hollie hughes

I am a Children's Author based in Essex, England. This is a blog about my life and work but, more often than not, about anything and everything else that occurs to me! I sometimes publish short stories, flash fiction and poetry for adults here too . . .

Potential

First published in ‘A Great Little Gallimaufry: A miscellany of writing linked to Essex’, Stanhope Books, 2016

He had always known he was clever. Well, that is to say, he could not remember ever not being aware of being clever – which is not quite the same thing, but might as well be. He could though specifically recall the first time his mum had realised he was clever. He had just turned five, and the parents were invited in to look at their work in the classroom.
‘Bloody ‘ell, Jayden,’ she’d said. ‘You don’t really get all this, do you?’ She’d been looking at some maths work in his book.
He’d looked at her incredulously ‘Of course I get it. What d’you think I am? A field mouse or something?’
It didn’t quite register at first, but then she’d laughed. A kind of choking sound that had stuck in his mind for the next six years. It had taken him a while to work out why the laugh had sounded so strange, until finally he’d realised it was because it was the only time he’d ever genuinely heard her laugh at all. Of course, it wasn’t the maths that made her choke – he knew that. It was the thing about the field mice.

It wasn’t long after this that she’d signed him up to the football team. He accepted it as a kind of penance for being different, and because he’d felt sorry for her – even then. She would stand on the side lines, shouting until she went hoarse. The dads eyed her up approvingly – if only their own wives and girlfriends took such an interest. It was sad really, her being all on her own like that. Sometimes they tried to make conversation with her, and she’d smile and laugh. Never the real laugh though. Jayden was still waiting to hear that again.

Jayden’s dad had not ever realised just how bright his son was. This was because, even if Jayden had bounced into this world calculating algebraic equations and reciting Shakespeare, Jayden’s father would not even then have noticed. This was because Jayden’s father had not stuck around past the first trimester – let alone until the due date.

By the time Jayden got to juniors, the football had stopped. He’d asked for books for his birthday. In fact, he’d helpfully supplied his mum with a list – children’s literature not really being her thing.
‘I haven’t got the money for books, Jayden,’ she’d said. ‘All that football stuff ain’t cheap you know – and you wouldn’t like it if I bought you Tesco’s own boots, would you?’
He’d quietly explained then that he didn’t really like the football – never had done. Was unlikely, in fact, ever to do so in the future. He would much rather have the books, and he didn’t care about brand names either – brand names were for losers who couldn’t think for themselves. So she got him Nikes for his birthday – the cheapest ones you could get. But they said Nike on them, so that was ok. She didn’t make him go back to football though.

The tuition centre was on the main road, just outside of town. Jayden knew where it was, because they’d passed it on the bus last summer holidays– when he’d had to go with her to the office cleaning job. She said it was best if he went to the classes on his own – the other kids might make fun of you, she’d said, if your mum takes you. He knew she was hiding something, but he didn’t want to think about it too deeply. If a parent can keep a laugh from you, they could keep anything a secret, Jayden thought. And there were some things – some adult things – that Jayden at age 10 did not want to contemplate. Things that were just outside of his grasp, that he did not yet want to reach for. Not like the other boys in his class, tripping and falling over themselves to get close to adult secrets.

Of course, when he got there, he was the only kid not to be accompanied – just as he’d thought really. The tutor – Mr Merrill – seemed pleased enough to see him though.
‘Ah, Jayden,’ he’d said. ‘Delighted, delighted . . . Yes, come in, come in, do sit down, we’ll be starting in just a minute.’ Jayden really hoped he didn’t repeat everything he said like that. They started twenty minutes later, just as soon as the parents had all finished telling Mr Merrill how clever their kids were already.

When he got back that night, he’d asked her again.
‘I told you Jayden,’ she’d said. ‘Why d’you have to keep on about it? I just happened to leave your report on the side at Ken’s (from when I was getting my fags out – you know that) and, when I went back the next time, he said you had potential.’
Potential. She sounded the word out slowly, as if she was teaching him something.
‘Count yourself lucky – how much must Tom Shore’s mum be paying out for his tutor?’
‘Tom doesn’t go to Mr Merrill – he goes to a proper tutor, in her house.’
She let it go. ‘Ken said it’s a shame, that’s all – it’s a shame to see all that potential going to waste.’
‘Are you doing his cleaning for free now then?’
‘He’s not charging, Jayden. He’s doing it to help.’

The trainers were wearing thin now, and he had to scrunch his feet up when he walked. He kept his toenails short, and his skin thick.

