Monday, 28 September 2009

Latest News: Summer Breeze by Michele Ranger is winner of the Summer Story 2009 Competition.

Run by the Sunday Express 'S' Magazine in conjunction with the Romantic Novelists Association.

The story and interview were published in 'S' Magazine on Sunday, 27th September 2009. You can also read the story below.

Judged by Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell, Jojo Moyes and Adele Parks.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Summer Breeze

It was the summer of ’79. A glorious heatwave hung over England and lasted for weeks, making us sweat, tanning our skin. I was seventeen; my hair was short and my collars buttoned down. I’d landed a job and I finally felt free.

Everything was changing – Thatcher was in, Sid Vicious was dead. The Yorkshire Ripper was terrifying women everywhere.

In my home town, life was shifting. People were leaving – moving on; even my old school friends were gone. All of them, except Tom Travis. But Tom was changing too. And when he turned up at my house on a scooter one sweltering July afternoon I was jealous enough to pretend Lambrettas weren’t my thing.

Dinah – she was my thing. She was what I wanted. She took it to the ultimate degree. Where I scoured the local second-hand shops for Levis and brogues, Dinah hit London and hung out in Carnaby Street and Kensington Market, offering to model in return for some gear. A Bridget Reilly print dress here, a Biba bag there. She had the complete look – Twiggy eyes, astounding legs and long blond hair; bouffant and straight and kicking out at the ends. She was tiny and cute and had the sweetest smile in the world.

No-one could match Dinah on the dance floor. Geno Washington sang ‘Michael, The Lover’, and Dinah and her friends all wanted to be Michael’s girl. Us boys in crisp Sta-Prest trousers spun on sticky floors, sole to soul – Northern Soul, Stax and Motown.

We were skinny, the lot of us. But me; I was lithe. That’s what Dinah said once, her long fingers brushing my arm as she said it.

Dinah wore tight, white skirts and crumpled winkle-pickers. When she couldn’t get her hands on a perfect twinset she’d wear a buttoned cardigan back to front with a set of pearls, always a set of pearls. And those eyes. You should have seen her eyes. Liquid eyeliner, thick and black framed the drooping lids; her long eyelashes, fat with mascara. When she looked at me I wanted to dive into those huge blue pools - a shade of blue I didn’t have a name for - and swim there forever.

I kissed Dinah once and she ate my tongue. I’ve never felt the same since. She was sweet and gentle but ten minutes into our session, when I knew I was in love and life would never be the same, she pulled back from me, withdrawing slowly, licking her pale pink lips. She didn’t comment, or smile. She didn’t baulk. She just seemed to be somewhere else, her eyes lost to another world. Then she stared at me – into me – I felt she could see right down to my racing heart. She touched my cheek and her hand trembled against my face. I wanted to scream ‘Don’t leave me’ but she stood up from the sofa where we lay.

‘See ya’ she said.

I was too in awe to reply.

That night I couldn’t go home – it would make everything too normal – too real. I wanted to keep the taste of Dinah in my mouth forever. I left the party around eleven; the sky was bright with stars and a high, full moon threw an indigo hue over the busy streets, still bustling with tourists and last order drinkers. I headed for the beach. The tide was out – I lived here beside the seaside and I never knew what the sea was doing, whether it was crashing about on helpless pebbles, or still and silent, ‘like a millpond’ - as people always said. I’d never seen a millpond. I probably never would. Far out on the shore little waves lapped and played over sharp rocks which peeked out of the ebbing water. The pier loomed over me like an eerie skeleton topped with an icing of bright lights, and stinking of fried onions and candy floss.

I found an empty crest of stones and flopped down onto it. Dry sand trickled into my desert boots and I couldn’t be bothered to kick it out. The sensation comforted and caressed my tired feet. I lay there for a while watching the cloudy sea as it came and went, came and went; its fishy scent acrid in my nose, its spray fresh and damp. I stared out to the ends of the world and felt my skin start to dry out with the invisible salt lingering in the air. I could taste it everywhere.

‘Oh hell.’

In the distance a tinny roar of scooter engines grew louder as riders and bikes headed for the seafront; Tom was probably with them. Quadrophenia was playing at the cinema that summer and suddenly everyone was wearing Parkas, the guys had sharp suits and all the girls looked like Dinah. Oh God, Dinah. Why couldn’t I last five minutes without her dancing in my head, smiling, taunting me with those massive eyes.

I pulled myself together, straightened my shirt – still untucked from where Dinah’s hands had crept inside it, and headed up to the prom. My suit looked cool, I knew it, but it was so damned hot that little rivulets of sweat ran from my armpits. Behind me the sky darkened – a purple and yellow bruise gathered with the heat across the horizon blurring the line between sea and sky.

Lambrettas and Vespas squealed to a halt on the street. Beautiful, soft chrome lines and mirrors reflected the lights of the caf├ęs and chippies along the promenade. Something stirred inside me. And then I saw her.

