Thursday 6 September 2018

BLOG TOUR: The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

Published by Touchstone Books an imprint of Simon & Schuster and Simon & Schuster Canada

The Lost Queen is the first novel of a debut trilogy by Signe Pike. A blend of history and fantasy that is built around twins Languoreth and Lailoken with Scotland in the sixth century as a backdrop. Each has a destiny to fulfill. Languoreth is to follow the paths of most princesses in that she is to enter into a marriage based not on love, but on a strategic and political choice that would strengthen alliances.

Both Lail and Languoreth are gifted when it comes to knowing the Wisdom Keeper path but only Lail has the freedom to walk along it. Languoreth struggles to find a way to help her family and follow her dreams. Can she find a way to have it all?

Where do I start with this novel? There is so much to love. As someone born and raised in England who is passionate about the history including the legends of Camelot, King Arthur, and of course Merlin (who is thought to have been inspired by Lail). The book drew me rapidly into the story and the characters are brilliantly crafted and easy to bond with. It was easy to fall in love with one character above all the rest and that's the Lost Queen herself. Languoreth is bold, fearless, and incredibly strong. She has such determination and is a fabulous heroine.

What made this book for me was the obvious level of research. Additionally, while dealing with legends and history around this era, the author brings it to us as a bold and wonderfully original tale. It's part history, part fantasy but fully entertaining and fantastic. This book needs to be on your bookshelf. The only downside? I have to wait for book two to continue this adventure. It's one of my favourite reads in 2018.

Author's website:

GIVEAWAY (Canada only)

Do you want your very own copy?

Simon & Schuster Canada are providing a copy of this novel to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment with the name of Signe Pike's first novel. The answer can be found on the author's website.

I loved being part of this blog tour. Do check out the other participants for excerpts, Q&As, and author written pieces. I'll add clickable links to each stop this evening.

Sunday 6 May 2018

BLOG TOUR: Amsterdam Exposed: An American's Journey Into the Red Light District by David Weinir

Published by De Wallen Press.

I liked the cover.

That was the start of this reading experience for me. When will I learn?

I tried to like this book. It started off promising, but the truth is that if I hadn't committed to being a blog tour participant, I wouldn't have finished reading it. That said, I'm glad I did because it confirmed for me that this memoir is a testament above all, to the fact that sometimes abuse (unintended or otherwise) is packaged as love, and consideration. It's marketed as an unusual love story among many things.

I'm uncomfortable with so much of this book and it's not because I lack an open mind. It's judgmental. The author uses the term "unhinged" to define a person within the pages. A fact I found fascinating due to the author overreacting on a large scale to a cookie situation. In yet another scenario, this self-described optimist purchases a necklace for a sex-worker who he would like to interview for his book, only to toss the necklace in the river when she fails to show (assuming the worst), and then he repurchases the same necklace when their paths reconnect. These were only two of the multiple shining examples that reveal the difference between the author's self-image and the person his actions describe.

I cannot recommend this title. I can't encourage people to support dangerous behaviours. No, I'm not talking about paying for sexual services, or the ingestion of drugs with legal status. I'm more concerned that the author felt it acceptable to pressure Emma to share her traumatic past, acknowledging that she needed to be strong and even found it necessary to take a break from the conversation. He continues to pelt her with questions that are often loaded with negative connotations and yet more judgment. I was horrified that he describes this interaction as caring, love, bonding, when to me the scene was far more harmful and destructive and would have been far safer for the health and wellbeing of Emma, if it had been conducted with a trauma specialist within a safe environment. I am still in disbelief that what the author viewed as two human beings sharing an intimate experience is clearly and unapologetically his wrenching information from her for one sole purpose. His book.

That's ultimately the take away of this read. Harmful and horrible behaviour towards others, believing himself to be of higher moral calibre and thus experienced to "save" those around him. All of this, and more is somehow acceptable because it's all about the book.

There are many books that deal with Amsterdam. Read one of those. Read any of those. This book can't even be redeemed as a guide to Amsterdam since much has changed since the era within these pages some 18 years ago. I did like one thing. The cover. I really had hoped to be able to share a positive review for my stop on the blog tour but I can't love them all.

P.S. I truly hope wherever she is, Emma has found happiness and peace in life.

Excerpt included below courtesy of the author and Smith Publicity.

Oliver aspired to be a writer and instantly attached himself to me. Half Indonesian and half Dutch, he was raised in The Hague by a celebrated Dutch novelist. Now living in Amsterdam for the first time, he was ready for adventure.

“So, what’s your plan for writing the book?” he asked.

“Plan?” I said, with an uneasy smile. I didn’t really have one. I was fine with that, based on lessons I had learned years before. ​​​​​

After my freshman year in college, while my friends were securing internships in the business sector, I enrolled in whitewater rafting school in Idaho. My love for rafting ran deep, but while growing up, I never considered becoming a guide. I was being groomed for a different kind of life. Being a guide wasn’t an option, or at least wasn’t presented as one. My perspective changed while on a river trip during my senior year of high school. I was surprised to learn one of my guides was premed at Yale. I was off to Columbia in the fall. My mind was blown.

“If I can do it, why can’t you?” she said. “Your identity is yours to choose.” ​​

A light went on. I wasn’t stuck on a path at all. Corporate America would have to wait.

Guide school began in June, and conditions were extreme. The Middle Fork of the Salmon was running high, making the journey treacherous and unpredictable. We were in the wilderness for 15 days, and it rained nonstop. It was brutal, and we had to be careful. We had no idea what to expect downstream. When possible, we would climb the banks of the river to give us perspective on the rapids ahead. We would study the currents, noting side eddies and obstacles, and plot a course. Often, though, we had no choice but to enter the rapids blind. ​​​

I came to believe navigating life is very much like navigating a river. Each of our lives has a unique current. At certain times, we have more than one. They are never easy to find. Once we find our current, the trick is staying in it. There are many proverbial rocks and eddies confronting us every day. Some cling to them, or become stuck in them, and life passes them by—often due to fear, laziness, and other human foibles. While there are dangers ahead, there is also unimaginable beauty. Sometimes you can get a glimpse of what’s to come; often you can’t. Needless to say, you can never swim against the current, or create a path that’s not yours. Doing so is futile, and can lead to ruin.

