Get to know Lys de Beaumont

As the UK locked down in 2020 my property business ground to a halt: commercial tenants were unable to trade and residential tenants firmly closed their front doors. I was quick with rent reduction plans where needed but then there was nothing for me to do. So, in the first lockdown I kept Amazon afloat with orders of audio books and jigsaws and I also tried my hand at tapestry. By the second lockdown I knew I had to do something more productive and spied in a neighbourhood email a novella writing course – Novella Fever with Kiara Ladner. Just the job, I thought, to write up my pre-lockdown research into an early 20th century Midlands entrepreneur who altered the course of Birmingham’s civic history and slowly went mad. Yet I was terrified of sharing any writing with the group. I believe I managed to get through the entire six-week course without writing or sharing a single word! Something kept me interested in the writing process and as lockdown continued I joined Prioritise Your Writing with Alison Chandler. Slowly, slowly, I started to write, encouraged by constructive feedback on this creative writing course and also on the Feedback Friday slots. I also dipped into Monday’s Start the Week with Kate Pemberton as much to see what others were up to as to share where I had got to with my writing.

At this point, I was still writing a novella because novels are too big in concept, have too many words and ultimately the thought of writing a whole novel is basically downright scary, right? My ‘novella’ was now very loosely based around my research and was definitely fiction. And then the writing bug struck. I started to treat writing as a job, becoming more disciplined in getting those words out. I continued to sign up to Prioritise and wonder if I’m not its longest running attendee. A Prioritise session has an excellent structure, allows close reading of the text and supportive critiques. There is as much to be learnt about creative writing from others’ presentations as there is in one’s own submissions to the group. I also find a Prioritise course is a good disciplinary measure to keep writing, keep pushing forwards. And goodness, I’ve finished a first draft and think I might actually have a whole novel now! I’ve celebrated with an Instagram account @novel.novelist to make me feel that I really am a writer now.

Extract from a First World War novel in progress

The davit lowered another horse. This one was a large Chestnut with swishing tail, ears pinned back and every muscle in its body taut.
‘Hold tight to this brute,’ barked the Lieutenant to Thomas and with the horse’s hooves now resting on the cobbled dock he dismantled the sling. The horse began to prance restlessly on the spot. Thomas could feel on his hand the warm air snorted from its nostrils, and the whites of its eyes shone bright. Thomas held tight onto the bridle instinctively trying to keep the horse’s head down whilst muttering soothing sounds he thought might appease it. Two handlers came up and took hold of the reins on either side of the horse’s head. Determinedly they led the horse away but the horse suddenly threw its head up, whipped nimbly around and jolted the reins out of the handlers’ hands. It bolted. Thomas ran along the dock towards the animal, his arms flailing to try and stop it mid flow. To his surprise it had the desired effect. The horse stopped. It stood stock still and began to shiver. Emboldened now, Thomas and two soldiers moved cautiously towards the animal and as Thomas got near he lunged and grabbed one of the reins. The animal backed away, away towards the edge of the dock, and as Thomas desperately tried to pull the horse from the edge, it threw up its head again and reared. A soldier grabbed the other rein and together they kept tugging at the animal but by a series of small rears and its hind hooves slipping on the cobblestones the horse got closer and closer to the edge until its hind legs lost the ground altogether and slipped over the dock wall. Half on and half off the dock the beleaguered animal was now wedged between the side of a large fishing boat and the dock’s high walls. The horse twisted and writhed until its body gained enough leeway to drop down into the water. With relief Thomas watched the horse swim, far below the troops, under the hawsers, then out into the harbour. He turned and walked away taking deep breaths of air. A few moments later he heard the sound of a rifle fire three rounds in quick succession. Forcing himself to look back he saw the horse tipped on its side, floating in the Mediterranean Sea.