I have just published my third book in the Toffee Makers series of children’s books (4-7) with all proceeds going to charity — Crisis in the UK (for the homeless) and the WWF.
This has been quite a year for me — with my very own series of crises. Writing this little book has made me happy. Here are a few chapters. Click the link to read the rest at 77p for charity 🙂
The Toffee Makers’ Christmas Crisis
Christmas is Coming
The postman looked like a walking snowman as he furrowed his way through the snow-piled path to the farmhouse. Dazzling white flakes swirled around him in a blizzard; his gloved hands were caked white, chunks of snow falling off as he rapped firmly on the front door.
“Special Delivery,” he croaked, handing over a sparkly wrapped package to Alex’s father. “Special delivery, for Master Alex.”
“Well, this is a surprise,” said Alex’s father passing the package to his son.
“Who would send such a thing?” said Alex’s stepmother, Kate, coming through to the hall from the kitchen, wiping wet hands down the front of her apron.
Who, indeed? thought Alex, his hands trembling ever so slightly as he tore open the glowing copper-coloured paper. He could see his own reflection in its bright sheen – his wide-open eyes magnified, intensifying their look of surprise.
“It’s an advent calendar,” said Kate, looking over Alex’s shoulder with an expression of disdain. “Full of nasty sweet things, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ll take that for now.”
But Alex held on tight to the cardboard box.
“It’s December 1 – time to open the first window,” he said, walking across the hall into the living room, where he placed the box up high on the mantelpiece. Looking up he could see that the box was designed in the shape of a factory – a toffee factory. The many windows and doors – labelled 1-25 – were exactly the same as he remembered that last time he visited the neighbouring Toffee Makers Factory in November for the Halloween Party. But then the light glowing within the factory was bright and warming. The windows on the cardboard copy were iced up and bleak – the door was bolted shut. It looked derelict – like it had that very first time he saw the old factory at the bottom of the field where he lived.
“Interesting design,” said Alex’s father, joining his son in the living room.
“Not at all festive,” said Kate, with a sniff, her attention returning to her chores of the day.
Quite, thought Alex, picking the box up once more and taking it up the stairs to his bedroom. He sat on his bed gazing at the cardboard factory, not daring to open the first window.
“Go on, open it! What are you waiting for? Christmas!” said a voice – a familiar voice.
“Delphi?” said Alex, brightening immediately. “Delphi, is that you?”
“I see that school you go to isn’t making you any cleverer!” said the voice. “You’d be better off leaving now – getting a job in industry. Well, actually, maybe not …” said the voice, trailing off.
Alex followed the sound of the voice to the window – its glass pane foggy with condensation. As he watched he saw a circle appear in the misty glass revealing a pale face pressed up against it, fragments of ice hanging from the limp curls that framed it.
“Delphi! What are you doing outside in the cold? It’s freezing!”
“Well, let me in then! Open the window.”
Alex followed Delphi’s eyes as they glanced at the box on the bed and he did as he was told, peeling back the cardboard of the first window.
“About time too – a Toffee Maker could catch his death of cold waiting for you to get the message!” said the small toffee coloured face that peered out of Window Number 1.
“Shall I help you out?” said Alex, kindly.
“No need, you’ve done enough!” said Delphi, shaking his curls and squeezing his head out of the window, his bendy body not far behind. Alex watched as Delphi grew, his limbs lengthening before his eyes.
“You know, you don’t always have to make such a dramatic entrance!” said Alex, “A rap on the door would do – you made that poor postman trudge his way to our house when you could easily have come yourself.”
“Hoity toity,” said Delphi, settling himself down on the bed beside Alex. “The postman’s lucky to have a job. I won’t … soon.”
“What!” said Alex, leaping up from the bed, turning his full attention on Delphi. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Hard times,” said Delphi, his usual cheeky moonlike expression eclipsed by a dark shadow. “Hard times, indeed.” As he said the words he started to rip open the remaining windows of the cardboard factory – each one empty – each one a gaping void. “It’s the same over there,” said Delphi, nodding in the direction of the factory. “They’ve shut down the furnace. Production has halted. We’re ruined.”
