Showing posts with label Novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Novel. Show all posts

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The power of friendship

First page of a new novel
Chiselling away... page one!
Just when you thought An Author's Notebook might have died and gone to blog heaven... here I am! The reason for my absence has been book-related: I've spent January finishing my third novel. I'm nearly there (New Year's resolution - tick!) although I'm still tinkering around the edges.

I actually finished writing the book over a year ago, but have spent all this time chiselling away at it, refining sentences and teasing out themes. Most usefully, I've been addressing feedback from a small group of readers - most of them writers themselves. I've been so lucky with the people I have met through my CBC creative writing course, as well as a few supporters closer to home.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A quick guide to happiness (sort of)

Whenever I succumb to a bit of navel-gazing, the subject is always the same. How to be happy. You'd have thought I'd got it sussed by now, but there is a wildcard element in all of this that makes 'being content' a slippery fish to pin down. Only now, with the experience of middle age, am I beginning to understand what makes my chemistry hum.

Time is elastic: re-schedule the chores!
My own compass of wellbeing swings between different points - family life in the north, perhaps, and working achievements in the south. I have long given up on my BIG career, preferring these days to plug the gap with novel-writing, blogging and freelance work. In effect, I have traded ambition for freedom and being at home with the kids.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The grey-haired muse

A much-loved grandmother leaves behind a precious legacy. My own one passed away a few years ago, but every so often I honour her memory by rehearsing stories in my head. I run through some of her own anecdotes as well as odd recollections from when I was growing up, like her sitting on the terrace in her Ibiza home, chatting to my uni friends about Brad Pitt, with her legs hanging over the arm of a chair. Such rituals keep her close.

Emma Clark Lam and author Joy Rhoades
Me and Joy Rhoades at her book launch in London
"We sense the dead have a vital force still," said novelist Hilary Mantel yesterday, as she delivered a Reith Lecture on Radio 4. "They have something we need to understand. Using fiction and drama, we try to gain that understanding."

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Puppet Master: a taster

Available on Amazon 6/6/16
On Monday the 6 June, my latest novel, The Puppet Master, will be published on Kindle. It tells the story of a diplomat's wife living in the social whirl of expat Jakarta during the 1970s. She has two young daughters she adores, a successful husband and an exotic home complete with staff, so why does she view the future with a sense of foreboding?

As promised in my blog last week about my childhood in Indonesia, I am posting part of the opening chapter to whet your appetites. Make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy...

Monday, 23 May 2016

Tales from the tropics

One of my earliest memories is playing happily in a friend's garden before being unceremoniously yanked inside by our panic-stricken mothers. Turned out there was a python lurking in the storm drain. Not long after the snake-scare, we were motoring through town when our driver yelled at us to duck down out-of-sight. Our error was to pass a roundabout where police were pursuing a runaway man with live bullets. I can remember seeing the man fall to the ground as my mum pushed me down into the footwell. Strangely I accepted these occasional elements of danger without question. That was how life was in Indonesia in the late 1970s.

Emma Clark Lam as a child in Jakarta
Me and my brother in the Puncak, outside Jakarta, c.1978
It was a lot of fun too - lazy afternoons at the swimming pool, horse-riding in the tea plantations outside Jakarta, holidays in Bali and trips to the beach with the volcano Krakatoa looming in the background. My parents were posted to Jakarta in their early thirties and were given a company bungalow complete with domestic staff. Looking back at family photos, it is clear that hedonism was the order of the day. My parents and their friends were young and groovy - the albums are full of raucous parties, boat trips and batik shirts. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

Character study

I am immersed in what I hope will be the final edit of my second novel. At this point in the process, I am trying to look at the 'arc' of the story, while also teasing out some of the underlying themes. It's structural work, quite different from the nitty-gritty detail which has occupied me up until now. The question I keep pondering is what my central character - a young wife stuck in a dysfunctional marriage - has learnt about herself over the course of the novel.

Lily James as the charming Natasha Rostova
Credit: BBC / Mitch Jenkins
Last night, watching the latest instalment of the BBC's excellent War and Peace series, I witnessed the sad decline of the charismatic Natasha, as she struggles to reconcile her sexuality - her lapse in judgement regarding Anatole - with a greater sense of purpose. Within the confines of a novel, characters are usually obliged to travel in some metaphorical sense, during which journey they undergo a kind of moral or spiritual transformation. Tolstoy's War and Peace is no exception.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A book in flight

Yesterday was a significant day for me. I sent my new novel out into the world on the wings of an email. The laptop even made that little whooshing noise to signify that my book had finally flown the nest. My domestic thriller about a woman trapped in a ruinous marriage in 1970s Jakarta was off to make its fortune... perhaps.

