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The opening chapter to: The Truth About This Charming Man

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IMG_0618Act I

Scene One

Zlata Ruzencova must be the worst theatrical agent in London. In five years she has only ever managed to secure me two acting jobs. A track record that’s even less impressive when you realise that:

  1. A) I’m the only actor she actually has ‘on her books’, and
  2. B) that first role was playing a part she’d devised!

Still, she did find me Nathia. And though working for Nathia can be something of a challenge (the role being somewhat unusual) I have had quite a run. And it does pay well. I should probably be more grateful. But it’s hard to be grateful when you’re sitting in the back of a cab fuming over the disappearance of your watch.

“Zlata – have you got my watch? Zlata?”

“Hello. Zlata is not here at the moments. She is very busy person. Please do leave nice message after the noise. Beeeeep.”

“Zlata – quit messing about. Zlata. Zlata!” But she’s hung up.

Nathia’s smiling when she opens the door. A big, warm, welcoming smile that promises an evening of laughter and cocktails. It’s fake, of course – she’s just rehearsing. In our four years together I’ve learnt more from Nathia than I ever learnt at drama school.

The smile falters when she sees that it’s me. “You’re late,” she says with enough venom to poison a small army. She turns and stomps back into her apartment, and I notice she’s already in full costume: slim-fit high-waist sleek-black trousers, semi-translucent shirt, killer heels – the usual Nathia attire. I glance at the ornate wall clock, which seems to glare back from inside its black wooden case. Even the pendulum is swinging back and forth in an impatient manner.

“We’ve got plenty of time,” I shout from the hallway as I hang up my jacket and turn off my mobile phone. “They’re not due for another forty minutes, and you know what they’re like; Rachel’s probably still herding Michael out the door.”

But Nathia doesn’t say anything, and as I enter her palatial kitchen she’s chopping carrots in a way that suggests parts of my anatomy could be next.

Tanya’s here. Of course. She doesn’t say anything either. Just leans against the fridge, watching the master chef at work whilst occasionally sipping beer from a bottle. She’s wearing a ripped T-shirt that seems slightly incongruent for a woman who looks every one of her forty-six years. When the slogan on the front catches my eye I fail spectacularly to hide a frown. Who’d have thought it was possible to get that many expletives into one sentence? Isn’t language a wonderful thing.

She doesn’t like me very much, Tanya. I’m an obstacle. I stand between her and what she wants – which, in broad terms, is an end to what she sees as a ‘farce’. She turns slowly to look in my direction and I give her my biggest broadest smile, but she turns away with a shake of her head, and I’m slightly disappointed when all those piercings fail to jangle.

“Look,” I say, “sorry about cutting it a bit fine. I lost track of time. Literally, actually. You remember Zlata – my agent? Well, she’s been doing an evening class in – would you believe – watch stealing! You know, right off your wrist? I mean, who the hell thought running a class like that would be a good idea? Anyway, it turns out my agent is the star pupil!” I proffer my naked wrist as evidence. Neither woman seems the slightest bit interested.

“Are you planning on standing there all night?” asks Nathia without looking up. “Only I’d quite like you to change for dinner? If that would be all right with you?”

“Sure,” I say. I know better than to question her authority, but I do so anyway. “We don’t need to catch up first? Nothing that I need to know?”

“Like what?” she asks after a moment. I shrug.

“I dunno. The usual: am I still working for Amnesty International? Has my Dad had his knee operation? Have I started writing that book I’m always going on about? That sort of thing.”

“Nothing’s changed,” says Nathia, and I swear I see Tanya wince slightly. “Just go and get ready.”

“Okay,” I say, and turn to leave.

“And Edwin,” adds Nathia, “wear the blue shirt tonight.

* * * *

My name isn’t Edwin. It’s William. Will to my friends. Though it could just as easily be Gary, or Roger, or Stephan – just tell me who you’d like me to be and watch me morph into someone else. It’s not lying. Lying is an untruth. This is acting. It’s telling a story, and stories are a good thing: they teach us. They help us to make sense of the world. They allow us to stay safe – in that way they’re better than the truth.

