Sunday Serial #17

I’ve been following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray in weekly instalments.

But now it’s time to pack away the serial. I’ve reached the limit of how much of the novel I can share without clashing with the rules of Kindle Unlimited.

If you’ve enjoyed reading the serialisation of Leefdale, it’s time to take the plunge and read the whole book! It’s only £1.99 to download although the paperback version at £20 is rather pricey.

If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, Leefdale is a great read as it’s over 1500 Kindle pages. Or over 300,000 words. A great read for anyone who likes to get lost in a novel for a few days!

If you’ve stumbled on this blog for the first time and would like to try the serialisation its here.

But it’s a lot easier to read the Free Preview on the Amazon site which you can reach via the buttons below.

Here’s a little bit about the novel from the Amazon book description.

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sharon guards a dark family secret.

Barbara is fighting to save her marriage.

Zoe is trying to sort her life out.

Louise is desperate to be recognised for who she truly is . . .

Unaware of the profound effect it will have on her and the rest of the village, estate agent Sharon Makepiece arranges the sale of Leefdale’s Old Rectory to Dylan Bourne, an art therapist and professional artist.

The Old Rectory is the finest house in Leefdale. Its renowned gardens are crucial to village plans for winning the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for the fifth consecutive year.

Barbara Kellingford’s father, Major Howard Roberts, is chairman of both the parish council and the Magnificent Britain sub-committee. While Barbara struggles to hang on to her husband, a top Tory politician, her father is embroiled in a bruising struggle of his own with the new people at The Old Rectory.

Zoe Fitzgerald is a drama therapist. Her role is to change lives, yet it’s her own life which needs to change most.

Louise Makepiece is determined to realise her dreams. But first she has to force her mother to leave Leefdale!

Dylan Bourne’s new job is killing his Art. And his romantic obsession seems to be affecting his judgement.

Barbara Kellingford knows that time is running out to save her husband’s political career.
Meanwhile, the tabloids are circling.

Leefdale. A story of inclusion and exclusion; local and national politics; press intrusion; the healing power of Art and the complex nature of love.

 

Sunday Serial #16

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray 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 SIX

‘Have there been any changes in the circumstances at home?’

Sharon considered the head teacher’s question carefully and suppressed her initial response which was to say, “No, of course not. That’s the problem: the home circumstances are as bizarre as they’ve ever been”.

They were in Mrs Henshall’s office and had been discussing Louise for over twenty minutes. Sharon had already been shown her daughter’s behaviour report: this was a little note book that Louise was required to present to her teacher at the end of each session for a signed comment on her behaviour. Louise had been placed “on report” three weeks after the term had begun. The intention behind the system was dual: the child’s behaviour could be monitored on a daily basis and hopefully being “on report” would incentivise them to incrementally inch their way back to a reasonable standard of conduct. In Louise’s case it clearly hadn’t worked. The majority of the comments in her behaviour report were negative. It was a depressing account of Louise’s inappropriate attitudes, and included descriptions of her non-cooperation, swearing and isolated acts of sporadic, low level violence. As punishment for these serious infringements of school discipline she’d forfeited many playtimes and other privileges.

The head teacher had sought to elicit from Sharon reasons for the unexpected decline in Louise’s behaviour. She’d already asked the more obvious questions: had Louise been behaving badly at home? Had she become involved in undesirable friendships outside school, perhaps involving children older than herself? Had she started menstruating? To all of these questions Sharon had answered “no”.

And now Mrs Henshall was asking if the home circumstances had changed; a question which Sharon regarded as an implicit criticism of her own lifestyle. Why didn’t the woman come right out and ask if she’d installed a toy boy in the house? Or if she was shagging a different guy every night? Why be so coy about it? Mrs Henshall’s perceived prurience and moral superiority only increased Sharon’s sympathy for Louise, and she had a sudden and overwhelming urge to smash the edifice of bland respectability that the school represented and expose its hypocritical foundations. How satisfying it would be to outrage this confident, poised, professional woman by revealing the real reasons for Louise’s bad behaviour. You want me to shock you? OK. How’s this? I’ve been fucking your chair of Governors for nearly twelve years now and Louise is his daughter! The liberating effects of even thinking this in front of Mrs Henshall made her feel lightheaded and reckless. But she drew back from such a potentially catastrophic indiscretion. There was too much at stake. If she revealed what was causing her daughter such acute distress it would quickly become staffroom gossip and then the conflagration of disgust would engulf the village. Every household would be discussing Greg Maynard and his two families and wondering how the whole sordid scandal had been kept secret for so long.

‘Do you mean have I moved a new boyfriend in with us? Something like that?’

‘Yes.’ Mrs Henshall looked embarrassed. ‘Have you?’

Sharon smiled. ‘No. No new additions in that department. Look, I really can’t understand why Louise’s behaving as she is. Perhaps it’s something to do with the school. As you know, she was perfectly all right until this term. I think she’s being bullied.’

Mrs Henshall immediately went on the defensive and automatically produced her standard response to such accusations: there was no evidence of anyone being bullied in the school; the children had been told that all bullying incidents had to be reported immediately; teachers had been trained to react sympathetically to alleged victims; the school had an anti-bullying policy which had been commended at the last Ofsted inspection.

Normally, Sharon would have accepted Mrs Henshall’s assurances. But today she was feeling vindictive. She’d suddenly understood precisely what it must feel like to be her daughter, entering this place day after day, crushed by the burden of subterfuge and deception that her parents had imposed on her. Living a lie, unable to reveal who she really was. This act of empathy made Sharon feel guilty and resentful on Louise’s behalf. Why did Louise have to bear the brunt of it? Why should Jade and the rest of her family escape the burden of secrecy and duplicity so easily?

Sharon said, ‘Well, for all that, I think Jade Maynard is bullying Louise. She’s jealous of her and says horrible things about her.’

‘What sort of things?’

‘About her not having a father. That’s why Louise hit Jade and pulled her hair.’

‘I see. Has Jade teased Louise in this way before?’

‘I’d hardly call it teasing!’

Mrs Henshall instantly reminded herself that she was interviewing a touchy parent who was quite naturally protective about her child. More care with her vocabulary choices was required.

‘Perhaps “teasing” is the wrong word. But has Jade made such comments to her before?’

‘Yes. Several times.’

‘You say Jade’s jealous. Why?’

‘She was desperate to play Nancy in “Oliver”. Ever since Louise got the part Jade’s been making her life hell.’

Mrs Henshall’s brown eyes radiated concern. ‘Louise has never complained about Jade to me. Whenever I ask her why she behaves as she does she simply becomes silent and withdrawn.’

‘That’s because she’s embarrassed. Possibly even frightened.’

Mrs Henshall could understand why Louise might be embarrassed to talk about her absent father, but she considered it unlikely that she’d be intimidated by Jade Maynard as she towered a good six inches over her. However, Mrs Henshall’s prudence and tact told her that it might not be politic to mention this. She said, ‘Well, it’s good that she’s at last providing an explanation for her behaviour. I’ll speak to both girls and get to the bottom of all this.’

