Wrong Frank Bridge

Yesterday I wrote about the composer Frank Bridge and headed the post with a portrait I found of him on Wikicommons.

But checking Frank Bridge on Wikipedia I found the portrait didn’t look anything like him.

And checking the image more closely I realised it was captioned Frank J Bridge.

Ooops!

I’ve replaced the portrait on  yesterday’s post with a photograph of a piano keyboard from Pixabay.

And then wondered who was Frank J Bridge.

Looks like he was a Science Fiction writer.

On Goodreads he has two titles:

Via the Time Accelerator

Wonder Stories Volume 2

Presumably he wrote more but I can’t find any further details.

Via the Time Accelerator was published originally in 1931 and is available on Amazon. I read the free sample: it’s very short and at £2.34 seemed a tad overpriced for one story. It’s about a time machine and it wasn’t very convincing so I didn’t bother with it any more.

I did  enjoy The Time Machine by H G Wells however which I got as a free download for my Kindle some while ago. Published in 1895, Wells is credited with originating the term “time machine” and the story he tells is vivid and real. Highly recommended!

Thanks for reading my blog today.

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Novelists or Dentists

Love in the Head: Ford Madox Ford and Parade’s End

Hemingway’s Icebergs

Book of the Day

 

Sunday Serial #7

Here’s the next part of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray.

I’m following a well established nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of the novel in weekly instalments.

You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.

So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,
read on …..

CHAPTER THREE

Sharon moved hurriedly around the bedroom, tidying it up. She quickly made the bed, placed several days-worth of used clothing in the laundry basket and stuffed three pairs of shoes in the bottom of the fitted wardrobe. Ideally, she’d have liked a shower before he came round but there was no time. She had Louise’s tea to cook.
She went over to the dressing table mirror, thinking again about the letter which Louise had pressed into her hand when she’d collected her from the after-school club. She ran a comb through her hair and dabbed perfume behind her ears. Then she picked up the letter from the dressing table and re-read it for the fourth time.

Leefdale Primary School,
Blackberry Lane,
Leefdale,
East Yorkshire.
10th April 2001.
Dear Ms. Makepiece,
This afternoon Louise was involved in an unpleasant incident with Jade Maynard. They were sharing a computer during the Information Technology session and became involved in a quarrel. In the course of it, Louise hit Jade several times and pulled her hair.
I have spoken to both girls about the incident. Jade maintains that Louise was making fun of her acting ability. As you know we are at present rehearsing the school production of “Oliver”. Worryingly, Louise refused to give me any explanation at all for her conduct.
Of late, I have become increasingly concerned about Louise’s deteriorating standards of behaviour. She continues to be anti-social and aggressive. Please would you come in to school at your earliest opportunity to discuss the situation with me.
Yours sincerely,
Sally Henshall.
Head Teacher.

Sharon replaced the letter on the dressing table, wondering how she was going to re-organise her work commitments in order to make time to visit Mrs Henshall before the Easter holiday. She set off to consult her diary and then stopped. The phone next to her bed was ringing.
It was Ruby Corbridge, wife of the owner of The Old Rectory, calling from Capri. She’d received Sharon’s message that a potential buyer had viewed the house.
‘Yes. I showed him round this afternoon.’
‘Oh, did he like it?’
‘I think so.’
‘What’s he do?’
‘He’s an artist. His name’s Dylan Bourne.’
‘Never heard of him. Has he got any money?’
‘Well, he must be doing all right. He’s going to call me back tomorrow with an offer… a cash offer.’
‘Cash? That’s good.’
‘I don’t know though.’
‘What do you mean, you don’t know?’
‘I don’t know… there’s something about him that keeps nagging at me… something doesn’t feel quite right.’
‘Is he married?’
‘He said not, but I think there’s someone in the background.’
‘Young? Old?’
‘Early thirties, I’d say.’
‘Tall?’
‘Yes.’
‘Dark?’
‘No, blonde.’
‘Good looking?’
‘Very good looking.’
‘Maybe that’s it.’
‘What?’
‘The thing that keeps nagging at you.’
Sharon giggled. ‘Ruby, you’re always trying to find me a man!’
‘Come on. Don’t tell me you didn’t find him a bit attractive.’
‘Well, all right, a bit.’ Sharon smiled. ‘But he wears too much leather.’
‘Leather?’
‘Yes. He rides a motorcycle.’
‘A motorcycle, and he wants the rectory?’
‘Yes. Oh, and he wants to paint me.’
‘Paint you?’ There was a sharp intake of breath from Ruby. ‘Now something about him is starting to nag at me.’
The bedroom door opened and Louise came in. She went straight over to Sharon who was now lying back with her head on the pillows, taking the call. Louise jumped on the bed and snuggled up to her mother. Sharon stroked Louise’s hair.
‘What did he say about the big flaw?’
The vicarage was affected by rising damp in certain places, particularly the cellar. Ruby’s great fear was that this would affect the sale.
‘Nothing. It never came up.’
‘Well, don’t bring it up unless he does.’
‘I won’t. Stop worrying. I told you before, if anyone makes a big deal out of it we just go down a couple of grand.’
‘Call me tomorrow and let me know what he’s offered.’
‘OK.’
Ruby sighed heavily. ‘Now, I won’t sleep all night!’
When Sharon had finished the call she put her arms around Louise and gave her a hug.
Louise said, ‘So? What’s the letter about?’
‘Come on, Lou, you know very well what it’s about!’
Louise lifted her head off Sharon’s breast. ‘You mean Jade?’
‘Yes. Why did you hit her?’
Louise scowled. ‘She was being horrible to me again.’
Sharon waited.
‘She was winding me up. She asked me if my dad was coming to see me in “Oliver”.’
‘The little bitch! Is she starting all that again?’
‘I told you she’s jealous because I’m playing Nancy. She wanted that part.’
‘And that’s when you hit her?’
‘No. Not right away. It was when she said, “Oh, of course, you haven’t got a dad have you? I forgot”.’
‘Christ! I’m glad you hit her.’
‘So I said, “Of course I’ve got a dad. Everybody’s got a dad. As a matter of fact, your dad is my dad”.’
Sharon pushed Louise off and sat bolt upright. She stared at her daughter incredulously. ‘You didn’t?’
Louise nodded.
Sharon got off the bed and paced over to the window. She turned away from the window and walked up and down the room.
‘How could you, after you promised us!’
Sharon made a sudden lunge at Louise. She grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. ‘I ought to kill you! Kill you! Do you know what you’ve done?’ She shook her more violently. ‘You stupid little girl!’
‘Of course, I didn’t tell her!’ screamed Louise. She pushed her mother away and leapt off the bed. ‘But that’s what I wanted to say. It’s what I always want to say. But I never can. So I hit her instead.’
Sharon sank back onto the bed. ‘Thank God!’
Louise started to sob.
Later, when Louise had stopped crying and was being comforted in her mother’s arms, she said, ‘Why can’t we just go away? Why can’t we just go away?’
Yes, why not? Sharon thought. Why not just go away? Inevitably she thought again of all the reasons not to, and surprised herself by dismissing them. ‘Is that what you really want, Lou?’
‘Yes. If we could move somewhere else, away from here, I’d be happy. I wouldn’t have to keep pretending about dad and everything. Can we go mum? Can we?’
‘All right,’ said Sharon.
Louise squealed and hugged her mother tightly. ‘Oh mum! You promise?’
‘Yes. If it makes you happy.’
‘But you really, really promise?’
‘I just told you.’
‘Oh fantastic. When will you tell dad?’
‘I think he’s coming round tonight. I’ll tell him then.’
Louise hugged her again. ‘Thanks, mum. Where will we go? Luffield?’
‘One thing at a time, Lou.’

