The idea for this series came from an article in The Guardian that described scientific research into combining organic materials with technology to create programmable “bots” that can carry out tasks automatically.
The example they gave was of these bots being used to remove plastics from the ocean, and that sparked the idea of using them to combat climate change.
Combine this with the fact that I’ve had dreams all my life of waves crashing into the beach and overwhelming me, and you have the basic concept behind Deluge.
HOW I WRITE
For each book in a series, we come up with a basic outline of the events that each group of characters is going to experience, and then I tackle a first draft, taking each viewpoint and telling their entire story before I go back to the beginning and write the next viewpoint. I then order the chapters so they make sense. We then go through a revision and editing process until Mike and I are happy to send the book to our wonderful beta reader team who provide detailed feedback and catch any remaining howlers. Only once this process is finished do we publish the book and hold our breath.
My daily routine is to sit down at around 8am every week day morning and then write until lunchtime. In the afternoon, I build websites and help authors to do the techie stuff they don’t enjoy.
I write 2,500 words every day, so if I haven’t reached my target by lunchtime, then I come back to the keyboard in the evening. I’ve worked up to writing that many words a day over many years and have written on every single day since January 2017. You can find out more about my writing habit at tenminuteauthor.com.
The Deluge Book 4: Extract
Tap the play button above or read the text below the old fashioned way 🙂
“Good grief, it looks like the Cotswolds,” Patrick said as they turned a tight corner and emerged into a fertile valley.
They’d been traveling south on UT-72 which wound through a landscape of trees cutting through the low mountains. They’d seen plenty of animals—deer, rabbits, raptors—but barely a single human being. On the one hand, this was what they wanted. On the other, they were all aware that if they were to be ambushed out here, no one would be around to rescue them.
After a freezing night in the wilderness, they’d duct taped a sleeping bag to the shattered back window so it was now worth having the heating on as they drove. Jodi had spent the past day sleeping most of the time. Once the adrenalin of the ambush had settled, she’d closed down. It had puzzled Ellie, and even Patrick hadn’t been able to get a straight answer out of her. She’d been in some hairy situations before, but this one seemed to have affected her deeply.
Patrick, on the other hand, wouldn’t shut up, whether he was in the driver’s seat or not. Ellie began to wonder if he had an endless supply of Joel Baxter anecdotes, though the fact that he began repeating them suggested he was approaching the bottom of the barrel. Ellie knew Joel tangentially—he’d been the person who’d put her in touch with Kujira’s owner—but Patrick regarded him as an old friend. It was odd, because he’d barely mentioned him before learning that he was still alive.
“Where’s the Cotswolds?” she asked, grateful for the change of subject. “Jolly old England?”
Patrick grunted. “Jolly old England of the past. Right now it’s under a couple of hundred feet of water. But this place reminds me of it. Small, winding roads, farmhouses and so much green.
He was right. It wasn’t just that the land had flattened out as, presumably, they’d finally reached the bottom of the mountain range, it was also the sudden emeralds, limes and grass greens. It seemed as though the freezing weather that had followed them from Denver hadn’t reached here.
“Fremont,” Patrick said. “Maybe it’s got a shop.”
As Ellie followed the road, it became obvious that the settlement had been laid out in the standard grid form, but also that each block only contained one ranch house or farm. “I doubt it. But we can call at one of these farms, maybe get some milk.”
“Yeah, and maybe they’ll run us out of town, or steal all our stuff.”
“Does that happen in the Cotswolds?”
“Ha ha. Seriously, though, we’ve got to be careful. It might be safer just to drive on through.”
Ellie was about to answer when a woman emerged from behind a purple-leafed shrub holding a pair of hand shears and waved at them.
“Slow down, see what she wants,” Patrick said. “She doesn’t look dangerous.”
Ellie shot him a withering look, rolled down the window and came to a halt.
“Hello, dear,” the woman said. “Have you seen Dennis? No, of course, he’s away on business, so how could you? Unless you’ve been in Sacramento… Have you been there?”
Ellie side-eyed Patrick who was making a subtle “doo lally” motion with his fingers, followed by raising one eyebrow and tilting his head. “Are you having a seizure?” she snapped, before turning back to the woman. Up close, Ellie could see that she was very old, though spry enough. She guessed late eighties.
