Trying to get a Book Deal

So I kind of almost finished my second novel and tried again to get an agent. I sent off the first three chapters and the synopsis and cover letter as advised by all the sites. I chose the agents from the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Yet again I failed to get any interest.

I did think this novel was better than my first one. I wrote the most powerful opening I could manage but still not a spark of interest. I tried to be more commercial and fit into a genre. Yet again I failed. The rejection letters are generic and just mention the huge amount of submissions they get. I realise I am wasting my time.

It is hard to keep positive in this situation especially as the British winter has set in with its usual viciousness and we have nothing but damp and cold. I am fighting off my depression like St George with the dragon.

I now don’t know what to do. I could try rewriting my novel completely or I could tart it up a bit and self-publish.

I don’t think if I keep reworking it that it will ever be finished.

So here I am again.

Going on.

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Coming soon – new novel – Syria-A Woman’s Tale

BOOK BLURB

 

Will the girl who left England for ISIS ever escape their grip and find her way out?

 

This is Molly’s tale. She’s an ordinary student from Manchester who falls in love with the impossible good looking and wealthy Taj, a British born Pakistani. Things take a turn for the worse after their marriage and Molly finds out Taj has fled to Syria to fight for ISIS. Desperately worried she sets out on a journey to find him. Trapped in Syria things don’t turn out as Molly expects. She must try to escape with the help of the mysterious Kahil…

 

This is a story of love, of loss, of war, of spirituality found, lost and regained. It is a story of life itself.

Extract from my novel Syria Ch 4

 

I woke the next morning late. I scrabbled for my mobile phone to see the time. Damn. I had slept in. I had missed two lectures and a tutorial. It wouldn’t matter. Nobody would really miss me. I could make it up later. The bed was warm and cosy and I wanted to stay there longer. For me I felt amazingly relaxed. I didn’t feel the need to do anything. Just be. It was glorious. Must be all that curry. I wasn’t really hungover which was all to the good. I was serene. I finally got how cats feel. They wake up, they stretch, they go back to sleep. Nothing is a big deal. There is no urgency. My mind wandered to Taj. He felt right. My old voice still warned me that no good would come of it, but there was a new Molly waking. A Molly who wasn’t afraid to try new things, to think differently, to live…

I got up and hauled my laptop into the bed with me. I fired it up and put Islam into Google. I was fascinated. Of course I had known Muslims at school but I had never really thought about it seriously before. They kept to themselves and we kept to ourselves. I started with Wikipedia. It made Islam sound amazing. It was a magical world where angels appeared. The centre of Islam was the family. Women were revered as mothers. The whole mind set seemed completely different to the one I was used to. Magic was everywhere. Spirituality was everywhere. It was all about worshipping God. Everything was an act of worship. It all sounded rather wonderful. I read on and on, finding other sites. Some were more critical, especially about the treatment of women but this seemed to be mostly in Saudi Arabia. Then there was the war in Syria and wars popping up all over the place. There seemed a problem with different factions of Islam and some extremists. It all sounded so different from the world I had grown up in. Religion had been a mystery to me. We had never gone to Church. Dad had always scoffed like he did at everything. Here were rules to live your life by, a good life and at the end the reward of Paradise. I felt beguiled by it all. It was a strange, magical otherworld which had been right under my nose all this time.

I spent the whole day in bed, reading about Islam, sleeping, eating and drinking tea. I felt like a light had come on in my head. I felt different. I clicked on to Amazon and ordered a copy of the Koran. I wanted to know more.

I finally managed a shower, enjoying the pressure of the jet on my skin. I scrubbed myself fiercely. I felt like I was washing all the alcohol out of me and sloughing away all my old life.

In the evening I made stew for Dad and me and we sat and watched TV together. Stew was one of the few things I knew how to make. Mum had taught me before she passed. I suppose it was Irish stew that she had learned from her mother. It was simple and bland but comforting. The cubes of meat were chewy. For once Dad was half sober and we managed to get through the evening without arguing.

We ate with the bowls on our laps in front of the ever-present TV. Dad was addicted to it. That’s why I spend so much time in my bedroom, to avoid it. Tonight I humoured him. We watched a chat show and then a documentary. Later on there was an action film. Dad made a running commentary all the way through everything, mostly critical. I felt a new, fuzzy warm feeling enveloping me. Everything would be ok. That’s what it seemed to say.

When it was time to go to bed I got down on my knees at the side and prayed. I didn’t know how to pray as a Muslim but I just prayed anyway.

‘Dear Allah. Keep me safe. God bless Dad and Miles. God bless Taj. God bless Mum. Amen.’

‘God is great,’ I finished with, having read this expression on the internet. It probably wasn’t a Muslim prayer but it would have to do. I wondered if it was true if Mum was in Heaven like it said on the internet. I hoped so. I looked up and asked Allah to keep her safe.

‘Mum are you there? Are you ok? I hope you made it to Heaven.’

Mum had died years before and my memories of her were getting thin. I remembered warmth and laughter, pennies for sweets and heavy perfume.

It comforted me to think of her up there with Allah instead of scattered to the wind. It was all lovely. Hopeful. I had made a new discovery and it was all down to Taj. I felt warmer when I thought of him.

I felt cosy and loved and slept soundly. I dreamed of the Paradise I had read about that day. I imagined fountains and rivers, children playing with garlands of flowers, green grass, eternal sunshine, lions and lambs playing together. There was a total sense of peace. I loved it. Then I dreamed that Taj and I were together there too with two children, little dark haired boys. I was smiling in the dream, smiling like I never smiled, beaming with happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ch3 Syria My new novel Edited version

So a week had passed since my embarrassment with Taj. I had put it out of my head and concentrated on my work. I was so bored with coding, but I had to do it. Some days I enjoyed it: the challenge of solving the problem, of figuring it all out. There was a kind of beauty in it. But not today. Today I just wasn’t in the mood. I had been working in the computer lab all day and there was a dull thud in my forehead. I exited to the coffee bar. It wasn’t actually raining for once but the wind was bitter. I felt like it was trying to blow me over deliberately. I sat down at one of the tables with my usual hot chocolate. So good. There was no one I knew today. I played on my phone to avoid feeling awkward. I flipped through Twitter without interest. Someone had left a boy band or something. Everyone was tweeting about it. Big deal. I couldn’t get interested. Why were people so lame? So involved with rubbish. My mind wandered back to the program I had been trying to write all day. I dismissed it. I hadn’t seen Abbie since last Friday. She was lying low, not even responding to my texts. I had let her be. It was probably some guy as usual. I closed my eyes and tried to visualise a better future where I was rich and successful and lived in an apartment overlooking the Thames with long windows that let in natural light. Yes that would be wonderful.

