Today I am delighted to welcome Sheila Turner Johnston, author of Maker of Footprints, a book described as ‘one of those rare books that touch the soul – a story of irrevocable change, tragedy and indestructible love.’ Sheila has written a brief introduction and is sharing an extract with us all today, so I do hope you enjoy!
“Thank you so much to Mairead for the opportunity to contribute to her fabulous blog and to feature a short extract from my novel Maker of Footprints.
This was a story that grew in my head for a number of years. I call it ‘marinading an idea’, letting it slowly take on body and flavour. I experimented with short scenes, writing snippets that could later slot in to the story, tweaked or in full. One of these was hand-written at the kitchen table in the wee small hours of the morning!
Writing chapter fourteen is a particular memory – for all the wrong reasons! It is a pivotal chapter and I knew I had to get it right. I wrote long into the night, forgetting time, forgetting to eat (weird for me), agonising over every sentence, every emotion, getting just the right word to convey just the right mood, saving the file every few sentences. Finished it, closed it and decided to back it up to a pen drive. It vanished. I could not find it. You know that cold feeling that starts at the back of your neck, hits the pit of your stomach? Turns out (don’t ask) the document had not saved at all, not once. All my purple prose, gone! I knew that if I went to bed, sleep would wipe it all from my brain. So I stayed up till five o’clock in the morning and rewrote the whole thing. I reckoned I got it all back apart from about 200 words. Phew!
It was hard to pick an extract to include here, so I hope you enjoy this one. To set the scene, the two main protagonists, Jenna and Paul, have met briefly before this encounter but don’t really know each other. Jenna has accompanied her boyfriend Adam, Paul’s brother, to his work Christmas party. She is not a social person normally and is a bit out of her depth. During the evening, Adam humiliates her in front of everyone. You’ll gather how he does from this extract…”
[ About Maker of Footprints ]
Meeting him was easy. It was knowing him that burned bone.
Paul Shepherd is dangerous. He crashes into Jenna’s life like an asteroid into an ocean. Willful and exhausting, he stirs feelings that make her confront all that has kept her safe – and bored.
Relentless and determined, he needs Jenna with a desperation she does not understand. Jenna discovers that, although she can try to hide from Paul, there is nowhere to hide from herself.
But he is married…
What do you do when you discover you are not the person you thought you were?
[ Extract from Chapter 11 of Maker of Footprints ]
The hotel foyer was cooler but still not cold enough. Jenna strode through, round chairs, coffee tables and knots of late drinkers. Her pink dress billowed in the breeze as she flung herself through the swing doors and out into the freezing night. She didn’t stop until she was under a tree at the far side of the car park. Halfway across, brakes squealed and the radiator grill of a Mercedes halted two feet from her legs. She scarcely heard it.
Hidden from the lights of the car park, she wrapped her arms round herself. Everything she had felt had turned to vapour. Everyone brought history with them. It was part of the baggage people collected as they lived and loved. She could accept that. It wasn’t right that Adam had not told her about Rachel, but she could have got over it, understood, sympathised even. But she had just witnessed a relationship that was far from over. It was very much alive. And the bastard had humiliated her in front of the whole room. Her fist thudded into her palm.
After a moment of silence, a calm voice said, “That’s good.”
She spun round. Paul lounged on the bonnet of the nearest car, his arms folded and his ankles crossed.
Jenna exploded. “Why do you have to be so bloody quiet?”
He looked up at the stars. “Nice night. Cold.”
He looked down, uncrossed his ankles and kicked a pebble. “No.”
She turned her back. The skirt of her dress caught on a thorn twig. She pulled it and heard the thin material tear. It was enough. She put her arm on the trunk of the tree, dropped her head onto it and wept into the black, cold wood.
When her sobs shuddered down to jerky breaths, she turned round slowly, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. Paul was still there, arms folded, still calmly surveying the car park, the lights of the hotel, the moon. Finally he turned his head to her.
“No tissue. Sorry.” He stood up and tore some grass from the verge. He handed it to her. “That might work.”
She took it and blew her nose. It did work. She had left her bag back in the hotel. She pulled another clump of grass and wiped her eyes. She tried a small laugh. “And I took such care with my mascara!”
He had come onto the grass beside her. “Don’t do that again.”
She sniffed. “Do what?”
“Cry. Not over this. Not over Adam.”
Another tear spilled down her cheek. “Why the hell not?” She raised her voice. “It hurts.”
His voice came, low and urgent beneath the bare winter branches. “Jenna, what hurts – your heart? Or your pride?”
She looked up at him. His back was to the lights of the car park, his face just shadows on shadows. Some guests spilled from the hotel entrance, tipsy laughter carrying across the cold distance to where they stood. She opened her mouth to speak, then stopped. She began to shiver, put her arms round herself again and turned away from him. He stayed where he was and spoke to her back, flicked his question like a dagger.
“Is he your lover or your brother?”
She felt the damp on her bare toes where her sandals sank into the rough grass. She said over her shoulder, “He doesn’t have to be either.”
He came closer. “Yes, he does. Yes, he does, Jenna. If he’s not your lover – and he’s not, is he?” He waited. She said nothing. “If he’s not your lover, then what is he? A brother? Luke in a suit? Your father, taking care of you?”
She flung round, her dress catching again. “Mind your own business! What do you know anyway?”
The shadows of his face shifted in a smile. “That’s it! Bring back the anger. Thump me if you like.” He held out a hand but didn’t touch her. His expression was so intense that a point of light found his eyes even in the darkness. “Don’t waste your life on buddies. Go for the passion. Want the moon and the stars and the sun. Find things that are worth tears.” He turned to go. “Demand more for yourself, Jenna. It’s there. And you’ll be dead a long time.” He backed away, then turned and strolled off across the car park. Half way across, he turned and, walking backwards, called out, “You’re a big girl now. You can find your own way home.”
Jenna watched him reach the entrance, push through the revolving door into the light and warmth. He didn’t look back. He’s just left me here, she thought, incredulous. Adam would have called me a taxi. She kicked the tree. She had never before stubbed all her toes at once.
“Shit!” she said.
[ Reviews ]
“Blown away by this extraordinary novel… truly a page-turner residing in the upper echelons of the very best modern fiction.” Joe Cushnan, writer, blogger, critic.
“…the sort of flair that makes a book more than ordinary.” (from an editorial report)
“… a truly outstanding book … a massive thank you for giving me such a pleasure to read. A MUST read.” (Goodreads)
[ Bio ]
Sheila Turner Johnston was born in west Cork, Ireland, and spent her childhood in different counties the length and breadth of the country, as the family moved wherever her father’s job took him. She attended Queen’s University, Belfast, and apart from managing to graduate against all her expectations, one of her best experiences was reading her poetry to an audience that included Seamus Heaney.
Her student days spanned some of the worst years of the Troubles. The emotional resonance of this experience permeates all her writing. She says, “Experiences like this force you to evaluate the human psyche, the judgements people make and how they justify, and often regret, their choices.”
She is an author who dives deeply into human emotions and human relationships, exploring the grey areas between right and wrong and presenting her readers with moral and ethical dilemmas to chew over.
Maker of Footprints was her first published novel. It was followed by Healer of My Heart.
Website – email@example.com.
Twitter – @SperrinGold