“Where are my manners?” the woman asked. “Y’all look like you’re fit to drop. Why don’t you come in and have some tea with me? I haven’t had visitors in a long time. I’ve got some lemon pie in the ‘frigerator!”
Patrick hissed at Ellie as, without looking at him, she got out of the car, thanked the woman politely and began to follow her toward the house. He looked across at Jodi, shrugged and followed suit.
The old woman lived in a ranch house with a red brick roof and huge built-in garage. “That’s where Otis keeps his cars,” the woman said.
“I’m Ellie and that’s Patrick and Jodi.”
The old woman paused and turned around, as if surprised that there had been anyone else in the car. “Oh, is that so? Well, dear, I’m not sure there’s enough lemon pie to go around.”
“That’s okay,” Patrick said. “I had my fill of lemon meringue before I left home.”
The old woman’s face lit up. “Oh, you’re English! How delightful!”
Ellie scowled from behind her. The fraud had dropped his natural northern brogue and replaced it with an accent you could cut yourself on. At least, that’s how it sounded to Ellie.
“I’m Mrs. Darling,” she said. “Amelia,” she added before holding out her hand.
Reid took it and touched his lips against the paper thin skin. “Patrick,” he said. “Delighted to meet you.”
The look of triumph on his face as he straightened up and glanced at Ellie earned him a kick on the shins as he passed, but it didn’t seem to dim his enthusiasm. “What a charming home you have, Amelia,” he said as he followed her up the single step that led onto the veranda.
“Why, thank you young man. Claire comes in every morning and sees to me. She’s my granddaughter. A good girl, but a little flighty, if you take my meaning.”
Ellie shook her head. The old woman was now speaking in an accent that wouldn’t have been out of place on the set of Gone with the wind. She looked at Jodi, but the girl seemed to be paying little attention, merely following whoever was leading.
They followed Mrs. Darling into a small sitting room lit by a window that looked out over a perfectly manicured back lawn surrounded by flower beds packed with pansies. “Will you help me, dear?” she asked, touching Patrick on the elbow.
With a manufactured smile, he nodded, leaving Ellie alone on the chintz couch as Jodi gazed out on the garden.
Soon, the sound of clinking porcelain drifted through along the hallway and Ellie looked up at Jodi. “Doesn’t this feel a bit weird to you?”
“What? Yeah, s’pose. Maybe.”
“It’s like we’re in Stepford.”
“All the women had been replaced by robots. Everything was perfect, just like this. I mean, how does a woman as old as that keep a place this size in such good shape. I thought it might be a mess inside, but it looks as though it’s cleaned every day.”
“She said her granddaughter comes in.”
Ellie grunted doubtfully. “It’s too much work for one person, even if she spent all day and every day at it.”
The door swung open and the old woman was there, with Patrick carrying a silver tray which he put down on a coffee table decorated with pink cats.
He sat next to Ellie as Amelia took the top off an ornate tea pot and stirred the contents. “My mother always said to leave it for three minutes. Now, would anyone like some lemon pie?”
She lifted the cover to reveal a bright yellow pie, half of which had already been eaten. Ellie found herself wondering how long the pie had been in the refrigerator. But it sure looked good.
Patrick was clearly thinking the same thing. “That looks lovely, Amelia. Who made it?”
“My granddaughter. She brought it around a couple days ago. She’s an excellent cook. Taught her myself. Dennis said she’s her grandmother reincarnated.”
Jodi came to sit on a wooden chair beside the couch as Amelia began slicing the pie.
“Oh, I’m sorry. My hands shake all the darned time. You know, I think there’s enough for all of us.”
“It’s okay,” Jodi said. “I don’t like lemons.”
The old woman looked at her as if for the first time. “You’re a pretty one, aren’t you? Like my Claire. What’s that on your wrist?”
“It’s a tattoo,” Jodi said, turning her hand to better display it. “Ying yang.”
Amelia nodded, though Ellie suspected she hadn’t taken in what Jodi had said. Either that, or she hadn’t approved.
