Sydney Cove 1787

My debut novel

Lady Hartley’s Husbands

My debut novel, Lady Hartley’s husbands, is now published by Fantastic Books Publishing, available on Amazon

Reenie Meadows, from humble origins, is ambitious in her search for ultimate happiness, especially after her first failed romance. Moving from Cornwall to London suburbia a year before World War 2 breaks out, her life at seventeen years old changes drastically. With challenges and set-backs, and a controlling mother, Reenie eventually marries Harold Hartley, a successful businessman. A 30 year age-gap seems unimportant when it brings the wealth and status Reenie now desires. Yet . . . she soon realises, despite possessing every material luxury, her goal still hasn’t been reached. Her marriage is soulless. Can a second marriage after Harold’s death, bring that vital missing ingredient? And what are Chris Penselle’s motives when he hears of the new Lady of the Manor’s arrival in his sleepy Cotswold village? A sinister symmetry unfolds as Reenie falls for Chris, seventeen years her junior. This time her mother does not approve

Sydney Cove 1787

A flock of green and yellow budgerigars takes flight ahead of me, swerving and chattering mid-air, sharing their exuberance like boisterous children. But it isn’t this gaudy display which frightens me. On the dawn horizon strange clouds hang in clusters over the sea. But . . . they aren’t clouds – they’re too stained, the wrong shape. Nearer and nearer they come, billowing in the breeze above canoes. Vast! I’ve never seen any such thing before. The giant gum trees, stretching upwards from the cliff, rustle their leaves as if colluding with the breath bearing the monsters towards me.

I peer from my hiding place, digging my toes into the soil to feel the ground safely under my feet. Mesmerised! Now they are so close I can pick out people crowded on board. Spirits of our dead ancestors? Their faces are as pale as the paintings in our sacred cave. I hear them shouting, pointing in my direction. Can they see me? I don’t think so; I know how to blend with the scrub. Should I run? Fetch my brothers? But I can’t move; I might miss something!

Soon smaller canoes, but still much longer than ours, approach. Men – if that’s what they are – clamber into them. Or are they some kind of animal? Some kind of bird? No, they have arms and legs just like me, but bodies of such bright colours: red at the top, others as blue as the ocean. Their legs are white. Are they men? They’re not like me – the colours are wrong!

Enormous paddles, longer than Grandfather’s spear, splash through the swell, bringing these apparitions ever closer until they glide onto the sand – our sand. I clutch my spear tightly, feeling its point. Today a kangaroo might not be its only prey. A sudden gust carries an unfamiliar odour that makes me wrinkle my nose. It’s from the monsters, the first ones that came. It’s . . . decay? Death? Whatever it is, it’s a bad omen.

‘Warra warra!’ Go away! I don’t want you here.’ My voice is lost in the murmur of sea and wind.

But, like a goanna smoked out of its hole, curiosity draws me from my hideaway. I scramble on all fours to the gully. Hesitating, I gaze out again, shielding my eyes from the glare of the light on the water. The whiteness of legs with what looks like that extra skin rolled up competes with the sun-bleached sand. It isn’t paint: it hasn’t washed off. And besides paint never folds up!

A perfect hollow, fashioned by my forefathers, or even the great Serpent herself, offers my next hideout. I crouch, alert. With the sun warming my face, the first cicada sings. It’s joined by another and another, until their thrum fills my ears. My stomach rumbles. Have the strangers heard it? They spin round to signal. More canoes! I came to catch fish. Not see this. A shiver spirals down my spine. Time to call my brothers. With my wild dog howl, the Red-and-Whites hesitate, glancing upwards. Now I’m making them nervous.

The long grass swishes; dry leaves crackle. I’m certain my brothers are close. Swift and silent, they find me. ‘Shh!’ I motion as they wriggle down, following my gaze. Their eyes are wide in wonderment. Not a word is spoken. Like me, they grip their spears; Elder-brother cowers behind his shield.

What next?

The tallest Red-and-White creature plants . . . what is it? A spear? A huge “leaf”, red, white and blue, flutters from the top.

‘Why plant a spear? What good can come of that?’ whispers Small-brother.

At that moment a bright golden horn – has it swallowed a sunbeam? – is lifted to the planter’s lips. An unearthly cry echoes round the bay. Again and again.

Elder-brother whispers, ‘Is it music?’

The creatures stand stock still. Rigid. No dancing to the ‘melody’. Then the polished staffs are raised and . . .


