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Grandpa Miller

Updated on September 12, 2011

Front Cover Design

This beautiful photograph was taken from the garden of my good friend Vanessa, and I am so honoured that she allowed me to use it for my front cover design.
This beautiful photograph was taken from the garden of my good friend Vanessa, and I am so honoured that she allowed me to use it for my front cover design. | Source

Grandpa Miller, A Debut Novella by Annette Donaldson

Dear Friends,

My journey into writing has been an emotional roller coaster, and to be honest, when I look at my earlier hubs, my writing back then was terrible. I want to thank each and every one of you for all your support and I am pleased to announce that my debut novella was submitted for publication to yesterday. Once the author copy has been approved, it will be ready to purchase.

This novella is rich in narrative history, and my next journey into perfecting my writing, will be to improve on introducing considerably more dialogue. Mentor wanted, any offers please!!!

© 2011 by Annette Donaldson

Grandpa Miller

Grandpa Miller gazed out of the window, thoughtfully observing the movement of the clouds. Black clouds from the west often gave warning of bad weather, and his insight told him that the Lough would be stormy tonight. He struck a match and held it to the bowl of his pipe, drawing several puffs from the sticky black tobacco, before blowing out the match and leaving it on the window sill.

In the distance, he could hear the rumble of the waves crashing over the pebbled shore below, and closed the curtains as if to keep out the cold. Lying in front of the Aga, Jack, his border collie, raised its head in anticipation of a run in the old Land Rover to the Hoars Head Inn. He had a notion that Rosie, the proprietor, would be serving colcannon and steak tonight. With greying hair and ample bosoms, Rosie was still a striking looking woman, and Jack knew she would have saved him a morsel of meat.

“No, not tonight Jack”, Grandpa ruffled the old dogs coat, “It’s too cold, it’s high time to barricade the barn door and close in the sheep. Tonight there is going to be a storm.” Jack laid back his head and watched quietly as Grandpa tapped out his pipe, leaving the black smelly residue of tobacco on top of the Aga.

Grandpa put on his thick coat, and pulled up the collar to brave the weather. Jack showed no interest in following him, but continued to lay contented, more than happy to stay indoors in the comforting warmth from the stove.

The barn door was swinging fiercely on precarious hinges, which should have been replaced long ago. Grandpa Miller anxiously approached the barn just in time to see a black shadow run for the cover of the cove directly below the croft. He knew he didn’t recognize the figure, be it male or female, and had no chance to follow as the barn door collapsed ungainly from its hinges and fell to the floor, with a loud crack of splintering timber.

Inside the barn, huddled between the bales of sweet smelling hay, the goats cuddled together to seek shelter from the howling wind. Outside there was mayhem, as sheep ran in all directions terrified of the approaching storm. One ewe, in a state of panic, ran with her lambs to the cliff edge and could not be stopped from falling over, her little ones following her to their tragic death.

Grandpa Miller sniffed with disgust. “Stupid creatures these sheep”, he muttered to himself, “I sometimes wonder why I bother." But bother he did, because hidden in the depths of the back of the barn was his distillery. As such, it was a shambles of copper cylinders and copper pipes, hidden from view by cleverly stacked bales of hay and sheep pens. To the right of the barn, buried under soil as was the tradition in these parts, Grandpa Miller stored his crop of harvest potatoes; some of them for eating, actually, all for eating and for sale if he was asked. The remainder were saved for making Poteen; an extremely potent brew of whiskey. In daily speaking, potato whiskey.

Now, producing this moonshine did by no means make Grandpa Miller a rogue locally, because everybody knew that in areas as exposed as where he lived, a slug of Poteen could save a sheep’s life. Or at least leave it so comatose that it would stand in one place for long enough, before keeling over as stiff as a corpse once the yearly head count by the Department of Agriculture was done. Now £30 per head was the subsidy, and although meagre it went a long way to subsidising a modest living for the crofters. Far from all crofters agreed with such a sham, but it was common practice, and the good neighbours knew when to keep quiet.

Grandpa Miller could find no evidence of snooping, and dismissed the unknown figure as one of the youths living on the island taking shelter from the storm. He had possibly startled the trespasser, and put the thought to the very back of his mind. He would recall the event once the storm had passed.

