I am heart-broken

My book, Lovers in Their Fashion, had two free days—yesterday and today. It was downloaded by more than 1,000 people. Only when the reviews started to come in, saying that no-one understood the ending, did I suspect that something might be wrong. I downloaded it myself and looked at it. OMG! My beautiful reunion, my love-making, my happy ending—all were missing!

I have now uploaded the full version but it usually takes 12 hours to become available on Amazon. I’ll make it free again very soon. If you have the patience, for those who wondered what the hell was going on, here are the chapters you missed:

Merrill began to slice bread for toast. She broke three eggs into a bowl, added salt and pepper and began to beat them with a fork. ‘I’ll ask you again. Why?’
‘Oh, Merrill. What can I tell you? Think of it as a rite of passage. The day I finally break free of my mother.’
Merrill dropped the cut slices into the toaster. She put a handsome knob of butter into the pan and put it over a low light to melt. ‘I don’t buy that.’
‘It’s the only answer I have.’
‘I think you’re trying to atone.’
‘Atone? For what?’
‘For being such a foolish girl. For not telling John, all those years ago, what Planer wanted you to do. And why he could ask you to do it. The hold he had over you. Which was not your fault. And for the result of that foolishness, which was to throw away the kind of love most people only get to dream about.’
Alice’s lip quivered. ‘Don’t, Merrill.’
‘I’m right. Aren’t I?’ She poured the beaten egg into the melted butter and took up the fork again, ready to stir and keep it from burning on the base of the pan.
‘I don’t know. Maybe.’
‘Honestly, Alice. How medieval can you get? You made a mistake, and now you’re going to sacrifice yourself to that disgusting pig to make up for it.’
‘It won’t be that bad.’
‘It will be worse than anything you can imagine. And you know it. Planer isn’t turning up for a simple fuck. He’s going to hurt you. That’s what people like him do.’
Alice’s tears spilled over and began to run down her cheeks. ‘Please, Merrill.’
Merrill wrapped her arms round her friend’s shoulders.
‘Your eggs will burn.’
‘My heart burns, Alice. For you.’ She returned to the stove, scooped the toast out of the toaster and spread it with butter. She spooned the eggs onto the toast. ‘Is there anything I can say to change your mind?’
‘No.’
Merrill slammed the pan into the sink and filled it with water. ‘So be it.’
‘I need to know I have your support, Merrill.’
‘You do know you have my support. And my love. And you will still have them after you’ve done this foolish thing. What you don’t have and won’t have is my understanding.’
Alice stood up. ‘I’m going to dress.’ She walked slowly out of the kitchen. At the door, she turned and looked at Merrill. ‘Atonement?’ she said. ‘You really think I’m trying to atone? For not trusting my man enough ten years ago? You really think that’s what I’m doing?’
‘Sit down, Alice. Let me talk to you one more time.’
Fran sighed deeply as John gently separated the cheeks of her raised bottom and began to rub the lubricant into her exposed pink rosebud. He spread more jelly on his finger and pressed gently, past the tight muscle into the narrow passageway beyond.
‘How does it feel?’ murmured Fran.
‘It feels wonderful. Like silk. It’s like you have a channel of silk going deep into your body. How does it feel to you?’
She squirmed as his finger moved within her. ‘It’s a delight. The most delightful thing I have ever done. Oh! Oh, my darling.’
His finger slipped out of her.
‘A little more?’ she asked. ‘Just to be sure.’
He squeezed more jelly onto his fingertip and returned to the scene of his attentions. As his finger moved deeper and deeper, her movements became more and more impassioned. At last, she said, ‘That’s enough. You’ll bring me off with your finger if we’re not careful. Which is not what I want.’
‘I didn’t know you could have an orgasm there.’
‘Just you wait and see. Lie down, my love.’
When he lay on his back, she took his solid prick in her mouth and began to run her tongue from tip to base and back again.
‘I thought we were going to use a condom?’
She raised her head. ‘It tells you to do this. On the packet. If your cock is wet, the rubber slides on it and you get a better ride. More like the real thing. What’s so funny?’
‘You are,’ he said as she took him in her mouth again. ‘You must be the only person in the world who reads the instructions on a packet of johnnies.’
‘I hope not,’ she answered as she knelt up. She took the packet, ripped it open and began to roll the condom onto him, her fingers nipping the little bulb at the end of the rubber, her eyes intent on her task. ‘Good job I got the large size, isn’t it?’
He stroked her head fondly. ‘They don’t have sizes.’
‘Course they do. Japanese men would find them falling off, otherwise.’
‘Do you have experience of Japanese men?’
‘I have experience you haven’t dreamt of.’ She picked up the tube of lubricant, smeared it on her fingers and began to rub it liberally on the condom. ‘There,’ she said. ‘Now we’re set.’
She returned to her position on the pillows, her legs widely spread. Her hands came back, took the cheeks of her bottom and held them wide. ‘Do it to me, my lovely.’
He knelt in position, placing the tip of his heavily swollen cock at the slippery entrance.
‘You’ll have to push harder than that,’ said Fran.
‘I’m afraid of hurting you.’
Her sigh indicated exasperation. ‘I’m the one who asked for this. Remember? I expect it to hurt. I want it to hurt. At first. My fanny’s elastic. Now, push.”
‘I am pushing. I don’t think I can…Oh!’
‘Oh, yes. Oh, God, yes. Oh, go on, darling, go on pushing. Like that, yes. Yes.’
He was inside her. Right inside her, his hips against hers.
‘Just hold still for a minute, love. Just till it…yes…like that. Oh, yes.’
‘Are you all right?’
She began to laugh. ‘Of course I’m all right. I couldn’t be all righter. I’m just getting used…oh, God. Can you feel how it…Oh, John. Oh, my darling.’
Her head was sideways on the bed sheet, one flushed cheek towards him. ‘Now, darling,’ she said.
‘Now?’
‘Now! You know last night, when I said “ride me”? Well, ride me again. Hard.’
He began to move. Slowly at first, but with increasing speed, he drew his swollen cock back and plunged forward again. His first movements were hesitant, afraid of causing pain, but the sounds and the movements below him told him his fears of hurting her were misplaced.
Never had he been so firmly held. The tight ring of her sphincter had him in a vice, multiplying his pleasure ten-fold, a hundred-fold, a thousand-fold, and her bottom rose and fell with each hard thrust as she cried out, words he could not tell, sounds more than words, sounds of pain and joy and pleasure and if this was man subjugating woman he could not help it, if this was sinful it would not be denied, his hands moved forward, took her breasts, squeezed, rubbed, and he sensed her approaching climax, felt her rising through the murky, weed-filled waters of her fervour, knew her to be on the brink of a passion he had never shared with anyone, not even with Alice in the days of their great love, the greatest love he had ever known but he must not think of Alice, could not allow himself to oh, my God, the thoughts were torn from him, this was no time for thought, he was swept away in the grip of the most devastating oh, my God, and so was she, and surely they must, oh, Fuck, and someone was screaming and he thought it must be her and then she was collapsing under him and now, and now, surely?, and yes, and yes, and yes, and YES!
Alice came out of her dressing room. ‘How do I look?’
‘Beautiful,’ said Merrill.
‘You’ll come down with me?’
‘Try and stop me.’
Fran rose gingerly from the bed. ‘I have to use the bathroom, chick. Clean myself up and stuff, you know? Why don’t you make us some coffee?’
John pulled on his boxer briefs. Whatever else he did today, he would have to go home to change. Walking around in yesterday’s underwear, socks and shirt was not an option. Passing through the living room on his way to the kitchen, he glanced at his cell phone. Five missed calls. He checked the caller IDs. All from Tony. A little symbol in the top left of the screen said there were voice messages.
They could wait.
By the time Fran came back, a T-shirt commemorating an old Eric Clapton concert covering her to half way down her thighs, John was on his second cup of coffee. He looked at her and knew instantly. The change had happened again.
‘What is it?’
