Brief and trivial

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Nobody gave me the correct answer to the question of which novel my fictional book group was discussing in A Spoke In The Wheel.

I can’t say that I’m surprised. It was in fact North Face, which is the last novel that Mary Renault wrote before giving up on writing about straight people and moving to South Africa. The rest of this post will contain spoilers, because I feel that I probably ought to explain a little.

The unpleasant hero is Neil Langton, who spends the whole book alternately mansplaining, manpaining, and trying to persuade the unfortunate Ellen that she ought to sleep with and/or marry him for her own good.

He achieves both.

The biscuits are metaphorical – well, a simile, really, and a very odd simile it is, too.

So far he had brought her; if it seemed well to him that she should part with her virginity as a casual epilogue, after an exhausting emotional crisis, in the abrupt and flickering desire of weariness – a satisfaction as brief and trivial as the biscuit which, wakeful, one reaches from the bedside tin – then this must be the perfect, the only possible thing, and she would embrace it gladly.

Sexy, no? No.

As for the incest, I still can’t work out whether we’re meant to think the reason that Ellen wasn’t attracted to her (now deceased) childhood friend Jock is because of the Westermarck effect, or because he literally was her brother. So it actually isn’t as incestuous as the book group made it sound. Or is it?

On a less baffling note, the winners of the giveaway, as determined by Random.org, are VivieH and joannechillhouse. I will be emailing you for your addresses.

The picture, by the way, shows the north face of the Eiger as seen from the train at Kleine Scheidegg, and rather appropriately obscured by the weather.

National Reading Group Day giveaway

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Apparently it’s National Reading Group Day. For the next three hours, anyway. I thought about celebrating by putting together a set of reading group questions for each of my books, but I’ve yet to come across a group that actually uses those. In my experience most people are quite capable of talking about what did and didn’t work for them.

One reading group I used to belong to didn’t always get around to talking about the book at all, but I think that was an extreme case.

Instead, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that there is a book group in my latest book, A Spoke In The Wheel. As the old meme (almost) says, I put a book in your book, so you can read while you read… The book group aside, A Spoke In The Wheel is the story of what happens when a disgraced professional cyclist meets a disabled cycling fan; a story of assumptions, of redemption, and of coming to terms with one’s own limitations. And to give you that opportunity to read it, I’m hosting a giveaway.

The book group scene is below. They’re talking about a real book. It isn’t by Ian McEwan, despite what Polly thinks. The first person to identify the book wins a copy. Anyone who comments here with a guess that turns out to be incorrect will be entered into a draw for a second copy.

In short:

  • leave a comment on this post with the title and author of the book that you think this reading group might be discussing
  • the first person to guess correctly wins a copy
  • people who guessed incorrectly are entered into a draw for a second copy
  • if no one guesses correctly then I’ll draw for both copies from the incorrect guesses
  • if you have no idea, take a wild guess. What’s the worst that could happen?
  • this draw will take place on Saturday 23 June
  • I am prepared to send the prizes anywhere in the world

Those present at the discussion that inspired this (they know who they are) will not be eligible. If they feel hard done by they should comment with an alternative book, and if I find their suggestion sufficiently amusing I might enter them into the draw anyway.

 

Vicky texted me later in the day to say that she’d been sent home ill by her boss (who clearly wasn’t such a sadist as she’d made out) and could I pick Polly up on my way home. It seemed that one of Polly’s church ladies was going to drop her off at the Three Bottles after some event, and Vicki was going to pick her up when she got home from work. Quite why the church lady couldn’t take her all the way home I couldn’t work out, but since it wasn’t really any of my business I didn’t ask, just texted back to say that would be no problem. And, because I had a headache, felt slightly virtuous about it.

The Three Bottles was quite lively for a week night. I eventually found Polly at a small table behind a very rowdy book group. The substitution of me for Vicki didn’t seem to be a particular disappointment, so she’d evidently been warned.

She motioned me to sit down, and murmured, ‘I’ve been eavesdropping for the last quarter of an hour. They’ve established that the biscuits were metaphorical, but they can’t work out whether or not the incest was literal.’

‘What on earth are they reading?’ I kept my voice down too, though it was hardly necessary.

‘I’m not sure. I haven’t been able to catch sight of the book. It sounds vaguely like Ian McEwan, but I don’t think it’s one I’ve read, if so. The biscuits don’t sound right. Though the whole group seems to want to stab the hero in the face, which does.’

‘Right,’ I said. I still hadn’t put anything on my new library card, and whatever this book was, it didn’t seem like a very good place to start. ‘What about a drink?’ I offered. Now that I was inside, in the warm, I was reluctant to go out into the rain. My headache was getting worse, though; I hoped I wasn’t coming down with Vicki’s cold. I told myself that it was probably just dehydration.

