Still a Nightmare 7


Still a Nightmare: illustration for Thomas the Rhymer (Donata Zawadzka)

Extract from Thomas the Rhymer

Chapter 3: An Inspector Calls

Jack woke confused, looking uncertainly around his room. Unable to understand how he could see in the dark, he realised the bedside lamp was on. Reaching to turn it off, something moved in the corner of his eye. His head shot round but there was nothing there. Thinking it was imagination, he pressed the light switch. As the room was plunged into blackness, it moved again.

Lying in the dark, ears straining for the tiniest sound, Jack flinched at every creak.

“There’s nothing there!” he cried, speaking aloud for courage and turned the lamp back on.

The tramp from old Gibson’s front garden wall was on his desk, staring at him with mad, dead eyes. Jack was relieved to see him. It was a nightmare. Spooked by the tramp, he was dreaming about him. It felt good to be having a normal nightmare after all the other weird dreams.

The tramp slipped off the desk. Jack heard a creak and then the muffled thump of boots on the carpet. It did not seem much like a dream now, but it was still a nightmare. The tramp walked over with Jack hearing every sound, every breath. Wanting to scream, unable to move; all he could do was lie helpless as the tramp bent over him to whisper…

“Jack, oh Jack, you were there. Now you’re back. Does she miss me, did she say, in her tower far away?”

Reaching for the lamp, the man flicked off the light, leaving Jack staring wide-eyed into the dark. His cold hand brushed Jack’s forehead as his strong fingers closed his eyes.

“Goodnight sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy dream, and when you see her once again, tell her who you’ve seen.”

The man’s fingers left his face.

All was quiet.

Lying in the silence, with eyes squeezed tight, Jack wondered what the tramp would do next. He started counting as if he could work out when it was safe to look. Once or twice, he lost count and had to start over. Then he stopped counting altogether.


The Tramp in Jack’s Room by Dona Zawadzka

You can read about how Dona and I started working together in the Birch Maiden on Sally Cronin’s Fantastic Blog Smorgasboard Variety is the Spice of Life. Click here & the link  is repeated below.

The Tramp in Jack’s Room was the third drawing Dona did for Thomas the Rhymer.

Whittington Hospital is half way up Highborn Hill outside London. In the park at the top of the hill an incredible view of the city is still to be had.

Whittington is named after the legendary Dick Whittington. According to the story, the poor boy dejected at not making his fortune decides to return home. Cresting Highborn Hill he hears London’s church bells telling him to ‘Turn again Whittington thrice Mayor of London’.

The historical Dick Whittington was London’s Lord Mayor 3 times around 1400. But he was of a noble family, and not, as in the pantomime story, a poor boy who lent his cat to a ship’s captain and made his fortune when it routed a plague of rats in a glamorous far-eastern caliphate.

At the top of Highborn Hill is the prestigious Victorian necropolis of Highgate Cemetery, haunted by a vampire.

When I worked in admin at the Whittington Hospital I met, on half a dozen occasions, a young man in the deserted street leading from Highgate Park and the cemetery beyond. He always smiled at me and politely nodded. Of course, I responded. And that was the limit of our exchange.

I guessed he was between 20 and 30, indefinable really due to his incredibly pale unlined skin. What I first noticed was his piercing gaze, from sunken black eyes, dead a buttons, hooded by thick black brows. He dressed strangely, in something best described as a 1940s demob suit with an old fashioned but expensive camel overcoat and trilby hat.

Writing this now, a shiver went down my spine as I wondered if he was actually the vampire.

I hope so.

When writing Thomas the Rhymer, this young man became Thomas the Rhymer, the fairy queen’s lost paramour, who 11-year-old Jack believes is old… somewhere between 20 and 30, and has eyes dead as buttons.

Like the Scottish legend of Thomas the Rhymer, a fairy queen kidnapped our Thomas when he was only 14, some 60 years earlier. Of course I had to dress him differently from my vampire friend and so plumbed for an outfit more like something worn by the Beatles on the cover of the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band … making him look to Jack more like a hippie than an tramp.

In her beautiful drawing, Dona has perfectly captured the description in the book: the soulless eyes and odd expression. As always her work surpasses all expectation. And still she gives more. Sensing the book is the spiritual child of the Harry Potter books, she cheekily put a Harry Potter poster on the wall and left a Harry Potter book open on Jack’s bed.

With such a gift as this, of course I used her brilliance for an advert!

Advert for Thomas the Rhymer using Dona’s work (hand coloured)

This post celebrates the work of Donata Zawadzka.

6 years ago, after falling in love with her work on the internet, I cheekily asked Dona if she would mind doing some illustrations for Thomas the Rhymer. She agreed, but only if she liked the book. Fortunately for me she did!

Although she has many styles I fell in love with her delicate black and white line drawings reminiscent of the classic Victorian illustrators such as Charles Snickett, Walter Crane and of course the great Arthur Rackham.

Please check out her website

Buy her work

Like Dona on Facebook

Follow her on Twitter 


Read the Birch Maiden on Sally Cronin’s must read blog for writers and readers alike!

Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

Another fantastic illustration by Dona telling an old Scottish folk tale.

See the full illustration here….

The Birch Maiden:


Find Dona’s first illustration The Old Woman and Dan here

And second illustration Happy Thoughts here


Follow the Story of Thomas the Rhymer on the lavishly illustrated website

Download a free e-book of the full novel:

7 thoughts on “Still a Nightmare

  1. Pingback: Fevered Threads ← Odds n Sods: A cabinet of curiosities

  2. Reply Donata Zawadzka Feb 27,2017 6:14 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Loved to learn the story behind the tramp character! I had a such a pleasure trying to imagine and put on paper what you so brilliantly described in words!

    PS. You should write a story about the vampire from Highgate Cemetery, it gave me the creeps to read only those few sentences 😉

    Thank you! Dona x

    • Reply Paul Feb 28,2017 11:37 pm

      That is a great idea Dona. Highgate Cemetery is a really interesting place. Did you know that Cemetery is from the Greek word meaning to fall asleep. St Paul always refers to the departed faithful as having fallen asleep in his epistles. This was because they were expecting the second coming during his lifetime when those who had fallen asleep would rise again.

  3. Reply Sally cronin Feb 27,2017 8:03 am

    I remember a long time ago an old man telling me that children, dogs and cats can see things we can’t. He also said that it is possible that a child’s imaginary friend is not quite as imaginary as we think! When I was going through a particularly tough time in my mid-20s I was on a train sat in an older style carriage. There was an old woman there and we made eye contact but I was lost in thought and only noticed that she seemed to be wearing 1940s clothing.. she got off after two stops. She bent down and patted my hand and said ‘It will pass and life will be good again’. I was gobsmacked… I looked out the window at the platform as she got off the train but there was nobody there!

  4. Reply Robbie Cheadle Feb 27,2017 3:52 am

    Splendid post, Paul. I am happy to say that I did know about Dick Wittington so I am not a complete ignoramus [smile!] but the vampire is something new – tell me more!

Leave a Reply




%d bloggers like this: