Amy hits York

Published by: John Taylor on 19th Sep 2012 | View all blogs by John Taylor

Amy was at the Festival of Writing. She’s always with me, and whether I like it or not, I never stop seeing the world through her eyes. But on that first evening at York, I got distracted, and Amy had to fend for herself. She just about manages the same trick in the pages of a yet-to-be published novel, known in different versions as Sky in their Eyes and The Blackbird Effect.


All looking at me

‘Don’t fall in the lake!’ That’s what my sister told me at the station. Stupid. But she rolled her eyes and said, ‘There’ll be wine.’ And she said York University is big, and don’t get lost. And it’s got ducks and geese.

York University. I can’t say university. It sticks in my mouth and comes out funny – like disability and Chardonnay. Becca said to ask for Chardonnay at the bar, cos it’s my best wine.

There’s all sunshiny people hugging by the door, and bags and cases like a holiday. And wandering lost people and hurry-people too busy for me. And there’s this worried smiley girl. She says, ‘Hello Amy, I half expected you would be here.’ And her name is Laura and she tells me I can ask for her if I feel lost, and she shows me where to go.

The man gives me a card, but it’s a key, he says… I don’t know. Never mind, there’s tea and I like tea. And free biscuits. And talking people, all with badges on. Talking long-word talk, boring talk, but they seem happy with it.

I’ve got a badge, and it says Amy Bothwell with an A and a B, cos I know those letters. And here’s a smiling face right in front of me. She’s looking at my badge and saying, ‘Hello, Amy!’

Her badge has a pretty blue sticker with a cloud on it. Got to say something. ‘Hello Cloud…’

And she laughs nice and points at some letters, and there’s a big B. I know B. ‘Hello, B…’

‘Barb, that’s my name. You must be John’s friend.’

I look round – can’t see him. ‘Don’t worry, Amy,’ she says. ‘You’re safe here – I’ll find you some more friends.’

She calls across the room, and a soft voice comes out of the crowd. ‘Hello, Amy.’ A warm, fun voice: like the girl in Brave. Mandy, she’s called, and she has blue eyes and dark hair just like me. Mandy is real excited to see me, and gives me a big warm hug. She knows all about me and Becca, and all the stuff we did.

Everything about me – she helped John get it written properly – SCARY EMBARRASSING!

But she says, ‘Don’t worry, Amy – we’re friends. And you’ve nothing to be ashamed of.’

That’s two ‘don’t worry’ people. Mandy and Barb.

But now I’ve got a one-to-one, someone says, cos there’s a free space.

I’m sitting at a little table with a woman who’s all grown-up-in-charge. She looks straight at me and says there’s not much time. And she’s got paper with all writing stuff on. Me-stuff. Like what I do and how I feel. She’s got me-stuff on that paper.

And she’s talking, telling me she likes the way the two voices fit together. And I can’t face her any more. She’s looking right inside me.


Amy’s fringe fell over her eyes. She grabbed a pencil from the table, and it moved over my notes, not between her fingers, but in her fist. A figure appeared, with eyes, a round mouth and sticks for arms and legs. A figure without a body.

Her knuckle went white, and I heard a crack as the pencil snapped in half.

Amy bashed the table with her hand, the bits of pencil flew up, and she wailed, ‘NOT FAIR!’

The buzz of voices stopped.


I can’t look and I can’t listen, cos she WON’T UNDERSTAND!

I’m here, ME!

Not on that stupid paper!

And I haven’t got Mandy or Laura or John to tell the woman and I can’t sit still and I need the toilet and I’ve got to RUN!

And my legs get stuck in the table and I fall and the table falls and the woman falls and we scramble up.

All the people are looking.


All looking at me.


‘Real sorry,’ I say, ‘Desperate…’


And a sad man by the wall says, ‘We’re all desperate…’

And someone shows me where to go.

But now I can’t go back in there, cos of all the not-fair stuff. And that woman fell over and she might be hurting.

And I’m running outside and there’s ducks and water and I bump into a man with sticky-out hair. He laughs, and says, ‘You’re in a hurry.’ And then he says, ‘Oh… It’s you.’

‘Can’t…’ I say, and I point at the room with the scary one-to-ones.

And he says, ‘It’s OK, Amy. You don’t need to go back in there. They sent you in by mistake – that’s just for the authors.’

‘Real?’ And my breathing’s gone all funny, but he’s got a best calm-down voice and lets me hold his arm.

He says, ‘Fiona Griffiths nearly freaked out when I showed her in there. What you might call an existential shock.’ He chuckles, and says, ‘Never mind…’

And he’s called Harry, and I bet he never stays still.

