New First Chapter of Shards

After some great feedback I’ve moved Chapter 5 to Chapter 1 …


She could see it from where she stood.  St. Paul’s dome shone brightly in the moonlight and it seemed to reach out to her in order to save her soul.  But she didn’t want redemption; she wanted relief from the constant struggle and pain and the only thing that offered that was the deep, murky water below.  She turned away from the cathedral’s stare looking instead into George’s sleeping face.  It was thinner than it had been even yesterday, she was certain.  Dark circles were evident under his tiny brown eyes and she was thankful they were closed instead of looking at her, lovingly as they always did.  How did it all come to this in such a short time?  Less than a year ago her life had seemed so happy, so full of opportunity and hope. A loving husband, two healthy sons and a comfortable home. But all that had somehow slipped away and now she was losing the only one left, her precious baby boy. She walked closer to the edge of Blackfriar’s bridge arching high over the dark silver water of the Thames. 

Lights reflected off the water, bouncing around in the waves like diamonds.  Mary thought of her mother’s diamond ring and how she loved to watch the sun reflect off it when she tossed her hands carelessly through the air while she talked. Her mother always used her hands when she talked, it was her flamboyant way.  Sitting and watching, Mary had dreamt of being like her mother one day.  Beautiful, graceful and so full of life.  But that life was taken, ripped from her mother in a train accident only days before her daughter’s eighteenth birthday.  Her father followed close behind, his heart unable to bear the loneliness without her.  And now, Mary’s own husband dead and buried, her oldest son, Charles, following him to the grave only a few days ago.  How much pain could she be expected to endure?

Remaining strong for her boys, she had faced the heartache of losing Daniel as best she could. Losing the house and all her possessions due to the lack of income would have broken her had it not been for her boys.  Poverty, no matter how disgraceful, left no time for self-pity. Keeping her children fed had been her main focus in life for months now, even giving them as much of her own rations as she could and ignoring the rumbles and aches of hunger. But it had all been for nothing.  Charles’ beautiful green eyes, so much like his father’s, had grown empty as tramp fever carried him away.  And now George, her little baby, was showing the same symptoms, his eyes holding the same echo of death she had seen so much of these past few years.  She couldn’t watch him suffer.  Poor babies, they never asked to be cast out into the cold, damp streets of London. 

The Thames spread wide below her, winding its way silkily through the landscape as it cut London in two.  Until this year she had never even been south of the river.  Her father said only criminals and prostitutes lived there, creating a vision of a dark and frightening place. She expected a shadow to hover over it or some other evil sign to resonate from the land but the sun shone down as brightly there as everywhere else in London; if it shone at all.

Blackfriars Bridge seemed the only option; it was quick and painless and she thought of no other way out.  There would be no more worries, no more fretting about where they would get money for food or shelter for the night.  Little George would cry no more with hunger or pain or shiver from the cold. She wouldn’t have to watch him suffer from the same ruthless disease that had ravaged through Charles before taking his life. Turning to her left, she focused on her favorite spot in all the world. Its dome glistened in fading moonlight and she thought of all the times as a child her family had gone to services in the sacred place.  She had lit candles for her grandfather when she was only five; then more recently for her parents, husband and child each in their turn. It felt as if she had walked through its large oak doors too often for one lifetime.   Stepping closer to the edge she thought of all those she had lost, and poor George so close to leaving her too. A tear slipped down her cheek unable to face lighting yet one more candle.  She wasn’t strong enough to face it.  Soon they would all be together again, buried in the same small churchyard in a little corner of London. She had already accepted the fact that she would never see them all in Heaven because of the sin of suicide but it was a price she was willing to pay.  Only God could forgive her and only death end her suffering. 

With her eyes on the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Mary whispered into the London night sky, ‘May God have mercy on my soul.’

First Page of Shards…

Here is the first page of SHARDS.  Enjoy

Walking through the nave of the cathedral, he plucked a rag from the back pocket of his paint-stained trousers and rubbed the excess red clay from his hands.  It remained caked under the nails of his long fingers; it always did. Even when he took the time to scrape the substance free, the dye lingered behind.  It was testament to his trade, proof of his overwhelming talent and dedication to his art.  Secretly he hoped it remained for all of eternity; that if they exhumed his body in a thousand years time archeologists would be able to identify his corpse instantly as William Blake Richmond, the artist who created the most inspiring mosaics in all the world.  ‘Beautiful boys, simply beautiful! Your bosses have truly outdone themselves with this batch they have.  Gorgeous colours. But be careful!  One slip of the fingers and you’ll be picking up glass for months. Heaven knows we haven’t finished finding slivers from the last time.’ He smiled, a twinkle playing in his blue eyes.