Sharon became alarmed. Had she said too much? Given the chance, would Louise, in her vulnerable and volatile state, bring down the whole fiction they’d elaborately erected? She felt too weary to protest. ‘Good,’ she said.

But Mrs Henshall was far from mollified. ‘I’m still very concerned about Louise’s general behaviour. Whatever the causes, there’s no justification for swearing at teachers or behaving aggressively. Until recently, I always felt confident that I, at least, could control her. Now, she’s stopped obeying me and is even speaking to me in a most inappropriate manner. I’m afraid that if her bad behaviour continues I’ll have to exclude her for a short period. Which means she’ll lose her role in the school production. That would be a tragedy: we’ve only just started rehearsals but I can already see she’s going to be brilliant.’

‘I’ll tell her that,’ said Sharon. ‘It should bring her to her senses.’

Throughout their discussion Mrs Henshall had been writing notes. She’d acquired this strategy on a course some years ago. The course tutor had explained that taking notes formalised interviews with difficult parents, it made them speak more slowly – less emotionally – and gave them an opportunity to calm down. It reduced their aggression, prevented the interview from escalating into a confrontation, and conveyed the impression that the head teacher was authoritative and in control: that something would be done. Mrs Henshall also found it a useful means of terminating an interview. She always followed the same procedure, which she now repeated with Sharon. She stopped writing and gave Sharon a professional smile. ‘Good. Now, is there anything we haven’t covered? Or are there any other issues you wish to raise with me?’

‘No, I don’t think so.’

Mrs Henshall placed her pen decisively down on the desk. She tore the page of writing from her A4 pad, folded it and put it in an empty wire basket marked “For Action”. She stood and the backs of her legs made contact with the light swivel chair she’d been sitting on, sending it gliding smoothly backwards on its castors. Taking her cue, Sharon stood too.

‘Well, Goodbye. And once again, thank you for coming so promptly.’

‘That’s all right. It had to be sorted out.’

And so they moved towards the door, in the course of which an obvious question occurred to Mrs Henshall.

‘Are you in contact with Louise’s father?’

Sharon was completely thrown. There was a very long pause. Finally, she said ‘No.’

‘But you know where he is if you wish to contact him?’

There was no choice but to continue the lie. ‘No. No, he’s disappeared. I haven’t seen him for years.’

‘Has Louise ever met him?’

Tentatively, Sharon said, ‘No. Why?’

‘I just thought that if Louise could meet him it might help with her behaviour.’

‘I’ve no idea where he is,’ said Sharon.

‘So presumably he doesn’t provide you with any financial support for Louise?’

‘No.’

‘You know there are ways of tracing errant fathers.’

Sharon opened the door of the office and turned back to Mrs Henshall. ‘He’s out of my life. I’ve no wish to contact him again. OK?’

Mrs Henshall registered the aggressive tone and remembered that she was no longer taking notes. ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘I quite understand.’

To read more, click the buttons below.

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sunday Serial #15

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray 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’s first instinct was to drag Louise downstairs and force her to pick up the biscuits. But she knew from experience that giving the girl ultimatums only made her more stubborn. She decided she’d leave the tin and the biscuits on the floor and see how long Louise left them there.

Sharon winced as she moved her right arm to see if it hurt. She pulled down her top to expose her shoulder. It wasn’t bruised but if the tin had caught her on the face it could have given her a nasty injury. She wouldn’t allow Louise to forget that in a hurry.

Sharon poured herself a glass of Australian red, went into the living room and sank into an armchair. She would wait and see if Louise came down and apologised. How hateful the girl was when she was in one of her moods. Although this was the first time she’d actually been violent at home. That was worrying. Such an ungrateful little cow. Always thinking of herself. Yes, her situation was horrible but why did she have to keep going on and on about it? She was no fool though. She’d seen through the lie. And lying to her had only made things worse. Why couldn’t she just have accepted there hadn’t been time to tell him, and left it at that? Yes, it was difficult for her: it was difficult for all of them. But it wasn’t as though she’d just been told. It never seemed to bother her before. Must be the part she was playing. Playing Nancy had turned her into a drama queen.

The more Sharon considered Louise’s reaction the more resentful she became. At least Louise had a mum she saw every day, and a dad who popped in a couple of times a week. How many kids could say that? Or adults, for that matter? Sharon would have given anything to see her parents again: hug them, kiss them, ask their advice; which was why she considered Louise a very selfish, ungrateful little girl. If they moved away she’d hardly ever see her father at all. Was that what she wanted? And where would they find a house as nice as Honeysuckle Cottage? The state of the market was such that even if she got her price she’d need another hundred grand to find anything comparable. And the last thing she wanted was to live on some horrid little estate in Luffield or Sandleton.
Sharon knocked back the remaining wine in her glass and went for a refill. Forty minutes later, when Louise had still not made an appearance, Sharon decided she could wait no longer. She went upstairs to Louise’s room. Unusually the door was closed. Evidence that Louise was still in a strop.

Sharon knocked and when she received no answer, opened the door and entered. Louise was playing with a game on her computer. She didn’t look up.

Sharon said, ‘Don’t you want to know if that tin hurt me?’

Louise said nothing. Her eyes remained riveted on the computer screen.

‘No, of course you don’t. Well, I was lucky. It could have taken my eye out. Don’t ever do that to me again.’

Sharon waited for a reaction. None came. All of Louise’s attention was directed at the game.

‘I’ve left the tin and the biscuits where they are. They can stay there until you pick them up.’

Again, there was no reply from Louise.

‘I suppose it’s a waste of time expecting an apology.’

Sharon continued in this vein for several minutes but failed to elicit the slightest response. Eventually she admitted defeat. ‘For God’s sake!’ She turned and moved to the door.

‘Wait, mum!’ cried Louise.

Sharon stopped and turned back. Louise had lifted her face from the computer. The puffiness around the girl’s eyes and the streaks on her cheeks showed she’d been crying.

She got up and came towards her mother. ‘Your arm. Does it hurt?’

‘Quite a bit,’ lied Sharon.

Louise launched into a profuse and tearful apology.

‘Oh, Louise!’ Sharon placed her arms on Louise’s shoulders and pulled her into a hug.

‘I was sure you’d tell him you see,’ Louise let out, between sobs. ‘I was so sure we’d be getting away from here.’

‘I know you were.’ Sharon was stroking the girl’s heaving shoulders: solacing away her sorrow.

‘I can’t stand it anymore.’

‘I know. I know how hard it is for you.’

‘It was horrible being in that car with them. It’s always like that when I’m with Jade.

Knowing and not being able to tell them.’

‘I know.’

‘But it didn’t matter because I thought we were leaving. And then you said we weren’t.’

She sobbed again.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘That’s why I threw the tin. I didn’t want to hurt you.’