‘Penny for them,’ a voice said.

I snapped open my eyes and there he was. Taj. Taj from last week whom I had deliberately not being thinking about.

‘I was just resting my eyes. I’m tired,’ I said.

‘Shame. I was going to invite you out,’ he said.

I eyed him nervously.

‘I’m afraid I’m not available,’ I said with as much coldness as I could manage.

Taj laughed. He seemed amused, unconcerned. It irritated me.

Then all of a sudden he grabbed my hand and dragged me upright.

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘You only live once.’

Somehow we were outside in the street and then we were in his car again.

‘This car is so pretentious,’ I said.

‘You are so spikey. Don’t you like money?’ he said.

I considered the question. Did I like money? I wasn’t sure.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, looking at him with a sense of helplessness.

‘You are a funny girl Molly,’ he said.

I sighed. I had been told this before. I had no idea in what way I was funny. I glared and hunched deeper into the collar of my jacket.

His grin broadened, annoying me even more. He was laughing at me.

We pulled up in Rusholme outside one of the many Indian restaurants. This was a little, unprepossessing one I hadn’t noticed before. It didn’t have a neon sign or a waiter outside trying to entice you in. I had been for curries many times in Rusholme. They were cheap and it wasn’t far from my home. Usually I came with Miles or very occasionally my Dad. I hadn’t been to this one before.

We went in and the waiter rushed up to Taj. He behaved like Taj was some visiting foreign prince. I was surprised. We sat in a booth. It felt private. The waiter fussed with some menus but Taj waved them away. He spoke in a language I didn’t understand and the waiter disappeared smiling obsequiously.

Taj smiled at me broadly across the table.

‘Have you just ordered for me?’ I said.

His smile managed to widen even further and he sat further back in his chair and poured us both some water.

‘You have. That’s so rude. How do you know what I like?’

‘You’ll love it. Believe me,’ he said.

I pouted and took a sip of water.

‘Do you want a drink?’ he said.

‘Do you?’ I said.

‘I don’t really drink. So I’ll just stick to the water. We are having lassi as well. Do you know what that is?’ he said.

‘I know what it is. I have been for curries before. I only live down the road. And yes. I do want a drink. Beer. Indian beer,’ I said.

Taj’s smile slipped slightly and he gestured to the waiter.

’Why aren’t you having a drink?’ I asked.

‘I don’t really drink. Not that I don’t weaken occasionally. It’s because I’m a Muslim,’ he said.

The perma-smile faded again and he leaned towards me, looking intently into my eyes, as if trying to figure out what I was thinking.

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘how interesting.’

Taj smiled again with relief.

The food and beer appeared preventing conversation for the moment. There was an awful lot of food. I knew some of the dishes but not all. As I served myself Taj talked me through the dishes, explaining the ingredients and spices used. I was yet again surprised, this time that he knew so much about the food. The beer numbed my nerves and I started to relax and enjoy myself.

‘So tell me about Islam. What else do you do apart from not drink?’ I asked.

I thought of my own alcoholic father and all the trouble and pain it had caused. Not drinking seemed like a pretty sensible lifestyle choice to me though I was amazed anyone could keep it up.

‘Are you really interested?’ Taj said.

‘Yes of course.’

‘Well, it’s hard to explain. My mum is a lot better at this stuff than me. You should talk to her. We go to the mosque, learn the Koran, we pray a lot, we give to the poor. We are supposed to go to Mecca once in our lifetime. We try to live a good life. That’s all.’

‘Sounds good,’ I said, genuinely taken with how good it did sound. Pure. So unlike my life and the life of all my friends. Were we living a good life? Weren’t we just lost in hedonism and dreams of riches. It occurred to me then that Taj seemed quite rich.

‘But you seem well off. I mean the car and everything. So how does that square with the whole good life thing?’

Taj looked down as if he didn’t know how to answer. Then he managed.

‘Well it’s not incompatible. I mean you can do more good as a rich man than a poor one. You can help people. My Dad helps loads of people in the community and back in Pakistan.

Having money doesn’t make you a bad person.’

I took in this novel information with interest. All my life I had been taught to despise rich people, to think of them as the enemy. Class War. Yet what Taj said made sense to me. How could you help anyone if you couldn’t even help yourself? I thought of my schoolmates of old, my father, my neighbours. None of them had really done any good to any one. They just struggled to look after themselves and mostly failed. There was something wrong somewhere.

‘So what does your Dad do? How has he made all this money?’ I said.

Taj’s eyes twinkled with delight.

‘He owns restaurants. He owns this one. Lots of others. He came to this country with nothing and started work as a waiter. He saved and worked his way up. He bought his first restaurant and built from there. He worked very hard. He still does.’

My eyes widened. I didn’t know any successful people. It was a humbling story. My family had lived here for generations and achieved precisely nothing. Why were we so feckless?

It explained the behaviour of the waiter. The staff were still nervously looking over at us, checking we were all right every few minutes, refilling my glass and generally fussing. I wasn’t used to it. I was used to being ignored.

Taj leaned across the table and took my hands in his. He stared intently into my eyes.

‘So you seem genuinely interested Molly. I’m so pleased. You should meet my mother. She can talk about the joys of Islam for hours. But she’s not serious. She’s great fun. You’ll like her.’

‘Yes I’d like that,’ I heard myself saying.