Balinese dancer
My new novel, The Puppet Master, is
inspired by my childhood in Indonesia
I have been writing this new novel, The Puppet Master, off and on for nearly eight years and earlier this month I decided it was finally time to send it off to a few literary agents. As I published my first novel, A Sister for Margot, independently, the decision to venture once more down the traditional route has caused some angst. Would I be able to deal with all those rejections when they come bouncing back?

Hope is my antidote. The Puppet Master has enjoyed rave reviews from my harshest critics (my husband and my mum) so I'm feeling confident... or at least I was until I pressed the 'send' icon on the email. Whoosh! and suddenly the doubts came crowding in. Should have done one more edit, should have tightened up the third chapter, should have waited a bit longer... damn it!

Monday, 29 September 2014

An audience with Jojo and Daisy

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival... 


A few years ago an editor friend of mine at Headline Review sent me a copy of My Last Duchess because she thought I would enjoy it. She knew my tastes well: this tale of an American heiress who marries into the English aristocracy was right up my street. It has been described as Henry James without the boring bits. Today I got to meet the author, Daisy Goodwin, who has now written a second book, The Fortune Hunter, about the 19th century Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Lucy Cavendish interviews Jojo Moyes and Daisy Goodwin at the Henley Literary Festival
Jojo Moyes is a regular guest at the Literary Festival
Daisy was joined by Jojo Moyes, the bestselling author of Me Before You, and between the two of them, they kept us riveted with a discussion of their characters, their craft and a few homey snippets. 

In her latest book, The One Plus One, Jojo writes about a single mother Jess who ends up embarking on a road trip with Ed - a man she barely knows - to enter her daughter into a maths Olympiad in Aberdeen. Inevitably love blossoms, although there are of course a few twists in the road.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Work in progress

Today I am posting an excerpt from my new novel about a young woman trapped in a ruinous marriage in Jakarta, Indonesia, during the 1970s. 


Sunset in Bali
The sun deserted us within minutes...