Soon enough, the tea was poured—an orange pekoe from Sri Lanka—and the pie was cut. Amelia was recounting a story of how Otis, her husband, was a collector of vintage cars. The huge garage at the front of the house contained three of them, she said.
Ellie didn’t ask where Otis was because, though the woman talked in the present tense, it was obvious that he’d been dead for many years. Her heart swelled with overwhelming sadness as the woman continued her stories. She wondered how many of the people she talked about were still alive.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Here I am jabbering on and the pie’s getting warm. Come now, Mr. Reid—Patrick—I’d love to know if my pie is as good as your mom’s.”
With a smile—and a quick glance at Ellie—Patrick slid a slice of the pie onto a serving plate, took a silver dessert fork and, with a moment’s hesitation, put it in his mouth.
Almost instantly, his eyes widened. “Wow! It’s lovely. So… lemony. So sweet.”
Ellie was just lifting a chunk of pie to her lips when she heard the sound of boots running along the front path, followed by a door being flung open.
“Don’t eat that!”
A man stood in the doorway, his chest heaving. Patrick dropped the fork and stood up. “What the hell?”
He was a young black man wearing a thick blue coat and a horrified expression. “Tell me. Who had some?”
“Lord Jesus. How much?”
“Follow me. And the rest of you don’t touch nothin’. Grandma, you stay where you are.”
He ran toward the kitchen pulling Patrick by the arm as the old woman, who’d initially ignored the intrusion, went to get up.
Ellie pushed the plate away and jabbed a finger at Amelia. “What’s in the pie?”
“Why, lemons, of course.”
The old woman poured herself another cup of tea and sat back. “You can ignore John. He’s crazy as a dog.” She put her hand to her mouth as if to shield her words from being overheard. “Dropped him on his head when he was a baby.”
“Uncle Pat!” Jodi leaped to her feet at the sound of retching.
Ellie followed her into the kitchen, heart pounding, mind whirring as she tried to take in what was happening. Patrick was bent over, vomiting into the sink as the newcomer ran the faucet.
“What’s happening?” Ellie shrieked.
“I hope I caught it in time. Go into the living room and bring me a bottle of spirits.”
“Just do it! Please.”
Ellie ran back into the front room. “Where do you keep your drinks?”
Amelia looked up from her tea. “Oh, he’s telling his lies again, is he? Well, I wouldn’t listen to him if I were you. Wasting perfectly good lemon pie…”
Ellie left the woman, ran into the hall and then through another door to another room. The furnishing in here looked as though it had been picked out by a man—a man from the middle of the twentieth century. The room was darker than the one Amelia had led them into. A thickly padded leather armchair sat in front of an empty hearth facing a painting of a antebellum era military man Ellie didn’t recognize.
She found the drinks cabinet, pulled out a bottle of bourbon and ran from the room into the kitchen. Patrick was standing up now, his face flushed and eyes full of tears as he leaned against the sink, supported on one side by Jodi who looked terrified.
Ellie put the bottle down. “Will someone tell me what in God’s name is going on?”
“He’s been poisoned. Anti-freeze. I caught it quickly enough, at least I think so.”
She had so many questions, so her mind picked one at random. “Why the whiskey?”
“Ethanol is an antidote,” he said, picking up the bottle and pouring a big measure into a cup before handing it to Patrick. “I don’t know the right dose, but the more the better, I reckon.”
Patrick downed the cupful, then leaned back and grabbed his throat. “Sore.”
“Who are you? I can tell you’re not related to Amelia.”
“Can you? But then there’s all kinds of ‘related’ isn’t there? My name’s John. John Darling. But come on, we need to get your friend here into a chair, and check on Amelia.”
He took hold of one of Patrick’s arms and Jodi took the other as they guided him back to the chintzy room where the old woman sat as if nothing had happened.
“Oh, Patrick. Are you quite alright?” she asked as he collapsed into a chair.
John sat down opposite her. “Now then, Amelia, what have we said about having visitors?”
“Who are you?”
John smiled weakly. He was a good looking man and Ellie guessed he was in his mid twenties. “I’m John. You know me, Amelia. I look after you.”
“No you don’t. Claire comes in every morning.”
He took his hand gently in hers. “Sure she does, Amelia. But I give her a hand from time to time.”
