Thursday, April 18, 2013
I am absolutely delighted to be part of The Contemporary Book Fair, the brain child of Francine Howarth. It lasts from the 19th - 22nd of April, and gives all those contemporary novelists taking part the opportunity to showcase their books.
I am grateful to Francine for the chance to preview a new book I have coming out in a couple of months. It is still in pre-production, so I don’t have a definite date yet. But I can tell you a little bit about it, post the opening chapters, and give you an idea of the book jacket designs I am playing around with.
To visit the The Contemporary Book Fair and all the other wonderful authors taking part in the blog-hop, either click on the small Book Fair Logo at the top of the page or follow this link:
My new book is called Fly or Fall. It is about a woman, Eleanor (known as Nell), who dislikes change and has always been risk-averse. She became pregnant with twins and married young, giving up on her ambition to go to university. When the story opens, her invalid mother has not long died. This circumstance, combined with her husband’s advocacy, conspire to force a move away from London, away from her friends and her safety net.
Nell finds herself in a strange new environment, among women who have an opposite view of life to her own. She finds them materialistic and superficial. The fact they are married seems no deterrent to their having adventures and revelling in the fact.The house which Nell and her husband, Trevor, have moved into needs a lot of refurbishment. One of the men working for the building firm they engage to do the work (on and off, over a two year period), is infamous as a local Lothario. Although Nell doesn’t want to emulate her friends’ behaviour she is obscurely troubled that this man does not make a pass at her.
Throughout the drama, the ongoing ‘improvements’ to Nell’s new house can be viewed as a metaphor. Against the low-key backdrop of the financial crisis, which culminated in 2008, the story follows the dismantling of all of Nell’s certainties, her preconceptions and her moral code. Unwelcome truths about her friends, her children, her husband and herself, are gradually revealed. Ultimately Fly or Fall is a love story. By the end, when the story is brought bang up to date, Nell has rebuilt herself as a different person, a braver person, and she has embarked on a totally transformed life.
The book begins like this:
Fly or Fall
The cartoon rabbit ran straight off the edge of the cliff. He hung, apparently oblivious to his predicament, feet pedalling the empty air. There was a snigger, halfway between laughter and derision, from our twelve year old twins. Perhaps belief is everything, I thought. If you believe you’re still on the same level, that life hasn’t changed, you won’t see the void which has opened beneath your feet. And if you don’t see it, you don’t fall. Inevitably the rabbit did stop running, did look down. I felt with him the nightmare lurch of panic, the sudden plunge downwards as he dropped out of frame. The result was explosive. As the dust cleared a precisely incised, rabbit shaped crater was revealed at the foot of the cliff.
‘I still can’t believe the amount of money....’ I murmured, with a dazed shake of my head.
‘So? What’s your problem? Any normal person would be jumping for joy.’ We were speaking quietly; the twins, had yet to be told their father wanted to move, let alone that without even putting the house on the market we’d received an eye-watering offer.
‘I’m not arguing,’ I defended myself half-heartedly. ‘But I suppose I’ve always thought the amount it might sell for was academic. We have to live somewhere. Your job’s here, our friends are here, the kids go to school here. Why sell?’
‘We’ve been through this. There’s nothing to keep us, not really. Why stay in Battersea when we could live in the country. Clean air, green fields...?’
I hadn’t reacted the way he’d wanted and expected, and I could hardly explain why to myself let alone to him. Why did I have such a sense of foreboding? If I agreed to sell and move out of London, our lives would change in countless superficial and practical ways but, to use Trevor’s words, they’d be changes which most normal people would regard as improvements to the style and quality of life. To him it was a no-brainer. Why stay in a property worth so much money when we could sell it and move somewhere cheaper in the country. Deflated by my reaction to his plans he had to work hard to keep his irritation in check.
‘But it’s such an unremarkable house.’
‘For God’s sake Nell! Where have you been? You’ve heard about the property boom?’
‘But it’s smaller than the others in the block, with a much smaller garden. I never in a million years thought.... Anyway, what about your job?’