One night, after tuition, Mr Merrill told him to stay behind. He couldn’t, Jayden said – he had to get back before mum went out again to her night shift. They only had one key, you see. Mr Merrill had bent down over the desk; close enough for Jayden to see the pools of yellow spittle forming in the corners of his mouth.
‘You’re not making it very easy for me to stick to my side of the bargain, Jayden’ he’d hissed, straight into Jayden’s face. His breath smelt sour, of coffee and fags – and frustrated opportunity. Jayden felt pretty sure he wouldn’t have ever spoken to one of the paying kids like that.

Jayden sensed that the secrets were unravelling now, and that it would no longer be possible to put things back to how they were before – like a map that, once unfolded, would never lie factory flat again.
‘No one gets anything for nothing, Jayden,’ she’d snapped back at him that night.
‘But you said we would get it for nothing though, didn’t you? You said he wanted to help.’
She didn’t answer then, just kept right on surfing her phone. The conversation was over, and he wouldn’t ask again.

The next day, there was a fresh pair of Nikes waiting for him on his bed. Not the cheapest ones this time either.

Sometimes Jayden thought about the field mice. He thought that even the field mice must have realised where they were in the food chain – it didn’t take a badger to work it out. He wondered at the lack of imagination on the teacher’s behalf; that they might just as well have labelled them all 1-5.

The queue for the 11-plus wound all the way down to the corner, and into the next road. In spite of them saying he wouldn’t see anyone he knew, Jayden found himself just a few families back from Tom Shore. They gave one another a self-conscious salute. Tom looked nervous. He didn’t have to be – he hadn’t been a field mouse. But then he hadn’t been a badger like Jayden either.

They’d told him how it was all going to work a week before the exam. Not at the tuition centre – at Ken’s house. He’d sat on the sofa dinking lukewarm orange squash, like a five year old. It was all a bit of a mix up, Mr Merrill had said. The other boy had been registered, but Jayden hadn’t – something to do with the online registration.
‘You know what I’m like on computers, Jay,’ his mum had said.
Spent enough time on her new phone though, didn’t she.
‘Still – every cloud and all that,’ Mr Merrill had said. ‘No reason not to turn the situation to a mutually beneficial advantage.’
No one would even know who he was, they’d said. Just sign in, and use the other boy’s details on the paper. Easy. Jayden’s mum didn’t even look up during this conversation – too busy surfing Sleepless Singles.

Tom was placed just across from him in the examination room. He looks like he’s going to puke, Jayden thought. Of course, Jayden was well aware of Tom’s weak points – he’d been advising Tom’s mum on the 11-plus forum all through the summer. Well, ‘absentlewis’ had. Tom had needed lots of help with his verbal and non-verbal reasoning and, even now, his mum was worried he might not make it. The 11-plus forum site was an invaluable source of information and support – and not just for the 11-plus practise papers either. Everything you needed to know about online registration, right down to the programme for the day itself, were all there for the taking. Jayden could feel the scrunched up printout of the other boy’s name and number in his pocket, pressing into the top of his thigh. A reminder. Jayden was thankful it wasn’t Tom Shore’s name on that bit of paper. He didn’t think he’d have been able to go through with it if it had been.

‘Turn your papers over now, please.’ Jayden took one last glance over at Tom, gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile, picked up the brand new HB pencil that Ken Merrill had sent him with, and began to write.

Name: Jayden Lewis Turner. Registration Number: 3781

He didn’t think his mum would mind – not really. Not in the end. And what could they do about it anyway? In fact, Jayden was even daring to hope that he might yet hear that choking little laugh of hers again before this year was out. After all, what did they think he was? A field mouse or something?

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POP!

When cosy at home,

or out in the rain,

sometimes a rhyme,

just pops in your brain!

 

You need to write it down,

to let it out again –

or that popping, rhyming, earworm,

will drive your brain insane!

 

WHAT’S A LIBRARY?

Sometimes you like the look,

of a freshly printed book,

and you want so much to try it –

but you can’t afford to buy it.

 

Nevermind, you see,

you can read that book for free,

in your snugly, kind,

gym for minds –

local library.

 

#piggate

With Cameron shamed for what he’d done,

Osborne thought he’d have some fun.

Scrap school meals, nuke the East,

let old Ashcroft go in peace.

IF THEY HAD TOLD ME

If they had told me that today would be the last time I would push your swing,

or lift you to something out of reach,

or tuck you back in,

or hold your hand to cross the road,

or sing you to sleep,

or kiss it better,

or read your bedtime story,

then I would have circled the date on the calendar, and surrounded it with red stars and exclamation marks.

I would have set an alarm, and shouted to the world upon waking that today was the day.