He’s gone, and I’m standing looking at the lake. And someone else is here: a schoolgirl with her back to one of the pillars. She’s gripping it real tight with her hands, and her eyes look scared. More alone than anyone else ever.

I take a few breaths and lose my scary feelings, cos she need someone bad.

‘You OK, Clara?’ I say. She must be Clara.

She won’t look at me.

‘Clara?’ And I can see her arms shaking. ‘You need…?’

Her face has changed. I can see Mandy’s blue eyes. ‘I’ve got a one-to-one,’ she mutters, and her eyes go everywhere.

And she’s Clara again, and I say, ‘Be OK. Be fine! Stay out here.’ And I take her hand and it’s all cold. ‘Mandy go in,’ I say. ‘Mandy be fine. She’s a writer – real!’

‘You think?’ And it’s Mandy’s voice again, and her hand feels warmer, and she smiles a bit, and goes on in, but Clara’s still here with me, looking at her feet. And we wait forever and ever – just me and Clara, not saying stuff, waiting.

Mandy comes back, big smiley face, and gives Clara a biggest hug, and says the man wants to see a manuscript. I’m not sure what that is, but it’s a happy word.

A crowd of people walk past, but this small woman stops. She has the reddest hair and eyes that shine special warm, and she says, ‘Coming to the bar, Amy?’

Mandy says, ‘Hi Debi! Have you seen John? Amy’s on her own.’

And Debi hasn’t.

‘Typical,’ Debi says. ‘Can’t even look after his guests.’

I tell them John’s nervous about meeting his agent, cos he gets like that. Thinks Juliet will be too busy to see him. Maybe he’s hiding. But Juliet and me get on fine, and he’s just being John.

Clara says, ‘There he is!’

He’s over there, feeding the ducks, and Clara runs off to join him, cos Clara and John are real good friends, like me and Mandy.

Mandy tells me why he’s all funny nervous. ‘He cares for you, Amy – just the way I care for Clara.’


Debi says, ‘Maybe he’s frightened readers will see someone different. Frightened they won’t see the real you, because his writing might not be good enough. Or even worse, that they will see the real you, but won’t care. It’s risky, showing our work to other people.’


‘Scary and exciting,’ Mandy says. ‘Personal – you would call it inside stuff. Right inside.’

Mandy tells Clara we’re off for a glass of wine, cos we need one. But Clara doesn’t look up. She’s busy texting someone back home, and John has wandered off again. So me and Debi and Mandy head for the bar.

Now I’m sitting down with my glass, I feel better. The wine tastes all sunny and lazy, and I can look around. There’s people… and there’s people. Author-nervy-excited people, and other people like me and Clara.

Debi says that’s her friend Emma over there. And Emma’s other person has this long dress like a princess and funny hair, and she’s standing real straight, looking sad.

There’s a bunch of those other-type people round one of the authors, all laughing with their wine glasses and shiny shoes. Mandy says the author is Julie, and she met me in a one-to-one last year, but I don’t do remembering well.

I can see a man trying to hide behind Debi. He’s in a suit and tie, and looks wrong here. Debi grins and shakes her head. ‘I shouldn’t have told Stanley it was a conference.’

And I whisper in Debi’s ear, and she’s got a big best laugh, cos I tell her Stanley’s left his fly undone, and I’ve never seen a wotsit like that.

I look around me at all the other people, and there’s little people and Goth people and green people and mermaids and a soldier standing by the curtain, pointing a gun out of the window. And a man with greasy hair and a long raincoat, but I don’t want to look at him. And there’s happy dead people with pints of beer, and even a dragon, but he’s drinking scotch.

And I’m looking at the author-people. Debi says that’s Jock with his big smile and laughing voice. Alan is with him, with his big moustache and deep voice, and there’s Flick with big eyes and a gentle voice.

And I can see agent-people too. I can see Juliet with her lovely smile and soft voice, and she waves to me real nice. No sign of John.

I’m liking York now, with the wine, and more wine, and the people and the other people. But authors can be a pain.



  • Squidge
    by Squidge 5 years ago
    Oh. My. Goodness.
    John - this is superb. (I am typing with tears running down my face...) Thank you for bringing the characters alive.
  • Andrew James
    by Andrew James 5 years ago
    Wow. Wow wow wow.

  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 years ago
    What they said :-D
  • Neil Evans
    by Neil Evans 5 years ago
    Thats brilliant, mate
  • Debi
    by Debi 5 years ago
    Saw this earlier today. It's one of my fave pieces submitted so far. You're so special, John.
  • sirtanicmills
    by sirtanicmills 5 years ago
    Fabulous John. I was moved too. No tears, obviously.
  • CJ
    by CJ 5 years ago
    Yeah... just - wow. I'm thinking everyone should have an Amy in their life now. Gorgeous xx
  • Tony
    by Tony 5 years ago
    Terrific piece, John. You should get Amy to write you a review of The Blackbird Effect. Maybe you already have.
  • Autumn
    by Autumn 5 years ago
    Really wonderful, John. xx
  • MinxieAD
    by MinxieAD 5 years ago
    Brilliant, John. You have an amazing imagination!

