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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

This Charming Man - Chapter 1 - unedited



One

 It is a truth generally accepted that every good story has a beginning, middle and an end. A good writer will have a compelling protagonist who goes on a journey, whether metaphorical or literal. On his or her journey, they will meet allies who impart wisdom and inject humour. They will meet enemies who will fill them with fear which they must overcome, usually with the help of aforementioned allies. A good writer will have richly developed characters and intricate plotlines to enthral the reader. They will hook them with an intriguing opening paragraph that sets the scene for everything that is to follow. Knowing this, should make it easier to tell you my story. It doesn’t. It actually makes it harder to know where to begin; what to say to make you carry on reading beyond this first paragraph.
There are several problems with knowing how a good story is constructed. Firstly, it is the knowledge that to write a good story you need to be a good writer. I am not a good writer. There was a time when I thought I was, but that’s by the by. Being a writer, by its very definition, is an active occupation. I haven’t written a word worth mentioning in nearly twenty years. What is a writer that doesn’t write? Nothing but a dreamer and that is what I am.
Secondly, there are no heroes in my story. I am just an ordinary man in his late thirties. If you look up from your Kindle you might see me further down the train carriage looking tired. I am the man who stands behind you on the escalator. I am the guy who stands next to you in the queue at the coffee shop. The one who orders a large Americano and a blueberry muffin on a Friday morning, just to treat himself. I am the work colleague three cubicles down from you whose name you can’t remember. I am that extremely ordinary. Nor are there any villains, at least not in the moustache twirling pantomime sense of the word. It’s all just ordinary people trying to make their way in life and sometimes making mistakes, sometimes hurting people, but there is no explicit villainy. No sociopathic intent. No humans or animals were physically harmed in the telling of this story.
Finally, truthfully, I don’t know where to start. I could stick to conventional linear story-telling and tell you how I was born, like most people, to parents who loved me. If I hadn’t been, then this story would have been very different and probably far more interesting. It would have been placed in the stationery aisle of your local supermarket next to such books as Daddy! No! and The Boy That Nobody Loved. But this is not that type of story. I could tell you how I grew up in a quiet little suburb called Claremont and lived on a street that had a patch of waste-ground where I used to play football in the winter and cricket in the summer. I could tell you about how the trees never blossomed in our street or about the three legged cat that used to perch on our front wall. But it’s just not relevant. I’m with Holden Caulfield on this one; you don’t need to know that kind of crap. I could tell you about my school days, which are relevant. But to listen to me wail on about how I was a misunderstood teenager is just nostalgia without purpose and if you knew me, then you’d know that I don’t indulge in nostalgia lightly.
The problem I have is that like most people, my life is not a story. It doesn’t have definite points in time where people’s stories begin or end. Of course, there is life and death, but generally we are all just stuck somewhere in the middle. I know there are people who profess to have had new beginnings or closed chapters in their lives, but they’re deluded. We may think that when we get a new job or move house or start a new relationship that we have a clean slate. But unfortunately, our history sticks with us like shards of metal in our brains, just waiting for that moment to slip back into our consciousness and cause untold damage. We never have a blank slate. We are products of our own history.
This leaves me with the ‘journey’; an often metaphorical, sometimes literal path that takes our hero from a point of normality to a point where he knows that his life will never be the same again. The ‘tipping point’ if you will. Think of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars when he finds the dead bodies of his Aunt and Uncle. Think of Neo in The Matrix when he takes the red pill. My tipping point was a Chinese take away.
It must have been a Friday because we were having Chinese food that night. Friday night was takeaway night, invariably it was Chinese food. Sweet and sour chicken with boiled rice for her, beef with green pepper with fried rice for me. We’d share prawn crackers.
