Daisy Cooper: International Schoolgirl
When you're twelve years old and want to travel the world as a reporter for International Schoolgirl magazine you'd better be able to prove you can find a good story at home first.

Budding reporter Daisy Cooper finds the perfect school when she wins a place at the brilliant but eccentric Darlington School for Girls. With maths classes that involve poker games, science lectures where pupils fire rockets and biology lessons that take place in a real zoo it is everything she could have wished for.
The school is also home to International Schoolgirl, a magazine that sends specially chosen pupils - International Schoolgirls - on adventures across the globe in search of groundbreaking stories. To travel the world as a reporter is something Daisy has always wanted and she dreams of being chosen.

Daisy begins an adventure closer to home, however, when she gets lost in the school maze one evening and stumbles across the mysterious Sisters of the Black Night - a hooded secret society that meets under the cover of darkness. Convinced The Sisters are up to no good Daisy enlists the help of her dorm mates - the 88ers - to get to the bottom of the mystery. It’s an adventure that takes her through ancient pirate diaries, shark infested tunnels, perilous sword fights and on motorcycle chases through the stormy English countryside. When Daisy finally discovers The Sisters’ dark secret she has to make the most difficult choice of her life: having the job she always dreamed of, or doing what’s right.

Excerpts from the book (and subsequent books) will be posted here. If you wish to contact me for further information or promotions please click here

Sunday, December 16, 2012

free Xmas promotion


Daisy Cooper and the Sisters of the Black Night is going to be FREE to download from xmas day until the 27th of December. That means anyone with a new Kindle reader will be able to enjoy the adventures of Daisy Cooper as a gift from me. Even if you don't have a Kindle reader you can still enjoy the book by downloading the FREE Kindle reader software for your Mac, PC, iPad, Tablet or Phone. You can also buy the paperback if you wish to (though unfortunately, I can't make that free I'm afraid!).

Here are the links:

Hope you enjoy the free book. If you do, tell you friends and do me a very big favour by posting a review onto Amazon. Book 2 is underway and will hopefully be up towards the end of 2013.


Robert Dee

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Paperback available NOW

The paperback is ready for xmas and available NOW!

US readers can find it here

UK readers, please click here

Please keep an eye out for upcoming promotions including audio podcast excerpts, a revamped website and other things almost as exciting as one of Daisy's adventures.

Here are the digital mock-ups for the paperback version which is due out soon. Looking pretty good! Retail price will be £7.99 UK and $10.99 US. You can still order the Kindle version here

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Daisy Cooper and the Sisters of the Black Night Chapter Three: A Matter of Honour

As it turned out, Daisy didn’t have to wait long to find out if she was successful. There was a letter waiting for her in the same green coloured envelope in the Tuesday morning mail. She didn’t even wait to go to her room to open it. Fingers shaking, she opened it up. The first thing she saw was the word ‘CONGRATULATIONS!’ written at the top of the page. She was through to the interviews.
The following Monday morning, Daisy waved her brothers and her father off in the car. It was 7:30 AM. Percy and Henry were asleep in the back, puffy faces pressed against the window. Mr Cooper didn’t look happy. He’d arranged a day trip to Brighton for them and taken time off work. Daisy had told him that she wasn’t feeling well. It was kind of true because today was the day of the interview and her nerves were making her feel sick. Her dad had argued with her and it was obvious he was disappointed but in the end he told her to wrap up warm and try and get some sleep.
Once the car was out of sight, Daisy ran inside and got changed into the smart black dress her dad had bought her on her last birthday. Daisy wasn’t really a dress wearing kind of person. It was the first time she’d really worn it and it was itchy. She looked around for shoes to go with it but all she had were battered trainers. In desperation, she pulled her black plimsols out of her gym kit and slipped them on. At least they were the right colour.
The train to Darlington snaked through the countryside. Daisy tried to concentrate on the interview but thoughts of her Dad kept creeping in instead. She had lied to him. There was no getting around that fact. What was worse was that she knew that HE KNEW she had lied too but he didn’t understand why. At some point she was going to have to tell him.
Daisy looked up. Brodie was standing in the doorway of the carriage, a big smile on her face.
Daisy got up and hugged her friend, her worries forgotten.
“So you got through!”
“So did you!”
“I knew you would.”
“I knew YOU would.”
“So what’s the deal with this interview thing then?” said Brodie sitting. Daisy shrugged.
“I’m not sure. It just says to be at Darlington Station at 9:30AM.”
“Yeah, that’s what I got. I’m staying over here with an aunt in Glou-cester-shire - for the summer anyways. My mum’s off in India looking for gurus and my dad’s got his head stuck in some computer thing so I’m going nuts with a crazy aunt I don’t know who does nothing but watch gardening programmes all day. So when I got the letter it was awesome.”
“What questions do you think they’ll ask?” asked Daisy.
Brodie rolled her eyes, thinking.
“ I had a cousin in the States who went to some posh girl’s school in Alabama and she had to go to an interview. They asked her stuff like if she loved the president and was she a good Christian and stuff like that. She’s Jewish so I don’t know what she said about that.”
Daisy remembered the lie and bit her lip.
“But this is England” continued Brodie,”You Brits have got your own rules. They’ll probably ask me if I know how to make a cup of tea.”
They both laughed.

Daisy and Brodie stepped off the train onto the platform at Darlington Station and looked around. There were a few of the uniformed girls Daisy had seen last time climbing out of the first class carriages further up. They followed them out to the car park.
“Where do we go now?” said Brodie looking around.
“I know” said Daisy with a smile. In the corner of the car park stood the big green Darlington school bus. Mistress Aitken, the Deputy Head, was stood by its door with a clipboard in her hand. They walked over and joined the line of girls waiting to board.
“Where are your parents?” barked Mistress Aitken when Daisy got to the front of the queue.
“They’re not here.”
The Deputy Head raised a heavily penciled eyebrow and looked at her list.
“Daisy Cooper.”
With a short sharp flick of the wrist she ticked Daisy’s name off her list.
“On you get, then.”
There was a faint smell of lavender inside the bus. The floors were wooden and the seats were made of old red leather. It really was like stepping into a old photograph. Daisy and Brodie sat at the back on the top floor and Brodie stared out of the window while Daisy looked at the other passengers. The bus was only about half full. Most of the other girls apart from her and Brodie were in school uniform and sat between their parents like prized possessions. She thought about her Dad and wondered if they were in Brighton yet. 
“LADIES AND GUESTS, LISTEN UP.” bellowed Mistress Aitken, standing at the top of the stairs.
Daisy was disappointed. She was hoping to get a look at Darlington School. She’d tried to find pictures of it online but hadn’t had any success. It made it seem all the more special. The bus’s engine shuddered into life and they began to move. Brodie turned to Daisy.
“I hope she’s not doing the interview.” she whispered.
Gateley Junior School was a small old building that reminded Daisy of a church. Certainly different from Saint Margaret’s which was more like an office building. As the girls climbed off the bus, they were handed one of eight coloured pieces of card and asked to queue up next to a pole of their colour. The poles were laid out in a line at the edge of the plaground. Daisy was handed a green card. Brodie’s was purple.
“Come along, girls, line up!” said a short, round woman dressed in a suit. She separated Daisy and Brodie and pushing them towards their different poles. Brodie crossed her fingers and waved them at Daisy. Daisy did the same back to her.
Once all the girls had lined up properly, Mistress Aitken took a whistle out her pocket and blew it quickly three times. All the giggling and excited talking amongst the girls stopped.
“Thankyou, girls. My name is MIstress Aiken and I am the Deputy Head at Darlington School for Girls. Shortly each queue will be escorted into the building by a senior from Darlington where you will wait in the designated classroom until you are called for your interview. During this time you are expected to remain quiet. There is to be no talking and no use of mobile phones or music devices.You are permitted to read a book. Under no circumstances should you disturb the Senior in charge unless you need to visit the ladies room or have an emergency. Your Senior will be reporting back and giving a report of any misconduct which will be taken into consideration on your application.”
Mistress Aitken gave another three shrill blasts on her whistle. The main doors to the school opened and out walked the Seniors. They crossed the playground, walking in line, each immaculately dressed in the Darlington School uniform and all looking tall and confident. Daisy looked down at her plimpsols and felt embarrassed.
The Seniors walked along the row of coloured poles, one of them stopping at each line of hopeful girls. As they approached the green pole, Daisy caught one of them glaring at her. Her heart leapt into her throat. It was Eleanore. The girl from the Roman villa. Elanore stopped in front of the line next to Daisy’s and another Senior - a stocky girl with a kind smile - stood in front of the green pole. Daisy gave a sigh of relief. That was close, She thought. She looked over at Eleanore who was still glaring at her and, not being able to help herself, gave a cheeky smile. Eleanore smiled back, her eyes narrowing. She leant over and whispered something to the stocky Senior at the front of Daisy’s row. A discussion went on between them in whispers too low for Daisy to hear. There was another whistle sound. Daisy turned to see the first of the lines walking through the school entrance. When she looked back she saw with horror that Elanore had swapped places with the stocky girl. Daisy felt her face flush with a mixture of fear and anger. Eleanore winked at her.
The clock ticked slowly on the wall above the blackboard. Underneath it, perched on the desk, sat Eleanore. The eight girls who were up for the interview in Daisy’s group sat apart at their small desks. The parents had been taken off for tea and cakes in the school cafeteria which didn’t make Daisy feel quite so alone amongst them. Most of them had brought books which they were reading. Daisy had been in such a rush that morning she had forgotten to pack a book. Her rucksack had nothing in it but her journal and pens which she never forgot, some sandwiches and an apple. She wondered wether she was allowed to do any writing but she didn’t want to say anything to Eleanore. After 45 minutes, the plump teacher in the suit knocked on the door. She puffed noisily as she flicked through the pile of notes on her clipboard.
“Rita Sharma?”
The girl who had been at the front of their queue put up her hand.
“Come with me please.”
Rita left the classroom with the plump lady. There were seven of them left.