Read on with the Free Preview below.

Thanks for visiting my blog today. Hope you’re having a great weekend!

Love in the Head: Ford Madox Ford and Parade’s End

I’m pleased to welcome a guest writer to my blog today with some insights into the writing of Ford Madox Ford.

Actor, writer and teacher, Michael Murray was born in Stepney, East London.
He trained for the stage at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Under his Equity name, Michael worked for many years as an actor and voice-over artist. His career also encompassed teaching, writing and directing. Michael is a Drama in Education specialist and holds an advanced qualification in the teaching of drama: the A.D.B. (Ed). He also has an M.A. in Education. Michael now writes full-time. His latest novel, ‘Leefdale’, was published earlier in 2018.

Michael is the author of:
Magnificent Britain 2012
Julia’s Room 2012
Learning Lines? (A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors) 2014
A Single To Filey (A DCI Tony Forward Novel) (Amazon Bestseller 2015)
Leefdale 2018. Michael is also my other half and I’m delighted he’s agreed to my posting this fascinating article.

I downloaded onto my Kindle Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy of novels collectively titled “Parade’s End” (Some Do Not; No More Parades; A Man Could Stand Up and The Last Post). I resolved to read the original work after watching Tom Stoppard’s compelling T.V. adaptation of it for the BBC, which provided several superb performances, particularly Adelaide Clemens’ luminous portrayal of Valentine Wannop.

I’d never previously read any of Ford’s novels: all I knew about him was that he’d been involved in a ménage a trois with his common law wife and the writer, Jean Rhys, and that Rhys had drawn upon this experience for her magnificent novel “Quartet”.

Interestingly, there is a ménage a trois at the heart of “Parade’s End” but it is of an entirely different character to the one depicted by Jean Rhys: the parties to it are either estranged or separated by distance for much of the time and they have very little sex.

The triangle involves Christopher Tietjens, an intellectually brilliant, High Tory who is a member of North Yorkshire’s titled, land owning class; Christopher’s beautiful, bored and philandering wife Sylvia, who is a lost Catholic with a vengeful, sadistic streak; and Valentine Wannop, a principled suffragette, precise Latinist and admirer of frugality.

Like Tietjens, Valentine exists for the world of ideas and the life of the mind. She also shares something else in common with Christopher besides a fondness for Latin: the capacity for making sacrifices on behalf of others. After her father’s death — he was an academic — Valentine provided for her brother and her grief stricken and impoverished mother by working as a general drudge in a house in Ealing. At the time when Valentine meets Christopher she is painstakingly absorbed in typing out her mother’s novels which provide their only source of income. Eventually she undertakes a teaching post in order to keep a roof over her and her mother’s head. Christopher Tietjens’ selflessness is revealed in different ways: he accepts that his son is possibly not his own and that Sylvia was probably carrying the child when she seduced him in a railway carriage.

Nevertheless, he resolves to bring the child up as a Tietjens. Christopher is unguardedly generous and people often sponge off him or take advantage of his good nature, yet for reasons of conscience he will not accept what is due to him under his inheritance.

During the war, he is brought close to exhaustion as he tirelessly strives to improve the conditions of the men serving under him; and he almost loses his mind after risking his own life to save one of his wounded subordinates. These acts of self sacrifice give Valentine and Christopher the whiff of sanctity, an odour which makes certain kinds of people, such as Sylvia, feel distinctly uncomfortable.

Sex and its consequences seem to bring everybody low in this novel: even the most minor characters find themselves in some sexual bind. Malicious rumours about women conceiving out of wedlock abound. I’ve already mentioned that it is thought that Sylvia presented Christopher with another man’s child; it is also rumoured that Valentine is pregnant with Tietjens’ child and that her former friend, Lady Macmaster, conceived a child as a result of her affair with Macmaster before she married him. There is even a suggestion that Valentine is the child of Christopher’s father which would make her relationship with Christopher incestuous. Even the servicemen under Christopher’s command in the First World War have incredible difficulties caused by their complex sex lives.

However, as I’ve said, the ménage involving Christopher, Sylvia and Valentine is largely sustained without sex. Christopher, having been cuckolded, refuses to share Sylvia’s bed but as he is of the class that regards divorce by the husband as ungentlemanly refuses to divorce Sylvia. She, for her part, is Catholic and therefore cannot divorce him. Thus they remain uncomfortably yoked together, although we discover at the beginning of the first novel that Sylvia has slipped her harness and has bolted, having taken up with yet another man. (The equine analogy is appropriate as Christopher Tietjens is enormously good with horses). It is in these circumstances, in the period prior to the First World War, that Christopher meets Valentine and becomes deeply attracted to her. The difficulty for the still married Christopher is that Valentine is the daughter of his father’s oldest friend and, being chivalric and something of an Anglican saint, he is unwilling to compromise Valentine and expose her to scandal. For years, therefore, Christopher’s relationship with Valentine remains platonic. Even when he asks her to become his Mistress on the eve of his departure for the Western Front a series of banal circumstances prevent the physical consummation of their passion. (They eventually achieve this on Armistice Night in 1918 and even then Sylvia does her best to prevent it). However, it is sometimes said that the best sex is found in the head and for that reason “Parade’s End” is one of the most passionate and curiously sensual novel sequences I have read. Indeed, it is unusual to find in a novel of this period the frank and adult acknowledgement that human beings have sexual lives. Christopher and Valentine’s obsession for each other endures over many celibate years and is conveyed with astonishing intensity through a series of internal narratives which vividly explore the force and power of their passionate yearning and the acute despair that attends their unsatisfied longing. The separation imposed upon them by society’s hypocritical rules of sexual conduct and the brakes of their own conscience continues throughout the course of the Great War and it only intensifies Christopher and Valentine’s passionate and speculative reflections about each other in the isolation of their own heads: reflections which, inevitably force them to confront the probability that despite all their hopes they may never see each other again. This inevitably leads them to despair and to the brink of mental breakdown.