I would have planned my week, my month, my year, all around that one moment; all around that one undiluted pinprick of light.

But they did not tell me, and I cannot unpick it now.

It is not lost, but hidden; obscured by the whole; stitched and woven into the blanket of memory, and time.

De-Cluttering

You might have guessed I’ve been having a bit of a writing de-clutter – hence the uncharacteristic flurry of blog posts today . . .  It’s basically all the stuff I will never sell (and ain’t gonna be winnin’ any prizes anytime soon!) but I would rather put it out there than just hit delete.  There’s a bit of a hotch potch of short stories, flash fiction, children’s stories etc. – though I think you can search by category.  If you are looking for stuff for children though, please be aware that some (most!) of my stories for adults are not suitable for children – you will definitely need to vet first! – I have put in ‘Children’s Stories’ and ‘Children’s Poems’ categories, to make it a bit easier . . .

PETER DENTER – BOY INVENTOR

My name is Peter Denter –

Peter Denter is my name.

I’m a boy inventor,

and inventing is my game . . .

Today I’ll make a pirate ship –

I’ll build it big and strong.

I’ll have it done by breakfast time,

won’t take me very long.

Next I’ll build a steam train,

like those in days gone past.

I’ll look after it, and polish it –

and drive it really fast!

I think I’ll build a rocket ship,

and fly it to the moon.

All I need is glue and yogurt pots,

and I’ll be finished soon.

I’m going to build a toy machine –

to churn out cars and bikes.

Plus dinosaurs and wiggly worms

  • which everybody likes.

I must just build a tree house,

to play in when it rains.

I’ll have it done by lunchtime –

then I’ll start again!

After lunch I’ll build a robot –

a magnificent machine.

It’s moves will be amazing –

the best you’ve ever seen.

Next I’ll build a castle –

with wood, cement, and stone.

I’ll also need some sticky tape,

to make a lovely home.

I’m going to build an aeroplane,

and fly right through the clouds.

I’ll fly it to a far off land,

with only kids allowed.

I’ll fit it with a parachute,

so I can jump and glide.

I’ll fly right up a mountain top –

and jump off the other side!

Just one more job ‘til teatime

(you’ll find it works a treat).

A micro-monster-cooker-bomb –

to make nice things to eat!

Now tea is done, it’s time for bed

(even though I am not tired).

But Mum says I need a helper

and – I’m pleased to say – ‘You’re Hired!’

FURY IN THE FOREST

There’s a fury in the forest,

there’s a trembling in the trees.

There’s a shakin’ in the ground,

and a whispering in the leaves.

Stop! Listen!

What can you hear?

I don’t know what is coming

– but it’s coming very near!

I think I see its body,

glinting yellow through the trees.

It’s really getting closer now –

won’t someone help us please?

It’s chewing up the ground,

with great big scooping teeth.

It’s flattening down the undergrowth,

with huge black circle feet.

It’s tearing down our shelter,

smashing through our homes.

Shouting out strange noises,

creaking grunts and groans.

We need to run and hide now

– we’ve got to get away!

Don’t want to leave this place we love

– but really cannot stay!

We need to find a new home,

somewhere safe and sound.

Where the neighbours are more kindly

and there’s more space to go round.

Please do come and see us,

when we’re all settled down.

It’s nice to come and visit,

when you need a break from town.

Though don’t be long, lest we be gone

  • and nowhere to be found.

THE BLUE ZOO

At the blue zoo, everything is blue . . .

When stuck in the queue, the sky is blue.

Come rain, come shine, come snow, come hail,

There is only one colour – be it dark or pale.

Look down at your feet; you’ll see a blue street.

Blue bushes, blue trees, blue birds, blue bees.

Once inside, you’ll be surprised,

’cos what soon becomes evident, are the bright blue residents . . .

At the blue park, plays a blue aardvark.

In the blue shop, lurks a snappy blue croc.

And, not to be outdone by the blue alpaca – in his bright blue, sky blue, blue pacca-macca –

a blue mere cat, models a blue top hat.

A blue gnu sits on a blue loo.

Oh no!  Let’s hope he’s not doing a blue . . .

Watching a blue bear balancing on a blue chair,

a blue scaly snake takes a well-earned break.

Down at the blue pool, looking incredibly cool,

a slippery blue seal savours a fishy blue meal.

And a cerulean blue lion, incredibly strong,

strums a guitar to a blue, blue song.

Just joining in, there’s a hell of a din,

as a blue cockatoo makes a right blue hullaballoo.

At the end of the day, when it’s getting late,

a blue zoo keeper shuts the big blue gate.