‘It’s all right, Lou. But you must try to control your temper. It’ll get you into trouble.’

Louise stopped crying and looked her mother full in the eyes. ‘I never thought you’d break your promise. You always say never make a promise you can’t keep. That’s why I believed you.’

‘That’s right, you shouldn’t. And now you can see why. Because when you break a promise it makes people very unhappy. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it.’

‘So tomorrow you’ll tell him we’re leaving?’

Sharon realized she could evade the truth no longer. ‘No. I can’t do that. I can’t leave Leefdale.’

Louise stared at her, dumbly.

‘I’m too frightened.’

‘Frightened?’

‘Yes. I’m frightened to leave here and start again somewhere else in a strange place with people I don’t know. I’ve lived here all my life. I don’t want to leave.’

‘So we’re going to have to stay here forever?’

‘Not forever. But at least for the time being.’

‘I knew it!’ Louise cried, bitterly. She shrank from her mother’s embrace and took several steps back.

‘You’re asking too much of me, Louise! I don’t want to leave here. I love your dad and I love living here and I don’t want to leave. I know it’s hard for you and it’s not what you want to hear, but that’s the way it is.’

‘But I thought you did want to leave?’

‘Well, in a way I do. But not yet. It’s very complicated. You’re too young to understand. I can’t give up my whole life. Think what it would mean. We’d lose our lovely cottage and we wouldn’t see dad.’

‘At least I wouldn’t have to see Jade anymore.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. Think how hurt dad would be. He loves us. It would kill him if he couldn’t see us.’

Louise’s expression became suspicious. ‘I bet you did tell dad we were going and he talked you out of it.’

‘No, honestly, I didn’t. I never said a word to him about it. I couldn’t.’

Louise looked confused. ‘You said you didn’t tell him because there wasn’t time.’

Sharon cursed herself for the slip. ‘That’s right. I lied.’ Gently, she added, ‘Only because I didn’t want to disappoint you. If I’d realised how important it was to you, I’d never have made the promise. It was wrong of me to raise your hopes like that. I’m sorry.’

Louise lowered her eyes and said nothing. Her face was completely impassive. She was obviously very affected by what her mother had said but it was impossible to guess what she was thinking. She was so sensitive; felt everything so deeply. Suddenly she said, ‘You’re lying about the car too, aren’t you? There’s nothing wrong with it, is there? You didn’t drive because you were drunk.’

‘I wasn’t drunk. I had a couple of glasses of wine. It would have been irresponsible to drive.’

‘If you hadn’t drunk the wine you could have collected me and we wouldn’t have had to come back in Pam’s car.’

‘Yes. I’m sorry about that.’

‘It’s awful when we’re with them. It always feels wrong.’

Sharon didn’t quite know what to say. The situation had never been foregrounded in this way before. Their bizarre existence as an adjunct to Greg’s legitimate family was something that was never articulated, never alluded to overtly, even though it had been an accepted fact of their lives for years. It was a secret so shocking it could only be normalised by never being mentioned. For years, Sharon and Greg had managed to prevent Louise from ever openly talking about it, until tonight.

Louise said, ‘So we’re never, ever going? We’re staying here forever?’

‘Well, I don’t know about forever. Who knows? Certainly for the foreseeable future.’ Sharon suddenly saw a way of reconciling Louise to the situation. ‘Look, I know Jade’s being horrible, but all that will change soon. You only have to put up with it for a couple of months and then it’ll be the summer holidays, and after that you’ll go to secondary school. Things will be a lot better then.’

‘No, they won’t. Jade’s going to Luffield too. We’ll be in the same classes.’

‘There are other schools, you know. I thought we might try and get you into one in Sandleton.’

‘Sandleton?’

Encouraged, Sharon went on, ‘There’s the Girls’ High School. Or the comprehensive. You could drive in with me to Luffield, take the train, and come home on the bus.’

Louise’s face fell. ‘I’d still have to come back here.’

‘But you wouldn’t see so much of Jade.’

‘You don’t get it do you? I hate it here. I don’t understand how you can put up with it.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Seeing dad only now and then.’

‘It’s better than nothing. At least we see him. I’d love to see my dad again. And my mum. But they’re dead, so I can’t. You don’t know how lucky you are. I’m sure your friend Roger would love to see his dad.’

It occurred to Sharon that she’d drunk rather too much wine. Normally, she would never have used the death of Roger’s father as some sort of emotional blackmail. Or spoken so frankly about her own feelings of bereavement. But the extraordinary thing that Louise said next, put all thoughts of this out of Sharon’s mind.

‘Roger’s the lucky one. His dad’s dead. It might be better if my dad was dead.’

‘Louise! How can you say such a thing? How could you?’

‘I don’t care if I never see him again.’

‘You know you don’t mean that.’

‘I do, I do! Why can’t we be like normal people? Wouldn’t you like to see him every day? Have him living with us all the time?’

‘You know that’s not possible.’

‘Why not? Why can’t he leave them and come and live with us?’

‘Don’t be silly. Think what people would say.’

‘If we moved away he could come and live with us. It wouldn’t matter then.’

Sharon was alarmed by Louise’s attitude. She obviously thought that was what her mother wanted. One day she’d make it clear to her that it had never been her intention to set up home with Greg. But not yet. Louise was too young, and she didn’t know how to put it to her. Her feelings were so conflicted about the situation: pitching and tossing all the time.

Sharon said, ‘I know you want dad all to yourself but you’ve always known we have to share him.’

Louise shook her head vigorously. ‘I don’t care about sharing him. I just want people to know he’s my dad too. I’m sick of hiding it all the time.’

Sharon placed her hand on Louise’s shoulder. ‘That’s never going to happen, Louise. You’d better get used to it, otherwise you’ll only give yourself grief.’

Louise nodded gravely. ‘It was horrible in Pam’s car. I can’t stop thinking about it.’

‘Yes.’

‘Don’t you feel funny when you’re talking to Pam? I do. There’s this great, big terrible secret there all the time. That’s how it is when I talk to Jade and Gwen and Ian. It makes me feel horrible. Doesn’t it make you feel horrible? That’s why I want to move away.’
Sharon couldn’t bear to look into her daughter’s eyes: they were so full of unhappiness and reproach. But she said nothing. The conversation was leading her further and further on to that disturbing terrain she’d always managed to avoid. ‘I’m going to get your supper,’ she said. ‘Hot milk and chocolate biscuits OK?’

‘All right.’

Sharon left the room and went downstairs feeling a lot happier. Her mood was completely altered and she was sure it wasn’t just the effect of the wine. She felt that on the whole she’d handled it rather well. Telling the truth had been the right thing to do. It had enabled her to say what she really felt, and put all thoughts of leaving out of Louise’s head. She was sure that once Louise started going to school in Sandleton she’d feel much more positive about things.

Want to read more? Click the buttons below ….

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sunday Serial #14

mum

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray 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 …..

They’d only just entered the cottage when Louise burst out, ‘Well? What did he say?’

