Friday, 21 September 2018

THE BANKER'S NIECE Chapter Two


This is the second chapter of my current novel. If you want to go to Chapter One click here.


I plan to post the whole novel bit by bit, but it may take some time. The thought that you may actually be reading it shows me exactly where the writing is weak so I may be redrafting quite a lot.

Do please feel free to comment. I'd love to know what you think.

And please respect my copyright. I've put a lot of work into this.

___________________________________
2

EXCITING OPPORTUNITY
Expansion due to success
New post in small but prestigious
family-owned book publisher
in glorious Devon countryside


Jane swallowed the last of her double espresso and smoothed her hand over the newspaper folded on the table in front of her.
    She’d never visited this coffee bar before but as she passed it this morning on her way to visit Sharon for their regular Saturday get-together – on foot for a change and early - it had attracted her. It wasn’t part of a chain, it didn’t appear to be full of trendy twenty-somethings and the fittings – mahogany and mirrors – looked warm and comfortable.
    Nor had it disappointed. She’d been greeted politely and with reserve from behind a tall counter by a middle-aged man who could well have been Italian. She’d found a table in a corner, just as she liked, and the coffee when it came was perfect. She couldn’t have made it better herself.
    Normally she would have entertained herself observing the people around her. She loved to try and unpick the lives of strangers – What was their job? What sort of a sex life did they have? How did they get on with their family? Did they have some terrible secret? But as only two of the other tables were occupied she couldn’t have done so today without drawing attention to herself. Instead she’d pulled down one of the newspapers hanging off wooden poles next to her and pretended to read it. How delightfully old-fashioned. How relaxing.
    Somehow, she’d found herself at the jobs pages. Well, it never did any harm to check the market and make sure she was being paid enough. And then somehow the paper had turned out to have a Media and Arts section. And then somehow this little ad right at the bottom of a page had jumped out at her.
    What a series of coincidences.
    ‘Not coincidences,’ Sharon would say. ‘Intuition and destiny.’

It was two months since she’d first met Sharon and she felt scoured, spring-cleaned from top to bottom. Sharon had upset every one of her certainties and, while she wouldn’t say that she went along with everything Sharon said, the woman had certainly got her thinking.
    ‘Ring me any time,’ Sharon had said, handing her a card when they parted after Jane’s ‘taster’ session. ‘If there’s anything you’re worried about or want to discuss, just get in touch.’
    That was kind, and professional, Jane thought. But of course she wouldn’t. Her encounter with Sharon was an aberration, and not something she had to take seriously, or repeat.
    Then she’d spent the whole night awake. Not thinking specifically about what Sharon had said – trying not to, in fact – but stirred up, in turmoil. She wanted to change, but did she dare? Could she? Should she? And Sharon had seemed to demand so much of her.
    She’d rung her the next morning, even though it was Sunday, and they’d made a date for Monday evening. Sharon hadn’t seemed in the least put out, or surprised, to hear from her and that in itself made Jane feel better. She wasn’t an idiot, she wasn’t mad.
    She’d then counted the hours until their second meeting.
   
One of the first things Sharon tried to get her to do was trust her intuition. Jane had to write down all the times her intuition gave her a prompt – better fill up the fridge in case she had an unexpected visitor, somebody needed a telephone call from her, that person was not to be trusted, the bus would be better than the tube today – and then later write down the results: had her intuition proved right? And the answer was almost always yes. It was astonishing.
    ‘I don’t believe it,’ said Jane. ‘How does it work?’
    ‘Your intuition is the gateway to your higher self,’ said Sharon.
    ‘My higher self?’
    She’d heard these terms before, of course, but she’d never taken much notice of them or stopped to think about whether they had any relevance to her life. Hearing about them now, from Sharon with her certainty, made them real.
    ‘Yes,’ said Sharon. ‘Your connection with the universe.’
    ‘The universe? Isn’t that just a random collection of events?’
    Sharon gave one of her rare laughs. ‘Far from it. Everything that happens is the result of everything that has happened and everything that happens now affects the future.’
    It was obvious when you thought about it. ‘So the universe is a machine then?’
    'A machine with meaning,' said Sharon.
    And that was just the start.
   
Her Saturday mornings with Sharon were the bright spots of Jane’s life. Sharon’s teachings gave her hope. They offered her a way out. They promised that there was more to the world than jobs and mortgages and responsibilities. More than our single short pointless lives.
    She paid her of course which was one reason why she didn’t tell anyone about her meetings with Sharon. They’d think that Sharon was exploiting her when if anything it was the other way round since Sharon, Jane suspected, gave her far more than her allotted time.

