The Peregrine’s Apprentice

by Jenny Glover. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2023

London, 1962

There was one good place a kid of twelve could find a nice little earner, no questions asked. Trouble was, Charlie had promised he’d never go back.

He edged out from behind the toilet block and the thick yellow smog billowed around him like dirty curtains, muffling the boom of foghorns on the Thames, blurring streets and buildings until it seemed the known world ended at the school wall.

He buried his face in his mackintosh collar and rummaged in his satchel for the fare. Gone, of course–into Sharky’s pocket, along with his watch and Nan’s ten-shilling note.

So now what? Stay, or bunk off? He could think up a story to explain the missing watch, but not two whole weeks’ dinner money. Ten bob‒Nan would have a fit! He’d have to get it from somewhere. But if he stayed, the classrooms would be warm, and Sharky might leave him alone now he’d taken what he wanted.

Stay, then, and work out something to tell Nan?

He was halfway to the school doors when a shout pierced the fog. He stopped dead and clenched his fists.

It yelled again, nearer: ‘Maggots!’


Hugging his satchel so it wouldn’t rattle, Charlie slipped past the phantom bike sheds and out of the gates.

The freezing December air scalded his lungs, stung his bare knees below his short trousers. He ran fog-blind, watching his feet, catching sounds and smells to guide him: rock-and-roll (Zodiac Café)… silver wheels (Ted’s Bikes)… hot-fat-and-vinegar (Happy Haddock Fish Bar)…

A bus crawled past and the smog swirled, stained pink by the tail-lights. Like blood in water. He peered ahead. The red eye of the Underground sign glared back, and off to his left guitars jangled. Tony’s Records – last chance for a warm-up.