I woke up as usual around six am. It was a dreary winter’s morning as I looked out of the bedroom window. The ground was covered in sleet and there was raining splattering against the window. Kirsty was still asleep, occasionally snorting, as sorted out my clothes for the day. She didn’t stir once, not even when I kissed her on the cheek before I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. I waited at least five minutes before the temperature of the water was right. Looking in the mirror, I saw a face I scarcely recognised anymore. Dark circles beneath my eyes, a couple of day’s growth of beard on my face. As usual, my hair was greasy and lank and alternated between sticking to the side of my head and sprouting upright.
Once under the spray of the shower, I began to wake up, but only slightly. Stepping out of the shower, I felt the cold on my naked body and wanted to dive back under the duvet. I briskly dried myself and hurriedly dressed, banging into the chest of dressers with my knee as I tried to slip into my trousers. Kirsty woke with a start as I cursed at the pain. She looked over at me and then rolled back onto her pillow without uttering a word.
I rarely ate breakfast, but that morning I managed a cup of coffee with the last of the milk in the fridge and two slices of toast. All that was left were the ends of the loaf. It must have been Friday, because we needed to go food shopping. I sat at the kitchen counter, looking at the news on my phone, checking Facebook. Nothing much had happened. Somebody I knew once at University was having some kind of surgical procedure, whilst an old school friend of mine was cursing the fact he had to attend yet another wedding. Soon it was ten to seven, so I gathered my coat and my bag and left for the train station.
As usual, I got caught in a line at the ticket office behind a young woman wanting to pay for her one-stop ticket on a debit card. I could see the train coming in the distance as passengers got out of their seats and pushed in front of others, trying to predict where the train would pull to a halt and therefore where the doors would open. As I watched people trying to push their way off the train as other got on, I was called forwards, and having swiftly paid with the right money, managed to jump on the ten past seven to Haymarket just as the doors were closing.
It was a short journey, maybe only half an hour, but it felt like longer. I was pressed against the wheels of a bicycle that was being held precariously upright by a middle aged man in Lycra. MAMILs as I came to call them were the bane of my morning commute. Invariably they’d be trussed up in cycling shorts that displayed their either tiny or extraordinarily large penises in far too graphically for the time of morning. Their middle-aged spreads would peek out of the bottom of a faux tour de France shirt. Most days I’d fantasise about the next stop, before the surge of desperate commuters piled on to the train, when I could physically move, about tossing their fucking thousand pound bikes with its twelve gears and gel saddle, onto the tracks and watch with glee as an Inter-city train to Dundee twisted it into a mangled mess.
By the time the train pulled into Haymarket, I’d been rammed at least six times with the rear wheel of this particular MAMILs bike. Twice somebody had almost spilled coffee on me from their vacuum thermos mugs. I fought my way through the crowds on the platform towards the escalators, resisting the urge to grab each person by the throat that pushed and prodded me as they hurried to the exits. It was just another ordinary commute, like I had every day.
When I alighted, I stood on the escalator behind the man with an umbrella in his backpack that I stood behind most days on my way to work. I waited in line for a coffee at the kiosk near the exit of the station. Every day the same man stood in front of me. I’d wait patiently behind him as he ordered listening to him accented the words as if he were fluent in that Franco-Italian language that is used in coffee shops. He hesitated as he gave his order, but I knew what he wanted, just as the barista behind the counter did. I often found myself mouthing the words before he even spoke them.
‘A grande soy latte.’
‘A grande soy latte please,’ he paused, but I knew he was going to say something else.
‘Pain au raisin’
‘I’ll have a pain au raisin as well thank you.’ It was so predictable.  