So the beer did its work and the rest of the evening became blurry to me. We talked and talked and ate and ate. There were so many flavours, sweetness and spiciness, heat and comforting naan. I loved it all. I felt wonderfully sated and happy. I remember leaving the restaurant. I remember being driven back to my house. Outside the door Taj took my face in his hand and kissed me gently. Then he was gone. I sat on the doorstep for a while in a daze, just thinking about what a good evening it had been and how serene I felt. I managed eventually to unlock the door, climb the stairs and collapse into bed without washing my face.

Taj.

He had been the perfect gentleman, not forcing himself upon me. So different to how I had imagined. I had thought him arrogant and shallow and yet there seemed so much more in there than I knew. I hadn’t known anyone like him. My mind was trying to resist but my heart was singing. Wake up Molly. My brain said he was too good to be true. Street savvy Molly don’t be taken in by this. What’s his game? What does he want? What’s he up to? Cynicism came easily to me. It was the streets I had grew up in, the school I had gone to, the whole environment bred mistrust. We were used to being treated as nothing. We were nothing. Surely Taj was too good to be true.

Sleep came quickly and I dreamed of Taj. I was falling…

 

CH 2 OF MY NEW NOVEL : SYRIA

It was Friday evening. I was home, getting ready to go out. Dad was out as usual so I was playing music loudly, streaming it from Spotify for free. It wasn’t the sort of thing I normally listened to but I needed to get in a happy, energetic mood for tonight. So it was a playlist of club anthems, repetitive beats and strong bass lines. It was seeping inside me and filling me with excitement. I needed a good laugh, to dance and forget everything, to lose myself in music. What to wear? I chose my tight black jeans and Converse boots, matched with a vintage Ramones T-shirt. I didn’t really have any jewellery except two plain gold studs in my ears and an ankh on a bootlace round my neck. I was retro. I layered on some make-up, worrying about the effect as I didn’t wear it during the day. Was it too thick? Was the foundation the right colour? Well it would just have to do. I finished with bright red lipstick and dark kohl round my eyes. I brushed out my long unruly red hair as much as I could though it still went it’s own way, curling in waves everywhere like spare corkscrews at a party. My look was deliberately from the past. It was what I liked. I kind of wished I had been young in the 1970s. Punk would have suited me just fine. I liked to think I looked like Chrissy Hynde, pretty but androgynous. I didn’t.

‘Damn this bloody hair,’ I said out loud.

I looked at myself in the wall mirror. Well I supposed I looked striking if nothing else. I liked the way the foundation smoothed out my skin so you couldn’t see the freckles. I liked the way the kohl made my eyes look mysterious and maybe even sexy. Yes, I would do.

I grabbed my phone and stuck the buds of my i-pod in my ears and then descended the stairs two at a time. I crawled in to my beloved leather jacket and headed out, slamming the door with abandon behind me. I headed up the road and across the arched bridge, aiming for the student area. I always walked. Buses cost money and I hated them anyway. I liked the feeling of freedom walking gave me. On your own feet you were in charge of your destiny, no-one else. It reminded me of the lyrics of that Marley song: ‘My feet are my only carriage.’ Yes, I could relate to that.

I passed the pub and there were two guys outside, loafing about without aim as usual.

‘Hey darling, come and have a drink with me,’ one said.

The other one flashed his white teeth in a big smile.

I didn’t actually know them but I had seen them around many times. This pub was a magnet for the layabouts of the neighbourhood. They came to talk and to buy and sell grass, mostly just to talk and watch sport on the pub TV.

I half smiled and said, ‘No thanks, I’m going somewhere urgently,’ I said.

Usually this worked. Today it didn’t.

He glared after me as I passed.

‘What’s the matter with me? Too posh to have a drink with a black man? Are you racist?’

I sighed and walked on faster. Me posh? That will be the day? It was just so irritating. Why did they have to bring race into everything? I didn’t want to have a drink with any man, whatever colour he was.

I reached the main road and crossed it, going into the student Indian take away. It was safer here in the student area here than in Hulme where I lived. Nobody would bother me inside. I ordered a vegetable curry and rice and sat in the corner on the plastic chairs. It was the cheapest thing on the menu, just £2.30 so a bargain. It would fill me up before the drinking began. The curry was mild, adjusted for the students’ taste but it was still good. I started to relax. There was hardly anyone in the place, just two male students in the opposite corner, deep in conversation. I scraped the remains of the curry from the plastic box making sure I got every last bit. The rice was sticky, just how I liked it. My phone rang. I checked the name. It was Abbie.

‘Hi Abbie, whats up?’ I said.

‘Everything’s great. Where ARE you?’ Abbie said.

‘I’m in the take away. Eating,’ I said.

‘Well stop eating and get yourself over here. Bring booze,’ Abbie said.

I laughed, too loudly so the guys in the corner looked over.

‘Ok, ok. See you in five,’ I said and ended the call.

The students were still looking at me so I gave them my best frown, got up and walked out. I checked instinctively that my wallet was still in my pocket and strode down the street, turning left past the Irish pub. I stopped in the corner shop and bought a bottle of vodka. The owner was an Asian woman who always looked grumpy. I waited in the queue. The woman in front was asking advice about painkillers. She was covered head to foot in black. Only her eyes showed.

The shop owner answered in her usual style.

‘How should I know? I am not a doctor,’ she said.

The black clad woman hurriedly paid for some paracetamol and left.

I plonked the vodka on the counter and put the money beside it. Shop owner woman looked at me like I was spawn of the devil and took the money, turning from me towards the till. I swiped up the bottle and exited the shop rapidly. Two minutes walk and I was at Abbie’s hall of residence. I pressed the buzzer and waited. Someone buzzed me in without asking who it was. I took the stairs and after one storey arrived at the door of Abbie’s flat. I rapped as hard as I could and after a minute the door was opened by a Malaysian student. Abbie shared with five other Malaysians, none of which she knew. They kept themselves to themselves and spent a long time cooking in the shared kitchen and talking in each other’s rooms. I realised with a jolt of guilt I didn’t actually know any of their names. The girl smiled at me and opened the door wide to let me through.

‘Thanks,’ I said smiling back and stepped inside. I wondered if I had known her too long now to ask her name. Probably. I decided against asking and walked past her to the kitchen. Abbie was sitting at the table deep in concentration painting her nails a metallic blue. This made me realise I had omitted to paint mine any colour at all. Damn! I had failed again in the glamour stakes. I banged the bottle on the table.