The journey ended as the wheels of the aeroplane struck the tarmac with a deafening roar. I stared into the face of an airhostess and decided that Death wore a batik uniform and crimson lipstick. Over our heads, the rain hammered upon the cabin like gunfire, while the wind sucked at the egg-shaped windows. As the plane listed from side to side, I gripped the hands of my two little girls and opened silent negotiations with God. We were three hundred passengers holding our breath, waiting for an engine to blow or smoke to billow out from the wing. My eyes sought out the airhostess once more, scanning her features for any trace of panic. Her mouth remained composed, still fixed in a faint smile, her lips ghoulish in the dimmed light. At last, the plane came to a juddering halt. A hoarse cheer broke out, followed quickly by the snapping of seatbelts. It was all over – we had arrived. My hysteria shrank back down like a defeated genie into its lamp.
It was dusk by the time we staggered across the runway, crumpled and exhausted. We had endured forty-eight hours of travel, with eight pieces of luggage, a pushchair and a wooden crate. I thought I would be used to it by now, but the trip still knocked me for six. There were pustules of vomit on my jeans from where my eldest child had deposited her evening meal and my swollen feet filled up every crevice in my shoes. It was a journey to shake body and soul.
Within minutes of arriving, the sun deserted us, tunnelling down to another part of the world. I inhaled the soupy air and straightened my spine. It was a reflex – partly a reaction to the cramped cabin, but also a stiffening of resolve. Jakarta, we have returned! That said with defiance and weariness. After a summer away in Sussex, expatriate life was about to resume. While we swung croquet mallets in an English garden and caught up with the relatives, it was like someone had lifted the needle off the record player. Now, with a little crackle, the music would begin again.
When we reached the baggage hall, Simon disappeared into the rabble by the carousel, to collect the suitcases, while I ushered our girls over to a bank of seats. Two flights had arrived at once and there was general confusion as to whose baggage would materialise first. Outside the window, our jumbo jet melted away into a twinkle of lights, which swam in fluorescent waves as my eyes struggled to focus. A muscle in my left lid went into spasm. The urge to close my eyes was overpowering. Everyone had managed to sleep on the plane apart from me – the girls sprawled on the floor at our feet, Simon swathed in blankets. Ever watchful, I sat condemned to a numb kind of wakefulness, queasily aware of the body odour drifting over from across the aisle. Now sleep was calling me. The babble of the baggage hall was oddly soothing and I felt myself falling gently off a cliff… until a small jab on my forearm brought me back round.
“Mummy! Katie won’t let me have any of her water,” complained a voice by my side.
Slowly, automatically, I reached into my hand luggage for a flask to give to Hannah, my youngest. She took one swig and then flew back to her sister, invigorated. Both of them had been fractious and tearful when we left the plane, but now the excitement of arriving had given them a jolt of energy.
“Katie! Hannah! Please! Calm down,” I called after them. My glance flickered between Simon’s head, now floating above the crowd at the conveyor belt, and the girls in mid-flight. “Shush now, Daddy will be cross.”
After a while – I lost track of time – Simon and a porter returned with our luggage piled high on a trolley. I was too tired even to check the cases, an unusual omission for me.
“For God’s sake, try to get the girls to behave,” Simon snapped, before heading off to sort out the paperwork for the new dog.
During our summer in England, my husband had finally relented and allowed the girls to adopt a russet cocker spaniel called Dixie. For too many hours the poor animal had been holed up in a crate, two rows behind us on the plane, whining for her freedom. When we stopped in Bahrain to re-fuel, I watched out of the window as Simon gingerly led her around the plane. She eventually peed beside the wheel of a nearby truck as impassive soldiers looked on, cradling their machine guns. After Simon returned to his seat, he looked at me as if to say, this was all your bright idea.
More minutes ticked by in the baggage hall. I felt a dull ache rolling through my body – I was thirsting for a cigarette! With some sort of sensory memory, my fingers began twitching in my lap. The girls clambered across the floor, pretending to be donkeys. Where in the world had Simon got to? Girls please! Get up off the floor, it’s dirty. I gazed out across the marbled tiles and spotted my husband in the distance, arguing with an official in a blue uniform. Simon’s head was jutting forward, shooting words into the space between them. Something was wrong. Hauling myself to my feet, I tottered over in my sick-spattered trousers, trailing small girls, a porter and a squeaking trolley in my wake.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s the bloody dog,” said my husband tersely. “There’s an issue with the paperwork.”
That was Simon to a tee – controlling, aggressive, persuasive. He turned his back on me to continue his negotiations.
Selamat datang,” the customs man said, ignoring Simon and beaming across at me. “Welcome to Indonesia, Nyonya!”
Despite my malaise, despite the ache in my head, despite bloody everything, I smiled back. It seemed the thing to do. For the dog’s sake.
“How can we resolve this?” Simon cut in, his voice officious.
“I am sorry sir,” said the man with another oily smile, “but you are not permitted to bring this dog into Indonesia. It is against our regulations. Your paperwork is not in order.”
He jabbed his finger accusingly at the documents on the table in front of us.
The pulse in Simon’s jaw started to throb. His fury was like ice in my veins. I almost pitied the customs official – he had no idea who he was dealing with, poor soul. Dixie whined pathetically in the background, scrabbling at the door of her wooden crate. I held out my hand to her through the mesh window. There, there, little one. It will soon be over. One of the girls started to cry again – Hannah – she had a knack for tuning into emotional static. Katie leaned despondently on the crate with her arms hanging by her side.
“Give me your gun then,” Simon said.
“Sorry sir?”
“You heard me. Give me your gun.” Simon gestured towards the man’s holster. “If I can’t bring this dog into your country, I will have to shoot her with your gun.”
The breath was sucked out of me, my fingers snagged on the mesh. Katie gave a yelp of dismay. “No Daddy, please!”
The man gaped at Simon, his mouth hanging open, revealing an array of yellowing teeth. “One moment please,” he said and disappeared into an office by the side of us.
Inside my head I began to scream. No one deserved to die. Not yet, anyway.
Then the official came back. “Go, go!” he said, waving us through with a dismissive hand.



Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot

"This was such an enjoyable read and the quality of the writing was what made it so. I could not put it down as the plot was so meaty with so many twists and turns." 
-- Amazon review



Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Good vibrations

A few weeks ago Marlow FM radio station invited me onto its Book Club programme to chat about my novel, A Sister for Margot. Other than producing the odd burst of audio for BBC News Online, this was my first time behind the microphone. For a few minutes, basking in the afterglow of my adrenalin rush, I felt convinced I had joined the ranks of Jane Garvey and Kirsty Young


Unlike Radio 4, Marlow FM is tucked away on the banks of the River Thames, amidst wooden chalets and a welter of outdoor pursuits. Avoiding a trailer full of canoes, I tip-toed through the mud and into the studio building, where a large sign instructed me to remove my boots. As luck would have it, I had cracked open a new pair of 60 denier tights that morning. Thankfully I was able to tread the studio boards with pride (my toes respectably shod). 



You can listen to this recording to hear how the interview went: 



  • Copyright Marlow Ltd  2012
  • By kind permission of Marlow FM  LTD

At the end of the programme, co-presenters Chrissy Hayes and Clare Bones chose A Sister for Margot to be Marlow FM's Book of the Month. Tune in online Friday 1 March at 9.30am to hear what they thought of it!



This much I've learnt about radio broadcasting:
  • Get as close to the mic as you can without eating it. Frantic handwaving from Chrissy at the beginning of the interview indicated I hadn't taken her quite literally enough.
  • Forget about maintaining eye contact. With your mouth up against the mic, there is no neck-room for turning to look at anyone. It made me realise how the art of conversation relies upon gauging your companion's facial expression, which leads me onto my next point...
  • Don't ramble. My lengthy answer about what inspired me to write the book was in danger of killing the interactive vibe!
Thanks to Vanessa Woolley of Marlow FM 97.5 who arranged the programme and provided the clip for me to post on my blog. Marlow FM is a community radio station in Buckinghamshire, staffed by volunteers.



Thursday, 6 December 2012

Coaching Anna Karenina

Imagine the scenario for a moment. A Russian aristocratic woman meets with a life coach. Note that the light has been extinguished from her grey eyes.
Coach: Hello - thanks for coming. What brings you to coaching?
AK: I have no cause for joy. Laughter jars on me painfully.
Coach: What is it you would like to achieve from this session?
AK: I need to escape from my troubles. I am conscious of my own humiliation.
Coach: If you were to tell me a story about yourself, what would it be?

Where to begin? Earlier this week I attended a discussion on the philosophy of personality, organised by a life coach as part of his training. In an hour and a half, we covered nurture versus nature, identity versus behaviour, the plasticity of the brain and our need for reflection. There were about a dozen people present and almost as many views on the formation of personality. 

Keira Knightley arriving at the UK premiere of Anna Karenina
Did Anna Karenina need a life coach? 
© Featureflash | Dreamstime.com
The basic premise of the discussion, however, was that human beings have an innate desire to self-improve. Life coaching exists as a form of counselling to help us to realise our potential and, if necessary, change direction. Since civilisation began, human beings have used all sorts of practices - religion, exercise, drugs, education and even surgery - to enhance their attributes and abilities. Life coaching joins that list.

So what has Anna Karenina got to do with all this? Self-improvement, or character development, is also the engine that drives most novels. All those great protagonists - Pip of Great Expectations, Jane Austen's Emma, Madame Bovary - set off on a journey to self-discovery, or ultimate self-destruction, depending on their fate. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Ibiza press covers Sister for Margot

The news sites Ibiza Spotlight and The Ibiza Sun have both marked the launch of my new novel, A Sister for Margot. The island of Ibiza figures largely in the book and I spent a significant chunk of my childhood there so I am delighted that these sites have decided to cover its publication. An article is scheduled to run in the paper version of The Ibiza Sun next week.


A Sister for Margot is partly set in Ibiza
Ibiza features in many scenes of A Sister for Margot
As you may know from a previous post, I whiled away many an afternoon writing the book on the terrace of my grandmother's villa in Port des Torrent. I hope that my proximity to the subject has made the passages set in Ibiza that much more sensuous! 

One of my main characters, the orphan Ruby, is brought up in the expatriate community of Ibiza and she thrives under the influence of her grandfather's eccentric friends. The book attempts to portray the youthful, hedonistic side of Ibizan life, as well as the retired artists, diplomats and services personnel who have made the island their home.