And sometimes – in order to tell the story as best we can – actors need to forget about the person behind the mask, let go of the person we would normally be and instead allow the character we’ve taken on to become as real as possible. Nobody knows this better than Nathia Brockenhurst. It’s how we came to meet, four years ago, in a dingy little south London pub.

“What’s this?” I asked, taking the folder from the scratched, beer-stained table and leafing through the half dozen pages. It wasn’t a script. That much was obvious.

“Non disclosure agreement,” said Nathia. I had only the vaguest notion of what that was, something that must have been evident from the look on my face. “It’s a legal document,” continued Nathia. “It states that anything we discuss is strictly confidential and must go no further or there will be… ramifications.”

“Er, okay,” I said. “Is that… usual?” Other than periodically working for Zlata and giving private drama lessons to spoilt brats, my glittering theatrical career had consisted mainly of waiting tables, pulling pints, or flagging people down on the street and persuading them to part with their direct debit details. If you’d told me that successful actors signed legal documents and secured roles in seedy backstreet pubs, I’d have probably believed you.

“Sign it,” said Nathia, producing an expensive looking pen from her handbag. “Then we can talk.” I did as I was told, and once Nathia had taken back the signed document and given me a copy, she took a deep breath, and fixed me with a look of solemnity. “I’m gay,” she said.

“Right,” I said taking a moment to consider how this might have any bearing on the so-called ‘interesting job offer’ that Zlata had told me we were here to discuss. “Okay.”

“And that’s a problem,” she continued.

“It is?” Nathia shuffled in her seat, glanced around the tired bar to see if the landlord or his other patrons might be listening, but she had nothing to worry about. Everyone else was either mesmerised by the large plasma television, throwing darts in the general direction of a dart board, or trying very hard to remain upright. Nathia put her arms on the table between us and leant forward.

“The people I work for… well, let’s just say that they’re somewhat traditional.” I nodded for her to continue, though I had no idea where she was going with this. “Sure,” she said, “it’s the twenty-first century, and they can cope with me being a woman in a man’s world – just – but homosexuality is a step too far.”

“That’s…” I said, running a hand through my hair, feeling it slide through my fingers, “…surprising.” Until now I’d always thought theatre had something of a reputation for attracting your more liberal types. I’d never once heard it described as a ‘man’s world’. Or homophobic. “Who do you work for again?”

“A small firm of venture capitalists, William. That’s all you need to know for now.”

“Venture capitalists?”

“Yes.”

“But I thought… My agent said–”

“Are you going to let me finish?” snapped Nathia.

“Of course,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Anyway,” she continued, “even though my employer and his clients expect me to spend all of my daylight hours – and a fair proportion of my night time ones – doing their evil bidding, occasionally they need to know that I’m still human. That despite my ruthless business instincts, on the inside at least, I’m just an adorable little pussycat. And a heterosexual one at that.” She paused for a moment to take a sip from her orange juice; I picked up my beer and did the same. “There are functions,” she continued, “and fundraisers, and parties, and all manner of ‘after work socials’, and whilst it’s not compulsory to turn up to these events with a partner in tow, the absence of someone I can rather quaintly refer to as ‘my boyfriend’ is becoming a problem.”

“Right,” I said, trying and failing to keep a frown from forming. “Well – can’t you just invent someone?” I reached for my pint.

“Oh, believe me, I’ve tried,” said Nathia. “Within hours of inventing a fictitious love-interest, my boss’s wife called me up, and invited ‘Bertram’ and me to dinner.”

“Bertram?!” I said, very nearly spraying her with a mouthful of beer.

“It’s the first name I could think of! Anyway,” she said, glaring at me, “needless to say I couldn’t accept the invite. Instead I had to invent a plausible sounding explanation as to why Bertram and I wouldn’t be available, and then a week or so later an even more elaborate story to explain why ‘he’ wasn’t on the scene anymore!”

“I take it you’re not very good at coming up with stories?”

“On the contrary,” said Nathia, “I’m a master! Having introduced the possibility of a Bertram I’m now beating off advances left right and centre from any man with a drink in his hand who now sees me as your regular good time girl! After all, why else would I be foot loose and fancy free? Quite frankly, William, I’ve had enough!” She sat back in her chair, arms folded tightly across her chest, and fixed me with a look so intense I found myself trying not to breathe. “You look confused,” she said after a moment.

