Here’s the first chapter:

Chapter 1

If you want to know how to handle a boat you’ve only got to come out with me and my dad. My dad can make our boat bounce on the water: skid, bounce and one eighty all the way back to the jetty. Well, he only did the one eighty once, when a stupid kid fell overboard – me!

Now I stand next to him. I stick my neck out and feel the spray on my face, lick the salt off my lips and pretend the boat isn’t underneath me at all. All the holidaymakers squashed on the seats behind us scream. They love it really.

Dad always revs the engine up on the way back; when we’ve been through Arthur’s Arch, passed the beaches at the bottom of the cliff steps and we’re inside the bay. That’s where I live, where the shore curls round the sea to make the cove and our beach. It’s where we all work, Mum, Dad and me.

Dad’s boat trips are the best; he gives them thrills, he says. They get a gut load of health and safety when they’re doing their normal jobs. They don’t want more of it on holiday. The people who aren’t fed up of health and safety go with the competition – Cove Coastal Tours. There are a few who haven’t got ‘a spirit of adventure’. That’s us – Spirit of Adventure, Expeditions on the High Seas, Arthur’s Arch and back – 40 minutes. You could call Dad reckless, Mum does, but he makes me feel safe.

Mum says I never listen. Well I do, too much sometimes. ‘Listening’ means Trouble, like that, with a capital ‘T’. It’s why me and Dad have escaped on the boat for an extra trip. There were still loads of tourists swarming all over the beach. It would have been stupid not to.

My job, if you haven’t guessed already, is to help Dad, giving rides to people on holiday. We take them out to see the geological rock formations that have been there for thousands and thousands of years. I’m Dad’s right hand man, girl actually, but you know what I mean.

He says he doesn’t know what he’d do without me. “Bert, mate,” he used to say “get ready with the rope. We’re almost in.” He doesn’t have to do that anymore; I know what to do because I’m experienced now. We make a great team, me and Dad.

Ok, I know what you’re going to say – ‘Bert’ isn’t a girl’s name and even boys aren’t called ‘Bert’ nowadays. Well that’s why I like it. It’s actually short for Bertina, yuk. My mum found it on a website when I was six weeks old. Six weeks old! I was no-name baby girl Smith up till then. She said it meant bright and shining. Well ‘Bert’ does too, I bet, and I do my best to be bright and shining; it’s just that Mum doesn’t think so most of the time.

Until today.

Dad brings the boat alongside the jetty. The motor’s making that phut phut sound like it’s puffed out. “Well I hope you enjoyed that, me hearties.” Dad’s passengers smile like sunshine when he does the pirate bit.

He jumps out by our Spirit of Adventure sign, and I throw him the rope. I climb out, run to the end of the jetty and unlock the case to start selling ‘tat to tourists’. (‘Tat’ is what Dad calls the souvenir spotty scarves like the one he wears on his head.)

Dad helps the passengers off the boat as if they’re kings and queens. Two old ladies in cardies, get off last and he does this long sweeping bow where his hand makes little spirals before it touches the ground. The ladies giggle.

The punters (that’s a technical term for customers if you’re in sales like me) all arrive in a clump. There’s a family with four kids and they all want a scarf, grown-ups too. The two old cardi ladies wait till I’ve finished with the kids then ask for one each. One lady does the talking. “I’d like the blue, dear and Nancy’s really quite taken with the red, just like Jake’s.”

I’m watching them tie the scarves on their heads, in the same way Dad does, when I see Mum walking across the pebbles carrying a huge ‘ninety-nine’. Who’s that for? She never brings me ice cream after work. I have to pay for one like everyone else.

The sun is still warm but Mum’s shadow is long across the beach. A couple of Dad’s mates from the pub are out with their metal detectors but most of the families have packed up and gone back to their tents and caravans. When Mum sees me, she does this cheesey smile and nods at the ice-cream.

“Bert love!” she calls, while she’s still a way off. “I’ve got you a treat!” She’s still wearing her pinny from the café and her bag’s hooked over her other arm.

I wait until she’s close enough to hear and say “Thanks.” I don’t say ‘I really want a coke’, because selling’s thirsty work, but I do say “Why?”

Mum’s cheeks go a bit pinker than normal. “Ooh … because you’ve been a hard working girl. Here you are sweetheart.” She sticks it under my nose and I get a big whiff of chocolate.

“I’ve got to pack the case away first.” I shut the lid on the unsold scarves. I undo the bike lock that stops anyone nicking it from the end of the jetty and lug the case up the beach to the shed where Dad and Barney leave their stuff overnight.

I want to fill in the chart where we write up how many passengers we had but Mum’s right behind me and the ice cream is dripping on her hand. “There you go, love.” She gives it to me and wipes the drips off with a tissue.

“Thanks.” Sweetheart? Hard-working girl? Bert instead of Bertina? They’re all giving me a bad feeling.

Dad’s on the jetty, talking to the competition, Barney who does Cove Coastal Tours.

“Let’s go home and have some tea.” Mum searches for my other hand.

NO way. I ram it in my jeans pocket.

“What about Dad? When’s he having his tea?”

“Later. I thought it could just be you and me tonight. Girls night in.”

“Why? I want to wait for Dad.”

Barney’s gone but Dad’s still by the boat, watching us. He’s pulled off his scarf and looks like all the fun in him has been punched out.

Everything inside me wants to run, run back to the boat, rev it up and speed out to sea with two enormous tail feathers of white, foamy wash behind me. But I’ve got a great big hole in my belly where my fight should be. I follow Mum up the beach and concentrate on my cornet. I look round once. “See ya later, Dad!” He’s sitting on the end of the jetty with his back to us. He doesn’t turn round, just puts his hand up, like he’s waving for help.