Sharon didn’t reply immediately. She was moving around the room switching on the lamps. When she’d finished she went back to the light switch by the front door, turned the overhead light off and started taking off her fleece.

‘Come on, mum. What did he say?’

Louise gazed at her mother beseechingly. Her whole being was animated. Her hazel eyes radiated optimism. Her expression overflowed with the prospect of good news. She looked supremely happy and sure of herself, confident of the anticipated happiness her mother was about to deliver. This visible evidence of her daughter’s blind, innocent trust hurt Sharon more than anything. More than her own weakness; more than her cowardly and cruel betrayal.

‘I didn’t tell him,’ she said.

For Louise this had never been a possibility. For several seconds there was complete silence.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I didn’t tell him we were leaving.’

The significance of what her mother had said began to spread across Louise’s features. ‘You didn’t tell him?’

Sharon flung her fleece on to the sofa. Casually, she said, ‘No. There wasn’t time.’

Louise’s face was a rictus of incredulity. ‘But you promised!’

‘I know. But there wasn’t time. He had to get to his meeting.’

Sharon set off for the kitchen. Louise immediately followed her. She had a strong suspicion she was being lied to. ‘You had loads of time. His meeting wasn’t until eight o’clock.’

Sharon began filling the electric kettle. ‘He had to be there early to talk to Major Roberts.’

‘What about?’

Sharon returned the kettle to its stand and switched it on. ‘I don’t know.’

Louise was now sure her mother was lying. ‘You could have told him. It would only have taken a minute. “We’re leaving Leefdale and we’re not coming back”. See! You could have told him. You only needed a couple of seconds.’

‘Don’t be silly, Lou. I couldn’t just say it like that.’

‘Why not? I just showed you. It’s easy.’

‘That’s because you’re a child. You don’t understand. It’s hard to tell people things like that. It takes more than a few seconds. For Christ’s sake, he’s not a stranger. He’s your father. Now, what do you want for your supper?’

Louise was standing stiff and sullen. ‘You’re changing the subject.’

‘No, I’m not. I’m asking you what you want for supper.’

The child’s voice swooped in sudden insight. ‘You were never going to tell him, were you?’

‘Of course I was.’

‘No, you weren’t.’

‘It wasn’t the right time, Lou.’

‘But you promised!’

‘I know. I’m sorry. There wasn’t time. Really, there wasn’t.’ Sharon felt the need to offer Louise some hope. ‘But when there’s time, I’ll tell him.’

‘You’re a liar!’ screamed Louise. She looked around wildly. On one of the kitchen surfaces was a round biscuit tin. She picked it up and hurled it at Sharon.

Sharon was so astonished she had no time to react. The tin caught her on the shoulder and ricocheted. When it hit the floor the lid flew off and several biscuits spilled out.

‘I hate you!’ cried Louise.

She ran past Sharon and up the stairs to her room.

Click the free preview button below to continue reading.

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sunday Serial #13

wine

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray 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 …..

As soon as Greg left the cottage Sharon went upstairs for a shower. Afterwards, she returned to the sitting room dressed in a loose top, jeans and trainers and sat pondering what to tell Louise. She knew the child would be bitterly disappointed. Best not to mention then that she hadn’t even told Greg they’d be leaving. But what to say? What excuse could she give for breaking her promise?

Sharon glanced down at the carpet and was immediately reminded of what she and Greg had been doing there earlier. It was the sex which had made it impossible to keep her promise to Louise. It had reminded her that imperfect as the present arrangement was, she didn’t want to give it up. She was happy with the way things were. She’d never expected Greg to leave Pam, but if she told him she was leaving Leefdale he’d assume that’s what she was trying to get him to do. The last thing she wanted was to set up home with Greg and endure all the mess of his divorce; see Pam deprived of her kids at weekends and holidays. All that blame and guilt, who needed it? It wasn’t as if she actually loved him. Or rather, she didn’t think she loved him anymore. Love had been replaced by habit. But habit had its advantages. Right now she didn’t want any radical changes that would drastically alter the balance of forces in her life. The present situation was quite convenient. Besides, she had no intention of leaving Honeysuckle Cottage. To move out would be to acknowledge that her mother and father were actually dead, and even now, at the age of thirty, she wasn’t able to do that.

Sharon looked around the room that contained so many of her mother and father’s possessions. While she remained in these familiar and secure surroundings, mum and dad would always be alive and she’d feel close to them, as she’d always done. She was sure any number of people would tell her it was stupid to cling so obsessively and irrationally to the past. But that was easy to say when you weren’t obsessive and irrational, wasn’t it?

Invariably, such uncomfortable reflections on her circumstances precipitated the opening of a bottle. She stood up, went into the kitchen and returned with a big glass of Australian Merlot. She resumed her seat and took a long sip. That was better! Of course, she knew how desperately unhappy Louise was, particularly with all the taunting from Jade and others about her absent father. It was a horrible situation for the child to be in: living a life of deceit. She was determined to do everything she could to make Louise happy. Everything, that was, except leave Leefdale.

Despite the consolation of the wine, Sharon found she was still vexed. “Never make a promise you can’t keep”. That’s what her father had always said. So why had she made that rash promise to Louise, knowing she’d never go through with it? She struggled to comprehend the thought process that had led her to make such a crazy decision, but could only recall the wonderful feeling of relief when she’d made it. There was no use denying it, a big part of her longed to be free of a situation that was becoming more and more abnormal. She wanted to leave Leefdale just as much as her daughter. That’s why she’d promised Louise she would tell Greg they were leaving. At the time it had seemed the easiest promise in the world to make. But, almost immediately, all the usual doubts had returned along with that inner voice urging her not to tell him.

But why not tell him? It was ludicrous for a woman of her age to be so unwilling to let go. To be paralysed by her fear of change. After all, it was hardly an ideal or desirable situation to cling on to, was it? To be living just down the road from your secret lover, whilst stopping your child revealing to his family that she was his daughter? Surely, if only for Louise’s sake, she should leave? But that would mean conquering her fear of the unknown and she wasn’t up to it. She knew it was unhealthy and preventing her growth as a human being but there was nothing she could do about it. She was comfortable with the person she was. If she left Leefdale that person would no longer exist, and she was terrified of losing that person.

More practically, if she moved away there would be no more popping in by Greg on some gubernatorial or Community Watch pretext. Their relationship would be difficult to sustain. The sex even more impossible to organise. It might even result in discovery. And then what? He’d be forced to choose. She didn’t want to be the one responsible for breaking up his marriage and destroying his family.

How could she possibly explain to Louise all the complex reasons for breaking her promise to her? No, it looked like she’d just have to lie. Perhaps she could say she’d started telling dad they were intending to move, but he’d got so upset and distressed at the thought of it she’d backed off and promised they wouldn’t. She’d no wish to disappoint Louise and upset her, but she couldn’t allow her life to be dominated by the needs of an eleven year old.

