The Beast of Meon Rise
When Gwennie Hitchcock arrives on the island of Unskey, she’s expecting a boring but uneventful holiday with her irritating parents and annoying brother.
But when they get separated on a mist-shrouded moor, Gwennie must overcome her fears and lead her brother to safety.
The two children aren’t the only ones out on the moor. A local boy, Tyler, is there too, hunting for a mysterious beast. A beast that’s responsible for the death of his mother.
Can any of them survive the moor and escape the Beast of Meon Rise?
This story of friendship, adventure, monsters, and myths is full of heart and humour and will delight older readers. The Beast of Meon Rise is aimed at boys and girls aged 10-14 but can be enjoyed by anyone.
By the way, the awesome cover is by an artist called Natalia Salvador and I totally love it.
If the synopsis isn't quite enough to entice you to buy, you can check out the first chapter for free below:
The front wheel of the car hit another pothole, and Gwennie Hitchcock bounced out of her seat, her hand clattering against Dad’s headrest. Her phone dropped between her knees into the footwell.
‘Argh, Dad! Can you just drive like a normal person?’ Gwennie twisted her shoulder forward and dangled her arm between her legs, feeling around for the soft silicone case that housed her most precious possession.
‘Your dad thinks he’s Lewis Hamilton driving his rally car, Gwennie,’ said Mum without turning around. ‘He’s a bit old for showing off, though. It’s quite embarrassing, really. Remember that time he made your Auntie Ally sick when he gave her a lift home last year. She said he was weaving all over the road.’
‘She’d just eaten your chocolate cake before we set off,’ he muttered. ‘And for your information, Lewis Hamilton is an F1 driver, not a rally driver.’
Mum didn’t bother to reply, which Dad took as an invitation to carry on talking.
‘It’s these roads anyway, they’re more bumpy and rural than we’re used to. The car isn’t designed for this type of driving. It’s more of a city runaround.’
From her cramped position in the backseat, Gwennie didn’t disagree the car was more suited to city driving. But why had they driven it to this boring island?
She’d been trapped in this little tin prison since the early hours of the morning when they’d set off for their Autumn half-term holiday. She’d assumed they’d be able to stretch their legs while they were on the ferry crossing. Far from the luxury liner of her imagination, the vessel resembled a floating platform with an engine. They hadn’t been able to get out of the car in case a rogue wave swept them into the Irish Sea.
To make matters worse, her family, or, as she was starting to think of them, her fellow inmates, were, in her opinion, simply awful. Ending up with this lot had been a cruel quirk of nature. All her friends’ families were lovely, but her own were utterly unbearable. She couldn’t fathom what had brought Mum and Dad together. Presumably they’d been the last single people in town. They certainly didn’t seem to like each other these days.
Her parents were annoying enough, but it was her brother who could really push her buttons. Just thinking about the fact he existed made her angry. Seb was three years younger than Gwennie and utterly irritating. He’d spent most of the journey alternately picking his nose and wiping it on the upholstery, and burping along to whatever was on the radio. Gwennie glanced over at him and watched him rooting around in the crevice between the rear seat and the backrest. He pulled out a fluff-covered chocolate eclair and popped it into his mouth. Gwennie recognised it as one of hers she’d bought from the services on the motorway. He must have swiped it when she wasn’t looking and stashed it between the seats. Their black Labrador-cross, Diggy, was sitting in between them, but the dog wasn’t enough of a barrier to stop Gwennie from leaning over and punching Seb in the neck.
‘Ow…’ Seb whined. ‘Gwennie just punched me!’
‘He was being disgusting.’ Gwennie replied. ‘And that was mine, anyway!’
‘Why didn’t you eat it then?’
‘I was saving it until after my Peperami!’ She took the half eaten sausage from her pocket and thrust it towards her brother like a dagger. As she was holding it at arm’s length, Diggy made a lunge for it and she stashed it away again to prevent the dog from grabbing it.
‘Come on, guys. Can’t you even get along when we’re on holiday?’ said Dad.
‘We’re not really on holiday until we arrive at the cottage, are we? The travelling part is just something we have to endure until we get there.’ said Gwennie.
‘Well, it won’t be long now. We’re nearly there.’
‘Nearly there? How can we be nearly there? We’re in the middle of nowhere! Where are the beaches? If this is an island, why can’t I see beaches?’
‘Unskey isn’t that sort of island,’ said Dad.
‘What do you mean, it’s not that sort of island? I thought all islands had beaches?’
‘Not this one. This one has a rocky coastline. I’ve heard it’s quite dramatic, but we’ll be staying inland, anyway.’
Gwennie stared out of the window and made a mental note not to bother unpacking her bikini. Even with the sun shining, the scene was a sombre one. A desolate heath stretched before them for miles on every side. In the distance, threatening hills rolled out of the plain, their tops wreathed in slate grey cloud.
While her friends had either headed off somewhere sunny or stayed at home with access to everything a city offered, she was being forced to spend her half-term cooped up in a crummy cottage with her crummy family on what was surely on the shortlist for the bleakest place on Earth. Was it possible to divorce your family? she wondered.