What seemed like hours passed. After the first four girls had gone through, Eleanore escorted the four of them who were left to the ladies bathroom and then back to the classroom to eat their packed lunches. They were still not officially allowed to talk. As Daisy was unwrapping her sandwiches, though, Eleanore walked over and sat on the edge of her desk. She picked up one of the sandwiches and looked inside wrinkling her nose.
“Eww. How frightful.”
She threw the sandwich back down. Daisy picked it up and took a bite. The other girls were busy with their own lunches.
“Well, I must say I was surprised to see you here, oik. I never forget a face, though.” said Elenore quietly, “I’m not surprised  that you haven’t forgotten mine.”
Daisy took another bite of her sandwich. She knew that Eleanore wanted her to say something back, something sarcastic, so she could report her. Daisy tried her best to ignore her.
“ I imagine people from your background are good at cheating. I assume that’s how you got here. Maybe you thought you’d come along to see if you could steal a few purses or wallets from the parents. ”
Daisy took another bite. A big one.
“...Tell me, oik” whispered Elenore leaning in, “ did your parents teach you to cheat and steal or did you pick it up on the streets?...”
Another bite. Daisy tapped her feet hard against the floor. She could feel her cheeks burning.
“...was it your oik friends or was it your oik parents? Your oik dad, if you have one, or maybe it was your oik mum?...”
Daisy slammed the sandwich down on the desk and stood up, her chair squeaking noisily. Eleanore jumped back and smiled. 
“Go on...” she hissed.
Daisy opened her mouth ready to burst, ready to let Elenore know exactly what she thought of her. She was too angry to care whether she got into the school or not.
“Daisy Cooper?...Daisy Cooper?”
Daisy and Eleanore turned round. The plump lady with the papers was at the door. 
“I’m here!” said Daisy getting up from her chair. She gave Eleanore a scowl, picked up her bag and left the room.

The interview board were lined up behind a wide desk in the school hall. Daisy sat at a single small chair in the middle of the hall in front of them. She’d been sitting there for a few minutes as the adults at the table read through her exam answers and scribbled down notes. In the middle of the table sat Mistress Aitken. On her left side sat the French teacher who had been speaking to her last time, Madame Didier. On the other side was a middle aged lady with a shark like face - small eyes and a wide, thin mouth beneath slicked back jet black hair. The name plaque on the table in front of her read “Mrs Lydia Lyles, Chair of the Darlington Board”. Whilst she looked at her copy of the report she played with a string of expensive looking pearls around her neck. Beside Mrs Lyles sat one of the Darlington schoolgirls. She was a little older than the Seniors and wore a shiny metal pin on her blazer that was the same as the one Roni had worn on her tie. Daisy supposed that this meant that they were head girls or a prefects. Her name was Anita Walker. On the other end of the table was Miss Brewster, the kindly looking teacher with the mad hair with paint spots in it from the exam hall. Miss Brewster was the only one not looking through her notes. She gave Daisy a little wink which made Daisy feel a little less worried. Eventually the scribbling finished. They all put down their pens and looked over at Daisy.
“Good afternoon, Miss Cooper.” said Mistress Aitken, “There are sixty four girls being interviewed today for eight remaining spaces in the coming academic year. That means that fifty six of the girls we interview today will not be successful. The purpose of this interview is to give you a chance to tell us why you should be one of the successful ones.”
Anita Walker, the head girl at the end of the table took over.
“Darlington School for Girls is one of the top five all girls schools in the world”, she said, “with a reputation that comes not just from its high academic results but also from the character of its pupils. Being a Darlington Girl is not merely a measure of where you spend your education but how you live the rest of your life. There is a code that each girl must live up to, a way of behaving and a way of approaching the world.”
“So the first thing we must ask, Miss Cooper” continued the Deputy Head, “is what is your knowledge of the Darlington Code?”
It suddenly fell very quiet. Daisy could feel all the eyes of the room on her. 
“Well...I guess...”
Daisy thought hurriedly. She’d read the information on the internet a hundred times, imagining herself at the school. The online prospectus had mentioned the code but hadn’t explained what it was. Mrs Lyles coughed. The Deputy head’s eyes narrowed. Daisy could feel a cold sweat on the back of her neck. It must be a test, she thought hurriedly. Test, test, test…. That was it, the exam! Daisy remembered that each of the qualities she was asked about in the exam was the name of one of the school houses. They had to be the parts of the Darlington Code.
“Charity, Bravery, Reason, Culture, Grace, Agility, Fellowship and Honour!” Daisy blurted out. Mistress Aitken and Mrs Lyles looked at each other and raised their eyebrows. Miss Brewster was nodding at Daisy. It gave her courage to continue.
“I mean” said Daisy lowering her voice, “the code is based on the eight qualities of the school and is represented in the names of your Houses. They are the things that you expect a girl to have...and to work on...at Darlington...to make her...a Darlington Girl?”
Daisy raised an eyebrow hopefully. The faces stared back blankly. Daisy looked back at Miss Brewster but she was busy writing something down.
“And in what way do you think that you, Miss Cooper, embody these qualities? With examples please.” asked the Deputy Head sternly.
“Well, with Duty. I suppose I have a duty to my family. Since my mum died and my dad’s at work long hours I have to sort out my brothers, make the tea, wash up. Feed the cat…”
There was a titter of laughter between the adults. Daisy pressed on.
“….Every day duties, I suppose, not big ones but important ones. Bravery? I don’t know how brave I am but I taught myself to ride a horse. She wasn’t just a normal horse - she had been mistreated so was really nervous. No one else would dare ride her but I managed to calm her. Eventually we were doing jumps in the paddock. Reason? The teachers at my old school tell me I try their patience because I’m always questioning them but it’s important to make sure you get something right, I think. There’s no point thinking you know something when it isn’t right…Culture?”
Daisy stumbled. Culture?  When she’d read about it in magazines it was always about classical music and Shakespeare and she’d had none of that. Not at school or at home, really. She looked over at Miss Brewster again who gave her an encouraging nod. 
“Culture... I don’t know if I have a lot of that.” she said with a sigh, “I’ve never been to the ballet or an opera but I’ve read about them. I’ve read about a lot of things like that and I’d love to see them for myself but I haven’t had a chance. Not yet. That’s why I want to get into Darlington so much because I want to know all about this stuff, I really do. Grace? I used to practise walking round my room with a book on my head...”
The were a couple of laughs. Even the Deputy Head seemd to let out a slight smirk. Daisy wasn’t sure why but that was probably a good thing.
“Well, again….” Said Daisy, “I know I have a few rough corners as my dad says but I’m a fast learner so maybe I can learn to be more graceful. Agility? I’d say the Horse riding again. I also did swimming and gymnastics and taught myself to play the piano - I didn’t have a real piano, though, I had to draw a keyboard on a piece of cardboard and then practice on it. When they let me at school, I’d stay late and try out what I’d learnt on the music room piano...I’m not great, but I can bang out a tune if I’ve heard it a few times. Fellowship...”
Daisy paused again. She thought about the word. She supposed it meant the same thing as friendship. Daisy didn’t have many friends.
“I don’t know if I’m that strong on that one. I’m always doing things at home with my family. Not that I wouldn’t love to have lots of friends.”
Daisy went quiet. The interview was turning out quiet difficult. The Code was making her think about her life. She really didn’t have many friends at all in the world.
“And what about Honour, Daisy?” ask Mistress Aitken.
“Answer the question, Miss Cooper. Would you say you were an honourable person?” snapped Lydia Lyles her cold shark eyes boring into Daisy.
Daisy suddenly thought about her Dad and brothers in Brighton and how she’d lied not to go with them. A memory popped into her head. It was from when mum was sick. Daisy had gone to the hospital after school one day to visit and spotted her dad through the glass window of her mum’s private room. He was sat by the side of her bed holding her hand whilst she slept. He was crying. Daisy couldn’t bring herself to go into the room. It was the first time she’d ever seen her dad cry. Daisy had promised herself at that moment that she would always look after her dad and her brothers, whatever happened. Yet now, here she was, sitting an interview for a place in a boarding school miles away from them.
Daisy looked up. Mistress Aitken had removed her glasses and was looking at her with a frown. Daisy sighed.
“No.” she said, “I don’t think I am an honourable person.”
Daisy got up and picked up her bag.
“I’m really very sorry for wasting your time. You’r school seems very beautiful.”
“Daisy!” called out Miss Brewster.
Feeling like she was going to cry and not wanting to, Daisy walked quickly out of the hall without turning back.

