Two and a half years in the works, and still not finished yet, I am finally ready to give a preview of my upcoming release, The Curious Cousins and the Smugglers of Bligh Island.
Inspired by Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, and adapted from a story I first wrote a little over 30 years ago for a school creative writing assignment, The Curious Cousins and the Smugglers of Bligh Island is a young adult mystery/adventure book about three cousins sent to stay with distant relatives for the summer holidays who, along with a new friend, find themselves tangling with modern day smugglers as they explore the island of Bligh and search for its past.
Although I’m getting close to being ready to release this book, I am still editing and polishing it up, so please forgive me if you spot a typo or slight error in this preview chapter.
Most of all, I hope you enjoy this and look afterward to buying the book when it’s released.
Sunlight, warm and golden yellow, shone down from the cloudless sky, offering a promise of the heat to come, while gulls flew back and forth across the unmarred blue, their cries blending into something that was almost musical.
Every so often a gull would dive, disappearing beneath the shallow waves briefly before soaring back into the sky. Most had wriggling fish in their beaks, which they carried away to eat, while those that were unsuccessful returned to circling and wheeling in search of a target.
Ordinarily, Edward would have been watching the aerial display avidly. He was a lover of all things in nature, except spiders, he couldn’t stand the ugly, evil-looking things. He hated them so much that he had once run from a room with a girlish scream at the sight of a particularly large specimen.
Just then, however, he was indifferent to the show nature was putting on. His attention was elsewhere.
The gentle breeze that ruffled his wavy, dirty-blond hair and plucked at his t-shirt was ignored as thoroughly as his surroundings. The only thing the fifteen-year-old had eyes for was the speck on the horizon; only it wasn’t a speck anymore.
The ferry that bore him was far from speedy, yet the small island that was his destination drew steadily closer, seeming to double in size with each passing second.
Edward’s grey eyes remained fixed on the island as it grew from a dot to a blob, and then began to take on the outline of something that might be inhabited by humans, though its irregular shape showed no sign of occupation as yet.
It wasn’t until the ferry had been underway for half an hour that the finger reaching up from the island into the sky became identifiable. At first, it had appeared to be nothing more than a column of rock pointing to the heavens from atop a cliff, but now he could see that it was a lighthouse, standing tall and upright like a sentry, guarding the island against intruders.
The next sign of human habitation came into view ten minutes later as a small bay, containing the island’s only town, revealed itself when the ferry curved around the island.
Details were hard to make out at that distance, but Edward pictured white-washed houses, a pub, a small shop, a church, and not much else.
His mental picture depressed him.
It would be bad enough visiting for a day, he thought. Spending the summer holidays there with relatives he had never met was likely to be a nightmare.
“Is that it?”
Edward didn’t hear the question, just as he hadn’t heard the footsteps of the questioner. It wasn’t until he was tapped on the shoulder that he became aware there was anyone with him in the bow of the ferry.
Looking around, he saw two girls standing just behind him.
The grey eyes of his sister, Elizabeth, who was the taller of the pair, alternated between Edward and the approaching island.
Anyone seeing them together would have been forgiven for thinking they were twins. Most people assumed they were, given the similarities in their appearances. They were not twins, though, almost eleven months separated them, with Edward being the elder.
The second girl, Henrietta, who preferred to be known as Henri, was a cousin rather than a sister. She was both younger and shorter than the other two, being only thirteen and barely five-feet-tall, compared to their five-feet-seven and five-feet-five.
Height was not the only difference between the cousins. Henri’s hair was a golden sheet of pure blonde with no trace of darkness, and her eyes were a brilliant blue rather than the cloudy grey of Edward and Elizabeth. She was also dressed more casually in a pair of denim shorts made from jeans whose legs had been cut off untidily, and a scruffy and faded red t-shirt, while Edward wore a pair of jeans that looked new and a blue t-shirt, and Elizabeth had on a lemon-coloured summer dress.
“What did you say, Elizabeth?” Edward asked of his sister. It was always Elizabeth, never Liz, Lizzie, Beth, or anything else, just as he was always Edward. Henri was the only one who refused to call them by their proper names, no matter how much they protested.
“I asked if that’s it,” Elizabeth said, pointing ahead to the cluster of buildings that were taking on individual characteristics as they drew nearer.
“Of course that’s it,” Henri said, moving past the older pair so she could climb up onto the railing at the very bow of the ferry. She wobbled for a few moments before catching her balance and then leant forward, bracing herself with her legs, as though to see their destination more clearly. “Where else do you think it could be? The ferry only goes between Handley and Bligh Island, they told us that, so that has to be Blighton.”
