Invisible Ink


My debut novel Invisible Ink comes out this week, a prospect as exciting as it is terrifying.  It tells the story of London lawyer Max Rivers who seems to have it all: a successful career, a beautiful girlfriend, an exclusive address.  But Max harbours a long-buried secret that threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world.   He is haunted by the disappearance of  his younger brother Peter when the two of them were children and for which he feels responsible.  

The blurb describes it as “a mesmerising novel of guilt, love and loss within a family”, which pretty much sums it up.   It has a small dementia thread that draws on my experiences with my own mother, who lived with the condition for the last decade of her life.  

It’s a work of fiction of course, and was written some time before I began to write about dementia.  What strikes me, reading it now, is how guilty I felt then, and still do, about my dear old mum and how I coped (or failed to cope) with her condition.

The story is written through Max’s eyes during two periods of his life: the accomplished professional he is now and the five-year-old boy he once was, deeply affected by the arrival of his baby brother and his dad walking out soon afterwards.  

For my blog readers, here’s a preview of the novel, which opens in the words of the young Max.  I hope you enjoy it. 


Mum’s said that I’m not allowed out for two hours. Two whole hours. And it’s sunny outside. I can see it through my bedroom window. The sun’s shining on the great big pile of crackling leaves underneath the trapeze tree. I want to run out of the house and push my shoes through those golden leaves and kick them high up into the air and watch them fluttering down, but I can’t.

I’m sitting on my bed with a very, very old book that used to be Mum’s; she’s only just started to let me bring it into our bedroom – provided you take good care of it Maxi. It has a faded blue cardboard cover that’s stretched out over my knees. I can’t read its name because it’s disappeared. The only bits of it left are the dirty marks where the letters were. Mum told me that it’s called A Children’s Encyclopaedia. She said it very slowly. En-cy-clo-pae-di-a. I counted the syllables on my fingers. Six! She said it was hers when she was little and that it has all the answers to our questions. I suppose it does somewhere but they must be hidden. They’re not in long lists like at school. The old blue book has all sorts of strange and wonderful things in it. Inside the front, on the hard cardboard cover, Mum’s written: This book belongs to Kate Mary Summers. Her writing’s very neat – much neater than mine – and it slants forward as though it’s running. I lower my face into the pile of dirty yellow pages and breathe in its smell. It’s a dusty, papery smell that makes me want to sneeze. I squeeze my lips together and hold my breath and just about manage to stop myself.

There are hardly any colours in the en-cy-clo-pae-di-a, but every now and then there’s a whole page of them. I turn the pages carefully until I find my painted butterflies. Here they are. All different colours, with amazing wings full of spots and dashes and markings that look like tiger’s eyes. These shiny pages are like jewels in a pile of black and white paper. There’s another one that’s black and white and red. At the top it says, Little Verses for Very Little People and then As I was going to St Ives, I met a man with seven wives. There are seven fat ladies underneath with red and white striped dresses on and funny, curly white things on their heads. Underneath them it says, Every wife had seven sacks. And there’s a row of seven black sacks. What I want to know is who chooses which pages are going to be coloured in and why there aren’t more of them. Though I can sort of see why it’s good not to have too many. It makes them more special.

I turn over the page, holding the corner of the paper carefully between my finger and thumb so as not to tear it. The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up it says at the top of the pictures – no, not pictures, photographs – of a family. This is my favourite page of all, even though it hasn’t got any colours. It’s black and white. There’s a mum in a long dress, a dad giving someone a piggy-back, a boy in his pyjamas and a girl in a long white nightie. And there’s a dog who looks really friendly. The writing says, The Darling family at home, showing Michael on his father’s back. The next photograph is the best. It’s Peter Pan coming in through the window to look for his shadow. An actual photograph of Peter Pan – and I can see that he’s flying! I bend closer until my eyes are almost touching the paper and I can see the hundreds and hundreds of tiny black dots that make Peter Pan’s jacket so black, but I still can’t see any strings coming from his shoulders. No – he’s definitely flying.

And that was what I’d wanted to do with Peter – my Peter. I look up, out of the window, to where the trapeze hangs from the knobbly branch. Dad made it for me in his shed out of a bit of wood and some rope. Trapeze. What a word! Trap-ee-ee-eeze. I like the knots in it – the clever way they hold the wooden bar in place. Dad told me that ladies in tight spangly costumes could swoop right across the sky on their trapezes. I can almost see dad – not really of course, but in my head – hovering behind the ropes. Like a sort of shadow. The leaves flutter and the trapeze moves ever so slightly in the breeze. A trapeze breeze – I like the sound of that. And when the trapeze swings, its shadow swings with it over the grass and I can almost imagine that dad’s still here, watching me.