“Sorry, no. I mean yes. A bit. Look – I understand that you’re, well, that you have a bit of dilemma, with how much you can tell your colleagues, about ‘things’. I get that. It’s just… my agent said you had a job! An acting job! That’s what I do – I’m an actor!”

“I know,” said Nathia.

“So?” I said. “Do you have a job?”

Nathia sighed irritably. “Bertram!” she said.

“Sorry?”

“I need you to play the part of Bertram.” The words bounced around in my head whilst my brain made sense of them.

“Your made-up boyfriend?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“You need me to be Bertram?”

“That’s what I said.”

“But–”

Nathia raised a hand to silence me, and with the other reached into her bag to pull out a second, much larger document than the first. It hit the table with a distinctive thud, before she pushed it towards me.

“You would be required,” she said, adopting the tone of someone who’s spent far too many hours in corporate boardrooms, “to play the part of Bertram, my doting boyfriend, at various social functions – the schedule of which will be mutually agreed between ourselves.” I turned the first page and began leafing through the document. “In addition,” continued Nathia, “I will require you to come to my office, say once a month, to ‘take me out for lunch’, and to make the occasional phone call to my PA for suitably boyfriend-sounding reasons that we can work out later. I will also provide you with a mobile phone that you will be required to answer, as Bertram, during office hours. In return I am prepared to pay you a monthly fee which I trust you’ll find extremely generous, as well as reimburse you for all reasonable expenses, such as travel, phone calls, food and bar bills, and any clothes that you need to purchase in order to fulfil your ‘Bertram’ duties.” She paused for a moment to take in what I was currently wearing. “For instance,” she said, “I’m not sure Bertram would wear a coat that so obviously came from an army surplus store.” I ignored her remark and continued to thumb through the contract.

“So?” she asked. “Any questions? Comments?” I scratched the stubble on my chin, then raised my eyes.

“I’m still not sure about the name Bertram,” I said.

* * * *

For legal reasons I can’t tell you what was in that contract. Neither can I tell you my fee. I can tell you that at the end of month one I stood to earn more than I’d earned in my entire previous acting career. I picked up the pen and signed on the dotted line.

From that moment on, things got considerably easier for Ms Brockenhurst and myself. She had a boyfriend she could mention, receive flowers from, blame for all manner of things, and if necessary, point to. More than that, she now had somewhere she could conceivably be whilst actually being somewhere else. She was free to discover the real Nathia Brockenhurst, to be whoever she wanted, see whoever she wanted – people like Tanya. And all this behind closed doors, safe in the knowledge that someone else was contractually obliged to cover for her.

As for me – I could finally start paying back some of my more desperate debts. Enter stage left: Edwin Clarkson.

Much thought went into that name, and we decided early on that Nathia would always address me as Edwin to reduce the possibility of blurting out my real name.

Over the years Edwin has been introduced to most of Nathia’s work colleagues – the ones that matter anyway – at various work functions or get-togethers, including regular dinner dates with Michael and Rachel Richmond, her boss and his young wife.

Once a month I follow the river round to Nathia’s luxury apartment in Chelsea, don my Edwin costume, and spend a pleasant enough evening sinking bottles of Merlot whilst I entertain Michael and Rachel with torrid tales of Edwin’s life working for human rights organisations – all painstakingly researched on Google, earlier that afternoon.

The door bell sounds. My cue that the evening of duplicity has begun. I open my designated drawer, take out a pair of thick framed glasses and after a final mirror check, leave the bedroom to meet my audience.

* * * *

Michael roars with laughter, at the hilarity of his own wit, and slaps his palms on the table so hard I fear Nathia’s antique mahogany furniture may have finally met its match. He picks up his glass, finds it empty, and then attempts to reach across the table for the bottle.

“Oh, Michael – allow me,” I say, grabbing the bottle of port and refilling his glass. I throw him a smile, and not for the first time I study his face: he looks like he’s been chiselled out of granite. And whilst he wears expensive shirts, in pastel colours, with floral ties, they do nothing to soften features that are almost jagged.