‘Of course sir.’ The young workmen gingerly carried sheets of coloured glass up the stairs to the workshop high above the aisle in the garret story. They knew their boss’s rebukes were more reminders than anything else. While his face often held what could be considered a troubled expression, his eyes were those of a kind and gentle philosopher; always wondering, always questioning and studying everything around him in silent consideration.   What was first taken for sternness would soon be understood as contemplation.  He was always contemplating something. However, they also knew that he was thorough and expected the same from them.   

Sitting down on the rigidness of the pew he felt the welcome relief on his back and shoulders after hunching over cartoon drawings all day.  From where he sat he could take in the work that had been completed and more importantly, consider all that was yet to be done.  They had accomplished a lot in the past thirteen months, but there was still so much to finish.  St. Paul’s Cathedral was a massive undertaking but he was just the man for the job.  He rarely left the Cathedral before darkness made work impossible and tiredness swept over him like a wave.  Sundays were his only respite and he spent them at his home in the outskirts of London with his wife, Clara Jane, either in the garden he enjoyed so much or in the studio wrapping up correspondence that had built up during the week.


Rose Henslowe was an after thought (believe it or not! She becomes very important!) but I really like her a lot!  She lives with her parents in their theatre, The Little Rose. Tommy meets her while delivering flowers and is instantly smitten…

…A large voice boomed from behind the castle walls.  ‘God damn it!  Where is Mister Palmer? Not that he’s of any bloody use anyway.’  Mr. Henslowe stormed onto the stage and noticed Tommy instantly.  ‘Who the hell are you?’ Tommy opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.

            ‘His name is Tom, papa.  He’s here to see the play with me.’ Rose announced rather sternly. Tommy looked down at her and then back to the huge man in front of him. He had never expected her father to be so, large. The man only came to Tommy’s nose but he seemed taller.  Perhaps it was the tuft of dark black hair that stood up straight on his head as if he spent a great deal of time trying to pull it out.  He had a bushy moustache that moved when he talked, or at least the few words Tommy had witnessed so far. His arms were thick from years of carrying sets back and forth, his body solid and strong. The only thing small on the man were his black eyes—or at least they seemed that way because they were beating down on Tommy with such ferocity that he could feel the sweat bead up on his neck.

            ‘Is he then?’ He continued to look Tommy over for a moment before looking at Rose and cocking his head slightly.  ‘What in the hell are you wearing?  I’ve never seen that dress before.’

            Tommy saw her jaw tighten slightly and her cheeks turn bright red.  So, the dress was just for him.  He couldn’t help but smile.

            ‘That’s because I don’t usually wear it.’

            ‘Oh my! Don’t you look lovely!’ An excited voice came from behind them and Tommy spun around to see a tiny woman with very large hair walking briskly towards them.  He knew instantly this had to be Rose’s mother.  While Rose had her father’s colouring she had her mother’s figure and large blue eyes.  ‘You did such a beautiful job with that dress darling! Let me just look at you!’ She turned Rose around to see the full affect. Rose closed her eyes for a moment then managed a smile. 

            ‘Thank you mother.’

            ‘Isn’t she so talented?  She does a lot of our costumes when our regular designer is too busy or just not able to keep up.  You must be Tom.’ She held out her small hand and Tommy took it.  He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to shake it or kiss it from the way she offered so he just held it for a moment and smiled.

            ‘Yes ma’am.’ Seemed to cover everything she had just crammed into the sentence and was all he could really manage before she started talking again.

            ‘We’re so glad to meet you!  I hear you deliver our gorgeous flowers now? They really lighten up our lobby! We do love fresh flowers every day.’  He could feel Rose tense up beside him and he shifted a bit closer so he could grab her hand without anyone seeing.  She squeezed tightly.

            ‘God woman, give it a rest will you?  He doesn’t care about the bloody flowers right now.’  Mr. Henslowe sighed and his wife stopped instantly.  She didn’t seem to mind being told to shut up.  She just smiled and admired Rose’s dress again. 

Tommy’s home

Tommy McDonough is a tough 17 year-old.  The youngest of five boys, Tommy became the head of his household at the age of nine when his father buggered off for unknown regions.  Leaving school to scour the banks of the Thames with the other mudlarks, he befriended a cocky kid named Sid…and they’d remained friends ever since.