I was no different I suppose. Every morning I’d order a large white Americano, shake my head when the offer of a croissant or a muffin came along hand over the money and my loyalty card and then politely walk away on my way to work. I walked past the foreign looking woman selling The Big Issue and told her I bought a copy the day before. I passed by the beggars at the corner of Lothian Road and told them I had no change, before swiping my security pass through the turnstiles at work and taking the elevator one floor down to the windowless basement where I would spend the next nine hours.
I worked in the IT department of a large financial firm based in Edinburgh. My job was to ensure the efficient running of the IT systems that powered their automated financial services. I’d started there over fifteen years ago, after I’d left university. It was just before the Millennium and everybody was panicking about Y2K. Back then any job in IT was sexy. It was cutting edge. There was a hint of the unknown about it and the idea that I could be part of team of fifty that solved the ‘Millennium Bug’ was enticing. But all that changed and my job became part of a process. I’d spend my day sitting for hour after hour examining lines of code that flashed on a screen, protecting the investments of the wealthy. From that team of fifty, there are five of us now and at my level, it’s just fat middle aged men called Colin. Colin sat three cubicles down from me. I spoke to him once. I had to borrow a stapler.
It must have been a Friday because Buddy was wearing a t-shirt with some American sports team on it. I hated dress down Fridays, but Buddy, being American, loved them. He said it gave him a chance to show off his individuality by wearing mass-produced t-shirts displaying his pride at being from...well, I wasn’t quite sure where Buddy was from. One Friday it’d be a Penguins jersey, the next a Cubs, then a Falcon’s jersey. All I knew was that he seemed to really like animals.
Buddy Johnson was my line manager and to be fair, he was sort of a nice guy. He was an amiable person. He didn’t give me any grief if I was late with a deadline and he approved my holidays when I asked for them. But he was as annoying as hell. He seemed to have swallowed every self-help manual in the world and tried to inject as much positivity into the workplace as possible. I imagined he researched new management techniques on the internet in-between shopping for American sports jerseys. One week, we’d have five minute meetings standing up, the next we’d be discussing issues in a local coffee shop. He used to leave post-it notes on our computers reminding us that we were doing a good job and send us emails with inspirational quotes from dead presidents and French philosophers At one meeting, he asked me to give him a ‘high five’ because I’d come in on a Saturday to work a tight deadline. Another time, he slapped me on the ‘fanny’. I threatened to report him for sexual harassment if he did it again. He laughed, until I glared at him, showing him I was serious. He also had the irritating habit of calling everybody on the team by what he thought were empowering nicknames.
‘Hey there, champ!’ he said that Friday. He was wearing a Yankees t-shirt and jeans. ‘I see you forgot about dress-down Friday.’ I looked at my own shirt and tie combination.
‘No,’ I responded. ‘This is me dressed down. Normally I come to work in a dinner jacket.’
‘Ha-ha! Good one!’ He remarked. ‘Just came over to give you the date for your appraisal, chief. I got them hot off the press from HR this morning.’ He made a sizzling noise as if to indicate how hot the post-it note he was attaching to my monitor was.
‘Better be careful, you might burn yourself,’ I quipped.
‘Ha-ha! Good one!’ He held his hand up for me to high five him again. I turned my back on him. ‘Good talking to you Callum. Keep up the good work. You’re my number one guy.’ I didn’t respond. I also chose to ignore him as he made his way to the next cubicle.
‘Sanjay how’s my number one analyst today?’
Every year I had an appraisal with my line manager and the IT manager. In previous years it was a nominal exercise that had no real implications. It was full of the usual office jargon. At the end of the appraisal your performance would be ranked according to certain level that made no sense whatsoever. You could be Excellent, which actually meant good, Good (satisfactory), Satisfactory (poor), or Poor, which meant well... abysmal. Of the previous fifteen appraisals I’d never had cause for concern, mainly because my previous managers were faceless bureaucrats who didn’t really want to do the job there were doing given the mind-numbing banality of managing the mind-numbingly banal. Most were just biding their time until something better came along. They saw the annual appraisal as a form filling exercise and they liked filling in forms, it justified their role in the company. Even Buddy, who had been there for the last three, which in terms of our department meant he was something of a veteran, liked filling in forms. It gave him something useful to do.  However, there had been recent changes above Buddy that meant that this appraisal was going to be different. The change was Vera Heatherston.