Seeing life like a river made sense, and guided me through my time in Amsterdam. What was my plan? I just needed to find my current, and stay in it. Everything else would follow.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

BLOG TOUR: Every Father's Daughter edited by Margaret McMullan

Published by McPherson & Company

What comes to mind when you think about the word father? What does it mean to you personally? In Every Father's Daughter, Margaret McMullan has brought together twenty four incredibly gifted writers to share their deeply personal essays on this very subject.

Where to start on this book? I try not to go into reading experiences with any expectations but I couldn't help it. When this title landed on my desk, I was a little hesitant because I haven't had, until recently, a stable father figure in my life. I had thought, albeit briefly, that this book would be celebrating all that was wonderful about father/daughter dynamics, and mostly by focusing on healthy and 'normal' relationships if such creatures exist.

As soon as I read the introductions, I knew I was in for something completely different and before we had even reached the first essay, I was firmly hooked. The fathers in this book are not the perfect figures that we dream about, but very real, very human, very fallible. The relationships detailed are not perfect, and while there is happiness and joy within these pages, there can also be found sadness, longing, regret, and often a curiosity that is never quite satisfied.  It's not a book to be rushed through, but rather to be savoured, and considered.

Even though the experiences were far different from my own, I found myself able to connect with much of the content, and empathize with the writers as I bore witness to their heartfelt testaments that almost always felt as though they were each discovering something new about themselves and their father. If I had one question to ask the writers, it would be about that. Whether the essays were as cathartic as I feel they would have been. At times reading the words upon the page caused a mild discomfort as though I, the reader, was peeking into the personal and secret diary of another. I don't intend for that to sound as negative as it may come across, rather it just gave me pause, and I appreciated the courage that it took to lay it all out on the pages.

This book runs through such a diverse set of experiences, and as you would expect from such a scenario, it also leads the reader on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. It's beautiful and tragic, raw and gritty, uplifting and devastating all at once, and while the elegant design may lead you to believe that it is a book written by women, for women, don't let that deceive you. This is a book that every father and father-to-be should have on their shelf.

I have to comment too on the interior layout. Some pages separate the content and have a muted grey design which I found added to the luxurious style that I so enjoy in this collection. At first I had taken it as looking very feminine but the more I read, the more I noticed it, the more it brought to mind the paisley design that I have always enjoyed and found so masculine and easy on the eyes.  It may seem irrelevant, and perhaps the bibliophile in me pays far too much attention to detail, but it really did add something to the experience for me, and again, reinforced that this book is not for women only.

All in all, I loved this book. Was it hard to read? At times, I found it mildly triggering having come from an abusive background but that discomfort was brief, and ultimately so very worthwhile. Margaret McMullan speaks of more essays that didn't make it into the book and I'd be happy to see another volume released.  What I'd love to see too, is a volume focused on the same relationship, but written by fathers.

The takeaway? Great book. Not a fluffy read. A great gift for the upcoming Fathers Day weekend.

Update: 18/06/2015

I think this is a first for me. That I've gone back to a review to add content, because a book has lingered with me, almost hauntingly.  This morning I find myself thinking back over the essays, over the people within the pages, and most especially, the family connection and deep history that explains, or tries to at least, the characteristics of the loved ones featured. I find myself enamoured most especially by Alice Munro's contribution Working for a living which really captured the essence of family, and teamwork, and so much more. Also Joyce Maynard's My Father's Bible which didn't so much tug at the heartstrings, as masterfully and gently with perfect precision, play them much like a master musician and their most cherished instrument. Yesterday it was an essay to me. Today it feels like so much more.  I know this book is going to be remaining on my shelf for many years to come, close by where I can take it down from time to time, and savour the experience again. One essay at a time.  I've definitely fallen for this book.

Authors Website:

BLOG TOUR: Every Father's Daughter. A Q&A with Margaret McMullan

I was really excited to be approached about this tour, though I'll admit, I was also uncertain how much I would connect with this book, given the subject matter. Paternal relationships are not my strong suit. The man I grew up believing to be my father, turned out not to be but given that much of my experience with him was violent, and highly inappropriate, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. My father by birth is another story altogether. We found each other late in life and we are still very much learning about each other. I was pleasantly surprised though. I have so many thoughts to share on this book, and I look forward to posting them a little later today but I thought I would start by sharing a Q&A with Margaret McMullan first.

1. How did you decide which authors to reach out to for this collection?

In the last month of my father’s life, I read to him Alice Munro’s essay, “Working for a Living.” We had one of our last book discussions about that fox farm, the cold work, and the landscape of Canada. She was the first person I contacted. I wrote her a letter and a few months later she called and said yes, of course you can reprint my essay. I was just stunned. The other authors followed. I invited the authors my father loved or had met at some point in his life. He had dinner with Lee Smith once and she was so quick to respond. Lee led me to Jill McCorkle. I also included three former students. In the end, this collection of women writers became one big circle of friends.

2. How did your vision for this collection evolve from the start to end of this project?

At first I saw this as a collection of southern writers, men and women. But then I realized I just wanted to hear from women, daughters. I moved away from regionalizing it when I began thinking of my father’s literary tastes and what kind of man he was. He was southern but he was also very much shaped by Chicago and the Mid-West. Each time I read an essay, I would think, Would Dad like this?

3. What most surprised you about the creation of Every Father's Daughter?

I was surprised how difficult such a great collection was to get published. Jane Smiley had a Pulitzer, Maxine Hong Kingston won the National Book Award, and Alice Munro had just won a Nobel Prize. I felt this book was no-proof. Who wouldn’t want to read these writers on this particularly personal subject? And who wouldn’t want to read about fathers? I’ve always thought this collection was a sure thing, but it was much more difficult to find a publisher than I had imagined. Apparently, anthologies were no longer fashionable in the publishing industry. One editor, who declined the book, has since contacted me to tell me how she genuinely regrets not taking it.

