Excerpt: MISSING Past and Present by Diana Jackson

Following the mysterious disappearance of her husband, Dorothy Gibbons, affectionately known as Lady Pink Hat, trudged the lanes around Drumford, homeless and directionless. Alone, she rolled a dice, reflecting on her life, times both painful and pleasant. She stumbled upon The Grange, which changed the course of her life. In her isolation and surrounded by old books Dorothy began to write …

An 18th Century aspirant nun, Millie, ran away from The Grange …

Jamal Hussain, a Syrian refugee and asylum seeker, was fostered under the careful wing of Dorothy until leaving school and finding work. He and his brother settled in a nearby flat until the misguided Ahmed Hussain also disappeared.

With three missing people, who will discover the truth? Is it Millie who is still haunting The Grange until her story is told?

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The Prologue

I HAVE VIVID memories of feeling restless one evening early in the autumn of 1985. My husband, Gerald, and I had recently been through fertility tests and now we knew that I would never be able to birth children naturally. Instead of reflecting on what next, Gerald threw himself into his work. On the other hand I felt lost; numb by the enormity of the realisation that I would never set eyes on a tiny life conceived in love, or have the privilege to watch our child grow. I took to strolling down into Belmont Park in the evenings after work.

On one particular occasion as the sun was setting and a full moon, already traversing on its arc through the sky, peered from the glassy stillness of the lake. The tiny island of scrubland fronted with birds’ nests protected in the shallows, was now in shadow. I sat on a bench where my eyes were led over undulating grassy slopes on the far bank towards a stone folly. This structure of four external Roman columns held a green domed roof which covered a sandstone building. Alcoves at regular intervals protected statues of gods, some preserved, a few damaged and several missing. This was the only reminder of Belmont House, once a grand palatial mansion, now in ruins. Only part of its footprint was still visible, rising raggedly between shrubberies, sometimes forming irregular backdrops to the planting. Three towering oaks, must be four hundred years old at least, formed a circle to my left; sentinels watching silently over me.

Beneath these majestic trees a pin prick of dancing light caught my eye. It seemed to settle a while on a leaf of the nearest tree before somersaulting across the grass towards the ruins. There it hovered, as if searching for something. I was mesmerised, a tingle of emotion seeping through my body to the tips of my fingers as it flew to the top of the folly’s dome and vanished upwards.

A trick of the light maybe? A moth, whose fluorescent pattern on its dark wings was caught in the moonlight – another plausible possibility? A firefly? Whatever the truth in the matter my eyes were drawn further upwards to a row of familiar larch trees, behind which was the house I called home.

That day I followed the path of the ‘moth – beetle’, paused a few moments under the trees, ambled through the ruins and then stood on the steps of the folly, my eyes turning back towards the town of Drumford; the River Dee and Canbury Woods in the far distance.

It was years later, when my life imploded, never to be the same again, that I remembered that strange light.

Looking back I wonder, does life follow a planned destiny or is it full of chance encounters; just like a throw of a dice?


I DISCOVERED A dice in the hedgerows yesterday whilst foraging for blackberries. I was about just before sunrise, eager to be the first to reach them before the hoards of WI jam makers. A burnt orange hue dappled the horizon. I smiled. This scrubland was like a hidden nature garden, allowed to grow wild in a bowl of tall grasses and native flowers. The sight of cowslips, foxgloves and even bee orchids at certain times of the year lifted my positive energy levels. Butterflies and bees hovered in abundance. Two ancient trees, an oak and a magnificent horse chestnut marked the boundary between this sanctuary and a field of oats, bristly from the recent harvest. In winter, the fingers of their bare branches contrasted with even the greyest of skies, reaching ever outwards. Occasionally, on balmy summer nights I’ve slept in this haven out in the open, glimpsing stars through the leafy canopy. At times like those I must admit to feeling fortunate to be relieved of the trappings of modern life.

Last night though, I was huddled in an abandoned shed which I had adopted for my late summer home. Pulling my coat around my shoulders I sat for a while glancing across allotments towards the village of Canbury, the Victorian stone building of the primary school visible through the bushes, and I imagined the community shop on the village green closing after their long day. To my left across the valley the town of Drumford, familiar to me from childhood to the present day, lay in the evening mist quietly brooding. Pushing the ill fitting door to, I sighed, shutting out the sights but not the memories.

There in the quiet of the shed, chapters of my life that I’d blanked out for the last two years as I had learnt to survive from day to day came one by one. Trying the distraction of food I dined on two stale cheese sandwiches, made more palatable by the dandelion and young honesty leaves I’d picked from under the brambles, followed by a dessert of fresh ripe blackberries, some juice escaping unhindered down my chin. I rolled the dice absentmindedly.

With each roll a scene arrived as vivid clips of movies in my mind.

In life I don’t think that I’ve thrown a six more than once or twice. What would a six have been, I pondered? Maybe if I’d ever had children of my own it would certainly have been a six. I can imagine holding the tiny mite in my arms for the first time, my whole body glowing with the sheer bliss of the moment, in the aftermath of the pain of birthing.