‘What is what, my love?’
‘You look…different.’
She sighed. ‘I said last night I wasn’t going to psychoanalyze you. Give me the same courtesy, will you?’
‘Sure. What plans do you have for today?’
‘Plans? Oh. I don’t know.’
‘Okay. Let me come at it from a different angle. I don’t have anything I have to do. Except change my clothes. Shave, I guess. I’d like to spend the day with you. If you’d like to spend it with me?’
During this exchange, Fran had been opening and closing the fridge, looking in cupboards, running her hand along a work surface. She had not looked at John once. In a flat voice, she said, ‘Spend the day?’
‘Take a drive somewhere? Have lunch out? Walk along the Downs? Does that appeal?’
‘Yeah. Sounds great, John.’
‘Well. Okay, then. Fran, you want to look at me while we’re talking?’
And now she did look at him, pausing in her aimless sweep of the kitchen to look him straight in the eye. ‘And do you want to not give me orders in my own home? What does that look mean?’
‘It means I’m taken aback. It means I thought we were going gang-busters, doing just great, and suddenly we’re fighting. It means I don’t understand what the hell is going on.’
‘You don’t? Listen, John, this day out thing. You mind if I take a rain check? Make it some other time?’
‘Whatever you want.’
‘Well, that’s what I want. You to go home and me to get on with some stuff I have to deal with. Okay?’
‘Okay.’ He drained his coffee and started to laugh.
‘What’s funny?’
‘This. Us. Me. I’ve been used. You used me.’
‘You think so?’ She stepped forward and cupped his cheek gently in her hand. ‘What were you doing, John? When you called me last night? That was a bit of a last minute kind of thing, wasn’t it? I assumed you’d been stood up, and that’s why you called me. Was I wrong?’
‘You were, actually. I was on a blind date. And when I saw my date, I realized she wasn’t who I wanted to be with. That’s when I called you.’
‘Oh. Well, I’m flattered. That’s very sweet. It doesn’t change anything, though. I don’t know what you’ve been hoping for, John, but I know what I want. What I don’t want is a man permanently in my life. I want a man when I want him. The right kind of man. A man like you. You know what Mae West said? A hard man is good to find. We can meet occasionally, have a meal occasionally, be lovers occasionally. That’s what’s on offer.’
‘Take it or leave it?’
‘I wouldn’t have put it that starkly, but…’
‘I’ll leave it. I’m not interested in being an occasional lover.’
‘You have the right to make that choice. No hard feelings?’
‘I don’t know yet.’
‘It’s funny, isn’t it? Every woman you’ll ever meet can tell you stories about being used by a man. Picked up and put down again as it suits his fancy. A Fuck on Demand toy, and put me back in the closet when I’m not needed. The way of the world. But when a man thinks he’s been used by a woman, it’s suddenly not so funny. Didn’t your mate Tony warn you about me?’
‘We haven’t seen much of each other recently. I never mentioned you to him.’
She leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. ‘Maybe you should have done, my flower.’
Walking home, John passed a greasy spoon serving breakfast. He turned back, went in and ordered the full works. Sausage, bacon, fried egg, black pudding, tomato, mushroom, fried bread. Toast. A pint mug of tea.
‘You hungry?’ asked the waitress, pushing a lock of greasy hair out of her eye.
‘Starving,’ said John.
‘I like to see a man with an appetite. What have you been doing to get so ravenous?’
John laughed. ‘I’ve been used and abused by a woman I thought fancied me.’
The waitress nodded. ‘And that makes you hungry, does it? Funny, the differences between men and women. If I’d just been ill-treated by a man I thought liked me, I wouldn’t eat for a month. I guess that’s why love makes women thin.’ She gestured at her well-padded hips. ‘I haven’t been in love for a while. As you see.’ She went off to pass his order to the kitchen.
While he waited, John took out his cell phone and pressed the Recall button. Tony answered on the first ring. ‘Where the hell have you been?’
‘Good morning to you, too. I’ve been with someone I believe you know. Fran Nolan?’
‘Good God. Where are you now?’
John told him. Tony said, ‘Don’t move. I’ll be right there.’
John was just taking his first mouthful of sausage when the door opened and Tony walked in. He looked at John’s plate. ‘Hey,’ he said. ‘That looks good.’ He sat down and turned to the hovering waitress. ‘Can I have one just like that?’
‘Sure you can, love.’ She bustled away.
Tony put down the newspaper he was carrying. ‘So,’ he said. ‘Fran Nolan. You spent the whole night with her?’
‘Yeah, I did. Second time, actually.’
‘Right. But now you’re not with her.’
‘As you see.’
‘The first time, you didn’t fuck her up the ass? And this time, you did.’
‘Arse. How did you know that?’
‘Ass to a Bolivian. And it was wonderful. Right? And you loved it and she loved it.’
‘Seemed to.’
‘And then she didn’t want to see you any more.’
John put down his knife and fork. ‘Were you watching us?’
‘Didn’t need to. What happened to you, happened to me. And a few others, I wouldn’t be surprised.’
Tony’s breakfast arrived. He said, ‘I haven’t eaten one of these for years. God help my arteries.’ He set to work on it with gusto. John called to the waitress. ‘Got any brown sauce, love?’
‘Is she mad, do you think?’ asked John.
‘Fran? We’re all mad, John. Fran’s barmy. Nutty as a fruitcake.’
An unlabelled bottle containing something brown was slapped down between them. ‘Forgive me interfering in what is not my business,’ said the waitress. ‘But when a man says a woman is barmy, that usually means she doesn’t play the game by men’s rules.’
John looked at her and grinned. She went off to serve two elderly men who had just come in. ‘Pensioner’s Special, love?’ she asked.
‘The thing about Fran,’ Tony said, ‘is that she doesn’t want to be in a relationship. She doesn’t mind the trappings of a relationship, like dinners and presents and having a man spend money on her. It’s just the relationship itself she doesn’t want. The nuisance of having a man around all the time. And she wants the physical stuff, but only when she wants it, and the way she wants it.’
‘That doesn’t make her nuts,’ said John. ‘That sounds like sanity to me. Of a sort.’
‘Possibly. But not if you play by men’s rules, as our chubby friend over there has just pointed out.’
‘She pulled the strangest number on me. She said “Now then,” you know, the way you do, and I said, “Which? Is it now, or is it then?” Just a little gag, you know? A jesty-poo. Accent on the poo, I admit. But she did this weird thing.’
‘Clammed up on you? Turned suddenly hostile?’
‘Yeah. And then it was gone. But it wasn’t gone, if you see what I mean.’
‘It’s technique. Part of the game. She was banking it in case she ever needed something to use against you. What she did with me, she mentioned something this friend of hers called Jude had said. It’s a woman, so Jude is Judy I should think, or Judith. Anyway, Jude had said this thing, whatever it was, I can’t remember now. And I said, “That’s a bit obscure.” See, you’re smiling. You get the reference.’
‘Jude the Obscure. Thomas Hardy. It wasn’t difficult. For me. But how does a Bolivian lad know about the Wessex novels?’
‘My dear chap. La Universidad Católica Boliviana has a very good English school. From which I graduated. You knew that.’
‘Okay. But Hardy?’
‘A God, according to our Professor.’
‘Good grief.’
Tony finished his breakfast and pushed the plate aside. ‘So she mentions Jude and I say, “That’s a bit obscure,” and she says, “What do you mean?” And I say, “Jude the Obscure. It’s a book.” And she goes all quiet and closed-face with me. And I say, “What’s the matter?” and she goes on about how she’s just a poor thick Australian girl and people, by which actually she means me, put her down and look down on her because she isn’t educated and doesn’t know these things and it isn’t fair and it isn’t right.’
‘But she teaches English.’
‘She has a PhD, John. From the University of Melbourne. In English Literature. Her thesis was on nineteenth century English novelists. There’s no way she doesn’t know Jude the Obscure. She knows it better than me. It was just something she could, as I say, put in the bank to use when she needed it.’
‘Come to think of it, she did make a reference to Leda.’
‘German songs?’
‘Leda! Got shagged by a swan.’
‘Good grief.’
‘Anyway. Did you call her on her PhD when she was pulling the little dummy routine?’
‘I didn’t know about it at the time. I found out later. From her husband.’