4. In your introduction, you talk about how this book was a way for you to grieve. How did you come to realize this?

This particular work felt meaningful because all along I thought so much about my father. I started soon after my father died. The work – reaching out to other women, asking for their stories, and then reading them was therapeutic because it reminded me that there are other emotions besides grief. After a while, after I organized and put together the book, after I wrote my own essay, my grief transformed. It felt less like sadness and more like love.

I have encountered so many readers who have read the book and want to talk about an essay, and then, inevitably, these readers begin to tell me about their fathers. A conversation starts. This book has a power. We are remembering our fathers, and, in some cases, bringing them back to life.

5. Did you come to realize anything about your relationship with your father as you read through the essays in this collection?

I knew from the start that we were close, and that a good part of that closeness was how we stayed connected through literature. Now, I realize exactly how close we really were.

Check back this afternoon for my review of Every Father's Daughter. See you then!

Friday 21 November 2014

November: The Twenty-First

Our daily adventure continues right here with The Twenty-First instalment of November: Ralph Conway's Immortal Diary. If this is your first day with us, I'd recommend you click here for links to the preface and previous instalments.
The content appears here on The Literary Word courtesy of Table 13 Ltd


I don’t normally listen at keyholes, but I couldn’t help overhearing this conversation between Eric and Chloe this morning - in which Eric was wondering if he ought to suggest to me that I go and see a psychiatrist. Mavis was in the upstairs bathroom. I descended a flight and was about to go into theirs, when I heard Chloe say: “Who?”
To which Eric replied: “Ralph.” 
I was riveted.
“If anyone needs a psychiatrist,” said Chloe, “it’s you.”
“Yes. You.”
“What for?” asked Eric in a mystified tone of voice.
“For offering him a job.”
“He’ll be fine.”
“You’ve got a short memory when it suits you.”
“Anyway, he won’t take it.”
“Huh. It’s so depressing having him festering in that room.”
The idea of me going to see a psychiatrist is ridiculous. The biggest mistake I ever made was leaving this confounded book where Joan could get her prying little eyes on it. I don’t know - maybe it’s all worked out for the best. If she ever thought I entertained the notion of being immortal, she now knows I must have been disillusioned. But when she read this, I had not yet died up at Alison’s flat and really come back to life again as myself three days later. That’s still my secret, and I’m hanging onto it. I’m hanging onto it.
There’s been a good Sunday feeling in the house today. Eric has all the Sunday papers of course. Mavis took the children out, and we settled down with a forest or two of newsprint and the television. The efficiency of the Epstein central heating is such that Chloe could quite comfortably lounge about on the floor in nothing but knickers and a large T-shirt. Joan is always banging on about me fancying Chloe. I always say I don’t, which has, what’s more, been true. Or more or less true. But she was sitting there, leaning on her hand, with her left leg out and her right leg bent, and I found myself looking at the little strip of mons-hugging white cotton that was ... you know. Eric had his nose in the News of the World. Chloe was studying the Observer. 
And then, what with one thing and another, I found myself considering this part of Chloe’s anatomy in more detail and the phrase, Chloe’s clitoris, just sort of popped into my mind. Chloe’s Clitoris! It sounds like one of those French films. If you enjoyed “Clare’s Knee”, you’ll love “Chloe’s Clitoris”! 
And, what with one thing and another, these musings gave me a ferocious hard-on under the Sunday Times Colour Supplement, which I had let fall onto my lap. Then Chloe looked at me and saw to which part of her anatomy my eyes were glued. I think I may also have been licking my lips at the time. Our eyes met. Mine probably looked lecherous and embarrassed. Hers were annoyed. She pulled the T-shirt well down over her bum. I averted my eyes to the television, just as the Blue Danube Waltz began to emerge from it.
Twice in two days! It’s always the way. My raging erection subsided as I became sucked into the film, which was “Goodbye Mr Chips”, starring Robert Donat. And anyway, Chloe’s got herpes. Or so Joan tells me.
The tears started from the moment that Mr Chips ran down the railway platform in Vienna and proposed marriage to the girl, whom he loved, but whose address he did not know, as her train pulled out of the station. They kept on coming. They just sort of leaked out of my eyes. But the crunch came when - there’s this boy at the school called Collie, or Collis, Collie, I can’t remember which. Anyway, on his first day at the school, this Collie gets into a fight with one of the local boys. Come World War 1, Collie becomes an officer in the army. Before he goes off to the front, he comes to say goodbye to Mr Chips - and guess who his batman is. Yes, it’s that lower class lad with whom he fought on the first day of school all those years ago.
It was when Mr Chips announced to the boys in the school that this Collie had been killed going to save the life of his batman, not realising that the batman was already  mortally wounded - it was this that for some inexplicable reason sparked off a veritable explosion of grief inside me, which, loth as I was to give them any grounds for the Ralph-needs-a-psychiatrist cause, I found I couldn’t contain. Whoosh! Out it all came in a great heaving sob. I buried my head in my hands and sobbed away like a good’un. At which point, the children came in with Mavis, and I beat a retreat upstairs. There’s nothing like a damn good cry. I felt limp, but purged. I heard the front doorbell ring away downstairs and wondered who it was. Shortly afterward, Eric came up and told me that Normal and Hilarious had arrived, which is what he calls his parents behind their back. Their real names are Norman and Hilary. Eric sat down on the bed.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m fine.” 
“Well, we all know what F.I.N.E.’s an acronym for.”
“Do we?”
“Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.”
I told Eric I’d come downstairs in a minute. I splashed cold water on my face. My eyes looked a bit red. I had some Murine in my jacket. When I went to get it, I came across the letter from my bank. I sat down on the bed and opened it. It was one of those chillingly formal letters that tell you you’ve reached your limit and as of now all cheques will be bounced. It was dated the sixteenth. With any luck they’ll be bouncing the cheque for dinner in Brighton - at least I’ll be revenged on the tinned green beans.
Otherwise, the outlook is grim. Grim. I have £360 in my deposit account, and my current account is £485 overdrawn. Money. I hate, hate, hate money. Why should I have to worry about bloody money?
I went downstairs. 
Mr and Mrs Epstein were very pleased to see me. Most of the discussion centred around Christmas and what Dylan wanted in the way of presents. The last thing I need at this juncture is Christmas. I’ve never known Christmas not to occur at anything other than the most inconvenient time. 
There was a programme on genetic engineering, which I’d missed earlier in the week and which was being repeated. Eric recorded it and said I could watch it later. I went out for a walk. It was wet and blowy. On the walk, I imagined that instead of going back to Eric and Chloe et al, I was going back to Joan and Cosmo, and that we were married. We got married in a church with all the trimmings. I pictured Joan pregnant with our second child. Tomorrow, I’d go off to work in my company car, to my £15,000 a year job: just like any normal boring trendy middle-class person. I conjured up this vision of myself - and I liked it. Ralph the Provider.
So this is the final capitulation. This is what I’ve decided. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I am going to propose formal marriage to Joan. Apart from anything else, what with one thing and another, marrying Joan, when you consider the alternatives, well, the word convenient springs to mind. Somehow or other, the idea of a marriage of convenience is much more acceptable to me. I mean, if a marriage is not convenient, what is the point in it?
And now I shall go and watch that programme on genetic engineering.

