As promised: first peek at first chapter

Chapter 1: Castellina

No chance!

Absolutely no chance.

Alicia did the maths – the unknown darkness ahead, plus a scrawny physique that was more computer games than Olympic Games, equalled no way she could move fast enough. Absolutely no way.

After all, out-running a galloping horse is generally considered to be impossible. Unless the distance is short and you are a world-class athlete. Or you are astride a faster horse. Or you are a liar, happily embellishing the tale after the event. Alicia Bertoli was none of these things.

She peered into the blackness of the tunnel and listened. The noise was wild and unmistakeable: hooves ripping through the air and hitting stone with a rhythmic rapid repeat of four hammer strikes – four following four, following four, again and again and again. Coming closer. Growling louder.

A wave of hot wind, rushing ahead of the noise, crashed over her and smacked dust into her face.  Behind it, a swirling black cloud had started to fill the tunnel, gushing like oil flooding a pipe. If it reached her, she would drown. She flinched. She could feel the noise in her chest now. The dust in her mouth was bitter. It stung her eyes.

She had to escape. Panic tightened the muscles in her throat. Where was her Dad? Where was her brother? Why was she suddenly alone? “Dad!” she screamed. She span round. Should she run or seek shelter? Dad would know what to do. But she couldn’t see him.

Maybe she should run. Or hide. But she knew she couldn’t run fast enough. And there was nowhere to hide. Feeling trapped, she stepped backwards and pressed her shoulders into the cold stone wall of the tunnel. Her hand groped behind her and fell into the shallow recess of a door. She pushed. It didn’t move. She turned and grasped the door’s handle.

Screaming, she rattled it, “Please! Please open!” But the door didn’t budge. Its handle crumbled; splinters pricking her fingers. The door’s hinges were rusted and near its top left corner there was a jagged, broken gap in the grey decaying wood, just big enough for a hand. Fleetingly, Alicia felt the spirit of someone else trapped here, long ago: she shuddered as a ghostly vision, clawing desperately at the door, flashed into her head.

She slipped her hand into the rough hole, ignoring the tangling mesh of cobwebs at her finger tips and pulled herself in close, moulding her body to the wood. She held her breath and froze, barely moving even when a cockroach plunged into a crack above her left eye.

She waited.

“Please pass. Please pass. Please pass!”

Hooves pounded – metal-on-stone, metal-on-stone, metal-on-stone – the noise billowing in her ears and exploding against the tunnel’s unyielding walls. Her heart, leaping in her chest, banged on the old wooden door. But she could hear nothing other than the galloping horse. The black oily cloud engulfed her, wrapping choking fingers round her neck. She couldn’t breathe. This was impossible. It couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t!

Alicia was tired. It had been a long, languid and stiflingly hot summer day, followed by an excruciatingly slow evening. Her stomach was full of good Italian food. And she had always suffered from an overly vivid imagination.

“Look out for the ghost,” her uncle had joked. Was this vision a ghost? It seemed too real for that. She started to shiver uncontrollably, as every nerve in her body screamed that, ghost or not, she was trapped in a tunnel, with a knight on horseback charging straight at her. Only an hour ago, she had been at the restaurant. Her mind clutched at the reassuring memory of something normal. How had an ordinary evening led to this?

The Twins of Orion

Children dream in technicolor and to write the stories that children might dream is the greatest fun that an adult can have.

Just imagine a little man stepping out of the steamy cloud above your hot chocolate; imagine going on an adventure with him and meeting pirates, cannibals and real World War Two soldiers; imagine receiving an ancient curse and fighting to save yourself, your family and your planet and imagine entering a science-fiction fantasy world where the characters are named after the stars in the constellation Orion and boast about bungee jumping into black holes. This is The Silver Scorpion and it is the first book in a proposed Twins of Orion series.


“I loved the plot and I found it very exciting.  Please write other books because these are the sorts of books I enjoy.” Girl, 13yrs.


The Twins of Orion is a fantasy adventure series for children. It is fictional, though some of the history is based on real characters and events that actually happened. The sci-fi is not real. It would be fun if it was: imagine speaking to spirits; fighting monsters and travelling into space.


Book 1, The Silver Scorpion, is written. It is edited. And re-edited. And is being edited again. It has been read by several children, like the one above, whom I don’t know.

It isn’t published. Not yet. It’s still being edited. It will be submitted soon. Just exactly when I have finished editing it. Whenever that might be.


Where did the idea for this story come from?

It was inspired by two places – Castellina, a small town in Tuscany and Cambridge, a small city in England.

In Castellina, a tragedy is remembered on these steps,


this small, steep road is the scene of a terrible crime at the end of the Second World War


and a mediaeval knight in full armour gallops down this ancient stone tunnel.


In Cambridge, the market, the river and the colleges all feature in the story. It is also where waifs, playing ‘chicken’ with fireworks, are first encountered.


Lamps are a common theme throughout the book – waifs (the spirit children) gather round them to keep warm.

When you next walk past one – look for small faces reflected in the glass. Watch for movement in the shimmering, flickering light. Listen for the ringing hiss from the bulb – is it just the lamp or a cold whisper from a spirit child? I always look and listen and imagine.




Who are the principle characters?

There are three main characters – Alicia, Gussie and Min  although each would probably claim the lead role, while declaring the others mere support acts. Alicia is 13. She’s not a typical teenage girl – she loves the outdoors and is independent, feisty, and to her surprise discovers that she is quite brave. Gussie is a waif – the unloved and forgotten spirit of a dead boy. Min is a star – or that’s what he tells everyone. He and his family make up the constellation Orion. Again, that’s what he tells everyone. He can be anything you want him to be and anything he wants to be.


How did I write the story?

I wrote it like this


and carried a small book around in my pocket, so that I could jot down ideas wherever and whenever they popped into my head. Walking is terrific for clearing the brain and some of my best ideas pop up when I’m out for a walk.

Inspiration comes … Stopsketch – scribblestroll … like this –


Later, I copy into my laptop. And edit. I’m still editing. One day, I’ll finish. Probably.

I have started book 2. But it doesn’t have a name yet.


What’s in it?

Adventure – Fireworks – Pirates – Cannibals – Spirits – War – Soldiers – Stars – Monsters – Family – Ghosts – Wine – Food – Soldiers – a Pig – Pizza – Mediaeval knights – a Rooster – Pasta – twins – lots of pairs of twins


Where is it set?

It is set in real places in Tuscany and Cambridge. Book 2 will also travel for a wee while to Scotland, where it will find tales of smuggling, island hide-outs and sheep rustling. Book 3 (yes – planned in a vague I-know-where-it-will-go-probably sort of way) will delve deeper into the history of the knights who fought for fortune in Mediaeval Italy and book 4 will … I’m getting ahead of myself. In book 3 or 4 or 5, the curse introduced in book 1 will pass from Alicia to someone else. I know who that will be. I think. I don’t know however exactly how it will be passed. But if I get that far, and the story returns to the via delle Volte, in Castellina, expect Alberico, the terrible spectre of a mediaeval knight on horseback, to reappear – you have been warned.


What is the story about?

All the hints above – plus a curse, a mysterious talisman, kidnapping, wartime bravery, loyalty, and trusting others. Oh! … don’t forget the pirates, the cannibals, a dying dog (that will make you cry – I can’t read it without welling up), a starving rooster and the twins who bungee jump into black-holes. There’s a monster, too, who takes over people’s minds and will do anything, even kill, to win the mysterious talisman.


Where can you read the story?

Nowhere yet. But I will post some excerpts here soon.

So do come back

Copyright cnicholson 2015

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