It’s an easy tree to climb. A breezy-easy-trapezey tree. You wedge your shoe into the split at the bottom of the trunk and pull yourself up until you can hoik your other foot onto the spindly bit sticking out on the right. Once you’ve got that out of the way, you’re off. It’s like climbing a ladder. The branches are in just the right places. We’d got right to the top. Peter was ahead of me, just like I used to go ahead of dad. In case you fall lad, you see, then I can catch you. Well that’s what I was doing. Climbing behind him in case he fell. He was good though and after the first tricky bit, he raced up. One minute his brown sandal, his white sock and his freckly skin were just above my head, the next minute they’d gone.

He climbed right up to the top and shook the branches so hard that I could feel the whole thing swaying – my feet moving out from under me, my arms reaching forward where I was holding on. Through the dancing yellow leaves, I could see flashes of muddy grass down below – so far away they made my head spin. It was me who told him to stop it, to come straight down before we fell off and broke our necks. He didn’t want to come. He was showing off, shouting and laughing, so I told him that the tree was fitted with a launch pad. That had got him interested. He didn’t even know what a launch pad was.

“It’s for rockets – for when they jet away into space with their supersonic thrust.”

He looked down at me, his fringe falling into his eyes. “Are we going to jet away?” The yellow ridged soles of his sandals were just above my face.

“Yep – we’re going to jump off the tree.”

“From here?” His eyes opened very wide.

“No silly – I’ll show you.”

I dangled my left leg until I felt the branch beneath my shoe, shifted my right hand along a bit, and then slid my right foot down the tree. I could hear Peter’s short, panting breaths as he followed me down. Good – I’d had enough of his shaking.

“This is it,” I said. We were much closer to the ground now. I could see each blade of grass sticking up and the dark, furry green moss that dad always used to moan about. I edged along the branch to give Peter room and he dropped down next to me. He made it look so easy. “Now –” I said, “Copy what I do.” I made sure that I had a firm grip of the higher branch and pushed away with my feet, swinging up and off and landing on the grass with a thud that made my ankles hurt. I sprang up and looked around. “There you are,” I said. “Easy-peasy.”

Peter had one hand on the tree trunk. With the other he was trying to reach the second branch, but it was too high. I could see the white tips of his teeth as he bit his bottom lip and waved his arm in front of him.

“It’s too far away,” I said. “You’ll just have to climb down the way we got up.”

I started to walk back towards the tree, pushing my feet through the crispy leaves, watching them shower up in front of me and twirl back down again. I hadn’t known he wouldn’t be able to reach the other branch, I really hadn’t, and that made it better somehow, because I hadn’t planned it. Then, just as I kicked my leg again, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark flash. I heard a shout and a thump – a heavy, dull thud – and then silence. I looked up. Peter was lying on his front on the grass, his arms and legs sticking out like a starfish. He must have jumped!

I could hardly breathe. All the air seemed to have been sucked out of me and my feet were stuck in the grass beneath the leaves. Why wasn’t he moving? After a moment, one of his legs twitched, and then his knee bent. He wriggled and pushed himself up with one of his arms and shook his head. Bits of dried mud fell out of his hair onto the grass. One of them got stuck in his jumper. And then – just as I was thinking that everything was going to be okay – he started to wail. So loudly that the sound seemed to echo inside my head. I covered my ears with the palms of my hands and, before I could think what to do next, Mum ran out of the back door. I’d never seen her go so fast. She raced towards Peter. She bent over him and said something that I couldn’t hear and he knelt up. That was when I knew that he really was all right, and all the breath that I’d been holding in came out in a great big whoosh.

“It wasn’t my fault Mum!” I shouted it out and chased over.

Mum didn’t answer. She sank down onto the grass – even though she had her dress on – and pulled Peter onto her lap and kept kissing his head. I stood there, twisting my hands behind my back.

“I’ll deal with you later.” She said it so quickly it made me jump.

“But it wasn’t my fault Mum.”

She still didn’t reply, just kept on kissing his hair until his crying turned to hiccups.

Norah’s downstairs with them now. Mum asked her to come over when she took Peter to hospital on the bus. She said she was pretty certain that he’d broken his finger. She hadn’t looked at me when she’d said it but I knew what she was thinking. It was as if I could read the words behind her eyes. Or under the skin of her face. When she and Peter finally came home, it turned out she’d been right. He had broken his finger. The little finger of his left hand.

Invisible Ink, published by Austin Macauley, is available in hardback, paperback and e-book from 30 November, and can be pre-ordered through Amazon