I'm really glad I was able to take part in this opportunity. It's rare that we are offered the chance to read a book, collectively on a blog before the book is released. I can't wait for the release date so I can pick up a copy for my bookshelf.  How are you all liking it so far?

Thursday 20 November 2014

November: The Twentieth

Our daily adventure continues right here with The Twentieth instalment of November: Ralph Conway's Immortal Diary. If this is your first day with us, I'd recommend you click here for links to the preface and previous instalments.
The content appears here on The Literary Word courtesy of Table 13 Ltd


I don’t know. I really don’t. I mean - I really don’t know. I was awake most of last night, planning what I would say to Joan this morning. And what I decided, in the end, was that I would offer her a 100% down-the-line commitment to producing an offspring. I was prepared to give this commitment in writing, if necessary. But I would not even discuss the question of marriage until such time as Joan had resumed normal eating. This seemed like a fantastically fair deal. It would allow both parties to emerge from the conflict with honour and all that intact.
Breakfast was Bedlam this morning. Coco started screaming from her high-chair. Naked rampant ego demanding attention. She threw her toast on the floor. Mavis picked it up. Coco threw it to the ground again. Mavis picked it up again. Coco threw it yet again, this time at Dylan. Which inspired Dylan to pick up his toast and throw it at Coco. It hit her in the eye.
Then her screaming changed frequency. Chloe leapt for her, picked her up and cuddled her - at the same time as Eric whacked Dylan across the top of the head with a rolled up copy of Screen International.
There was a long pause, while I watched him, Dylan, deciding whether or not he was going to cry, then he let rip. He ran to Mavis, who put her arms around him protectively.
“What did you do that for?” Chloe asked in disbelief.
“He threw the toast,” said Eric, defiantly.
“So what?” said Chloe. “You don’t hit people for throwing toast.”
“Look, hang on a minute here,” said Eric, “you’re supposed to back me up.”
“I’m not supposed to do anything,” Chloe roared.
I could see that Eric was absolutely furious, but he was attempting to play it cool. He kind of smiled at me out of the side of his face, stood up and dropped his napkin nonchalantly onto his plate. Then he pointed a finger at Dylan and said:
“If you turn out fucked up, kiddo, don’t blame me.”
Eric stalked away from the table toward his office, seized the handle of his door, opened it. He’s going to slam it, I thought. But he took control of himself, turned and said to me:
“You know that whole new dimension of love we were talking about. There’s an addendum. You’ll also discover a whole new dimension of HATE!”
Then he slammed the door. 
At this point, I judged it wise to make a hasty exit. I had been planning to ask if I could borrow one of their cars - but this was not the moment. On the train, I thought: “You have just escaped from a graphic illustration of the utter ghastliness of parenthood - and where are you going? You are going to instigate proceedings designed to make a parent of yourself. You are a lunatic. You shouldn’t be allowed out - except perhaps to see a shrink. You should be locked away in a loony bin. You are free. Free! And you are going to give yourself up into bondage. You are free to do ....”
At this point I seemed to run out of steam, and I found myself replying to myself:
“Free to do what?”
“Well .....”
“What is there to do except have children?”
Then I thought: Let’s be sensible about this. Let’s be rational. And above all, let’s be positive. You’ve made a decision and it’s settled. There’s nothing you can do about it.
There’s no law against changing your mind.
Despite all this mental pussy-footing, I found myself walking up our road. It had been a beautiful morning, yet again, when I left Chiswick, but the sky was grey and shivery as I turned in through our gate. I went down the side and rang Orson’s bell. Orson came to the door. Absurdly, I was nervous as hell, clutching the croissants I had acquired en route. The thought flashed through my mind that it wouldn’t worry me in the least if I never saw Joan, Orson, this house, or anybody, ever again. I could just leave London, leave the country altogether, and not come back till they’re all dead and buried.
I had been expecting to enter a house full of terminal doom and gloom - but Orson was in an extremely bouncy frame of mind. He waltzed into the living-room and I followed him. I use the word waltz advisedly. The whole place was whirling to the sound of some ridiculously cheerful confection by Strauss.
Orson returned to the chair at the table in the window, where he had patently been sitting prior to my arrival. A half-smoked cigarette smoked in the ashtray. A half-drunk cup of coffee steamed beside it. Orson picked up the cigarette, puffed at it and looked at the sheet of paper in the type-writer on the table in front of him. It was half-covered with typing.
“Where’s Joan?” I asked. “In the spare room?”
“Yeah,” said Orson - as the waltz that had been playing came to an end and the bloody Blue Danube commenced. Orson started conducting it with his cigarette. I walked out of the room.
Joan was propped up in bed. She had a dreamy expression on her face. Her eyes were closed. She was waltzing in her imagination. She said as much, when I announced my presence and she opened her eyes and saw me.
“Ralph,” she said - and gave an annoyingly tragic smile . “I was just dancing with you - “ dramatic pause “ - at our wedding.”
Can you believe it?
I shut the door, which muted the Viennese loonies somewhat. I went and sat on the edge of the bed. I kissed Joan.
“I’ve missed you,” she said.
“I’ve missed you too,” I said. Actually, when I started to say that, I thought it was going to be a lie, but by the time I’d finished saying it, I realised that it was in fact true. I really have missed the dear old boot. Let’s face it: the fact of the matter is that I love Joan. I do love her. I do. I’m sure I do. The trouble is that I’m also sure I could love anybody if I put my mind to it. So, why Joan? Well, why not?
“So?” she said.
I told her. An unconditional yes on the progeny front. And a postponement on the marriage front until such time as normal stuffing is resumed.
“No,” said Joan.
“What do you mean - No?! I’ve brought croissants,” I exclaimed.