Ibiza Spotlight, which launched online in 1999, is a source of news, information and services about Ibiza. The Ibiza Sun is an independent, free newspaper and website.

Click here to read the Ibiza Spotlight article on A Sister for Margot
Click here to read The Ibiza Sun's coverage of A Sister for Margot





Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Perspectives on Bali

Bali: Gao Gajah
Gao Gajah: water for purifying yourself before entering the temple
 Back in the late 1970s, when my parents lived in Jakarta, we used to fly to Bali for a bit of R&R. Lush vegetation, clear seawater and hunting turtle eggs on the beach form some of my earliest memories. 

Last week I returned to Bali for the first time in over thirty years. What I found was far more complex and baffling than the childish idyll I had carried around for so long. Bali is an island of contrasts: bikinis versus traditional batik, tourist tat versus Hindu shrines, Seminyak's breeze blocks versus paddy fields and temples deep in the jungle. It seems I can only get a handle on the place by seeing it through a series of juxtapositions.


Bali: Ubud market
Ubud market: a warren of a place, built like a multistorey carpark
Coming from Singapore, with all its slick efficiency and cultivated greenery, my arrival in Denpasar was a culture shock. Just a walk outside our villa involved tripping over uneven paving, dodging motorbikes to cross the street and shrugging off cries to buy t-shirts, sarongs, DVDs and petrol stored in vodka bottles.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Why I like Twitter

Twitter logo


Earlier this year I joined Twitter. One of my first followers (a friend) welcomed me to the site and dropped #twitteramateur into her tweet. I barely noticed, being the novice I was. Fast-forward a few months, and most of my tweets carry a liberal sprinkling of hashtags - all in the hope of picking up a few more followers. 

Why? Because I read somewhere that using Twitter was a good way to build up readership for a new novel. My own interest in Twitter, however, has gone beyond shameless self-publicity. In the process of exploiting it, I came to see why millions were hooked. Those hashtags became my calling cards - they linked me up with like-minded people.

I realise of course that I am no early-adopter, but by the same token there are still many people out there who don't yet understand Twitter or its influence.

In the last few weeks, Twitter has led me to all sorts of gems: Hilary Mantel's sumptous description of a Kate Moss perfume, the story of a teenage motherQueen Victoria's letters about childbirth and Eton's self-conscious parody of Gangnam Style

Twitter is a unique conduit: it delivers a wealth of material handpicked by the people you choose to follow. In a sense, it becomes a personalised newswire.

There are still a few tedious tweets to wade through and a fair amount of celebrity eavesdropping - but if you are discriminating, it is amazing what you can uncover. Perhaps, however, I don't need to tell you that - you probably knew already.




Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A Sister for Margot: Opening Scene



  A Sister for Margot


On a beautiful, sunny day in Ibiza some years back, I started to compose my first novel on a Palm Pilot with an impossibly small screen and a plug-in keyboard. Several computers (and two children) later, I finished A Sister for Margot.  

One of my new followers on Twitter recently advised me: "Go publish girl!" So that is what I shall do. The book will be available on Amazon's Kindle store in November 2012

Today I am posting the prologue - my opening scene - as a taster. Have a read and let me know what you think (be gentle).

I would like to thank the talented photographer Eileen Unwin for designing the cover.

Update: the book is now available on Amazon!

 

 