After an inner struggle, Sharon succumbed to a second glass of wine; and then, much later, a third. At nine fifty-five the darkness outside her window reminded her that the “Oliver” rehearsal finished at ten and Mrs Henshall had specifically asked that all the children involved be collected from the village hall by a parent or another responsible adult.

Leisurely Sharon went upstairs and slipped on her fleece. She then returned to the sitting room and picked up her car keys from their usual place in the empty fruit bowl. Immediately, remembering the three very large glasses of wine she’d consumed, she threw the keys down again.

‘Fuck!’

She went over to her handbag and rummaged around in it for her mobile. She accessed the number of Louise’s mobile and pressed “Call”. There was a short delay and then Louise’s phone signalled its presence somewhere in the house. Sharon darted up the stairs and into Louise’s bedroom. The unmistakable ring tone was emanating from a wardrobe. Sharon flung it open. Louise’s waterproof was still hanging in its place on the rail. The disturbing noise was coming from one of the pockets. Sharon ended the call and the sound stopped.

Carrying Louise’s waterproof, Sharon ran downstairs to the sitting room. Without the car she was going to be very late. Louise would be the last child to be collected. She visualised Mrs Henshall’s disapproving expression. What kind of a mother would she seem to her? Panicking now, she let herself out of the front door and set off down almost pitch black main street.

The half mile between Honeysuckle Cottage and the village hall had never seemed longer, and she suddenly broke into a curiously inelegant half-running, half-loping trot. As she hurried on past the curtained and lighted windows lining the street, she imagined that behind them the parents who’d already collected their kids from the village hall were self-righteously condemning that appalling Sharon Makepiece who’d sent her poor daughter to the rehearsal without a coat or a mobile phone and hadn’t even bothered to come for her when it was over.

She continued on into the darkness, cursing the refusal of the parish council to erect street lights. Greg and the Major had done their best but in the end had been defeated by the conservatism and intransigence of the other councillors.

Fortunately, ahead of her were the brightly lit windows of The Woldsman. She shivered slightly as she drew near the pub. It was still only April and although the days were warmer, the nights were very chill. Without her coat the poor kid would be freezing. She hoped Louise was waiting outside the village hall, as she’d promised, and not taken it into her head to set off alone. Sharon forced herself on, stealing a quick glance into The Woldsman as she passed, to see if Greg or any of the other parish councillors were in there. But there were only the regular faces around the bar. The meeting obviously hadn’t ended yet.

She hurried on, consoled by the thought that as she was so late there ought to be no risk of meeting Pam who’d probably collected Jade already. She felt awkward enough in Pam’s presence at the best of times. It made her cringe to imagine them standing outside the village hall chatting mumsily about the advantages of different secondary schools knowing that just a couple of hours ago she’d been shagging the woman’s husband senseless.

Sharon had only gone a few yards beyond the pub when a car appeared in the distance, its headlights flooding the black and unlit street with artificial daylight. The vehicle drew nearer. Oh no! It was one of those owned by Greg and Pam. The driver tooted and pulled up. Sharon peered in. Pam was driving and next to her in the front passenger seat was Jade. Louise was in the back, sitting next to Pam’s younger children. Pam pressed a button and the car’s nearside window slid down. Sharon bent towards the opening.

‘We thought you’d got lost so we gave her a lift,’ Pam trilled in that infuriatingly calm and complacent way of hers that suggested nothing ever mattered or was any trouble. ‘She looked so cold and forlorn waiting on her own, poor thing.’

‘Thanks. I didn’t realize it was so late. And then the car wouldn’t start.’

‘Hop in.’

That’s all I need, thought Sharon. She cursed herself for drinking those extra glasses. ‘Thanks, but there’s no room.’

‘We can squeeze you in.’ Pam turned to the children in the back. ‘Gwen. Ian. Shove up and make room for Louise’s mum. Come on, chopity chop.’

Mindful of the alcohol on her breath, Sharon pursed her lips, opened the rear passenger door and slid in next to Louise.

Pam said, ‘Do you want me to send Greg round to have a look at the car?’

‘No, it’s all right, thanks. I’ve got the AA.’

‘Did he manage to catch you?’

Sharon was never sure how much Pam knew or suspected. That’s why she always examined everything she said for nuances, subtle insinuations.

‘Yes. He got his minutes.’

Louise’s highly sensitive nose immediately detected that her mother had been drinking. So that’s why she hadn’t been there to collect her! The child experienced an inexplicable feeling of apprehension.

‘He’s hardly in the house five minutes before he’s off to some meeting or other,’ said Pam. ‘I told him you don’t have to be on the parish council and the Magnificent Britain Sub-Committee. You don’t have to be chair of school governors and the Community Watch. Give something up. Let someone else do it.’ Pam continued to complain about her husband’s civic commitments at some length. Sharon wondered if Pam was implicitly criticising her for monopolising his time. She often wondered what interpretation Pam put on Greg’s visits to Honeysuckle Cottage, and if in private she harangued him about them.

‘He thinks more about his parish council commitments than he does about his own job,’ said Pam.

How can mum bear it? Louise wondered. Why doesn’t she tell her he comes round to see us whenever he can and I call him dad and he listens to my reading? Why doesn’t she tell her Jade and Gwen are my half- sisters? And Ian’s my half-brother? Why does it have to be like this? I can’t stand it. Thank God we’re leaving. We’ll never have to speak to them again.

‘Did you have a good rehearsal?’ Sharon asked Louise.

‘All right.’

‘She’s been thrilling everyone with her singing and dancing,’ said Pam. ‘And she acts brilliantly too.’ Then, noticing her own daughter’s altered expression, she added quickly,

‘Jade was good as well.’

‘I’m only one of Fagin’s gang,’ said Jade.

‘You do it well, though,’ said Pam.

Jade regarded her mother from beneath resentful brows. ‘How do you know? You weren’t there.’

‘I came in at the end.’

‘It was better with the grown-ups playing,’ said Louise.

‘It’s a difficult score,’ said Pam. ‘It needs experienced players.’

An image appeared in Sharon’s mind of Pam’s husband and herself naked on the carpet.

‘What on earth are we going to do about these two girls?’ asked Pam, driving off.

Sharon said, ‘Yes, I got a letter from Mrs Henshall, too.’

‘It’s very worrying. I mean they used to be such good friends.’

‘Yes.’

‘I’ve asked Jade what it’s all about but she won’t tell me.’

‘No, Louise won’t say either.’

Louise pulled a face and mouthed at Sharon, ‘I did. I did.’

‘Shh.’

‘I did!’

Fortunately, apart from Sharon, no-one heard Louise. The car was a noisy diesel and in need of servicing.

‘It’s so strange,’ Pam went on. ‘I’ve told them they’ve got to make up and be friends again and stop all this silly nonsense.’

‘It’s Louise’s fault,’ said Ian, seizing the opportunity to make trouble. ‘She’s always picking on Jade.’

‘I’m not,’ Louise protested. ‘Jade’s always the one that starts it.’