‘Beware of Molly bearing gifts,’ I said.

Abbie laughed.

‘Get that bottle open girl. I could murder a drink. In fact I could stab it in a park and bury it,’ she said.

I took two glasses from the draining board and decided on wiping them out with the cloth first. Cleaning wasn’t Abbie’s strong point. I sat back down and poured two generous shots into the glasses. I didn’t bother with a mixer and glugged down the liquid enjoying the searing sensation in my throat.

Abbie regarded me as if I was a specimen in a petri dish she had just found.

‘Molly, you are an animal,’ she said, getting up and retrieving some orange juice from the fridge.

She poured a glug into her glass and offered some to me. I demurred and took my second swig. I felt more relaxed and looked around the kitchen. I had been here a thousand times. It was about as basic as it was possible to get with the cheapest units round the walls and a big plastic table in the middle. It was always grimy feeling in spite of the fact that the university sent a cleaner in every day. The surfaces were littered with the detritus of someone’s meal and there were two rice cookers belonging to the Malaysians with half their contents spilling out.

‘ I am an animal. I like that. Look at the state of this dump. You are all animals,’ I said.

‘Yeah, right, whatever. So are you up for manhunting tonight?’ Abbie said.

‘No. I am up for getting drunk, dancing and having a good time. No men,’ I said.

‘Cool. That will do for me,’ Abbie said.

After several more drinks we wandered out down the street. I felt pleasantly serene from the effect of the alcohol. Everything was good. I took Abbie’s hand and we waltzed down the road together laughing and tripping over each other’s feet.

The next thing I knew we had arrived at the Student Union building, another monstrosity from the sixties with no architectural merit. The door guy leered at us. He was a student but puffed up with his important role of being able to decide who did and didn’t get in. Local boys were often chancing their arm trying to get some university totty.

‘ID ladies,’ he said.

I showed him my card. He actually laughed at my photo which I was rather proud of as I thought I looked mean, moody and magnificent in black and white.

‘That’s never you,’ he said, ‘Far too pretty.’

I couldn’t actually decide if this was some clumsy attempt at a chat up line or if he was just a total asshole. I snapped the ID back in my wallet, glowered, and hurried into the room ahead of me. Abbie propelled me to the bar and ordered two vodka and cokes.

‘What a fucking jerk!’ said Abbie in my ear, having to shout above the din.

I shrugged and downed the vodka in one and then dragged Abbie to the dance floor. It was wonderful to dance, to let go. I felt my cares disappear as my body moved. Nothing mattered except the music and me. I was lost in a trance, in a dream. I felt totally free. I didn’t care what people thought of me or how I looked. I danced and danced with no sense of time. After who knows how long I suddenly felt tired so looked for somewhere to sit. There was a corner of a sofa free so I perched on it, catching my breath. Abbie was nowhere to be seen. I became aware of someone looking at me and turned my head towards the feeling. It was the Asian student from the other day staring at me intently, the one from the coffee bar. He smiled when he saw me look back. I snapped my head away from his direction as fast as I could and scanned the room for Abbie. I STILL couldn’t see her. I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes, feeling suddenly nauseous. I would just have to go home. I had had way too much vodka. I opened my eyes again but the room began to spin. It was better to close them again. I became aware of someone holding onto my hands. I flicked my eyes open again in shock and saw it was him, the guy from the coffee bar. He smiled and leaned in to speak to me.

‘Hi I’m Taj. Are you ok? You seem a bit drunk,’ he said.

I felt myself stiffen in shock.

‘Yes I am fine. Absolutely fine. I’ve lost my friend,’ I said.

My mind registered the fact he was called Taj.

Taj.

It suited him.

‘Come dance with me. It’ll make you feel better. I promise,’ he said.

He didn’t wait for an answer and I felt myself being dragged to the dance floor. Taj was holding me up and I was very close to him. As he was taller than me I could just see his shirt and my face was pressed against the hairs coming out of the top of it. I could smell his aftershave, something spicy and expensive smelling, subtle. We were swaying around together as if there was old-fashioned music playing when really it was fast, thumping dance grooves. Normally, I would have pulled away by now but I suddenly felt safe and warm and I had no need to free myself. Everything was okay. I had no idea how long the dancing went on but as he gripped me ever tighter I realised I had never been this close to a man before apart from Miles. He felt completely different to Miles though. I could feel myself attracted to him in spite of inner resistance as if something animal was rising within me, something I had never allowed myself to let free rein to before.

The next thing I remember we were outside in the street and Taj was making me drink a bottle of water. I could feel myself swaying and I had to concentrate on not falling over.

‘Oh no. How did this happen? You must think I am really stupid,’ I said.

‘No, not at all. You just had too much to drink. It happens. I don’t really drink myself,’ Taj said.

‘I need to go home,’ I said.

‘I can drive you. My car is around the corner,’ he said.

‘No, no. Please don’t bother. I am fine. I can get a taxi,’ I said realising that I had no money for a taxi but I wasn’t going to tell him that.

He didn’t reply but just steered me along the road until we reached a black jeep Cherokee. It was huge and very shiny and clean. It looked like something a rap star would drive, a little over the top for a student in Manchester.

Taj pressed a key fob and opened the door.

‘Isn’t this a bit pretentious? Is it really your car?’ I said and then instantly regretted it, realising I shouldn’t be antagonising my rescuer. A little voice somewhere deep inside of me was telling me I shouldn’t be getting in the car of a complete stranger but another voice was also telling me I didn’t have much option given the state I was in.

‘Do you think so?’ Taj said. ‘I think you might be right. My Dad bought it for me as a birthday present. I was kind of hoping it would be a babe magnet,’ he said.

‘I don’t mean to be rude. It’s very nice,’ I said.

I was bundled into the front passenger seat and started to feel a little more human. Everything inside was pristine. The dashboard was black and so were the seats. Taj turned to me as he started the car and the dash lit up.

‘Where do you live?’ he said.

I felt the usual stab of embarrassment that I was going to have to tell him that I lived in Hulme.

I took a deep breath.

