FICTION and DRAMA
I received an Arts Council England grant to develop a novel set in the Second World War. Since then I’ve immersed myself in rationing, evacuation, the black-out, the Blitz, and Make Do and Mend. At the core of my book are the huge changes the Second World War brought to women’s lives. The book is now complete, and I’ll let you know when it’s published.
Before embarking on the novel I won the Brighton and Hove Pier Pressure competition, and the Bishop Auckland Practise to Deceive prize, and was placed in other national story competitions. My fiction has recently been published in The London Magazine, Mslexia and Inktears.
Extract from This is Nylon
Breath misting the glass, Beryl peers into the mirror hung over the mantelpiece. With her right hand she pushes back a sandy lock of hair that has crept in front of one of her neat ears. Then she winks at herself, and reaches into her bag for her compact. Just one more dab. One more dab for luck – not that she needs it now that Douglas is out of the way.
Blood rises into her cheeks. Fancy going at her like that. Fancy giving Muriel an earful in the salon. And all over nothing. Mind you, he’s been sweetness and light since then. Never mentions what happened. His letters sign off, your loving husband Douglas. As if that makes up it.
She gives her head a little shake. Pats powder on the freckled snub of her nose, the point of her chin. Runs her fingertip over the curves of darkened eyelashes. Adds a dab of Cherry Surprise to her bottom lip. Puffs out her bust and admires the curve rising from her cream silk blouse. After a final fiddle with the raspberry coloured scarf round her throat, she snaps her handbag shut (shame she’s only got her old black one: pink would have gone better) and lets herself out. She’s down the three flights of stairs in a trice, and out into the street, banging the front door behind her. Muriel, who’s pinning in a perm, waves at her through the steamy window of the hair salon, and mimes a yawn. Beryl waves back and turns into the Edgware Road.
In the shadow of the tall buildings she shivers: it’s late November, with a cold breeze nipping at her ankles. She pauses outside Scott’s the baker’s, but doesn’t go in. Then she’s off again, light on her feet even though there’s a bloody war on. When she comes to the Kardomah, she hurries up the stairs, calling a greeting to Alma, the fat waitress who’s always glum these days, because her boyfriend has been conscripted.
She flops down at a table overlooking the street. As she hoped, she’s the only customer up here, though the place will fill up come lunchtime. Now she’s sat down, the giddy feeling she’s had all morning is replaced by something more unsettling. When Alma pops her head round the corner at the top of the stairs Beryl orders a pot of tea for two; she’ll be all right once she’s had a cuppa to settle her nerves.
Just after the tea’s arrived she hears the ding of the door opening, then feet running up the stairs, two at a time. She holds her breath. Harry appears at the top of the stairs, his tweed overcoat flapping behind him. There’s a resemblance to Douglas – they’re second cousins, after all – but Harry’s got a broader face, a more mobile mouth, a wayward thatch of greying hair. His grin his broad; his laugh long and throaty. Everything about him overflows its banks.
In a couple of strides he’s at her table, grabbing her hands between warm palms.
‘So?’ he says. ‘Have you thought about my little proposal?’
She’s thought of nothing else for the past few days, since they went out for dinner at that Italian restaurant round the back of Euston Road. Outside, in the black-out, they kissed in the dark swirls of wind until Beryl thought she’d melt like an ice cream on an August Bank Holiday. ‘Yes. Of course I have.’
He leans closer, eyes bright, the tip of his tongue peeping between his teeth. ‘Say yes. You won’t regret it.’
She blinks slowly. A pulse starts up at the base of her belly. ‘All right. We’ll see how we go. But Douglas must never know. He’d kill me if he got wind of anything.’
‘Oh, come here.’
He pulls her to her feet and they embrace, rocking the table between them. In his arms she can feel his heart pumping, strong and steady.
After a few moments they break apart and sit down again. He lets out a long, long breath. ‘Well bugger me,’ he says, ‘that’s the best news I’ve had all week.’
He pulls a silver cigarette case from his pockets, and presses the catch so that it springs open, sending its rich, moist smell of Craven A tobacco up Beryl’s nose. She leans forward, basking in the looks he’s giving her. Oh, how can two men be so bloody different? He offers her a cigarette and lights them both. His face blurs behind the soft puffs of smoke she blows between cherry-red lips.
It’s a good job Dot’s away, isn’t it? It’s a good job she’s been evacuated.
None of this would be possible if she was still around.