In many ways Michael Richmond is a man out of time. A century or two ago he’d have a bushy moustache, impressive sideburns, and a belly the size of a small country. He’d spend his evenings smoking expensive cigars and talking about his time in Africa. Roll back the centuries still further and I can imagine him dressed in animal furs, sporting a heavy copper helmet, and wielding a blade high above his head before he conquers another village, and takes his pick of the wenches available. But instead Michael goes to the gym. He watches his weight. He pops statins. And on evenings such as this, he shares stories of boring corporate deals negotiated across expensive but dull conference room tables. Is it any wonder that he drinks too much, laughs too loudly, and always looks as if he might explode at any given moment? That granite exterior is holding a lifetime of frustration in place.

I hand him his port and glance across the table at Rachel, who’s watching me in that way she does.

Rachel’s altogether more interesting. On the surface she’s a working class girl, born and bred in the East End to a British father and Jordanian mother, destined to live a simple, honest existence. That is, until Michael booked a table at the bar and brasserie where she worked, and stole her away from a life of waitressing. But behind that shy smile, those beautiful soft cappuccino eyes, and her tall, lean, slightly Arabian veneer, is someone else. And sometimes, when she’s asked me an innocent sounding question, she stays quiet after I’ve given my answer, like she’s waiting for me to say more, waiting for me to give myself away. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t give me something of a buzz.

That’s not how Nathia sees it, of course. She thinks Rachel’s developed some sort of girly crush. One that might lead to all manner of complications further down the line if it’s not nipped in the bud. Which is ridiculous, but explains why she wanted me to wear the plain blue shirt tonight. Rachel prefers the striped one.

“Anyway,” slurs Michael, though I can’t for the life of me remember what he was talking about, “Nathia said we should check the place out, so check the place out we did. Didn’t we? Precious?”

“Yes,” says Rachel. “We did.”

“Fuck me Edwin,” continues Michael with a shake of his head. “What a fucking dive. Ghastly fucking people, eating ghastly fucking food. The owner… what was his name again? Oh for fuck’s sake… foreign chap. Wasn’t even a proper name. Just a collection of fucking sounds…”

“Jarad,” says Rachel.

“Yesss! That was it! Jar head! You’ve never met a more nervous man in your entire fucking life,” says Michael, waving his glass around so much it’s a wonder the walls aren’t splashed with port. “Whilst his business partner – the so-called brains of the operation – couldn’t even be fucking bothered to turn up! Left this mouse of a man to blunder through probably the most important meeting of his fucking life. Fucking idiot!” Michael shakes his head at the memory, before pouring half the glass down his throat, and suppressing a belch. “I mean doesn’t that seem a little fucking odd to you, Edwin? I have the power to completely transform their shabby, two-bit, here-today-gone-tomorrow, two-man enterprise into whatever they fucking want it to be. I’m fucking Santa Claus! I’m their own personal fucking Jesus! No wait – I’m fucking God! I’m granting them a fucking audience with fucking God! And yet one of them can’t make the fucking meeting – with God – because…” he makes air quotes with his fingers, “they’re ‘busy’! I tell you Edwin, there’s something fishy about the whole enterprise. And I fucking hate fish!” The belch he’s been trying to contain finally makes it into the open, and it lasts a full three or four seconds before Michael waves his hand about as some sort of apology. I look down into my lap and try and hide a smirk.

“He liked you though, didn’t he? Precious? That fucking… ‘Jar-head’ fellow. Couldn’t keep his fucking eyes off you.”

“I can’t say I noticed,” says Rachel with a smile. A false one, but convincing enough to the untrained eye. She takes a breath, and puts a hand on her husband’s. “Sometimes, darling, I wish you’d remember that these are people’s dreams that you’re playing with.”

“Oh fucking poppycock! Dreams? It’s business! There’s no place for dreamers in business! Don’t you agree, Edwin?”

“Well…” I bluster, accompanied with some appropriately vague hand gestures. I know better than to express an actual opinion. This way Michael’s imagination is filling in the gaps with whatever he’d like me to say.