‘I don’t.’

‘Yes, you do. You’re always saying I’ve got no dad.’

Pam’s equable composure vanished. She was plainly shocked and embarrassed. ‘Do you Jade? Do you say that?’

‘No!’

‘I should hope not!’

‘I don’t. I don’t.’

‘Then why’s she saying you do?’

Jade said nothing. Sharon felt inexplicably sorry for her. Yet she wanted to tell her to stop lying and tell the truth.

‘Louise has got a dad just like you,’ said Pam. ‘He’s not at home that’s all.’

Fortunately, they had now pulled up outside Honeysuckle Cottage.

Sharon could see the conversation was taking a dangerous direction. She quickly opened the car door. ‘Well, we’ll have to see what Mrs Henshall says about it.’

‘Yes, she’ll sort it out,’ said Pam. ‘Six of one and half a dozen of the other, I expect.’

Continue reading with the free preview below.

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sunday Serial #12

oliver twist

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray 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 FIVE

Louise had been both thrilled and apprehensive when Mrs Henshall had announced that, in order for the adult musicians to rehearse with the children in the school orchestra, there were to be extra rehearsals of “Oliver” in the village hall on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Louise had known that the grown-ups would be joining them for rehearsals at some point but hadn’t expected it to be quite so soon; and she’d desperately wanted her performance as Nancy to be perfect before exposing it to critical eyes. Now, she was wondering why she’d been so worried. She was having a wonderful time! The addition of the adults and their instruments had transformed the thin and scraping noises usually made by the school’s ten and eleven year old musicians into a wondrously full and sonorous sound. It seemed to ascend from the floor of the village hall, buoying her up and up on a musical thermal while the lyrics poured effortlessly out of her. It was truly magical, and she knew she’d never sung “As Long As He Needs Me” better. And then, when it had finished the whole orchestra had started applauding. All the kids in the cast and the choir had applauded too; even Jade, who’d looked really jealous. Then Mrs Henshall had called a short break. While they were all queuing up in the back room to get their coffees and orange squash some of the grown-ups had said really nice things about her acting and singing. Even old Mrs Phillips and Mr Rawson who’d come along to make the drinks had told her she had the best voice they’d ever heard. They said it was better than Kathy Kirby and Helen Shapiro put together, whoever they were. Still, it made Jade look even more sick. So that was all right.

Now she was watching Mrs Henshall rehearse the scene in which the Artful Dodger attempts to steal Mr Brownlow’s handkerchief and Oliver Twist gets caught and arrested for it. Eddie Arkwright, who was playing the Dodger, and Tim Bainton, who was Mr Brownlow, were both terrible actors, and she felt frustrated because Mrs Henshall didn’t stop them often enough to improve what they were doing. Mr Evans, the drama teacher at the youth theatre in Sandleton wouldn’t have let them get away with so much: he’d have been much harder on them. But she didn’t mind. Even though she wasn’t acting in the scene it was nice to sit and watch the rehearsal. Somehow it made her feel she belonged. It was great to feel part of this amazing thing they were all making. It made her feel normal, as though it was what she’d been born for and there was nothing else more important in the world.

But she couldn’t really concentrate much on what the other actors were doing because her mind kept twisting and turning like a swallow in flight. She kept thinking about all the work she’d just done in rehearsal; going over the bits she’d got right and delighting in her execution of the moves and the business, worrying about her timing and the things she’d failed to bring off successfully; for like all artists, young or old, she was a perfectionist and her curse was that she could never be satisfied. And yet, into all these stimulating thoughts an even more delicious one kept intruding: the thought that at last everything was going to change. Mum was going to tell dad they’d be leaving and going far away, never to return. And then they’d be free of Leefdale and all the lies and the pretending. The dreadful burden of secrecy would be lifted from her forever. This rare certainty made her feel gloriously happy and she was sure that everything was at last going to be wonderful.

How she loved the thought of change and the excitement of the new! That’s why she wanted to be an actor. You didn’t stay in one place: you toured with the play or musical and if you were a movie actor you filmed all over the world. She knew it was true because of the play on the radio. It was set in the olden days, in the Tudor period. All the other kids thought it was weird to like listening to plays on the radio. She didn’t care. It was lovely listening to the radio because you could make up your own pictures. There was nothing nicer than being alone in your own room, lying on the bed and listening to the different voices of characters that seemed to come from outer space. They changed in tone ever so slightly every time they spoke so that you knew exactly what they were thinking and feeling. The play on the radio had seemed as real to her as anything that had ever happened. A band of travelling players were going from place to place and every night they’d perform at another village or remote farm. It was lovely listening to the sound of the actors’ voices and the noise made by the wheels of the carts and the horses’ hooves as they travelled along from place to place. But the best noise, and the one she remembered most, was the sound of the footsteps crisply crunching over the ground when the actors arrived at a new place and made their way to the barn or the yard of the inn where they were going to do their show. Just listening to those footsteps made her feel wonderful things were going to happen. And all the time there was the strange Tudor music being played on instruments that sounded like recorders and drums but weren’t really proper recorders and drums at all, and were slightly off key and muffled. Travelling players! That’s what those actors were called and that’s what she wanted to be. Her whole life would be like that, now mum had promised to tell dad they were leaving. They wouldn’t go right away, of course. She’d do her part in “Oliver” first. But then, at the end of the term they’d be off. She’d leave Leefdale and never come back. She had to get away from Leefdale. Not just because of the secrecy and having to hide who you really were, and having to be careful all the time not to let on that Jade’s dad was your dad too and he secretly came round to see you and mum. She had to get away because only then would life change. She could feel the new life beckoning, tugging her off to endless possibilities. She was so glad mum was going to tell dad they were leaving. At last life was going to change for the better and she was going to be happy forever and the bullying would stop.

Read on with the free preview below.

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sharon guards a dark family secret.

Barbara is fighting to save her marriage.

Zoe is trying to sort her life out.

Louise is desperate to be recognised for who she truly is . . .

Unaware of the profound effect it will have on her and the rest of the village, estate agent Sharon Makepiece arranges the sale of Leefdale’s Old Rectory to Dylan Bourne, an art therapist and professional artist.

The Old Rectory is the finest house in Leefdale. Its renowned gardens are crucial to village plans for winning the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for the fifth consecutive year.

Barbara Kellingford’s father, Major Howard Roberts, is chairman of both the parish council and the Magnificent Britain sub-committee. While Barbara struggles to hang on to her husband, a top Tory politician, her father is embroiled in a bruising struggle of his own with the new people at The Old Rectory.

Zoe Fitzgerald is a drama therapist. Her role is to change lives, yet it’s her own life which needs to change most.

Louise Makepiece is determined to realise her dreams. But first she has to force her mother to leave Leefdale!

Dylan Bourne’s new job is killing his Art. And his romantic obsession seems to be affecting his judgement.

Barbara Kellingford knows that time is running out to save her husband’s political career.
Meanwhile, the tabloids are circling.