Unfortunately I have not been blessed that way. I revelled in my imagination for a while before a scratching brought me out of my reverie. I smiled as a tiny field mouse, which I had recently elected as my closest friend, nibbled at the crumbs I’d dropped, before scampering back into its own hideaway. My eyes rested on a crumpled copy of The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy, found in a charity shop a few months previously. Thoughts came unbidden of my calling. I was a librarian for years but I fancy that a position at the Bodleian Library at Oxford would have been a six for me too. This dog-eared copy would not have graced the shelves of any library in its current state, let alone the Bodleian, and yet it held words I dearly treasured. As I stroked its cover, I knew it was no coincidence that the volume fell open at The Vagrant.

When I married Gerald full of love and hope was a six, though in truth most good marriages are probably fives.  For shame on you I can hear you romantics cry. I am a realist you see and believe that, as time drifts on, a five probably sums up most of our dreams for marital bliss; that comfortable partnership rooted in a deep trust, formed over years of loyalty, friendship and yes, love. We also had our difficulties because my background was Jewish but Gerald’s was Church of England. I agreed to attend his church and that was that. I found the scripture puzzling at first, but church attendance and the overall message it relayed was quite comforting, in its own way.

A five? When, at the age of three Beverly appeared, complete with cot at my bedside on Christmas morning. Ironic that my favourite doll was the closest I came to nurturing my own offspring. Then there was being accepted for my first real job at Drumford Library. The thought of a lifetime in the presence of books – thousands of novels by authors I revered and many deliciously unknown. And I was going to be paid too. Incredible! Or there was a time I had some savings in Premium Bonds – it seemed safer than the lottery to me. At least I felt I wasn’t throwing my money away each week. I won £5,000. Wow! It felt like a million dollars at the time. It wasn’t life changing. I couldn’t buy a yacht or a second home in Greece. We did have a holiday in Corfu though, the last but one break abroad Gerald and I ever enjoyed together, bringing memories of the sun’s miraculous glow, the vivid blueness of the Mediterranean Sea and the ambience of Greek Tavernas. On the other hand I recall that Gerald was distracted – always on his mobile or furtively sneaking his laptop down to the bar where there was Wi-Fi while I was in the shower, thinking I didn’t ‘ have an inkling’.

A four? Yes there were numerous fours in our lives and I should be content with my lot. Anniversary celebrations? What about the one where we had a meal floating along the Thames and then on the London Eye we watched London and Big Ben move ever so slowly towards the setting sun? It was a perfect day and would have been a six if we hadn’t arrived home to find our heating had packed up. I reflected on how quickly an event can alter in value on a scale of one to six.

There was the occasion; bored with life and depressed by the unsatisfactory conclusion of infertility treatment – a one almost certainly became a four  when I had an illicit affair with a man just over half my age. He’d been studying in the library. What was his name now? Must have been nearly twenty five years ago. A quarter of a century. Max! How could I have forgotten Max? Max was a four certainly. I couldn’t handle the subterfuge and soon put an end to it. He haunted me in the library for a while after that. I’d be putting some books away and turn and he’d be standing behind me, or I’d be at the main desk and he’d come to make an enquiry, just as an excuse to talk to me. I had none of it. It was my own stupid fault. He soon gave up, out of boredom probably, and went to pester someone far more interesting.

Meet Diana Jackson

After six years in the wilderness, (wandering the Fife Coastal Path and finding her way back to writing, to be precise!) author Diana Jackson is about to launch the second novel in her Mystery Inspired by History series. A retired teacher of sixty one years, Diana Jackson has published five works since 2009. Her first, historical romantic fiction, Riduna, set in the Victorian era, was published by Pegasus Elliot Mc Kenzie in 2009 but was re-launched by Eventispress in 2012 – a writer’s indie collaborative publisher, through which all her other works have been published:

2012 Ancasta, Guide me Swiftly Home ~ Riduna’s sequel

2013 The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell ~ a memoir

2014 Murder Now and Then ~ a mystery set in two time zones, 1919 and 2019

2017 The Healing Paths of Fife ~ a personal fantasy memoir

After moving to Fife from Bedfordshire in 2014 Diana has had a break from her life as an author to settle into her new life within the Kinghorn Community. The Healing Paths of Fife tells of that journey. Rejuvenated, she finally turned to finishing MISSING, Past and Present.

Diana writes, ‘This novel is special to me because it is influenced, in part, by my experience volunteering in a soup kitchen in Bedfordshire and also at a local food-bank here in Fife. My experience as a course team leader and personal tutor at a College of Further Education in the heart of Luton and a teacher of English as a Second Language is also reflected, where I gained valuable insights into social issues and difficulties some young people of today face.

Connect with Diana:

Website: https://pa8028.wixsite.com/dianamj
Blog: https://dianamj.wordpress.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Riduna
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorDianaJackson/

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