Jasmine goes to a festival

I am not going to write a political comment this week, not here anyway. Instead I want to tell you about the Leominster Festival. Now I know readers of this blog come from all around the world and have no interest in where Leominster is and what’s happening in its annual Festival.  That’s as it should be – this blog is about my writings and not about where I live. Nevertheless I would like to urge anyone who lives close enough to come and have a look at this lovely pace and join in our yearly extravaganza – in particular come and join in our literary events.

The Leominster Festival is a much smaller affair than well-known Festivals like Edinburgh Fringe, Hay, or Glastonbury but it has a bit of the flavour of each.  There is music, there are a variety of theatrical events and there is literature. The last is where I have an interest.

We run a writing competition. This year the theme was “Paint the town – with words” as the theme of the whole Festival is “Paint the town”. We don’t have huge prizes but we do have some vary nice certificates for all the shortlisted entrants courtesy of our sponsors, Orphans’ Press (there’s a story there). The entry isn’t large, which is good as there are just three of us doing the judging, and mostly comes from our primary school. We have an Awards Ceremony which I compere.  I am always delighted to find that the children on the shortlist have a wide variety of backgrounds and characters – and as many boys as girls are winners. We have a guest of honour to hand out the certificates. This year it is Anne O’Brien. She is a local author who writes historical fiction based on the lives of the formidable women who were daughters or wives of medieval kings. There are a number of writers that occupy the same genre but Anne is successful – a top ten best selling author no less. We have a short break after the ceremony and then Anne will give her talk – that’s a ticketed event.

On Saturday 10th June we will be holding our Bookfair which this year is part of the Family Funday.  As well as bouncing on the bouncy castle and eating ice creams and watching the various entertainers and the dog show, children can come to our tent and be enthralled by storytelling. Meanwhile, the parents and older children can browse the books by local authors that will be on display and for sale. The authors will be on hand to chat about their work and there will also be discussions on topics such as fantasy fiction, short stories and romance, and writing memoirs.

The Bookfair is an opportunity to sell.  All my books will be on sale and I hope, that just for once, people come with some cash in their pockets.

Bookfair poster

From what I’ve just described, perhaps you can understand why I haven’t done much writing recently. For a couple more weeks I am raiding my box (well, computer file, actually) of discarded stories, but then I will get down to writing: a new Jasmine novella in which she finally resigns from the police force (that’s not really a spoiler because that is where Painted Ladies, the first Jasmine Frame novel, starts), Molly’s Boudoir – the 4th jf novel, and a new project (I do like to have a few things on the go.)  Here, then is this week’s stopgap.  This is a short, light-hearted piece. I can’t remember precisely when I wrote it but it was a task for one of my writing groups. The assignment was to write a short piece for radio.

5 minute theatre –  Mission to Mars

[ theme music]
Presenter:  Welcome to this special edition of the Universe Tonight when we are going live to the USA for an interview with Professor Zarkov of NASA who is leading the team directing the Mars rover Curiouser and Curiouser. Good evening Professor.
Prof.Z (East European accent):  Good afternoon.
Presenter:  Thank you for joining us Professor.  I gather this is a busy time for you.
Prof. Z:  It is.  As you know the rover is currently traversing the Wells crater which has provided us with some interesting results.
Presenter:  What results are those Professor
Prof. Z:  Well, initially we noticed that the floor of the crater is completely flat and only covered with dust.
Presenter: That is unusual?
Prof. Z: Definitely.  Nowhere is completely flat and Martian landscapes usually have rocks and boulders in them.
Presenter:  So what does it mean?
Prof.Z:  We are about to find out.  Curiouser is using its moveable arm to drill into the surface.  We have a sound and vision feed from the rover.  Of course with the time delay we are hearing what happened about fifteen minutes ago.
[sound of metallic screeching]
Presenter:  That’s not a very nice sound, Professor.
Prof.Z:  It is a most unexpected noise.
Presenter:  Why?
Prof.Z:  Because it reveals the surface of the crater is not made of Martian rock at all.
Presenter:  What is it made of then?
Prof.Z: It seems to be…I can’t believe it… the spectroscopic instruments are saying that beneath the dust the surface is a mixture of iron, nickel, chromium.
Presenter: Those are metals.
Prof.Z:  Yes.  It’s stainless steel.
Presenter:  Does that occur naturally.
Prof.Z (getting  heated) : No of course not.  Are you stupid?
Presenter (flustered):  I’m sorry Professor Zarkov.  What is your opinion on this discovery?
Prof.Z:  Well, obviously it shows … good lord.
[Deep sounds of a tray being scraped across a floor]
 Curiouser’s position is changing.
Presenter:  You mean the rover is moving?
Prof.Z:  No, the floor of the crater is moving and carrying the rover with it.  I think I can see… (speaks away from microphone) yes, tell it to move the camera.  Yes, damn it I know it will take half an hour.  The floor of the crater seems to be, um, opening.
Presenter:  You mean the floor is hollow.
Prof.Z : Apparently.  A section some twenty metres in diameter has opened up.  I can just see down inside.  It’s dark but I think something is moving.
Presenter:  You mean there is something alive under the crater.
Prof.Z:  I didn’t say it was alive, you fool.  I just said it was moving.  Hold on. It’s climbing out of the hole.
[sounds of feet shuffling through sand together with other rustling, slurping noises]
Presenter:  This is remarkable Professor.  What is happening?
Prof.Z:  I don’t know.  It’s gone out of the field of view. The Rover is pointing its camera in the wrong direction.  Oh, it’s coming into sight.  Urgh!  It’s disgusting.
Presenter:  What does it look like?
Prof.Z:  It is difficult to describe.  Sort of crab-like, with an insect-like head and octopus-like tentacles.  It’s huge.  Purple goo is dripping from its legs and abdomen and orange smoke is rising from its carapace.  Oh, no, it’s tentacles are reaching towards the rover.  It’s lifting the rover up holding it close to its head.  Those must be eyes
[ booming noise which rises and falls in pitch]
Presenter:  What’s that noise, Professor?
Prof.Z:  It’s coming from the creature.  I think it may be speaking.
[The sound changes to a garbled voice which quickly resolves into English.
Creature:  This planet is an area of special scientific interest.  Fly-tipping is not allowed.  This material will be disposed of sustainably and a fine imposed on the owners.  Our bailiff is empowered to confiscate goods to the value of the fine plus expenses.
[noise of metal being compressed]
Prof.Z: It’s damaging Curiouser.
Presenter: Can’t you stop it? Tell the creature to leave it alone
Prof.Z: Of course not.  The rover wasn’t built to make conversation.  Good heavens, what’s happening now.
Presenter:  What Professor?
Prof.Z:   Something is rising from the crater.  It’s like a rocket except there aren’t any exhaust gases.  It’s rising into the sky. Oh. The camera feed has gone.  Curiouser and Curiouser has been destroyed.
Presenter:  This rocket-thing, Professor.  Where is it going?
Prof.Z:  You heard the creature.  They want to collect the fine.  The Martians are coming here.
[theme music]
The End.

Jasmine informs the Police

It has been difficult to find time to write this week (I’ve done this week’s episode though, see below) but it’s been a great time. The Leominster Festival events have gone well.  Deborah Moggach was great both in awarding the writing competition certificates and in her talk. The Choral Society rendition of Haydn’s Creation was fun and well-received. The Bookfair went well with more people looking around but it was difficult to make them part with their cash.  A performance by Canadian folk singer, Ian Sherwood, was brilliant.

Relaxing in the sun (yes, sun!) at Hay

Relaxing in the sun (yes, sun!) at Hay

We’ve also been to Hay twice. The first time was to How the Light Gets In. Some interesting talks but the performance by Marry Waterson, folk singer was dull. On Thursday we had an inspiring day at the Hay Lit Fest, in particular a talk about the bid to make the slate quarrying industry of Gwynedd a UNESCO world heritage site. Talks on the sunken cities of the Nile delta and the development of civilisation across Eurasia were also interesting. Finally, performance poet Roger McGough and his band Little Machine were excellent. The band’s musical settings of classic poems was worth hearing alone and Roger’s poems were hilarious or poignant or both.

A few more events in Leominster to get through over the weekend and then we can get back to normal. Normal?