“Oh Delphi!” cried Alex, his hands flying to his mouth in anguish. “Tell me this is some sort of joke. The Toffee Factory finished? But it can’t be. Who wouldn’t want your delicious magic sweets?”
“Father Christmas – that’s who. It’s December 1 and we haven’t heard a whisper. Not a peep from one of the elves. Alex, my friend, there is only a small market for our particular brand of toffee – and without the special Christmas order – we’re finished.”
Delphi sat with his huge head in his spindly-fingered hands. His curls were damp with snow – his large eyes glazed over like iced ponds.
“They’re holding a crisis meeting at the factory in five minutes. Will you come, Alex?”
“Of course, but why me? I’m just a child.”
“Precisely. We want to know why Father Christmas hasn’t ordered any sweets this Christmas. Are the children not putting them on their wish lists? Is magic … old fashioned? Have children stopped believing?”
“Why, of course not, Delphi!” said Alex, his eyes flickering for a split second on the Xbox in the corner. “There must be another reason. Magic, sweets, Christmas – what’s not to like?”
“Well, tell that to Mr Glucose! He’s in a right tizzy. Talking about holding a focus group to re-brand the factory. He’s becoming all …”
“Yes! We need to save him before it’s too late. Here, have one of these Toffee Maker’s Friend sweets. You won’t need a coat. Let’s go.”
The Board Meeting
Delphi helped Alex down from his bedroom window, his long outstretched arm perfect for abseiling to the ground.
When his feet landed in the soft snow, Alex was amazed to find it as warm and cosy as a duvet. Sucking hard on the Toffee Maker’s Friend sweet Alex could feel its heat radiating throughout his whole body. Just ahead of him Delphi was striding through the snow towards the factory; his body, lit up by a halo of heat, was slicing through the snow like a blowtorch.
Following in his footsteps Alex felt none of the joy and anticipation of his last visit to the factory. The Halloween Party had been a celebration of all things sweet, spooky and magical. This felt like a trudge to the workhouse.
Amalfi, Delphi’s sister, was sitting slumped sullenly at the small desk in the corner of the reception area.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said curtly, nodding Alex through without a name badge. “He’s expecting you upstairs. Good luck!”
Delphi and Alex climbed the iron staircase to the grand balcony that circled the production floor. All was silent. The sound of their shoes slapping down on the hard iron floor echoed around the empty space. When they reached the large wooden door at the end of the balcony Delphi paused, before giving it a timid tap. There was no reply. Delphi tapped again, harder this time, and the door creaked open to reveal the long boardroom table and the sight of Mr Glucose, his head in his hands, at the far end of it. He didn’t look up as the pair entered the room.
“Ahem,” said Delphi with a little cough. “I’ve brought Alex, as you instructed, Mr Glucose.”
“Ah,” said Mr Glucose, finally looking up, his hand dipping into a big jar of sweets on the table. Popping one in his mouth, he continued. “The human boy? Yes, finally, we may get our answer. Sit child. Take a seat.”
As Alex and Delphi took their seats at the table, others began to filter in. Alex recognised Crystal and Celeste from the Halloween party and noticed another unfamiliar creature with a ruddy complexion and bright red hair. He looked like a distant relative of Delphi’s . “He makes the Toffee Maker’s Friends,” said Delphi, answering Alex’s unspoken question.
When they were all settled at the table, Mr Glucose cleared his throat and rose to his feet.
“These are terrible times, my colleagues and friends. Terrible times. Never in the long and illustrious history of this toffee making factory have we encountered such a devastating collapse in demand. Never! It is unthinkable that Father Christmas – our great and generous patron, friend and customer – would turn his back on the factory at this time. It is unheard of. Why? Why, we must ask ourselves. Young Alex,” said Mr Glucose, turning his attention to the only human in the room, “Do you not believe any more? Is magic all washed up? Is reality the new fantasy? Is Christmas finished?”
Mr Glucose’s face was reddening, his arms waving, his eyes popping: “Is Christmas finished!” he repeated dramatically, before collapsing back down in his chair, his fingers ruffling the thin strands of hair on his pink head.