‘Her husband?’
‘Who also explained not to get too close to her, or she’ll shut you out. With as much force as she needs to use. She comes on like someone who wants a permanent and loving relationship, but get close and you’re a goner. She can’t take that level of intimacy. And there’s nothing more intimate than what you just did with her, am I right? But that’s a whole other story. I’m not here to talk about Fran. Entertaining though that is. Have you listened to the messages I left you?’
‘No.’
‘Great. It’s nice to know I was wasting my breath.’ He picked up the newspaper. ‘Read this.’
‘What is it?’
‘If you read it, you’ll know. It’s a story the Evening Standard picked up last night from a French paper. It mentions someone you know.’ He signalled to the waitress. ‘Can I have another mug of tea? And some more toast?’
John started to read. As he read, his grip on the paper tightened, his knuckles turning white. At length, he put the paper down. ‘Who is this journalist? Do you know?’
‘Michel LeGrand. I’ve met him. In fact, there’s a little coincidence there because I met him here in Brighton the same night as I met Merrill. Which is also the same night as LeGrand met Alice.’
‘He implies a lot but he doesn’t say much.’
‘That’s what they do, isn’t it? Journalists. Does what he implies make sense?’
‘Alice’s mother steals from the company she works for. Which Martin Planer also works for and which is one of our biggest competitors. He’s suggesting that it’s Alice who makes good the money her mother takes. So?’
‘This has been going on for years, John.’
‘What of it?’
‘When you first knew Alice, did she have money to pay off her mother’s debts?’
‘She was an office junior.’
‘So that’s a “no.” What else did she have that Planer might have wanted?’
John stared grimly ahead of him.
‘John. I know the whole story. I know you think Alice betrayed you…’
‘She did betray me…’
‘All right, she betrayed you. She gave Planer information she got from you.’
‘Stole from me.’
‘Stole from you. Okay. But you think she did it because she loved Planer and was stringing you along…’
‘How do you know this?’
‘Alice told Merrill, all right? When she was at her wit’s end, poor kid. And Merrill and I are an item. Or had you forgotten that?’
‘No,’ John said quietly. ‘I hadn’t forgotten that.’
‘I’m going to ask Merrill to marry me, as a matter of fact.’
‘Congratulations.’
‘And if she accepts, I’m going to ask you to be my Best Man.’
‘I’ll be honoured.’
‘I should hope you will. And I don’t have any doubt that Merrill will want Alice as her Matron of Honour.’
‘Oh, bloody hell.’
‘Alice knows how stupid she was. But she was a child, John. Does she have to go on paying? Do you?’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Oh, come on. I saw you. You still love that woman to bits. And she loves you.’
‘Rubbish.’
‘Yes? You say so? So how come you’ve never married, all this time since you split?’
‘I never met the right woman.’
Tony laughed. ‘But that’s just the point, John. Isn’t it? You did meet the right woman. And her name is Alice.’
They fell silent. When the waitress put a bill beside each of them, John picked them both up and fished in his wallet.
‘You don’t have to buy my breakfast,’ said Tony.
‘I know that,’ said John, laying down a twenty pound note. He stood up. ‘Keep the change,’ he said to the waitress.
‘But that’s far too much, love.’
‘I don’t care. Give a passing tramp breakfast. Spread a little happiness.’
‘Okay,’ he said when they were outside the café. ‘I give in. You’re right. I’d better go and make my peace with Alice. I’ll shower and change and then I’ll hop a train to London.’
‘Ah,’ said Tony. ‘Yes. Bit of a problem there, actually.’
‘Oh, my God,’ said Merrill when Tony phoned her an hour or so later. ‘What did he say when you told him?’
‘He went berserk. Apeshit. Demanded to know why I’d kept him talking about Fran Rooney when all the time I’d known how his sweetest little angel Alice was going to her doom.’
‘Oh, yes. Fran Rooney. I’m going to want to hear more about her, my love.’
‘She was before your time.’
‘Nevertheless. But that will keep. His sweetest little angel? He called her that?’
‘No, no. I said that. But that’s what he was thinking. You could tell.’
‘He forgives her.’
‘Like it never happened.’
‘He wants her back.’
‘He wants her back.’
‘Well, Hallelujah. So. What’s he doing about it?’
‘He had the shortest shower, shave and shampoo you’ve ever seen and then…’
‘It’s okay, Tony. You can say “shit” to me. It’s allowed.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘You men. When you’re talking to each other, it’s not “shower, shave and shampoo,” now is it? It’s “shit, shower, shave and shampoo.” Am I right?’
‘Do you want to hear this story or not?’
‘Carry on.’
‘Thank you. So, after his speedy ablutions he gets togged up in his smartest casuals, packs an overnight bag and off he goes to Southampton. Driving rather quickly, if you want to know.’
‘Southampton?’
‘Sure. He’s going to get the ferry to Le Havre, drive to Honfleur and give Martin Planer the licking he deserves. Why are you laughing?’
‘Because, my love, I know something you don’t. Anyway, my darling, you have done a wonderful job. You deserve a reward. I want you to get on the very first train you can and come here so I can suck your most beautiful cock and you can fuck my brains out.’
‘That sounds wonderful.’
‘Both of which things will happen just the very moment you have unburdened your conscience by telling me all there is to know about you and Fran Rooney. And I mean all.’
‘Ah. Yes. Right.
While she was waiting for Tony to arrive, Merrill rang Alice’s cell phone.
‘You’re joking,’ said Alice.
‘No. He’s on his way as we speak. The knight errant riding to save his lady.’
‘He doesn’t know we told Martin Planer to sling his hook?’
‘He couldn’t know that. I hadn’t told Tony.’
‘So he doesn’t know I’m going to Honfleur on my own? Just to enjoy being free of the threat?’
‘He does not.’
‘Hmm. Pity he couldn’t have acted like a knight errant last night.’
‘Well, perhaps. But don’t be too hard on him, Alice. He loves you.’
‘That’s as may be. But do I love him?’
‘Oh, Alice. You know you do.’
‘Do I know that? I thought I did. What I know, and I’m not sure I knew this before, but what I know now is that I don’t need a man to be complete. I’ve lasted ten years without one and I haven’t done badly.’
‘But…’
‘There aren’t any buts. Any man who wants to get me into a relationship from here on is going to have to satisfy me that there’s some value in it for me. And that I want to be in it with him.’
‘Oh, Alice…’
‘No, Merrill. I’m serious. When I saw John in the lobby last night with you and Tony, my heart sang. It was as though a new life was being offered to me. The whole thing came to me in a second. I’d tell him what I’d done, I’d tell him what was going on, he’d be with me to deal with Martin Planer. We’d go to Honfleur together and make love like no-one had ever made love before. Instead of which…I’m sorry, I’m having trouble getting this out…’
‘Don’t cry, honey…’
‘Instead of which, what happens? He tells me he already knows what I did. He tells me he’s never slapped a woman, but with me he could start. He tells me I never loved him – me, who loved him like no-one was ever loved. Then he clears off and leaves me standing there by the side of the road, broken hearted on what should have been the biggest night of my life.
‘And now you tell me he went down to Brighton and buggered some other woman. No, Merrill, I’m telling you. John Pagan has a lot of work to do if he wants to get back into my life.’
John parked his Jaguar on one of the car decks. The iron stairways were thronged by passengers making their way to the upper floors. John began to push through them, heading for the Purser’s office where he would be able to buy a ticket for the First Class Lounge.
Seeing the look on his face, the crowd parted before him like the bow-wave the ship would soon be making as it ploughed through the Channel towards France. He didn’t even notice.
As he walked, he curled his fists closed. The Lounge normally provided tranquility in which to enjoy a more peaceful, ordered journey than the people on lower floors were having. Perhaps it would not be so today. He intended to set about his old nemesis, Planer. Verbally at first but by force if necessary. Planer had made his beloved Alice’s life a misery for ten years. Planer would pay.
Just wait till he got there, that was all.
Alice was already in the Lounge and had been for half an hour. If tranquillity was what John imagined there, her soul was already filled with it.
