Earlier this year, acclaimed author and speculative fiction editor Tim Major shed new light a familiar sci-fi trope in Snakeskins, a compelling story following a group of humans with the unusual ability to clone themselves every seven years. As trippy and satisfying as that book turned out to be, we might be even more excited for what’s coming next from the Horizons magazine co-editor…
In May 2020, Titan Books will release his next novel, Hope Island, a horror-tinged psychodrama set on a remote island where nothing is as it seems. Today, we’re please to show you the cover of the novel, designed by Julia Lloyd, and give you a taste of what’s to come via an exclusive excerpt. Check them both out below the official summary. The book is available for preorder now.
Workaholic TV producer Nina Scaife is determined to fight for what remains of her family after her partner walks out on her. She takes her daughter, Laurie, to the beautiful but remote Hope Island, to prove to her that she’s still a part of her life. But as the behavior of the islanders becomes strange, Nina struggles to reconnect with Laurie, and the silent island children begin to lure her away.
Meanwhile, Nina finds herself drawn to a recently unearthed archaeological site… and then she discovers the first of the dead bodies.
Nina saw the boy before Laurie did. He stood at the crest of the hill as they trudged along the worn track at the cliff edge. With the sun behind him he looked like a Giacometti statue, the light turning his limbs into barely-there spindles.
He was watching them, like the girl on the road last night. Nina felt a surge of coldness and glanced instinctively at the sea to her left and far below, as if the water level might suddenly have risen and begun to creep along her skin from the feet up.
She shielded her eyes and looked again at the crest of the hill, but the boy was already gone.
Laurie hadn’t noticed, staring at her feet as she plodded ahead of Nina. It was at this moment that Nina registered that her daughter had not only entered her teenage years, but that her manner, her posture as she navigated the rocks and clumps of grass, was now as it would remain into adulthood. The malleable, formative years of Laurie’s childhood were over. Somehow Nina had missed them.
She forced herself to look at her surroundings instead.
Hope Island was beautiful. No aspect of the environment was motionless; even the cliffside rocks were alive with shifting shadows. Herring gulls wheeled in the sky, graceful stringless kites whipping in the irregular gusts. The wind from inland pushed the meadow grass to point towards the water, green waves hurrying to meet blue. The ocean embraced the island, insulating it from the real, hostile world.
This was a place in which she, too, ought to feel safe. It would allow her to reach out to her daughter in a manner made impossible by their respective lives at home.
She took a deep breath and relished the clear, cold air in her lungs.
There was no sense in waiting.
‘There’s something I need to talk to you about,’ she called out.
Laurie stopped and turned. Her eyes shone glassily. People had always commented that they were Rob’s eyes, not Nina’s.
Once again, Laurie interrupted her. ‘What’s your problem with Gran?’
Nina blinked. ‘What? I don’t—’
‘She’s only trying to make you feel welcome.’
Nina shook her head, in order to clear it rather than as a refutation. ‘I don’t have any problem with Tammy. And Abram’s a sweetheart.’
‘You don’t even want to be here.’
They stopped walking. Nina reached for Laurie’s hands, but they slipped away.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I know I’ve been on edge. I’ll calm down. It’s work.’
‘It’s always work, Mum. What’s the point of a holiday – I mean sabbatical – if you’re still at work, really, in your head?’
Nina had no idea how to demonstrate her innocence. In truth, work had only been on her mind in fits and starts. Tammy and Abram’s house had no Wi-Fi; she had spied a desktop computer on the upstairs landing, but stifled the impulse to ask to use it. Before they had entered the woodland, she had finally found a patch of 3G reception, but after a couple of forced refreshes her inbox had insisted that it had Updated just now, with not even a spam email to show for it. Anyway, she had left minutely-detailed instructions about ongoing projects and everyday routines for her team and Hannah, the acting producer, at the North West Tonight studio. They’d be fine without her.
‘It takes a lot out of me, that’s all,’ Nina said. ‘Don’t be cross about it.’
‘I’m not cross.’
This must be about the primal scream. Nina had been given a chance to participate in Laurie’s private ceremony, and had turned her down.
‘Today is today,’ Nina said. ‘I’m grateful to be here with you. And I know it’s strange that I’ve never visited Hope Island before, and that I really don’t know your grandparents all that well. I know it’s weird and I suppose I don’t really have any good answer for why. But I’m here now, and I’m happy about it.’ She smiled to prove it.
‘You’re lying,’ Laurie said.
Nina shivered even though the breeze had died down. ‘What do you mean?’
Laurie watched her, breathing deeply. Her concentration and intensity were unlike a child’s. ‘I can’t be doing with lies, Mum.’
This was the time for the truth.
But suddenly Laurie was shouting at her. ‘You’re not happy to be here! I don’t understand what you’re doing here!’ All her earlier poise had disappeared and her eyes glittered silver. ‘You want to ditch me and go travelling – well, fine, do that, then. It would be better if you didn’t pretend. You’re just bringing everyone down, don’t you see that?’
Laurie’s face tilted up towards the sky and its skidding clouds. Nina wondered whether she might scream again. But then Laurie scraped her blonde hair behind her ears and gazed at Nina. That round, open face. Nina experienced twin impulses, both equally alien and wrong. Firstly, to embrace Laurie and prevent anybody else from influencing her. Secondly, to shove her and watch her plummet into the ocean.
It occurred to Nina to wonder what Laurie’s equivalent impulses might be.
Even though Nina hadn’t moved an inch, Laurie whispered, ‘Don’t come near me.’
Nina held up both hands in surrender.
‘I need to talk to you about your dad,’ she said slowly.
Laurie frowned, then reached up to rub tears from her eyes.
Nina realised that her daughter was no longer looking directly at her. Her attention was directed over Nina’s shoulder.
With a heavy-bellied certainty that Rob was standing behind her, Nina turned.
She gasped and toppled back. Pain shot through her stiff neck.
The boy – that same boy from the hillside – was standing directly behind her, far too close…