Oh, and by the way, it’s just 3 weeks to Myth & Magic in Mid-Wales. Come and join us (see my SF & Fantasy page for details)

And so to the next episode of Aberration, the prequel to Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design set in the time when Jasmine is about to join the police force.

Aberration – Part 6

James walked back through the town barely paying attention to traffic or noticing passers-by. The conversation with Andrea’s Mum disturbed him. Neither she nor her husband apparently understood the turmoil Andrea/Andy had been going through, confusing her gender uncertainty with sexuality. The relationship with her father concerned James too. He was obviously violent on occasion even if Mrs Pickford insisted that it was never directed towards his daughter. There was nothing in their conversation that persuaded James that Andrea’s death was an unfortunate accident; the circumstances were too suspicious.  But what were the police thinking?
James took himself to the doors of the Police Station. He looked forward to the time, not many months hence when he would be entering this building as a police constable. Now though he felt nervous as he pushed the door open and joined a short queue at the desk.  It was a few minutes before the civilian employee looked up at him.
‘Can I help you?’
‘Yes, please. I have some information concerning the death of Andrea Pickford,’ he said trying to keep his voice level.
‘Death?’ The woman, was confused.
‘Her body was pulled out of the Kennet yesterday,’ James explained.
Understanding dawned, ‘Ah, that one. Are you a member of the family?’
‘No. I’m, er, a friend.’
The woman scribbled on a pad of forms.  ‘Can I have your name, sir?’
‘James Frame. Do you want my address too?’
‘Yes, please, sir, and a phone number.’  James supplied the details. ‘What information do you have, sir?’
‘I’d like to speak to the investigating officer.’
‘I’m not sure they’re available, sir. If you tell me what you want to say, I’ll pass it on.’
James set his face into a frown. ‘I think I need to discuss a murder with a police officer.’
‘Murder?’ her face looked paler.
‘Yes. I am sure Andrea was murdered.’
‘How do you know it was murder, sir?’
‘I’ll tell that to the investigating officer,’ James said, trying to be authoritative.
‘Alright, sir. I’ll see if there is anyone available.’  She got up and went to the back of the office. James watched her pick up a phone and speak inaudibly. She turned to glance at him a couple of times then put the phone down and returned to face James.  ‘Take a seat, please, sir. Someone will be down shortly.’
James thanked her as politely as he was able, which wasn’t much. It seemed that they had Andrea’s death down as an accident and his intervention might have stirred things up. He had just sat in one of the fixed seats at the side of the room when the door to the inner station opened and a man in a dark grey suit and red hair emerged. James thought that he didn’t look much older than himself but a couple of inches taller. He looked straight at James and still holding the door open spoke in a gentle, southern accent.
‘Mr Frame?’  James nodded and rose. ‘Come with me please.’
James stepped through the heavy door which closed behind them with a clunk of locks operating. He followed the young man down a corridor and through another door, that was held open for him, into a small interview room.
‘Take a seat please, Mr Frame. I’m Detective Constable Vickers.’ He pointed to a chair at a table. James lowered himself into the chair, sitting upright.  ‘Now, I’m told you have some information about the circumstances surrounding the death of Andrea Pickford.’
James took a deep breath. ‘Yes. I think she was murdered.’
DC Vickers eyebrows rose a few millimetres. ‘What evidence do you have for that statement. Were you with her when she died?’
‘No, I haven’t got any concrete evidence, but there was no reason for Andrea to be near the Kennet after work, and she wouldn’t have been wearing a mini-skirt. Not if it was her choice anyway.’
Vickers shrugged. ‘How do you know she was wearing a mini-skirt?’
‘Her mother said that you asked her if she recognised the clothes Andrea was wearing when she was pulled out of the water and they included a mini-skirt, a lace bra and a crop top.’
The DC nodded imperceptibly. ‘You’ve spoken to Mrs Pickford?’
‘Yes. I’ve just come from her house.’
‘Did you tell her your theory?’
‘No. I didn’t want to upset her any more than she is already.’
‘Why are you so sure that Miss Pickford was murdered?’
‘They weren’t Andrea’s clothes. Her mother said so. I know Andrea would never wear such stuff.’
‘You know her well? Are you in a relationship with her?’
‘No. I haven’t known her long and I’m certainly not her boyfriend.’
‘Because she was a lesbian. That’s what her father said she was.’
‘No. Because she was a trans-man.’
‘A what?’
James sighed. He’d have to explain it all. How much would that reveal about himself? ‘Andrea was a transsexual. She believed she was a man. He called himself Andy.’
‘I thought guys that wanted to be women were transsexuals?’
‘It happens the other way too,’ James said feeling depressed. It was 2004 and the Gender Recognition Act had been passed yet people like this young detective were still ignorant about the transgendered.
DC Vickers’s face showed confusion. ‘Did his, um, her parents know about this?’
James shook his head. ‘No. Andy was afraid to tell them because she was worried about her father’s reaction. He gets angry. I think he hits his wife. Andy kept his feelings secret from his parents letting them think he was gay, that is, that she was a lesbian.’
‘But she told you. Why?’
‘We met outside work when he was Andy trying to be as masculine as he could. He wanted to transition but couldn’t break it to his parents or afford to move out and get all the treatment.’
‘Er, treatment?’
‘Hormones, mastectomy, hysterectomy, phalloplasty.’
Most of the words passed the young officer by but he reacted to one. ‘You mean she wanted to have her breasts cut off?’
‘Yes. That’s usually the first stage for F to Ms.’
‘She wanted that?’
‘He did. Andy was a bloke inside. He played an act to his family and the people he worked with but he would never have dressed like a sexy girl. It revolted him.’
Vickers was shocked. ‘What do you think happened?’
‘I don’t know. Someone made Andy wear that stuff, killed him and dumped his body in the river.’
Vickers shook his head. ‘No, she definitely drowned. There were no marks on her body that suggested an attack. She’d drunk a fair amount of alcohol though, and had sex.’ He smacked a hand against his forehead. ‘Oh, god. I shouldn’t have said all that. Sloane will kill me.’
‘The DCI. This is my first case. Just a simple case of accidental death he said. Prepare the evidence for the coroner.’
James shook his head. ‘Well, it’s not. You need to find out who got Andy drunk put him in those clothes, had sex with him, against his will I’d guess, and then pushed him in the river.’
The young detective looked bemused. His face was covered in a slick of sweat. ‘Look, don’t tell anyone that I let out those details.’
James shook his head. ‘No, I won’t but don’t you think I should make a statement.’
‘Um, yes. Sit still for a moment. I’ll be back.’ DC Vickers got up and hurried from the interview room. James remained sitting, still wondering if Vickers or the other officers, perhaps even this DCI Sloane, would believe him.  It was five minutes before Vickers returned. He looked as though he had regained his composure.  He placed a pad of paper on the table and sat down.
‘Okay. Let’s get this down.’

An hour passed before James at last left the police station. He’d set out what he knew about Andy and managed to do it without mentioning Jasmine. Vickers hadn’t thought to probe him on how he met up with Andy. James glanced at his watch. He didn’t have much time to get home, grab something to eat and get out to work. He hoped he had left Vickers and his fellow officers reassessing the case. They only had his word that Andrea was really Andy inside but surely the evidence from Mr and Mrs Pickford, backed it up. The task now was to identify the killers and James had no clues to go on.


Jasmine keeps a secret

Grange Court, Leominster - Bookfair Mon. 30th May 12 - 4 p.m.

Grange Court, Leominster – Bookfair Mon. 30th May 12 – 4 p.m.

This is the weekend when I get to meet lots of writers and show off my own books – it’s the Leominster Festival.  First there’s the Awards Ceremony for our writing competition – mainly primary schoolchildren, with Deborah Moggach giving out the certificates. That is followed by Deborah’s talk (perhaps I’ll have more on that next week as I’m writing this before it happens).  On Monday we have the Bookfair with about fifteen local authors (and publishers) displaying their books and hoping for sales.  That will be opened by local author of historical fiction, Anne O’Brien. She is an example to us all having started writing only after she retired ten years ago and now has a publisher eager for her work and a burgeoning reputation.