It had been like the falling away of years of pain. She had emerged whole, undamaged, at peace.
“Sit down, Alice,” Merrill had said. “Sit down, and let me talk to you one more time.”
And she had. Alice had learned a lesson, and the lesson was simple. What we have most to fear is fear itself. Conquer that and nothing remains.
‘You don’t have to do this for your mother,’ Merrill said for perhaps the fifth time that morning.
‘No. I don’t.’
‘But you weren’t really doing it for your mother.’
‘You’re sure about that, are you?’
‘I’m sure. And so are you if you’ll let yourself be. You’re punishing yourself because you thought you were weak.’
‘I was weak.’
‘You were young, Alice. How many things did you do when you were twenty that you wouldn’t do now?’
‘Okay, okay.’
‘Think about the very first boy you ever kissed.’
Alice threw her hands over her face – a face that had suddenly turned bright pink. ‘Oh, don’t. Oh, I don’t want to think about that ever again.’
‘Describe him to me.’
‘I couldn’t.’
‘I’ll describe him to you, then, shall I? Weedy, spotty, bad breath from smoking cigarettes he stole out of his father’s pack. An air of cocky confidence he didn’t feel, but it took you in all right.’
‘Oh, it’s so shaming. And I wanted him to kiss me! I fumed inside with impatience until he got up the courage to do it!’
‘Do you feel you have to let yourself be raped because of that kiss?’
‘No. Of course not.’
‘Why not, Alice? That was far more your fault than what you are letting yourself be raped for. Planer had you over a barrel. He could have sent your mother to jail. And what would that have done to your father?’
‘Yes, but…’
‘Yes, but what?’
‘I did wrong. I should have told John what was going on and asked him to help me.’
‘You know that now, Alice. You’re a successful businesswoman who knows how to do things. Is it so criminal not to have known it then? How long are you going to beat yourself up for having been young and innocent?’
Alice hung her head. But she was thinking.
‘That Alice is gone, honey. She was a young girl who didn’t know how the world functioned and she’s gone. She was another person. You’re not responsible for what she did. And your mother would still have gone to jail, hon. If you didn’t know then how vindictive Planer was, you do now.’
‘I suppose.’
‘Guilt is the most corrosive emotion there is, Alice. Let it go.’
‘It’s given me ten years of hell, I can tell you that.’
‘This weekend won’t satisfy him, Alice.’
‘You don’t think so?’
‘Blackmailers always come back for more. As he has shown. There’s only one way to deal with this man and that’s to say “No.” Now. Today.’
Alice threw her hands in the air. ‘You’re right.’
‘I know I’m right. But will you do it?’
‘Yes, Merrill. I will.’
‘Great. Go and get dressed. And not in that damn basque.’
The doorbell rang. They looked at each other, surprised.
‘You expecting someone?’ asked Merrill.
Alice shook her head.
‘He wouldn’t come up here, would he?’
‘He said not. And it’s too early for him.’
‘I’ll get it.’ Merrill turned as she walked towards the door. ‘We’re agreed?’
‘We’re agreed.’
‘You’re not going to Honfleur with him? Or anywhere else? Not now, not ever?’
‘That’s what I said.’
‘Good.’
Merrill went to the door. When she came back she was holding a copy of the previous night’s Evening Standard. ‘Ben brought this up. He says there’s a story you might like to see.’
Alice looked at the photograph of Planer and the smaller one of herself. ‘Not a very good pic,’ she said. ‘David would have given them a better one if they’d asked him.’
‘Read the story, Alice. Aloud, please.’
Alice did. When it was over, Merrill started to laugh.
‘I don’t see what’s funny,’ Alice said. ‘He as good as tells the world my mother’s a thief.’
‘Your mother is a thief, hon. And you are not responsible for her.’
‘I’ll have to call my Dad.’
‘When you’re dressed.’
‘Okay. Why were you laughing?’
‘Don’t you see? Before this story came out, all Planer had to think about this weekend was what he was going to do to you. He’s got a bit more on his mind now.’
‘If he’s read it.’
‘Oh. Oh, wouldn’t it be fantastic if he hadn’t? If we were the first to tell him?’
And so it had been. Alice came out of her dressing room. ‘How do I look?’
‘Beautiful,’ said Merrill.
‘You’ll come down with me?’
‘Try and stop me.’
As they passed through the lobby, Ben looked on anxiously. ‘That man’s outside, Miss Springer,’ he said. ‘Do you need any help?’
‘Thanks, Ben,’ said Merrill. ‘We’ll be fine.’
Planer had the roof down on his convertible. Better and better. They positively bounced across the sidewalk towards him. Anyone watching would have thought they saw two beautiful young women going to greet an old friend they were delighted to see.
The last bit, at any rate, was true.
Planer glared at them. ‘What the hell is she doing here?’
‘Temper,’ said Alice, smiling radiantly.
‘And what the hell are you doing in jeans? I told you…’
Alice brought forward the hand she had been holding behind her back. High in the air she held the offensive peach and black basque and tiny matching panties. ‘You told me to be wearing these, right?’ She waved them for the passing world to see, then dropped them in his lap. ‘Pooh!’ she exclaimed.
Planer’s face was red with rage. ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’
‘Do you?’ asked Merrill. She held up the newspaper with the photographs of Planer and Alice clearly visible.
‘What’s that?’ shouted Planer.
‘I suggest you read it,’ said Merrill. ‘And then you’d better call your boss. I’m sure he’s going to want to talk to you. As for Honfleur, you can forget it. We’ve called them and cancelled your reservation. Alice isn’t going there with you. Or anywhere else.’
As he scanned LeGrand’s story, Planer’s face had gone from red to white. ‘Who gave them this?’
‘I’ll tell you something else they’re going to get,’ said Merrill. ‘Ben and I,’ and she gestured towards the doorman watching them from just outside the lobby, ‘are going to be in touch with Monsieur LeGrand. We’re going to tell him about the scene we interrupted upstairs in this very building. A scene of attempted rape!’
‘You wouldn’t dare.’
‘Try us.’
The fight had gone out of Planer. ‘I’ll be destroyed,’ he said.
‘That’s what happens to bullies.’
‘Oh, God help me.’
‘There is an alternative,’ said Merrill. ‘You can drop all idea of charges against Alice’s mother. You can tell the Press there isn’t an ounce of truth in any of this. It’s a tissue of lies. And Alice will back you up.’
Planer looked at Alice. All the threat and menace was gone. What she was seeing was a frightened man. In spite of herself, her heart melted. ‘Why should you do that for me?’ he asked.
‘I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for my father.’
‘Do we have a deal?’ asked Merrill.
Planer nodded. ‘We have a deal.’
‘My mother has to leave, mind,’ said Alice. ‘You have to terminate her employment. Immediately.’
‘I’ll get HR to do it.’
‘Good. Well. Don’t let us detain you, Martin. I’m sure you have things you need to be doing.’
They watched him drive off. ‘I suppose the only shame,’ Merrill said, ‘is that you won’t be going to Honfleur.’
‘Why won’t I? I haven’t really cancelled the reservation. I can ring and change it to a single. Train to Southampton, ferry to Le Havre, taxi to Honfleur—I can be there this afternoon.’
‘Would you do that?’
‘Why not? It’s one of my favorite spots in the whole world. Where better to celebrate the beginning of a new life?’
‘Go, gal. Will you ring John and get him to go with you?’
‘John removed himself from my life, Merrill,’ said Alice quietly. ‘I’m not inviting him back. I suppose you don’t fancy a trip to the French seaside?’
‘I do, hon. Enormously. But I think I owe it to Tony to spend a bit of time with him.’
So here she was, in the First Class Lounge of the Southampton to Le Havre Ferry, sipping a glass of champagne and reading the Times. Anyone glancing at her, and several male passengers did, would have seen a beautiful young woman but they would also have seen a contented young woman. A young woman who bore the glow of a smile that was both there on her face and deep inside her heart.
She looked up. There, at the entrance to the Lounge and looking straight at her, stood John Pagan. How recently that sight would have thrilled her to the very core! How recently, at Gatwick Airport, it had thrilled her in just that way. The smile did not leave her face, but nor did its quality change. It was not, particularly, a smile of welcome.