Heatherston was a careerist.  She had taken on the job of IT manager despite having no experience of IT whatsoever. She had simply applied for a job that nobody else wanted and got it. She loved the faux responsibility of attending meetings and compiling performance reports and everything she did, she did with enthusiasm and a vitality that others found unnecessary. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm didn’t extend to engaging with her staff.  
It was clear from the moment she walked into the building that she was going places. She was of an indeterminable age somewhere between twenty five and fifty. She power dressed in suits and vicious looking heels. Her hair was immaculately presented, scrapped back off her skeletal face and with dark rimmed spectacles that gave her the impression of a constant frown. She kept her distance from the staff, opting instead to pass information through Buddy, who visibly shook in her presence. While many of us had never even had the dubious pleasure of having a conversation with her, we knew that she was a ball-breaker, given the sweat that had formed on Buddy’s balding head every time he came out of her office. I had a direct line of site into her office from my cubicle, her facial expression never changed. I imagined that at the weekends she dressed in PVC and forced her partner (or some other unlucky victim) to wear a gimp mask and beat him with a cat o’ nine tails until they would submit.
On that day, she had lunch in her office as usual. Buddy had dared to knock on her door during her feeding time and caught a glare that forced him back out of the door. She didn’t blink as retreated. I kept my eye on her as she alternated between picking at her salad and scrutinising the monitor in front of her. As she picked up a rice cake and nibbled at it, she seemed genuinely revolted by the idea of eating it. I imagined if what she would be like eating a greasy bacon cheeseburger and if her facial expression would be the same. She had ketchup dripping down her chin as she bit down ecstatically on the bun, seductively wiping it off with a single finger and sucking it dry. So lost in that fantasy was I, I didn’t even notice her meet my gaze. She was standing at the window of her office through the blinds directly at me. Her stare was chilling. It was all I could do to muster a response. I waved. She closed the blinds aggressively. I was not looking forward to my appraisal.
By six I was ready to leave. The office was deserted apart from my cubicle and Heatherston’s office. She made it a point not to leave until after the last person left. I logged out and gathered my belonging and began the long walk to the elevator. As I passed Heatherston’s door was open. She was sitting at her computer still staring at the screen. I stopped and sheepishly spoke.
‘Have a nice weekend.’
She looked up, but said nothing. Not even a murmur of polite reciprocation or a hint of a smile that somebody had taken the time to wish her well. She just shuffled in her chair so that she was obscured by the monitor. I took it as my cue to leave.
The journey home was no different to any other day. I was cramped in a carriage full to bursting of the world weary and the tired. The evening commute was one of body odour and lethargy as opposed to the bustling of the morning. There were people with their headphones on or looking at messages on their phones. There were students with rucksacks heading home for the weekend. I had become immune to the sensations of the train over the years, allowing myself to be lulled into a sleep-like state as the stations passed me by. It may have been the weekend, but I was not in a celebratory mood.
My short walk from the station to my home was shrouded in rain that soaked through my coat and my shoes. I longed to just get home and go straight to bed. I wanted to just pull the covers over my head and go to sleep. As I turned the key in the door, I could hear Kirsty on the phone.
‘Hi, I’d like to order some meals for delivery,’ she said. She barely acknowledged my arrival. ‘Can I have the sweet and sour chicken with boiled rice?’ I took off my coat and shoes and was on my way through to the kitchen when I caught the end of her order. ‘Can I have some spring rolls as well please? We’ll pick it up. Thank you.’
‘Spring rolls?’