A PROLOGUE to A Sister for Margot

London, 1943


Stepping through the double doors with their smudged panes, Maud fancied she was crossing some magical threshold. Outside on the pavement, the growling buses and the rap of busy heels had grated on her nerves, but here in the fug of the teashop, she felt insulated and safe. Conscious that he might be inside, watching the door, she moved past the bread counter and slipped off her coat with her eyes cast modestly downwards.
No voice, however, called out from the row of tables to claim her, and after scanning the room for a particular set of uniformed shoulders, she experienced a stab of disappointment. She had counted on him being there. Already her notion of how their reunion would play out had been frustrated. With enforced nonchalance, she sat down at an empty table and picked up the tariff sheet to shield her face from any aimless stares. Then she occupied herself in removing her gloves, finger-by-finger, and laying them carefully on her lap.
While she waited for a nippy to take her order, she studied the brown filigree of tea stains on the tablecloth, resisting the impulse to drum her fingernails. She glanced surreptitiously at her wristwatch, not wishing to give the impression that she was waiting for someone.
“Can I help you, Miss?”
“Oh yes, a large cup of China tea please – it doesn’t matter about the milk – and a Chelsea bun if you have one.”
“Right you are.”
From a table to her side, she sensed the gaze of an elderly couple, intent on everything but themselves. She tossed her head with such defiance that a tortoiseshell comb worked itself loose. Yanking it free, she ploughed it back through her curls. Why was he so blinking late? She looked out of the grimy window, willing him to walk by. The West End looked drab in the slanted light of the afternoon.
A booth behind Maud came free so she decided to swap tables to escape the attention of the elderly couple. In her new spot, she retrieved a handkerchief from her handbag and swept away the crumbs littering the cloth. The nippy returned with the tea, her brow wrinkled in confusion until she spotted Maud’s impatient wave.
“You dropped your gloves, Miss,” she scolded as she set down the teacup.
Then suddenly, he was there, standing before her, looking desperately apologetic. For all her anticipation, it was a shock to see him, flesh and bone. It had been several months since their last meeting. She got up awkwardly to greet him, but the angles of the booth prevented her from straightening her legs. He bent to kiss her on the lips, just briefly.
“I’m so sorry Maud. We sprung a puncture. I thought we would never make it, but we fixed it in the end. I was hopping mad thinking of you here, waiting for me.”
“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” she replied. “How much time do you have?”
“About a half hour and then I’ve got to get back before they notice I’m missing.”
The relief of seeing him was beginning to dispel some of her irritation. His presence made her feel both shy and tearful. They held hands under the table. Despite everything that had happened, she experienced a frisson of excitement, sitting so close to him again.
“You are a real beauty, Maudy,” he said, squeezing her hand. “Is that a new blouse?” He studied her closely, his dark eyes appraising her with unconcealed intent. She was delighted that he had noticed her new acquisition.
“Oh do you like it, darling? Daddy let me have his coupons,” she said lightly. “Audrey’s going to be livid when she finds out.” Then, as she finished speaking, her smile fell slack.
“What’s the matter?” he said, sounding concerned. “What was it you so needed to talk to me about?”
“Why don’t you order first and then we’ll talk. There are sardines on toast, if you would like them,” she added, trying to sound composed. For weeks she had planned this encounter. Now she was stalling, reluctant to mar their time together. Absently, she rubbed at the smear of red lipstick soiling the rim of her teacup.
After placing his order, he turned to her, expectant. Something in her manner made him feel apprehensive. “You’re not going to finish with me Maud, are you?” He couldn’t bring himself to look at her in case the expression in her eyes confirmed his fears.
She made a strange, guttural sound, somewhere between a snort and sigh. Just as he was experiencing the first pangs of mortification, she started to tremble.
“Oh I have such bad news. I think… I mean I know I’m… Oh God, I can’t say it.”
He continued to stare at her, his lack of comprehension only too evident. She inhaled deeply and let go of his hand under the table.
“Darling,” she said, sounding more certain this time. “I’m going to have a baby.”
His mouth dropped open in disbelief, giving her a curious feeling of gratification. His thoughts jammed and he couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say.
“Are you absolutely certain, I mean, is it definitely...”
She nodded her head.
The memory of their time together was still fresh, played over and over in his head like a favourite gramophone record. It had been a night to remember – after all it was not often that he swung from despair to elation in just a few hours. She alone had the capacity to inspire spectacular flights of emotion.
Watching him, Maud knew he was re-living those moments together, unwilling to re-cast them in this negative light. She had also reached back to that memory, before it had become sullied by the shock of her pregnancy. Now, sitting in the cafĂ©, she tried to recall the night, as it was then, without consequences. She had instigated it, goaded him on. It had felt like every nerve in her body hankered after his touch. It wasn’t rational. She had felt tipsy – though she hadn’t consumed a drop – and reckless. “Are you sure, are you sure?” he had asked urgently. As an answer, she had pulled him towards her, clenching his back with her grip.