John looked across the room. There was Alice. Alone. And, he had to say, calm. Not just calm but radiant. Where was the fear he had expected to see etched into her face? And where the source of that fear?
He crossed the floor towards her. He watched her, watching him come. As he drew closer, her face came up so that she could keep him in view.
‘Where is he?’
Alice watched him with the same calmness. ‘Where is who, John?’
‘Planer. Martin Planer. I’ve come here to…to…where is he?’
‘You’ve come here to what, John? Save me from Martin? That’s very sweet, but I saved myself. I could hardly rely on you, could I? Not after yesterday.’
He made to sit, then stopped himself. ‘May I join you?’
She nodded at the seat beside her. ‘Sure. Why not?’
Now he did sit, conscious of envious glances cast in his direction by some of the men present. ‘You want to tell me what happened?’
‘I thought things through, John. Rationally. I realized I hadn’t been doing that. Let me finish,’ she said as he made to interrupt. ‘You know I was supposed to be coming here with Martin. I know you do, because Tony told you. And then he told Merrill he had told you and Merrill told me. But this morning, I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I was sacrificing myself for my mother, and for my father’s peace of mind, and I decided I didn’t want to sacrifice myself any more. Not for my mother. Not for my father. Not for anyone.
‘I did you terrible damage once, John. I’m truly sorry for it. But I have paid the price.’ Her lower lip began to quiver but she fought to control her emotions and won. ‘I lost the great love of my life. I have paid and paid and I’m sorry for the damage I did you and the hurt I caused you but I will pay no more. Do you understand?’
‘I think so.’
‘I’m still going to Honfleur, because why wouldn’t I? I’m going because I’m a woman and I have needs and those needs include being good to myself, pampering myself, caring for myself. I have no-one else in my life to do those things for me.’
‘Can I apply for the post?’
Her smile was rueful. ‘Are you planning to woo me, Johnny Planer?’
‘Is that out of the question?’
It took her a while to answer. ‘No,’ she said at last. ‘But you’ll need to be good. A good wooer. You’d better not take anything for granted.’
‘I won’t.’
‘I heard a wonderful thing the other day. One woman said to another, “You still need a man for some things.” And the other woman said, “Yes. But how often do you need to parallel park?” She laughed. ‘There’s been no man in my life for ten years now, John. And you know what? I don’t need a man I my life. I’d like one, just so long as it’s the right one, but I don’t need one.’
‘I hear you.’
‘I’m immensely grateful for what you did for Young Alice, when Young Alice was who I was. But I’m not Young Alice any more, John. I’m a successful confident woman and I don’t need anyone to show me the world and how to behave in it. Not any more. I don’t even need someone to parallel park for me, because I don’t have a car. Don’t need one.’
‘How are you planning to get to Honfleur?’
‘By taxi, John. How else?’
‘I could drive you there.’
She looked at him coolly. ‘My reservation’s a single. I want to make that clear.’
‘I’ll find a room.’
She thought about it. ‘Okay.’
‘And I could buy you dinner.’
‘Well, you could. But you’re not going to.’
‘Oh.’
‘Don’t look so crestfallen, John. I’ll buy dinner. For both of us.’
‘Okay.’
Alice raised her hand to call for another glass of champagne. ‘You’d better not have one of these. Not if you’re driving.’
They drove to Honfleur. Alice checked into her room, and John found another. They met in the cobbled alleyway between restaurant and rooms and went for a stroll along the Quai towards the Vieux Bassin. On the way, they looked into every art gallery window.
‘There’s some fearsome tat here,’ said Alice.
‘Always was. It’s a tourist trap. The French like to believe they’re the ultimate People Of Taste, but it isn’t true.’
‘Know what? I’m going to buy something hopelessly naff and over the top. Just for a laugh.’ She looked at his arm hanging by his side. He hadn’t tried to take her hand and he wasn’t going to. He’d accepted her rules. She smiled into his face. Her hand moved forward and slipped into his. ‘Kiss me.’
His lips on hers were warm and dry…and hesitant. She opened hers and pushed her tongue forward. In an instant, the kiss turned from sisterly to passionate. She put her free hand around him, hugging him to her. His followed suit.
She stepped back. ‘You give good woo.’
‘I’m glad.’
‘But you’re a swine.’
He stepped back. ‘Darling! Why?’
‘Because I’m falling in love with you all over again, you bastard.’
‘Oh. Well, don’t expect me to apologize. I want you to be in love with me. Just as I am with you.’
She led him to one of the outside tables by a bar overlooking the Bassin. ‘I’m going to have coffee,’ she said. ‘You deserve a beer. And while you’re drinking it you can tell me everything you’ve been doing for the last ten years.’
The coffee and beer turned into two coffees and a glass of red wine for her and two beers for him. When it was over, ten years of two lives had been exhaustively worked over. Alice put some euros on the table and stood up.
‘Two hours before dinner,’ John said.
‘And I can think of just the way to spend them.
They walked hand in hand back to l’Absinthe – not hurrying, but not dawdling, either. When they reached the entrance to the old presbytery, where the bedrooms are, John turned to make for his own room but Alice kept tight hold of his hand. ‘This way,’ she said.
In her room, she hung her jacket on a hanger and gestured for him to do the same. ‘Sit in that chair,’ she said.
When he was sitting, she stood in front of him. Without taking her eyes off him, she peeled off her blouse and dropped it on the floor. She unzipped her jeans and pushed them down to lie with the blouse. Reaching behind her, she unhooked her bra and threw it away. Dressed only in her panties she sat on his lap, facing him, one leg on either side of his. His hands came up onto her back. She was acutely aware of the stiff and powerful bulge that threatened to bore up into her from below.
‘Do you like my breasts?’ she asked.
‘They’re beautiful. The sweetest breasts in all the world.’
‘Kiss them.’ She moaned as his warm lips grazed her erect nipples, his tongue sending shocks of fire through the core of her being as it played teasingly over the pink tips now aching with desire. She pressed herself against him. ‘Oh, Johnny Pagan,’ she murmured. ‘I still love you so. God, how I love you.’
‘I love you, too, my own angel.’
‘I should damn well hope you do.’ She slipped down off his lap, pressed his knees apart and knelt between them. She unhooked the top of his pants. She pulled the zipper down. Now it was his turn to moan as her hands reached through the tight place at the front of his boxer briefs and brought his rapidly uncoiling penis into the light of day. She lowered her head and took the hot tip into her mouth, running her tongue over the opening slit.
‘This is the first cock I’ve held for ten years,’ she murmured. ‘Strangely enough, the last one belonged to a guy who looked just like you.’ She giggled. Returning to her task, she swallowed as much of the immense penis as she could, then removed her mouth again. ‘You’re lucky I’m doing this,’ she said. ‘Considering what you had it up not twenty-four hours ago.’
He looked astonished. ‘How can you possibly know about that?’
She laughed. ‘I know everything. And you really are astounding, you know that? I only mentioned it to see if it would make you go limp. And look at you! Still as stiff and rampant as a stud horse with a mare to cover.’
He wrapped his strong arms around her and she let him lift her high in the air, laying her gently on the bed. He began hurriedly to strip his own clothes off. She watched him calmly, her hands playing gently over her breasts. ‘You do love me, don’t you?’ she asked. ‘This isn’t just for the sex?’
‘I love you with all my heart.’ He was now naked. ‘Tony’s going to ask Merrill to marry him.’
‘She’ll say yes.’
‘Why don’t we make it a double wedding?’
‘No.’
‘Oh.’
‘They can have theirs and we can have ours. Double the fun.’
‘But you will marry me?’
‘Oh, yes, my darling. I will marry you. Ten years too late, but I’ll marry you all right.’
He rolled her panties down her legs and threw them into the corner. Her legs spread wide to receive him.
‘Here I come, ready or not,’ he said.
She threw her arms round his neck and hugged him as he slid into her moist and willing body. ‘Ready,’ she said, ‘does not begin to describe it.’