She smiled. ‘Yeah, why not?’

‘What’s yours?’

‘Orange juice, please.’

I went to the bar. My timing was bad: two of the women from the book club had got up just before me, and were putting in an order for their entire table. I thought I heard someone say my name, but when I looked around nobody seemed to be trying to get my attention. The place was crowded; I’d obviously been mistaken.

 

The first thing I saw was the wheelchair.

The first thing she saw was the doper.

Ben Goddard is an embarrassment – as a cyclist, as an athlete, as a human being. And he knows it.

Now that he’s been exposed by a positive drugs test, his race wins and his work with disabled children mean nothing. He quits professional cycling in a hurry, sticks a pin in a map, and sets out to build a new life in a town where nobody knows who he is or what he’s done.

But when the first person he meets turns out to be a cycling fan, he finds out that it’s not going to be quite as easy as that.

Besides, Polly’s not just a cycling fan, she’s a former medical student with a chronic illness and strong opinions. Particularly when it comes to Ben Goddard…

Upstaged: an anthology of queer women and the performing arts

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I’m very pleased to say that my story Prima Donna will be appearing in Supposed Crimes‘ upcoming anthology Upstaged.

My author copy came through yesterday, and I’m planning on spending the weekend reading it. I know what’s in my story, of course (opera, travesti, people jumping to conclusions and having to find their way back from them, and more opera) but the rest of the anthology is new to me, and it looks very intriguing…

Presenting the Revial of Jan, Aila Alvina Boyd – Years after blowing her Broadway debut, a former actress is convinced by the playwright to come out of retirement in order to revive the role that pushed her to the brink of insanity.

The Helsinki Incident, Renee Young – After an unexpected, erotic encounter with a mysterious and beautiful stranger, the lead guitarist of a band touring mining outposts across the solar system rediscovers her love of music.

I, Stage Manager, Marolyn Krasner – A short love story about a stage manager, eccentric theater types, a kooky best friend, and leather daddies.

End of an Era, Althea Blue – In the years leading to the death of the silent film, many careers were ended prematurely. But do we really know everything there was to know about the silent stars who faded away?

Knife’s Edge, Geonn Cannon – Amid the insanity of the circus, Arlie and Ru must place absolute trust in each other. Arlie trusts that the blades will hit their intended target, while Ru trusts that Arlie won’t flinch. It would only take the smallest of mistakes to destroy that trust.

I Think I’m Gonna Like It Queer, Allison Fradkin – Theatre is an ensemble of inflection, projection, and rejection. So when 16-year-old Reyna—a performer who’s part prima donna, part dreamgirl next door—desires a duet with Melinda, the ingénue who plays her best friend, she can’t just run and tell that. Or even run and tell Melinda. But with the arrival of a triply threatening romantic rival, it’s five to places and ten to one that Reyna had better act on her feelings before the curtain closes on her chances.

London Lark, JL Merrow – Repairing a salvaged automaton becomes a labour of love for apprentice tinkerer Harriet Hodgkins. But the clockwork coquette is destined for resale, and Miss Pandora’s restoration will signal their separation—unless Hodgkins can engineer a more auspicious ending.

Prima Donna, Kathleen Jowitt – Everybody knows why the great Signora Valli left the Licorne opera company. Everybody, that is, except Monsieur Perret, who’s taken the brave – some would say foolish – decision to cast her opposite rising star Delphine Vincent-Leclerc in Rossini’s Tancredi. But what everybody knows is only half the story.

Oh No She Didn’t!, Debbie McGowan – Once upon a time, in the not so faraway land of small-town amateur dramatics, there lived a widow called Marcy and her beautiful, grown-up daughter, Ginny…

Rise or Shine, Sonni de Soto – What is Cadence Carrington to do? Her public life is colliding fast with her private persona, when her boss at the governor’s office sets his eye on shutting down the club she secretly performs burlesque at as featured dancer and femme fatale, Rebel Rouser. It’s only a matter of time before she’s found out, but the question is will she choose Cady’s steady, straight-laced life or will she choose to be the Rebel she knows she is at heart?

A. M. Leibowitz, the editor, says:

We had everything from actual plays to space operas to period pieces to contemporary romance. These talented storytellers captured womanhood, and women on stage and screen, in all their beautiful, wonderful glory. In the end, I was only able to take ten stories. These are the ones that made me laugh and cry and want to sing. There are erotic and sensual tales, gender non-conformity, trans women, lesbians and bisexuals, politics, falling in love, parenting, youthful crushes, opera, toe-tapping musical numbers, death-defying stunts, humor, and more. This anthology is a celebration.

Upstaged will be released on 15 July and is available for pre-order now.