This is a bit about Tommy, but more so it gives you an idea of where he lives…

Tommy walked out the door and sat on the stoop, the sun warm on his face. The stoop was like all the others, each one jutting out from the arched doorway into the small, narrow lane. All the window boxes were empty as the sunlight stood little chance of making its way in for more than a few hours a day. Newspapers were littered here and there, taking refuge along the safety of the building walls.  The wind from the night before, cold and desolate off the river, left them damp and moist. Buckets of dust sat outside a few of the flats awaiting collection.  They had already been sifted through for any possible treasure by Mrs. Henley at the end of the lane. She worked the dust heaps and never let anything be tossed without pawing through it first.  ‘Won’t believe all you can find in dust.  Bits of marrow, coal and such, the usual things a course, but there is stories about findin’ rings—gold even!  I know it’s true!  I heard it with me own ears I did.  A friend from the heaps, she heard it from a friend a hers.  Found a diamond ring he did. Never had to sift again!  I’m gonna find me some treasure some day I am.  Just a matter of time with all the dust I sift.  Sift more than most I do!  Best round!’  This would turn into a braggart session about who could sift the most and Tommy would tune her out.  He wondered if anyone ever believed those stories other than sifters.  He would bet a shilling (if he had one) that the ‘friend of a friend’ was created by the owner of the heap to keep the workers motivated.  To keep them sifting faster and longer.  And Mrs. Henley was proof it worked.  Not that he blamed her really. Everyone deserved some hope, some reason to keep sifting even if it was the prospect of never having to sift through London’s trash again.

Sir W.B. Richmond…

[Sir] W.B. Richmond had just begun his work on the mosaics covering St. Paul’s domes.  His works are amazing–yet few people even know his name.  A painter, a sculptor, a mosaic creator, Richmond was a kind, wonderfully talented man.  If  you want to see his work check out here: .  It’s a virtual tour of the Cathedral.  A must see!

There is little written in the way of a biography for Richmond so I gathered all I could in his own words and works of art and pieced together the man I believe him to have been. 

Here’s an excerpt from SHARDS…

Books covered every surface, flat or otherwise. Picking up Lang’s newest book of fairy tales off the cushion of a green wing backed chair, Richmond mumbled ‘sorry old man’ before tossing it on the floor so he could sit down.  He felt bad about mistreating his friend’s hard work but he knew Andrew would understand. Blue, red, green, yellow, the fairybooks were a rainbow of stories saved from extinction. Like the pieces of glass he dealt with all day, his friend saw the colour and richness in everything in life.

It had been such a long day, as all days were at the cathedral. His head was pounding slightly from a lack of sleep and food and he closed his eyes against the pain.  Once again he had neglected to stop for tea, neglected to eat anything since the egg Clara Jane had fixed him that morning.  He relished the sweet sound of silence, the draped echoes of nothingness that reverberated around his studio; no workmen yelling at each other in cockney accents, no church official asking how the progress was coming—and more important, how much longer he would be.  Sid’s smooth voice resonated through the silence, the perfect enunciation of the Latin translation—Miss Duckworth would be proud!  How she had worked with Richmond as a child, how she hammered the declensions into his skull.  And here was this boy, no schooling to speak of, reciting Latin better than he ever could. 

            The clink of china brought him back from deep within his thoughts and he opened his eyes lazily to find Clara Jane bringing him a plate with a piece of joint, a jacket potato and peas.  A thin slice of bread slathered with white creamy butter was placed on top of it all.  Everything was fixed exactly as he liked; something she saw to herself.  She set the plate down on the small table where they took most their meals since the children had left home.  Beavor Lodge felt overwhelmingly large and empty with just the two of them. The drawing room seemed to hold echoes of Helen playing piano while Herbert sang, their laughter lingering just in the next room, no matter what room they happen to be in.  He expected to find one of the boys around every corner, head in hands as they pondered over a book or copied Punch cartoons.


This is one of the main characters, Sid Thompson, a young man of 19.  He’s given up his cold rented room to sleep [unnoticed] in Richmond’s studio in St. Paul’s Cathedral where he works. Unfortunately the nightmares follow where ever he goes:

Sleep came in spurts the rest of the night and when the sun hit his face Sid wanted nothing more than to roll over and throw the blanket over his head.  But he knew that was impossible.  He lay still for a moment, letting the silence of the cathedral seep into his body.  He loved being here when no one else was around, when there were no workers banging and yelling in their cockney accents.  It was in this silence he could sense the real beauty of St. Paul’s, feel its age and wisdom envelope him, caress him and keep him safe.  Some nights he thought he heard whispers, sounds of a distant past rumbling somewhere deep within its belly.  He never ventured down to find out the source.  He wasn’t that brave. But most of all when he was here alone he felt at one with her, felt like he belonged somehow to this beautiful structure.