Leefdale. A story of inclusion and exclusion; local and national politics; press intrusion; the healing power of Art and the complex nature of love.

Sunday Serial #10

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray 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 FOUR

After parting from Sharon outside her office in Luffield, Dylan Bourne set off for his immediate destination which was York. In this ancient, walled city the Station Hotel had served as his base for the past six days. It was from here that he’d ventured forth every morning to motorcycle all over North and East Yorkshire searching for potential properties; and every evening he’d returned, having left behind him several happy estate agents, each one under the impression that they’d definitely be receiving a cash offer from him for one of their overpriced pieces of real estate. Unfortunately, he’d never possessed the authority to make such a promise: the decision to purchase a property required the agreement of his colleagues. But Dylan was one of those people who wanted others to be happier than reality usually permits them to be.

He arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon and headed straight for the lounge where he settled in to a comfortable arm chair and ordered a cream tea. Whilst waiting for it to arrive he again studied the property details for The Old Rectory and indulged himself in a pleasant recollection of Sharon Makepiece’s memorable eyes and her other undeniable attributes. Later, after scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream washed down with two cups of Earl Grey, he went up to his room where he showered, changed his clothes, packed his few belongings and checked out. He then drove the Ariel Red Hunter back to London via the A1 and M11, at times approaching speeds slightly in excess of seventy miles an hour, and arrived at the outskirts of the capital just after nightfall.

His destination was a luxury riverside development in Narrow Street, Limehouse. This was the home of Charles Reynolds, who, after his elevation to the peerage by New Labour, was now known as Lord Reynolds of Sandleton-on-Sea. The popular East Yorkshire fishing resort had been chosen by Charles as the territorial designation for his title because in 1951 he’d been born there into a family of hotel keepers. His all-consuming ambition in youth, however, was not to be an hotelier but a painter. In order to realize his dream he’d deeply antagonised his parents. On his eighteenth birthday, they’d been shocked when their gift of a fourteen bedroomed hotel had been ungratefully rejected in favour of a place at The Slade. Sadly, in the years following graduation, Charles discovered that a combination of rejection and lack of material comforts was vitiating what little single-mindedness of purpose he possessed for the creation of Art. Five years and dozens of unsold pictures later, he humbly returned to Sandleton to claim his birthright, and then rapidly achieved the material success his parents had always wished for him. His first fortune had been made from property; his second from buying and selling Old Masters. These early, seminal experiences gave him an ineluctable faith in the transformative power of Art, and the unshakable conviction that in a civilised country no-one should ever be denied access to decent accommodation. Which is why, in 1995, he’d broken with decades of family tradition and joined the Labour Party. It was also at this time that he’d established The Sandleton Trust, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to using art and art therapy to transform the lives of young people who’d been excluded from mainstream education because of their anti-social behaviour.

Charles opened the door of his penthouse apartment and greeted Dylan warmly. He then ushered him into the main reception area where a man and two women were sitting drinking white wine. Their names were Eric, Toni and Zoe. Eric was in his late twenties: his caramel skin tone, springy black hair and light blue eyes indicated a lineage rich in racial diversity. He was smartly but casually dressed in a white open necked shirt, brown leather jacket and beige chinos. His long hair would have suggested non-conformity if it hadn’t been so stylishly cut. Toni was several years older than Eric. She wore a navy blue cardigan over a pink blouse and her grey skirt was knee length. Blue tights and navy blue high heeled shoes completed her outfit which was vaguely redolent of school uniform. Her fair hair was cut short and her rimless spectacles gave her a slightly severe look which vanished on better acquaintance when you saw that her face was actually radiating kindness and integrity. By contrast, Zoe was dressed fashionably but sportily in white trainers, white joggers with a drawstring waist and a pastel blue T shirt. She wore only one piece of jewellery, a necklace in blue coral. These colours perfectly complemented her long titian hair and cobalt blue eyes that glinted with unusual lights. Her hair and skin had the wholesome glow of those who spend as much time as they can in the open air. Her face was striking and had a perfect balance of features but was prevented from being conventionally beautiful by a slight twist of pugnacity about the mouth. She’d studied drama at university and had acted professionally for a while. Like many actresses her face was unusually expressive: so sensitive an instrument for conveying mood and emotion that she appeared to feel things much more keenly than others; and often did. Charles was dressed formally in the businessman’s standard uniform of light grey suit, blue shirt and red silk tie. He was a man in his late forties, of medium height and with closely cropped greying hair. Only his stylish Italian spectacle frames prevented him from appearing completely stuffy and boring, and indicated the possibility of a slightly more intriguing hinterland. In this smart company, Dylan, who was wearing his unwashed grey T shirt and faded blue jeans, looked somewhat under-dressed. Yet, despite his recent long journey, he appeared to be the only one who was completely at his ease.

Eric waved a greeting and smiled. Toni said, ‘Hello.’ Zoe nodded coolly. Then Toni and Eric started to bombard him with questions.

‘Hang on!’ said Dylan. ‘I’m dying to go to the loo.’

When he returned he found bowls of chilli con carne and salad had appeared. Charles offered wine. Dylan declined and asked for mineral water. They started to eat and the questions began again, polite banal questions: how had he enjoyed York? What had he done in the evenings? What had the traffic been like on the motorway? Dylan’s responses were perfunctory because he was not only tired but disorientated. Outside the penthouse, dark, warm night had fallen. The Thames was winding luminously between canyons of post-modernist apartment buildings, its flat surface iridescent with the reflected light from thousands of domestic light bulbs. Downstream the aircraft warning light on the roof of Canary Wharf was pulsing with mesmeric regularity. But the built environment was competing for attention with much more compelling images in Dylan’s mind: the Yorkshire landscape and Sharon Makepiece. He was surprised to find himself yearning for both.

‘So, what have you got for us?’ asked Charles. The meal was over; coffee served; the real business of the meeting had begun.

Dylan opened his canvas duffle bag and took out the details of properties he’d identified as suitable for the establishment of the first social inclusion unit in Yorkshire. He placed them on the coffee table. ‘As I told Charles on the phone, there were an enormous number of properties in the target area which met our criteria and fell within budget. I’ve managed to reduce them to a shortlist of six.’

The estate agents’ descriptions were passed around and scrutinised while Dylan gave his personal impressions of the six properties he’d identified as potential purchases. He was then subjected to rigorous questioning about them and the advantages and disadvantages of each property were discussed in full. Disagreements were aired; positions taken up; opinions began to harden like cement.

Although he thought Cold Dale Farm probably came nearest to meeting their needs, Dylan didn’t attempt to promote the purchase of any particular property. He simply described the merits of each and was happy to answer questions and provide further information whenever it was appropriate. Otherwise, he was content to rest his aching limbs and relax as best he could on Charles’s uncomfortable minimalist furniture. He’d have given anything to have gone straight home to bed but he knew that wasn’t an option. Charles was flying out the following day to Washington. He was part of a delegation of members of the Upper House who were touring the United States researching the work of social inclusion units. He wouldn’t return for three weeks. A decision on the property had to be made that night.

