Maker of Footprints
By Sheila Turner Johnston
Genre: Contemporary Women’s
Rating: 4 Stars Fiction
Meeting him was easy. It was knowing him that burned bone.
What do you do when you discover you are not the person you thought you were?
Paul Shepherd is dangerous. He drops into Jenna’s life like an asteroid slamming into an ocean. Willful and exhausting, he stirs feelings that make her challenge the boundaries that have kept her safe – and bored.
Relentless and determined, he needs Jenna with a desperation she does not understand. Jenna discovers that, although she can try to hide from Paul, she cannot hide from herself.
But he is married…
Set in Belfast and the beautiful counties of Down and Donegal in Ireland, this is a story of irrevocable change, tragedy and indestructable love.
Up for review today is Maker of Footprints by Sheila Turner Johnston. I confess, I wasn’t too sure about this book when I first began reading it because I was a third of the way through it and it was still really slow to me…but then it happened, I was hooked and I finally got into it.
Don’t misinterpret my lack of ability to get drawn into this story immediately as a sign that I found it boring, that’s not the case. It is more that the reader must go through quite a bit of reading about mundane daily life as Ms. Johnston builds the world and the characters for the reader; that’s not precisely riveting reading, but sometimes necessary. So, I admit that I found myself skimming pages as Dianne and Paul and Adam and Jenna awkwardly navigated their relationship with one another.
Paul, a one-time highly successful photographer really wants to start a family with his wife Dianne but that’s the last thing aristocratic Dianne wants; that would spoil this self-centered debutants fun. The thing is Paul can be a real shit to Dianne, very distant and cold at times. He seems to acknowledge that they are not a good fit; he knows his wife doesn’t want a child, yet he continually brings it up and apparently punishes her with his cold distance for not wanting the same thing he wants when she has made her position about children clear to him. They just don’t seem to want any of the same things, not even down to where they should live. Paul recognizes this but he stays with her out of a sense of duty and Dianne stays with him convinced she can make him make something of himself as a photographer and convince him to do what she wants. Now, there’s a match made in Hell!
Adam is Paul’s half-brother who unbeknownst to his girlfriend Jenna (the quintessential “good girl”) has been having an affair behind her back with his ex-fiancée, Rachael (what a schmuck!)
Yet Jenna and Paul strike up an easy friendship with one another and while they maintain boundaries, the chemistry is still there. Can you guess where this could be headed? Yeah, me too…and it finally does but with plenty of twists turns and “oh come on, would you two figure this out already!?” moments while both doggedly stay in their less than satisfying relationships.
Will they finally recognize their attraction and be selfish enough to do what makes them happy or will they stay stuck inside their own little cages?
That is the overriding message in this story. Do you do what is expected of you out of duty or do you go for it, seize the moment and do the things that make you happy? Do you have it in you to do what will truly make you happy? It’s not always such an easy thing to do.
That is what makes this story good reading. It’s a completely realistic situation yet ultimately it makes for compelling reading.
I liked that we had very real characters to get to know. There was no swooning female in need of rescuing. No, Jenna discovers her own backbone (thank you very much!). And there’s no macho alpha male hero here either. Paul is one complicated wreck of a man but somehow he and Jenna together simply make sense. But will they ever get out of their own way to allow that relationship to happen? You’ll simply have to read this one for yourself to find out.
Oh, I almost forgot. Would I recommend Maker of Footprints by Sheila Turner Johnston? Absolutely! I give this one 4 out of 5 stars, just be patient with the beginning; I promise you’ll be drawn into the story. Oh and when you do read it…bring along a box of tissues. You may find you need them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I was born in west Cork in southern Ireland and as a young child lived in various counties the length and breadth of the country as my father, a Methodist minister, was moved around. Most of my life however, has been lived in Northern Ireland.
I attended Queen’s University, Belfast, and apart from managing to graduate against all my expectations, one of my best experiences was reading my poetry to an audience that included Seamus Heaney.
Marriage and children silenced the writer by the effective weapon of exhaustion. Then one day I blew all my spare cash on a typewriter (anyone else remember those?!). I was going to WRITE! From then on I wrote and published articles and short stories and researched and wrote a biography of Irish Gaelic League activist Alice Milligan. It is still in print – https://amzn.to/2ZpYt9z.