Daisy switched trains at Clapham Junction to get to Brighton. She’d phoned her dad to tell him she was feeling better and was on her way to meet them. Finding an empty carriage to sit in, she thought about the interview. Part of her wanted to go back and say she’d made a terrible mistake but deep down she knew that she’d given the honest answer to the question. What could be more dishonorable than lying to your family and leaving them? Daisy felt bad that she hadn’t said goodbye to Brodie and felt even worse when she realised she’d probably never see her again. If Brodie was successful at getting into Darlington (and why wouldn’t she?) maybe Daisy could send a letter to the school and they could still keep in touch. It gave her little hope. All Daisy could do was picture the life she would have had at the school. Sure there were scary things like Eleanore and Mistress Aitken but there were bullies and scary teachers in every school. There were also people like Brodie and Roni and Miss Brewster. So much of it seemed so good. Daisy thought of the future, of the last few weeks of summer before going to Degham. Becoming a Degger. The window shuddered as a train thundered past. At least she would be with her family. Daisy smiled to try and cheer herself up. She had the rest of the day to spend in Brighton. Still, though, she couldn’t get the thought of Darlington out of her head.
Brighton was fun. Daisy felt pleased to see her dad and brothers enjoying themselves. She ran to greet them at Brighton Pier where Percy told her that they’d been on the rollercoaster all morning. He boasted that he’d managed to be sick four times already. Henry then said he’d been sick five times and won the “rollercoaster being sick contest”. They started fighting again. If nothing else it made it clear to Daisy that they needed her. 
When they got back from Brighton, Daisy spent the next week at the Newham Park Farm. She hadn’t been there in ages after getting obsessed with Darlington and she wanted to say hello to Pickle. Pickle was a grey eleven year old Welsh pony - the horse that she had told the teachers about at the interview. She got there early every morning to muck out the stables and spent the afternoon riding Pickle around the paddock practicing jumps.
On the Friday Daisy returned home from the farm, exhuasted and a little bruised. Pickle had refused one of the bigger jumps and thrown her off. Daisy kicked off her wellies and padded through to the kitchen to run her bruised elbows under the tap.
“Hello Daisy.”
Daisy’s mouth fell open. Sitting at the kitchen table was Miss Brewster. Dad was sat next to her with a pile of forms in front of him. Daisy recognised her exam papers amongst them.
“I think you have some explaining to do.” said her Dad, raising his eyebrow.
Daisy sat down and told her dad everything. The words poured out almost faster than she could speak them, like they’d been bottled up inside for weeks. She told him about the Roman villa, the mosaic and how she’d met Roni. She told him about the schoolbus and Mistress Aitken with her enormous bun. She told him about finding the school online and taking the online exam. Saying sorry between every sentence she explained how she’d let him and the boys go off to Brighton without her so she could go to the interview and finally she told him how she’d given it all up because she felt so guilty about being selfish. She collapsed back in the chair, exhausted. Miss Brewster poured her a cup of tea. No one said anything for several minutes.  For once, Daisy wished Percy and Henry were around with all their crashing and banging. Eventually her Dad spoke.
“Daisy, daisy...what am I going to do with you.” he sighed. He picked up one of the letters in front of him, “Do you know what this is?”
Daisy shook her head. Dad turned the letter round and held it out in front of him. The word “ACCEPTANCE” was written in big bold letters under the Darlington School crest. Daisy bit her lip. Acceptance? She’d been accepted? Her heartbeat doubled.
“I had a chat with Miss Brewster here before you arrived and she thinks you’re a pretty smart cookie.”
“ Daisy, your answers in the exam were a little, let’s say, unconventional but the essay you wrote was one of the best pieces of writing we’ve ever had.” said Miss Brewster, “ You shocked us all when you ran out of your interview and ruffled a few feathers, I can say. I called your father on the telephone yesterday and he explained how important it was to you to look after your family. I told the board and, after careful discussion, we decided that your reasons for running out on us demonstrated a thoughtful and considerate character, characteristics that are perfect for a Darlington Girl. We’d love you to join, Daisy. To be honest, I can’t think of any other girl I’d want to be a pupil at our school.”
“ You knew about this yesterday, dad?”
Mr Cooper shrugged.
“I thought it best to wait until Miss Brewster was here to find out the full story, Daisy.”
“So, are you going to be joining us at Darlington, Daisy?” asked Miss Brewster.
Could she? Daisy looked across at her dad. He was smiling at her but his eyes looked sad.
“Can I speak to my Dad?”
Miss Brewster nodded and quietly left the room. Daisy’s dad put the letter down and slid it slowly across the kitchen table towards her. She picked it up, running her fingers over the word “ACCEPTANCE”.
“I’m sorry, Dad. It thought it was just another silly project. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Hurt me? Daisy, how could you ever hurt me?” said Dad. He reached across the table and squeezed her hand.
“ I’m proud of you. You’re a right handful at times but you’re the smartest person I know and once you get your teeth into something you never let go. That’s what makes you “you” and its what makes me luckiest dad in the world.”
“Aw, come on, Dad.” said Daisy feeling slightly embarrassed.
“Does this school mean a lot to you or is it really just another one of your projects?” he asked.
Daisy wanted nothing more in the world than to go to Darlington but she’d made a promise.
“Its probably very expensive.” she said.
“Miss Brewster says that because I”m a single parent there’s a scholarship place waiting for you.”
“But I promised to look after you and the boys?” said Daisy. 
“Well, you didn’t make that promise to me because if you had, I never would have accepted. I’ve told you, we’re big enough to look after yourselves.”
Mr Cooper stood up.
“MISS BREWSTER?”, he called.
Miss Brewster appeared in the kitchen doorway.
Dad turned to Daisy and gave her a wink.
“Tell me where I need to sign. My daughter is coming to your school.”

Daisy Cooper and the Sisters of the Black Night: Chapter Two Testing Times

Above her bed Daisy kept a corkboard that had different things pinned to it. There were postcards from pen pals around the world, pictures of her mum, post-it notes with interesting facts she had learnt at school and pictures of people she admired printed out from the internet. She cleared a space in the middle and pinned the Darlington handkerchief in the centre.
Feeling much better after her bath she put a couple of kievs and some curly fries in the oven for her brothers and pulled down the recipe book, turning to a fresh page. Grilled salmon with a lemon sauce and new potatoes. Perfect. Daisy wrote the ingredients down, took a ten pound note from the kitty jar and went to the shops.
By the time Percy and Henry arrived home from school their dinner was on the table. They threw down their bags and started scoffing, barely saying hello. Daisy left them to it and went through to the small room the family used as a study and turned on the computer. The computer was old and clunky and made a lot of noise. Mr Cooper had bought it home from work and despite its tattiness it worked fine. As it booted up Daisy thought back over the day. She thought of the Darlington school bus and the girls that had climbed out of it. They seemed so different to what she was used to. She tried to imagine herself climbing down out of the bus with them but her imagination kept playing tricks on her. In her mind, her uniform was dishevelled, her hat on crooked and as she climbed down from the steps, she fell face first into a puddle.

“Stop it, brain.” She muttered and clicked onto the internet. 

Daisy found the site for Darlington School for Girls. She was disappointed to find there wasn’t a photograph of the actual school on the front page. There were, however, different sections on its history, its curriculum and how to enrol. The history section said that the school had been founded in 1837 on the coronation of Queen Victoria at a time when there weren’t much expectations for women. Its founder, Professor Albrecht Darlington, had established the school and been its first and only headmaster. According to the website it was a Darlington tradition that there had been no other Headmaster since then, only a Deputy Head. There wasn’t even any mention of him retiring. Albrecht Darlington was a bit of a recluse and though a great painting of him hung in the main assembly hall of the school no one had seen him in the flesh. That was a bit odd, thought Daisy. The only record of anything Professor Darlington had said or done was in a single quote where he outlined the purpose of Darlington School for Girls which was:

“For the education of the young woman with the object of encouraging her to fulfil the blossoming of her natural character. To assist in this venture Darlington promotes eight core virtues: Charity, Bravery, Reason, Culture, Grace, Agility, Fellowship and Honour.” 