“I want to get married.”
“For all you know, I might want to get married myself. But I’m not going to tell you till after you’ve started eating again. What could be fairer than that?”
“It’s nothing to do with fair, Ralph.”
“You’re not kidding. Well what has it got to do with then?”
“It’s got to do with you doing something that I want for a change, rather than us always doing what you want.”
She was short of breath by the end of that speech. Her eyelids fluttered, almost closed. She was obviously in a very floaty, transcendental frame of mind.
“I’ll say this for you,” I said. “You’ve got a lot of guts.”
It was perhaps not the most appropriate thing to say to a person on hunger strike - but I meant it most sincerely, folks. She smiled a little smile to show she’d heard what I said - and her eyes closed gently. I sat there and looked at her for a bit. It was very warm in the room. Too warm. I stood up and walked back into side two of Jo Strauss’s Greatest Hits. Orson was typing away in time to it. He stopped, when I walked into the room, and picked up another cigarette, which was alight in the ashtray.
“I thought you’d given up,” I said.
“So did I,” he said. “It’s this writing.”
“What is it?”
“Yet another screenplay,” said Orson, who tends to write screenplays when he is not looking for locations. To date, he has failed to persuade anyone to turn one of his screenplays into an actual film. But Orson is nothing daunted. A refusal, to Orson, goes to show the stupidity of the refuser, rather than his own incompetence.
“What’s it about?” I enquired.
“I’ll tell you when I’ve finished it.”
I filled him in on what had just transpired.
“So now what?” he wondered.
“I’m not sure.”
“Well you should be sure. She’s extremely weak.”
“Orson, believe me, I promise you, I know Joan very well. This is pure brinkmanship. As soon as she feels she’s in real danger - she’ll stop it.”
“You may be right. I don’t know. The trouble is that she may not be able to stop.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “Well, I have to go.”
“Tell me, Ralph, there’s just one thing I’d like to know.”
“What’s that?”
“If you didn’t take my suicide pill, why did you write what you did?
“Well, I don’t know. I just did.”
“What - sort of like fantasising?” prompted Orson.
“That sort of thing.”
“And the same with the girl?”
“What girl?”
“Alison Pitney. AKA Honey.”
“It’s got absolutely nothing to do with you, Orson.”
“Joan sent me up there.”
“Up where?”
“Melrose Court,” said Orson, jerking his thumb in the direction of that building.
“Oh, terrific,” I opined.
When I asked him what had happened, he told me that he had gone up there, rung the bell, and Alison had answered the door.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Where’s Ralph?” countered Orson.
“What’s it to you?” Alison wanted to know.
“He only happens to be my lover, dear,” Orson had been inspired to assert. “And I happen to know he’s here. Ralph!”
“I should’ve fuckin’ guessed,” said Alison, and then tells Orson he’s too late. “I gave that little sod his marching orders.”
“Thank you very much!” I snorted.
“It’s alright,” he said. “I didn’t tell Joan. I told her there was no-one who fitted the description resident in the building, and that you’d obviously been making the whole thing up, and isn’t it sad?”
“Very considerate of you, Orson.”
“Think nothing of it.”
“Well alright,” I said. “I’ll confess. I did take the pill.”
“You fuckhead. What did you want to do that for?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“But you should.”
“What difference does it make? It didn’t work.”
“Yeah,” says Orson. “Obviously.”
“I’ve gotta go,” I said.
As I was departing, Orson said: “Hey, Ralph, listen. Next time you feel like bumping yourself off - call me first.”
“OK,” I said, sheepishly, and departed.
I went upstairs and let myself into our flat. It was horribly cold, damp and foetid in there. On the mat, there was an ominous looking letter addressed to me from my bank. I put it in my pocket. I went to look in my tuck box.
I pulled out the Club International and had a look at Alison. “My pussy’s getting wet just thinking about what I’m going to say to you?” Chance would be a fine thing. Puckering up, more like. I put the magazine back in the box. There was the Envelope-envelopes-envelope. I’d forgotten all about it. The big E. with its thirty-one envelopes inside, with “envelope” written on each one. Thirty-one! 31!! And there are thirty-one years in my life, and 31 is 13 backwards and - how about this? - there are thirty-one days in ..... or are there? No there aren’t! There aren’t thirty-one days in November. Well, that’s something.
I headed back to Chiswick.
Alright - so Joan isn’t having it. It’s marriage or else. I really tried to address my mind to why the idea of getting married so depresses me. It’s so unoriginal. It’s so boring. Then I had a brilliantly original idea for a completely personal individual new type of marriage. A nice private marriage, just between Joan and me.
I popped into Smith’s and bought myself a DIY will-form. When I got back to Eric’s, I went straight to my room and filled it in. Very simple. I wrote:
“I leave ALL MY WORLDLY GOODS, everything I possess and own, to JOAN CECILY HENDERSON of Flat 1, 23 Abercorn Road, London NW2.”
Then I took it downstairs and got Chloe and Mavis to witness my signature.
When they had done this, Chloe mentioned to me that if Joan died, she would personally see to it that I got charged with her murder.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m just telling you,” she said. “Think of it as an incentive. Even if they can’t make it stick, they can make things extremely nasty for you, while they’re making up their minds. Ask Orson if you don’t believe me.”
“I’ll bear it in mind,” I said. “Can I borrow your car?”
One thing, about which Chloe is not uptight, is things like cars.
I drove back to Cricklewood.
It took a while to attract Joan’s attention. Then I said my piece:
“Joan. I’ve got an announcement to make. A proposal. I want to marry you.”
The beginnings of a joyful smile on Joan’s dear little physog soon faded when I started to explain the kind of marriage I was driving at.
“All we need to do is swap wills,” I said. “I mean, actually, when you come to think about it, that’s all a marriage is in the first place. And then, when you’re better, we can make a little formal thing out of it, if you like. We can work the details out later.”
I handed her my will. She had some difficulty holding it, and some difficulty reading it.
“It’s very sweet of you, Ralph. But I want to get married in a church.”