“That it be, girly,” a deep rumbling voice said suddenly as a shadow fell across the teens.
At the sound of the voice, the trio spun around. The speaker was a huge, barrel-chested man with an enormous and unkempt, iron-grey beard, eyes that were so deeply set it was impossible to make out their colour, a bald head, and a mass of wrinkles that spoke of a long life spent outdoors.
The ferry’s first mate, who looked as though he belonged on a seventeenth-century pirate vessel, had a frightening appearance, and he smelled unpleasantly of fish and tobacco smoke, but Edward held his ground, though it took an effort. Elizabeth wasn’t as brave as her brother, she backed up, wanting to put as much space between herself and the first mate as she could.
Henri was the only one of the three who was undisturbed by the mate’s appearance. She looked him over briefly and then turned her attention back to where she was going to be staying for the next six weeks.
“You’d best get down from there, girly. If you’re not careful, you’ll go overboard. Besides, we’ll be there soon.”
Henri ignored the advice and tempted fate by leaning even further over the railing. “My name’s not girly,” she said over her shoulder. She was a confirmed tomboy and hated any suggestion that she was at all like Elizabeth, who was about as girly as a girl could be. “It’s Henri.”
“Don’t encourage him,” Elizabeth told her cousin. “You know it’s not a good idea to talk to strangers. And get down from there.” She grabbed the back of Henri’s t-shirt and tugged insistently.
“You’d best do as you’re told, girly,” the mate said. “Your aunt’ll be none too happy if you go overboard and get yourself chewed up by the propeller or caught on the rocks, they’re dangerous round here.” With that warning given, he turned and walked away.
Edward waited until the three of them were alone again and then he turned to Henri. “Get down,” he said in a voice that carried all the authority a fifteen-year-old could muster.
It was the tugging from Elizabeth, not the command from Edward, that finally got Henri down from the railing. She pulled her t-shirt free from Elizabeth’s grasp the moment she had done what was wanted of her, though she paid no mind to the wrinkles left in the material.
“How did he know we’re going to stay with Aunt Brenda?” she asked.
Edward shrugged. “It’s a small community on a small island. I imagine pretty much everyone on the island knows that Aunt Brenda — the relationship was more distant, but they had been told to call her aunt — is having relatives to stay. Most likely she’s been telling everyone who will listen since the arrangements were made. I doubt she’s had anything interesting to talk about for ages,” he said, making it clear that he thought the island and those who lived there were devoid of excitement. “This is going to be the most boring holiday yet.” He shook his head in disgust.
Elizabeth and Henri could only nod in reluctant agreement. They were used to boring holidays that saw them shipped off to one distant relative or another, while their parents jetted off to a succession of exotic locations. It happened every summer, just as it did every Easter, and at least every other Christmas, but this promised to be the worst yet.
“At least we haven’t got Obnoxious Ollie with us this time,” Henri said, determined to find the positive in the situation.
“That’s true.” Edward brightened at the thought of the absence of their other cousin, Oliver — he was a Graham rather than a Bligh, as he, Elizabeth, and Henri were — known to the rest of them as Obnoxious Ollie because of the way he behaved, who was normally packed off to relatives with the rest of them. That summer, though, Oliver was absent because he had broken his leg, and was being looked after by other relatives who lived closer to home.
There was silence for a short while as the trio watched their home for the next six weeks get closer, then Elizabeth spoke.
“Do you think they’re in the air yet?” she asked of her brother. Her eyes went skyward, as though she could see the plane that would be taking their parents to Kenya for a month-long safari.
Edward glanced at his watch before answering. “They should be, their flight was due to take off an hour ago.” His tone was indifferent. He didn’t really want to think about their parents, who didn’t even care enough about them to see them off, choosing instead to get to the airport early and leave it to the housekeeper to make sure they got to the ferry on time. “I don’t know why you bother worrying about them, you know they won’t worry about us. We’ll get a call a week, maybe an email or two, if we can get the internet out here, and they can get it where they are, and they’ll have expensive trinkets for us when they get back.”
“And they won’t ask us anything about what we did, but they’ll expect us to sit and listen while they tell us about all the stuff they did, whether it’s fun or not,” Henri piped up. “If it wasn’t for the presents, I wouldn’t even pretend to listen.” It wasn’t that she was shallow or acquisitive, though she realised that some people might see her that way, but her parents did have good taste when it came to buying gifts from the places they visited.
The same couldn’t be said for Edward and Elizabeth’s parents, who seemed only to look at the price tag when buying presents.