top of page
Untitled design - 2024-05-17T141941.589.png



I was nine years and two months old when I realised that there was something wrong with me. I had suspected for some time that I was a bit different to some of my friends. That some of the things I said and did – not to mention some of the things that just seemed to happen around me – were a bit... off. Like the time everyone in my class was laughing at Robbie Miller doing impressions in the playground and I just stood there, not laughing, until, one by one they all turned to me and fell silent. Or that day in the park when my sister, Maya, turned from her perch on the climbing frame and gave me the oddest look until I glanced behind me to see a great crowd of toddlers all clustered about, just watching me. And then there was Katie Jennings, that little moron from next door. Well, I warned her what would happen if she kept lying to me.

I didn't know why I was different. I didn't do it on purpose. I never demanded that my friends stop laughing at Robbie. I didn't make those little kids follow me out of the playground and halfway home. It wasn't my fault their parents all freaked out. And with Katie... well, someone needed to punish her. Every time one of these things happened I'd see the way other people were looking at me – my friends, my sister, my mother – and that feeling would tickle over the surface of my skin like a mosquito looking for a juicy spot to pierce. Oh. That wasn't normal. That wasn't 'right'. That was the off thing, again. But I didn't know for sure that it was wrong. Not until the day in September when my mother bundled me into the car, drove me hundreds of miles to the house of a stranger and told him: Bella is defective. You need to take her back.

Autumn, 1995

It was strange that she’d come to pick me up from school. I sat there in the back seat, frowning at the back of her head, biting my lip against all the questions bundling to get out. What’s going on? Why am I here? Where are you taking me? It would be no good to voice any of them. I had seen the tightness of her jaw, the ragged ends of two of her fingernails, the wild fray to the back of her normally pristine bob of hair. This was not a day to ask questions.

My mother was a tricky species. One day she’d be full of smiles, twisting my dark curls gently in her fingers and talking about a beautiful new lace dress she had ordered specially for me. The next her eyes would turn callous and hungry, reminding me of the seagulls we saw whenever we visited the coast; beady, cold, empty. Don’t stand like that, who do you think you are – Princess Di? Take that skirt off immediately, it’s Maya’s. I don’t care if she said you could have it, it’s not yours. You are not entitled just because you look the way you do! Get away from me, stop looking at me like that with those eyes. I will tear them out, then we will see how well you can bat them! Get out of my sight before…

My dad was always there, though, with his soft arms and his gentle voice telling me not to take any notice. My older brother and sister would roll their eyes at me too, and whisper: The python’s awake, run! And even though I knew as well as they that it only ever seemed to be me who awoke this hissing, maleficent-eyed monster within our mother, I tried to do as they said. After all, I still came top in all the tests at school, I was still lead ballerina at the local dance studio, people still said I was beautiful and, when I looked in the mirror, I knew they were right. I held my chin solidly and bundled the small, stony hurt of my mother’s flinches and hisses into a knot which I tried hard not to feel at the back of my throat when I swallowed. And, after a day or two, the monster would recede, my mother would revert to sweetness and smiles and I’d come into my room to find something pretty and new on my bed. It was a strange, uneasy sort of life, but it was our normal. And, apart from the worst times, I never really gave it much thought. I certainly never anticipated that one day the serpent would strike.

I don’t remember how long we drove. At some point I fell asleep and woke to find the roads darkened and shrivelled into single lanes. I sat in a hunch, waiting. Waiting for the tinny whine of the radio to give in to the massing waves of static. Waiting for the feeling to come back to my stiff limbs. Waiting to see if we were actually heading somewhere… Or if my mother was simply driving until the world outside had become wild enough to pull over, open my door, shove me out and drive away.

‘Where are we?’ I asked when I could no longer hold it in, staring at a flock of sheep staggered impossibly on a grey-green hillside. My mother, radiating tension from every inch of her body, forced the car into a lower gear and bent further over the steering wheel as we growled up a steep lane.

‘Cumbria,’ she replied, meaninglessly. ‘Don’t talk to me, I need to concentrate.’

Shutting my eyes, I let the trickling stream of fear tumble into the knot in my throat and clenched my fists until they ticked and juddered with my heartbeat. I wished, so hard my mouth trembled with the words, that I could be grown up, that I could look at her with the same shuddery glare she used on me, that I could push her away when her hands closed around my upper arms with their skin pinching grip, that I could just… stop her. I sat and wished until all that existed was the wishing, the focus of hatred, the pounding ache of it, and slowly I felt a tiny bit of control return.

Extract: Book One: Text
bottom of page