I’ll be offering all my books that are in paperback – the Jasmine Frame novels, Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design as well as the three volumes of Evil Above the Stars. Let’s hope there are some people who actually want to buy books.

By the way, if any readers live nearby, there are still vacancies for the  writing workshops run by Simon Whaley and Fay Wentworth on Monday starting at 11a.m. in Grange Court. They are on the theme of writing about nature and landscapes  in fiction and non-fiction.

copyright BBC.

copyright BBC.

Despite the festival taking up some time this week I have for you quite a long episode of Aberration, the latest Jasmine Frame novella length prequel.  Here James/Jasmine is questioning Andrea/Andy’s mother following the discovery of the body.

Aberration: Part 5

Mrs Pickford turned away and sobbed.  James noticed a bruise on her cheek and realised that he’d been a bit abrupt with his question.
’I’m sorry, Mrs Pickford. I didn’t mean to upset you.’
Andrea’s mother sniffed and turned back to face him. ‘It’s not your fault. Every time I think of my dear girl, I cry. I want her to come back through that door, but the Police came and took us to see her body. I know I’m not going to see her again.’ She cried again.  James felt awkward. Should he put an arm around the grieving woman to comfort her? He decided against it. Perhaps if he could get her to talk.
‘You rang the Police because Andrea didn’t come home.’
Mrs Pickford nodded. ‘We were usually in bed and asleep when she got home from work. You know how late it is when the pub closes?’
James nodded. ‘Yes, I do the late shift. It’s nearly one when I get home.’
‘Sometimes I hear her come in and go to her room but usually its morning when I see her. Tony leaves early – he’s on the bins.  I do afternoons at the Spar down the road so I’m always around in the morning when Andrea gets up.’
‘When did you realise that she wasn’t home?’
‘It was nearly midday and I was about to go to the shop. I was surprised that she hadn’t appeared so I went upstairs and knocked on her door. I wondered if she wasn’t well but she didn’t answer. I opened the door and she wasn’t there.’
‘You didn’t think that she might have stayed overnight with friends?’
‘Andrea never did that and she always gave me a call if she was out for a while. She liked to check I was okay.’
Mrs Pickford waved her hands and looked flustered. ‘It doesn’t matter. I just know Andrea wouldn’t have stayed out without telling me.’
‘So, did you ring the Police then?’
‘No. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think what Andrea was doing. Look, I was always worried about her, her father was too, really.  I know she had problems. . .’
‘Well, you know her. She’s always been a tomboy and never had a boyfriend, do you know what I mean?’
James knew what she meant but also realised that she didn’t have much idea about her own daughter’s, or son’s, inner turmoil.’
‘What about girl friends?’ James made sure he separated the “girl” from the “friends“ to spare Mrs Pickford’s embarrassment.
‘I haven’t seen Andrea with friends since she left school, but, um, I thought that she might be, you know, a le. . .  Her father thought so too.’
‘You didn’t talk about it, either of you, with her?’
The woman’s eyes opened wide.  ‘Talk? Tony? With Andrea? Tony’s not a talker.’
‘Andrea didn’t speak to you.’
She shook her head. ‘I suppose she got that from her father too.’
James took a deep breath. ‘So when did you call the Police?’
‘I waited till Tony, got home. I should have been in the shop but I rang in and said I wasn’t well. Mr Patel wasn’t very happy. But by the time Tony got in I was frantic. I couldn’t understand why Andrea hadn’t been in touch.’
‘She had a mobile.’
‘Yes. I tried her number but there was nothing.’
‘So, your husband, Tony, got home . . .’
‘He was angry. He gets like that when he’s tired after a hard day on the lorry. He said a few things about my girl, which I know he didn’t mean, really. Then he said if I was so worried I’d better call the Police; so I did.’
James waited for her to continue.
‘I suppose I expected them to say they couldn’t do anything but the woman took my description of Andrea. It was less than an hour later when a policeman rang back and asked me some questions. Then they came round and took us both to see. . . to see her body.’ The tears welled up again and her voice croaked.
‘So you were sure it was Andrea?’
‘Oh yes. Tony was too. She looked as if she was asleep. Well, not really, but her face was like when she was in bed.’
‘Did the Police tell you what had happened?’
‘They said they’d got her out of the Kennet.  What was she doing there? Oh, and they showed us some clothes.’
James’ heart beat faster. ‘Clothes she’d been wearing?’
‘That’s what they said, although I didn’t recognise them.’
‘What were they?’
‘A mini skirt, a lace bra and a pink vest.’
‘You hadn’t seen Andrea wear things like that?’
‘Andrea hasn’t worn a skirt since she was in junior school. In high school the girls were allowed to wear trousers, so she did, every day. You didn’t see her dressed in stuff like that did you?’
She looked imploringly at James as if hoping to be proved wrong.
James shook his head.
Mrs Pickford spoke again. ‘You said you’d worked with her for a short while but you seem very interested in her. Did she talk to you at the pub?’
‘Not really.’ James was happy to confirm their lack of communication at work. ‘There wasn’t time most nights and you’re right I haven’t known Andrea long but doing the same job, the late nights, I suppose I felt a bit of a bond with her.’
Andrea’s Mum produced a thin smile. ‘Well, thank you. I don’t suppose there will be many others who are sorry she’s gone.’ She sniffed.
James wondered if he could ask a favour that might be seen as an intrusion. ‘Do you think I could have a look in her bedroom? Just to have something to remember her.’
Mrs Pickford appeared slightly surprised but then nodded. ‘I don’t know what you might see that reminds you of her, but come upstairs.’ She went to the stairs which rose steeply against the side of the room. James followed her up to the small landing which had just two doors. Mrs Pickford went to the first door on the left, slowly turned the doorknob and opened the door. She stood by it and nodded to James to enter. He stepped passed her into the front bedroom of the house.
‘There. There’s not much which shows it’s a girl’s room is there?’ Andrea’s mother said.
James looked around and nodded. She was right on that point. There was a single bed against the front wall of the house under the window with a bright orange bed spread. A small wardrobe was against the far wall with a chest of drawers next to it. Closer, on the right, was a desk that doubled as a dressing table. James stepped into the middle of the room and turned around. There was small set of bookshelves beside the bed with a mirror above it. Above the bed was a poster of the Reading football team, last season’s squad. On the other available wall space were posters of heavy metal bands that James didn’t recognise. He crouched to look on the shelves. There were CDs of the bands on the walls along with fantasy novels and superhero comics. There was nothing anywhere to suggest that this room belonged to a woman in her early twenties, not a feminine woman. There were no cosmetics on the desk-cum-dressing table, just a deodorant and hair-brush alongside a CD player.
James itched to fling open the wardrobe and search through the drawers but knew that would be too intrusive while Andrea’s mother was looking on.  She saw him glance at the band posters.
‘I don’t know why she liked those groups, but at least she wore ear phones most of the time. Tony hated the noise they make.’
‘Her father got angry with her?’
Mrs Pickford pursed her lips and nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘He never hit her though.’  James noted the accidental emphasis.  ‘He just wanted his little girl back.’
‘Little girl?’
‘The girl with long dark hair that we dressed in pretty dresses and who loved her teddies.’
‘. . .and dolls?’ James added.
‘No, she never played with dolls. She ignored the Barbie we gave her one Christmas. She gave up wearing skirts and dresses when she could choose her clothes and then she cut her hair short. That made Tony really annoyed.’
‘What did he do?’
‘He blamed me for making Andrea the way she was.’ Mrs Pickford sucked in a breath as if realising that she was on the point of revealing more than she should.
James explained, ‘I don’t think it was anything you did that made Andrea the way she was. She just didn’t think or feel girly.’
‘No,’ her mother sighed.
James wanted to tell her about the conversations that Jasmine and Andy had had over coffee in the last few weeks, but he didn’t. He felt that while she seemed to accept that Andrea may be lesbian she wasn’t ready for the full truth of her gender identity. Perhaps she would never learn the truth. He glanced around the room again, fixing it in his mind.
‘Thank you for showing me this, Mrs Pickford. Did the Police tell you anything else, such as how Andrea got into the river or how she died?’
‘Didn’t she drown?’ The woman looked surprised as if she hadn’t considered any other possibility.
‘I suppose so. I don’t know,’ James said.
She shook her head. ‘They said they couldn’t tell us anything else. They asked a few questions such as when we’d last seen her and what she was wearing and what her mood was. I don’t think we helped them very much. She had just seemed normal.  The detective said they were still investigating and would let us know what they found out.’
‘So the police don’t know much. There’ll be a post mortem to prove that she drowned.’
Mrs Pickford raised a hand to her mouth, ‘Oh, will they have to cut her?’
‘I’m afraid so. It’s normal in cases of unexpected death. The coroner will need to know.’
‘You mean there will be an inquest?’
James nodded. Unless it turns out to be a murder case, he thought, and if they find a killer it will go to court; but he didn’t tell Mrs Pickford that.
‘I’d better go. I’m sorry I’ve taken so much of your time.’
Mrs Pickford tried to smile. ‘It’s no trouble. It’s lovely to meet someone who cared for Andrea even if you haven’t known her long. Will you come to the funeral? I don’t know when it will be yet.’
‘Yes, of course. You’d better have my phone number to let me know.’
They returned downstairs and Mrs Pickford wrote down James’ mobile number on a scrap of paper. Then they said farewells and James stepped out onto the street. He took a deep breath and strode away down Albert Street. His head was full of thoughts. What was Andrea doing wearing those clothes when she died? Where did they come from? James was quite sure that if he had searched Andrea’s bedroom he would not have found any similar items. What were the Police making of her death? There was a lot more he wanted to know.