‘Anyway, I wouldn’t say this is the middle of nowhere!’ Dad went on. ‘Surrounded by nature more like. We’ve paid a fortune to get away from the rat race. I booked this place back in January. It’s virtually impossible to find a place to stay at this time of year.’
‘That’s because it’s a barren wasteland. There are no other places to rent. There’s literally nothing. We haven’t passed a house in half an hour. Why would anyone want to come here?’
‘Diggy likes it.’ said Seb.
Gwennie glanced at the dog. Diggy did indeed appear to be impressed with the wilderness whipping past the window. But that was nothing new for him. He was an easily distracted sort of dog. The type who’d get diverted by a discarded fast-food wrapper and forget he had an owner. If you didn’t keep a close eye on him, he’d go wandering off. Usually unintentionally, but he wasn’t the most obedient of hounds when something caught his attention. They’d got him two years ago after the guide dog training school rejected him. They couldn’t have asked for a more loving and playful companion, but you wouldn’t trust him to lead you across a busy street.
As Gwennie watched, Diggy scrambled to his feet and put his paws up on Seb’s lap so he could peer out of the window.
‘Ow Diggy - watch your claws!’
The dog’s ears pricked up, and his eyes scanned the horizon. A low growl hovered at the back of his throat before he gave a series of sharp, loud barks.
‘Ruff, Ruff… Ruff!’
‘Diggy!’ Gwennie covered her ears. ‘Seriously! Not sure we needed a bark of that volume! It’s actually quite painful. I thought dogs had sensitive ears - why bark like that when we’re in the car?’
‘I don’t suppose he has the brains to figure out his bark will seem louder in a confined space, Gwennie,’ said Dad.
‘Well, he’s just blown my eardrums out. They are literally ringing right now.’
‘With the volume you have your headphones on most of the time, I’m surprised they aren’t blown out already.’
‘Aargh, you’re so annoying!’
Gwennie sat back in her chair and cast a surly look at Seb, who was rubbing Diggy’s back, trying to sooth the dog after his outburst of barking. ‘Seriously though,’ he said. ‘I wonder what set him off?’
‘Probably spotted a partridge or something. They live in moorland; I expect there are some around.’ said Dad, always a repository of useless facts.
‘What’ll we do for entertainment if there’s no beach? Is there a theme park? A zoo?’ Gwennie didn’t really like theme parks and, though she liked animals, she hated seeing them crammed into cages in the zoo, but at least it would be something to walk around for a bit and kill a few hours.
‘Not as far as I know.’
Useful, thought Gwennie, rolling her eyes. She should have done some research before they came. She would have brought more books. Unskey was a miserable, windswept rock in the middle of the sea. They’d barely even passed another car since driving out of the first village.
‘Does it have any interesting historical sites we could visit?’ asked Seb, the junior history buff.
‘Not to my knowledge Seb,’ Dad replied. ‘I’m not aware of anything interesting ever happening on Unskey.’
Seb and Gwennie looked at each other. Gwennie made a face and Seb mirrored her, raising his eyebrows. It was rare the two of them could agree, but even her deeply irritating younger sibling was having doubts about this so-called holiday destination.
Gwennie turned back to Dad. She stared into the rear-view mirror so she could see his face while she talked to him.
Gwennie huffed in exasperation. ‘Then, what does it have?’
‘Solitude,’ said Dad, a dreamy look coming over his face. ‘Peace. No emails, no phone calls from the boss. Just pure unspoilt wilderness. Oh, and I think there’s a pub; maybe even a couple.’
‘We risked our lives on that ferry, crossing a storm-tossed sea, to visit a place where the only attraction is a solitary pub! A pub! I bet they won’t even have a pool table.’
‘There is one thing Unskey is famous for…’ said Dad. He glanced in the mirror, waiting for someone to ask what it was.
Gwennie rolled her eyes again. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of dragging this out any longer. She tossed her head back. ‘Which is?’
‘The Beast, of course.’
That meant nothing to Gwennie, but Dad had stirred some interest from Seb. ‘Beast? What do you mean by beast, Dad?’
‘Oh… you don’t know about the Beast? I presumed you two would know all about it. The Beast of Meon Rise. The Monster of the Moor. The Stalking Death. The Unskey Horror. You must know about the Beast?’
Gwennie shook her head and gave a wry smile. She glanced over at Seb and could see he was worried.
‘Never heard of it.’ she said. ‘What’s it supposed to be?’
‘That’s the big question, isn’t it?’ said Dad. He was in his element now. ‘Nobody really knows. Some say it’s an elemental spirit that’s stalked Meon Rise Moor for centuries. Others, that it’s a genetic aberration, escaped from a secret government laboratory. It could even be a unique species only found on this remote island - it’s isolated enough that it’s possible. It could be something that inspired some creatures of legend. A cockatrice or what have you.’
