Play - Luke Palmer
Four boys grow up together at school, itching to get out of their small town. They play games, scoring points from each other, anything to pass the time until they’re free.
Matthew slips into his imagination, Luc pushes his body to the limit, and Johnny … well who knows what Johnny’s up to. But when Mark starts running errands for his older brother’s mysterious associate, he thinks he’s found the best game of all. There’s money in his pocket and his friends have started looking at him differently.
Then Mark breaks a rule, and quickly realises that the penalties in this game far outweigh the prizes. Can they all make it to the finish line before someone loses more than just face?
I'm thrilled to be part of the blogtour for this dramatic and thrilling coming of age novel from the brilliant Luke Palmer, and that I can share this extract for whatiread as part of the tour:
PLAY by Luke Palmer
…I was sitting in the den, the summer before Year 8 started, the sun throwing thick bars of dusty light between the trees, the inside of the den warm and earthy, when I saw an armchair floating across the heath towards me.
It was upside down, its ripped lining flapping. Every now and then, the armchair would lurch into a little gorse bush, and have to back up, then it would go on again, floating slowly towards me like a clumsy ghost.
There was a steep slope on that side of the copse, so the chair had to go around. I watched through a gap in the pallet, expecting this strange floating chair to go on past me and trundle off to wherever it was going.
But it didn’t trundle off.
The armchair flipped over then, revealing the boy who was under it. He squinted into the thicket of trees. The weirdest thing was that he stood with his hands on his hips. No one I knew stood like that. It was an old man way to stand. If you wanted to stand still, you put your hands in your pockets, or folded them on your chest. Putting your hands on your hips was almost as bad as putting them behind your back. But the boy stood there with his hands on his hips, peering at the trees. He bobbed his head around as he looked, and crouched down a bit sometimes, like a weird chicken.
He was trying to spot a way in.
I dropped right down to the bottom of the den and eased backwards into the darkest corner, pleased that I’d pulled the tarpaulin door shut behind me when I’d arrived that morning.
The boy had got the armchair past the trees and was moving it over the uneven ground, rocking it from side to side on its back legs like it was walking. The chair was pretty manky and you could see the bare material where most of the soft stuff had worn away. There were a couple of bits of tassley ribbon attached to the ends of the arms. The boy got the chair almost right in front of the den, then he stopped. Now I was certain that he was going to try to steal the den from me, and I grabbed my Swiss army knife from its special shelf, deciding that the saw blade looked scariest, and gently prised it open. He must be after my football cards, or some of my other valuable stuff, and he wasn’t going to get them without a fight.
The boy rearranged the cushion on the armchair, dusted off a few pine needles, hit it a few times to get rid of some dust.
‘Hello,’ he said.
I didn’t answer.
‘My mum said we could use this chair if we wanted. So I brought it.’
We? Who was we?
‘It’s a bit shit, but it’s still pretty comfy.’ A pause. ‘I’ve got some other stuff, too.’ The boy pulled off his backpack, emptied it onto the chair... ‘I took Giles’ old tranny stove. Mum doesn’t know but she won’t mind. And Giles doesn’t need it anymore. So…’ He trailed off.
‘Giles is my stepdad, not my real dad,’ he added, quieter.
I sat as still as I could. He didn’t know I was here. He’d leave in a minute.
The boy flopped down on the ground, next to the chair.
‘It’s OK if you don’t let me in for a bit,’ he said. ‘I can sit out here.’
A pinecone dropped from the trees above and landed by the entrance of the den.
The boy looked up. ‘You ever catch a squirrel?’ he asked. ‘I got one once. Hit it with a stone.’
‘Squirrels are too fast to get like that. You need to set a snare,’ I replied. Then, for some reason, I added, ‘I had one but then I sold it.’
‘My uncle had an air rifle he used to shoot them with. They kept coming into his garden and taking the bird seed.’ The boy drew his bare arm across his nose, sniffed.
‘My uncle’s got an air rifle, too,’ I said, even though I hadn’t seen either of my uncles since I was tiny. ‘It cost him loads because it’s got a night scope on it. He says I can have it when he gets a new one at Christmas.’ I eased the saw blade closed against my thigh.
The boy nodded, impressed. He tapped the arms of the chair, tugged at one of the tassly bits.
‘Are you coming in then? Careful of the nails on the door. They’re holding the tarp in place.’
The boy stood up, scuffed around on the floor in front of him with his toe for a bit, then walked – almost sideways – towards the door.
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Order a copy yourself at: https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/play/
Thanks to Firefly for the copy of the book and spot on the blogtour.
Post by Rich Simpson (@Richreadalot) October 2023