“But we were careful,” he said wearily, shaking his head, still loath to accept the news.
“Not careful enough!” she said severely, taking a small piece of revenge for the anguish she had suffered alone for so many weeks.
“I just can’t believe this has happened,” his voice faltered as he held his head in his hands, stretching the skin across his forehead. For a fleeting moment, he thought: maybe it’s not mine, maybe she went with someone else. But then he glanced up at the pale, stricken face and felt only guilt for doubting her. With silent remorse, he laid his hand along the side of her face. His chest tightened as she nestled her cheek in his palm.
Then suddenly he was exultant. “We’ll get married!” It was simple, so clear. “We’ll turn this into something to celebrate. We’ll make it alright, Maud, you’ll see.” He was almost gabbling now. “There should only be a month or so before my next leave – ”
She interrupted him. “It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. My life has already been ruined,” she said in a whisper. Her words deflated him and he knew what was coming next. “What about my work?” she hissed. “You know I don’t want a family, or not yet anyway. And everything is going so well – Harry told me that I could play the lead next month.”
The words tumbled out in spurts, while tears started to roll down her cheeks. He, now feeling unequal to the situation, tried to swab them away with his thumb.
“You don’t understand me at all, do you?” she said, knowing her words would cut him.
If he was entirely honest with himself, he wasn’t sure that he did. He could understand the glamour of the stage and the excitement it afforded her, but didn’t every woman dream about becoming a wife and a mother? It hadn’t taken long to realise that she was the girl for him – only her fierce and unnatural independence had made him wary of broaching the subject of matrimony. But he dismissed these thoughts, concentrating all of his being on soothing her.
“You mustn’t say that. I know it’s hard for you, but it will get better. When this bloody war is over, I’ll finish my degree and get a good job – I’ll have prospects. And then later, you can carry on with your acting.” He looked beseechingly at her and felt enormous relief as she smiled weakly.
“Yes, you’re right,” she managed, her passion spent.
“What are you going to do now? Are you going to go home?” he asked, anxious to settle practical details while she seemed more amenable.
“Well, I’ll carry on working for as long as I can. I’m catching the train home tonight for a few days – I’ll tell my parents that we are engaged to be married – shall I? Mummy would be horrified if she ever found out the truth. I doubt she would ever forgive me. Oh God, I’m so ashamed!” Maud covered her face with her hands.
“Sweetheart, it will be fine,” he said anxiously. “You just tell them that we are going to get married and we’ll have a ring on your finger before anyone knows any different. These things happen all the time, Maud. Would you like me to speak to your father?”
Maud sat up alarmed. “No, no, not yet. I’ll need to talk to him first. Of course they are over the moon at the moment because Audrey’s pregnant again.” She said this with some bitterness.
“Again? Gor blimey, they don’t waste any time!”
“Neither do we, it seems,” Maud replied tartly.
He decided not to risk a smile. Instead, he hung his head, waiting for Maud to set the tone.
“Oh poor darling,” she said, touching his cheek. “I’m so glad I’ve told you now. It felt horrible before when only I knew.” She looked at her wristwatch. “Oh no, you have to go,” she added regretfully.
He snapped upright in his chair as he registered the time. “Will you look after yourself? You have to eat properly Maud!” She looked evasive. “As soon as we have sorted this out, you’ll be allowed orange juice and cod liver oil in your ration.”
“How do you know that?”
“There’s a chap at the barracks and his Missus is pregnant. He says she’s allowed orange juice whenever it’s available.” 
After laying some money down on the table, he reluctantly began to slide out of the booth. On straightening his legs, he reached into his pocket. “Oh, I almost forgot. This is for you.”
He handed her a book in a brown paper bag. She pulled out The Works of Tennyson, bound in brown leather with gold lettering, and read the inscription on the flysheet. “Charm and beauty alone give me more happiness than good poetry.”
“I’ll treasure it,” she said, looking up at him. “When will we see each again?” she added plaintively.
“In less than a month,” he said, with more conviction than he felt.
“What about those rumours that they might be sending you to sea again?”
“I’ve heard nothing definite,” he replied, guarded. “Now you’ll let me know how your parents take the news. And make sure you tell them we’re eager to be married as soon as we can.”
“Yes darling.”
After he had left her, she reached inside her handbag for her compact. Licking her handkerchief, she rubbed away the sooty traces of mascara around her eyes. For a while longer, she sat there, her eyes fixed in thought, her fingers riffling idly through the pages of the book. Then, with sudden resolve, she snapped her compact shut and reached for her gloves. With the book clasped close to her chest, she passed back through the doors at the front of the shop and stepped outside into the smog-thick air.


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"I absolutely loved this book and will miss the family that I became so involved with over the past few days. I hope Emma has another book in the pipeline!" 
-- Annabel at CountryWives 



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