The website then explained how the eight dorm houses for girls who were staying at the school were each named after one of the virtues. Daisy heard the front door shutting. She clicked off the internet and walked out to greet her dad.

Mr Kane looked across at Daisy and shook his head slowly. His face looked tired.

“Do you know what this is, Daisy?”

Mr Kane was holding up a folder. Daisy shook her head.

“This is your conduct report. Every grade you make, every recommendation, every achievement since you started is written down in this document. So is every complaint about you, report of bad behaviour, every detention. When you move onto your next school we have to make a recommendation on the stream you will be joining: top, middle or bottom. That recommendation is based not just on your grades - which we both know are always good - but on your behaviour.”

Mr Kane dropped the folder on his desk with a heavy sigh.

“Daisy, you failed to come home on the school coach with the other pupils yesterday. Do you understand how much trouble that can put the school into?”

It was no good, she had to speak.

“BUT Sir, I told you! I was pushed into one of the excavations by some school girls.”

“So why didn’t you cry for help.”

“I was knocked out!”

Mr Kane looked at her long and hard.

“Daisy, wether you were knocked out or wether you decided to join the circus for the day, its just one thing too many in your report. I’m going to have to recommend that Degham drops you down to middle stream.”

Daisy felt as though she’d been knocked unconscious all over again. She sat, speechless. Mr Kane took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“Daisy, if there was anything I could do, I would keep things as they were, but I can’t. We have very strict guidelines we have to meet. If I was to do anything else and you pulled another of your stunts at Degham, they’d come straight back to us.”

Tears welled up in Daisy’s eyes. She thought of another three years of boring lessons that she already knew all the answers to. She felt like a prisoner who’d walked out of one cell only to find herself in another.
Daisy ran to her room when she got back, pulled the curtains closed and sobbed. It was so unfair. What made it worse was that she’d no longer be in the same classes as Koola and Daniel. She sobbed until she was too tired to sob any more and lay back, quietly looking up at the glow stars. Outside, behind the dark curtains, there was laughter and talking and people enjoying the summer, totally unaware of her. Daisy tried to imagine that her mum was there somehow in the stars, her body fit and healthy and her face glowing with beauty again. She remembered how she used to sit in the wicker chair in the corner of the room when Daisy was upset, dressed in her fluffy dressing gown, smiling at Daisy and telling her everything would be okay. Daisy looked over at the wicker chair. A pile of stuffed toys, neatly arranged, stared back. Daisy sighed and closed her eyes.
There was a small rattle like a coin dropping on a table and Daisy felt something soft and slightly warm land on her face. She opened her eyes and grabbed at her face, sitting up. It was the Darlington handkerchief. The thumb tac she had used to fixed it had fallen out. Above the blank space in the corkboard where the handkerchief had been pinned was a picture of her mum staring back and smiling. Daisy looked at the handkerchief in her hand. Then she looked up at the glow stars. Then she ran downstairs to the study room and switched on the computer.

The mouse pointer hovered over the button that read “TAKE ONLINE ENTRANCE EXAM” for several minutes. Daisy - one hand on the mouse, the other holding the handkerchief - tried to summon up the courage. Her mind raced through several thoughts - she could try later, she needed to feed gibbon and get dad’s dinner ready, she didn’t have time, she was too tired, but they were all excuses and she knew it. What she was really afraid of was that she might fail.

“Come on, Daisy.” she said to herself, “What have you got to lose.”

She clicked the mouse and stared at the first question.

The next few weeks moved slowly. School finished and Daisy looked ahead to a long summer of babysitting her older brothers. She tried to fill her time by cleaning the house, burying her head in books and writing in her journal. David and Koola - who were both really sorry they had left Daisy in the Villa - had both gone away on holiday with their parents. There was no holiday in store for the Cooper family. Mr Cooper would come home after the long shifts at work and fall exhausted into his chair, barely able to speak. Daisy was waiting for the letter to tell her if she had passed the online exam. With Gibbon winding around her legs miaowing every morning, she would flick through the mail, hands trembling. It was always the same. Bills, bills, bills.
It had been a hot Sunday night. Daisy had found it difficult to sleep and crawled out of bed later than usual. She stretched with a yawn as made her way downstairs to see Gibbon laying on his back in the shade on the cool kitchen lino. He looked up accusingly at Daisy.

“Its not my fault, Gibbon. Blame the sun.”

Gibbon narrowed his eyes and growled. Daisy filled his food dish and sat at the table with a bowl of cereal. The flip-flap sound of the letter box echoed from the hallway. Daisy frowned at her cereal. It had been weeks now and the little glimmer of hope she’d had was almost gone. She assumed that if she had got through, they would have let her know by now. After all, there was a lot to get done. If you got through the online exam, there was a proper written one and then there was still the interview. Even then, if you actually got accepted there was a whole load of complicated and expensive things to sort out like uniforms and books and alarm clocks and wash bags. You practically had to buy enough to fill a second house to take with you. Daisy padded down the hallway and picked the letters up from the matt. Bill...Bill...Junk Mail....Miss D. Cooper...Bill....

Hang on.

Daisy turned back to the letter with her name on and dropped the rest. She held it out in front of her and walked slowly back to the kitchen. The envelope was a dark green colour and had her name and address typed on the front in a fancy script. She turned it over. Sure enough, there on the back was the school crest with the words “Darlington School for Girls”.

“Blimey, Gibbon.” whispered Daisy. 
There was a thumping sound from above as her brothers stirred and started arguing. She didn’t want to deal with them right now.

Back in her room, Daisy climbed on her bed and sat cross-legged. She put the letter down carefully in front of her. All she had to do was open it and she would know if she had got through. Then again, all she had to do was open it find out she had failed.

“Come on, Daisy.” she said to herself. With eyes still closed she picked up the letter and carefully tore it open. She reached inside and pulled out the letter, unfolding it. She held it up to her face and opened her eyes.

Dear Miss Daisy Cooper,
We are pleased to announce that you have made it through to the next round of our application process and are invited to attend a written exam at 2:30pm on Saturday August 5th. Please find directions and instructions for confirmation at the bottom of this letter.
Yours Sincercely,
Mistress Aitken,
Deputy Head, Darlington School for Girls.


Daisy leapt in the air with a shout, nearly falling in the bed. With the letter clutched in her hand she bounced up and down, yelling for the whole world to hear. Downstairs Gibbon panicked and ran out the cat flap. Henry and Percy stopped arguing for a moment and looked at each other.

Butterflies in her stomach, train ticket clutched in her hand, Daisy took a seat by the window on one of the train carriages. Fortunately it wasn’t that busy. The exam was at nine o’clock and it was barely past seven now. She’d left a note at home saying that she had to go out and do something for school (which was kind of true). She just hoped she didn’t get back too late. On the carriage there were a few students, a party of Japanese tourists talking about their trip to Stonehenge and a couple of businessmen drinking hot coffee over enormous bundles of newspapers. Daisy was the only child she could see. As the train pulled out of the station, she took off her coat and opened her satchel. The train journey was over an hour and rather than get nervous, Daisy thought she’d bury herself into her books. It was only for nerves really. She knew every fact in every book she owned and there were books on the animal kingdom, science, history, geography and maths. Besides, Daisy really had no idea what to expect from the interview.
When the train pulled into Darlington Station, Daisy hurriedly pushed all her books back in her bag and climbed out onto the platform. When she did, she was suddenly shocked. Along the whole length of the platform there were girls the same age as her, most of whom Daisy noticed with a sense of embarrassment, were dressed in school uniforms and not jeans and a tee shirt. Some wore strawboaters, some were in ankle length skirts and school ribbons, all in impossibly neat blazers. A hand clapped Daisy on her shoulder causing her to nearly leap out of her skin.

Daisy turned round quickly to find a girl the same age as her with a sharp, dark bob and a wide, cheeky grin.
“You on your own for this one too?”
The girl was American.
“Yes.” said Daisy. “You’re American.”
The girl with the black bob laughed.
“Thanks for telling me. The name’s Brodie.”
The girl held out her hand. Daisy took it and shook.
“Hi, I’m Daisy.”
“Daisy? Cute name. Okay, Daisy which way do we go to get to the castle? I reckon some right jolly old tea with the queen and such.”
It was a terrible attempt at an English accent and Brodie knew it. She laughed and nudged Daisy gently with her shoulder.
“Come on” she said pointing to the other girls who were leaving the station with their parents, “Lets follow the gaggle of geese.”
Outside the station there was a coach waiting. Daisy, pulled along by Brodie, climbed in and sat near the back. They watched the countryside go by as the bus pulled along narrow country roads, Brodie seemed excited by every tree and bush. Everything was “really cute” and whenever there was more than one thing, like a group of cows, she would call it a “bunch”.

