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SHIRLEY BURLY AND THE STICK OF WOOD
BY SCOTT PIXELLO
Meet Shirley: thirteen, half-Turkish, a little overweight and obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. Oh yes, and she’s just been told she’s ‘on the spectrum.’ Together with sidekicks Monty, Napoleon and Jasper, she starts a crime-fighting blog, aimed at her obsessive online fans, called ‘Dear Stalker…’ She’s a different kind of detective with a different skill set. She’s about to surprise lots of people, including herself. And still be home in time for tea.
Check out Scott Pixello’s super-fun 18th novel, which critics are already calling ‘SBATSOW’. Available in paperback and ebook form.
WARNING- word avalanche approaching. Non-readers take evasive action.
So, a few people have asked, ‘What’s this Shirley Burly thing all about then?’ It’s a bit difficult to describe, like lots of my books, so here’s a taste. BTW, Baba is what she calls her father and Nez is her older sister.
This is from Chapter 4, when the main character, who has taken to calling herself Shirley Burly (for reasons you’ll have to find out) starts to assemble a team to help her do some detecting (and not of the metal variety).
The doctors at the hospital had talked about using low-tech ways to organise and visualise thoughts and it did seem to help, from the target charts on the fridge to her homework timetable to the TV schedule. On one wall, she’d cleared her notice-board of boy band pictures and, now, it was covered with crime stories from the local paper and printed offline. It was a bit of a mess and looked more like a serial killer’s den than the working out of a case but that would come in time.
On the left side of the board she had placed a heading: ‘Team’ under which appeared the following information:
First name: Napoleon
Second name: Cat
Domicile: Anywhere he chooses
Colour: Mostly black
Favourite food: Aubergine bake with fennel sauce (sometimes)
Distinctive features: Fussy with his food. Also has a white spot on his nose, will puke if tickled.
Dislikes: Christmas trees-—will fight them to the death if challenged.
She wasn’t sure if you were supposed to describe people as ‘black’ these days (and to her, Napoleon definitely was people) but she chose to keep it listed. He was mostly black, except for his white tummy and smudge on his nose, which looked like he’d been decorating. This was unlikely as he was extremely lazy and he would struggle to help her father open the paint tins.
They let him out at night to avoid whining and scratching (the cat, not Baba). It was anyone’s idea where he went but he did, sometimes, bring back little presents, which he used to drop by her face in bed. Waking up next to a half-dead mouse, or baby bird, was just one of the parts of her everyday routine. She had given quite a lot of thought to Napoleon’s name and never shortened it. She felt he might not be impressed if she came to the door at feeding time and called out, ‘Nappy’. If she were a cat, she wouldn’t come if she was called that. However, it did mean that an even shorter version of his name, ‘Nap,’ was accurate as he seemed to spend most of his time in various stages of napping. She had opted for Napoleon, which he seemed to think meant he was a great leader. Actually, it was because he was short, tried to take over everything and didn’t like the cold much.
Next to Napoleon, appeared the second member of her support team:
Second name: Python
Domicile: Glass case in adjacent room
Colour: Mostly yellow
Favourite food: Freshly killed mice
Distinctive features: Not really—he’s a snake
She was pleased with the word adjacent but had had to Google the spelling. Baba said she shouldn’t use Google for spelling (she wasn’t quite sure why) but it was the quickest thing to do.
Monty was a reticulated python. She had wondered at first if that meant he was articulated like a lorry that had a cab you could detach and connect with different trailers. But it didn’t. It meant he was covered in a veiny pattern. The thing like a lorry would have been cool though. The great thing about Monty was that, mostly, he just sat, always listened and never ever repeated her secrets to anyone else. He had the qualities of a perfect best friend.
She had gone to a local animal shelter, intending to get another dog as company for Jasper (details to follow). However, she had passed a cage with a yellow snake curled up in the far corner and when she asked, the man who ran the place said that someone had just dumped it by the side of the road. It was lucky to be alive. Pythons like this normally live in South-east Asia and the climate in Britain most of the time is more like Planet Drizzle. He didn’t say all this—just the bit about being lucky. She’d looked up pythons on the Net later.
There were all kinds of freakish horror stories about pythons swallowing dogs and even small children but it did say that most of these were unproven and that usually, if they were treated well, they wouldn’t eat you. She could identify with that. People viewed her that way most of the time, so she knew how it felt.
Monty, like her, didn’t like being handled. He could be a bit tetchy but was potentially very strong when angered. Granted, she wasn’t scaly, fork-tongued or yellow but she felt they had enough in common for the relationship to work. Dogs occasionally attacked toddlers but people still kept them as pets (dogs that is, not toddlers).
So that’s how a much younger, and considerably smaller Monty, made his home with them. He was still growing and although measuring and weighing him was now quite difficult, she occasionally did it, just in case anyone asked. She had to drape him a few times round her neck, stand on the scale and then subtract her own weight (having weighed herself first). The draping bit was getting harder as he grew longer (he was up to about 12 feet now) and heavier. Pythons weren’t poisonous; they killed their prey by constriction but she’d never had any problems with Monty. She liked to think it was because he was content but he was probably just lazy. It must take quite a lot of effort to squeeze someone to death. As much as she wished her bullies at school were dead sometimes, it had never crossed her mind to squeeze them.
