It is a joy to be part of the wonderful team at Cornerstone and I feel very lucky indeed. Huge thanks and love to Francesca Pathak, Selina Walker and Georgina Hawtrey-Woore, my excellent and lovely editors. Sarah Ridley and Millie Seaward for tirelessly spreading the word, Alison Rae for perfection, Jon Kennedy for my stunning cover, and everyone else who works so hard to produce my books. Your dedication is truly appreciated.
Love and thanks to my dear agent and champion, Oli Munson, and to Jennifer Custer, Hélène Ferey, Vickie Dillon and everyone at AM Heath. Sincere thanks also to Conrad Williams and everyone at Blake Friedmann, plus thanks and good vibes to all the foreign publishing teams who take my books around the world.
Great awe and thanks must go to Tracy Fenton of THE Book Club on Facebook, whose love and passion for books is infectious. TBC rocks! And big thanks also to all the wonderful bloggers who help spread the word, and of course bucket-loads of gratitude to all my readers.
Much love to dear Benny Rossi, for wise words and friendship over many, many years, and love (and great respect!) to Lizzie Beesley for inspiring, educating and taking care of my girls. Finally, as ever, all my love to Ben, Polly and Lucy – my reasons why.
I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvellous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it.
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Saturday, 29 November 2014
She’s following me.
I want her to go away. To shut up.
I walk faster, hoping my bigger strides will outpace her smaller ones.
‘Just go home,’ I call out, but she ignores me. Her nonsense words are garbled and choked, blown away on the gusts of wind. Caught up in her tears.
It’s raining now – cold bullets hitting me in the face.
‘No . . .’ she demands, trotting next to me. ‘Please stop. Please answer me!’
I keep walking. Hands in pockets, head down.
She’s tugging on my coat sleeve, pulling me round. I carry on, picking up the pace, but she’s running now, galloping sideways next to me.
She trips. The dull scuff of skin on ground. The urge to reach out and help her is unbearable, but I walk on, unfaltering. She soon catches up.
‘There’s stuff I don’t understand . . . Things that don’t make sense.’
Those sobs again.
I close down my heart.
‘Later,’ I call back, praying it will suffice. I don’t even know where I’m going now, thrown by the unexpected hounding.
She doesn’t give up, so I head a different way, veering off the route to the shop, going down a steep track beside the canal bridge. It’s muddy and slippery, but I reach the towpath before she does, sliding the last few feet of wet bank.
I stop and turn. She’s picking her way down the steep path behind me, her body bent and thin beneath her bright windcheater. Her face is pulled and twisted from her frown, not just from the sheeting rain.
I can’t let it happen again.
I square up to her. ‘Please, go. Forget everything.’
So stern it kills me.
She jumps down the last few feet of the slope, her ankle bending sideways in the flattened muddy grass. As soon as she lands, she shoves me – a sharp push against my chest. Her face is filled with hate.
I turn and stride off again with the murky strip of grey-green canal snaking to my right.
‘Wait,’ she says, more calmly now. Still following.
I’m a good way on from the bridge, the twiggy hedge lashing out at my shoulder. The path is narrow.
‘Just answer, then I’ll go.’
I stop. There’s barely room for her to get past, so I turn round slowly.
She’s panting. Her face is smudged from the rain and her tears.
‘I don’t know how to make this right,’ I say, staring at the ground because her expression is too much.
‘Just tell me it’s not true.’ Her voice is barely a whisper. The wind picks up her words like autumn leaves – a flurry of desperation.
Then she stamps her foot and makes a sound like an animal.
‘Tell me it’s a lie! Tell me!’ She’s screaming now. Red-faced and angry.
I scan up and down the canal as her fury grows. There’s no one about, only a scarlet-and-blue narrowboat locked up in the murk.
‘You need to calm down,’ I say, reaching out to take hold of her.
‘Get off me!’ She slaps me away. Her breathing is shallow and fast, her eyes wide with fear. Her hands are up defensively, batting about. ‘Tell me it’s not true . . .’
I look her in the eye, as sincerely as I can manage.
‘It’s not true.’ I smile. ‘Simply not true.’
I hold out my palms. A gesture of honesty.
She pauses, simmering beneath her own thoughts as she processes this, trying to make it believable.
Simply not true . . .
I smile even more, allowing a small sigh. My chest sinks under my coat.
‘Of course. I swear on my kids’ lives.’
Her face twitches and her nose wrinkles. She cocks her head sideways. Narrows her eyes.
‘You shouldn’t say things like that,’ she whispers.
I start walking again.
‘Liar,’ she throws after me. ‘Fucking liar!’
I don’t falter this time. With my head down, I trudge along the slippery path. She will believe me eventually. I’ve learned it’s human nature to accept the most palatable reality.
Through the rain I smile briefly. A mental pat on the back. It’s dealt with.
But the hard shove takes me by surprise, the piercing scream even more so.
I stumble, trying to turn, trying to grab her. But I miss and stagger back a few paces.
She’s up close, her teeth exposed and her cheeks hot pink. She’s screaming obscenities, but I’m more intent on grabbing her wrists, on calming her down.
Then she shoves me again, squarely in the chest, and I trip again, not expecting the rock behind my heels. I’m tumbling backwards.
Her expression changes from anger to horror as she watches what she’s done. She reaches out a hand.
But it’s too late.