“Hey, look at that bunch of cows over there.”
“Which ones?”
“The really cute ones behind that bunch of trees.”

Daisy wasn’t sure that anything other than flowers came in bunches. Apart from her quirks, it was obvious to Daisy that Brodie was fiercely intelligent and quick minded. In between her excitement for the rolling hills of Southern England, she talked about where she was from and asked questions.

“So, my mom and dad live in LA but they’re so not LA if you know what I mean. My mom is Scotch descended and my Dad’s family is from Russia so they aren’t that great with the sun. You can’t move in our house for sun cream bottles. Dad’s a computer geek - runs a software company. Mom’s a transport lecturer but she wants to be a yoga teacher. She could bore you to death about yoga.”
“That’s interesting.” Daisy replied, her head reeling with information.
“So what’s up with your folks?”
“Well, we live in South London. Dad, well Dad’s a printer.” replied Daisy. She felt slightly embarrassed talking about her dad. All the parents on the bus looked so much more important, not to mention how intimidating Brodie’s parents sounded. She felt herself blush. Brodie didn’t seem to care.
“Printing? That’s awesome!” She said, “I’m into printing and writing and stuff- I used to look after the school magazine back in LA. Your dad sounds cool.”
Daisy smiled. Her dad was pretty cool.
“What does your mom do?” asked Brodie. Daisy changed the conversation and pointed to a river outside the window.

The sun was coming out as they arrived at the town hall where the exam was taking place. Darlington was an old market town and the town hall, built of old stone with a large clock tower on top, sat in the middle.

“Wow.” said Brodie looking at the town hall, “ I’ve never seen history before.”
As the other girls hugged their parents and began to pour in through the old wooden doors, Daisy felt her nerves coming back. Brodie tugged at her and pulled her into the building. They stepped up to a desk where there were a couple of ladies checking girl’s names.
“What’s your name, dear?” said a rugged looking woman dressed in khaki trousers and shirt. She had a small name badge pinned to her lapel that read ‘Dr Penrose’.
“Daisy Cooper.”
“Daisy Cooper...? Aah, here we are.”
Dr Penrose ticked Daisy’s name off on the list.
“You can tell your parents that they can pick you up in a couple of hours if you like.”
“My parents are not here.”
“You came on your own?”
Daisy nodded.
“That’s awfully brave of you. Don’t you think that’s brave, Miss Brewster.” said Dr Penrose to the colleague sat next to her. Miss Brewster was a tall, wiry looking woman with the maddest, unkempt hair Daisy had ever seen. She had several spots of paint in it. Despite this, she had very kind eyes that twinkled as she smiled at Daisy.

“Very brave.” Said Miss Brewster, “Good luck, Daisy.”

Daisy walked through to the town hall with Brodie. Desks were lined out individually, pointing towards a wall with a huge clock on it. It was 2 minutes to nine. Daisy and Brodie sat at a couple of empty desks, looking around at all the girls that filled the room. Daisy wondered how many of them would be successful. Daisy recognised the woman in the tweed suit from the Roman villa as she walked into the hall with a tall, blondhaired lady. Her name tag said ‘Mistress Aitken’. That meant she was the Deputy Head at Darlington. Daisy heard the two teachers talking as they walked past her desk.

“We should only be taking applications from girls from the right schools. Why do I have to put up with this nonsense?” Said Mistress Aitken.The woman next to her shrugged. Her name badge read ‘Madame Didier’.
“Well, we have more important things to worry about.” Said Madame Didier. He voice had a strong French accent.
“Even so, I like to keep a tight ship.” Said Mistress Aitken,  “Who knows what troublemakers we might have in here.”

The Deputy Head reached the front of the hall and coughed loudly. She looked around with a scowl, making eye contact with every girl. Everyone fell silent.

“Right. The exam will last for an hour and a half and finish at half past ten so if you’d turn over your question sheets...NOW.”

The hall filled with the sound of a hundred papers being turned.

On the train on the way back, Daisy was tired but satisfied. She sat in a carriage with Brodie who was talking a mile a minute but Daisy’s mind was thinking back on the exam. The questions had been on many different things. Some to do with normal things like maths and english and things she knew but there were other sorts of questions there too. They were all based on the school virtues. They were things like “What do you understand by the word 'charity' and give an example an act of charity you have made” and “Describe what the word 'honourable' means to you and describe a well known figure you consider to have honour and why.” It was a bit baffling. For the charity question, Daisy wrote about giving her pocket money to Outside Dave, the homeless guy near her local shops. She wrote about the smile he had given her when she had handed him her coins. It wasn’t the money that Dave really wanted - he wanted to be treated like a human being. She thought of honour and tried to remember people from the news but none of them seemed particularly honourable - her dad was always shouting at them for a start. Then she remembered the mother fox outside her estate and how she had stolen food to feed her young. The fox had refused to leave her babies when the council men came to capture them. She was ready to die to protect the ones she loved. That sounded pretty honourable. There were another six questions like that. It made her brain hurt but it was enormous fun at the same time. 
Daisy was asleep on her feet when she arrived back at the house and it was barely three o’clock in the afternoon. She took the train ticket from her pocket and stared at it again. It could go on the corkboard next to the handkerchief and the exam letter. She told herself to not get excited. There were lots of girls in the exam room. Many of them very clever. She would just have to wait. Again.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Daisy Cooper and The Sisters of the Black Night Chapter One: The Mosaic