It only requires the addition of Sylvia’s unexpected jealousy and vindictiveness to this highly charged and overwrought situation, combined with her determination to reclaim Christopher, and the novel’s pervading sense of neurasthenia is complete. Sylvia Tietjens is one of those unreasonable women who, whilst she has no scruple about making her husband a cuckold many times over, and professes to have no use for Christopher — she likens his physique to meal-sacks and describes him in bovine and other grossly unflattering terms — is nevertheless determined that no other woman shall have him. She has an almost pathological animosity towards Valentine whom she dismisses as a ‘girl guide’. It might be assumed that as Sylvia is an adulteress and has abandoned Christopher her jealous response to Valentine’s appearance on the scene is something of an over-reaction. This would be too simplistic. Sylvia is dissatisfied with the nature of her philandering life; she compares each man that she starts an affair with to a book she has forgotten she has read: and once she realizes she is familiar with the book, ennui quickly sets in. The problem, as she freely admits, is that compared to the brilliant, honourable and reliable Christopher, the men she takes up with appear insufficiently grown up. At bottom she admires and respects Christopher for his erudition, goodness and saintliness yet conversely finds these very qualities in him tiresome and unattractive. Sylvia’s intense attraction and repulsion for Christopher finds expression in acts of extraordinary vindictiveness calculated to destroy his reputation. She even pursues him to the Western Front causing a great stir that brings Christopher only humiliation and distress. Yet these malevolent acts are really a perverse expression of her need for him. She rediscovers this need when Christopher falls in love with Valentine and Sylvia realizes that despite her abundant beauty, which can deliver into her bed any man she wishes, (and many she doesn’t), she is powerless to remove from Christopher’s head his preoccupation with the young suffragette. Ford brilliantly conveys the anguished mortification that accompanies jealousy: the brutal, self-extinguishing awareness that it is your rival who now unassailably occupies the supreme place in your beloved’s consciousness and not you. At times Ford depicts Sylvia as a poised and hating snake, coiled, head raised and about to strike which suggests perfectly her mesmeric beauty and poisonous nature.

It is Sylvia’s jealousy and her motivation not only to reclaim Christopher but torture him as well, combined with Christopher and Valentine’s determination to dedicate themselves to one another, albeit platonically, that gives the novel its forward drive despite its mainly stream of consciousness technique. Much of the back-story and subtext of the novel is conveyed indirectly and haphazardly through internal narrative and the recollections, musings, reflections, apprehensions and expectations of the three central characters. However, Ford is not afraid to abandon the stream of consciousness technique in order to advance the action and this makes “Parade’s End” much stronger on plot than most stream of consciousness novels. I know that this is a great work because having finished it I want to read it all over again, not least for the pleasure of analyzing Ford’s extraordinary method which generally eschews linear progression and conventional chronology and presents events not in the order in which they happened but in the random, haphazard and arbitrary manner that they occur to consciousness in reality. Unfortunately, the unashamed anti-semitism which is espoused by so many of the principal characters makes me baulk at reading the novel again, which is a huge pity. I know that anti-semitism and other abhorrent attitudes were endemic in the society and class that Ford was writing about but the anti-semitism in this novel seems completely disproportionate, and occurs so naturally and extensively it becomes deeply offensive. It is almost as though the writer was delighting in it and approved of anti-semitism so heartily he had to put it into the mouths of virtually every major character without challenge. I know that great literature is full of characters one would never invite to one’s dining table but there is a limit to what one’s stomach can stand. Which is a shame, because in “Parade’s End” Ford creates a compelling emotional triangle which involves the reader intimately and makes them feel that they have an experience of the Sylvia/Christopher/Valentine entanglement that is even more intense than that felt by the participants. It is an extraordinary achievement and a demonstration of the intensity of experience that only a truly great stream of consciousness novel in the tradition of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf can provide.

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Sunday Serial #6

Here’s the next part of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray. I’m following a well established nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of the novel in weekly instalments.

You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.

So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,

read on …..

Sharon couldn’t believe it, she was actually telling him about the little shit who’d touched her up at Killingholme Grange. And the racehorse owner. She’d never told anyone about that.

He wasn’t saying anything, just listening. She hoped he wasn’t too shocked. His understanding blue eyes and concerned expression were ineffably extracting her intimate secrets. She told herself to be careful.

Finally, he said, ‘It’s obviously affected you. Perhaps you should get some counselling.’

‘I don’t believe in all that stuff.’

They were passing through Leefdale’s main street on their way back to Luffield. On impulse, as they reached the village pond, she indicated right and turned into a side road. The car travelled a short distance and then she parked opposite a terrace of three whitewashed Victorian cottages.

‘The middle cottage is mine,’ said Sharon. ‘I thought you might like to see it.’

They stared at it together.

‘Honeysuckle Cottage,’ said Dylan. ‘Lovely name.’

‘Yes. But as you can see, no honeysuckle.’

‘Even so, it’s charming. Have you lived there long?’

‘All my life.’

She seemed compelled to keep staring at it. He could tell that just the sight of it gave her pleasure.

‘It was my parents’ house. They’re dead now.’

‘I’m sorry. They must have died quite young.’

‘Yes. They were in their late forties. They were killed in a car crash while they were touring Scotland.’

‘That’s awful. How old were you?’

‘Seventeen. I thought my world had ended.’

They both stared at the cottage in silence.

Dylan said, ‘What does your partner do?’

She turned to him, slowly. ‘I don’t have a partner.’

‘I’m sorry. I got the impression you did.’

‘No. I said I didn’t live alone.’

She gazed back at her house. ‘I love it here,’ she said.

She started the car, executed a three-point turn and returned to the main road leading out of the village.

Now why did she show me that? Dylan wondered.

****

Sharon and Dylan parted outside Parker and Lund’s. He took her hand and shook it slowly, holding on to it just beyond the point when it should have been released, so that the formality was protracted into something more intimate. ‘Well, goodbye. Thanks for showing me around.’

‘I can hardly claim to have done that!’ she said, quickly extricating her hand from his. ‘Look, if you’d like someone else to view the rectory I’d be glad to show it to them.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Your wife or partner?’

‘No. Not necessary. I don’t have one of those.’

‘Oh!’ She looked confused.

‘What?’

‘Well, earlier, you said “we”.’

He laughed. ‘I was thinking of my friends. They’re very interested in my next house purchase.’

‘I see.’ She gave him her closing-the-transaction smile. ‘OK. I look forward to receiving your offer.’

‘Right,’ he said. ‘What about my other offer?’

She stared at him blankly.

‘To paint you. Fully clothed, of course.’

She smiled, shook her head and took a step or two back.

Laughing, Dylan pulled on his black leather gloves and mounted the Ariel Red Hunter. He started it up, gave her a wave, and accelerated off.

Well, that gets you to the end of Chapter Two.

If you want to continue reading click Free Preview below.

Thanks for visiting my blog today and hope you’re having a great weekend. 🙂

News of a FREE Kindle ebook

The likelihood of you finding “Magnificent Britain” by Michael Murray from a random search of the Kindle Store isn’t great. So I’ve written this post to help you because “Magnificent Britain”  will be FREE to download from June 25 – 29 (incl.) and I don’t want you to miss it!