Our cottage is only a little way up the lane from the beach. There’s no road, which is ok because we don’t have a car – just the boat. Mum pushes the front gate open while I’m finishing my ice cream. I’ve saved the flake till last.

“Come on Bertin… Bert, haven’t you finished that yet? You’ll not want your tea.”

She holds the gate open till I’ve gone through. Mum smells of the ice cream she sells all day, in the cafe – mostly vanilla Mr Whippy. Mum told me that a prime minister, the only woman one Britain had, invented squirty ice cream. Dad said she did it before she ever thought of stopping kids’ free milk in school or getting people so angry they went out on strike for ages. Prime ministers are only one of the things Mum and Dad argue about.

If I invented an ice cream it wouldn’t be the ice cream at all. It would be the cornet. I’d have cornets shaped like seashells so people would have to ask for a mussel or a cockle or whelk and the shell cornets would be different flavours too. “What? They’d taste of fish?” Said Mum, when I told her. “That would be silly.” Then she didn’t listen any more. “Well they wouldn’t taste of fish they’d taste of….” But I hadn’t thought that far. What I did think was I wasn’t telling Mum my ideas any more.

I finish the flake while Mum’s getting my tea in the kitchen. I begin to feel a bit peculiar inside and it’s not the ice cream or the chocolate. I keep thinking of Dad on the jetty. Today’s turning out to be one of those days that feels wrong, like the sky’s turned green.

Mum sits me down at the kitchen table in front of chips from the fryer and a fried egg where the yolk is just the right amount of runny with some tomatoes from the garden. “Eat those up, then you’ll have had at least one of your five a day,” she says. Apart from the tomatoes, it’s my favourite dinner. But today, it doesn’t taste good and it’s hard to eat, something to do with that green sky feeling.

When I’ve finished, Mum sits down too, with a cup of tea. She hasn’t eaten anything. She takes a breath like she’s going to make a speech. Then she closes her mouth and smiles instead; her eyes aren’t joining in.  She sips her tea, warms her hands on the cup and takes another breath, a big one, “Bertina love, I’ve been trying to talk to you for weeks now. I think you know…”

I can’t hear this.

“Can I get down?” I stand up and push the chair with the backs of my legs. It scrapes the tiles. “I want to go on the Wii. I’m tired.” Anything to stop her talking about whatever it is we have to have a chat about. And it isn’t the embarrassing one; you know, the one about periods and stuff because we had that one last year when I was ten, while Dad was watching a film on the telly in the other room.

“No Bertina.” She takes my arm; I feel the warmth from her cup.

Deep, deep inside I know what she wants to say. I can’t put it into words; that would make it real.

Her long, smooth fingers are firm. “Please sit down, love.  I’ve got something to tell you and it’s not going to be easy.”

The stuff that’s happened to BERT… so far is enough to fill a book and she’s only eleven. The book is 50,000 words for children aged 9 – 12 years.

BERTINA SMITH lives a life at Stonewave Cove most kids can only dream about: secret dens, hardly any school and best of all taking tourists out on boat trips as her dad’s first mate. But one day, MUM says she’s leaving, Dad, JAKE SMITH; she’s going to live with RONNIE in town; she’s having his baby and Bertina, Bert, must come too.

If Bert doesn’t find a way home to Dad, her life might as well be over.
Mum has more news. Jake isn’t her real Dad; he can’t have kids. Maybe it is over.
If that’s true then who is her dad? Does Bert really want to know? Perhaps she knows already. She decides that she doesn’t care; Jake is the dad she wants.

Bert refuses Ronnie’s attempts at being ‘dadly’, hates his fanatic cleanliness and is forced to start school, where she’s stalked by another kid, eccentric misfit, ALI.
There’s a school trip, to Stonewave Cove, but Mum won’t let Bert go, so Bert runs away, back home to Dad. However, when she gets home she finds that Dad has a new first mate, PEARL, an artist, who’s come to live at the beach.

Feeling let down by adults, Bert makes friends with Ali. With him, she finds a mermaid costume and a photo of two little girls, under her beach hut. They investigate. The costume belonged to a little girl who drowned when she was eleven, Pearl’s sister. Pearl believes it was her fault her sister died.

Bert’s amazed she’s allowed to go to Stonewave when Mum is in hospital with baby complications. It’s great to be shot of OCD Ronnie but on a stormy Christmas Eve, he visits. When Bert sees Ronnie off, from the cliff top car park, he tries to talk. Bert doesn’t want to listen but she can no longer deny that he is her real dad. In trying to stop Bert from going too close to the sheer cliff edge, Ronnie is blown into the sea.

Bert realises that, even though it means she would have the Dad she wants, if she lets Ronnie drown, she would carry the same awful guilt as Pearl. So Bert jumps from the cliff steps to rescue the non-swimming Ronnie.

However, Bert isn’t strong enough to keep Ronnie’s head above water for long. They’re both going to drown anyway. But at the same time, Pearl shows up again at Stonewave. She parks her car in the car park and sees Bert go in after Ronnie. She dives in and helps Bert keep Ronnie afloat until Jake and Ali pick everyone up in the boat.

Mum has the baby, Alison Pearl, and Bert finds the glue to bring her family together. Her. Bertina Smith. It’s bigger than before and if she’s honest, better.

Although a lot has happened, she’s sure there’s going to be more. But that’s all from Bert…so far.

One response to “Bert

  1. Pingback: Undiscovered Voices 2012 « fictions onely and false hair

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