‘Why are you hesitating?’ asked Sharon.
    On the rest of her walk to Sharon’s flat Jane hadn’t been able to get the job advertisement out of her mind and eventually she’d stopped at a newsagent and bought a copy of the paper so that she could show it to Sharon.
    As usual, they were sitting in semi-darkness. Unlike Jane who could never have enough light, Sharon seemed to live with her curtains half drawn. Consequently Jane never noticed much about the flat other than the approach which was through a maze of covered walkways in which she always got lost.
    Today, as always and as they had at the taster session, they sat at opposite sides of a small table, and as usual Sharon had placed an incense burner nearby, the fumes of which added to the mystery.
    ‘One, it’s not a promotion; it’s a sideways step,' said Jane, counting the reasons on her fingers. 'Two, I’d have to sell my flat and move. Three, what do I know about the wilds of Devon or about this publisher? Four, I’d have to leave all my friends and family behind. Five, I’ve only just got time to apply before the deadline runs out so it would be a rush. Six, I’m not even sure that I want to continue working in publishing. Seven –’
    ‘Stop, stop, stop,’ said Sharon.
    Jane paused with her hands in the air. ‘What?’
    ‘What’s the most important thing I’ve been teaching you for weeks and weeks and weeks?’
    Jane’s mind filled with all the colourful concepts and practices that had burst into her life – karma, reincarnation, synchronicity, visualisation, affirmation, meditation.
    ‘Well, lots of things,’ she answered.
    ‘In-tu-ition,’ said Sharon, tapping the table with a forefinger.
    Jane nodded. ‘Right.’ Now she remembered.
    ‘And what have I told you about intuition?’
    ‘Um, that it’s the gateway to our higher selves?’
    ‘And?’
    ‘I –I don’t know,’ said Jane.
    ‘It’s a short cut. It’s a clue. It’s a gift from the universe. We ignore it at our peril.’
    ‘A clue to what?’ Getting Sharon to repeat herself was Jane’s way of checking her out. And she had to be absolutely sure of this. It was a big step.
    ‘To our life-plan. The one based on our karmic needs. The one the universe helps us with if we follow it but which brings us nothing but misery if we don’t.’
    ‘OK,’ said Jane. ‘So what you’re saying is that the universe led me to the advertisement, so I should apply for the job.’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘But why?’
    ‘Why what?’
    ‘Why this job?’
    ‘Isn’t that the wrong question?’
    ‘How d’you mean?’
    ‘Shouldn’t you be asking, why this place?’
    How come the story Jane told Sharon about her life was never the one that Sharon heard and why did that always make Jane so angry?

Thursday, 20 September 2018

THE BANKER'S NIECE Chapter One


This is the first chapter of my current novel. I plan to post the whole novel bit by bit, but it may take some time as I shall probably have to redraft quite a lot. The thought that you might actually be reading it shows me exactly how weak some of the writing is.
Do please feel free to comment. I'd love to know what you think.
And please respect my copyright. I've put a lot of work into this.

_____________________________________
1


Jane stood outside the Old Market studying the board propped up on the pavement, her stomach clenched. 
   'Aura portraits ~ Tarot ~ Crystals’ it said.  ‘Therapies ~ Healing. Free taster sessions.’
    Mushy music and sickly-sweet incense wafted out from the market hall, at odds with the roar and stench of the traffic behind her, taking her back to her teens when she wandered hippie shops looking for clothes. Out of place. Out of time.
    What on earth was she doing here? She hated large gatherings and she was far too old and sensible to be dabbling in such nonsense. What would her friends say? What would they say at work? She was a living cliché: ageing spinster in dire straits turns to the occult.

She could remember the precise moment when she realised that her London life was a sham. She’d been at a supper party three weeks before with the usual mix of solicitors and accountants and the occasional rogue arts employee like herself, listening to the usual drivel about house prices and grandchildren and exotic holidays, when she knew, just knew, that she had nothing, but nothing, in common with any of these people.
    It was horrible. She didn’t want to feel like that. After all, her London life had sustained her for three and a half decades and she had no plans for it to do anything but sustain her for the decades to come. But something had happened to her six months ago when her father died, even though she hadn’t shed a single tear.
    She’d been like a duvet released from its plastic wrapper. She'd burst into life. She needed four times the space she had before. Instead of watching television or reading when at home alone, she’d taken to pacing the streets. Sometimes at her desk during the day or when fighting her way on to buses or the tube she wanted to scream. Even shopping had started to pall.
    And now this.
    She scared herself.
   