“Magnificent Britain” was the first ebook Michael (my husband) and I self-published with Kindle Direct and that was back in 2012 at the start of the ebook publishing revolution.

“Magnificent Britain” is a long novel which is ideal if you’re going on holiday and want something to immerse yourself in while you’re soaking up the sun. It’s a very readable novel but it’s not easy-reading. The themes are complex and challenging and the main protagonists are not the nicest people you’ve ever met.

If you look at the reviews you’ll see that some readers love “Magnificent Britain” and others really don’t! Here are a few comments from readers who enjoyed the book.

review 3

 

review

 

review 2

Why don’t you take advantage of the free offer from June 25 – 29 to try the novel for yourself? The Buy on Amazon button below will take you straight to the “Magnificent Britain” book page from which you can download your free copy. And if you do, I hope you enjoy the novel.

(If you don’t have a Kindle there are free apps for phone, tablet, laptop etc which work just as well. Click this link for more details.)

Thanks for visiting my blog and hope you have a great day.

All best wishes,

Cathy Murray

 

Sunday Serial #5

Following a well established nineteenth century tradition, here’s the next instalment of the serialisation of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray.

You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.

Or go here to start reading the novel from the beginning.

But if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments, read on …..

She (Sharon) left him in the dining room, crossed the hall and moved purposely back into the drawing room. Fighting her desire for a cigarette, she sank into one of the overstuffed modern sofas. Her confrontation with Dylan had left her shaken, and now that the adrenalin which had emboldened her to be so recklessly assertive was beginning to recede, she was having misgivings about the wisdom of her behaviour. She’d called him a piss artist to his face! What a stupid thing to have done. Supposing he complained about her? He’d indicated that he was strongly attracted to the house. What if her rudeness had affected his decision to purchase? Her attitude would have lost the firm a cash sale and with it would have gone the new dining room suite. The thought made her almost laugh out loud. Shit! Was she really so abject she was willing to be sexually harassed and humiliated just to protect her commission?

Hang on, though, wasn’t she overstating it a bit? He’d only offered to paint her. Many women would have taken it as a compliment. And it was she who’d suggested he might want to paint her nude. Now why had she done that? He’d never even mentioned it. Yes, but hadn’t he followed her into the dining room just a little too closely? Hadn’t he invaded her personal space? Wasn’t that why she’d put him in his place? And rightly so!

Immediately she was recalling the many bad experiences she’d had viewing properties with single males. The short, fat one who’d patted her bum as they’d climbed the stairs at Killingholme Grange; the racehorse trainer who’d tried to grope her in the bedroom at The Ridings; the ugly businessman who’d stood in the kitchen of Oxenholme Farm and promised to purchase the property on condition she had sex with him. (Just joking love; just joking). After all those experiences how could she have allowed herself to enter the dining room in front of him? Why hadn’t she said “after you” and let him go on in front of her? But then what exactly was it he’d actually done? Nothing! He hadn’t laid a finger on her. But that was the point: they were so clever, they never did anything that couldn’t be explained away as an accident; and it was the apprehension of what might happen that made the situation so threatening: the way they invaded your space and accidentally brushed their shoulder against your nipple; the way their knuckle came into contact with your thigh, again accidentally, as they bent to inspect something; the unblinking stare as they looked deeper and deeper into you, and then…

She got up suddenly and wandered over to the window. Christ! She was really getting paranoid. Was being with Greg and all the secrecy and everything finally getting to her after all these years?

But such thoughts were instantly forgotten by what she saw through the window. Outside, on the front lawn, a little drama was being enacted. Howard had now been joined by his wife, and they were obviously involved in some kind of row. Isobel was gesticulating angrily and jabbing her finger at the Major, who was on his knees by the border digging out weeds. She bent down, brought her mouth close to Howard’s ear and shouted into it. Howard sprang up bawling savagely. Isobel screamed, kicked out at the wheelbarrow and then, sobbing, fled across the lawn in the direction of Rooks Nest. Sharon turned away: she’d no wish to witness Isobel’s distress.

Up above, through a first floor bedroom window, Dylan too was observing the unpleasant scene taking place on the front lawn. It was obvious that Major Roberts and the woman – who was almost certainly his wife – had marital issues. He hadn’t much liked the Major but he couldn’t help feeling a certain sympathy for him. He knew from experience how draining it was to live with someone who was neurotic. For a moment or two he watched Isobel’s tense back retreating down the drive. He then returned to the centre of the room and flung himself onto the vulgarly draped four poster bed.

Stupid of him to have suggested painting her. But how was he to know she’d react like that? He reflected on various ways in which the situation might be retrieved, and concluded that to follow up on any of them would result only in making matters worse. Still, it was interesting that she’d introduced the notion of posing for him in the nude, although he’d done absolutely nothing to encourage it. Was her professed abhorrence of the idea of being painted nude, real? Or was it being used to mask a fantasy which she secretly cherished?

He tried to think of something else, but Sharon’s image continued to insinuate itself into his mind. Surely it was inconceivable that a woman like that could ever be his type? Had meeting her suddenly released within him a long suppressed fetish for short skirted business suits, dark tights and high heeled shoes? Ludicrous thought. So ludicrous he felt himself smile. Normally he regarded women who power dressed like that as a joke: unthinking subscribers to notions of male stereotypes. Clones of Margaret Thatcher. So why was he finding her so adorable? Why couldn’t he stop thinking about the way her chestnut brown hair framed the perfect symmetry of her face: its locks and tresses so attractively curling and twisting down to flick the shoulders of her jacket with every turn of her lovely head? Why couldn’t he stop seeing her big hazel eyes, that combination of tawny brown and flecks of olive green always so difficult to represent in oils? Why was he obsessing like a frustrated teenager over her voluptuous mouth and her delightful snub nose? Recalling her perfect bow lips and the enticing way they parted ever so slightly when she was thinking? Christ, he could even remember the tiny crater just above her left eyebrow, presumably some relic of a childhood chickenpox attack. And he could still see the almost imperceptible scar on her right cheek, close to her ear.
What was happening to him? OK. So he hadn’t had sex with anyone since Zoe. But surely this infatuation with an obviously hard-nosed Tory estate agent was uncharacteristically excessive? Of course, it was the curse of the artist to absorb and retain a more intense impression than other people. Which was probably why he was falling such an easy victim to nature’s timeless confidence trick: his preoccupation with the gorgeous Sharon was just an atavistic call for him to reproduce.

Perhaps the quickest way to exorcise her disturbing effect on him would be to sketch her. He took out a pen from his inside pocket and turned the property details for The Old Rectory over, so that the blank side was uppermost. From memory, he began drawing a full length portrait of estate agent Sharon Makepiece, starting with her black business suit.