Monty had been watching her, while she pondered these weighty matters. He occasionally gave a bit of a flick with his tongue, which Disney cartoons always used to suggest they were hungry. She knew it just meant he was testing the air around him. In theory, pythons ate small mammals, including cats and, more as a precautionary measure, she tried not to leave Monty and Napoleon alone together. Mind you, anyone who tried to eat that fat fur-ball would have a job.
Touching snakes always freaked other kids out, who expected them to be slimy but, as she knew, Monty’s skin was dry and smooth. Moving his bulk around to clean his cage or just to pet him, had made her strong. He needed mice to eat and sometimes she bought frozen ones from the pet shop but after Nez screamed the first time upon finding one in the freezer, she had often tried to find him some live food to eat. Napoleon helped here, bringing in a succession of dead or half-dead mice and birds, which Monty gratefully wolfed down. She giggled to herself thinking about a snake ‘wolfing’ anything.
The great thing about animals was that, unlike people, if you treated them well, they’d generally do the same to you. And they never wanted to do group work. Monty seemed a bit of a lonely creature, having no other snakes to talk to, so she took it upon herself to spend time with him and tell him about her day. She wasn’t like these batty people you saw on TV, who swore their animals talked back. She might have been on the spectrum but she wasn’t mad.
On one wall of her bedroom, there was a poster for one of her favourite John Carpenter films: Escape from New York. This was partly due to the idea of a city as a prison, which was how she sometimes felt in London but, mainly, because of the kick-ass hero, the eye-patch-wearing Snake Plisskin. It was the kind of role and name she would have chosen for herself.
She then added details about the third member of the team.
Second name: the Dog
Domicile: Basket under the stairs
Colour: Mostly yellow, often muddy-brown (from mud)
Favourite food: Ice-cream (vanilla)
Distinctive features: Scared of spiders and vacuum cleaners
He was a Labrador Retriever, like they always had on Blue Peter when they were training guide dog puppies. He never seemed to get upset, angry or impatient. Sometimes she thought he was a space alien but if he was, he certainly wasn’t here to take over the planet.
He was a Labrador but had never been out of England and he was supposed to be a retriever. She was confused by that. Whenever she threw balls or sticks for him, he would amble after whatever it was, find it and then sit. She was usually the one who did the retrieving. Still, he had a good sense of smell and had been the one to detect a gas leak in a static caravan they had hired on holiday in Wales a few years ago. If it hadn’t been for his persistent barking, they might not have woken up at all.
One reason her dad had got Jasper in the first place was to help her calm down when she had a meltdown. It had seemed to work. He was very calm and just stayed close until, the feelings went away. Strangely, touching animals—Jasper, Napoleon and Monty—didn’t seem to trigger a reaction like human contact. Around Jasper, she didn’t have as many meltdowns and when they did happen, it almost felt like they were happening to someone else.
He had been an unwanted puppy, rescued by a local shelter. Baba often told her the story of how he brought in the puppy, laid it next to her when she was upset (about what she had no idea) and it was like flicking a switch. She immediately calmed and felt better. After a bad day at school, a hug from Jasper was worth its weight in gold. He was six years old now. She thought about most six-year-old humans. Jasper already had the maturity of someone in their forties. Jasper barked but he wasn’t exactly ferocious. He was more a warning dog than a guard dog. In theory, he could bite someone but it was more likely he’d dribble them to death. He was a good swimmer but, unlike her, he didn’t have certificates to prove it and, unlike her again, he shed hair everywhere.
However, like her, he did have his own strange habits. The vacuum cleaner for instance. When they were turned off, he wasn’t scared of them. When they were moving, he was terrified. Ditto with the spiders. Dad had said that if they ever came across a spider doing some hoovering, Jasper would freak out but she’d said that she didn’t think that was very likely. Her dad had gone into another room and seemed to be making a laughing-type noise but she couldn’t see why.
She stood back to admire her handiwork with the board, which had now been prioritised into three parts: now, later, and much later. Homework appeared in the third section with ‘possibly never’ added in brackets.
Scott Pixello was born in England in 1966. Following the usual dysfunctional teenage years, he went to Oxford in the 1980s but eventually found the shopping was just not worth the 200-mile round journey and stayed at home instead. He took a degree in Manchester but was later forced to give it back. He has since published several books on completely different topics and under a different name. According to the Internet, he now divides his time between writing books on fly-fishing, running a successful contract cleaning business and acting as the lead singer of an indie band called Single Syllable (or Sin for short). Despite repeated attempts at deportation by the German government, he lives in Düsseldorf with his future ex-wife and bucking contemporary population trends, has sired 2.4 children called Thomas, Amy and Dav-. He lists his interests as numismatics, protecting his privacy and telling lies.
For newbies, there’s something for everyone in the Pixelloverse, now offering 18 titles. Those needing help with studies (Shakespeare: A Boy’s Tale), anyone expecting or dealing with children (The A-Z of Kids), fans of romance (What Love Can Do), sci-fi (Losers in Space), detective fiction (Shirley Burly), historical fiction (Jesus: The Wilderness Years or any of the Keith Ramsbottom series), anyone needing a lift (Gothic Girl or Luke, I am Your Father), lovers of animals (Rainbow) or anyone who’s too clever for their own good (Smart School)- need look no further. All Amazon ratings are 4* or above.
Links to Scott’s website, blog, books, etc.
Thanks, Scott, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!