Jasmine finds an ending

Talking about Painted Ladies in Malvern

Talking about Painted Ladies in Malvern

Well that’s it.  The Festival is over and I’ve completed the fifth Jasmine Frame prequel. Actually the Leominster Festival was good fun, Jasper Fforde was brilliant and we had good audiences for all the events. We could have done with more booklovers at the Bookfair but we learn…  I also made my debut (?!) in an open mike event giving a very short “Jasmine & Me” talk. Got a few laughs in the right places.

Anyway with no more ado, here is the concluding episode of Soft Focus. It’s a bit longer than usual, as it rounds off the story.  As always, I’d love some comments.  There will be a new story starting in due course.




Soft Focus: Part 14

More people were leaving Debenhams than entering when Jasmine and Angela reached the store, heading home after a day’s shopping. They went inside and found the place almost empty. Upstairs at the café, the servers were tidying and cleaning in preparation for shutting down for the day. A young woman served Jasmine, nevertheless, with a couple of glasses of cola. Jasmine picked up the drinks and followed Angela to one of the many vacant tables. She looked around the brightly lit, empty space, examining the few customers remaining. Was Patricia here already? None of the people seemed to fit the image that Jasmine had in her mind.
Jasmine sat opposite Angela and took a sip of the sweet fizzy drink. Over the top of her glass she saw Angela look up. A soft voice came for behind her.
‘Hello. Are you Jasmine?’
Jasmine looked up and saw a middle-aged lady in a red raincoat and rain hat standing beside her. She jumped to her feet. Her chair scraped against the floor as it was pushed backwards.
‘Patricia?’ Jasmine held out her hand and looked at the woman. She was a similar height to herself, with wispy strands of grey hair poking out from below the hat. Her face was heavily made up with red lipstick that matched her coat and hat.
‘Yes,’ she said, pulling out the chair beside Jasmine and sitting down. ‘And you must be Angela.’ She held out her hand across the table to Angela. Angela shook it and smiled.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ Angela said.
‘No, thank you,’ Patricia replied, ‘I haven’t got long. I’ve got to get to work soon.’
Jasmine was intrigued. ‘What do you do?’
‘Just cleaning. I work in a nursing home. That kind of place always needs staff. They were the only jobs I could get after I transitioned.’
‘How long has it been since, er…’ Jasmine asked.
‘My op? Gender reassignment they call it now. It was a sex-change in my time. It’s coming up to ten years since I had the surgery. Of course it’s never really over – I still have to take the pills.’
‘Ten years? So you were quite, um …’
‘Old? Is that what you mean, young lady?’
Jasmine blushed. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.’
Patricia chuckled. ‘Oh, don’t worry, I know you didn’t mean it. You’re young. Anyone over twenty five is old to you I expect.’ Jasmine shook her head to deny the charge but she knew that Patricia was correct. ‘You’re right. I was in my forties when I completed the transition, but it took years. My former employer got rid of me when I started so I had no money to hurry the process and had to wait patiently for the NHS to deal with me.’ Jasmine noted the hint of bitterness in Patricia’s voice.
‘You got the sack for wanting to be a woman?’ Angela said.
‘Yes. It wasn’t unusual in those days,’ Patricia said. ‘It’s a long story, but we didn’t meet to talk about me. You want to know about Silla.’ Patricia’s voice cracked as she said the name.
Jasmine nodded. ‘Yes, please. You said you knew her well.’
Patricia shrugged. ‘I did say that but I wonder if anyone knew her really well. She was very protective of herself. She had to reason to.’
‘Oh, why? Did you know her long?’ Jasmine asked. Angela leaned forward to catch Patricia’s soft voice.
Patricia took a deep breath. ‘It’s about a year. She contacted me when she started at the university. How much do you know about Silla?’
Jasmine shook her head slowly. ‘Not a lot. We met,’ she didn’t add, once. ‘I know she was waiting for her treatment but that’s about it.’ Angela nodded her agreement.
Patricia looked from Jasmine to Angela and back. She seemed to make a decision. ‘Well, I think it will do me good to tell you. Silla’s dead and perhaps her story will come out so I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets.’ Patricia took a hanky from the handbag cradled on her lap and dabbed her eyes. ‘As I said, it was a year ago when she called the number on my website, like you did and asked for help in transitioning. We talked for a long time then, over an hour, and then many, many times since.’
‘Did you meet her?’ Angela asked.
‘Occasionally. Like this, in a public place. I am wary of meeting callers and Silla was always edgy.’
‘You didn’t see her at home?’ Jasmine asked.
‘I don’t give out my address and to be frank I wouldn’t advise trans people to come visiting in my neighbourhood. It’s not the nicest but is the only place I can afford. I wanted to help Silla, like I do my other clients, but self-preservation comes first. Perhaps you haven’t experienced the hate that some people show to trans-people,’ Patricia glared at Jasmine.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘No, not really. I know it happens.’
‘You’re not full time then?’
‘Think about it very, very carefully. If you do transition you have to be prepared for prejudice.’
‘Yes, I suppose so. Did Silla meet it?’
Patricia laughed. It was more of a grunt. ‘I’ll say. From people she didn’t know and those who should have been looking out for her.’
Jasmine waited patiently. Patricia looked at her. ‘Silla told me her story. Not all at once, but I put it together over the first few conversations we had. She had known that she was different from an early age and experimented dressing up as a girl using her sister’s clothes.’
So far so familiar; Jasmine had done the same.
‘Silla’s father found her dressed one day, beat her black and blue and told her never to do it again. She did of course and eventually got caught again. I don’t know how many beatings she endured. Her mother was no help; scared of her father, I suppose, so told on Silla whenever she found out. But nothing stopped Silla. She knew she was really a girl. A bright girl too. She found out what she had to do to transition and to get the treatment she wanted. But she had to wait. She could have left home at sixteen, but she waited even though it meant more beatings. She knew that to really get away from home she needed a university education. As I said, she was bright. She stayed on at school to take her A levels and got herself a place here. On the day her results came out she told her family she was no longer Kevin John McBride. Her father threw her out and she hasn’t been home since.’
‘That’s awful,’ Angela said.
‘It’s not a unique story,’ Patricia said.
‘Go on,’ Jasmine urged. ‘What happened to her next?’
‘Well, Silla, as Silla, didn’t have any friends up in Liverpool so she got herself down here and camped outside the university offices until they took notice of her and got her into accommodation and registered with the NHS.’
‘Didn’t that make her happy?’ Angela asked, ‘She’d got away from her abusive home life and was being looked after here. Wasn’t that enough?’
Patricia shrugged. ‘You might think so. Perhaps Silla had been damaged by the beatings. She found it difficult making friends because of the years of keeping her true self hidden and she was frustrated by the slowness of the reassignment process and the hoops she had to pass through.’
‘Hoops?’ Angela asked.
‘Such as the psychiatric tests.’ Patricia answered. ‘You have to be judged to be sane to be allowed to go forward through the NHS system. Mind you, how sane are you if you want bits of your body chopped off, surgery that in itself is dangerous and a life where the law doesn’t acknowledge you as the person you feel you are.’
Jasmine shivered. The mention of surgery gave her an image of a knife cutting through flesh. She couldn’t imagine wanting that but if she too wanted to become a woman then that is what she would have to have done to her. Perhaps she was merely a cross-dresser; someone who played at being female from time to time.
‘She got frustrated at the time it was taking,’ Patricia went on.
‘But it’s only been a year,’ Jasmine said. ‘It can take much longer than that.’
‘You know that,’ Patricia agreed, ‘I know that, boy do I know it. But Silla was impatient. And she was having other problems. She fell out with every group she approached – the radical women, the gays, even the other transsexuals she met.’
‘Are there any others?’ Angela asked.
‘Oh yes,’ Patricia replied, ‘But unlike Silla they keep their identities secret. They don’t want the people around them guessing that they’re trans. Silla was annoyed that they wouldn’t take part in action to change the law.’
‘What law?’ Angela asked, with a mystified look on her face.
Jasmine answered. ‘The law the prevents transmen and women from changing their birth certificate when they transition and hence means they can’t marry in their new gender, and employers, and other people can find out who they used to be.’
‘Oh,’ Angela frowned as she took Jasmine’s explanation in. ‘Why don’t trans people fight for a change?’
‘Some do,’ Patricia said, ‘Silla was prepared to but few other are. They’re scared of being found out and the consequences of that.’
‘So Silla was angry at everyone,’ Jasmine summarised.
‘Yes, even me. She said I wasn’t doing enough because I keep my identity hidden behind the website and phone number. I’m not about to go marching and carrying a placard around my street. No thank you. But she kept calling for a chat.’
‘But why did she kill herself?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Well, things kept building up. Her treatment had been put on hold while she had more psych tests. The psychologists told her they were concerned by her instability – she shouted at them. That just made her more angry. She was abused by some yobs outside a pub and the police weren’t interested. She had more arguments with other students. She rang my mobile last night when I was at work. I couldn’t talk for long – I’m only allowed a fifteen minute break.’
Jasmine leaned in, eager to learn more. ‘What did she say?’
‘She was upset, rambling, saying, “what is wrong with me? Why can’t I get on with people?” Then she said something about even swearing at a young tranny who felt she needed to wear a wig.’
Jasmine froze, her mouth open.
‘She ended the call then,’ Patricia continued. ’I tried ringing her number when I clocked off an hour or so later, but she didn’t answer.’
‘You didn’t speak to her again?’ Angela asked. Jasmine was still immobile.
‘No. It was late, I was exhausted. I went to bed and didn’t wake up till my phone rang. It was the police saying they wanted to talk to me about Silla’s death.’
Jasmine saw Angela looking at her. ‘What’s the matter Jasmine? You’ve gone white.’
Jasmine managed to whisper three words. ‘It was me.’
‘What do you mean?’ Angela said, her face screwed up in incomprehension.
‘Silla killed herself because of me.’ Jasmine said, sadness tearing a hole in her heart.
‘I don’t understand,’ Patricia said.
Jasmine felt tears forming in her eyes and running down her cheek. ‘It was me she told you about. I was the tranny she had a go at.’
‘But you’re not wearing a wig,’ Patricia said.
Jasmine brushed her hand through her short blonde hair. ‘No. Angela says I don’t need to, but last night I thought I did – to look feminine. I was wearing a long blonde wig when I met Silla. She was friendly enough at first but when I told her I’m not going for GRS she blew up. She must have felt that I wasn’t supporting her; that I was just playing at dressing up and not taking being trans seriously like her.’ Jasmine could feel a sob building in her throat. ‘I…I tipped her over,’ she stuttered.
Patricia reached out an arm and rested her hand on Jasmine’s shoulder. ‘No, Jasmine. You didn’t cause Silla’s death. She killed herself because she was depressed about her slow progress and the damage done to her over the years by her family. None of us, neither me nor her doctors knew how near the edge she was. The point is if she had been diagnosed as depressive she may not have bene allowed to go through with the treatment anyway. Perhaps she realised that and was able to hide it. I told she was bright.’
Angela reached across the table and took Jasmine’s hand. She squeezed it gently. ‘Patricia’s right Jasmine. It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything to cause Silla’s death. She was sick.’ She turned to Patricia. ‘Thank you for telling us about Silla. It must have been a shock for you too.’
Patricia nodded. ‘It was. Lots of trans people commit suicide before, during and after their transition but Silla was the first I knew well, or thought I did. Look I’ve got to get to work.’ She rose to her feet. ‘You’ve got my number, Jasmine. Call me some time and we can talk about Silla again, or about yourself.’
‘Thanks,’ Jasmine muttered as Patricia turned and walked away.
Angela also stood up and circled around the table to put her arms around Jasmine’s shoulders. She bent down and kissed her cheek.
‘Come on, let’s go too. You can close your case, Detective Frame. We know what happened to Silla McBride, now.’
Jasmine reached up and took Angela’s hand and pushed herself to her feet. ‘Yes, I suppose so. I don’t want to go through what she did. I guess I’m not transsexual.’
‘Well, I don’t mind whether you’re Jasmine or James, I’d like to get to know you better and I want to cheer you up. You said you like dancing. How about the Union? There’s a DJ tonight.’



Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon

Painted Ladies front cover jpeg


Jasmine seeks Patricia

As this weekend is going to be somewhat busy I am setting this up on Friday morning with the next (the thirteenth!) episode of Soft Focus below.

A sunny day at Hay Festival

A sunny day at Hay Festival

This week it has all been about the Leominster Festival.  This afternoon and evening I will be with Jasper Fforde, the best selling author of the Nursery Crime, Thursday Next and Last Dragonslayer books.  First he’s helping out at a workshop at our local primary school. Then he’s presenting the certificates at the awards ceremony for our Writing Competition and finally he gets to talk about his writings and perhaps sell a few books.

Tomorrow (Saturday) it’s our Bookfair at Grange Court with contributions from about twenty local authors – displays, talks, book selling (we hope!) – and writing workshops. I’m hoping for a good crowd of visiting booklovers.

Finally in the evening I’m performing at the Festival Open Mic night – presenting a very brief “Jasmine & Me” and hoping for renewed interest in Painted Ladies. It will be interesting to see what response I get when I take the mic.

After all that it will be nice to have something of a rest next week and get back to writing the third Jasmine Frame novel – but more of that later.  Here’s the next episode in the prequel, Soft Focus.



Soft Focus: Part 13

A ringtone sounded from DC Thomson’s jacket pocket. He reached into it and pulled out a mobile phone that he raised to his ear.
‘Thomson,’ he said then listened for a few moments, then said, ‘OK. On my way.’ He thumbed the off button and dropped the phone back into his pocket. He looked at Jasmine and Angela.
‘Look, girls, I’ve got to go.’
‘But, what did Patricia tell you about Silla?’ Jasmine asked.
‘I’m sorry, there’s no time,’ Thomson said moving to the door, opening it and standing there waiting for Jasmine and Angela to leave. ‘Anyway, I think I’ve told you more than I should,’ he added.
‘What do you mean?’ Angela asked as she took Jasmine’s hand and dragged her towards the doorway.
‘I shouldn’t really have shown you that video or mentioned Patricia, but I wanted you to understand that Silla McBride wasn’t murdered.’
‘But who is Patricia?’ Jasmine said resisting Angela’s tugs. ‘What’s her phone number?’
‘I can’t tell you that,’ Thomson said.
Angela had got Jasmine through the door but Jasmine looked back over her shoulder at the detective. ‘How can we get in touch with her then?’
‘All I can tell you is she works, volunteers, for a group called TransWest. Now come on, I’ve got to show you out and move on.’