****

‘But we know Mrs Brand won’t go any lower… I agree… but if Morrison won’t budge, I think we should look for another purchaser…’

Dylan was descending the last flight of stairs. Realising that Sharon was in the hall speaking on her mobile, he halted halfway down and waited. She was partially turned away from him, standing with her weight thrown back on one leg. The other leg was slowly pivoting back and forth on the ball of her foot. Christ! He’d never imagined a woman in a business suit could be so sexy. But it wasn’t just the suit or the way she was standing: it was the combination of beauty and assured competence that was so compelling. Her voice was attractively low, yet full of warm ripples and little cadences like a clear, fast running stream. Her accent was Yorkshire but softly rural, like others he’d heard in the Wolds. As she issued instructions confidently into the phone she exuded certainty of purpose. For him, who’d never truly been certain of anything, this was a potent aphrodisiac.

She changed weight from one leg to the other, and, in turning, became aware of Dylan standing on the stairs.

Now that was a detail he’d forgotten. The single string of creamy pearls enhancing her graceful neck and complementing the silky smoothness of her white top.

‘Just a minute Tracey…’ Sharon took the phone away from her ear and called up to Dylan,

‘Have you seen all you need?’

‘More than enough.’

She returned to the phone. ‘I’ve got to go. I’ll be with you in half an hour.’

Dylan continued down the stairs. Sharon was standing by the front door waiting for him.

‘The house is perfect. Just what we’re looking for,’ he said, as he approached her. ‘I’ve decided to make an offer.’

‘Good.’

‘I haven’t fixed on a figure yet. I’ll call you about that tomorrow.’

‘Fine.’

Sharon went over to set the alarm. Almost immediately she stopped and turned back to him. ‘Oh, you haven’t seen the rear garden.’

‘That’s OK. I saw it from the window upstairs. It’s the size of a small park. Mr Corbridge must have employed an army of gardeners.’

‘No. Amazingly he and his wife did it all themselves.’

They stood around awkwardly.

‘Well, I’m ready to go if you are,’ said Dylan. ‘Are you confident that I’m safe enough to travel in your car without molesting you or shall you call me up a cab?’

Sharon smiled. ‘Don’t be silly!’

‘I’m serious,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to cause you any unnecessary stress.’

‘It’s all right. I over-reacted, I’m sorry.’

Continue reading with the free preview (link below).

Novelists or Dentists

I’m pleased to welcome a guest writer to my blog today with some insights into the writing of E. M. Forster. Actor, writer and teacher, Michael Murray was born in Stepney, East London. He trained for the stage at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Under his Equity name, Michael worked for many years as an actor and voice-over artist. His career also encompassed teaching, writing and directing. Michael is a Drama in Education specialist and holds an advanced qualification in the teaching of drama: the A.D.B. (Ed). He also has an M.A. in Education. Michael now writes full-time. His latest novel, ‘Leefdale’, was published earlier in 2018.
Michael is the author of:
Magnificent Britain 2012
Julia’s Room 2012
Learning Lines? (A Practical Guide for Drama Students and Aspiring Actors) 2014
A Single To Filey (A DCI Tony Forward Novel) (Amazon Bestseller 2015)
Leefdale 2018. Michael is also my other half and I’m delighted he agreed to my posting this fascinating article.

I once had a fractured tooth which became infected and the infection spread to half of my face. Various attempts were made to save the tooth but they failed and it was eventually extracted. Afterwards, instead of healing normally the site of the extraction developed an agonizing condition known as “dry socket” which painfully protracted the healing process for several weeks.

When the pain of my infected tooth was at its most intense and I was desperate for it to be extracted, I had the fairly commonplace (and understandable) thought that one dentist was worth more to me than all the novelists who had ever written. Assertions similar to this have often been advanced to confute the value of a literary career in favour of the acquisition of a more practical or “useful” occupation: or, indeed, to repudiate the contribution of the arts in general. “Yes, but when are you going to get a proper job?” and so on. A brief reflection will reveal that the observation made when I was in extremis was fallacious. You only have to substitute other jobs or professions for novelists and you will see that the proposition is ludicrous. My only excuse is that I was in appalling pain, was half delirious and needed a dentist to pull my tooth. No-one else would do.

Appropriately, it was after my tooth had been extracted and I no longer needed the services of a dentist that Literature was able to fulfil its indispensable role in my existence and make its contribution to my recovery. In my period of recuperation I felt the need for something soothing and familiar: the literary equivalent of comfort food. And so, I turned to E M Forster’s Howards End. My paperback copy was decades old and fell to pieces in my hands. I downloaded a new one right away with the immediacy of my Kindle.

How delightful it was to renew my acquaintance with the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes: two families representing the opposing sides of Forster’s sublime dialectic; and also Leonard Bast, autodidact and aspiring bibliophile, who, in his unwitting way, is responsible for so much of the development of the novel’s plot. With perfectly judged symbolism, Leonard dies when a bookcase falls on him and buries him in a pile of books. (Forster’s novels often have a high mortality rate).

I first read Howards End when I was in my early twenties, and, at that time, probably understood half of it. I specifically failed to appreciate the subtle synthesis by which Forster resolves his own dialectic.

In my forties, I read the novel again. I comprehended more but had grown intolerant (one of the great sins in a Forsterian universe). I now felt justified, along with various Marxist critics, in dismissing the Schlegels as no more than champagne socialists and bourgeoise reactionaries who, being uncomfortable with their privilege and wealth, sought to deflect criticism from the proletariat by espousing socialism and “doing good”. After all, none of them really suffered, did they? Forster, I decided, just wanted Capitalism with a human face.

My latest reading of Howards End has occasioned one criticism and provided me with a fascinating discovery. First the criticism, which is that the dialogue between Leonard Bast and Jacky now seems embarrassingly contrived and false. It is as though the author had never met anyone from the Basts’ class and was relying on third hand accounts of what such people would say. The result is that Forster, unusually, appears out of his depth and the relationship between Jacky and Leonard is unconvincing. Part of the difficulty is that Jacky is essentially a “flat” character and yet she has to engage domestically with Leonard who is much more in the round. Another quibble: the past relationship between Jacky and Mr Wilcox also seems too coincidental to be believable even though it is vital for the advancement of the plot.

Now the discovery. In a previous post I described at some length Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory or Theory of Omissions. Well, it now seems to me that Forster pre-dated Hemingway in this respect by a decade. In Howards End, there is an oblique suggestion, through the agency of Mrs Avery, that before Mrs Wilcox had met Mr Wilcox, she had been betrothed to a soldier who had been killed in action. The man, according to Mrs Avery, was a better man than Mr Wilcox. There seems no reason for Forster to allude to this unless he is hinting that perhaps Wilcox’s eldest son is the child of another man, which would certainly add an extra dimension to Mrs Wilcox, whom Mr Wilcox regarded as entirely innocent and virtuous. It would also parallel Helen’s pregnancy by Leonard Bast out of wedlock.

Until this reading of Howards End I had never appreciated how much England and the English countryside is foregrounded in the novel. Sometimes sociologically; sometimes scenically; sometimes mystically. It is always there, like another character, involved in the action yet detached from it; often accompanied by Forster’s dire warning that its survival is under threat from building and modern development.