Change

John Yorke begins Chapter 4 of Into the Woods with this extract from The Godfather:
“He locates the gun behind the toilet cistern, composes himself and moves towards the washroom door. In the small Italian restaurant, Sollozzo and McCluskey sit impatiently. He makes his way back to the table. He takes his seat, a subway train rumbles above but he hears nothing but the sound of his own heart. Diners talk on obliviously, the train screams past, he rises, pulls the gun, pauses and then in a moment plants a bullet in the forehead of both his guests. A mist of blood, a table upended, and Michael Corleone’s life is changed for ever.”
This chapter is called The Importance of Change and Yorke does a pretty good job of showing the importance of change to the creative artist—doesn’t matter whether you’re writing novels or screenplays, change is (or should be) the essence of what you do. He says that, “in three-dimensional stories the protagonist goes on a journey to overcome their flaw” and that “Change is thus inextricably linked to dramatic desire: if a character wants something, they are going to have to change to get it.”
When I’ve talked about Into the Woods before, it’s been to say how something that should really be obvious did not become clear to me until I read what John Yorke has to say about it. That’s the reason I recommend that we all, neophyte to established bestseller, have something to learn from this book; a well-thumbed copy should be on every writer’s bookshelf. It happened again with this chapter.
As I’ve said before, my degree from the University of Toronto was in English; I didn’t take Creative Writing and I’ve never done a Creative Writing course. I’m not against them—in fact, I think they’re probably a very good thing—I’ve just never done one; and the result is that there’s a lot of writing theory that is second nature to some writers but that I don’t know. I’ve always been aware that sometimes I get it right and sometimes when I read what I’ve written I realise I’ve a heavy restructuring/rewriting job on my hands and until I read Into the Woods I often didn’t really understand why this book worked and that one didn’t.
I’m a lot closer to that knowledge now.
Roadmap of Change