I could never compete with the scooter boys. The money they earned from their skivvy bank jobs left me envious. It left Dinah breathless, wanting more. Dinah thought money would help mend the loneliness in her life, heal her emotional scars. And on the nights she cried, when I rocked her in my arms, I’d tell her she didn’t need it. But she didn’t believe me.

I glanced over at the glittering row of machines. Their riders stood beside them, smoking, waiting to be admired. I laughed. I knew I had something those wannabes could never buy – I had style, I had the look – like Dinah. I was the real deal. The wealthy Toms, Stephens and Jonathans might have been able to buy manufactured style off the peg in the high street but they’d never be capable of creating a look for themselves, never be able to make it their own.

The pseudo Mods flashed their money about, wads of notes always to hand. At least my paltry wages came from working somewhere I wanted to be - Mint Records, just yards from their towering institutions of Capitalism. Tuesdays to Saturdays I wallowed in vinyl and lived the beat. If you were anyone, Mint Records was where you hung out – and I was part of it. I’d seen Tom in there a few times, buying what everyone else already had, desperate to fit in. Dinah, my Dinah, practically lived in the shop.

She was my friend. She just didn’t know I was in love with her.

I watched the scooters from a distance, my skin getting hotter as the night drew in. Clouds pushed harder into the sky, fighting for space – it seemed as though they were in my head, crushing my senses down further and further into my skull, until my brow became laden with the weight of it all.


I looked up from my feet. Hot, fat drops of rain began to fall onto the pavement, onto my shot-silk suit, dribbling through my cropped hair. I ran a hand over it, nonchalant, and the water slid between my fingers.


I looked at her, as though I barely cared.

Dinah took my wet hand in one of hers and stroked the side of my face with the other. She tilted her head and attempted a smile.

‘What’ya doing here? It’s late’.

I shrugged.

‘You with Tom?’ I asked.

It was Dinah’s turn to shrug.

A tender breeze drifted through the night, prickling Dinah’s bare shoulders. Goosebumps sprinkled across her skin and I saw her hair flutter, a wisp escaping the stiff hold of the lacquer. I couldn’t help myself. My fingers stretched out and I slid my hand around the back of her neck. Dinah closed her eyes, almost against her will and I pulled her towards me. My lips brushed her neck and I breathed in the sweet perfume she always wore.

‘I love you Dinah.’

Her eyes opened. She blinked. Once, twice.

For an aching moment I rested my face against the perfect skin of her cheek. I lifted my head and Dinah reached up her hand to stroke my chin, my jaw. Her touch made me shiver. She gently teased my mouth open with the ends of her fingers and I kissed them, wanting to bite them, softly. My eyes never left hers. Then I took her hand in mine.

‘I love you.’ I said again.

Dinah nodded sadly, tears threatening to spill.

‘Then show me.’

Dinah Pelling stole my innocence that night, though I was hardly unwilling. And now every time the air grows still and dry, and the sky turns black, I think of her, of the rain pouring down on us as we lay in the sand, the tide teasing our toes as we made love.

I never saw Dinah again.

I did look, for a while, but I think I’d known for some time that she’d go, make her own way in the world, be the girl she needed to be. It was never going to happen in our genteel, seaside town.

The memory of rumbling, summer thunder and hot, desperate kisses troubles my mind to this day, and it makes that night all the more precious. I knew nothing like that would ever happen to me again, that I would never meet anyone else like her. And I haven’t.

I’ve learnt not to go looking for something you miss; the world moves on and you have to move with it. It’s a hard lesson but you can’t leave your heart waiting, yearning for someone long gone – because they’re not coming back.

And lightning; hot, crackling, passionate lightning – well, it’s true what they say. It never strikes twice.

© Michele Ranger July 2009

Thursday, 17 September 2009


The shop window twinkled like a Christmas card.

Tucking pigtails into her beret Maisie pulled herself up onto tippy-toes. Her heart fluttered as the prize came into view.

‘Begin with something extraordinary’ her teachers had said.

‘Gaze at it. Fill yourself with awe at its complexity. Be amazed by its beauty.’

‘Taste it. Smell it. Feel it.’

And so she had practised. Day by day.


The bell of Mr. Bellingham’s Gastronomic Emporium jangled.

The shopkeeper looked down into the eternally wide eyes of Maisie Crabtree. Poor thing; soft in the head.

‘What can I get you today?’

Maisie pointed.

‘A slice?’

‘The whole thing please.’

‘That’s three shillings… What in heaven?’

Bellingham’s jaw dropped as his words left his mouth and spiralled up to revolve around the great round cheese hanging from a beam.

Maisie bent the magic to her will, clinging to her empty purse.

The shopkeeper brimmed with a strange benevolence.

Snip, went the string.

‘Take it. It’s yours.’

Maisie’s arthritic hand clawed at the door and she hobbled out onto the street.