Above all, however, it is Forster’s literary technique, that I shall take away from my most recent reading of Howards End. For example, the dexterity with which he changes viewpoint within a single scene, so that often within the course of just one or two sentences we are privy to Margaret Schlegel’s consciousness and then we are seamlessly segueing into Helen’s thoughts or those of Mr Wilcox or Leonard Bast. At times we may also find ourselves being addressed by the omniscient narrator, the voice of Forster himself, viewing his characters objectively, or from the perspective of the mystical and the “unseen”: making a synthesis of all humanity and reducing their huge differences (such as exist between the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels) to barely perceptible bumps in the great fabric: reminding us that the world needs Schlegels and Wilcoxes just as much as it needs novelists and dentists.

Thanks for visiting my blog today.

You might also like:

Stuck for a Plot? Try reading Machiavelli

Miniatures with a huge perspective

Get more details of Michael’s books on his Amazon Author Page

or take a look at his latest novel.

 

Hypocrisy, Secrets and Lies

There are now thousands of Kindle titles available on Amazon. More books are added everyday by publishers and self-publishers and it’s impossible to keep up with the sheer volume and variety of titles available.

The likelihood of you finding “Magnificent Britain” by Michael Murray from a random search of the Kindle Store isn’t great. So I’ve written this post to help you because “Magnificent Britain”  will be free to download from June 25 – 29 (incl.) and I don’t want you to miss it!

“Magnificent Britain” was the first ebook Michael and I self-published with Kindle Direct and that was back in 2012 at the start of the ebook publishing revolution.

“Magnificent Britain” is a long novel which is ideal if you’re going on holiday and want something to immerse yourself in while you’re soaking up the sun. It’s a very readable novel but it’s not easy-reading. The themes are complex and challenging and the main protagonists are not the nicest people you’ve ever met.

review 3

One reviewer of “Magnificent Britain” wrote:

Warning! This book is seriously addictive! Sir Maurice Brearley, founder and sponsor of the Magnificent Britain gardening competition, is a man with secrets. Biographer Nigel Lush has been commissioned to tell Sir Maurice’s life story. He, too, has secrets. Lady Brearley insists, together with the publisher, that the biography must show what a wonderful man her husband is, but Lush receives a letter from someone whose dying father has a different story to tell. The old man says he knows Brearley from their time fighting together in World War One. Lush wants to add a postscript to his book but is unable to tell what he now believes is the true story. Later, we read the personal testament of Sir Maurice, hidden until after his death, which tells his version of their relationship and the story behind his honourable discharge with crippling injuries. Will the true story ever be told? Not if Lady Brearley’s MI5 brother can help it.

This book is convincingly told and brilliantly manipulates the beliefs of the reader. We are told of cowardice under fire, punishable by execution if confirmed. We read of sexual entrapment to prevent a homosexual writer from telling what he knows. The story moves back and forth from the late 1960s to the First World War to the 1930s and finally to the early years of this century and very believably sets the historic scene with its class divisions and the illegal status of homosexuals in those days. It’s a most compelling story and a great study of the complex trap we set for ourselves with lies and deceit, even if originally well-intentioned. An excellent read and thoroughly recommended.

review

Another reviewer said:

I had previously enjoyed Michael Murray’s very good novella, ‘Julia’s Room’, about a Fleet Street reporter. Here is a book which is considerably longer, epic in nature, and still impeccably written. The story builds with a dazzling complexity but is so well-written and so gripping that ‘Magnificent Britain’ is never less than compulsively readable.

The story is in three parts with time changes between each part. This device lends the book its epic feel. The reader witnesses changing times, changing attitudes, and entire lives that are shattered with secrets and deceit. The book opens with Nigel Lush, a biographer who seemingly has it all, but in fact is missing the one thing that he so desperately wants and needs. In a time when homosexuality is heavily restricted to the point of illegality, Nigel is unable to be who he wants to be, particularly because he is in the public eye as a famous biographer. If he comes out, his career will be in tatters. This issue of sexuality still resonates today.

Nigel also craves some respect from his critics, who look down upon him writing standard pop and film star biographies. His chance to impress comes while working on the biography of Maurice Brearley, a distinguished man awarded in World War I and responsible for setting up the annual Magnificent Britain garden competition. What at first appears to be a dull biography, where everything in Brearley’s life is normal and praiseworthy, turns out to be a hotbed of secrets and lies all connected with the rumoured scandal that Brearley deliberately shot himself in the foot to escape the trenches. This single incident has devastating repercussions that travel through generations and families. To say more about the plot would be to spoil the book.

Author Michael Murray packs an incredible amount into this book. Along with a racing plot, he explores such wide-ranging issues as repressed homosexuality, the class system, the truth and art of writing, and the challenges in faithfully producing someone’s life story. All the principal characters are drawn with impressive detail, so you feel for them all at different times, depending on the circumstances. More powerful than anything in this book is the suffocating intensity of a group of people not being who they really are because of those around them. It is precisely because of this ability not to be honest with themselves and others that causes such tragedy in their lives.

The plot is expertly put together. Time and time again, we see the same incidents described from different points of view. Who is right and who is wrong? And just when you think you have it all figured out, the whole book is turned on its head in a series of revelations that left me reeling and re-evaluating characters and their motives. It is a rare gift that gives the author the ability to profoundly move the reader with a character that was previously portrayed as loathsome and cowardly. Right until the very end, everything is not as it seems. By taking one incident and having different people describe it selectively or with a different slant, the author shows how it is perfectly possible to distort the truth, whether willingly or not. The manner in which this is done is nothing short of stunning.

‘Magnificent Britain’ is a book which deserves to be read and discussed over and over. The quality of the writing is top-notch, the sense of time and place superb – the passages set in the trenches rival those of Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Birdsong’. The way the three parts of the book slot together works very well indeed and the final Post Script (so aptly titled) is moving, satisfying and ultimately chilling. I am rarely this blown away by a book; I just loved it. Read it. You’ll never fully trust a biography again!

I’ll finish this review with a quote from the book. It’s taken from the trench sequence but the description can easily be extended to other parts of the book. “To stand in no man’s land for the first time is to know the deepest loneliness it is possible for a human being to feel.”

review 2

Many thanks to these and other reviewers who’ve found the time to write positively about the novel. Not all the reviews are so enthusiastic but c’est la  vie! Why don’t you take advantage of the free offer from June 25 – 29 to read the novel for yourself? The Buy on Amazon button below will take you straight to the “Magnificent Britain” bookpage in the Amazon Kindle Store.

Thanks for visiting my blog and hope you have a great day.

All best wishes,

Cathy 🙂

 

Sunday Serial #4

This is the fourth instalment of the serialisation of Leefdale by Michael Murray.

If you missed the earlier posts click here for links.

Now read on ….

CHAPTER TWO

‘You’ll have to wait here until I’ve switched off the security device,’ said Sharon. She unlocked the front door of the rectory and pushed it open. At once the alarming sound of a siren reverberated around the hall. Sharon darted inside. A few moments later the din stopped and she called out, ‘It’s all right. You can come in now.’