I’m not going to reproduce great chunks of Into the Woods because (a) I want as many writers as possible to buy their own copy and read it; and (b) I don’t want to be accused of plagiarism or—worse—sued for breach of copyright. However, I find this graphic so irresistible I’ve printed it and stuck it on my wall. Planning and executing the structure of a novel is so much easier if you keep this sequence in your head. And, when I look at the books of mine that have worked and compare them with the near-misses, I can see that the winners followed this structure and the others didn’t. The winners followed it accidentally, though, because I didn’t really know what I was doing and I was trying to reproduce structures that I’d found satisfying in other people’s books, and now I have a better handle on what I’m supposed to do.
My book, The Unquiet House was ready for publishing and due to go live in October. Now I’ve pissed off Ron Lynch’s cousin, who does his best to keep Mandrill Press writers on the administrative straight and narrow, by withdrawing it so that I can strengthen Act Four—the part where the characters, having grown in self and situation-awareness, regress and suffer doubt before girding their loins (and not just figuratively; Bernie Kells told me the other day in a Facebook post that I was a rude woman and I really don’t dispute that) and going into Act Five ready to get what they want. And, actually, I’ve just lied because I’m not going to strengthen Act Four—I’m going to write an Act Four that, in the original, doesn’t exist.
This reminded me of my very first sale, a short story that was published twenty years ago when I was half the age I am now (Yes, that’s right, you clever mathematicians). The magazine’s editor rang me to say she’d be pleased to see more; and she congratulated me on my excellent structural technique—the way I’d put the last and biggest hurdle the heroine had to climb over right before the joyful ending. I had? Well, I had—but I hadn’t really known I was doing it. And now I did.
This is how writers improve—by having an expert explain technique. Not content—that’s the domain of the writer alone. Technique.
I wish I’d come across John Yorke twenty years ago. By now I might know what I’m doing.

Wrong Target!

A headline in The Guardian today says: All four men found guilty in Delhi gang-rape trial.
We must hope they got the right four men; but the part of the story that caught my attention was this: The victim’s father, Badrinath Singh, told the Guardian he wanted the case to set an example to other women in India, where there has been a wave of sexual violence in recent years.
He wants it to set an example to women? It’s men who need to take note! Men who think it’s all right to have sex with a woman without her consent. Men who think “She wants it really”; or who simply don’t care what she wants or thinks, so long as their needs are satisfied.
There has been a lot of discussion in the Press worldwide about the number of Indian women who are raped. Listen up, fellas: This is not just an Indian problem. Women are being raped all over the world, and it isn’t by setting an example for women that this will come to an end. It’s men who carry out rapes, and men who have to stop.

Another story went live last night

The Dream went live on Kindle last night. I don’t know exactly where the idea for the story came from, but then I almost never do know where the idea for a story comes from. It arrives, and I write it—though often there’s an interval between the seed and the finished article. In this case, I typed out these sentences several weeks ago:

She had the dream again last night. The one set in 1941, which was thirty-five years before she was actually born, but that’s what dreams can do. In the dream she’s the English head of a private girls’ school in France. Another thing that dreams do is skip over all the little linking bits, like how the soldiers surrounded the school and whether the girls are all safely asleep, and lead straight in to the action.

Which, in this case, is the Leutnant and two of his men standing in her office. The two men are smiling, grinning in fact in anticipation of what they no doubt know as well as she does is going to happen, but there is no smile on the face of the Leutnant. A Leutnant isn’t a proper officer, she knows that. He’s the equivalent of an English Second Lieutenant, a glorified NCO really, but he has the power here and he knows it and she knows it.

She wonders, as she does every time she has the dream, how this young officer can possibly be so tall, so well built, so powerful and so blond. The German economy has struggled since the end of the previous war, starving its people to pay reparations to a vindictive France. That’s how Hitler found it so easy to take power, isn’t it? This young man, this boy really, was born during that time, so how does he get to look like a corn-fed child of the Canadian prairies? He should have rickets. It’s a mystery.

That was as far as I got, and then I went back to what I’d been working on before. On the surface it might have seemed that I had forgotten about The Dream but I knew I hadn’t. It was ticking away in my subconscious, which is the way it always happens with me, and three days ago I had the finished thing lined up in my head. All I had to do was write it J.

It’s now done and last night I put it on Amazon—you can find it here (at $0.99) on Amazon.com and here (at £0.79) on Amazon.co.uk. If you’d like to see a bit more, to make up your mind whether you might like this story, this is how the beginning (above) continues:

‘What’s your name?’ He’s asked this question every time she’s had the dream, which means every night this week, really; he should know her name by now but still he asks for it.

‘My name is Christine. I am a British citizen. You have no right to keep me here.’

He smiles. It is not a nice smile. ‘You are correct, Christina. So what shall we do? Would you like to leave? Of course, a woman on her own making her way on foot through an occupied country might have difficulties. Not all our soldiers are as polite as I am. And I don’t know what you’d do if you ever reached a port. But, please. Feel free to go.’

She stares at him. She knows what he suggests is not really a possibility.

‘And when you have left,’ he says, ‘I will be disappointed. I shall have to enjoy the Head Girl instead. What is she? Eighteen? Perhaps my disappointment will not be so severe. And I shall turn my men loose on all these girls you have here. You think their parents will like to have them back with German babies?’

This, also, is not a possibility. A headmistress takes on responsibilities along with the prestige. Protecting the young ones in her charge is her most important task. If it means she must sacrifice herself, then…

In the dream she is still a virgin. She isn’t, of course; not after eight years of a marriage now thank God dissolved, but in the dream she has never known a man. That has remained constant all week. Something that has changed is what she wears. On the first night when she removed her tweed skirt at the Leutnant’s behest she had on the Marks and Spencer knickers and tights that are her usual wear, but in her musings on the dream the following day she saw how ridiculous that was. So on the second night she stripped to what her father used to call Harvest Festivals. “All is safely gathered in.” They were no more right than the St Michael’s cotton; her great-grandmother might have worn them; she could see from the Leutnant’s face that she had displeased him; so on the third and each subsequent night she adopted what she thinks a well-off French woman in 1941 might have worn.

‘Have you considered your position?’ asks the Leutnant.

‘I cannot leave my charges to your care.’

He nods. ‘Take off your clothes.’

‘I…’

‘Take off your clothes.’

And so she does. What choice does she have?

That’s how it starts. If you like the idea—good. If it doesn’t appeal, no hard feelings. But, just in case, I’ll repeat the locations: it’s here on Amazon.com and here on Amazon.co.uk.

x

Suzie

10 September 2013

And this is why I write!

MaryH reviewed Lovers in Their Fashion on Amazon.com, and I’m so delighted. This is what she wrote. Thank you, Mary!