“In a church. I want a wedding breakfast, champagne, an antique car with a ribbon, an aisle, bridesmaids, and you in a morning coat, with a carnation and a topper.”
“That’s what you want?”
“That’s what I want.”
“I see. But, Joan, this Swapping of Wills business is a really good idea. And then, if you ever go off me, all you have to do is change it.”
My words were falling on deaf ears. I thought she’d think this idea of mine truly romantic - but she obviously thinks getting married in a church is more romantic. I can’t see anything romantic about getting married in a church. I’m NOT getting married in a blasted church!
I happen to think that the idea of God is probably one of the most brilliant ideas any human being has ever had. God is a great liberating notion. Religion is not. I belong to no religion. I pay lip-service to no religion. I kneel to no priest. One man - one God. That’s my motto. That’s my platform. One man - one God. The new franchise. For me, for someone who thinks like me, to get married in a church would be totally out of order. And Joan knows it.
Orson had popped out to buy another packet of cigarettes. I left Joan in her stubborn stupor, and found that he had abandoned his screenplay to the gaze of an unscrupulous passer-by. I sat myself down and started looking at it. I felt absolutely no compunction about doing this, seeing that Joan had brazenly read my diary and just as brazenly told Orson all about it.
Boy, am I glad I did look at it. I only managed to read a few pages before Orson returned, but that was enough. I got the gist. He hasn’t even bothered to change our fucking names.
“Look here,” I said, “I’m afraid this isn’t on.”
To which Orson replied that Joan has given him the rights to our story - which Joan subsequently confirmed.
“Of course, obviously,” said Orson, “I’ll change the names in the final draft. But I find it easier to write it with the real names.”
“I’ll sue,” I said.
“Come on, man,” said Orson, “it’s a fantastic story.”
“I’m not having it.”
“Look,” said Orson, “you let me read your diary, and I’ll cut you in on it.”
“Out of the question.”
And it is out of the question. Though exactly what I’m going to do about it - I don’t quite know. At the moment, I can’t even think about it, because when I got back to Chiswick, Eric took me into his office and said he’d just been speaking to Orson on the telephone.
“Oh yes?”
“He told me you took that tab I gave him.”
“You gave him?”
Apparently, Orson had been banging on about how he’d rather be dead than do fifteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit - and the subject of suicide pills had come up. And when Orson started wondering about where he could get hold of one - Eric said he knew just the person.
“You mean, you actually procured him Instant Death?” I said, shocked and impressed. “How could you?”
“Of course I didn’t, you berk. But I thought it was safer if I gave him something he thought was a suicide pill, rather than he should get hold of the real thing from someone else.”
“You mean, it wasn’t a suicide pill?”
“Nah,” said Eric, with a chuckle, “it was a tab of acid.”
“What do you mean? LSD?”
“What did you think of it, Ralph?”
I was outraged. In the first instance, I was outraged on Orson’s behalf. Suppose there had been a miscarriage of justice, and Orson had been done for murder, sentenced to prison for fifteen years, and had taken what he thought was Instant Death, only to find - I mean, really. And in the second place, I’d been tricked. I’ve been tricked, TRICKED, into taking LSD. I thought I was dying and coming back to life again, and all I was bloody doing was tripping. It’s outrageous.
The dreadful Dave and his wife, Mandy, came for dinner. Conversation was dominated by Beaujolais Nouveau, the pros and cons, (I kept out of it) and the Circle of Gold - out of which Dave has made £8,000. And this is the guy who burns money instead of fireworks. He owns a recording studio. I must say he was very friendly. But I hate him. He’s one of these people who tries to draw you out. I don’t want to be drawn out. Fuck off, Dave.
Eight thousand quid. It’s this chain letter. The Circle of Gold. You buy it for twenty quid, send twenty quid to the person on the top of the list, cross that person’s name out and add your name to the bottom of the list. Then you make a copy of your list, so now you have two lists with your name at the bottom. All you now have to do is sell your two lists for twenty pounds each and in due course, you will move to the top of the list and receive something like £186,000 through the door. 
Chloe had attempted a cassoulet.  Joan is the cassoulet queen, and this apparently was Joan’s recipe. But Chloe just doesn’t get cooking. I don’t know how Eric puts up with it. There’s no doubt about the fact that Chloe is one of the most gorgeous girls I’ve ever clapped eyes upon, but she can’t even roast a chicken. Cassoulet is way beyond her.
Dave left most of his. Mandy is a vegetarian and just ate veggies. Eric had two helpings of everything. Does he actually like it? Or is it the dope he smokes before each course?
I never made it through to pudding. The pain in my bum was getting worse and worse. I kept on trying to find a comfortable position on the chair, first one buttock, then the next. Some invisible devil is deliberately sticking an invisible red-hot poker up my rectum and twisting it around and around and around.
In the end, I had to get down. I came up here. After a while, the pain abated somewhat. So what I’ve been doing is writing all this down. Somehow, it seems to help. It stops all these thoughts from attacking me at once.
I’ve just been downstairs to get myself some juice. They’re all hard at it down there, snorting coke, smoking dope and playing the Bumhole Game.
This, for future historians, is a very simple game, which involves thinking of a book, song, play, or whatever title - and substituting the word “Bumhole” for one of the words in the title.
“Bumhole Pacific,” said Mandy, as I was pouring my juice.
They all shrieked with laughter.
“’I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Bumhole’!” Eric gasped, in a paroxysm of mirth.
“’There’s Nothing Like a Bumhole’!” suggested Dave.
It’s quite a good game, if you’re in the mood. But right now the last part of my anatomy to which I want my attention to be drawn is my bumhole. So back up here I came - just as they were getting on to Agatha Christie Bumhole:    
The Bumhole of Roger Ackroyd. Ten Little Bumholes. Hercule Poirot’s Bumhole. The Mystery of the Blue Bumhole and, of course, that great classic, The Bumhole Cracked from Side to Side.