‘It’s got the head of a chicken and the tail of a snake?’ said Seb, who was clued up on mythology.
Dad pursed his lips. ‘Hmm. Maybe not that one. The other one. The griffin.’
Seb nodded knowingly, as if that made a lot more sense. Gwennie had no idea what a “griffin” was, so she kept quiet. Gwennie liked stories too, but she liked hers to be based on reality. Stories about people; about emotions. Stories where hearts were broken, challenges were overcome or friendships were forged. She wasn’t interested in nonsense about some made-up monster.
‘Most often, it seems to take the form of an enormous cat. Something like a panther or a lion. Only bigger and more dangerous,’ Dad continued.
‘So has anyone ever actually seen this “beast”?’ asked Gwennie, making quote mark symbols and raising her eyebrows, when she said the word “beast”. She didn’t believe a word of it.
‘Oh yes. There’s been numerous sightings over the years. Strangely, they seem to come in cycles. There was a spate of reports about ten years ago. A millionaire paid for a scientific expedition to investigate, but as soon as they had their equipment set up, the sightings stopped. A few blurry photos made it into national newspapers, but the story went away and people forgot about it.’
‘Funny that.’ said Gwennie with a smirk. ‘As soon as someone looks properly, it disappears. I wonder why.’
‘You think it was a hoax?’ asked Dad. ‘If that’s the case, someone out there is seriously twisted.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It was more than the ramblings of the local drunk and the odd, out-of-focus photo. There was other evidence. There were attacks.’
‘Attacks?’ said Seb. Gwennie could see he was looking startled now.
‘On livestock, mainly. Sheep torn to pieces. Cattle with mysterious injuries. It was costing the farmers around here a fortune. And that wasn’t all. People going out at night would come home shaking; convinced something was stalking them in the darkness. Nothing they could say for definite, but an eerie feeling. A chill down their spine. Their sixth sense kicking in, I guess you might say… Softly padding footsteps behind them. There were disappearances around that time, too. Even a death linked to it… though police couldn’t prove anything.’
Gwennie noticed Seb’s jaw go slack, and a faraway look come into his eyes. Even Gwennie shivered at Dad’s story. It’s probably all nonsense, she told herself.
Mum stirred in the front passenger seat. She’d been pretending to be asleep as usual. She’d found it was the best way to avoid engaging her husband in one of his tiresome conversations, and it meant she didn’t have to get involved in breaking up the kids’ arguments.
‘Why are you filling the kids’ heads with rubbish again, Jeremy?’ she said.
‘Not rubbish my dear.’ Dad lifted one hand off the steering wheel and raised a patronising finger towards Mum. ‘In fact, I saw an article about it just the other week. There have been fresh sightings. The beast is active again and with a bit of luck, I’ll be the one to capture it on camera.’
Mum snorted. ‘So, that’s why you dragged us here? I thought you wanted to get some fresh country air, but actually you want to start some ludicrous goose chase for a non-existent werewolf or whatever it is?’
‘No, no, my dear. You were the one who said we needed to recharge our batteries. I was happy to wait until the summer for our holiday.’
‘I was thinking of somewhere more like Tenerife. Not some godforsaken, brown, bracken-filled, desert in the middle of the sea.’
‘It’s interesting you should say that. Travellers actually referred to the island as the “Desert of the Deep” in the late nineteenth century,’ said Dad in a tone that gave his wife the urge to strangle him with his seatbelt.
Gwennie threw her head back in despair. ‘And you thought that seemed the perfect place for a holiday?!’
‘Now Gwennie, what have I said to you about overreacting. It’s unspoilt. We’ve got hundreds of square miles of wilderness all to ourselves. You might stand on a spot where no human has stood before. Isn’t that exciting? You’ll be like a modern day Indiana Jones.’
‘Cool.’ said Seb, reaching over and giving Diggy’s head a scratch. ‘Did you hear that, Diggy? We’re going to be explorers!’
Diggy gave an excited ‘yip’ as if he agreed completely.
Gwennie rolled her eyes and considered making a cutting remark about the only ancient thing they might encounter would be one of Dad’s jokes. She rose above it on this occasion and put her headphones on to block out her irritating family.
Pulling out her phone, Gwennie quickly typed a WhatsApp message to her friend, Leesha, giving her the latest update on how dreadful the holiday was so far. She hit the send button and watched the circle animation rotating on the screen until the dreaded notification popped up. “No internet connection’. She hadn’t considered the possibility there might be no phone reception out here. She glanced at the little signal bars and watched in horror as the final one blinked out. No signal. She couldn’t even text her friends to tell them what an awful backwards wilderness she’d been dragged to until she reached the cottage. It better have Wi-Fi, or she was going to scream.
So that is how my little story kicks off. Hopefully, there's enough there to get you interested. It's probably worth saying that the book also has scenes from the point of view of other characters, most notably Tyler, a local boy who set's out with his dad to hunt the Beast.
If you think this might be a story you'd enjoy, or you know someone who would, you can order it now from Amazon.