‘Hulme. Rolls Crescent.’ I said, staring straight ahead.

‘Really. How cool,’ he said and started to punch the information into the satnav. I had never been in a car with one of these before. As we started down the road I was startled by the strident voice of satnav woman giving directions.

It didn’t take long until we arrived at my front door.

‘It’s a nice house,’ said Taj looking at our red front door and sounding as if he meant it. I was taken aback by his lack of snobbishness. Usually, people would make some disparaging comment about my area unless they were gay and then they would think it trendy. I had got used to it.

I sat with my hands in my lap and looked down. I was unsure of what to do. I still felt drunk but not quite as bad as I had been in the club. Normal consciousness was seeping back in.

The silence seemed to go on forever. I had to break it.

‘Thanks. For bringing me home I mean. It’s so sweet of you. You didn’t have to. And thanks for not slagging off my house.’

He laughed.

‘Why would I do that? I hear the parties in Hulme are the best in town. What are they called? Shebeens. Yes, shebeens the police daren’t raid,’ he said.

I smiled.

‘Yes, good parties,’ I said. ‘We know how to enjoy ourselves.’

I wondered if I should invite him in. I decided against it. I was off men remember and anyway Dad might still be up.

‘Thanks again,’ I said and got out of the car rapidly. I swayed up the path and fumbled in my jacket pocket for the key. Thankfully it was still there and I managed to open the door. I turned before I shut it behind me and waved at Taj. He waved back, smiling broadly.

I shut the door, relief flooding over me that I had finally got home safe.

Without knowing why I sank to my knees and started to cry. The tears ran down my face causing my eyeliner to run. I brushed my hand across my cheeks and saw the black come off onto my palm. There was no sound in the house. Dad must be in bed. That was a relief.

I crawled up the stairs using my hands to stabilise myself as I went. I crashed on top of the bed with relief and fell asleep almost immediately, not even bothering to take my boots off.

My dreams were vivid, more so than usual.

I dreamed I was going up winding stairs to a club door entrance. Taj was walking behind me, pushing me from behind, sometimes putting his hands on my butt to get me along. In the dream I was irritated that he was doing this. He shouldn’t be touching me. It seemed like the rickety stairs went on forever. I awoke abruptly from this dream and my throat was sore with dehydration. I stumbled to the bathroom for a glass of water. I downed the glass quickly, feeling much better and greedily poured myself another one.

My head was thumping with a regular beat. I scrabbled in the cabinet for some painkillers and quickly found them and swallowed two. I walked back to bed and undressed myself properly this time. I dived under the covers and felt better. Taj came into my mind. How weird that he had been at the club after I had just noticed him a few days before. He had been so unexpectedly nice. He hadn’t taken advantage of me or been mean at all. Was it fate that I had met him? No, Molly I said to myself firmly. You are not getting interested in a man. You don’t need a man. You need a job. You need to concentrate on your studies. You are going places.

But Taj stayed in my mind as I fell aback to sleep. This time I slept more soundly and I didn’t remember my dreams when I woke up the next morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extract from my Second Novel Syria Ch 1 Edited version

Manchester

 

Rain.

Cold rain.

The kind of rain that soaks you to the bones, that gets right into you and chills you, the kind that makes you shiver. The kind of rain that would kill you if you were a delicate maiden in a Victorian novel. Not that I was a delicate maiden. Anything but. I thought of myself as tough or at least that was what I pretended to the outside world. Everybody was scared inside but I didn’t want anyone to know it. I had been tempered by this city into cold steel. It was the kind of rain that made me want to up sticks and go and live somewhere sunny: anywhere. Spain or Greece or one of those places you see on TV. I hadn’t ever been abroad. One day, one day I would manage this. Leave Manchester behind. Become an export.

So what else was new in Manchester? It seemed to be always raining that year. Being me I had come out unprepared. I had no waterproof coat, no umbrella, no hat. The rain had saturated my dark red hair, flattening it to my head and was dribbling down my neck. I raised the collar of my battered black leather jacket ineffectually against the deluge.

I bet I look a right mess, I thought.

How did I look? I looked well, like Molly. I was tall, almost six foot and very thin. Most would say skinny. My figure was quite boyish then. I didn’t have curves. I had red hair that was long and quite curly, though I preferred the term auburn. I just let it hang there wild and unruly. My eyes were green and I had lots of freckles on my nose in the summer. I suppose you could tell I was of Irish heritage from ten paces away. I was classic Irish redhead.

I couldn’t face the library looking like this. It was going to be horrible, sitting there, steaming away in my soaked clothes. I needed to go home. No, I needed to drink something warm first. Grasping this thought I headed for the university coffee bar that was in the basement of a tower block on the University of Manchester campus. I was studying computer science. It was boring as hell but I had high hopes my degree, if I ever got it, would stand me in good stead for a job, a ticket out of here. I wasn’t really friends with any of the nerd crew as I thought of the people on my course. The arts students were more fun, devil-may-care, more like me.

The coffee shop was not exactly pleasant but cheap and full of my own kind. It was safe and there wasn’t much chance of being chatted up by passing chancers trying their luck with me. I might bump into one of my fellow students to talk to, one of my so-called friends. Company would be good today.

I made the lift before the doors shut. There were two young male students in there and an old grey haired lecturer who avoided my gaze. The boys eyed me up in that leering way some males of the species have about them. Cocky. I stared straight ahead and was relieved when the doors opened at basement level. Being in enclosed spaces with the opposite sex made me feel uncomfortable for no real reason. Nothing really bad had happened to me, but I was wary. I had learned to look out for myself, to avoid gazes, to appear more confident than I felt. I had had to. I had grown up in this city, right in the centre, in Hulme, which until recently had been widely regarded as a no go area. Hulme, where the flotsam and jetsam of Manchester lived, those washed up on its shores, too feckless to get anywhere better. It was a place of immigrants but not new immigrants, really a place of second generation incomers, West Indians and Irish. It made me think of those signs you saw on TV, on pubs in the sixties: No blacks, no Irish, no dogs. Well Hulme was the opposite: plenty of blacks, Irish and dogs. Hulme, where even the cabbies wouldn’t go after dark, making you get out at the corner and walk the rest of the way home. Hulme, where the idiots I went to school with drive around in four by fours with blacked out windows, pretending they were Al Capone though they still lived with their mothers. They were making more money now than I probably would in a life-time. Now Hulme was gentrifying, changing with a new wave of immigrants, gay men in spick and span apartments who wanted to be close to the centre and the gay village they adored. It was changing. Everything was changing.

