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Inspired by terrifying caving experiences in Somerset, ‘Troglodyte’, my YA novel, combines historical fiction with a ghost story, and is told in a dual timeline. ‘Troglodyte’ was recently shortlisted for the Wells Children’s novel competition, and last year was longlisted for Mslexia’s Novel Competition.
When seventeen year old OWEN opens up a lost cave, he awakens an eerie stalactite girl and unleashes her tragic Celtic past to haunt him. As vengeful spirits possess those he loves, Owen must unearth his links to MARTIALIS, the Roman lover she betrayed 2000 year ago, before history repeats to destroy them all.
A-level student, Owen, with a history of depression, discovers a strange stalactite girl within a Somerset cave and unwittingly releases her, Persephone-like, into his own time. After he and his companions are nearly killed underground, Owen wonders whether she was to blame. Tormented by doubts about who to trust, he notices even his friend and brother are acting suspiciously.
Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative: Iron Age Britain, and Martialis, an ambitious young spy for the invading Roman army, is injured while on a mission to recapture a Celtic chief. When Martialis is rescued and taken to a sacred cave by the chief’s druid sister, DERWEN, he finds his loyalty to the conquering Empire questioned. Unaware that Derwen is using him to plant misinformation, Martialis tries to discover her tribe’s plans, but becomes romantically involved. However, after her deceit almost destroys his legion, the young spy returns to her underground hide-out, seeking vengeance. There his actions set in motion a tragedy which culminates in a terrible flood, killing Celt and Roman alike. Derwen is left literally petrified, suspended in time, trapped within the cave.
This is the stalactite girl’s past, but unless Owen can find out what happened to Martialis, the spirits of Derwen’s brothers who died here will exact their revenge. To uncover the truth about the young spy’s relationship with Derwen, Owen must trust her to help him resurrect Martialis. As a depressive, Owen has always feared giving in to thoughts of self-destruction, but to save those he loves, he faces sacrificing his own identity.
Throughout ‘Troglodyte’ I’ve woven in threads of ancient folklore and fertility mythology, to build a sense of the mysterious, pre-Christian, Celtic world which I believe is buried deep within our culture. I wanted to create something eerie and magical – but set in the real world. ‘Troglodyte’ contains elements of ‘Stranger Things’, and is influenced by Alan Garner’s writing, particularly ‘The Owl Service’, where a momentous event echoes down through history. ‘Troglodyte’, complete at 92,000 words, is a standalone, though I have material for a sequel.
I have a BA in English from Exeter College, Oxford, the inspiration for Philip Pullman’s Jordan College, and I was later tutored by him while training to be a teacher. I’ve worked in education, as a secondary English teacher, and as a middle school teaching assistant, which have all given me insight into children’s reading preferences. I run a SCBWI South-West critique group and contribute to various on-line writing communities. In 2016 I completed a Curtis Brown UK Creative Writing for Children Course with Catherine Johnson.
I hope ‘Troglodyte’s intriguing concept, teenage characters with heart, adventure plot, and mysterious setting tempt you to read more.
Many thanks for reading my submission.
The tracks had been laid. We were meant to find the cave, I realise now.
Ropes of ivy bound the crags but did not conceal the opening completely. As I watched my comrades file down into the narrow ravine, I noticed marks on a rain-smoothed bank, and beneath, a run in the scree, as if someone had recently climbed up there.
A rope. I coiled it over my shoulder and forearm. Not a noose. Just kit for today, to pack in my rucksack – along with the head-torch and helmet.
When was the last time I’d used it? Not counting that one time. Eighteen months ago or more?
Mum must have hidden it. Along with the paracetamol and aspirin. And the garage keys.
A year and a half since I’d given up caving – and everything else I loved. But I was off the anti-depressants now. Trying to get back to living again. Flying unaided.
Red, my border collie, nudged my arm with his pointed nose.
“Almost ready, boy. Then we can go out.” I slid my fingers deep into his soft ginger and white fur. He needed a walk – as much as I needed him close. He’d have to wait outside the cave – but we wouldn’t stay down for long.
Will was locking his bike at the layby as I came cycling up the hill – Red running along beside me.
“Which cave you want to try?” he asked.
I caught my breath. “Hyena Den?” We’d done it before.
A low tunnel at first – then some squeezes and a boulder choke. We’d need the rope to get out of the Lobster Pot section. Nothing to be afraid of.
From up here the land rolled out around us. The day was dank and murky – as if the sun hadn’t got up properly. We headed towards the woods and the gully where the caves were.
A few sheep panicked at Red trotting past as we crossed the hillside. He wallowed in a puddle the colour of milk chocolate, then bounded towards me. Gleefully he shook the muck off in a motion that rippled down his body from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. I wiped the mud from my face with a sleeve.
“That better, boy?”
He looked up at me like he was grinning.
“That dog’s mental,” Will laughed.
Mental. The word grazed a sensitivity. Reaching the end of term had been hard – such a long one. A-level courses ramping up the pressure, all those decisions piling in about our future, mock exams just over two weeks away in the New Year… How close was I to derailment?
Today was about getting back on course – about being the person I used to be. If I could do it, I stood a chance of surviving A-levels. Going into a cave – would show how far I’d climbed out from depression.