See you tomorrow for more..

Wednesday 19 November 2014

November: The Nineteenth

Our daily adventure continues right here with The Nineteenth instalment of November: Ralph Conway's Immortal Diary. If this is your first day with us, I'd recommend you click here for links to the preface and previous instalments.
The content appears here on The Literary Word courtesy of Table 13 Ltd


I have never understood how a pain could be described as exquisite - until I went to the loo this morning. I had to lie down on my front for twenty minutes until the throbbing subsided. Hell and damnation. I have been stricken with piles. Hell and damnation. It’s just not fair. What’s more, my teeth hurt. Otherwise, I am feeling unreasonably cheerful. I have come to a decision which, when all is said and done, is monumental.
Eric and I went for a walk in Gunnersbury Park this morning, and he made several points. We were talking about love and marriage and children and everything. The sky was brilliant blue. It’s been a beautiful day altogether in fact.
“I know people always say that you simply can’t understand what it’s like until you’ve had one yourself,” said Eric, “but I’m telling you, man, it’s true. You just discover a whole new dimension of love. Really. You have to try it.”
A whole new dimension of love. 
I liked the sound of that.
“I suppose the thing is,” I said, “that I’m, well, I just think I’d be a dreadful father.”
“Nonsense,” said Eric. “And anyway. So what? Lots of people are dreadful fathers. Look at my father. It never worried me. Look at Orson’s father, for God’s sake.”
“Look at Orson.”
“Yeah, well, you know what I’m saying. As long as you feed the little fuckers and make sure they’re warm - they’re no problem. I promise you.”
“It’s easy for you to say that.”
“Come on, Eric, you’re rolling in it.”
“That’s got nothing to do with it. The point is that you and Joan are made for each other. Why don’t you just marry her and have done with it?”
“I’m not getting married,” I said.
“Why on earth not?”
“I’m not standing up in front of a whole lot of people and making some oath which I have no possible way of knowing I can keep. I mean, how can you say you’ll love someone until death?”
“We did it,” said Eric.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong for you to do it. I’m just saying it would be wrong for me to do it. For me it would be hypocrisy.”
“Bullshit,” said Eric. “It’s time you joined the real world.”
“I don’t like the real world.”
“That’s because you don’t do anything in it.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Well, if I was you, the first thing I’d do is marry Joan. OK, if you don’t like the vows, keep your fingers crossed while you’re saying them. Then take it from there. You know. One day at a time and all that. At least then we wouldn’t have this threat of Joan dropping dead of starvation at any second.”
“She won’t,” I said.
“Crap,” said Eric.       
“But I didn’t make her go on hunger strike.”
“That’s not the point. You’re the one who can make her come off it.”
“Alright,” I said, “so if some girl, some lunatic, her for instance ....” (I was referring to a sweaty girl in shorts who came thumping past at a lumbering jog.) “Suppose she happens to see you, decides she wants to marry you, and goes on hunger strike - are you then responsible?”
“The situation is completely different,” said Eric, somewhat testily. “You love Joan. And Joan loves you.”
We proceeded in silence to Eric’s BMW and climbed in. On the way back to his place, he offered me a job in this new video thing he’s setting up. He said he could pay me £15,000 a year and a car. I told him I didn’t know anything about video. Eric said I’d be able to do it standing on my head. I told him I’d think about it.
The only part of the house that isn’t open-plan, apart from the downstairs bog of course, is Eric’s office. He took me in there after lunch, which consisted of fish fingers, Cadbury’s Smash and Heinz tomato ketchup - Eric’s favourite food. Then he proceeded to fill me in on this new video company of his. He’s a very good salesman. He has an infectious line in enthusiasm.
“Look,” he said finally, “I just don’t have the time to run this thing myself and I need someone at the helm I can trust. I trust you.”
“I’d have to have a percentage,” I said, feeling very grown-up.
Eric pondered this for a moment, then he offered me 25%.
“That sounds pretty fair.”
“It is,” said Eric
Then the children came home with Mavis and put paid to any further intercourse. They wanted attention from their father. For the first time, I started to stop seeing them as unbearable nuisances and began seeing them as the providers of this whole new dimension of love, which Eric had mentioned on our walk. I watched him experiencing it. And I thought that I would like to experience it too.
Mavis did things in the kitchen department, while Dylan and Eric and I watched “Charlie Chan in Shanghai” on the box. Coco was goo-goo-gooing around on the floor. I observed that part of the appeal of Charlie Chan is the relationship he has with his Number One Son. I felt myself getting broodier and broodier.
Then Eric had to go and meet Chloe at the Hypgnosis party and did I want to come? Of course, someone like Eric has to be in the music business, as well as everything else. Eric’s trouble is that he is a sort of cross between Woody Allen and Richard Branson. Woody Branson! But he professes to loathe and despise both these characters. Allen he hates for having the unprecedented gall to look like him. Eric has absolutely no sense of humour on this point. And he hates Richard Branson for being richer than him. Richer Branson.
I passed on the party and went to join Dylan in front of the television. We watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon together. As it started, Dylan activated the video recorder with the remote control doodad. He did it with the ease of one who knew how to operate remote control video machines long before he could walk or even shit under his own steam. In the last line of the cartoon, Bugs Bunny said: “Well, like the man said, don’t take life too seriously - you’ll never get out of it alive.”
As soon as the cartoon ended, Dylan wound the tape back and played it again.
“Well, like the man said, don’t take life too seriously - you’ll never get out of it alive.”
Huh, I thought, unless you happen to be immortal.
Mavis summoned Dylan to the table for his supper - chipolatas and baked beans, followed by cherry Ski yoghurt - his flavour of the month. I watched him eat this, while Mavis put Coco to bed. I didn’t talk to Dylan, and Dylan didn’t talk to me while he ate. Instead he carried on a conversation with his E.T. doll, which he had leaning casually against the ketchup bottle.