By now the eye of the storm was approaching fast, the clouds swirling around like tumbleweed travelling across dry ground, Grandpa Miller observed, just like in the westerns that he watched on television. In the distance, he could hear the church bell ringing out its warning for the crofters, the shooting light from the nearby lighthouse causing a stark contrast from the shoreline below. The island didn’t have a lifeboat; seemingly there was no need as it was surrounded by uncharted waters that the inhabitants knew like the back of their hands. Squinting against the heavy pounding rain, Grandpa strained to see the little coracle fighting to come ashore. It took him quite a while to recognise the single mast in the centre and the two men anxiously fighting with the sail. He questioned, had these two men any sense at all to be out on a night such as this, let alone in a coracle?

Many of the young men in the village had been tempted to erect a sail in the centre of the corracles, but usually these small crafts, which were hard to manoeuvre with oars, would not have been built with a sail.

Everyone knew the stability of the coracles, which were used to a great extent for riding the current from one island to another, ferrying goods to other ports. But to be using such a small craft tonight was purely suicidal. In all seriousness, but also to his amusement, he watched as the men struggled to pull the craft ashore. Jonny O’Neill, the taller and stronger of the two men, was now wading chest deep across the shallows. The other man, Jamie Beattie, was busy trying to unravel the sail, which had surrounded him completely. Within seconds, Jamie found himself unceremoniously dumped into the water; a hysterical sight of white sail and flaying arms being pulled back out to sea.


Grandpa Miller knew these currents better than any other man. He had lived on this Island for 64 years, man and boy. But as he stood and watched the spectacle unfolding before him, he realised he would have to intervene. Rushing to the back of the barn, Grandpa Miller pulled on his waders, reaching for his grapple hook as he left the barn by the back entrance. He had already changed his coat for his oil clothes, and was taking the steps down to the shore two at a time. His head bent forward pushing into the wind.

Always in his mind’s eye was the sight of Jamie Beattie being taken out to sea on the current. He experienced a strange feeling of panic, uncontrollable emotions, and he knew Jamie didn’t have long to survive. The waves were gathering fast and furious now, heading into the cove like a huge juggernaut out of control, rolling and rolling, battering the sides of the rocks, and all the time Jamie’s now still and lifeless body was being carried further and further away.

The coracle which Jonny O’Neill had now successfully brought ashore was too small to brave the storm again. From under the tarpaulin, covered in sand and shingle, Grandpa Miller pushed the larger currach down the shore and into the Lough. He was grateful that the clement weather of the past few days had allowed him to cover the vessel with tar; something he did on a yearly basis to be ready for the winter of whelk picking. He allowed himself a quick second to think about the danger, and as he looked up to the cliff top, he swore he could see Rosie’s beautiful smile looking down on him, willing him to be safe and return unharmed. With renewed energy, he grabbed the oars and paddled the storm for all he was worth. His determination and concentration was now firmly fixed on the body of Jamie Beattie.

“Jamie lad, hold on I am coming. For God's sake hold on,” he shouted, but his voice was lost in the wind.

The water plunged and churned and the currach rode the waves, like a rodeo horse with his rider on board. Grandpa Miller spat as the taste of salt filled his mouth, covering his face and into his eyes. He was aware of the thunder roll, and for a split second he saw the flash of lightening and heard the tremendous crack, as the lightening hit the top of the church bell tower.

He was approaching Jamie now, and his heart was racing, beating so hard that he could not stand the pain in his temples. With one swift movement, he threw the grapple hook just in time for it to embed itself into what was left of the mast from the coracle; narrowly missing Jamie’s left leg. Grandpa Miller heaved his huge arms, all those times he had struggled with the sheep standing him in good stead. He pulled and pulled until he could reach the sail binding Jamie’s body to the mast. With sheer grit and determination and one swift movement, he had Jamie aboard the currach.

“Jamie,.... Jamie hold on I will soon have you ashore, Jamie....can you hear me?”

He could faintly hear the crofters on the shore heckling and shouting words of encouragement, but he felt like no hero. He struggled to row the currach ashore, all the time thinking how he could have been more supportive of Jamie during his young life. He had kept his distance in life, now surely it meant he would keep his distance in death. Grandpa recalled the tiny features of Mary Jane, Jamie's mother and, looking at Jamie’s lifeless body, he thought how much she and Jamie were alike. Something he had never considered before now. In fact, he had never considered Jamie or his younger siblings, Patrick and Michael, at all.

Using the power from his large broad shoulders, an area of rippling muscle like a finely tuned engine, he worked relentlessly until he had Jamie’s body on firm ground. Grandpa was totally exhausted, and thankful for the assistance of his fellow crofters, as some of the men from the village carried Jamie’s body to the cliff top.