‘I fancied something different,’ she said, putting down the phone. ‘They said it’ll be ready in twenty minutes. Can you pick it up? I’ve already had a glass of wine.’ I put the can of beer I was about to open back into the fridge.
‘No problem.’
‘How was work?’
‘Same as always,’ I replied, but Kirsty wasn’t listening.  I went upstairs, took off my wet clothes and sat on the edge of the bed and threw myself back onto the mattress. I remember thinking is this it? There was no answer to that question. Eventually, I heard Kirsty calling from downstairs, reminding me to go and pick up the food. I hurriedly put on some dry clothes and headed out, back into the rain.
It was a short drive to the Chinese take-away. As I walked in I was greeted with a familiarity of a regular customer.
‘Mr Gordon, you’re food will be ready in a minute.’ It was depressing. Just as predictable as everything else in my weekly routine, the cheery smile of an elderly Chinese lady stuck like a dagger in the heart. When had I become so predictable?
By the time I got home Kirsty was already on her second glass of wine. She was sitting in the living room watching TV, so I went through to the kitchen and started plating up the food. There it was. The same meal I ate every Friday night. I wasn’t even hungry looking at it on the plate. It was a putrid mess that typified how life had turned out. The only spark of interest was contained on a side plate. Half a dozen spring rolls, deep fried and marked on the outside with soy sauce. I picked one up, felt it in my hand, the rough texture. But before I could take a bite, Kirsty came along and took it out of my hand. As I listened to the crunch of it between her teeth, my heart sank. It was just a spring roll.
We ate quietly at the kitchen table. I pushed my food around my plate, taking a bite every now and then. Kirsty wolfed hers down with gusto.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked as I turned over another forkful of rice.
‘Nothing,’ I responded, ‘just one of those days.’ She put her fork down.
‘You’ve been having a lot of those days lately.’ Her tone wasn’t unsympathetic, but it hinted at something.
‘I suppose it’s just winter blues.’
‘It’s more than that,’ she replied.
‘Work’s been pretty tough lately. I just need a good night’s sleep that’s all.’
‘Work’s always been tough. There’s something more to it than that.’
‘There isn’t,’ I protested. She gave me a look I had come to know well over our ten years together. She could read me well, sometimes better than I could read myself. I was reluctant to talk. I didn’t want her to know how bored I was. How unfulfilling my life had become. I didn’t want her to know because I didn’t want her to think that in any way she was to blame. Yes, my life was in a rut, but it wasn’t her fault. We spent lots of time together, we had some laughs. Every Saturday we’d go out with friends, into the city and have a meal and a few drinks. We’d go away for a couple of weeks in the summer and maybe once or twice in the year we’d go away for the weekend. We had money, we had a nice house and a car and no real debt, save for our mortgage. Everything was okay. And I didn’t want her to think that she was to blame.
‘The woman in the take-away knew my name.’
‘What is wrong with that?’
‘Nothing,’ I replied. ‘It’s nice, it’s friendly. But...’
‘But what?’
‘I’m just sick of eating Chinese food every Friday. I mean, what’s wrong with a pizza now and then.’
‘Okay, next Friday we’ll get a pizza. I thought you liked Chinese food.’
‘I do. I’m just sick and tired of eating the same food from the same place every Friday. I want to go somewhere different. Somewhere they don’t know my name. Somewhere I can be treated like an absolute stranger. I want them to have to wait while I make up my mind.’
‘Okay, we can do that.’
‘Thank you.’ Kirsty picked up her fork again. ‘I mean, I’ve had beef and black bean every week for the last three months. I wouldn’t mind if I had something different now and then. Maybe a chicken fried rice or a special chow mein.’
‘Okay.’
‘We could have Thai food. When was the last time we had Thai food? Or Mexican. I would love some fajitas...’
‘Callum,’ Kirsty dropped her fork to the table, but I carried on.
‘Maybe we could go out. I hear there is a new Lebanese Restaurant on the Royal Mile...’
‘I’m having an affair.’ I stopped speaking. She was looking down at the table with tears in her eyes. I took one look at her. Then I looked down at my plate. My breathing became shallow and I could feel the rage rising inside of me. I swept the plate to one side, sending it crashing to the floor.
‘I fucking hate beef and black bean.’ I stood and left the kitchen, picking up the car keys and heading out of the door.    