He sighed deeply. ‘I’m a teacher, I can get a job anywhere.’
‘Are you sure about that?’
‘I’m not dragging us off to the depths of the country on a wing and a prayer. I’ll make sure I’ve something to go to. I may quit teaching altogether.’
‘But you love teaching?’
‘I used to,’ he retorted darkly. I felt I was being drawn into an Alice in Wonderland world where all my certainties were being turned upside down. ‘Look the whys and wherefores are not important … the important thing is this. He waved the formal offer at me. His taut, flushed face betrayed his excitement, as he contemplated a very different future to the one I’d envisaged.
‘I don’t want … we don’t need so much money. Wealth can be very corrupting.’
He sighed again. ‘Of course it seems a lot to us because we’ve been scraping along for years. It’s only recently things have eased up a bit. But we’ll still need a house to live in,’ His tabby, greying beard received another vigorous raking. ‘We’ll only have the balance, to play with.’
‘I know that.’
‘Sure, our lives are going to change. But we are who we are. It is possible to be comfortably off, to have a few hundred thousand in an investment account, without abandoning your ideals. Unless you truly believe our principles are so flaky? The kind you adopt when you’re poor then slough off like a snake’s skin as soon as your circumstances improve?’
‘No one really knows how they’ll respond to temptation until they’re exposed to it. It’s a leap into the dark. Perhaps I am going to develop a taste for furs and diamonds and love-affairs. And you? Fast cars and bimbos?’
‘Do try to keep a sense of proportion. It’s not that kind of dosh.’
‘I am joking.’ But as I said the words I knew I wasn’t joking, not really. I had cloaked my real misgivings in the facile.
‘Anyway, how come you get to have love-affairs and I get the bimbos?’ he added, with a rueful smile. ‘Sounds a bit discriminatory to me.’
‘What is the male equivalent to a bimbo? A gigolo? A toy boy? Chance would be a fine thing.’Much of the discussion so far had been conducted in this half-joking, half-serious vein. My insides still bubbled with a mixture of shocked surprise and apprehension, bordering on hysteria; I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. For me it was still too soon to properly and calmly evaluate what all this would really mean to us.
At length he spoke again.‘You think I don’t understand, but I do.’ His tone was now conciliatory, bordering on the condescending. I remained silent, repressing the urge to flash back, ‘Good for you.’
‘I know all this has been a shock. I know the last few months since Beryl died, have been hard on you. Losing your surviving parent has got to change your perspective on life and the way you live it. Even when that parent had long ceased to be the mother you knew. We always knew you’d inherit the house. The probate will soon be sorted and we ... you’ll get the title deeds. What the house is worth is the only new element for you.’
But not for him? Had he been comparing house prices for years? Weighing up what my mother’s death could mean for us? I sensed a ‘But’ coming, possibly an ultimatum. Did he want to secure my compliance here and now? Yet, as he proceeded, I saw apprehension in his eyes.
‘Seriously, Nell, it’s down to you. If you really don’t want to sell the house and realise some of the profits by moving out and down-pricing, then I can’t force you.’
I glanced away from his intent stare, back towards the TV, which now flickered in the corner without its cynical audience of two. Since I’d last looked Bugs Bunny had not only survived his fall but had triumphed over his pursuers, in the interim mysteriously achieving a lifestyle of wealth and opulence. As the title music swelled the final frame revealed him lying back complacently against a pile of harem cushions, a jewelled turban balanced between his ears, the inevitable carrot held pinched in his fingers like a cigar.
‘Beats me why you can’t just accept it and rejoice? Trevor persisted doggedly. ‘Our ship’s come in. It’s our turn.’He made my misgivings seem increasingly nebulous and perverse. How could I continue to resist? One moment I’d felt like I was at the edge of a precipice, facing a leap into the unknown, yet still clinging to the possibility of retreat. Now I realised the world had shifted on its axis; there could be no going back. The secure ground had vanished from beneath my feet. I had only two options left ̶ to fall or to fly.