“Are you alright Miller,” Hugh McGrady shouted.

“Aye, I am fine, just get the lad some help, I will be along shortly.” The strain now showing of Grandpa's face.

The dark green door of the Horse Head Inn was open. The storm had destroyed the power lines, but Rosie stood in the doorway holding her Tilley lamp, and her cream shawl tightened over her head and around her waist. The inside of the Inn was very quiet tonight; it was packed to the rafters with families huddled together, taking shelter from the storm. They were one community, one common soul, all now grieving for the death of Jamie Beattie.

Grandpa was greeted by silence when he entered the Inn. Slowly, everyone rose to their feet, one after the other, and gradually they started to clap, not very loud at first, but then raucously enough to crush a man’s ear drums. With a heavy heart and an even heavier coat full of water and shingle in the pockets, Grandpa Miller took a seat in front of the fire, pulled out his pipe, and tapped it on the fire hearth.

The villagers observed that the man looked like a shadow of his former self, hunched over his knees and trembling, his clothes steaming from the contrast between heat and cold. With a face that was ashen and etched with deep frown lines, he turned his face to gaze upon his neighbours.

Applause doesn't bring a dead man back,” he said. “I did nothing worthwhile applauding. There is no hero here, just a tragic loss of life due to stupidity and ignorance!”

The front door burst open. Suddenly, Jonny O’Neill staggered inside, pale faced, dishevelled and in a state of shock.

Grandpa slowly, deliberately stood up and turned around. “What in the name of Jesus do you think you were doing taking the coracle out on a night like this, and one with a sail?” His eyes were open and wild with fury, as he stood firm and struck the table with his fist.

“We didn’t see the storm coming,” Jonny replied quickly. “We were just seeking for an adventure. I'd heard...”

“Adventure, you are calling this tragic loss of a life.... AN ADVENTURE?” Grandpa interrupted and shook his head in disbelief. “I'd call it fatal misjudgement and stupidity by two little boys who dare to call themselves men!”

While Jonny dropped his gaze downwards towards the floor just like a naughty boy being chastised by his mother, the villagers stood by idly, deeply embarrassed and afraid to make a sound. Nobody had ever witnessed Grandpa Miller so cross. Sensing the tension between the two men, they gradually moved backwards towards the bar.

“I heard a small hooker sailing off the coast of the Isle of Man had become foul of a previous storm and was drifting into the mouth of the Lough, and I was told that she was carrying a good sized cargo of Scottish whiskey and tobacco,” Jonny hurriedly explained, his voice muffled by the collar of his coat. “I thought the hooker would have been ripe for the picking, as the Port Authority's boats were too big to bring into the Lough. They would either get grounded in the shallows off the shore or have been ripped apart by the whirlpool near Gills Island.”

Money had become scarce in the village after the past two harsh winters, and everyone knew that many men were taking more risks than usual. Hence, this all made perfect sense to Jonny and anyone else standing near enough to decipher his speech through tears.

Grandpa Miller pushed the tobacco firmly into the bowl of his pipe, struck a match on the hearth, and blew it out. Slowly taking a draw from his pipe and looking deep into the amber flames of the log fire, he stood up again, quietly and with determination, turning to look again at Johnny O’Neil. The villagers gasped, as he appeared to grow so tall.

“Get out, GET OUT!” Grandpa Millers gaze from underneath heavy eyelids was firmly fixed on Jonny’s face. The young man stepped backwards in horror and disbelief, turned on his heel, and ran for the door.

Rosie cautiously approached with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a glass in the other. She methodically placed the bottle and glass in front of Grandpa, and poured him a large shot of whiskey. Her arm around Grandpa's shoulders, she whispered, “Don’t take on so Jim, you did your best, give thanks to God that we still have Jonny, stupid as he might be.”


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    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      My dear friend mar. You are always so supportive of everything I do and I couldn't tell you how important you are. Thank you for just being you. x

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Hi Becky, thank you for stopping by to read. I really enjoyed the challenge of writing this novella. I am thrilled by your encouragement and so glad that I wrote well enough for you to feel the plot.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 6 years ago from Jeffersonville PA


      I wanted to read this again before I ordered my copy! I couldn't be more proud of you, your story and your determination to make your work the best it can be, mar.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 6 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      A very good read. I could feel the strain as he pulled at the oars and his exasperation with the young fools out on the water during the storm. I could feel his exhaustion as he pulled in to shore along with his grief at the death of the young man. Fantastic story leaving us wanting more.