Charles removed his glasses and fixed Dylan with an unnervingly myopic blue stare.

‘Well, Dylan. We seem to have reached an impasse. You’ve had the opportunity to view all of these properties. Which one do you think is the most suitable?’

Dylan smiled and was astonished to hear himself say, ‘The one that’s made the least impact on you all: Leefdale rectory.’

Read on with the free preview below.

Colourful Characters in a Bleak Landscape

I’m pleased to welcome a guest writer to my blog today with a personal memoir of drama teacher Giselle Birke.

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.

Giselle Birke was my first drama tutor and director. I remember with great fondness being directed by her in “The Crucible”, “An Elizabethan Evening” and “Tovarich”. That was in the sixties at the Toynbee School of Drama which was based at Toynbee Hall in Commercial Street in London’s East End. We were very lucky to have the beautifully appointed Curtain Theatre to perform in on the same site.

“Toynbee” as its students called it, was an evening drama school under the aegis of the Bethnal Green Institute. Giselle taught and directed there for many, many years. A great number of successful actors, some of them today’s household names, knew and were taught by Giselle.

Later, Giselle also became a colleague. After I graduated from RADA I became an actor and a qualified drama teacher. It was at this time that Giselle approached me and asked if I would help her work with the students at Toynbee. By then the school was in decline because of financial cut-backs and was being run single-handedly by Giselle on a shoe string. I would not be paid, but it was Giselle who was asking me, so how could I refuse? However, Giselle strove loyally to get me paid and a year later, thanks to her resourceful efforts, I was remunerated for my work. I cite this as an example of her determination in all things.

Giselle never spoke to me of her early years in Germany. And having read her book “Colourful Characters in a Bleak Landscape” I can understand why. In the book Giselle recounts an idyllic childhood spent on the large estate in north eastern Germany owned by her upper middle class family. But then the Second World War came and with it the destruction of her entire way of life; for example: her family were not supporters of Hitler but she was press ganged into the Hitler Youth.

Giselle’s memoir mainly chronicles her experiences of the Russian invasion. To escape the Russians she was forced to join with huge numbers of refugees and travel miles and miles through Germany seeking safety with her relatives: the “Colourful Characters” of the book’s title. Often she slept out in the open, existing, if she were lucky, on scraps of dry bread, riding on the outside of trains, and experiencing horrendous vicissitudes against a background of invasion by the Russian, American and British armies. As a beautiful, blonde 17 year old she was in constant danger of being raped. Indeed, she was nearly raped by a Russian soldier on one occasion and only saved herself by determinedly fighting him off. As I read Giselle’s book, time and time again I found myself asking, “How on earth did she endure this?” Yet all the while, amidst all of the chaos and upheaval, she continued to nourish and keep alive her dream of a better world in which she would fulfil her ambition of becoming an actress.

Giselle describes how her father and mother were ejected from their estate by the invading Russians. She became a displaced person but eventually managed to get to Berlin where she found employment as a nurse in a private clinic. However, she had to give this job up because of the unwanted attentions of a patient who was pressuring her to give him sexual favours.

With amazing courage for a young German woman after the war, Giselle, who spoke little English, decided to travel alone to England and settle here. And it is at this point that her account ends. One of the conditions of Giselle’s permit to settle in England was that she had to do domestic work for four years. She learnt English, studied drama in the evenings and later found work as an actress in repertory, radio and television and in films. She studied for and gained an LRAM and a Diploma in English Literature after which she became a drama tutor. As well as teaching and directing in the evenings at the Toynbee School of Drama she also taught at full-time drama schools.

When I first met Giselle in 1965 I had no idea that she was German. Her English pronunciation and idiom were so perfect. The story of how she came to England alone and attained such a command of English that she was able to achieve her ambition to act on the English stage is as remarkable, in its way, as “Colourful Characters in a Bleak Landscape”. Sadly, I fear that a sequel will never be written. I discovered on the Actors’ Equity Website “In Memorium” page for 2012 that a Giselle Birke passed away that year.

I had always admired Giselle: if I had known only half of her traumatic backstory my admiration for her would have been immeasurable. She was always passionately and profoundly anti-racist. Reading her memoir has enabled me to see why.

Giselle is a superb writer of English and her graphic descriptions of the collapse of Nazi Germany from the perspective of a displaced person are compelling and provide an important social and historical document. I literally couldn’t put this book down, it is so readable. I think the book would make a fascinating film. I do hope some enterprising screenwriter or director will read it.

If nothing else, “Colourful Characters in a Bleak Landscape” provides compelling reasons why, despite the imperfections of the European Union, we should remain pro-European. We don’t want to see another catastrophe like the Second World War bringing terror once again into the heart of Europe.

Sunday Serial #9

Leefdale

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray 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 …..

‘Are you going to stay there all night?’ Greg asked.

Sharon was lying on the carpet, naked, watching him as he hastily dressed. She’d been lying in this position ever since he’d extricated himself from her. Her blouse was scrunched up between her legs absorbing the last residue of fluids. She wanted only to stay like this for a while, staggering her return from that far, far shore on to which she’d been transported by the crashing waves of her orgasm. Why was he talking to her? She wanted only to be quiet and still and facilitate her soul’s reunion with the material body from which it had partially and rapturously separated; a body that was still registering faint yet unpredictable aftershocks of indescribable pleasure. They were only an echo of their former intensity but she’d no wish for these exquisite little tremors and shivers to cease. She couldn’t bear the last vestiges of ecstasy to vanish, restoring her again to the plane of the ordinary. Yet how difficult it was to sustain the thrill of that orgasm: to maintain her tenuous hold on those ineffable sensations. She wanted those feelings to last forever. She wanted to lie still and quiet and think only of the sex; she wanted to postpone all thoughts of that broken promise to Louise. She wanted to forget that, yet again, sex had made her her own gaoler.

She watched Greg putting on his underpants. Those same underpants that Pam had probably washed and ironed. Don’t go there, Sharon, she told herself. Better to recall the way he’d stared at her bare breasts in rapt admiration: how he’d spread his fingers wide and stroked both of them, lightly at first, so she could feel nothing but the tantalising brush of his hands over her soft, bare skin. And then his tongue going and making quick, urgent licks and kisses all over her breasts and in the cleft between them before taking each nipple between his teeth, gently bringing his teeth together over it and then the nipple going deeper into his mouth, his tongue flicking and agitating it into hardness. The memory made her nipples swell and grow hard again. She felt a faint renewal of the blind, moist welling up from the depths of her.

She smiled at him and said, ‘I’ll get up in a minute. Just coming down to earth.’

He looked conceited. ‘It was that good, eh?’

‘No, it was terrible,’ she said, and laughed. He laughed too, but afterwards the look he gave her was uncertain.

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