A pair of straggly rosemary bushes in dusty terracotta pots propped open the market’s red-painted double doors. Steeling herself, Jane walked in.

The scene was every bit as bad as she expected. Women in baggy clothes pushed between rows of stalls. Colours and reflections – from crystals, pictures, ornaments, jewellery – zig-zagged across her vision. The smell of herbs and spices from a café at the far end clashed with that of the incense.
    She longed to be back in her peaceful flat on her own. Her eyes started to flicker as they did when she was very tired or coming down with a migraine.
    She passed a row of scarves that marked the edge of a stall, and retreated into them letting the silk dangle against her cheek. It was like being in a fabric forest and for a moment she felt at peace.
    ‘Can I help you?’ said a weaselly voice, and small male face appeared between lengths of fabric.
    ‘Oh no, sorry,’ said Jane, backtracking hastily. ‘Just looking.’
    She wandered into a side aisle, hoping to find somewhere less frenetic, but that only made thing worse as the stallholders watched her as she went by and she had to keep moving in case they tried to talk to her and interest her in their wares.
    The trouble was, she could never be inconspicuous, however hard she tried, and it wasn’t just because she was tall. Take today for instance. She’d thought that skinny jeans and black knee-boots would do the job. Everyone wore something similar, didn’t they? But no, she looked much too smart. She’d got it wrong again.
    Close to tears – for some stupid reason – she leant against a stone pillar. It was cool and smooth with a musty smell that reminded her of being in church.
    ‘Have a seat,’ said a soft voice.
    Jane stopped breathing.
    ‘Here,’ said the voice again and something bumped into Jane’s calves.
    Why could she not be invisible? And why did politeness mean that she had to reply? Why couldn’t she just stalk off?
    Reluctantly, she turned round. A young woman was pushing a wooden chair in her direction from the other side of a small wooden table.
    ‘Pull it up,’ said the woman, ‘and we can have a chat.’
    Jane hated ‘chats’. They were much too intimate and she always struck the wrong note. But something about the woman calmed her. She had a heart-shaped face without makeup, and straggly hair, blonde with dark roots. She wasn’t smiling or making any effort to appeal. She was unthreatening, inconspicuous, and if she hadn’t spoken Jane would never have noticed her.
    With a sense of relief that surprised her, Jane sat on the chair and shuffled forward.
    She seemed to have found a quiet pocket of the hall after all. The hubbub had faded to the background and the stalls were widely spaced. No one was looking her way.


On the table was a fan of outsize cards, face down. The card-backs* were black, dotted with stars and planets and decorated with turquoise geometric shapes – circles, triangles, pentagons. In spite of herself, Jane was intrigued. Not that she’d ever admitted it, but she was fascinated by magic. So many strange and inexplicable things happened in life, like coincidences or wishes that came true, that it was hard to dismiss it out of hand. Presumably that was why she was here.
    ‘I’m Sharon,’ said the woman. ‘Would you like a tarot reading?’
    ‘I – I think so,’ said Jane, suddenly nervous. What would the woman say about Jane and her life? Did she really want to know?
    Or, even worse, was she being stupid and wasting her money?
    ‘What will it cost?’ she asked
    ‘It’s free,’ said Sharon. ‘It’s a taster.’
    Jane took a deep breath. ‘OK.’
    ‘Pick three cards,’ said Sharon.
    Jane waved a hand over the cards, wondering if she should be sensing something, but apart from a slight fizzing in her fingertips she couldn’t detect anything that would help her in choosing the cards, so she picked three at random.
    Sharon laid them in a line, still face down, and then looked up. ‘Ready?’
    Jane nodded. She was feeling a little queasy. Perhaps she’d had too much coffee for breakfast.
    Sharon turned over the first card, looked at it and then swivelled it so that Jane could see it the right way up. It showed a man standing on one leg in the sort of position that only a ballet dancer could achieve.