Less than a minute later Angela and Jasmine were standing on the pavement outside the police station.
‘That’s it then,’ Angela said, ‘Silla did kill herself. It wasn’t Martie’s or Rachel’s fault or anyone’s.’
‘I wouldn’t say that,’ Jasmine said, frowning. ‘We’ve got to speak to Patricia.’
Angela sighed. ‘Why? Haven’t you had enough of investigating?’
‘I want to know why Silla did it. It seems this Patricia woman knew a lot about her. She can tell us what happened to Silla.’
‘But we don’t know who or where she is?’
‘We’ve got to contact this TransWest lot.’
‘How? Who are they?’
‘They’ll be a transgender self-help group. There’s lots of them all over the country. Some are national organisations, others just work locally.’
‘This sounds like a local one. West country perhaps.’
‘That’s right. It may be a group of trans-people or perhaps just one or two, maybe just Patricia. I’ve come across organisations like that elsewhere.’
‘Oh, right. How do we contact them?’
‘They might have a phone number in the directory or have a website. I need to get to a computer that’s on-line.’
‘We’d better head back to the Union then,’ Angela said, taking Jasmine’s hand.
‘You sure you want to come. I’ve taken up your day with all this questioning.’
Angela grinned. ‘I’ll come with you. It’s been quite fun playing at detectives and I’m getting to learn more about you, Jasmine.’
‘Oh,’ Jasmine said, not sure what Angela was learning. They set off retracing their steps back to the university area at the top of the hill.

“There it is!” Jasmine leaned in to the screen. Having found a spare computer in the Student Union’s internet café it hadn’t taken long to find the TransWest website.
‘A bit dull and simple,’ Angela said looking over Jasmine’s shoulder at the lines of text on a plain pink background. The website was just a single page which described the organisation as providing support for transsexuals, in particular those considering and going through transition from male to female. There was an email address and phone number – a landline. Jasmine put the number into her mobile phone and closed down the computer.
‘Let’s give it a go,’ she said, rising from the chair.
‘Here?’ Angela said.
‘No, somewhere more private,’ Jasmine waved her hand at all the heads crouched over computer screens and keyboards.
‘The Common Room’s probably quiet at this time on a Saturday,’ Angela said.
‘Yeah, let’s go.’ Jasmine followed Angela out of the computer room down a wide corridor and into a large room furnished with stained and battered easy chairs and sofas. It was, as Angela had predicted, empty. Jasmine crossed the room to a window and looked out onto the city. The November daylight was already fading. She retrieved the number she had stored and pressed “dial”. Jasmine held the phone to her ear and heard the beeps as the connection was made and then the ringtone. It continued ringing for quite a while until Jasmine was about to give up. There was a click.
‘Hello?’ a soft, breathy voice said
‘Is that TransWest?’ Jasmine said.
‘Yes, it is. Can I help you?’ The voice seemed more confident and lower in tone.
‘I am trying to contact someone called Patricia,’ Jasmine said.
There was silence for a few moments. ‘Who is speaking please?’ the voice trembled slightly.
‘My name is Jasmine. I’m trans.’
‘I see. Have you rung us before?’
‘How did you get the name of Patricia?’
‘Um. It was through Silla, Silla McBride.’
There was a silence that dragged on until Jasmine wondered if the phone line had gone dead. Finally the voice spoke again, but in a quivery whisper.
‘Did you know Silla, Jasmine?’
‘Yes, I met her.’ Jasmine thought of crossing her fingers but she hadn’t told a lie. Not yet.
‘Silla is dead.’
‘I know.’
‘Why do want to speak to Patricia?’
‘I was told that she knew Silla. Knew her well.’
‘Who told you that?’
Jasmine bit her lip. If she said the police had told her about Patricia then the speaker may be frightened and put the phone down. Also Thomson seemed to regret having given so much information away to two members of the public. Perhaps she should keep her informant’s identity secret.
‘I’m sorry I can’t say over the phone.’ Jasmine almost expected the phone to be put down on her. ‘Look perhaps I can explain. I was with Silla last evening. When I heard this morning that she was dead I couldn’t believe that she had killed herself. I want to find out why she did it and I think Patricia may have some ideas.’
‘Why didn’t you think Silla could kill herself?’
‘Because she seemed so alive. Angry, yes, but she seemed determined to get her transition completed and to fight for the rights of transsexuals.’
‘You’re right but there was more to it than that. She had her problems.’
Jasmine heard the sadness and the knowledge in the voice. ‘Are you Patricia?’
There was another pause. ‘Yes, I am, and you’re right. I did know Silla well, I think.’
‘Can I meet you? I really do want to know more about Silla.’
‘Hmm. I don’t know. I don’t know who you are. Are you really trans? You could be someone from the papers for all I know. A Sun reporter digging for a story about Silla.’ The voice broke up into sobs and then faded.
‘Patricia? Patricia, are you still there? I’m not a journalist. I’m a student like Silla. I just want to know what happened to her. Please can we meet?’
There were sniffles on the line before Patricia spoke again. ‘Alright, I suppose I could do with talking about Silla to someone who knew her. When do you want to meet?’
Jasmine felt excited and eager. ‘Now. This afternoon.’
‘Oh. Yes, well I suppose so. Do you know the café in Debenhams in Broadmead?’
‘Um, yes, I suppose so.’ Jasmine had never been there but thought she could remember where the store was.
‘I could meet you there in an hour. Will that do you?’
‘Yes, thank you, Patricia. I really appreciate it.’
‘How will I know you?’
How could she describe herself? ‘Well I’ve got short blonde hair. I’m wearing a denim miniskirt and black tights and a puffer jacket?’
‘A what?’
‘A quilted anorak thing.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘And I’ll be with my friend,’ (she almost said girlfriend), ‘Angela.’
‘Is she trans too?’
‘No, she’s a Real Girl.’ Jasmine glanced at Angela who was looking at her intently and following the conversation. ‘And really pretty,’ she added. Angela smiled.
‘Alright, I’ll see you there in an hour.’ The line went dead. Jasmine dropped her hand holding the phone from her ear.
‘We’re meeting this Patricia?’ Angela said.
‘Debenhams café, in an hour.’
‘We’d better get moving – it’s quite a walk there, back down the hill again.’
‘We could catch a bus.’
‘Probably wait an hour to get one.’
‘OK. Let’s walk.’ Jasmine took Angela’s hand in his and set off from the Common Room.
‘So it was Patricia who answered the phone?’ Angela said as they hastened out of the Students’ Union building.
‘Yes. I sort of guessed it was after I asked to speak to Patricia.’
‘She was wary of you?’
‘Yes, I don’t know why. Do I sound threatening?’ Jasmine was mystified.
‘No, but I’m not surprised. Just think about it. Someone who she has been close to – remember all those phone calls that DC Thomson said she had with Silla – has just killed herself by jumping off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Apart from the shock of that she must know that the media are going to be interested especially as the person is a young transsexual.’
‘Hmm. Yes. She did wonder if I was with the Sun.’
‘There you are. She has a right to be wary. But she’s agreed to see you, us.’
Jasmine felt cheered. ‘Yes, so perhaps we will find out what was really going on with Silla.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon

Painted Ladies front cover jpeg

Jasmine learns the truth

A busy week, largely due to preparations for the Leominster Festival. If any of you out there are close enough then come to hear best selling author, Jasper Fforde talk about his humorous, satirical, surreal novels (The Nursery Crime series, The Thursday Next series and the Last Dragonslayer series.) – 7 p.m. Friday 5th June at Grange Court (tickets £5). Then on the next day (Saturday 6th) we have a free Bookfair, also at Grange Court – 20 authors in search of readers, plus workshops for writers (there is a fee for the workshops).

In the picture at Hay Festival 2015

In the picture at Hay Festival 2015

We did manage one day in Hay. Starting at the Literary Festival, we had a good browse in the bookshop and attended two events.  The first was very amusing. James Ward spoke about his book “Adventures in Stationery”.  It was for anyone who loves a new pen or eagerly anticipated the start of a school year by getting their pencil case filled with new pencils, rubbers, etc. Actually it was a very good history of important(?) inventions – the paperclip, the drawing pin, the felt/fibre tip pen, the highlighter pen.  I hadn’t realised how much I was in the vanguard of felt tip pen users when in around 1965 I, and my mates, used them instead of old-fashioned crayons for our Geography maps and illustrations – they’d only been invented a couple of years earlier.  Probably the last time I was in the vanguard for anything. James had excellent comic timing and really made the subject matter gripping (that’s not a pun on paperclips).