The bomb in the briefcase was ticking. The timer was at thirty seconds…Twenty nine…Twenty eight…Daisy Cooper burst through the door onto the roof and ran across the tiles scattering pigeons into the air. Looking over her shoulder, she could see the two men in dark suits closing in behind her. The edge of the roof was only a few feet ahead. There was no time for second thoughts. Below her, Daisy could hear pupils and teachers in the music wing singing “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”, blissfully unaware that there was a bomb about to go off above their heads and make them very unhappy. As a bullet whizzed past her ear Daisy leapt from the rooftop, hung in the air for a giddying moment and then landed with a roll on top of the school gym. She heard a cry behind her and with a quick glance saw that one of the men in dark suits hadn’t been quite so lucky. Unfortunately, the other one had. He landed a few feet behind Daisy, a twisted smile on his face. Even more unfortunately, the black helicopter had appeared behind him and was fixing the sights of its machine guns on her. It was not a good way to end your last year of junior school.
Daisy got to her feet. A bullet tore through her cardigan as she ran along the metal frame down the centre of the skylights, trying to ignore the gasps from the girls in gymnastics below. With a deafening metallic whirring sound the glass around her erupted as bullets from the helicopter machine guns tore through it. The gym girls ran for cover screaming. Daisy jumped to one side and ducked behind an air vent, clutching the suitcase bomb to her chest. Over the roar of the helicopter blades and the haze of bullets she could hear the approaching feet of the man in the dark suit. Daisy swung the suitcase out low, catching him in the shins. With a surprised gasp he fell forwards, toppling over the roof of the gym into the school swimming pool. Daisy looked at the briefcase. Ten seconds…Nine…Eight… A shower of tarmac exploded next to the vent.
“Perilous” muttered Daisy.
Closing her eyes she took a couple of deep breaths, jumped out from behind the vent and threw the suitcase bomb with all she could up towards helicopter.
Daisy snapped out of her thoughts. Mrs Drooper was staring at her over the top of her beaded glasses. So was everyone else in the class.
“Well, Miss Cooper, I’m so glad you’re back with us.”
There were titters amongst her classmates.
“Sorry, Mrs Drooper.” said Daisy. She felt herself blush.
“Of course, if you think you’re too good for us” continued Mrs Drooper, “You are always welcome to join the pigeons you seem so fond of watching...”
The titters turned into laughter. Daisy’s cheeks were burning red.
“No, miss.”
“Oh, how lucky for us!” said Mrs Drooper walking down the rows of seats towards Daisy, “Well perhaps you’d like to answer my question and tell the class what the boiling point of water is?”
Daisy looked at the class. The class looked back at Daisy.
“It depends.” she replied.
Mrs Drooper opened her mouth wide in mock surprise. The hairs around her lips twitched.
“It depends! IT DEPENDS!” Mrs Drooper came up and leant on Daisy’s desk.
“Tell, Me, Miss Cooper, on what does the boiling point of water depend?”
Daisy stared up into Mrs Drooper’s eyes. She had that nagging voice in the back of her head telling her to be quiet again but couldn’t help herself.
“It depends what planet your on.”, replied Daisy. 
Mrs Drooper’s face froze for an ugly moment. Then her eyes turned to thin slits.
Mr Kane turned his pen slowly in his big hands as he looked at Daisy across his desk.
“Daisy, what am I going to do with you?”
“It’s not my fault!...” Daisy started to say but Mr Kane held his hand up for her to be quiet. He picked up the report note from Mrs Drooper.
“It says here that you were sent out of class for...insubordination and smart talk. Again.”
“That’s not true!”
“DAISY. Please let me finish.”
Mr Kane stood up and looked out of the window.
“This is a busy school, Daisy. A London Junior School. I have over five hundred pupils to look after every day so can you tell me why I seem to spend so much time looking after you?”
Mr Kane turned back to Daisy.
“If I spent as much time sorting out problems with everyone else as I do with you, I’d never leave the building. Do you understand what I’m saying.”
Daisy nodded.
“Yes sir.”
“So what is this insubordination and smart talk that Mrs Drooper is talking about?”
“I really don’t know sir. She…I mean Mrs Drooper… asked me what the boiling temperature of water was and I said that it depends.”
Mr Kane frowned. Uh Oh, thought Daisy, here I go again.
“What would it depend on, Daisy? Water boils at 100 degrees.”
“Well, on Earth it does. It’s different on other planets.”
Mr Kane thought about this. Daisy lowered her head. Here comes the detention she thought. Then Mr Kane started to chuckle.
“Oh, Daisy. Let me give you a piece of advice. You’re the smartest girl in your year but you don’t know a thing about when to talk and when to keep quiet. If you don’t learn that, you’ll be getting into trouble long after you leave here, no matter how clever that brain of yours is. Do you understand?”
“I do hope so.”
Mr Kane had given Daisy an hour’s detention. She had to write the line “I must not smart talk.” over and over on the blackboard whilst Mrs Drooper scowled at her. The minute the detention was over, Mrs Drooper took the board rubber, wiped off all the lines and told her to go. Daisy rubbed her sore wrist all the way home. Still she told herself, only two more months to go. Then she’d be moving up to Degenham Comprehensive. With that thought, the clouds above seemed to suddenly get a little greyer. Daisy sighed and kicked her feet through the puddles.
Percy and Henry’s bags, coats and shoes were lying in the hall. Daisy’s cat Gibbon greeted her as she walked through the door to the flat and weaved his way between her legs, miaowing. Careful not to step on him, Daisy picked up the stuff from the floor and tidied it neatly. She took off her own coat and hung it up.
In the living room, Percy and Henry, Daisy’s older brothers, were sitting in front of the television eating big bags of crisps.
“Haven’t I told you not to eat crisps before dinner?”
Percy turned to her, smiled, and let out a large belch.
“That’s disgusting.”
Henry turned to Percy and belched even louder, right in his ear.
“Oi! Nutter!” shouted Percy. He hit Henry in the arm.
“Ow. Dead arm!” shouted Henry.
  Within seconds they were rolling around on the floor fighting. Daisy rolled her eyes and made her way to the kitchen.
After feeding Gibbon, Daisy took some mini pizzas and chips from the freezer and put them in the oven for her brothers. Then she pulled down her mum’s old recipe book from the counter and flicked through the pages.
“What shall we cook today, mum?” she said quietly.
Mr Cooper crawled through the door at nine o’clock looking exhausted. Daisy ran to greet him, gave him a hug and hung up his coat for him.
“Hi Dad.”
“Hi Daisy. Something smells good.”
Daisy took him by the hand and walked him through to the kitchen. His dinner plate was laid out at the table with a glass for his beer. Daisy’s plate was laid out at the other end.
“Oh, Daisy. Please don’t tell me you haven’t eaten yet? Its nine o’clock!”
“Don’t worry. I had too much homework anyway.”
Mr Cooper smiled at her. Daisy smiled back. His eyes looked tired and sad. Then he clapped his hands and wandered over to the bubbling pots on the stove.
“So what have we got here, then!”
“No! No!” laughed Daisy pulling him away, “No one can see the cooking except the chef!”
“Aah, and this chef does know how to cook I suppose? I’m not going to get poisoned am I?”
“Of course!” said Daisy in a french accent, “She is from a top restaurant in Paris.”
“Sacré Bleu!”
There was a loud crashing sound upstairs. Mr Cooper looked up and shook his head.
“I take it your brothers are in.”
“Yep. They’re doing their homework.”
There was another crash bigger than the last.
“What’s their homework? Rugby?”
After dinner, Daisy sat as her dad washed the plates. Henry and Percy had found a horror film on TV and had settled down at last.
“You know Daisy, you don’t have to cook for me every night.”
“I know. I like to do it.”
“I just don’t want you to feel that because mum’s gone, you have to fill her place.”
“I know.”
Daisy turned away, digging her nails into a mark on the table. She felt like crying when dad talked about mum.
“Those two herberts upstairs’ll soon learn to look after themselves and I can always grab something on the way home. You need to look after yourself.”
“I enjoy it, dad. I really do.”
Mr Cooper dried his hands and put them on Daisy’s shoulders.
“Look at me, Daisy.”
She looked into his eyes.
‘Its okay. We’re okay. You’ve got a bright head on your shoulders and an even brighter future ahead of you and I don’t want you to feel that you ever need to hold yourself back just to look after us. Do you understand?”
Daisy nodded.
Mr Cooper patted her head.
“Now come on, lets see what gory horror film those boys have got for us to watch after our posh dinner.”
Daisy lay in bed and stared at the glow stars on the ceiling. Her mum had bought them for her two christmasses ago. Mum had started to get sick a few months before but nobody thought it was serious. She’d gone to the doctors after finding a lump in her breast and had been sent to the hospital for tests. Two weeks later they found out it was cancer. At first, the doctors thought they’d cured it but it kept coming back. Eventually Daisy’s dad paid for mum to go into a private hospital. He didn’t earn much money as a printer but said he’d work the rest of his life if it meant making mum better. When Daisy thought of her mum, she always saw her smiling. Her bright green eyes - green like Daisy’s - sparkling. Eventually, even the Private doctors couldn’t do anything. That had been over a year ago. Dad was working all the overtime he could get to pay off the medical bills. Percy and Henry, well, they were boys so obviously they couldn’t look after themselves. It was up to Daisy. Daisy put her fingers to her lips and blew a kiss to the glow stars above her head.
“Goodnight mum.”
Daisy didn’t have many friends at the school. There was Koola who had been her best friend since she could remember. Koola’s family were Greek and her dad owned a restaurant on the high street. Her family were very friendly and every time the Coopers went there for a meal Koola’s dad, Pippo, refused to accept payment which always made Daisy’s dad feel embarrassed. The other friend was David. David wasn’t like the other boys. He didn’t like to pull girl’s hair or push them in the mud or bundle on other boys in the back of the classroom. David like science and myths. Especially myths. He knew all the myths from the Greeks to the Romans and could tell you about every story in the Arabian Nights which Daisy thought must be clever as there were about a thousand of them. Daisy and Koola had become friends with him one lunchtime after finding him hanging by his trouser belt from the climbing frame. Some of the older boys had put him there. The three of them became very close and sat next to each other whenever possible in the lessons. Of course, the more immature classmates made fun of them - blowing kisses and whistling - but it didn’t bother Daisy. In fact, the one thing that made Daisy pleased about going to Degham was that Koola and David would be going too.