This Charming Man - Prologue

As a bit of a teaser ahead of my next book, I'm going to be posting unedited chapter from my forthcoming book. Here is the prologue of 'This Charming Man' . Feel free to leave feedback. I have made some changes based on the feedback I received for The Surrogate - mainly that all the back and forth confused some people.



Prologue

It was all so familiar. I woke up just before dawn. She was facing the other way, warm and cuddled into the blankets. I kissed the nape of her neck, but she didn’t stir. I rose from the bed, put on my shorts and walked through to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror I scarcely recognised the face staring back at me. I splashed my face with cold water and ran my fingers through my hair. I patted my face dry and examined the growth of stubble on my chin. I looked tired and weary, but I knew my morning run would shake off some of the cobwebs.
As I walked through to the living room the dog lifted his head and jumped up at me. I patted him on the back and scratched behind his ears to calm him down. I opened the French doors and let him out to frolic in the sand while I put the coffee on. He barked once or twice to remind me that he was there, waiting for me while I poured myself a glass of orange juice, before finding my running shoes tucked away in the hall cupboard.
Once outside, I let him lead the way. The rising sun in the East was still hidden behind the painted grey clouds. I thought about getting putting a t-shirt on, but decided against it. I was more toned than I am now, but I still felt heavy legged in the damp sand. The dog ran off in the direction of the old pier and I followed behind, keeping my head up and watching the gulls scatter as the dog ran towards them. He seemed to enjoy the chase as they cawed and screeched and landed a little further down the beach. Once they had taken the hint and flown to safety, he turned to me, possibly wondering what was keeping me. I picked up the pace as he foraged on the beach for driftwood. He returned to my heels with a stick in his mouth, spit gathering at the sides of his mouth. I paused and tossed the stick into the air, then carried on running until he brought it back to me. We both knew the routine and by the time we had travelled the mile or so to the pier, he had tired of the game.
I turned back towards home as the dog bounded forwards, disappearing on the horizon as I tried to kick out and stretch my legs. My heart was pounding as my lungs sucked in the early morning air. Not the burning sensation I have now, just a rush of blood through my veins as I powered through the soft terrain. It was liberating to let myself just run, releasing the endorphins that would serve as my inspiration for the rest of the day. I couldn’t wait to get back and harness that feeling into something constructive. The solitude of the coast in the morning would be translated onto the pages I would write, I thought, as my home appeared on the horizon.
As I neared the steps up to the deck, I noticed the dog pause by the water’s edge. He laid supine, eyes gazing into the distance. As the tide lapped up onto shore, he lifted himself quickly and retreated. I laughed as the water caught up with the dumb dog, catching the bottom of his black coat. He emerged from the water with a whine and a vigorous shake, while I climbed the half a dozen steps to the beach house.
Once on the deck, I reached for one of the towels that were drying on the make-shift washing line and rubbed myself dry. I could hear her rattling around in the bedroom through the open window, the water pump whirring into action as she showered. I wrapped the towel around my shoulders and went inside. I could smell coffee as soon as I entered. I poured myself a mug and put some croissants into the oven to heat and then went through to my office which was on the other side of the living room.
Inside there were shelves filled with books, some of which I had written. Photographs of friends and family adorned the walls and there was a large desk in the centre of the room with a laptop on. I took a seat and looked out of the window at the sun rising over the sea. I was at peace. As the laptop booted up, I wondered if anything could be more perfect than my current existence. I stretched back in the chair, the leather sticking to my damp skin and took a deep swig of coffee. On the desk there were a few pages of a new story. I picked them up and read over what I had written the night before. Although it wasn’t perfect, I was happy with what I’d done. It was a good start, I thought, as I was disturbed by the sound of plates clattering against one another in the kitchen.
