by Laura Bell (@LauraMBell1)
YA Speculative/Time Travel
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Sixteen-year-old Amber has a power: she can send her consciousness back into her past body. She has a plan: to go back in time and prevent her parents’ death. And she has a crew: three girls – one who can’t stop lying, one who can’t start eating and one who can’t touch anything. Plus, a boy who hears voices.
Not the team she’d have picked, but the best she could assemble from the confines of Boundstone, an institution for the neurodiverse. Because that’s where you end up when your time-travelling abilities make you black out. Still, it’s only temporary. Soon she’ll save her parents and be back in the normal world where she belongs.
But a warning from her future-self changes everything: the gas explosion that killed her parents wasn’t an accident. And as their murderer targets Boundstone, Amber’s resolve wavers. The friendships of convenience she’s struck with her crew are getting too close to the real thing and changing her past means giving up her present – the imprisonment of Boundstone, the tests, the therapy – but also her friends and the spark of first love. Amber must choose whether to save her parents and fix her past or to rescue her friends and save the very place she’s been desperate to escape.
BOUNDSTONE GIRL is a YA speculative mystery, complete at 96,000 words. It combines elements of psychological thrillers and heist stories with a gothic aesthetic and will appeal to fans of Master of One by Jaida Jones, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, and The Art of Saving the World by Corinne Duyvis. I am eager to explore themes of alienation and belonging and the many meanings of normal. The discovery of the characters’ powers doesn’t “fix” their mental health challenges. Instead, the characters draw strength from their difference and save each other because of their struggles, not in spite of them.
Originally from Italy, I wound up in the UK via Hong Kong. As well as YA, I write about books and films, and my posts have appeared in The Huffington Post and Live for Films.
Thanks for your time and consideration,
First Five Pages
BOUNDSTONE GIRL I. THE NIGHT BEFORE 25th September
The night before the explosion, Mum and I baked cookies.
We mixed the ingredients into a caramel-brown dough, shaped it into balls and put them in the oven. The kitchen filled with warmth and the sweet aroma of burnt sugar.
As soon as they were ready, Mum stacked them on a tray to cool. Dad sat at the kitchen table pretending to read the latest issue of The Illusionist while stalking the tray with the focus of a bloodhound. I curled up on my favourite armchair – the one with the velvet armrests, so boho chic – and reached into my jeans pocket for my Sherlock: a limited edition fifty pence coin, sterling silver, engraved with the profile of Sherlock Holmes. Nice. I took a moment to feel its perfect weight, the cool touch of metal, the embossed curves of the deerstalker hat and Peterson pipe.
Then I sent it surfing over my knuckles.
Down from my thumb to my little finger and back again, the silver flashing with every turn. The motions flowed effortlessly and I lost myself in them, relished the feeling of focus, of control. When I rolled my Sherlock, the whole world shrank into that coin.
I noticed Dad watching me with an assessing stare, the look of a teacher weighing up his pupil. With a grin, I pinched the coin between my index finger and thumb.
(Pay attention now)
A flick of my fingers – and the coin was gone.
Dad’s lips toyed with a smile, but he wouldn’t let it stretch, not yet. ‘Cos you see, we’re not quite done.
Making things disappear was the easy part. This was the tricky moment, the one that still went wrong sometimes.
I balled my hand into a fist, then snapped it open.
The coin was back.
That final flick was the hardest, and often the coin would slip into my lap, fly skywards, or become stuck between my knuckles. But there it was, safe in my palm.
Dad beamed, a smile full of pride. He mimicked my motion – closed his fist, opened it again – to reveal one of the cookies. Mum tutted in mock disapproval while handing out steaming mugs of coffee. She wore a flowery dress, pink with red buds. When I close my eyes, I still see her, stacking cookies on a serving plate, slapping away Dad’s magpie hands. It all rushes back then – the warmth of the kitchen, the gurgle of the kettle, the deep scent of coffee. The feeling of happiness and safety.
A perfect moment. A shiny coin tucked between my fingers.
That’s when I blacked out.
The attack struck like a hammer, shattering the illusion of normality, a brutal reminder of the broken thing I was.
By then, I had been having blackouts for years, but I still hadn’t figured them out. So, I tried to fight it, as I always did. And lost – as I always did.
My body convulsed as black spots bloomed at the edge of my vision. Numbness spread though my limbs and my Sherlock slipped from my fingers. I heard it ping on the kitchen tiles as I desperately clutched at the armrests of the chair. The world dissolved into a pool of darkness.