Dylan entered and found himself standing in a spacious hallway.

‘Sorry about that,’ said Sharon. ‘Once the alarm goes off you only have fifteen seconds to stop it before it alerts the Luffield police.’

‘How do you de-activate it?’

She regarded him suspiciously. ‘With a number code. That’s why I had to ask you to stay outside. Mr Corbridge is paranoid about anyone finding out what it is.’

‘Understandably.’

Sharon indicated the interior with a turn of her head. ‘Well, this is the hall. The staircase is original by the way.’

Dylan approached the staircase for a closer inspection. It rose up the wall to his left and was thickly carpeted. He noted the mahogany handrail which terminated at the bottom in a spiral of balusters.

‘No sign of woodworm yet,’ he said, lightly.

Sharon frowned. ‘I should hope not. The property’s received extensive anti-woodworm treatment. Certificates are available, if you require them.’

Hmm. No sense of humour, thought Dylan. He observed the five white doors which led off the hall and the numerous examples of eighteenth century portraiture which adorned its walls. He admired the high ceiling and its elaborate plasterwork. He noted the oak parquet floor showing in the spaces between the opulent oriental rugs. He was amused by the eighteenth century carriage clock and the tastefully positioned spinet. All this, and they’d only got as far as the hall. Someone had obviously gone to great lengths to create a definite period “look”. He felt as though he’d stepped into a play by Sheridan.

‘Very Georgian, don’t you think?’ said Sharon.

Dylan could do little else but agree.

‘Mr Corbridge was so thrilled to own an eighteenth century house. He was determined to recreate the Georgian style.’

‘Oh. Which one?’

‘Which one?’

‘There are examples here of early, middle and late.’

‘Really?’

Sharon wondered if he was a bull shitter. Bruce Corbridge had assured her that the house had been authentically restored.

‘Shall we go on?’ she said.

She opened a door to her left and showed Dylan into the first reception room, which she referred to as the drawing room. It was at the front of the house and overlooked the lawn. The room struck Dylan as ideal for his purposes: it was high ceilinged, spacious and brilliantly lit by the natural light pouring in through two huge sash windows that seemed to rise almost from floor to ceiling. But the furnishings! They were so oppressively vulgar: heavy, red, silk wall coverings finished with a gold fillet; sumptuous, red curtains held back by gilt acanthus leaf embrasses and topped by a pagoda style pelmet; obtrusive, coarse mouldings on the cornice and fireplace; ugly, squat bronzes adorning the mantelshelf; even the chandelier chain disguised with red silk and fringing. The furniture was mainly eighteenth century repro with a couple of genuine antiques, and, incongruously, two enormous, contemporary sofas that were so padded and comfortable they were obviously the property of affluent couch potatoes. There were far too many pictures in hideously elaborate frames, and the original wooden floor was all but obscured by modern oriental rugs.

‘All the furniture is going to be removed and shipped out to Capri in a few days,’ said Sharon, who’d observed Dylan’s disapproval. ‘Mr Corbridge and his wife are retiring there.’

Thank God the furniture’s not included in the sale, Dylan thought. He was beginning to suspect that the whole house had been designed to create some loose, contemporary notion of a holistic Georgian “style”, which had resulted in a travesty of anything Georgian or stylish. It was a bourgeois shrine to self-indulgence, ostentation and the comfort of excess.

‘Is Mr Corbridge an American?’ Dylan asked.

‘No. He’s Australian. A film producer.’

‘Of course!’ exclaimed Dylan. ‘It’s a film set!’

‘Mr Corbridge and his wife are both very nice,’ said Sharon. Her tone had become chilly.

‘Is there anything that you do like about the room?’

‘Oh yes. The light. It’s magnificent. It would make a wonderful studio.’ He regarded her for a moment. ‘You didn’t say you lived in Leefdale.’

‘I didn’t think it was relevant.’

‘Well, it could be a recommendation. If you’re personally happy here.’ Something in her expression made him feel reckless. ‘Are you happy here?’

She seemed surprised. ‘Of course.’

‘Do you live alone?’

‘No.’ Sharon moved towards the door. ‘I’ll show you the other reception rooms. But I warn you, they’re all in the same style.’

‘That’s all right,’ said Dylan. ‘I can’t say that I admire Mr Corbridge’s furniture or his fittings but his taste in houses is perfect.’

Sharon moved through the doorway and back into the hall.

‘All the carpets are included in the sale but not the curtains or rugs.’

‘Has anybody ever painted you?’ Dylan asked, following her.

She stopped, surprised. ‘No. Why?’

‘Because I think you’d make a wonderful subject.’

She took an involuntary step away from him. ‘Oh, come on!’

‘What?’

She turned back, wary, sceptical. ‘Not that corny old pitch!’

‘I’m serious. I’d like to paint you.’

‘You said you only do abstracts.’

Dylan started to feel foolish. ‘I started off doing conventional portraits. Seeing you has given me the urge to do one again.’

You’ve got the urge all right but it’s got nothing to do with painting, Sharon thought. She said, ‘Well, I’m terribly flattered, of course. Let me see, how does the next bit go? I ask you if I’d have to pose nude. That’s right, isn’t it? And you say, “Only if you want to” and then I say “but I’d be embarrassed” and you say, “Don’t worry, I won’t get aroused by your naked body, as far as I’m concerned it’ll just be an object.” That’s about it, isn’t it?’

Dylan smiled. ‘I thought you said you didn’t know any artists?’

‘I don’t. But I’ve met plenty of piss artists!’ She opened another door leading off the hall.

‘This is the dining room!’

She entered the room and Dylan followed closely behind her. He immediately saw that she was right: the Corbridges’ execrable taste was as much in evidence in this room as the previous one.

Sharon stopped and turned to face him. She’d obviously made up her mind about something. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘why don’t you wander round the rest of the house by yourself? You can take your time and have a think about it.’

The strength of her hostility disconcerted him. ‘It’s all right. I’m quite happy to have you show me around.’

Sharon was adamant. ‘No. I’d rather you went round on your own.’

‘What I said about wanting to paint you. It’s disturbed you, hasn’t it?’

‘Frankly, yes. We’re on our own here and I’ve had some very unpleasant experiences with male clients.’

‘I assure you I’ve no intention of coming on to you.’

Sharon went silent. She stared at Dylan grimly. ‘Take as long as you want. I’ll wait for you down here.’

Can’t wait for the next instalment? 

Continue reading with this free previewer ….

 

Sunday Serial #3

This is the third instalment of the serialisation of Leefdale by Michael Murray.

If you missed the earlier posts click here for part one and here for part two.

Now read on ….

‘Well, here we are,’ said Sharon.

As they drove into Leefdale, Dylan was struck by the village’s all-pervading atmosphere of peace. He knew instinctively that the inhabitants respected tradition and continuity, yet despite having a strong attachment to the past they were not entirely resistant to change. This was evident from the eclectic pageant of charming dwellings that lined Leefdale’s main street: Elizabethan timber frame buildings stood cheek by jowl with imperiously symmetrical Georgian houses; converted seventeenth century barns were neighbours to respectable Victorian villas. Yet the occasional presence of modern cottages built in the vernacular style suggested that, even here, in this most conservative of communities, some modest degree of innovation was accepted.

Although he was cautioning himself to be detached and objective, Dylan couldn’t help but be seduced. Leefdale was so picturesque: the quintessential image of an English village in bloom that is carried nostalgically in the heart of every English exile. It seemed that the front garden of each house, no matter how small, burgeoned with leafy shrubs and masses of flowers in all the glorious colours of April; climbing plants colonised all available walls, their advancing green tendrils complementing perfectly the bricks, chalk and other materials to which they clung; the roadside verges trembled with white, gold and purple crocuses, petals agape and open to the sun like the hungry mouths of young fledglings; and there were yellow daffodils and creamy narcissi too, nodding in the gentle breeze. Spring had startled itself out of the earth and dressed in its many hues was delighting in its own existence, promising hope and renewal. The artist in Dylan was deeply moved.

‘It’s lovely,’ he said.

‘You should see it in summer.’

In some of the front gardens keen gardeners were already at work, scrupulously maintaining that high standard of horticultural perfection which seemed to characterise most of the village. What Dylan couldn’t know, of course, was that some villagers thought there was something rather sinister about the way their neighbours pursued this pleasant outdoor pastime with such competitive industry, uncompromising will and obsessive perfectionism.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ said Sharon, sounding almost proprietorial.

‘Superb!’

‘It’s won the prize for best kept village four years running.’

‘Best kept village in Yorkshire?’

‘No. In the whole country!’

‘So that’s why they’re all so hard at it. I thought we’d blundered into a recording of Gardening Club.’

****

Despite his wife’s objections, indeed, precisely because of them, Major Roberts was now on his hands and knees vigorously weeding The Old Rectory’s borders, flinging the weeds angrily into the wheelbarrow at his side.

The tyres of Sharon’s Passat crunching over the white gravel of the Corbridge’s extensive drive halted Howard in his labours. Somewhat shakily, he got to his feet and stared at the vehicle with a look of pleasurable recognition.

The car stopped close to the house and Sharon and Dylan got out. Sharon gave Howard a smile and a quick wave. She then joined Dylan who was taking in the rectory’s impressive Georgian frontage. Howard watched as she gave Dylan information about the exterior. At one stage she became quite animated and pointed out the date above the spider’s web fanlight: 1780.

Sharon touched Dylan lightly on the arm. She said something to him and then, with a gesture, indicated Howard. Together, they set off across the lawn towards him.

With a good deal of displeasure, Howard assumed that the young man accompanying Sharon had come to view the house. This was not good news. Hopefully he would find it unsuitable. Howard had always regarded young men who wore tight black leather as profoundly suspicious; but he was courtesy itself when he wished them both good morning.

‘Hello, Howard,’ said Sharon. She turned to Dylan. ‘This is Major Howard Roberts.’

‘Dylan Bourne!’ Dylan offered his hand to the Major and was surprised by the limpness of the hand that gripped his in return. ‘You’re a soldier?’

‘Retired,’ said Howard. He quickly changed the drift. ‘Here for a look round?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well you won’t do better than this. It’s a magnificent property. Finest in the village!’

‘Are you the gardener?’

Sharon laughed loudly. Just long enough for Howard to convert his affrontedness into jovial good humour.

‘Good heavens, no! I’m just keeping everything neat and trim. I promised Bruce, that’s the owner, I’d look after the gardens for him until the place was sold.’

‘I see,’ said Dylan. ‘Sorry.’

‘The Major’s chairman of the Magnificent Britain Sub-Committee,’ said Sharon.

Dylan looked bewildered. ‘Magnificent Britain?’

‘The best village contest.’

‘Ah, yes,’ said Dylan. ‘I hear Leefdale’s won first prize four times.’

‘That’s right,’ said Howard. ‘All down to this place, of course.’

‘You shouldn’t overlook everyone else’s modest contribution,’ said Sharon.

Dylan thought she sounded a little miffed.

‘I don’t,’ said Howard. Realising he’d been tactless, his hand lightly touched her arm. ‘And I would never overlook your contribution, my dear. But you’ve got to admit that the gardens of this house are the jewel in the crown.’

Dylan turned and surveyed the lawn. ‘It’s certainly very well kept. Certainly… um… very tidy.’

‘That’s because the Major’s a fantastic gardener,’ gushed Sharon.

‘Not at all,’ said Howard. ‘It was Bruce who transformed the place. Spent a lot of money on it.’ He fixed Dylan with a searching glance. ‘You keen on gardening?’

Dylan grinned. ‘No, my flat in London doesn’t even have a window box.’

The Major looked concerned. ‘You’d be taking on a lot here. There’s an even bigger rear garden.’

Dylan shrugged, non-committedly.

‘From London, are you?’

Dylan nodded.

There was a long pause. Howard, who believed strongly in first impressions, was finding Dylan intensely irritating. The Major had an aversion to blonde, slack jawed young men who, in his experience, invariably turned out to be mummy’s boys. And what kind of a name was Dylan for Christ’s sake? Welsh background, was it? Named after the poet?

Fortunately, he didn’t seem to have a wife or family in tow: and he looked in his very early thirties, so hopefully wasn’t old enough to have teenage children.

Howard nodded towards The Old Rectory. ‘It’s a very big house you know. Got seven bedrooms.’

Sensing that he was being probed, Dylan became guarded. He saw no need to divulge any more than was necessary. ‘I know. I like a lot of space.’

Now that’s ominous, Howard thought.

‘Mr Bourne’s an artist,’ Sharon explained, and immediately shot Dylan an apologetic look. ‘Sorry, I hope that wasn’t confidential.’

‘Not at all,’ said Dylan, wondering if he’d given too much away.

Howard said, ‘An artist? Really? I like Constable and Joshua Reynolds. And, of course, military art. I’ve got a couple of good prints of “The Death of Nelson” and “The Death of General Wolfe”. Do you do that sort of thing?’

‘No. I paint abstracts.’

‘Ah.’

Major Roberts seemed at a loss. He pointed towards Rooks Nest. ‘That’s my house over there. Finest rose garden in the village, even if I’m the only one who thinks so.’

Sharon touched him on the arm. ‘Now you know everyone agrees with you. Stop fishing.’

The Major grinned back at her urbanely.

‘Well, time’s getting on,’ said Sharon. She looked to Dylan. ‘I’d better show you around.’

‘And I must get back to my weeds.’

‘See you later, Howard.’

Dylan gave Howard a nod, and then he and Sharon walked off towards the house.

The Major stared long at their retreating backs, his greying moustache accentuating his disappointed moué. ‘Oh dear! I don’t think you’ll do! I don’t think you’ll do at all!’

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Leefdale
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