She was standing with her back to me as I entered. Her long black hair was damp against her shoulders. She wore an oversized shirt of mine that just about covered the tops of her thighs as she stretched upwards to reach into a cupboard. The croissants were out of the oven and cooling on a rack. I tiptoed behind her and put my arms around her waist, resting my chin on her shoulder. I could feel the warmth of her body against mine as she placed her hands across mine. I kissed her neck again and she let out a low moan. But as she turned to face me, the happiness evaporated from my life.
As my chin left her shoulder, I could see her. She raised her hand and pulled back the hair from her face. There was nothing. Not merely a lack of expression or one of loveless eyes. There was nothing at all. No nose, no eyes, no mouth. No semblance of humanity, just a palette of flesh; smooth and unconstructed. I stepped back in horror, my hands scattering a carton of orange juice across the counter. It couldn’t be, I thought. She moved towards me holding out her arms, but I turned and tried to flee, my limbs clattering into the furniture as I beat a path to the French doors. As I fumbled with the door handle a plate came crashing in front of my face. I turned to see another hurtling through the air, just as the doors gave way and I stumbled onto the deck. I lay on the wood and the dog snarled at me. Panicked, I looked back over my shoulder to see her darting towards the doors. I barely had time to react; I kicked out with my legs and slammed the doors shut, only to hear the feral growl of the black Labrador beside me.
I shuffled across the deck as it bore its teeth, scrambling to my feet just as it pounced. I moved swiftly down the stairs as the beast crashed into the wooden table on the deck. I glanced over my shoulder briefly, to see it shake off the injury and watch as it leapt from the deck after me. I dug my feet into the sand and pushed myself off, sprinting towards the water, but this time my legs were heavy against the resistance and my lungs burned like fire. I could feel the dog gaining on me as I toiled in the sand. As I tried to gain speed, I slipped and fell onto one knee. The dog caught the bottom of my training shoe in his jaws and I had to kick out to free myself. As my free foot connected with his nose, I heard a whimper as the mutt shot backwards. I glanced over my shoulder and saw her following it. I got to my feet and sprinted harder. The water was less than twenty metres away and I had just enough speed to make it to the first of the breaking waves. I threw myself into the sea, hoping the dog would be too cowardly to follow.
But I was wrong. As I struggled on my knees through the waist deep water, he came bounding into the water.  I tried to dive beneath the waves but he caught up with me. I felt the weight of the animal as it landed on my back. His breath hard and fast in my ear; a low growl echoing through my body, I quickly turned to face it. I lashed out with my fists as he pinned me beneath the water. I could feel him struggling to hold on until his teeth clamped down on my forearm. I screamed out in pain, until I was submerged beneath the surface, water pouring into my lungs. Somehow, I swung my free arm and landed firm punch to the dog’s head. It spun him loose into the water. As I stretched out to swim, I could hear the repetitive boom of thunder in the distance.
‘Wake up Callum,’ I could hear a voice yell from the shore. I looked back to the sand and saw her there. Not the faceless woman I had confronted, but a face I recognised. A face I hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years. I strained to see if it was true, if it was really her, but the beast lurched up from beneath the water and sunk his teeth into my shoulder, thrashing his head from side to side.
‘Wake up Callum!’ she said again, only this time, the voice was not hers. As I was pushed beneath the water, I felt my body sinking. My limbs were heavy, drawn to the sea bed. I closed my eyes and fought out, kicking and hitting wildly, but nothing seemed to connect.
‘Call an ambulance!’ It was another voice. A man’s voice.
I could feel the water heavy in my lungs, dragging me further down. I could feel the dog’s paws pounding on my chest as it targeted my neck. I tried to keep my eyes open, but all I could see was red. Another bite, another gash, stung my flesh. 
‘I think he’s taken something. Look!’
‘Come on Callum, stay with me mate.’
I felt weightless floating beneath the waves. The dog had gone and I opened my eyes to see her standing over me in the water. I tried to reach out and touch her, but my shredded arms would not respond. Through the blurred light, I could make out her face. I tried to call her name, but the water choked the sound.
 ‘I need an Ambulance. My friend is dying. I think he’s taken something.’
‘Did he just saying something?’
As the sun broke through the clouds above, all I could see was the light. She was gone. I thought that she would save me, but she was gone.
‘Tell them to hurry up! I’ve just lost his pulse!’
‘Is he breathing?’
I floated, carried away by the waves until the wounds didn’t hurt anymore.
‘Not anymore! C’mon Callum, stay with me, mate. Stay with me!’



