2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, held this year from 4th to 13th October. As I live Up North, I’m unfortunately unable to attend, but I was excited to be asked to host an exclusive extract from Season Butler’s debut novel, Cygnet. Butler is speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Friday 4th October.
Cygnet, according to the publisher, is about a Kid who ‘doesn’t know where her parents are. They left with a promise to come back months ago, and now their seventeen-year-old daughter is stranded on Swan Island. Swan isn’t just any island; it is home to an eccentric old age separatist community who have shunned life on the mainland for a haven which is rapidly sinking into the ocean. The Kid’s arrival threatens to burst the idyllic bubble that the elderly residents have so carefully constructed – an unwelcome reminder of the life they left behind, and one they want rid of.’
I’m always interested in inter-generational conflict and speculative fiction, so this sounds like something I would enjoy!
Here’s the extract:
I open my eyes to the churning of the waves outside. They don’t rest, so I don’t sleep well either. I really should be used to it by now. At least it’s sunny. I try to use the thought to power my move out of bed and into my clothes and off to Mrs Tyburn’s house for work. To be honest, I preferred it last week when it rained every day. Rain in big wet slaps, the kind of rain you only get on islands, out to sea. On dark mornings there’s a reason why it’s hard to get up, an actual weight in the air to fight, something real to run from, to hide your face from. Today it’s clear and the light is coming through my window like the blond arm of a Christmas card angel. But fuck you, I don’t want to go.
The clothes I washed yesterday should be dry by now, out on the clothesline strung between two trees in the back yard. I don’t have a lot to choose from clothes-wise now that it’s summer, so I do laundry kind of a lot. It’s too hot for most of the clothes I packed to come here, when I thought this would only be for a week or two. That’s what my parents said when they left me on my grandmother’s old folks’ island – just a week or two, a month at the most, and we’ll come get you. My mother kissed me with those purple-brown lips of hers and said, ‘We’ll be right back, hold tight.’
Those dickheads are always late.
And the old folks, the Swan Island Swans, are past caring whether I have anywhere to go. Most of them didn’t care in the first place, were reluctant to agree to my coming here at all. By now they just want me gone.
Walking through the house, it’s easy to ignore the mess I’ve left. There’s a path from the stairs and into the kitchen and to the back door where that too-bright morning becomes big and real and takes over my field of vision. When I close my eyes, I can make the ocean sound like a city. Swells of traffic and millions of voices that flow together into a murmur. I walk towards it as if to an overpass at the edge of a highway. Normal people don’t live like this.
I open my eyes and try to judge how close to the edge I can go. I stop a couple of yards shy of the edge and look over into the waves. From my bed it didn’t sound this bad. I almost managed to pretend that I had dreamt it. No such luck. Another few feet of the cliff are gone. The end of the yard is a booby-trap, something out of a cartoon. There’s no ground under the grass, nothing underneath to support your weight, just a drop into the constant traffic of the waves against the rocks. Fresh rock and soil and dangling roots like the nerves of an extracted tooth are exposed along the C-shaped underside of the cliff face. One of the trees, a dogwood, clings to the cliff-side at a desperate angle, four-petalled blossoms shivering in the wind. It looks like it’s still falling. I can’t see the other one at all. My dogwood tree at the bottom of the sea.
One, two, three, four. A few more steps and I could end this. Five, six, seven, the end.
Shit. Oh, shit, Mom, where are you?
Has anyone read Cygnet? What were your thoughts?