At the counter I ordered a hot chocolate and looked around for someone I knew. Thankfully, I spied Abigail sitting on her own staring into her mobile phone. Abigail, Abbie, was the closest I had to a real friend at university: Best mates.

Her face lightened when she saw me.

‘Molly, Oh my God you are here. You look SO wet. You have saved me from terminal boredom.’

I smiled back and pulled one of the orange plastic chairs from another table over. I wiped away someone else’s muffin crumbs and collapsed onto it. I took a swig of the hot chocolate and felt grateful for the warm richness sliding down into me. It was just what I needed. I inhaled the pleasant smells around me: fresh coffee and baked goods. I spread my legs wide in that unladylike way I had and settled back into the chair.

‘So what’s new in Abbie world?’ I said.

‘Oh Molly, I’ve been so stupid AGAIN. You know how I really like Jack. Well I went to Rockworld, you know to see if he was there, and like of course he wasn’t. So I just thought what the fuck let’s just get drunk so I did. So Jason turned up. I mean, my God, I don’t even like Jason but I was like so drunk. So of course I go back to his flat and all his mates are there in the living room drinking Jack Daniels and pretending they are in a band. Well, they are all losers so of course we go in the bedroom and I am SO drunk. So I’m lying there and he says to me he wants me to walk down his back with red heels on. He actually got these scarlet stilettos out of the wardrobe. I mean, really. So I actually did it. Can you believe? How much of an idiot am I? I mean that was the foreplay, we won’t talk about the main act because it really was NOT that memorable.’

She paused for breath and stroked her hair down waiting for my opinion, her hands fluttering around betraying her nervousness underneath the veneer of brash confidence.

I laughed but with affection. This was typical of Abbie. She was in deep love with Jack who already had a girlfriend, but slept with her occasionally when the mood took him. He was a grade A user but I didn’t tell Abbie this. The way I saw it, it was up to her what she did. Actually, I had tried to tell her a few times but it had always ended in an argument so I had given up. Abbie was loud, sweet and full of fun but she had a neediness in her which men took advantage of. She was tall and thin with long frizzy hair that was almost blonde. She was always trying to straighten the frizziness out of it but the damp weather meant it always managed to outwit her and make a comeback. She was stopping just short of being conventionally pretty.

‘Well at least you have learned you don’t like Jason. Just forget it and if you see him again ignore him. Anyway, if you didn’t like such shit music you wouldn’t end up in these situations. I mean, come on, Rockworld, it’s so passé. They are all meatheads with no manners. You need a better class of guy,’ I said.

‘A better class of guy? Like round here. Where exactly am I going to meet one of those?’ Abbie said.

She rolled her eyes for effect.

‘We could try the student union. It’s supposed to be okay on a Friday.’ I said.

‘You are not serious. The fucking student union? Come on! Nerd central,’ Abbie said.

I laughed again.

‘Don’t be so harsh. At least they’ve got prospects. Nice boys who’ll treat you like a lady,’ I said.

‘I don’t want to be treated like a lady. I want to be a crazy cool rock chick you know like what is she called? That blonde girl in that band. You know. That kind of thing. I am not into all that cheesy rubbish you dream about. All that hearts and flowers bullshit. It doesn’t exist, Molly. This is it. This is what’s real. You have to take your good times where you can find them. Anyway, I love a real man, a grungy guy, all down and dirty,’ Abbie said.

‘I am NOT into hearts and flowers. I don’t want any kind of love right now, dirty or clean.’ I said.

I was saved from arguing further by Abbie’s mobile phone ringing. I could tell by her panicked face it was some guy. She went into full flow, talking at one hundred miles an hour at the top of her voice. Everyone in the coffee bar would know Abbie’s business in ten seconds. Not that Abbie cared for anyone’s opinion. A few people looked over curiously, but turned away again when they saw my frown.

I took advantage of the break in conversation to glance around the room. It was pretty full, lots of people sheltering from the downpour. Some were talking, huddled conspiratorially in groups, others poring over laptops or phones, permanently plugged into cyber space. It seemed to me there was too much of this. They would miss the love of their life walking past while they were staring at a screen. Poor souls.

A large group of Asian students had managed to commandeer the only comfy sofas. They looked to be Indian or maybe from Pakistan originally or somewhere like that I reckoned. I observed them with interest. I loved to watch people, to try to work out what they were like, to guess from their appearance what made them tick. There were equal numbers of boys and girls, all well dressed in the latest fashions, designer labels probably unless they were fake. I wasn’t very good at telling. I couldn’t afford designer labels and to be honest they didn’t really interest me. I tended to shop in charity shops or looked for bargains in the supermarkets. I like to think I had my own style: a little quirky. I had a knack of putting odd things together quite well so I didn’t look the same as everyone else.

There was one girl who was beautiful. She had long sleek hair, almost black, and lots of make-up, kohl emphasising her wide eyes. She had a patterned scarf tied round her neck like people wore in TV sitcoms and a black leather jacket twinned with black jeans and long boots. Her nails were long and painted bright blue. I assumed they had been done at a nail bar, artificial. She was glamour personified, the exact opposite of me. I could just make out her accent as she talked. It went with everything else about her, the long vowels of received pronunciation suggesting an expensive, private education. I felt myself recoil somewhere inside like an instinct.

‘I mean honestly. At my school we were always engaged in political debates. Everybody knew about politics. There was a very vibrant debating society. It is so important to be aware, don’t you think? What is wrong with these people?’ she said.

Everything about her exuded confidence as she sat leaning back on the sofa with her legs crossed and her arms stretched wide, gesticulating as she talked.