Following an interesting discussion of NIMBYism in renewable energy provision we moved to the How the Light Gets In festival – the rival and smaller but simultaneous philosophy festival.  There we attended a discussion on “the sublime”. Interesting, if as usual with philosophy, with little in the way of outcome or agreement other than that the sublime is, well, “Wow!”

Not much time to work on Jasmine this week but here is a slightly shorter than usual episode of Soft Focus, the (5th) prequel to Painted Ladies.

Soft Focus – Part 12

DC Thomson led Jasmine and Angela out of the interview room, along the corridor, up a stairs, down another, brighter corridor and into another room. This was a more cheerful environment, with carpet and chairs around a large segmented table. There were windows looking out over the traffic clogged roads of the city centre. The detective signalled to Jasmine and Angela to sit down. These seats did at least move.
‘Don’t go anywhere, girls. I’ll be back in two ticks.’ Thomson left them alone.
‘Why has he brought us here?’ Angela said. Jasmine looked around the room. It seemed to be a meeting room for police officers with a white board on the wall, noticeboards with typed and scribbled notes and a large TV on a mobile stand.
‘I don’t know,’ Jasmine replied.
It was indeed, just a few moments before the DC returned with a videotape in his hand. He went straight to the TV stand, pressed a couple of buttons and inserted the tape into the player beneath the TV. The TV screen lit up and Jasmine saw flickering dark pictures. She began to realise what Thomson intended.
‘Is this a tape of CCTV recordings?’ She asked.
‘Yes,’ Thomson replied, concentrating on the screen and holding down a button on the player. ‘I think what this tape shows will provide an answer your suspicions. There.’ The DC lifted his finger and stood up straight looking at the TV screen. He stepped back allowing Jasmine and Angela an unimpeded view.
The picture was fuzzy dark grey but a line of street lights provided some sort of perspective to the picture. Peering at the screen Jasmine was able to make out lines that represented a pavement. A blurry vehicle appeared at the top of the screen and quickly moved across it and out of view at the bottom.
‘Is that the suspension bridge?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Yes,’ DC Thomson said. He leaned forward to read the small numbers at the top of the screen. ‘At two-forty this morning.’
‘But Silla didn’t fall from the middle of the bridge,’ Jasmine said.
‘This isn’t the main span, this is showing the approach from the east.’
‘We didn’t think there were cameras there,’ Angela said.
‘There are. High up on the towers. They’re mainly used to check on traffic congestion on the approach road, but they also help to pick up potential suicides. Most head onto the centre span but some people, knowing that that stretch is watched all the time, jump from here. Watch.’
No movement showed on the screen for another minute or so and then a figure appeared at the top left walking along the pavement. Is that Silla, Jasmine asked herself. The image quality was poor, the lighting bad, the figure small and distant. It could have been anyone. The figure approached the tower until it reached the bottom corner of the picture. Then it stopped, leaned against the rail and seemed to be looking over into the gorge.
Jasmine felt her heart beating fast with anticipation. Was it really Silla? What was she going to do? Where were her assailants?
The figure reached up and grasped the safety fence above the old cast iron rail. She, presuming it was Silla, clambered up. She stood on the rail for a few moments, then cocked her leg over the fence. Her other leg followed and there, for a moment, she hung on the outside of the bridge. Her face shone white as she faced the lights and the camera. She seemed to look up, then pulled her hands away and fell backwards. She disappeared from view.
Jasmine leapt from her seat her hands raised as if to catch Silla. ‘No!’ She fell back on to her seat again. ‘That can’t have been Silla,’ she said knowing immediately that it was a stupid thing to say.
‘We only had one other jumper last night,’ DC Thomson said softly. ‘The cameras only show this one person falling from the bridge.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘But, but. She can’t have just jumped. Where were the people who pushed her?’
Angela moved closer to Jasmine, enfolded her in her arms and leaned down to put her head close to Jasmine’s.
‘It must be Silla, Jasmine. Don’t you see? She wasn’t murdered. She killed herself.’
Tears filled Jasmine’s eyes. There was a lump in her chest. ‘Why?’ She appealed.
DC Thomson sat in a chair next to Jasmine. ‘I understand why you thought, hoped, that someone had killed Silla. It’s difficult to put yourself in the position of someone who is so pissed off with life that they’ll jump into space knowing that that is their end. But while you’ve been talking to the people she didn’t get on with I’ve been meeting her friends.’
Jasmine looked up into the detective’s face. ‘Friends? I didn’t think she had friends.’
‘Do you mean the girls she shared with?’ Angela asked.
Thomson shook his head. ‘No, not them. It’s clear that they didn’t get on with her either. No I’m talking about her transsexual friends, or rather friend, singular.’
‘Who was that?’ Angela said.
‘I haven’t met any others at uni., yet,’ Jasmine said, mystified. ‘There must be others. I suppose they keep their head down, unlike Silla. They don’t want their original identities discovered.’
Thomson shook his head. ‘This person isn’t at the university. She lives in the city though. She’s older, been through it all. A sort of mentor more than a friend.’
‘How did you trace her?’ Jasmine asked.
‘What’s her name?’ Angela inquired.
‘She’s called Patricia. Her number was on Silla’s mobile phone. We found it in her room. She hadn’t taken it with her when she went off to jump.’
‘How did you know that Patricia was her, um, mentor?’ Jasmine said.
‘The number of calls she had logged was a clue. Silla spoke to Patricia a few times every day. I called her and then met her. She told me Silla’s story.’
‘Story?’ Angela said.
‘Her life,’ Thomson continued, ‘her history of treatment for, what is it called, uh, Gender Dysphoria? The reasons why she killed herself.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon

Painted Ladies front cover jpeg

Jasmine asks the question

With my solo book promotion events out of the way (for now) my next focus is the Leominster Festival which I am helping to organise. First up we have a talk by Jasper Fforde  (7p.m. Fri 5th June, Grange Court).  His humorous but meticulously crafted crime stories in the Nursery Crime and Thursday Next series and his Herefordshire based Last Dragonslayer children’s books promise to make his talk an exciting event.  Then there is the Bookfair, all day on Sat 6th also at Grange Court. There are writing workshops with Simon Whaley and Fay Wentworth and a host of local authors displaying, selling and talking about their work – me included. Should be a great day.

So with that bit of advertising out of the way let’s turn to Jasmine Frame. Being transgender is barely newsworthy any more, thank goodness, and most people know someone who is trans in some way or other. Nevertheless the media, social and otherwise, still get excited by an outing.  I gather someone called Bruce Jenner, “famous” for something or other, has revealed that he is to become a woman.  So perhaps Jasmine isn’t unusual anymore. Nevertheless I think she is still unique as a lead transsexual detective and people still do not understand what being trans means. Therefore I commend the next episode of Soft Focus to you, my readers.