    I wonder what York would be like if just the characters from our plots turned up? I love Amy, so hope I get to meet her one day :)
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 5 years ago
    Oh my - you are all lovely people. Sirtanic, I'll lend you a hanky if you ever need one. As for being special, Debi, I'm just the storyteller. Amy grew from many real models, and I've been lucky, as CJ hints, to have them all in my life. I told a scary ghost story with one of them this afternoon, and we ended up nearly falling off the sofa with laughter. Sadly, I also heard that one of Amy's peers died today, so I'm feeling a bit emotional. One more reason for trying to get their voices 'out there'.
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 years ago
    I wonder what Amy thinks of blind publishers who don't recognise gold when they read it? ;-)
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 years ago
    Crossed with you, John. Sorry to hear about Amy's friend. xxx
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 5 years ago
    One word from Amy on said publishers who didn't pick up GD's book (she is a bit short on expletives, not being able to interpret them, but Skylark will recognize this one from Amy) creeps!
  • Skylark
    by Skylark 5 years ago
    Well, quite! :-D
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 5 years ago
    Amy's friend had a sad story that I predicted some time ago - but I will save that for another day. Thank you, Skylark.
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 5 years ago
    Mate. The world is a better place for having you in it.
  • Tenacityflux
    by Tenacityflux 5 years ago
    That was lovely, thank-you!
  • Andrew James
    by Andrew James 5 years ago
    so touched that Amy notices; I'm in her camp, too
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 5 years ago
    Well, you certainly got the story out there John. I almost believe I spotted Amy there. Wonderful stuff.
  • Hil
    by Hil 5 years ago
    This is amazing. I could really see all the characters milling around with the authors. Lovely. Thank you.
  • MarkR
    by MarkR 5 years ago
    John, this is just brilliant and so are you.
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 5 years ago
    Alan - you too, mate. Tfx, Athelstone and Hil - wonderful to meet you in person - I almost said from both of us, but too many schizophrenic moments in one evening can't be good.
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 5 years ago
    GD - Amy notices people, and without the smoke screen of language that most of us depend on, she can be extremely perceptive. She might be illiterate, but she recognizes true creative spirits.
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 5 years ago
    Now you've got me blushing, Mark. All of you have given me a great dose of confidence this evening - it has been low, so thank you, one and all.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 5 years ago
    What an extraordinary piece of writing, John. And what a rich imagination you and Amy have. Quite a roller-coaster of a lovely story. I remember reading a piece of 'Blackbird', three years ago on Uncut Edge and wanting more. I've never forgotten it and can't wait for the full version.
    I don't suppose Amy noticed a chicken running around the campus, did she? I expect its essence would have been very thin, from having been there from two years before. Do you think others are still there? Or are they tied to their authors umbilically? S'pose so. That'll be why. They all go home with us.
    Lovely, lovely piece.
  • GippsGirl
    by GippsGirl 5 years ago
    Exquisite. A real joy to read.
  • Flickimp
    by Flickimp 5 years ago
    Brilliant :)
    And the gentle voice bit . . . I suppose I do have one of those.

    That was a fantastic read and brought back the spirit of the Festival and the support provided whether it be to those we know or some we've never heard of. There was something different about this year's event compared to the last. Maybe, because it was my second, or maybe because there was greater gusto for all to mix and frisk.

    Looking forward to the next one, and hopefully (unless you get agented/published/biographied/talk-showed) see you all again. Including Amy.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 5 years ago
    Now the next morning, just wanted to let you know that I dreamed of this last night. All those characters mingling. I loved the idea of the jumble of ghosts - pirates and dragons and so on. Some I recognised, others we new to me, but felt familiar anyway. A gorgeous read.
  • John Taylor
    by John Taylor 5 years ago
    I agree Flick - it was different this time. I think last time, a lot of us felt down about the state of the book world. The situation hasn't got much better, but maybe we've learned to stick together and find our own ways around it. Everyone was much more positive this year, and the mutual support was fantastic.
    Thank you, GippsGirl
    CW - I've dreamed that dream several times - I wonder whether we've been sharing dreams? In the novel, Amy keeps chickens (remember me asking for advice a long time ago?), and has to learn to say something approximating, ''organic free-range chicken farmer', so if there was a chicken there, Amy would have found it. xxx
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