This is the kind of book I became a reviewer for, July 29, 2013      

By 
 
This review is from: Lovers in Their Fashion (Kindle Edition)      

I wrote this review for Manic Reviewers, for whom I write three or four reviews each month. I’m reproducing it here because I loved this book more than almost any and I wanted to give it as wide an audience as possible. When I first became a Manic Reviewer, I saw myself finding unknown gems on the Web and bringing them to a wider public. I know now that I was mistaken. Like unusual vegetables, unknown books are mostly unknown for a reason–they’re not very good. After two reviews with so few stars I didn’t want them published for fear of hurting the writers’ feelings, and having taken myself off the reviewer list for what turned out to be the worst book I had ever read, I adopted a different approach. Now, I look for the authors who have shown they can write good English and the publishers who (a) exercise some kind of selection over what they publish and (b) make sure the book is properly edited before it reaches the public. Lovers in Their Fashion is the second Mandrill Press book I have reviewed, and the second book by S F Hopkins. I’m not sorry I chose to review it because I’m giving it the full five stars–something I almost never do.
This is not an erotic book–there is some sex in it and it’s very satisfying sex, but primarily this is a contemporary romance between two people who come fully to life in Hopkins’s hands. Alice Springer started out with not very much but by the age of 30, through her own talent and hard work, is the retail director of high fashion company House of Pharaoh. John Pagan is about to become chief operating officer of a multi-national company. As it happens, I am PA to the chief operating officer of a multi-national, which may be why Lovers in Their Fashion and I connected so well, and I can say with certainty the world he moves in is extremely well portrayed–it’s authentic. Of the other characters, Alice’s American friend Merrill and the villainous Martin Planer are also very well drawn. When reading a story like this there is a natural assumption that the central two characters will go through a few ups and downs before getting to the inevitable happy ending. I was astonished by the size of the wall S F Hopkins throws up between them and the apparent impossibility that they could climb over it. My heart was in my mouth till the last page–but, my word, I was rooting for them. I don’t expect to read many books this good this year.

Vacation Time

Tomorrow I fly to Heathrow for a month’s vacation. I’ll be back in Abu Dhabi on the 1st July. Between now and then:

  • My sister is flying in from Vancouver, where she now lives, to spend a week with me at my place in Highgate
  • I have tickets booked to see:
    • (With my sister) RainForest by Rambert Dance Company at the Barbican
    • (By myself) Othello at the National Theatre
    • (By myself) A Mad World My Masters at the RSC in Stratford
    • I shall be going to North Wales to visit friends I first met here in The Gulf

I’m really looking forward to it. And yet, I know I’ll miss The Gulf. There’s a politeness here that you don’t get any longer in Britain. Perhaps, if I went all the way home to Ontario, I might find it there—but Canada seems a long time ago and a long way away to me now.

When I talk about Akhlaq, people in the West are surprised, because what the West knows of Islam is distorted by biased reporting and film of faces distorted by rage and grief when someone close to them is killed. If I say that the commonest face of Islam is one of courtesy, people look at me in disbelief. And yet, so it is.

Muhammed said that religion is Akhlaq, and that Akhlaq is good conduct and morality. That not to be angry is Akhlaq. And, for people who live here, courtesy, good conduct and morality are what one encounters. I shall miss it when I’m not here. I shall be glad when I return.

I was pleased with this

Manic Readers reviewed my book, The BindingThe Binding Cover:

“The Binding by SF Hopkins is an enjoyable read. In the beginning I felt just Rodney and Melissa’s story. It had more substance. However, as the story went on I came around to Caroline and James. Still Rodney and Melissa were my favorites in this book. I like how the past and present intertwined with each other. There was good balance between the past and present. Readers who like historical romance stories with a happy ending and don’t mind some spice should check out this book.”

I like it! Thank you, Manic Readers

Zoë Ferraris

I read Zoë Ferraris in the “wrong” order—I started with her third book, Kingdom of Strangers, realised what I’d done and read Finding Nouf (also published as The Night Of The Mi’raj) and now I’m about to start on the middle one of the three—City of Veils.

Two months ago, I hadn’t heard of Zoë Ferraris. Now she’s in that small group of writers where I know I’m going to be watching for the next book and I know I’m going to buy it. She got into that group because she writes good, well constructed thrillers and because her characters are human and believable and she makes you care what happens to them. The added attraction, though, is that she writes about Jeddah. I spend a lot of time in Jeddah and Zoë Ferraris describes both the place and the society extremely well. She’s qualified to do so—she’s American, born in in Oklahoma in fact, but she was married to a Bedu from Jeddah who she met in the States and who took her back to Jeddah when their daughter was born.

I’ve seen comments by Arabs that she doesn’t really understand Jeddah society. Oh, yes, she does. She understands the basic decency of so many of the ordinary people and she understands how thoroughly they are supressed by the rich, the powerful and the devout. If you read her books, you’ll understand, too—and you’ll have a really enjoyable read into the bargain.

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

You can tell a good painting because the eyes follow you round the room. (If you’re not familiar with this piece of art theory, learn more about it here). Whatever your view of that idea, you can tell a good book by the way the characters come into your life as real people and won’t leave. Anais Hendricks, protagonist of The Panopticon, held me from the moment I opened the book and she never let go. When I was half way through and going to bed, I dreamed about her. When I was thinking about how to deal with something, I found myself wondering what Anais would do. This is a wonderful book, and for a first novel it’s one in a million. Anais is as unreliable a narrator as narrators get: she didn’t put the woman PC in a coma (or did she?); the blood on her clothes is from a squirrel (or is it?); she has no idea who her birth mother was (or does she?) Fagan is in complete control of her material from the first page to the last sentence. The ending had me in tears. I’m not going to say what the ending is, or whether the tears were happy or sad, because I don’t want to spoil the book for you when you read it. But read it you must.

Send No Money by Philip Larkin

I’ve always had the blessed facility to learn poetry by heart. I don’t have a favourite poem; I feel a little challenged by those who can name theirs with certainty. For me, the poem of the moment varies with how I happen to feel. I can, though, say which poets I turn to most often: Auden, Eliot and Larkin. Last evening I found the lines I thought wanting unfair/ It and finding out clash running through my mind (don’t ask why, because I don’t know) which had me running through my Collected Larkin till I found it:

Send No Money by Philip Larkin

Standing under the fobbed
Impendent belly of Time
Tell me the truth, I said
Teach me the way things go
All the other lads there
Were itching to have a bash
But I thought wanting unfair
It and finding out clash

So he patted my head, booming Boy
There’s no green in your eye
Sit here and watch the hail
Of occurence clobber life out
To a shape no one sees
Dare you look at that straight?
Oh thank you, I said, Oh yes please
And sat down to wait

Half life is over now
And I meet full face on dark mornings
The bestial visor, bent in
By the blows of what happened to happen
What does it prove? Sod all
In this way I spent youth
Tracing the trite untransferable
Truss-advertisement, truth

There’s an element here of the essential What makes a writer? question; the writer stands back a little from the daily hurly-burly of life. S/he is more interested in looking, in watching what happens and recording it, than in being involved in the action. Or so it seems to me. I’d be interested to know what you think.

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