My attention was drawn to the man she was addressing. My eyes widened as I looked at him. I had to admit he was probably the most attractive man I had ever seen in real life, not in a magazine or a film. What was he doing in the basement coffee bar of the University of Manchester? Why wasn’t he doing a photo shoot on a beach in St Tropez or something? Why wasn’t he walking down a catwalk in Milan enclosed in an over-priced suit? I felt something contract in me deep down inside and a deep sense of longing overwhelmed me. I was in lust at first sight. He was dark skinned, a walnut brown, and very tall and thin, over six feet. I couldn’t see his eyes because he was wearing big sunglasses, even though he was indoors. I thought the sunglasses made him look a bit of a prat, posing too much. Who did he think he was? A rock star? He also had on a black t-shirt and skinny jeans with red Converse boots. His mouth was shaped into an almost cheeky smile as he listened to the girl opposite him. His hair was longish, slightly curling around his shoulders and his seated position was relaxed, lounging in the space. Like the girl he exuded confidence. I wondered if they were boyfriend and girlfriend. His eyes wandered away from the girl and he saw me watching him. Our eyes locked for a fraction of a second and then I frowned deliberately and looked away.

My gaze returned to Abbie who was smiling at me delightedly.

‘Aha, I SAW you. Looking at him. MOLLY! You do not want to get involved with him,’ she said, waggling her finger at me like a strict school-teacher.

‘What are you talking about? I don’t want to get involved with him. I just glanced over for goodness sake. Anyway, even if I did why would you say that? What’s wrong with him?’ I said.

‘Oh nothing. I don’t know him. It’s just Asian men. You know. It doesn’t work out with white girls. It’s well known,’ Abbie said.

‘Abbie. You can’t say that. It’s racist. You are a shocker.’ I said.

‘I am NOT racist. It’s just I had this friend at school a few years above me and she married this Pakistani guy and he was like really horrible to her and wouldn’t let her go out or anything. In the end he made her go back to Pakistan with him. Yeeurrgh!’ Abbie said, looking earnestly at me.

‘Well that is sad I suppose. Anyway, what are we going to do on Friday. I need fun.’ I said, deftly steering Abbie away from the subject I did not want to dwell on.

‘Well,’ Abbie said, ‘We could try your idea and give the Student Union a whirl. I need a change.’

‘You’re on. See you Friday. I’ve got to get home and get out of these wet things.’

I beamed at Abbie. She did cheer me up. I gathered my nylon laptop bag from the table and walked out towards the lift, being careful not to look over at the table of the Asian guy.

Outside, it was still raining. What was it Mum used to say? Raining stair rods. She wasn’t wrong there. I hurried down the treeless streets towards home eventually arriving at our little house. I didn’t pass any greenery on the way, just tower blocks and pavement. It was about as urban as it was possible to get in the centre of the city. I was so used to it I didn’t think about the lack of nature then. It was all I knew. The wind funnelled between the blocks and nearly blew you off your feet. Our house was modern, red brick with a little railed front garden and white UPVC windows. Dad had put some pots out the front with red geraniums, but he hadn’t looked after them so now they were brown. The house was owned by the council. They had given it to us when our old tower block got demolished. It was all part of a regeneration project. It was great, a lot better than the old flats. I liked the way it looked like a private house if you didn’t know any better, all new and shiny.

I turned my key in the lock and went in shouting, ‘Dad, I am home! Are you in?’

There was silence. He wasn’t in. Probably in the pub again. I sighed heavily and pulled off my boots. In the kitchen I scoured the fridge for edible food. There was virtually nothing. I ended up dipping two sticks of celery in the mayonnaise pot and munched on this while I figured out what else I could eat. I went upstairs and showered, stripping off all my wet clothes. The shower was set up over the bath but the water flow was good and the force of it warmed me up again. I loved the shower. It was so much better than the old flat with the avocado coloured bath. I smiled at the thought of going out with Abbie on Friday. It would be good fun. My thoughts drifted back to the guy in the coffee bar. I imagined who he was. I decided he was a rich kid from the Home Counties and his father was a Harley Street doctor. He was going out with the glam girl and they were deeply in love. One day they would marry but before any children arrived he would die in a motorcycle accident. I admonished myself for giving him a mean end and laughed at myself for thinking of him. I wasn’t into men right now. I wanted a career and independence. I had seen too many girls go down that route, get pregnant and end up with no life. That was not for me. I was on my way up and out.

I flopped down on the bed in my tiny bedroom and waited for the water drops on me to dry off. I reached over and turned on the computer to listen to music. Heavy dub reggae filled the room. My favourite. I closed my eyes and almost fell asleep. The bass of the reggae mixed with another kind of banging, a regular beat. In my drowsy state it took a minute for me to realise that this new noise meant there was someone at the door. I grabbed my grubby fluffy bathrobe and headed downstairs. When I opened the front door it was Miles. Miles was my best friend not at university. I had known him since primary school. He was charcoal black with short, neat dreads. He was wearing baggy jeans and a corduroy brown jacket. He was artfully dishevelled. I smiled broadly.

‘Hey, Molly, I got chicken,’ he said.

‘You’re the best, Miles. The best friend in the whole wide world,’ I said.

I headed to the kitchen with Miles trailing behind. I put one portion in the oven to keep warm for Dad whenever, if ever, he returned tonight and then got two forks for Miles and me. We didn’t bother with plates and headed upstairs to eat straight from the cardboard. We lounged on my bed and chomped through the chicken without speaking for several minutes. Miles leaned over to the computer and switched the music to Bob Dylan.

‘Oi, I was listening to that! I like reggae better. Bob bloody Dylan. You’re lost in the sixties Miles,’ I said.

Miles just grinned and said nothing. He had finished the chicken and was working his way through the chips. I ate ravenously. At that time I could eat anything and never get fat. I was thin, no actually skinny, so I just ate what I liked. I had never had to diet. I still didn’t like my body though or think I was attractive. I was too angular, everything bony and sticking out, no curves. I wanted big breasts and curves like that TV chef. I thought she was so beautiful, so sexy and sensuous. What wouldn’t I have given to look like that? What did it matter any way? I didn’t need a man. I had Miles for company as a friend. That was enough. We both laid back on the bed with Bob Dylan whining in our ears. I liked Dylan really even though I teased Miles about it. There was something really relaxing about his music.