I came round with the overwhelming certainty something horrific had just happened. My nails were sunk into the velvet of the upholstery and a tuft of white fibres peeked from the tear. My cheeks felt hot, my eyes stung. When I rubbed them, they were wet with tears.
Dad was staring at his knees, hands rubbing back and forth on his corduroys. Mum’s arms were wrapped around mine, her head resting against my shoulder. She broke the embrace and reached for the cookie plate, clutching it with such strength I thought she’d snap it. Her eyes were watering. “Welcome ba–” The words caught in a choke. She steeled herself and held out the plate. “You must be hungry.”
I felt like throwing up, but took a cookie anyway, for Mum. It had gone cold.
“Mum? Dad?” I murmured. “How long was I out? What happened, what did I do?”
They hugged me and told me they loved me.
That night was the last time I saw them alive.
II. BOUNDSTONE SIX WEEKS LATER 5th November
Dear Miss Reed,
Welcome to Boundstone!
I’ve read the letter at least a dozen times, but that exclamation mark still hits me like a club to the head. It conveys an enthusiasm I can’t bring myself to feel.
I sink against the backseat of the SUV and watch the countryside roll by. It looks like a picture from a children’s book: green hills, trees dappled red and yellow by autumn. But in the distance, a stretch of dense wood tears the valley from the sky, a slit of darkness shifting in the wind. More Brothers Grimm than enchanted forest.
The social worker – whose name I forgot the moment he said it – switches into a lower gear as he exits the motorway. We’re almost there. Heart in overdrive, I scan the rest of the page, hoping that by some last-minute miracle the words will rearrange into a different message.
Private care centre … traditional boarding establishment … neuro-diverse girls …
My breath catches. There it is, the only line that matters, pinning me to the spot like a butterfly to a corkboard. Specimen A: The Neuro-Diverse Girl.
My mother’s image comes to me. Her hands clutch the report: Non-specified neurological disorder. She kneels in front of me and runs a hand through my hair. I know how you feel, Amber. I went through the same when I was first diagnosed, and so did Dad. But don’t let this label define you. You’re the same person you were before this diagnosis.
I reach into my pocket and fumble for a coin. My Sherlock was lost when my house blew up, so I have to make do with an ordinary fifty pence. It’s an ugly thing – the body flimsy, the edges blunt, the metal dull. My fingers feel clumsy around it, the rolling motions slow and laborious. Unease churns in my stomach and I drop the coin back into my pocket.
“You ‘kay there?” Social Worker Guy gives me a cautious smile through the rear-view mirror. “You’ve gone a little pale. I know you must be tired, but not long to go now.”
We drive through a wrought-iron gate and across acres of woodland. Two rows of old oaks flank the driveway, their moss-covered branches twisting against the reddening sky. The tyres crunch on the gravel as we come to a stop by the main entrance.
“Oh.” Social Service Guy squints at a black Mercedes parked in front of the doors. “Looks like my boss is here.” He picks up a stack of documents from the passenger seat and flicks through them, a frown creasing his brow. “I didn’t realise he would be … well, never mind.” He opens the door, and the car floods with the clamour of birdsongs and the musky scent of earth.
Up close, Boundstone is every inch the grand mansion the letter boasted about: Edwardian building, early 1900, grade-two listed, no less. It stands proud, with its stone steps, white columns and chimneyed crown. An old ivy snakes up the brickwork, the red leaves made into flames by the sunset light. But as the sun dips behind the horizon, the air darkens, smudging the carvings in a pool of shadows.
“This is it,” Social Worker Guy chirps, before opening my door. I don’t move.
“I still don’t understand why I’m here.”
He frowns. “Did my colleagues not explain? Your parents made a provision in their will. It was their wish that in case of their sudden passing, you’d be cared for here. They expressively mention Dr Lockwood’s name.” He cranes his neck to take in Boundstone’s impressive height. “She’s one of this country’s most esteemed neurologists,” he adds enthusiastically.
“Yeah, I know. But …” I step out of the car. It’s like walking onto the set of a period drama, the upstairs-downstairs ones we used to watch at Christmas. I picture gentlemen in top hats riding horses through the orchard while ladies in starched gowns sip tea in the parlour. But the bars at the windows remind me this is not that kind of story.
It makes zero sense my parents would send me here. Mum would never have allowed it.