New Writing: extract from 'Safe Ground' by Sylvia Hehir

Every day this week we are posting a selection of works by recipients of the New Writers Awards in 2013, in anticipation of the publication of our New Writing Sampler at the New Writers Showcase at Edinburgh's Summerhall this Thursday.

Today's author, Sylvia Hehir, enjoys working in a number of different genres but finds writing for teenagers especially rewarding. Writer Shona MacLean has this to say about Hehir's novel, Safe Ground: 'Sylvia Hehir's work strikes the right note from the very first sentence... I found Safe Ground an utterly absorbing read with completely convincing adolescent and child characters who are handled with tenderness but absolutely no condescension.'

Read an extract of Safe Ground from the forthcoming New Writing Sampler:

Safe Ground

A waft of fresh air swept aside the damp smells in the hall. Realising the front door was open I hurried to look outside. There was no one to be seen. Susie wasn’t in the living room. I ran upstairs. She wasn’t in the bedroom or the bathroom.

Davy was dishing out soup when I told him.

He dropped the ladle and grabbed a handful of my hoody. ‘Where did she go?’

‘Hey, man. I didn’t see –’

‘Imbecile.’

He pushed me away from him. Cups and plates clattered to the floor as my head hit against a shelf.

‘I tell you, she was gone before I got there.’

Then he went berserk, picking up the dishes from the floor and smashing them against the wall.

‘Hey, man,’ I shouted. ‘Calm down.’

He squared up to me. ‘You . . . you KNOW NOTHING. So don’t tell me to keep calm.’

‘OK,’ I said. ‘But don’t you think you should be going after Susie?’

His shudders of rage lessened.

‘Come on,’ he said, picking up his jacket.

‘You want me . . .? OK . . .’ I said. ‘She’ll not have got far. If we hurry–’

‘Where does the path along the river lead to?’ he asked.

‘The path . . . I . . . don’t really know.’

‘You don’t know?’ He pushed back his muscular shoulders. ‘And yet you claim to be looking after the place for Grandpa?’

I could see the blood vessels in his neck pulsing as his face turned from pink to bright red.

This was it. He’d twigged. I didn’t hang around for any more questions. I snatched up my bag and legged it across the kitchen.

But he followed me and grabbed my arm before I’d got through the door.

‘Who are you?’ he yelled. ‘I bet you’re just a squatter. Some filthy tramp off the streets.’

His fingertips dug deeper into my arm and I quickly turned my head, bracing myself for the punch.

‘I knew it . . . I knew there was something not right about you.’

But all of a sudden he let go of me and closed his eyes as if making some big decision.

‘Right. If you’re going to help ... let’s get after her.’

‘I will help,’ I said. ‘I will. We’ll find her.’

Together we set out into the icy rain.