The only exciting thing left for Daisy at St Margarets was the final field trip. Every year the leaving students were allowed to choose the place they wanted to visit. At first the choice was completely open but after the sixth year of the teachers being dragged along to Alton Towers, they put their foot down and decided that they would draw up a list of more appropriate places. On a hot Wednesday morning Mrs Drooper walked up and down the classroom putting the sheets in front of eager hands.
“OK, children. Remember, you can only tick ONE place. Fill out your name in the space provided. We will check for cheaters who try to fill in more than one form - I’m looking at you, Ryan - also, you are not allowed to add alternative choices at the bottom. Last year one clever joker thought it would be funny to suggest that we went to Afghanistan. Well he didn’t get to go anywhere in the end except DETENTION.”
Mrs Drooper slapped the sheet down on Daisy’s desk. Daisy picked it up and read the list. There was the brewery - yuk, no thanks, the old power station - yuk again, a dog biscuit factory - what on earth?, the local swimming pool - oh come on, they weren’t even trying now - and a Roman Villa. Now THAT was more like it. Daisy turned round to David who grinned at her and gave her a thumbs up. Daisy put a large tick in the correct box for the Villa.
“OKAY, SETTLE DOWN. The winning choice will be compiled from the results across ALL final year classes and posted on the messageboard near the lockers on Friday. You will need to get your parents to fill in consent forms over the weekend. NOW...”
Mrs Drooper turned to the board and started writing on it in her squeaky, scratchy handwriting,
“ Names and dates...of...battles...in...world...war...two. Who can give me an answer?”
Daisy sat on her hands.
The week went by. Everyone thought they knew where they would be going and would say so in a very mature voice. The boys all thought it would be either the brewery or the dog biscuit factory. On the Friday there was a huge gathering of pupils around the noticeboard talking loudly. Daisy met up with David and Koola and the three of them fought their way through to the announcement. Koola read it out loud...
“FINAL YEAR FIELD TRIP RESULT. This year the final year students of St Margarets Middle School have voted to visit a Roman Villa...”
“Yes!” said David punching the air. Daisy was relieved. Koola continued reading,
“...all pupils are reminded to get their consent forms signed over the weekend for delivery to their form teachers on Monday morning. Without a signed consent form, we cannot allow you to join the trip.”
“Well, that’s it then.” said Koola.
“I guess so.” said Daisy.
“I thought you’d be pleased.”
Daisy shrugged.
“I am pleased. I’m just surprised that with this bunch of muppets voting, we aren’t going to a dog biscuit factory.”
The coach journey took over an hour and was filled with screaming, fighting, singalongs and travel sickness. Daisy and Koola sat, faces pressed to the window, watching the graffiti riddled walls of London disappear and give way to the wide expanses of the Sussex Countryside. Grey streets full of miserable commuters were replaced by green fields filled with contented cows enjoying the lazy summer. With it the mood of the coach party lifted. Even the teachers at the front relaxed, stretching their legs out and sighing. David was the only one not paying attention to the world outside. He had his head buried in a book about Roman Gods. Occasionally he would find a particularly interesting quote and poke his head between the seats to tell Daisy and Koola.
“Did you know the Romans had twelve gods just like the greeks. It’s where we get the names for a lot of the months of the year.” he said. Any other time the girls might have been interested but it was too lovely outside. They nodded and then turned back to wave at the holiday travellers who drove past.
The coach pulled into the pothole filled car park of the Villa carefully. The children bounced around as the driver made his way between the other vehicles to pull up as close to the entrance as he could. Daisy looked at the other coaches. Some of them were from abroad and seemed very exotic. As they climbed down from the bus Daisy noticed the most exotic coach of all. Well, it wasn’t even a coach. It was a dark green doubledecker bus. It looked like it had just driven out of an old photograph. Standing beside it were a group of older girls dressed in smart school uniforms with blazers the same dark green colour as the bus. A couple of them looked over at Daisy as she stared. They had ties on with green and yellow stripes. Daisy had never seen a girl wearing a tie before. A fierce looking woman in a tweed suit with her hair tied up in an enormous bun stood with a clipboard in her hand talking to them. She moved her arms as she talked, waving her pen at the different girls who assembled themselves into groups. Her movements, her dress and her immaculately formed hair made her look like the strictest person Daisy had ever seen. She made Mrs Drooper seem friendly by comparison.
David grabbed Daisy’s arm and pulled her away.
“Come on daydreamer, we’re going to miss it.”
Mrs Drooper, disturbingly dressed in a purple velvet tracksuit, and a couple of volunteer parents were in charge. They assembled them in the entrance hall and tried to get them to stand in single line. It was impossible. One of the parents tried counting them but the children were moving all over the place.
“I make it 75 pupils.” said one of the volunteers, scratching his head.
“Well, that’s impossible” barked Mrs Drooper, “There were only forty two on the coach.”
“Maybe we gained some. There are a lot of schools here.”
“Nonsense! I’ve got an idea.”
Mrs Drooper reached into her bag and pulled out some coloured dots that she used to mark peoples report cards. She peeled them off and started dotting the children one by one on the forehead, counting them off as she did so.
There was a titter of laughter. Daisy turned and saw three of the girls from the posh school bus looking at them from the entrance to the souvenir shop. They were a couple of years older than Daisy and much taller. The one who was laughing the most stood in the middle. She had long jet black hair tied in a braided ponytail and milky white skin that looked like it had never seen any London dust. The two girls either side - one blonde, one redhead - had their hair tied in the same long ponytails. Daisy thought that they looked like some kind of strange hair traffic light - blonde, black and red. She giggled and the girl in the middle frowned at her. Mrs Drooper grabbed Daisy’s hand and put a sticker on it.
“...thirty two...”
There wasn’t much left of the villa for them to look at. The walls had fallen away over time and plant life had crawled over the remaining pillars and stones pulling a blanket of dirt with it. A lot of the children were complaining and asking to go back to the coach. Daisy loved it, though. Koola, David and her wandered behind trees and around ditches, following the numbered sections on the guide and stumbled across hidden treasures. There were great urns and broken pillars, submerged servant quarters with tiny pots and bowls, little cobbled courts and stables for long gone horses.
“Oh, wow!” said David. Daisy stepped through some leafy branches to investigate and stopped suddenly, quite shocked. A little way ahead of them and a few feet down was a great floor mosaic marked off with red rope. It showed a picture of a flame haired goddess stood proudly in golden armour. She had one hand lifted above her head in which sat a dove and beside her, two snakes woven together on the front of her shield. The picture was made up of thousands of tiny coloured tiles.
“That’s incredible.” said Daisy, “Imagine how long that must have taken.”
She walked up carefully to the edge of the excavation. The goddess seemed to be looking out of the picture directly at her.
“I wonder what it means.”
“It says here that her name is Minerva. Apparently there’s another Mosaic on the other side of these trees.”
Minerva. There was a small information plaque on one corner. Carefully keeping her hands on the rope, Daisy walked over and read it.
“Here we go. Minerva. Goddess of wisdom, intelligence, the arts and music. Also as the god of domestic matters she also often decorated wealthy roman villas. What do you think, David?”
“Oh, I think its such as shame that oiks like you should be allowed out your little rat holes.”
Daisy turned around. Leaning against a tree were the three girls from the souvenir shop. They weren’t laughing now. The dark haired girl stepped forward, a sneer on her lips.
“I think you’ll find that the Roman servant quarters were back there. Clearly that’s where you should be…”
Daisy stepped back as the girl approached. She felt the rope against her. She looked around for Koola and David.
“...Oh don’t worry, we waited until your little oik friends ran off to look at some stones or whatever it is you people get excited about...”
The other two girls walked over and put a hand either side of Daisy, grabbing the rope and trapping her.
“...The thing is oik, May I call you oik? The thing is, oik, that our parents pay a lot of money to send us to a good school so that we don’t have to mix with you little rats. I mean, its nice hearing you talking about wisdom, the arts, intelligence, but what could you possibly know about those things?”
The girl with the black hair narrowed her eyes and stared at Daisy. There was something scary in her eyes, like a far off madness.
“You felt good enough to laugh at us earlier, why don’t you show us that you can speak? ”
Daisy swallowed hard. There was the nagging voice in the back of her head telling her to keep quiet again but she couldn’t help herself.
“I know one thing.” Said Daisy, “I know that no matter how much money your parents spent, they didn’t buy you manners.”
The dark haired girl’s lip quivered. Daisy waited for the worst. Then the girl laughed. She reached out and stroke Daisy’s hair.
“Oh, how beautiful! We’ve got a little fighter here. What’s you name?”
Daisy stared back.
“Its okay, I won’t bite.”
“Daisy? How sweet. My name is Eleanore, nice to meet you.”
Eleanore held out her hand. She was smiling but her eyes still had the madness in them. Reluctantly, Daisy held her hand out. Eleanore grabbed it and pulled Daisy in close.
“Seeing as you like it here so much, Daisy, why don’t you stay here.” she hissed in Daisy’s ear.
Eleanor thumped Daisy hard in the chest. Daisy toppled back against the rope and slipped over the side of the excavation. She reached up to try and grab onto the rope but it was too late. The last thing she saw before she hit the floor was the three girls laughing at her.
Then everything went black.
After what felt like a long time Daisy could hear a voice in the darkness. It was very faint and it was saying “help me...help me...” over and over. Then the darkness started to fade and she could see the tiles of the mosaic. There were spots of blood on them. Daisy could feel a warm arm around her shoulders and a hand rubbing her face gently.
