take you out and about.”

He’s pleased. Renting the Ironmaster’s House was his idea. Then he worries again. “Chrissie, it’s not too isolated is it?”

“It’s fine.” I say and mean it. “It feels a lot safer than my flat.” I wander to the window, the mobile signal’s stronger there. Night has fallen but I can still see flashes of silver as the moon reflects off the river. “And it’s only a mile from Ironbridge. A couple of minutes in the car.”

            “You’ll be careful though, won’t you? Lock up properly?”

            “Of course. Stop fretting. I’ve got the ancestors to look after me.”

            I expect a laugh but there’s no reply. Just a crackle, then silence. The line’s failed. I mouth, “Night Dad, love you” into the void and turn back to my mound of unpacked boxes.

            Before bed I fetch my torch and go down to the riverbank. The gorge is famous for flooding but my forebears knew what they were doing when they built this house. It’s on high ground with two hundred feet of sloping garden as a buffer. I look up at it, staunch above me, dark brick, friendly light shining from the windows.           

           I’m not worried by its isolation. It’s exactly what I wanted and worlds away from the airless flat in Shepherd’s Bush. I wish I’d spent the summer here watching the swifts dive across the water and feeling the cool breeze lift my hair.   

The rapids are just downstream, near enough to stir up the quiet of the night. There’s a separate sound above the slap and thrust of the flow; a sibilant, long and drawn out ‘s’ repeated over and over. I can almost fancy the river is whispering a welcome to me, calling my name. I hold my breath, trying to listen and then inhale deeply in reflex. There’s a sudden odd tang in the air, acidic with a hint of sulphur. It catches at the back of my throat and I cough.                                                                              

Excerpt from a novel, Preytime, set in Reddendale, a fictionalised version of Bridgnorth and featuring DI Sam Harte.

The bottle of half-drunk Becks was like a monument among the fallen. Four sheets of paper surrounded it, evenly placed, their edges lined up with the glass sides of the outsized coffee table. The bottle was in the centre, its round base touching the corners of the sheets. There were pictures on the paper; photographs, grainy from enlargement and reproduction. Four faces staring up at him. All young. All dead.

            Harte had written their names at the top of each sheet. Dates and locations at the bottom. There was no need. He knew them anyway, could have recited each teenager’s age, address, family background, eye colour, every last little detail. The only thing he didn’t know about them was what, or who, had pushed them to die.

            He picked up the bottle, took a long draught of the cool beer. Put the bottle back and rolled it slowly between his hands so that it rocked from one kid’s memorial to another. The beer wasn’t helping; it rarely did. It was what it represented that counted; weekends, normality. Freedom. Harte wasn’t much of a drinker but it would be like raising a white flag to give up on a beer on a Friday night. Christ, the whole bloody country would be relaxing with some sort of drink tonight. If he joined them, he could kid himself he was one of them. That he could be like them in draining a bottle and sending the working week off into temporary oblivion instead of obsessively searching four dead faces for something he knew he must have overlooked.

            He’d missed out on his run and could feel undischarged adrenaline surging through him. Heart rate up, chest constricting. Legs moving in a restless jig. The large living room was low-lit, furnished for comfort and relaxation with two over-sized leather sofas and a multitude of cushions. Harte had once read that the third most hated habit of women, as rated by men, was their addiction to scatter cushions. He’d often wondered what the first two were. The room was hot. He guessed Karen had turned the thermostat up again.

He felt a sudden hatred for the faces in the photographs. Their silence. Their refusal to give up any useful information. He felt they were both a rebuke and a warning. He’d failed them. How many more would have to die before he found the person who linked them?

            The room’s padding was mocking his inability to relax; suffocating him. He stood up. Drained the beer. Walked to the window and opened one of the dark-framed panes. Cold fresh air rushed in at him, gave him temporary relief from the heat and the lingering scent of fragranced candles. Harte wondered if candles were on the ‘things men hate’ list. They were another of Karen’s lifestyle magazine must-haves and the sodding things were everywhere.

Harte breathed in like a drowning man who’d managed to surface and savoured the chill as it sucked through his nostrils, deep into his lungs. He watched the trees by the river bend to the force of the wind, their last remaining leaves being wrenched from them in the growing storm.

It was almost November. The first kid had died in April. Three had followed. All suicides. All had taken the same lethal cocktail of barbiturates and alcohol. Each one had concealed him or herself in a remote location, hidden away from accidental discovery. Each one had posted a letter to their families the day they disappeared to take their own lives; an apology without explanation. Each had been a blueprint for the next.

Ben Flaherty. Chelsea Monk. Dominic Gillow. Amy Middleweek. All aged seventeen at the time they died. Ben and Dominic had attended the same school but were not known to be friends. The others had studied elsewhere. There seemed to be no common denominator. Apart from the way they had all died.

After the first two, Ben and Chelsea, the media had started to take an interest and that interest had grown with each new victim. One of the national dailies had dubbed the Reddendale gorge, ‘Death Valley’. It had stuck. Harte’s Operation Chimera was West Mercia Major Incident Team’s response.

The media was busy making a case for drugs being at the root of it all, interviewing anonymous sources who’d described Reddendale as being saturated with every type of legal and illegal high. Small town boredom relieved by kids getting out of their heads; ending up paranoid and delusional, checked into the psychiatric unit before they’d stopped growing. And as Harte well knew, it was all true. But was it linked to the suicides? The dead teenagers weren’t drug users, he was sure of that.

The media was also making comparisons with other suicide epidemics. The Werther effect; hysterical copy-catting. Maybe one way for an aimless or disturbed teen to gain a lasting memorial. Famous for being dead. No one apart from Harte seemed to seriously think that there was a link between the deaths which ran deeper than mere emulation or drug induced psychosis. The school had imported a trained counsellor. There were guidelines of ‘What to watch out for’ issued to parents. All the caring professions were on red alert. But in Harte’s guts there was a growing feeling that one person linked them. Someone who was orchestrating events and encouraging emotionally distressed kids to take a step too far. Murder at one remove.

            And so it had become DCI Sam Harte’s mission to ask questions, keep asking them. Examining the known facts over and over again. Uncovering every detail of the kids’ last days. Staring hour after hour at those four faces and willing them to tell him something.

            Why had the victims gone to this extreme? How had they acquired the specific drugs which killed them? And what the hell was he going to do to stop it happening again? All questions, no answers. And now the same questions echoed back at him from the media, from his superiors, from the families of the dead kids. And underneath the professional veneer of confident progress he was screaming in frustration, “I don’t know. Christ help me but I just don’t bloody know.”