Doing my bit in the kitchen in a pause from writing

Doing my bit in the kitchen in a pause from writing

Soft Focus: Part 8

As they passed the large Victorian houses that lined both sides of Pembroke Road Jasmine took hold of Angela’s hand. She was surprised when Angela pulled her hand away and instead hooked her arm around hers. They continued to walk arm in arm.
‘Lovers hold hands,’ Angela whispered. ‘Friends link arms.’ Jasmine was confused. She had known Angela for less than twenty four hours but already felt a close attachment to her. They weren’t lovers yet, but for the first time in her life there was a real person who she felt a desire to make love to – as a boy. She had thought Angela’s feeling were moving in the same direction. Hadn’t they held hands earlier?
While Jasmine debated the evidence for a relationship, Angela whispered again. ‘I’ll hold hands with James.’
Jasmine’s thoughts became more excited. Her dreams of lust may become reality, but what did Angela’s words mean? Why not hold her hand now? The answer came in a flash of insight.
Jasmine also spoke softly. ‘Does that mean you are more worried about being thought of as a lesbian than you are about being the girlfriend of a transvestite?’
Angela giggled and pulled on Jasmine’s arm. ‘You’re right. I just said that without thinking. There’s no reason why I should mind appearing as a lesbian; some of my friends are lesbians; but, I suppose I don’t want to seem to be one because I’m not. On the other hand you being a boy and a girl is exciting.’
Jasmine was reassured but a little confused. ‘I think we’ll have to pick over those words again sometime. Look we’re here.’
They had reached number 115. The house was not in such a good state of repair as its neighbours and obviously divided into flats.
‘Andy said the basement, didn’t he?’ Jasmine asked. Angela nodded, released his arm and strode down the driveway at the side of the house. Jasmine hurried after her and caught her at a pair of steps leading down to a doorway. They both looked for a bell but failed to find one. Angela knocked her knuckles against the door. There was a wait of a few moments before they heard shuffling noises on the opposite side of the door. It opened to reveal a pale, slight, young man, with curly blonde hair, naked but for a pair of baggy, white Y-fronts.
‘Oh, hello, girls. What brings you here?’ Jasmine wasn’t sure whether the camp accent was real or put on.
‘Is Martie in? We’d like to speak to him,’ Jasmine said.
‘You want to see Martie. Does Martie want to see you?’ The final ‘you’ was said with a screwed up nose as if the thought was a little distasteful.
‘Can you ask him, please?’ Angela said with just a hint of impatience.
‘Oh, okay.’ The young man turned away but kept hold of the door. ‘Martie! There are some females here that say they want to speak to you.’
A deep voice roared from somewhere deep inside the flat. ‘Females? What sort of females?’
The almost naked young man turned to face them again. Jasmine wondered that he wasn’t shivering with so much skin exposed to the November air. His eyes examined Jasmine and Angela.
‘Young women. Quite pretty actually,’ he called back.
‘What the fuck!’ the voice, presumably Martie’s, bellowed again. The shout was followed by the appearance of its owner. Martie wasn’t tall, maybe just an inch more than Jasmine, but he was heavily muscled as revealed by the skin-tight white T-shirt that he wore along with torn, stained jeans. His head was covered by the merest fuzz of hair and his face by a scruffy beard. Jasmine guessed he had had his head shaved not that long ago. She didn’t remember him from the disco the previous evening, but then her attention had been focussed on Sila sliding across the floor. He reached the door and shoved the slim boy out of the way.
‘Get back inside,’ he growled. The boy retreated.
‘Hello, Martie,’ Angela said in a sweet and friendly voice.
He glared at her. ‘Who are you?’
‘I’m Angela and this is my friend, Jasmine.’
Martie transferred his gaze to Jasmine. She felt him examining every part of her body, almost as if he could see through her clothes and her disguise.
‘I don’t know you. This is a gay zone. We don’t have girls, lesbian or otherwise. You don’t look like lezzers. What do you want?’
Jasmine blurted out. ‘We were wondering what you and Sila did last night after the party.’
Martie’s jaw dropped and his mouth gaped open. Angela’s elbow poked into Jasmine’s ribs. Had she posed the question in the wrong way?
When Martie finally answered, his manner was anger. ‘Sila? That fucking, tranny-arsehole. What d’ya mean, what did I do with her?’
Jasmine swallowed and decided to press on. ‘We know you and she had an argument which ended with you pushing her to the floor.’
‘So what? She was being fucking annoying.’
‘So did you meet her again later?’
‘Why the blazing fuck would I want to see that limp prick again. One minute with her at the start was enough.’ He paused for breath. ‘And anyway, why are you cockteasers asking me questions.’
‘We’re just trying to trace her movements after you had your row.’ Angela said as softly and calmly as possible.
Martie laughed. ‘I know her movements. She took a step off the bridge and forgot she hadn’t grown wings as well as tits.’
‘You know she’s dead?’ Jasmine said.
‘Yeah, I heard,’ Martie guffawed, ‘It’s all around the city isn’t it. So why are you two cunts asking questions?’
‘We want to know what happened to her. Why she fell from the bridge.’ Jasmine said. They didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with their conversation. There must be an art to asking the right questions, Jasmine thought.
‘She jumped because she was a mad bitch. Couldn’t make up her mind whether she wanted cock or cunt.’
‘She was transitioning,’ Jasmine said.
‘Transitioning, my arse. Yeah, she thought she should be a woman but the lezzers didn’t want her because she still had a dick, so she pestered us thinking we’d go after anything with a cock and balls.’
‘Did you?’ Jasmine asked. Martie stepped out of the doorway and thrust his head into Jasmine’s face.
‘No. I don’t go for wankers in a skirt even if their boobs are rubber. Give me a small tight arse and a hard cock. Is that straight talking enough for you?’ Martie’s gaze bored into Jasmine’s eyes. ‘You’re like her aren’t you?’
‘Uh, no. I’m not like Sila.’
‘Yes you are. You’re a tranny. A guy in frilly knickers and a bra.’
‘Sila was a woman, a transsexual woman.’
Martie grabbed the collar of her quilted jacket. ‘Trans-fucking-nothing. Didn’t know what she was or how to have it.’
‘She was waiting for reassignment.’ Jasmine gasped as the cloth tightened around her neck.
‘Why are you even bothered? Do you want to be like fucking Sila?’
Angela pushed her arm between them. ‘We just want to find out how and why Sila died.’
Martie released his grip and edged backwards. ‘You’re fucking nuts. I told you I don’t know what happened to her. She was a pain in the neck. Disturbed. She did for herself.’
‘Are you sure?’ Jasmine asked, tugging her jacket down.
‘What do you mean am I sure? Did I see her when she took her leap without a bungee? No I didn’t.’
‘Did you push her off the bridge?’ Jasmine stiffened waiting for Martie’s expected lunge at her.
Instead he laughed. ‘Have you got a death-wish like her? No, I didn’t give her a helpful push, I didn’t see her again after she was a pest in the disco. I don’t know or care why she topped herself. She was just a mixed up tranny.’
Angela intervened. ‘Do you know anyone who might have been involved in her death?’
‘Involved? You mean drove her to it. You could try the Radical Women. They hated her as much as me and my mates did. Now get lost you fucking tarts before I give you a pasting.’ He backed through the doorway and slammed the door.
Angela grabbed Jasmine’s arm and dragged her up the driveway to the road.
‘Well, that went according to plan,’ Angela said.
Jasmine shrugged. ‘What plan?’
‘Exactly. We should have worked out what questions to ask him first before blundering in there.’
Jasmine shook her arm free of Angela’s. ‘I thought we could have a quiet conversation and find things out.’
‘So you jump straight in with “what did you and Sila get up to after the party?”’
Jasmine realised Angela had a point. ‘That’s not quite what I said.’
‘Close enough.’
‘I didn’t expect him to be so aggressive, so crude.’
‘Not all gays are cuddly softies, or nice boys like Andy.’
Jasmine began to trudge up the street. She’d messed up; failed to ask the right questions to obtain useful information.
Angela ran to catch her up. ‘Look it’s not all bad. We got some answers from Martie.’
Jasmine paused mid-step and looked at Angela. ‘Really? Like what?’
‘Like that Martie didn’t kill Sila.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘How do you know? He hated her.’
‘I just got this feeling from hearing him going on badmouthing her. He didn’t like Sila. He didn’t want any sight of her. He’s only interested in the boys that give him what he wants like that kid that answered the door. He wouldn’t have wasted last night dragging Sila up on to the bridge and throwing her off.’
‘Are you sure?’ Jasmine felt that Angela was probably correct but Martie had scared and appalled her. How could someone who was himself a member of a minority group be so dismissive of someone in another?
Angela nodded. ‘Pretty certain.’
‘Why did Sila keep on at that sewer-tongued bully?’ Jasmine decided that she didn’t understand the dead transsexual at all.
Angela shrugged. ‘Who knows? Perhaps getting a response from Martie at least showed Sila that she was being noticed.’
Jasmine considered Angela’s words. How lonely must Sila have been as she faced her struggle to transition? ‘Well, where do we go next?’
Angela took hold of Jasmine’s arm again and they walked slowly up the road. ‘Well there are other gay boys that Sila may have attached herself to and then there’s Martie’s suggestion.’
‘The Radical Women?’
‘Yep. They can be a tough lot too.’
Jasmine snorted. ‘Well, for the sake of equality, let’s see how they react to being accused of murder.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book or paperback from all booksellers including Amazon

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