The smile vanished. “I’m sorry, Amelia. Otis died a long time ago.”
“No he didn’t! I saw him just this morning. He was with Claire. They said they were lonely.”
“So, you thought you’d found some new friends for them, didn’t you?”
She nodded. “Otis would like Patrick.”
“I’m sure he would. But it’s time to take your medication and go for a lie down.”
Ellie watched this open-mouthed while keeping an eye on Patrick who slouched in the arm chair, taking sips of whiskey from Jodi.
“I won’t be long,” John said, getting to his feet. “I wouldn’t blame you if took off, but I owe you an explanation and sure could do with a little company if you’re willing.”
When he returned, John collapsed onto the couch and let out a huge sigh. “Oh my God, that was close,” he said. “I’m so sorry. So sorry.”
Patrick waved a hand dismissively. “S’alright, mate. Things ‘appen.”
“Things like being poisoned?” Jodi said. She’d been kneeling on the floor beside him, but now moved to sit in the chair vacated by Amelia while Ellie stood like an inquisitor.
“He’s drunk,” Ellie said.
“Plastered,” Patrick mumbled. “Absolutely pi—” His voice trailed off to be replaced by the sound of snoring.
Ellie shook her head “Well, at least he’s happy now. Care to explain?” She looked directly at John who was rubbing his eyes and yawning. “Oh, are we boring you?”
“I’ve been up since five,” he said. “This place takes a lot of maintaining.”
“So, you look after Amelia?” Jodi asked.
“Like a live in carer?”
He chuckled at that. “I suppose you could call it that.”
“How about you tell us what you would call it?” Ellie snapped. “We haven’t got all day,” she added, though the force of her conviction was punctured by Patrick’s rhythmic snoring.
“I’m her husband’s son.”
Jodi’s face creased in confusion. “Doesn’t that mean you’re her son too?”
“No. My dad’s name was Otis and he was married to Amelia for thirty years or so. Then he…well, he met my mom. They fell in love, though he was much older than her. I only remember him as an old man, you see.”
“Oh, so your mom was black?”
He smiled. “Both my parents were.”
“Yeah. And my pa made me promise to look after her when he’d passed on. So, I moved back here. Never told her who I was, but I guess I reminded her of him and she let me look after her more and more. I call her Grandma when we’re on our own.”
Ellie rubbed her chin as she thought. “So who’s Claire? Your mom?”
“No. Mum’s back in Minnesota with her folks. My dad and Amelia had a son called Dennis. He drove sixteen wheelers, but he died a long time ago. Claire was his daughter. She was stillborn, but Amelia never accepted it. As she’s gotten older, she sees Claire and my dad more and more. She says they’re lonely and want friends.”
“And we were going to be the friends?”
John nodded. “Yeah. I know it sounds crazy…”
“You can say that again.”
“Uh-huh.” He sat, leaning back with his eyes closed and rubbed his eyes again. “I try to keep close by. There’s a shack out back where all the garden tools are kept. That’s where I live. But I’d gone to get some milk from a neighbor and I was just coming back when I saw movement in here. I ran as fast as I could. I prayed to the Lord Jesus not to let it happen again.”
Ellie’s jaw dropped. “She did it before?”
“A couple months back. Fella stopped to ask directions and she invited him in. I was too late.”
Silence covered them like a shroud as Jodi and Ellie took this in.
“Where…where is he?” Jodi asked.
John shrugged. “Buried him in the next field. His car’s round back. Poor guy.”
“And you didn’t have her arrested?”
He looked at Ellie. “By who? There’s no law enforcement here. And I made a promise to my pa. So I been keeping a close watch on her. Just not close enough, I reckon.”
Jodi fidgeted and then blurted out, “This man who died. Does Amelia see him now?”
“She said the others didn’t like him none. He’s gone now.”
“And you didn’t think to get rid of all the antifreeze?”
“Of course I did! All I could find. But she’s smart. Real smart. Maybe she took it from the car out back or maybe she had it all along. I knew she’d used it as soon as I ran in. I could smell it.”
Ellie shook her head as if unable to comprehend what he was saying. “So, she makes lemon pies to kill unsuspecting passers-by?”
“Yeah. And she makes them to kill me.”