• See You In My Dreams •
A ghost story with a difference
One night, fifteen-year-old Eve wakes up to find a boy in her room: the most gorgeous, funny, exciting boy she's ever met. In fact, Jack is perfect in just about every way - except for the fact that he's a ghost.
Somehow, Eve has to find out what's happened to Jack and send him back to 1930, where he belongs. It seems an impossible task. After all, what's done is done. Or is it?
I was trying to write a story about a girl meeting a ghost and this seemed a good way to start, except for the fact that it could have become too frightening and I didn’t want to write a thriller. Perhaps that’s why Jack, my ghost, became the character he did: friendly, funny and interested in everything. He knows nothing about Eve and her world so he looks at it from another angle and can give her a different perspective. She’s having a tough time: her sister’s anorexic, her parents are splitting up and she’s falling out with her best friend. Jack takes her mind off her problems and gives her self-confidence. She feels he must have turned up in her life for a reason – so that she can help him – but he helps her, too.
The more I wrote about Jack, the more I began to wonder what someone from 1930 would make of the way we live now. It struck me that the fact we’re so connected by internet and mobile phones would be one of the first things he’d notice, as well as the ease with which people travel round the world. Our lives have become more crowded and more public. There are still similarities with the thirties, though. Times are getting harder for us economically, just like they were in 1930. Millions of Americans had lost money in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, when the stock market collapsed and shares became virtually worthless. Fortunes were lost, ruined financiers jumped from skyscrapers, and the knock-on effects spread across the world. After the confidence of the 1920s, unemployment rose and people everywhere suffered real hardship. Eve’s great-grandmother and her set are trying to cling on to the fun of the roaring twenties, but that era was soon over.
Bright Young Things
The young people of the 1920s – the Bright Young Things, or Bright Young People, as they were known – became notorious for their parties, their clothes, their manners and their morals. Perhaps many of them were trying to blot out the horror of the Great War, which had taken the lives of so many of their fathers and older brothers, by refusing to take anything seriously. Enjoying yourself became the main purpose of life, with increasingly extravagant and elaborate escapades: fancy-dress parties and treasure hunts through London, for example. The Bath and Bottle party in 1928, where guests in bathing suits drank cocktails till dawn at public swimming baths in Chelsea, and the Second Childhood Party of 1929, with drinks served from a bar set up in a playpen and dolls, bottles and pacifiers given to guests arriving in prams, were both widely reported in the newspapers. The older generation were scandalized by the ‘flappers’ with their shingled (bobbed) hair, boyish figures and short hemlines, and by the effete young men who ran around with them – so different from the glorious soldiers who had given their lives for their country.
After this decade of decadence, the Bright Young People began to look increasingly ridiculous throughout the 1930s. Hitler and the Nazi party had come to power in Germany and, despite the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s desperate attempts to negotiate peace, just over twenty years after the last conflict had ended, war was declared again.
If you’d like to find out more about the period, D J Taylor’s book, Bright Young People, gives a fascinating account of those times.
Here's an extract from 'See You in My Dreams':
I woke up with a start, as though someone had leant over the bed and prodded me. It must have been the middle of the night; there were hardly any cars driving past outside and no grey dawn light leaching round the edge of my curtains. I lay there in the dark, on edge because things were not as they should have been. A noise had disturbed me, and all of a sudden I knew I wasn’t alone.
My bedroom is set apart from the others on a little half-landing at the top of the stairs, looking out over the back garden. I thought about shouting for help, but Mum and Dad and my sister Kate must have been asleep, and as soon as I opened my mouth, let alone screamed loudly enough to wake them up, whoever was there would have been on to me in a second. So how did he (it must have been a he) get past our dog, Benson? Benson might lick a burglar to death, but surely he would at least bark if somebody broke into the house.
I lay there, trying to summon the courage to turn on my bedside light. And then I sensed a tiny movement in the chair by the window, the chair that should have been piled high with clothes I hadn’t put away all week, and I had to do something because I couldn’t bear the thought of somebody watching me in the darkness a second longer. In one quick movement, I snaked out a hand from under my duvet and turned on the lamp, praying my chair would be full of dirty washing and nothing else.
It isn’t. Somebody is sitting there.
So now I do open my mouth to scream, because I can’t possibly do anything else, but all that comes out is a pathetic little whimper. My voice dies in my throat.
‘It’s all right,’ says this person who’s broken into my bedroom in the middle of the night, ‘I won’t hurt you. Please don’t be alarmed.’
We sit there, staring at each other – me in the bed and the boy in my chair. He’s a boy I recognize because I’ve dreamed about him and I’ve seen his photograph, only it’s a photograph that was taken in 1930. It can’t be him, surely. But he has the same brown hair and intense dark eyes, and he’s wearing the evening clothes I remember from my dream: a high-collared shirt with a white bow tie, and a black dinner jacket and trousers with a shiny stripe up the side. Everything about him is clear and sharp, distinct. He’s looking at me as though I’m some kind of animal in a zoo.
‘Who are you?’ I whisper eventually. ‘What do you want?’
‘I don’t want anything.’ He shifts about uncomfortably. ‘To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing here.’
Well, if he doesn’t know, I certainly can’t tell him. It must be one of two things: either he’s come to steal something or attack me. I hope it’s the first, so I stammer, ‘My laptop’s on the floor by the bed. Just take it and go.’
He starts looking around the floor but he doesn’t seem to notice the laptop. Maybe it’s too bulky for him to carry, so I add, ‘Or you can have my phone if you’d rather.’ It’s on my bedside table, and I quickly scoot it across the carpet ˗˗ anything to get rid of him, though it doesn’t go very far – then curse myself for being so stupid. How am I going to ring the police now?
He looks at the phone as though he’s never seen anything so strange. ‘You mean, this a telephone?’ he asks. ‘How extraordinary. It’s not attached to anything. And why is it so ridiculously small? There isn’t even a proper earpiece.’ He makes as if to get out of the chair and pick it up.
‘Don’t come near me!’ I say loudly, holding up one of my pillows like a shield. ‘I haven’t got any cash,’ I tell him over the top of it, ‘but I could go downstairs and get my mum’s purse.’ Maybe I can call the police from the kitchen.
‘Oh, I have plenty of money,’ he says, sitting back down in the chair. ‘Would you like some?’ And he starts jingling coins around in his trouser pockets. ‘It’s the least I can do after barging in on you like this.’
‘No!’ I lower the pillow. What sort of burglar is he? ‘Just go away and leave me alone. Please!’
He frowns. ‘Well, I would,’ he says, ‘but the thing is, I’m not absolutely sure how I got here in the first place. Could you possibly tell me where I am?’
So that’s the answer, I think. Although he might look like the boy in the photograph, he’s actually a patient who’s escaped from the psychiatric hospital down the road and wandered into our house, of all places. He seems harmless enough but I’m going to have to watch my step because he could turn violent in a second; I’ve seen enough episodes of Casualty to know that. ‘We’re in South London,’ I say carefully. ‘Perhaps I can ring for somebody to come and collect you?’
‘Might be worth a try,’ he says. ‘Everyone may still be down in Kent, but the London number’s Kensington 3147.’
‘I don’t think that’s going to work,’ I say, and he replies, ‘No, you could be right. We’ve been having terrible trouble with the exchange.’