Cockatoos, raucous, screaming, rise into the air. Souls of our forebears! Our ears ring as much as the feathers must be falling! How could those brown sticks rip the sky apart like that? Smoke curls upwards from each tip. Is it a fire-stick?

‘Shall we ask for one?’ Elder-brother says.

‘What, go down and meet them?’ says Small-brother.

‘Why not – our spears will protect us.’

‘Nothing can beat our spears,’ adds Cousin-brother.

I have my doubts.We shimmy down the gully. A skittering of stones and the waving of weapons announces us before our toes meet the beach.

‘They’re pointing at us,’ yell my brothers. ‘Thrust!’

Our spears are poised.

My skin stings. ‘No,’ I say, ‘look!’

The Red-and-Whites droop their fire-sticks. We lower our weapons. I breathe again. Carefully, I move forward, my family behind me. Even my Elder-brother takes second place. Silence! Their leader advances. He smiles. He stretches out his arms and babbles in parrot fashion. Is it a token of peace? I take a chance and jab a finger at the nearest fire-stick – ‘I need one,’ I say. But he shakes his head, eyes narrowing, forehead puckering. Instead, his friend pulls out strings of brightly painted . . . berries?

‘Can we eat them?’ asks Small-brother.

I reach to touch the outstretched arm. It’s solid between my thumb and forefinger. White, but surely no spirit is so firm! A sense of uneasy relief ripples through me. The rest must be just as solid. Who are they and where have they come from?

‘Why don’t we try the berries?’ insists Small-brother. He’s always thinking of his stomach. Cautiously, we test them between our teeth. ‘It’s a trick,’ he says. They’re as hard as the pebbles at our feet. But Blue-man puts them round my neck. I’ve no idea why. A string round my waist is all I need. My brothers chuckle.

Feeling so much bolder, my fingers reach out once more. They brush over that extra skin, the red one. It rumples and lifts. The creature takes his top off! Is it magic?

‘Go on, put it round you,’ says Elder-brother. ‘That’s what he means.’

‘How?’ I giggle nervously. White hands reach out to help and suddenly, the cove erupts as every soul matches their laughter with mine: somehow I’m covered, too! Our words may be different but our mirth sounds the same. Even so, why would a warrior wish to constrict his body in such a manner? I can hardly move! Sweat trickles down my back. Small-brother rolls in the sand, now as white as the pretend ghosts themselves.

I’m offered a drink. We’re all offered one. Is it safe? Blue-man smiles. Putting a cup of deep red liquid to his lips, he reassures me, supping, eyes sparkling. So, I sip. Argh! The potion is a scorpion, searing its way to the pit of my stomach. I spit out what’s left of it. What are they trying to do – poison me? Still the strangers pass round the drink amongst themselves as if to prove it’s harmless. How can they drink it?

Now my brothers want a taste. I hold onto Small-brother, but he wriggles free. They all clutch their throats, hopping up and down, crying out, pulling faces. Yet, laughing with our hosts. ‘No more, no more,’ they plead, fear strangely easing into friendship, even though the burning sensation persists.

Suddenly, it all goes wrong. I should have listened to my inner voice. It only takes as long as the flick of a lizard’s tongue. Cousin-brother seizes the fire-stick. Whooping with joy, he dashes past me, making for the bush.

Without warning, a second thunder bolt strikes.


Something scorches my cheek. I fall to my knees. A spear sings past. It slams into the ground, quivering next to Blue-man.

‘Leave it,’ I call to Cousin-thief. That’s when I see his shield is pierced with a perfect hole. There is sorcery about! For an instant nobody moves. Cousin-thief is equally stunned. Breaking the trance, the first to come to life is Blue-man. He lifts me and dabs at my wound. It’s not serious but my legs won’t stop trembling. If that hole in the shield had pierced me instead, my journey to the other world might have started.

All I’d set out for that morning was to forage for the next meal. And then . . . those clouds blew in.

Blue-man seizes the warrior who cast the lightning spell. A muttering and murmuring circulates among them. We’re outnumbered.

‘There’s too many of them. We must go!’ I tear off the useless red skin. It’s all a bad dream. My heart pounds fit to burst the scars of manhood across my chest. We retreat, merging with the scrub again.

‘They won’t stay long; I can tell,’ I say. ‘Not long.’

I search the Red-and-White leader’s face for the last time. Something in his eyes tells me I’m wrong.


Andrea Emblin


Reenie realises, despite possessing every material luxury, her goal still hasn’t been reached


Andrea is also an illustrator and has worked on many projects.

One of her latest projects was illustrations for a book called Word Gymnastics by Ellen Weeks.


In Black and Wight