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Hi Sunnie, thank you for reading and leaving such lovely comments. I am indebted to your kindness and generosity of nature. x

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Eiddwen, thank you so much girlfriend for your lovely comment and vote. I enjoyed putting my brain into action to write fiction. I may even try some more lol x

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Pollyanna, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I feel really proud to have you say "when people who read can feel themselves in the story" those words to me mean more than money can say.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 6 years ago

      Hello Net,

      So sorry I am just getting around to reading..I am so happy for you to be published...I wish you every sucess..It is a great action packed with wonderful character..



    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      A brillaint read and thank you for sharing. You do indeed have your own natural style of writing which has us gripped.

      Here's to many more to share.

      Take care and I vote up.


    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

      This is a terrific write, when people who read can feel themselves in the story I do think is the best compliment anyone can get and we certainly none here can advise you on something so good. Glad to have found you!


    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Thank you for stopping by Bill. I hope to be chasing your tail one day in the not too distant future. lol

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Genna, thank you for leaving me such an encouraging comment. My journey into writing literature is only just beginning and so far I have loved the experience. I hop to look back on Grandpa Miller one day and say, "not bad for a first attempt," lol

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Poor Johnny! Remind me not to run afoul of Grandpa miller!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Well written, blue, and compelling. I like your attention to detail; it is measured and brings us into the story on a more personal level, which is not easy to do. Well done!

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Hi Joyce, how are you hunnie? Thank you for the kind comment and support. No the photo was taken by my friend Vanessa especially for the front cover. The Lough referred to in the story is only 4 miles away and I frequently spend time there with the dog. It is a beautiful place full of wildlife and stunning countryside. x

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Hi Sal, thank you for your support and encouragement girlfriend. I have been neglecting my hub pages buddies, naughty, in favour of finishing this project. But I will be along soon to catch up. x

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Richard, thank you for your praise my dear friend. Just a little bit of encouragement goes a long way. Sending much love and hugs for you and Naylin, and a big kiss from Blue to his daughter. x

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      femmeflashpoint, thank you so much for your encouraging words. I really enjoyed the challenge of writing fiction. I have got the bug now and will try my hand at another write. The next step for me is to learn more about writing dialogue.

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Hyphenbird, what a lovely comment to make, thank you very much for your support, I am so grateful.

    • profile image

      writer20 6 years ago

      This is a compelling for me. Great writing. I too wouldn't have thought you haven't written before.

      Did you take the photo of the cove?

    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed this story. Great action and characters. Good luck with the rest! I'll be looking for the next installment.

    • Richard Proctor profile image

      Richard Proctor 6 years ago

      Thank you for the wonderful story I love it.

      I am so happy for your wonderful news me and Naylin wish you lots of luck.

    • profile image

      femmeflashpoint 6 years ago

      This is so well written, I would never have guessed it was your first attempt at fiction.

      Well done!

      And, ditto what Hyphenbird said. The cover is magnificent!

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Well you did a great job with this story and although I do not know you, I am proud of and for you!

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Hi Hyphenbird. Thank you so much for your comments, I will try to explain a litte without giving the plot away Grandpa Miller is the name that "Jim Miller" is known by, it is a term of endearment that his fellow crofters call him. He is in his twilight years, and does have his own quirky character that unfolds further on in the novella, but is not a biological grandfather.

      Jamie is one of several stings in the tale regarding this character Miller, and the history between all the characters does come out from chapter 3 onwards.

      The Inn is called the Hoar's Head Inn, and again the reason unfolds further in the story.

      This is my first ever attempt at writing fiction, and I have loved it. I have had a great deal of help from Novelty Fiction's Private Network, whom without I would not have dared attempt to write fiction.

      My next stage is to practice writing dialogue and make it sound amazing within a story. I do so want to improve my style.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      This was interesting and I really like the plot. The village is quite believable and the death wrenching. You have lots of detail like the match on the windowsill, the name of the stove and lamp and things like that. Those set the scene and the reader feels they know this area and those items.

      I do have a few question... I would like to know why he is called Grandpa. Is it because of his age or does he have children that will be disclosed in a followup? Also, who was the "black shadow" that ran for the cove? Was Jamie his nephew or an alienated child?

      Is the inn named The Hoars Head Inn or The Horse Head Inn. At first I thought it was a typo and should be Boar then saw Horse later.

      All in all you have a lovely story here with a very sad ending.

      I will come back and read it again later. Perhaps a fresh read will answer some of these questions. Thanks so much, Hyph.

      ps-the cover is indeed beautiful.


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