There’s just one thing at the blue, blue zoo – only one thing that isn’t blue.

Look in the blue mirror; you’ll see it’s true, that one un-blue thing, in fact – is you!

Although . . . are you absolutely sure you aren’t blue too?

THE STAR DRAGON

Far out at sea, on a small stony outcrop of rock, there lived a very lonely – and very grumpy – dragon.  Each evening, as dusk settled, the dragon would leave the tiny island to stretch his wings and hunt for supper but always, by break of dawn, he would return to sit in silence once more and miserably keep watch over the endless sea and the huge waves smashing and crashing against his gloomy grey rock.

One day, when the sea was calm and the sun was high, the dragon was startled to see a small wooden coracle boat approaching the island.  As it drew closer, he was surprised to see that the tiny skipper on board was actually a very young boy.  The dragon stared hard at the boy, expecting him to paddle away as fast as his little arms would take him once he saw that the island was already inhabited by such a fearsome beast.  But the boy did not paddle away at all – in fact, he seemed even more determined to reach the island once he saw that the dragon was there.

The dragon was angry.  ‘How dare you come to this island!’ he roared.  ‘Is it not enough that all of the other dragons have long since left this world?  I am the last of my kind – leave me alone to see out the rest of my days in peace.’

‘You are not the last of your kind,’ replied the boy calmly.  ‘You may be sad, and you certainly must be very lonely – all by yourself out at sea on this rock – but you are mistaken if you think that you are the last of your kind.  And – if you will help me – I will prove it to you.’

‘Help you?’ snorted the dragon.  ‘Why would I help a weedy little babe like you?  You know nothing of my kind if you think I would help you.  You are nothing but a puny weakling human child’

The boy did not reply to the dragon.  Instead he very deliberately closed his eyes and then, very slowly, opened them again.  As the boy’s eyes opened, a bright light shone out from them and bathed the dragon all over in a shimmering, luminous glow.  All at once the dragon realised his mistake.  This was not a human child at all – this was a star child, with all the love and might of the infinite universe pouring out through his eyes.  The dragon was humbled, and felt that he would travel the entire length and breadth of all the heavens if it meant that he might give some little help to the star child when needed.

The star child climbed onto the dragon’s back and gently guided him all the way to where help was needed right at the other edge of the world.  In a dark and dingy cave in a faraway land, a magnificent dragon queen had been kept prisoner for many thousands of years.   Her human captors believed that she was the last of her kind and, for a fee, they allowed visitors to view her through a tiny crack in the wall of the cave.  When the humans saw the huge and mighty dragon arrive with the star child on his back, they were frightened.  The star child told the humans that the dragon was a mighty dragon king, and that he had come to beg the dragon queen to share his throne.  He told them that the dragon king had a mighty army of warrior dragons behind him, who would come to rescue their future queen if the humans would not let her go willingly.  The humans had no wish to stand up to even one angry dragon – let alone an entire dragon army – so they quickly agreed to release their captive, in the hope that the mighty dragon king would yet prove to be merciful upon them.

When the dragon queen was released, she was grateful to both the star child and to the dragon.  ‘I can never thank you enough,’ she said.  ‘For rescuing me.’

The dragon did not answer at once (being already awestruck with love for the magnificent dragon queen) but, when he finally did find himself able to speak, he said: ‘It is I who should be grateful to you, and it is you who have rescued me.  I thought I was alone and last, but now I know that I was not last but only lost.  I was lost, but now I am found.’

The dragon and his queen at once joined wings, and flew together all the way across the oceans until they finally came to rest at the tiny rock of an island where the dragon had lived alone so miserably for all those years.  There they did indeed live happily ever after as king and queen of their very own small and stony realm – but this is not yet quite where the story ends . . .

One quiet day, some many years later -when the sea was once again calm and the sun high in the sky – the star child returned once more.  This time though, he did not come empty handed.  He brought with him an egg – an egg that the dragons were to watch over very carefully indeed.  As carefully even as if it contained their very own baby dragon . . .

And it did!  One hundred years later, the egg slowly creaked open and out from it emerged a perfectly handsome tiny baby dragon.  It is a well-known fact, of course, that a baby dragon is a very special type of beast indeed – and this is even truer for dragon parents who had thought that they were the very last of their kind in the entire world.  However, there was something even more amazing about this particular dragon baby – for, when the baby opened its eyes for the first time, they shone with the exact same glow of love and might that had shimmered from the star child’s eyes all those years ago.  Though the dragons would never again come to see the star child after the day he brought them their egg, still they would remember to think of him with gratitude each and every day – each and every time that they gazed adoringly into their own dearest star dragon’s eyes.