‘So what’s new, Miles?’ I said.

‘Nothing,’ said Miles.

‘Come on. Give,’ I said.

‘I wrote a song,’ Miles said.

‘Oh Miles, brilliant! Play it to me.’

‘I haven’t brought my guitar.’

‘Shame.’

Silence for a while.

‘You’ll be famous one day. I know it. More famous than Bob Dylan, you know. I can feel it,’ I said.

Miles gave a small smile.

‘Naw,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘We’ll go and live in LA in a huge mansion like on that show what is it? Best cribs or whatever. We’ll have a personal gym and a butler called Reginald. I’ll have a little dog called Milo who will go with me everywhere and bite people. I’ll run a huge software company and you’ll be a famous singer songwriter. You’ll write the soundtrack for films.’

‘Naw,’ said Miles but he was smiling still.

We snuggled together on top of the bed and I could feel his breathing getting deeper. We were almost asleep when there was the sound of the door banging open and shut again. There was swearing and grumbling coming from the kitchen. It was Dad back from the pub.

I leaped up and went to the top of the stairs.

‘Dad! There is chicken in the oven. I’m with Miles. We’re listening to music. You don’t need to come up.’

I could hear him gurning to himself in his drunken state.

‘Fucking women. Fucking women these days. There was a time I would have had me tea on the table so I would. What’s wrong with the world? No respect. That’s what. Toiled and slaved all my life for what? This shit. Fucking women. Fucking Molly. Pissing about at that la di da university when she should be looking after me.’

‘Dad, just get the chicken out of the oven. I’m busy,’ I said safe from my position at the top of the stairs.

I went back into the bedroom and locked myself in. Dad could be unpredictable when drunk. It was best to avoid him until he fell asleep.

Miles was frowning.

‘You should move out, Molly. Go and live in halls. You shouldn’t have to put up with that. You do everything for him. He’s a wanker,’ said Miles.

‘I can’t leave him. He wouldn’t be able to cope on his own. Look, Miles, it’s fine. He’ll be all right again in the morning,’ I said.

Miles lay down on the bed and closed his eyes, listening to the gentle music. I lay down as well. Crashing and banging sounds were still coming from downstairs and then the sound of the television: voices and canned laughter.

‘We’ll always be friends won’t we Miles? You’ll never leave me will you? Promise,’ I said.

Miles flicked open his eyes and smiled.

‘I promise,’ he said.

Miles had never made a move on me. He didn’t have a girlfriend. Sometimes, I suspected he was gay but he had never admitted it to me. Anyway, it didn’t matter to me. I just loved having him there for me, a true friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte and why they couldn’t be British

I have been the thinking all week about the French president elect and his wife Brigitte. Their relationship has caused quite a stir in the world’s media. I am no expert on their relationship after having read a few newspaper articles but I find it gladdens my soul, which does not seem to be the reaction of most British people.

Macron met Brigitte when he was fifteen at school in a drama class. She was twenty-four years his senior and his teacher. They formed a bond. Macron’s parents became worried about the relationship and sent him away to Paris to finish his education. The relationship endured this and they became a couple when he was seventeen. They later married and their relationship continues successfully to this day. They lived in Paris where Macron pursued a career in the civil service and then in banking until finally he entered politics.

Comments in the media and social media seem full of the usual bitter vitriol to such a woman. It is paedophilia to some, to others inappropriate because of the teacher-pupil relationship. All this may be factually true but the fact remains they have an enduring, loving relationship that has stood the test of time and disapproval of others. This is no mean feat for any of us. It seems to me to be true love, a meeting of soul mates rather than just a tacky sexual attraction which is short lived. How lovely. How rare.

I knew what  the reaction of the British public would be to the relationship because my novel Pearlcasting which dealt with a similar subject got a very luke warm welcome. It makes people feel icky apparently.

I can’t help feeling that if Macron and Brigitte had been modern day Brits their story would not have ended so happily. Brigitte would have been placed on the sex offendors register and probably imprisoned. Public office would not have been possible. Puritanism would have won the day. The French have draconian privacy laws and indeed their age of consent is only fifteen. They seem to take a much more relaxed view of such things.

I don’t know too much detail about their relationship and in a way I don’t want to know as it might spoil the love story for me. It gives me hope that somewhere somehow real love can actually exist beyond the conventions of society.

What is it with the British and our ever more draconian laws about sex and other aspects of people’s private lives? Indeed it is not just the British. The USA has even more stringent laws on this subject and Canada, Australia and New Zealand seem much the same. There is something about Anglo-Saxon culture that just can’t stand the fact that someone some place might actually be happy. Paedophiles, the definition of which is cast ever wider, should be jabbed with pitchforks seems to be the widely held view. Falling in love with a fifteen year old is not paedophilia to me or to some experts on the subject but this is where we are as a society. Of course young children need protecting but the hysteria surrounding this  reveals something very dark about Anglo-Saxon Judeao-Christian societies. The thriving nature of teen porn in the darker reaches of the internet tells us all something. Something we don’t want to think about.

I am glad Macron and Brigitte found love and I hope it continues for many years to come.

Vive la France!

A Romantic Event

Today I have been thinking about romance. As a novelist of twisted romances I suppose I should be thinking about it all the time.

I have found real romance to be very rare. Having been married for twenty-one years there isn’t much room for it any more.

I always remember something that happened to me which was as close to a truly romantic gesture I can think of. I was at university and sitting in the library reading room. I was a first year. I went away to get a book and came back. When I sat down there was a note on my desk.

It said: You are absolutely beautiful and I’m not one for absolutes.

I looked around but I couldn’t see anyone who could have left it. I thought about asking the girl opposite if she had seen who it was but I didn’t. I knew it was someone in my Philosophy class because we had been studying Plato’s absolute forms that week.

I didn’t ever find out who it was.

This sort of thing doesn’t usually happen to me and men don’t normally tell me I’m beautiful except my husband who probably does it because he thinks he has to. I always wonder why whoever it was didn’t reveal himself to me. It was a gift given without hope of return. Now that is romantic.

It’s a beautiful memory.