Monday, 26 May 2014

Breaking the block

The title of my last post was 'It's been a long time...' It has. Almost two years to be precise. For a writer in the early days of his career to decide to take a two year hiatus (two and a half if you count the time from the publication of The Surrogate to today) is akin to committing career suicide. Just as you start to develop something of a following with readers eager to read and review your next piece of work and you give them a big fat nothing. They move on and so does publishing. It's not that I've been completely absent, it's just that I've other things on my mind. Things a little more important than sitting at my laptop into the late hours.

My daughter is now 15 months old. The last time I posted I'd only just seen her on a 13 week scan, but from that moment, my world turned upside down. All of a sudden, writing didn't seem to matter any longer. I spent most of my free time looking after my partner, trying to come up with a cure for morning (and afternoon and evening) sickness, further ultrasound scans, spending the royalties of my first book in Mamas and Papas, moving from a two bedroom flat overlooking the park to a three bedroom semi with decent transport links and trying to get ahead in my then new job. There was no time in the immediate aftermath of finding out I was going to be a father for writing and yet ironically I had become one of my very own characters.

When I look back on the middle chapters of The Surrogate, I wonder how much richer that novel could have been for actually having experienced what Tristan was going through. How much could I have added? How many little anecdotes - such as the experience I had a birthing classes - could have improved that book? But as I have already said, there was no time for thinking about writing, let alone reflecting on reader's feedback or my own life experience.

My daughter, Emily Rose was born on February 10th 2013 and I was smitten. For the past 15 months I have spent every last minute I could watching her smile and cry. Changing nappies and waking up in the middle of the night at every sort and moan. Lately I've read book after book to her when I came home from work, sat and watched Peppa Pig and Thomas the Tank Engine with her. I've taken her to the park and on bike rides and to the zoo and the farm. We go swimming at weekends. All the moments I have, I want to spend with her, which is why I haven't written more than a page in nearly two years. But that has to change...

The same reason I haven't written a word in anger over the last two years is the same reason I have to write now. In twenty years time, when my daughter and I are discussing her career options, I want to be able to say her to her that I gave it my best shot. I want to be an example to her, that if you have a passion for something, then you should do that and try and make a career out of it. I don't want her to ask me what I was passionate about and not be able to answer. Being a father is the most important part of my life and yet the most important part of being a father is being somebody that my daughter can look up to. Even if that is writing 'drivel' (Thank you AMAZON CUSTOMER).

So, back to the grind...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

It's been a long time...

I'm very aware that I haven't posted anything for a long time. Not since I last revealed that if I sold 5000 copies of The Surrogate that I would propose to my long suffering girlfriend as I had promised. A lot, and I mean a lot has happened since then. Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more copies than the bible, British people have become obsessed with cycling, canoeing and rowing, and Manchester City have broken the record for the World's most expensive football trophy.

Even though I've not been writing much, or posting, it's nice to see that I'm still getting hits. Oddly, a lot of these hits have been coming from Sweden, so Sverige, Tack så mycket. However, I do feel like I should update everybody on what has been happening with the new book. 

Well, to be honest, not much has been happening. A third draft is in the can, but I've sort of hit a rut on a fourth and final draft. I know what changes I need to make, I know what I have to do, but for some reason, I just haven't found the time to do it. Well, that's a lie. I've had plenty of time, I've just hit that horrible period of writer's block. It's not the first time it's happened, and it probably won't be the last. I wrote the final draft of The Surrogate in six weeks. I don't think I've written anything in anger since. And one of the reasons is, there is no real urgency to do so. 

So much has happened in the last six months. I've been working almost non-stop, got engaged ( despite only selling 4000 books for the cynics out there) and last but my no means least, I'm going to be a dad for the first time. And maybe, that is what will shake me from this rut. 

 It's funny how something as little as the picture above can change your perspective on life. Writing doesn't seem as important now as it did. In six months time, all of the free time I have will not be spent of mulling over plot and dialogue, it'll be spent on changing nappies and getting some much needed sleep. All the time I have now is a blessing, I'm about to start living my life for somebody else. But that's not why I need to write again. 

I've been keeping a journal of the pregnancy so far, something I can give to my child when they grow up to let them know that since they were born I was thinking about them. In that journal, I've been trying to tell my unborn son or daughter, who I am now. That's not as easy as you would think. It's very easy to say who you were or who you want to be, but telling somebody who you are at that present time is difficult. One thing I do know though, is who I want to be, and that's somebody my child will be proud of. Yes, I have a good job as a lecturer, yes I'm in a loving relationship but I want to be more. I want to be more for my children. I want them to be able to look up to me as somebody who wasn't afraid to take a chance, to follow a dream and take control of their own life. I want to somebody they will aspire to be, and hopefully, I will. 

C J Evans