I did say: “Are you looking forward to seeing E.T.?”
To which he replied somewhat snootily: “I’ve already seen it.”
“But it’s not out yet,” I said.
“I saw it ages ago,” said Dylan.
“In America ..... with daddy.”
That put me firmly in my place. It was so strange to think that here was a person who thought of Eric as daddy.
But would my son be immortal? I suppose I could always shoot him and see. No, I’d just have to wait. Of course, if I did know, I would never have to worry about him getting run over, or overdosing on drugs, or getting fantastically depressed and jumping off a tall building. But I couldn’t risk shooting him just on the off chance. I’d have to wait and see. I reckon that by the time the kid’s 150 or so, I’ll be able to stop worrying.
I’ve just thought of something - re this business of both parents having to be immortal, if you want to have immortal children. What if this hunger strike of Joan’s goes on and on and on and on and it turns out that she’s immortal too? And all this has been meant to happen? Of course, it would be awful if she dies. But if she does die, I will at least then know that she is or was only mortal - and consequently not the girl for me. How would I find my immortal partner, should Joan not prove to be the one? Unless I’m very lucky, I foresee all sorts of problems.
Either one tells the girl, or one does not. In the first place ..... well, imagine it -
Me: “I want to marry you.”
Her: “I want to marry you too.”
Me: “There’s only one problem.”
Her: “What is it, darling?”
Me: “You see, the thing is, I’m immortal - and I can only marry one who is also immortal - if we are to have immortal children. In order to ascertain whether you are immortal or not, I’m going to have to shoot you. If you come back to life as yourself again, we can get married.”
I can’t see it. I can’t see any girl who isn’t a raving lunatic going for it. Even if I didn’t tell her, just proposed and when she said yes, shot her regardless - well, as I say, fraught with difficulties.
Mavis took Dylan off to bed and when she came back downstairs, she ripped my clothes off, threw me onto the Corbusier chaise longue and ………. as if.
Apart from the fact that Mavis is a grimly efficient young woman, of the type that mugs muggers, the pain in my bum was playing up. I decided to go for a bath.
After the bath, I was feeling much better, though my teeth were hurting again.
There was a knock at the bathroom door. Mavis. She was not after my body. She wanted to know whether I’d like something to eat. She was making spaghetti.
“No thanks,” I said, emerging from the bathroom, which separates the guest room from her room on the top floor. If the truth be known, I could certainly have done with a large bowl of spaghetti, but I feared I would not be able to think of anything to say to Mavis. So I said: “Actually my teeth hurt and I’m not feeling so hot.”
Of course, I broke a cardinal rule here - never volunteer any information about anything, even if it’s true. Moments later, the telephone rang. Mavis called me downstairs. It was Eric, saying that they were going to Langan’s and why didn’t I join them there. I could just have done with one of their spinach soufflés with anchovy sauce, but having told Mavis that I was too far gone to handle her spaghetti, I did not have the heart to effect a miraculous recovery at the drop of a better offer.
I’d never been to Langan’s before I met Joan. It was quite a momentous occasion. I asked the waiter for a side plate and Joan muttered underneath her breath: “You don’t have side plates here.”
I turned to the waiter, whom I had asked to bring the article of crockery in question. He was hovering there, waiting to see what the outcome of this altercation between Joan and me might be.
“What are you waiting for?” I snapped.
“It pays the  rent, sir,” said this waiter.
Well, I laughed, and Joan laughed, and off he went, and I never got my side plate.
On the way home, Joan said: “I don’t think I could ever really love someone who asked for a side plate at Langan’s.”
Dear old Joan.
I went up to my room, the guest room, and I looked at myself in the mirror there and I said to myself: “Well, Ralph, you certainly have changed your tune.” And I have. I’ve decided to become a father.
There. I’ve written it down. I’ve been lying on this bed, scribbling away. And finally I’ve managed to write it down.
I am going to be a father!
I’ll take this fucking job of Eric’s. £15,000 per annum. Car. 25% of the business. I’ll be able to buy a video. And an electric guitar. I can go on holiday - and join the R.A.C. club. And I’ll be able to buy Joan presents and take her on surprise jaunts to Paris. God, it’s true what the man said: a man without cash is like a car without gas - useless. I could have an American Express card and charge things. I must go and give Joan the good news.
I bumped into Mavis on the way downstairs. She was coming up to tell me that if I could keep an eye on the kids she’d like to pop out. And out she popped to wherever it is people like her pop off to. I supposed that Joan was still chez Orson, went into Eric’s office and dialled the number. Orson answered.
“Hi there,” I said, cheerfully.
“What do you want?” said Orson in a far from friendly tone of voice.
“Is Joan there? I want to speak to her.”
“She’s asleep.”
“Wake her up. I’ve got some good news for her.”
“Oh yes?”
“Come on, Orson. Go and get her.”
“What do you mean - no?”
“What I said. I’m not waking her up.”
“Oh. Well I want to tell her something.”
“I don’t want to tell you. I want to tell Joan.”
“Well, she’s asleep.”
“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’ll come round for breakfast tomorrow morning.”
“Where are you?”
“At Eric’s. I’ll be there tomorrow morning for breakfast. I’ll bring croissant. Joan likes croissant.”
“Aha,” said Orson. “So you’ve given in.”
“Aha yourself. I’m coming round for breakfast – and I’m breaking Joan’s fast.”
And that’s it. I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to be a father. 
If it’s a son, I shall call him Cosmo. 
Cosmo Conway.
Dear little Cosmo, at this very moment you are just one of some three hundred million sperms swimming around in my balls. But one of them is you, and I love you already. You hear that, you little fucker?
Cosmo Conway. Cosmo Conway. Cosmo Conway. You have to admit, Cosmo Conway’s a pretty cool name
And if you’re a girl?
How about Aretha?
We're almost two thirds of the way through and I'm going to be so sad to see the end of this book..