I have lived my entire adult life through the Troubles in Northern Ireland and this has influenced my outlook on life. Experiences such as, amongst many, being woken by a bomb exploding close by and wondering if you have just heard a death does tend to send the mind down paths it might otherwise not travel.
I have won prizes for both fiction and non-fiction, and have written many articles for both local and national publications. I and my husband Norman founded the publishing stable Colourpoint Creative Ltd, which is now owned and managed by our two sons.
Maker of Footprints is my first published novel.
“I’ve always felt that.” She walked away, embarrassed now. “Sounds silly, doesn’t it?”
“It sounds about right.”
She turned and smiled, her arms folded against the cold. The light was fading rapidly and the air was damp on her face.
“I think you took some good pictures in there,” she said.
“You weren’t the worst group I’ve had to deal with.”
“You managed to get even Luke to cooperate.”
He walked past her to examine the bedstead. He gave it a push with his foot. “When you’re taking family portraits, there’s always one person who’s the key. If you can identify that person and make a connection, you’ve got a great portrait.”
“And Luke was the key?” said Jenna. “Mum and Dad think he’s the problem.”
He turned and raised a finger playfully. “Ah! But the problem is often the key.”
“You’re talking in riddles.”
“Then think in riddles!”
“Because it’s the way to the answers. Riddles make the world go round.”
“I thought love did that.”
“The biggest riddle of all.” Suddenly he kicked the bedstead, sending it crashing onto its side. “Why is there always a bloody iron bedstead? Can’t people leave anything to rot without putting a bloody bedstead in it?”
“Anyway,” said Jenna calmly, watching the rusty springs shudder to rest, “you weren’t just making a connection with Luke. You were talking about something you’ve experienced yourself. Something true.”
He said, almost carelessly, “The truth is the only connection worth making.” His feet scuffed the loose floor as he turned again. “Did you go away to university?”
“No, I stayed here.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. It was easier, I suppose.”
He folded his arms and put his head on one side. “And unlike Luke, you always do what your told.”
She bristled. There was mockery in his tone. “No, I don’t!”
“Yes, you do.” He nodded towards the house. “I didn’t even have to look at you in there. Within minutes of seeing the four of you together, I knew who would be the hardest subject and who would be no trouble at all, because she’s a good girl and she always does what she’s told, sometimes even before she’s told it.”
A faint scrabbling of raindrops on the tin roof turned into a deafening batter as the rain began in earnest.
Jenna raised her voice, annoyance pawing at her. “You don’t know me at all. How can you say that?”
He cocked his head. “No, I don’t know you. Who are you? Apart from my brother’s girlfriend?”
This was ridiculous. “I’m Jenna!”
He was relentless, his eyes intense. “Who’s Jenna?”
“Me,” she said, the sound of the rain drumming into her skull.
She stopped. Truth is the only connection worth making, he had said. She looked up at the rust and cobwebs of the tin roof above. The rain pounded the roof as she turned her eyes back to him, her own words surprising her. “I don’t know. I don’t know who I am.”
He planted his feet apart, stood immovably in front of her. “Are you good? Are you bad?”
“I’m not bad.” The rain was beating louder, a breeze wrapping damp and cold around them, weaving through the gaping holes in the building.
“Are you good?”
She raised her voice again and made a fist, low at her side. “I don’t know!”
He kept going. “Am I good?”
“I don’t know.”
“Am I bad?”
“Only you know that.”
“But, Jenna, I don’t know that.”
“Then how can I know?”
He stopped. Then his shoulders dropped and he spread his hands. “Well, well. It’s an uncertain world we live in. Isn’t it?”
He walked back to the window and leaned his shoulder against the worn wood. Raindrops flew through the opening, dappling his coat. Jenna felt as if she had been rolled across thorns. Who the hell was he, anyway? Apart from her boyfriend’s brother? She took a deep breath.
“It’s an uncertain world all right.” She looked at the back of his head, stilled as he watched the waves of rain sweep the field outside. “But that’s OK, Paul,” she said suddenly, unsure why the sight of his hair ruffling in the wind should make her want to say this to him. “It’s OK not to know.”
He turned slowly and faced her. Even against the light, she could see the sadness in his shadowed eyes. “No it’s not,” he said. “It’s not OK at all.”