“No, it most certainly is not!” said Alex, rising to his feet. “I wrote to Father Christmas only last week. Sweets were high on the list. The whole class sent off their emails on Friday. Christmas is, and always will be, the very best time of the year for children. It is a magical time. Believe me.”
Mr Glucose’s head shot up. His eyes, popping just seconds before, were narrowing now, taking in the information. “Did you say email? Email? Oh, my word. Email! Do you think, my dear boy and fellow Toffee Makers, that Father Christmas has email at the North Pole!”
The colour drained from Alex’s face and he sat back down. “Everyone has email, don’t they?” he whispered quietly.
An equally quiet whisper replied: “Let’s see shall we …” Celeste rose from her seat and placed a large chunk of transparent toffee on the table. The assembled audience looked on, mesmerised, as a scene, not dissimilar to a snow storm in a glass dome, appeared before them. As the snow inside settled they were alarmed to see a shocking sight – Father Christmas, alone and adrift upon a floating piece of ice.
“Oh My Word!” said Mr Glucose. “Where are the reindeers? Where are the elves? Where is the Grotto? What on Earth can be happening? Has Father Christmas gone …”
The unfinished question hung in the air as Mr Glucose reached for a gobstopper sweet from the jar. To question Father Christmas was to question the very existence of Christmas. The assembled Toffee Makers lowered their eyes and shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. Only Celeste remained calm – her long elegant fingers softly shaking the transparent chunk of toffee, stirring the snowflakes and changing the scene. This time they could see the Grotto with its elves – their faces wearing the same worried expressions as the ones around the factory table. In the far corner they could see the reindeers and one of Father Christmas’ sleighs. But there was no Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There was no beacon of light to guide the sleigh.
“Father Christmas is in mortal danger,” concluded Mr Glucose, pulling himself together and summoning up all his managerial skills. “We need to send out a rescue party. Any volunteers?”
“It’s a long way to the North Pole,” said Delphi, unhelpfully.
“Any volunteers?” repeated Mr Glucose.
“I’ll go,” said Alex, standing up and looking around him.
“So will I,” said Crystal, smiling across at Alex.
“And me,” said Celeste.
“You can count me in,” said Firegus, the flame-haired Toffee Maker.
“I’ll go too,” said Relph, a small Toffee Maker who had been sitting quietly at the far end of the table unnoticed. “I used to work at the Grotto, many years ago. I could be of use.”
All eyes turned to Delphi who was sitting at the table studying his nails. “As Union Representative of The Rainbow Toffee Factory Unlimited I can firmly state that such a dangerous assignment flies in the face of all elf and safety guidelines.” Delphi paused for effect, the pompous expression on his face dissolving fast: “So you can definitely count me in! Let’s face it – you need a leader!”
“We also need a strategy,” said Crystal turning to the others.
“Indeed,” said Mr Glucose, screwing up his face in an effort to devise one.
“If I could make a suggestion,” said Firegus. “We need to get to the North Pole, right?”
The Toffee Makers and Alex all nodded their heads in agreement.
“And we can safely say Delphi’s long arm – even if holding on to the equally long one of his sister – wouldn’t stretch that far. Am I correct?”
They all nodded again.
“Well – I just so happen to have some rockets left over from fireworks night. I should say, stoked up with a good dose of Toffee Maker’s Friend, they should have enough in the tank to get us all to the North Pole.”
“The North Pole’s a big place, Firegus,” said Delphi, a little dismissively.
“Celeste, will you guide us?” said Firegus.
“It will be an honour,” replied Celeste.
“And Relph, you know the lie of the land?”
“It’s been a long time,” replied Relph . “But I’ll try my best. “
Delphi crinkled his brow: “It’s all we can possibly do.”
“Before you go,” said Mr Glucose, rising from his chair and getting something out of his pocket. “Give my dear Father Christmas my very sweetest regards. As well as this present,” he added, slipping an object into Delphi’s outstretched hand. “Good luck and have a sweet journey!”