Jack's a Royal Marine. A war hero, haunted by his past. Or is he just haunted?
‘A superbly written, fast-paced, ‘crossover’ novel between literary fiction and subtle horror, with characterisation worthy of Susan Hill and seascapes of a modern Conrad.’ Ian Drury, Sheil Land Associates, Literary Agents
Jack Ahlquist’s a troubled guy; a decorated veteran who’s having flashbacks to combat, and who’s drifting between jobs. Doctors could fix his wounds, but not his marriage or his career. He’s spent time caring for his much-loved grandfather, Eddie, but he didn’t expect to inherit Eddie’s cottage and century-old sailing boat, the Draca. The legacy drives a wedge through an already dysfunctional family; Jack’s estranged father expected to take it all.
Draca was was the last of the sailing pilot cutters, old Eddie’s pride and joy. Eddie, obsessed with his Viking ancestry, has left a last letter for Jack; he wants Draca burned, with his body inside: a fireship funeral. 'Draca will know where,’ he writes.
Impossible, of course. Draca is beached and derelict. Besides, Jack has other ideas; Draca will sail again, and restoring her gives Jack a new purpose in life. Good therapy for a damaged hero, some say, but yachtswoman ‘George’ Fenton has doubts.
George is an orphan with attitude who’s made her own way from care and foster homes to be manager of the local boatyard. She saw changes in old Eddie that were more sinister even than cancer, and by the time the old boat tastes the sea again, the man she dares to love is going the same way. Like his grandfather, Jack finds a wild exhilaration in rough seas, alcohol, and ever riskier sailing. Combat stress, some say, but George senses a malevolence about Draca itself, and it centres on a Viking carving that Eddie fitted as a figurehead. To George, Jack’s ‘purpose’ has become ‘possession’; the boat owns the man.
So is Jack haunted by his past, or just haunted? When Grandpa Eddie died raving that he ‘tried to give it back’, was he talking about the Viking figurehead, or had his cancer gone to his brain?
One thing is sure; four characters are heading for a confrontation; there’s Jack, the flawed hero on a mission to self-destruct. There’s his controlling and disinherited father, pushing him ever closer to the edge. And there’s George, the feisty yachtswoman, trying to pull him back.
Then, between them all, there’s an old boat with some very dark secrets and perhaps a mind of its own.
When all four collide, there may be no survivors.
Half of all author royalties will be donated to the veteran’s charity Combat Stress, who care for heroes like Jack whose wounds are more than physical.
Jack’s father didn’t recognise him. Not at first.
Jack saw him coming, and waited at the hospice’s entrance. Harry Ahlquist strode tight-jawed through the car park, rolling his shoulders as he came as if bracing himself for a fight. The sun could have been in his eyes. It was warm on Jack's neck, warm enough for the sweat to stick his shirt to his back and to taint the porch with smells of tar and hot metal. And as Harry came closer he glared at his son in the what-are-you-looking-at way that he might out-stare a stranger.
He finally did a double-take and stopped.
"Good grief, what brings you here?" Harry's eyebrows folded until vertical, parallel creases appeared in his forehead above the bridge of his nose. The eyebrows were thicker than Jack remembered, still sandy despite the silver over the temples, and they bristled in the old danger signal.
Jack swallowed, dry-mouthed, ridiculously nervous like a boy caught playing truant. "Hello, Dad. Same as you, I expect."
They stared at each other. Neither tried to shake hands.
"Well enough. She misses you. How long have you been back?"
"A while." As he knew. That was Harry's way of reminding Jack of his failings. Jack turned away and walked into the building, scanning the day room beyond the reception for his grandfather.
"Fell out of a truck and broke my leg. It's mending." Jack kept it simple. At least he didn't need a stick anymore. They stood at the door to a room large enough to hold perhaps twenty ill-matched armchairs, some pushed back against the walls, others clustered around a blaring television. About half were occupied by sick, elderly people who looked as if they'd been waiting for something for so long that they'd forgotten what they were waiting for. French windows stood open to the garden, admitting hard sunlight and soft summer smells of cut grass and roses, a sweet layer over the undercurrents of floor polish and stale urine. A uniformed nurse near the door was putting a cup of tea beside a chair, her smile as shiny as the institutional china in her hand. Resilient. Caring but functional.
Thursday, 30 May 2019
Firstly, huge thanks to everyone who has helped DRACA start so well. Unbound say that projects that hit 30% in the first month tend to succeed; with your wonderful support DRACA is at 38% after two weeks. Please share, tweet, tell your friends, and let's keep the momentum going.
By way of thanks, let me offer you a preview. I've already posted an extract that introduces you to Jack, the flawed…
These people are helping to fund Draca.