She turned her wrinkled face up to the low December sun, made misty through cataracts.

She drank in the warmth.

And it was wonderful.

(c) Michele Ranger September 2009 (condensed)

Tickle - in honour of Spider Week 2009

On the loose
In your house
Scampering up walls.
Velvet legs
Thick as twigs
Scuttling down halls.
Dropping down
By your face
Frightening you half mad.
No wonder
Spiders run
If you think them bad.
When you scream
What of him?
Sensitive fine hairs
Tense up tight.
He screams too.
Panic on the stairs.
Wish him well,
Prowling in the night.
On the hunt
For a mate.
Pity him his plight.
Pointed knees,
Bubbled eyes
Staring from his nest.
Waiting there.
Why not say
'Welcome' to your guest.
(c) Michele Ranger/Lily Childs September 2009

Leaving Avalon

Coiling, sweeping mists adrift
The plains of Avalon.
Souls bereft, left wandering,
They seek their King,

Lunar nights, pale reflection.
Lady of the Lake.
Fingers long – they call to you.
You shift your shape.

Merlinesque, the wise ones bow
In reverential awe.
Great Mother, the Creatrice
Sends love yet fear
To all.

This land of apples, damsels sweet
Behind the veil protect.
In sacrifice, fair virgins guard
The White Priestess

Your horses race o’er flooded ground.
Your ghosts run with you still.
As this earth calls you forth again
You incarnate
At will.

‘Cross the waters with the saviours,
Recommence the fight.
Float the coracle to Albion.
Save her from
Her plight.

Tall, beatific protectors,
Countenance divine.
Honoured here, we pledge we will not
Dismiss you
This time.

Reunited, erstwhile Arthur,
Maiden, mother, crone.
Glass tower broken, sword of power
Released, not set
In stone.
(c) Michele Ranger August 2009

White Lines

She stared at the thin white line before her, fingering the credit card in her pocket. How had it come to this?

A sullen girl hovered by her side. Twitching. Impatient.

‘You need help?

‘No, I’m… I’m OK.’

She knew she had to make a decision. Do it now, or leave.

Minutes later she threw her head back. Pleasure coursed through her body. Heat and cold pulsed in equal measure.

She smiled at the girl.

‘You have no idea how much I needed that.’

You’ll be back, the girl’s eyes said. You’re hooked already. You’ll need it more and more.

She left, silencing music she didn’t know as she closed the door behind her. Head held high, she walked away. Then stopped, startled by her reflection in the window of the place where the deed was done.

She was changed.

She tarried for a moment; she could just about see the girl, moody still, clearing away the detritus of her visit. The girl had been right. She would be back.

Fifty pounds for a colour, shampoo and set was a bargain.

Pleased, she ran her fingers over shiny lacquered hair.

‘Pure brunette again. And all my grey is gone.’

(c) Michele Ranger/Lily Childs August 2009
Runner Up - Writers' Magazine Online Forum 'Talkback' One Word Challenge

Swine Flu

'Don't tell the staff'
The bosses said.
'Let's leave it vague and open.'
'If they should sniff then
We can give out tissues
As a token
Gesture.' 'Yeah' said Mike.
'I like that plan;
Leave procedures unspoken.
They needn't know
We just don't care.'
Mike coughed, he sneezed, he croaked and
Felt his tonsils shout
In screaming pain,
The others thought him joking.
He wiped his brow.
His handkerchief
Had well and truly soaken
Up the sweat that poured
Down his fat face.
And then he started choking.
'Go home' said Pete.
'For after all,
Rules are made to be broken.'
(c) Michele Ranger July 2009

Damask Rose

The massage cost £35. Bella accepted the extra 50p with a tight, grateful smile.

‘Goodbye Mrs Harrison.’

‘Tightwad’, she thought, and threw the coin in the tips box.

‘I’m so tired of them’ Bella complained to the essential oils in their golden basket. The tiny bottles shuffled about, clinking against each other, acknowledging her plight.

Bella sighed, drained with exhaustion. Despite the shimmering aura of protection she summoned daily, her clients’ pain and sadness still seeped so easily into her soul.

Checking her diary for the next appointment, Bella’s heart dropped. Lavender fell against Rosemary in distress, Bergamot rolled her citrus eyes.

‘Awful woman. Sap her.’

Bella looked around the clinical white room, tea-lights burning, flames wavering in a breeze that came from nowhere. Neroli smirked at Jasmine. Frankincense nudged Thyme, ‘Say it again’.

‘Sap her strength’ Thyme said, more boldly. Bella plucked the green bottle from its nest and held it to her ear. She gasped as it uttered the perfect blend.

‘But that’s unethical!’

Ylang Ylang swayed her sultry scent. ‘Sweet, sweet treachery’ she sang.

‘Lovely to see you, Mrs Greaves’ Bella said, not ten minutes later. ‘I’ve got something really special for you today.’

(c) Michele Ranger/Lily Childs May 2009