'You’re going to move,’ said Sharon.
    ‘What?’ said Jane. ‘That’s ridiculous.’ She didn’t care if she was being rude. She loved her flat. She’d worked hard for the money to buy it. She loved the area she lived in. Where would she move to? And why? The woman was talking cobblers.
    ‘Look at him,’ said Sharon, unperturbed. ‘How long do you think he can stay like that? And it’s dangerous with all those swords around.’
    Jane looked at the card again. A ring of swords lay on the ground, their points towards the  foot that the man was standing on.
    She shrugged. ‘If you say so.’
    ‘I do,’ said Sharon. ‘I know.’
    Strangely, with one part of herself, Jane believed her. Sharon wasn't boasting. She was stating a fact.
    ‘Ready for the next one?’ said Sharon.
    ‘I suppose so.’
    Sharon picked up the next card and a shadow passed over her face. Again, she turned it so that Jane could see it.


‘Listen to me,’ she said, staring at Jane. ‘I’m not joking. You can’t continue as you are. You must make changes.’
    Here we go, thought Jane. This is how they hook you. Next thing, she'll be offering to help.
    ‘You don’t believe me, do you,’ said Sharon. ‘Have a good look at the card.’
    Jane looked. It showed a tower in flames with two people falling from it. It was pretty drastic and in spite of herself Jane felt a twinge of fear.
    ‘The longer you leave it, the worse it will be,’ said Sharon. ‘Change will be forced upon you.’
    Well that was one way of looking at disaster, thought Jane.
    ‘OK,’ she said. ‘What else?’
    What did she have to fear any more? What could be worse than the tower?
    Sharon picked up the third card and studied it for several seconds without letting Jane see what the picture was, then put it down in front of Jane and tapped it.
    ‘And he is at the root of it all. The Prince of Wands. He’s fiery, creative. An artist of some kind. Someone who doesn’t live by the normal rules. Do you know who I'm talking about?’
    Jane looked at the picture on the card, at the young man with the wavy shoulder-length brown hair, the dimpled chin, the full mouth and the serious eyes.
    She couldn't breathe. She was falling from a great height, like the people on the tower card.
    ‘I might,’ she whispered.



* The tarot cards come from a modern pack called the Cosmic Tarot by the German artist Norbert Lősche. It's the pack on which I learnt to read the tarot and I like it because the people have real, modern faces. I hope the artist doesn't mind me reproducing some of his cards.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Sometimes I imagine . . .

Sometimes I imagine myself as a famous writer on a chat show being asked why I write, and each time I give a different answer. Today’s answer is – because it empowers me.

Recently I’ve been feeling disempowered. This is, I think, for lots of reasons, the main one being building work, the debris from which taken over the entire house and half the garden.

The conservatory
The front door

The kitchen

The spare bedroom

Outside the back door
The garden (with raindrops on the lens)
I have nowhere to go. I can’t even hide in my ‘den’ as the door to the loft, where pipes and electricity cables are being worked on, is right behind my desk.

My desk and the door to the loft
It’s not the builders’ fault (the debris is ours) and they are embarrassed to be intruding, and for that reason I want to keep out of the way. I don’t want to embarrass them. I slink around like a ghost, a non-person.
    Frog, who is helping the builders, doesn’t want me around either. He doesn’t want me getting in a tizz about the mess or schedules or whether the work’s being done as we would want. He wants me to leave all the worry to him. But that’s disempowering too.

Being a writer (Phew! Can I say that?), I take everything to extremes. I imagine what it would be like to be truly disempowered, as women used to be – without money, education, jobs, control over their fertility and their sex life, a vote, respect. How did they survive? Why did they not just curl up in a corner and die?

Which brings me back to writing. That is my secret outlet, my way of proving to myself that I exist. Even if it’s only an inadequate blog post, like this one.


The new bathroom, the tidiest room in the house

Friday, 3 August 2018

Seven days in Norway: Contents









Seven days in Norway: Epilogue

Because there have been too many words and not enough pictures in this series of posts, here are three pictures to finish with.

Back home, Frog models his vimpel (the pennant version of the Norwegian flag).



Now all we need is a flagpole.

And finally here are copies of two Norwegian prints which I have. They are much faded and my scanner has cut their edges off, and my aunt would probably call them sentimental, but to me they epitomise the country: wild beautiful nature, outdoor living, twilight, fairy tales come to life.





The creatures are I think friendly trolls, and those of you who’ve been paying attention to these posts will notice some of the food I’ve mentioned - rips (redcurrants), fish, Norwegian cheese (Jarlsberg), rye bread.