“...help me...help me...”
The voice was Daisy’s. She stopped and looked up. Her eyes were blurry. Someone was holding her but she couldn’t make out their face. There was also a sharp throbbing pain on the back of her head that was a bit worrying.
“...try not to talk, sweetie, you’ve had a fall.”
Gradually her vision became clear and Daisy could see an older girl smiling back at her. 
“...hey, can you see me now?” asked the girl. She had a soft, strong voice.
“ Who are you?” asked Daisy.
“ I’m Roni. What’s your name?”
“ Daisy Cooper.”
“ Well, hello Daisy Cooper! A pleasure to meet you, though it could have been in better circumstances.”
Daisy laughed.
“ Good. Nice to see you didn’t land on your sense of humour and break that, because that would be awful. Do you think you can stand?”
“I’ll try.”
Carefully Daisy got to her feet. Her legs were a bit wobbly and there were grazes on her shins. She realised she was standing in the middle of the mosaic of Minerva.
“How’s your head?” asked Roni.
“It hurts.”
Daisy looked at Roni properly and saw that she was in the same school uniform as Eleanore. Roni had dark hair too but it hung loose and crowned a beautiful face with dark, expressive eyes. Roni was much older than the other girls, maybe even eighteen. There was a difference about the uniform too. The tie. Unlike the other girls who had yellow and green striped ties, Roni’s was plain green. In the middle of it, holding it in place was an expensive looking tie pin made up of a large letter ‘I’ with an ‘S’ curled around it.
“Oh, do you like this?” asked Roni. She held her fingers to it.
“Well, I could tell you a few stories about it. If I was allowed. Here, hold this to your head.”
Roni handed Daisy the soft handkerchief. The were dark brown spots on the green that Daisy feared were her blood. Daisy looked around. It would be a struggle to get out of the excavated hole. The mozaic sat a good six feet below the wooded surface and the walls were finely packed mud.
“You’d fallen just to the bottom of the wall of dirt which was why no one spotted you. I heard you calling. How are you feeling?”
Daisy’s head was still throbbing but at least she didn’t feel like she was going to pass out anymore.
“A bit better.”
Roni studied her carefully, looking into each eye one at a time.
“Okay, Daisy. Well you hang on. I’ll get to the top and pull you up, okay?”
Daisy nodded. Roni walked over to the the wall of mud where part of the protective red rope was now hanging down from above. She gripped her hands round it and gave a heavy tug. It held fast. Then to Daisy’s surprise she dug her expensive looking leather shoes into the wall, not caring for the dirt, and climbed to the top as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Her head popped back over.
“Okay, Daisy. Take hold of the loose end, wrap it round your waist and keep it tight. I’ll have you out of there in no time.”
Daisy grabbed hold of the rope. Then she stopped.
“Hang on one second.”
Roni watched Daisy from above as she crouched down on the mosaic and mopped up the little spots of blood. She ran back to the rope and tied it around her waist as instructed.
“OK!” she said and with a surprisingly strong tug from Roni, climbed up out of the pit.
Daisy was sat on the wash counter in the ladies toilets at the entrance to the villa. She was shocked to look in the mirror when they arrived. There were dark crusts in her hair from where she’d hit the ground. Roni was washing the dirt out of Daisy’s grazed knees.
“Are you sure you don’t want to visit the hospital?”
Daisy nodded. She didn’t like hospitals. They reminded her of mum.
“Well, we’ll have to get you back to your classmates. Once I clean you up.”
Roni fished inside her satchel and pulled out a green bag which she unzipped and emptied onto the side next to Daisy. The bag didn’t contain normal girly things. There was a passport, a roll of money that looked foreign, a couple of candles, a lighter, a ball of string, a penknife, a small pair of binoculars, a penlight and a first aid kit.
“Now, sweetie, first things first.” said Roni picking up the torch, “I want you to look up while I shine this light in your eyes. Try not to blink.”
Daisy did as she said. Roni then did some other weird things - clicking her fingers quickly next to each ear and asking Daisy where she heard it, getting her to push back and pull against her hands. It was like a game.
“What are you doing?” asked Daisy suspiciously. Roni stood back and stared at Daisy. Daisy felt uncomfortable, like she were a bag of potatoes in a supermarket being looked at by a shopper. Roni smiled.
“You’re fine. I was worried you had concussion and those were some tests to see. Apart from cuts, bruises and a jolly old headache, you’ll survive. Now lets clean up your appearance.”
Roni reached back in the bag and took out an emergency first aid kit. With the skill of someone trained for battle, she threw aside the contents, ripped the top off a bottle and dabbed some alcohol onto cotton. Daisy had still been holding the handkerchief to her bump. Roni moved her hand aside carefully and dabbed the cotton onto the back of Daisys head. It stung like nettles.
“I know, sweetie, but we’ve go to keep those nasty germs out.”
Gently, Roni dabbed around the wounds.
“So, do you know where your classmates are? Have you got some kind of assembly point?”
“I don’t even know what time it is.”
“Its three o’clock.”
This shocked Daisy. They’d been looking at the mosaics just after lunch. How long had she been down there? Had anyone else seen here?
“I need to find my school.” she said trying to get up. Roni gently pushed her back down.
“Now, Daisy, let me clean you up first. You can’t show up like this or you’ll cause a panic.”
“But we’re leaving back to London!” said Daisy.
Roni thought about this.
“OK.” she said, “but take this.”
She handed Daisy the first aid kit. Daisy put it into her satchel.
They ran through the turnstile to the car park but the coach was gone. Daisy stood in its muddy tracks and stared off through the car park entrance wondering how on earth she was going to get back. The old green double decker from the posh school was still there, some of its pupils getting back on board.
“I guess we must have missed them” said Roni.
She put one hand on her hip and rubbed her chin thoughtfully with the other. Then she snapped her fingers.
“Wait here, Daisy.”
Roni walked over to her school bus. The stern looking woman with the enormous bun was there and they started talking, looking over at Daisy occasionally. Daisy looked at the bus full of those strange girls, so different from her own classmates. She wondered if they’d give her a lift back to London. She wondered if she wanted a lift with them back to London. Roni was lovely, but the other three, the Brat Pack? Daisy didn’t want to meet them again. As she was thinking this, she saw Eleanore and the other two staring at her from the top deck. They were laughing. Roni came running back over.
“Good news, sweetie. I’m going to put you on a train back to London. The station’s about a ten minute walk if your legs are up for it.”
The old green schoolbus was starting its engines.
“But aren’t you going to miss your ride?”
Roni smiled.
“Don’t you worry about that. I’ve been stranded in a lot worse places than this, I can tell you.”
The walk and the air was good for Daisy’s head. It was also very pretty. The path along the long road to the station was shaded by overhanging trees and a light breeze made their leaves rustle gently. Though Daisy was miles from anywhere she recognised, Roni made her feel comfortable. She was like an older sister. They started talking, mostly with Roni asking Daisy questions. She seemed delighted that Daisy was interested in subjects like science and literature and maths and, well everything that was to do with learning. She even clapped with delight when Daisy told her she hoped to be a news reporter when she grew up. It was like Daisy was talking to someone who understood her for the first time. She told Roni that she most of the time people just told her to be quiet or to stop trying to be clever. Roni looked cross at this.
“Daisy, you appear to me to be a very smart young girl” she said, “ and to carry on being smart and interested in the world when you have people telling you not to be, it shows that you have a lot of strength in here.”
Roni tapped daisy’s chest.
“Let me tell you something, Sweetie, when you have that strength, it doesn’t matter what other people throw at you - you’ll get where your going in the end.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes. Eventually they reached a high street and Daisy could see the familiar British Rail sign of the station at the other end. 
“Now, don’t you worry about the ticket because Darlington’s going to pay for that.” said Roni as they crossed the bridge over the rail tracks.
“Who’s Darlington?” asked Daisy.
“That’s where I’m from. Where the bus is from. Darlington School for Girls. You haven’t heard of it?”
Daisy shrugged her head. 
“Oh.” said Roni, surprised, “ Its quite famous. If you know where to look for it, I suppose. You’d make an excellent Darlington Girl, I reckon.”
That surprised Daisy. She tried to imagine herself in the school uniform and not in her usual jeans and Tee shirt. It was difficult to picture.
“You think so?”
“Oh, yes. How old are you?”
“I’m coming up to twelve.”
“Then you should take the online test.”
“What test?”
“The test online. Darlington gets so many girls applying every year that you have to pass the online test before they’ll let you take an entrance exam. Aaah. Here we go.”
Roni turned into the ticket office and went up to the counter.
“One First Class Ticket to Waterloo Please!”
The train was at the platform so they had to run. Daisy wanted to ask more about Darlington School. Could she really go somewhere like that? They got to the top of the stairs out of breath and Roni waved the signal man to stop. She helped Daisy up onto the carriage.
“Thankyou so much!” said Daisy
“Don’t mention it. You get back safely, okay?”
“I will. Oh.”
Daisy reached into her pocket and pulled out the handkerchief.
“This is yours.”
Roni waved her hand away.
“You keep it, sweetie. You might need it again. Besides, you can give it to me next time we meet.”
Roni winked at her and walked away with a wave.
“Daisy!” she shouted as the train started to pull away. “Remember, Do...The...Test.”
Daisy was exhausted when she got home. There was no point trying to get back to the school. She’d have to deal with that tomorrow. Fortunately her brothers weren't back yet. She dropped her satchel down and kicked off her shoes. In the bathroom she dampened a flannel and dabbed it against her head, hissing through her teeth with the pain. Then she ran a bath and filled it with bubble bath for a good long soak. She pulled the house key and change out of the pocket of her jeans and found the handkerchief again. She unfolded it in her hands. Stitched into the corner in yellow thread against the deep green was the word Darlington. Daisy hung it carefully on the edge of the mirror in front of her and sank beneath the bubbles.