“If anyone wants me to consider investing my money – or my clients’ money – then I need more than fucking dreams. I need to see potential! Real potential! That’s why Nathia suggested we invest in the fucking place! Because of their reputation for ‘outstanding cuisine’. And having had many a fine meal in these humble surroundings, lovingly prepared by her own fair hands–”

“You’re very welcome,” says Nathia, raising her wine glass.

“–I thought the girl knew a thing or two about food! But fuck me! Just how fucking wrong can you be?” Michael slaps both palms flat on the table and blasts us with another belly laugh.

“Well,” says Nathia with a sigh, “clearly I let my initial enthusiasm run away with me. I apologise.” Michael wafts away her apology.

“No need,” he says with the faintest of slurs. “But the last thing this country needs is another fucking chain of ghastly restaurants serving fucking foreign muck, to the fucking ghastly masses.” And with that he picks up his port glass again and drains the contents. I look across at Rachel. Her hands are in her lap, and the smile – false or otherwise – is gone. And not for the first time I have this piercing stab of regret that she’s so obviously trapped inside a marriage that makes her unhappy. If things were different, if we’d met under different circumstances, ones where I’m not contractually obliged to be someone else, I think we could be good friends. Maybe more than friends. Michael belches yet again.

“Nathia darling,” he says, “we need more port.”

“I think, Michael,” says Rachel, placing her hand on her husband’s for the second time that evening, “that we should make a move.”

“Already?” he slurs.

“Yes. Already,” she says, her voice wobbling slightly. She gets up from the table, and flashes me and Nathia a polite smile. “Excuse me a moment,” she says, and leaves the room. Nathia and I exchange looks, then she too gets up from the table and follows Rachel.

“Edwin,” says Michael, his voice considerably lower than its usual bellow, “whilst the girls are out of the room, have you ever thought about getting into the investment business?”

“Me?” I blink. “Really? I’m not sure I have the constitution for it.”

“Fucking nonsense!” says Michael. “You’re a sharp cookie. Anyone can see that. And the thing is, a rather interesting investment opportunity came across my desk the other day which I think might be just up your street; Vanadium Global.”

“Sounds very grand,” I say.

“Doesn’t it,” says Michael with a nod. “Ironically though, they’re too small at the moment for Steele & Richmond to climb into bed with. Which is a real fucking shame, because they’re going places. Anyone with half a fucking brain can see that. Which is why I thought of you, Edwin. It might be a good way to get your feet wet.”

I wrinkle my nose. “I don’t know, Michael,” I say. “I’m not really the–”

“Michael,” says Rachel. She’s standing in the doorway, her jacket draped over her arm. Michael gives a resigned sniff and eases himself out of his chair.

“Pop into my office next time you’re in the neighbourhood,” he says with a wink, “and we’ll discuss it further.”

“I thought I told you to wear the blue shirt,” says Nathia as we close the door on our guests.

“Did you?” I say, glancing down to look at my chest as if I’m expecting to see something other than stripes.

“You know I did,” she adds before walking back into the dining room.

I hate this bit. The obligatory deconstruction of the entire evening; what I said, to whom, and whether any of it might have, in some obscure way, undermined the elaborate fabric of fiction we’ve been weaving these past four years. All whilst we gather up dirty dishes and spent glasses and cart them through to the kitchen. If I actually worked in theatre I’d probably be in a cab right now. I take off my Edwin glasses and put them in my pocket.

“I don’t really like the blue shirt,” I say as I enter the dining room.

“Doesn’t matter,” says Nathia as she gathers up cutlery.

“I’m not sure it’s Edwin. It’s a little too conservative. In the political sense I mean. It makes me look like a… police detective… or something. Not Edwin at all.” I look at the destruction and chaos on the dining room table and let out a sigh. How can four people make such a mess? I reach for the empty bottles.

“It really doesn’t matter, William,” says Nathia, using my real name for the first time in so long it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Something isn’t right. I follow her through to the kitchen.

“Everything okay?” I ask. She turns and leans against the work surface.

“I’m tired,” she says. I nod.

“It was an extraordinarily long evening. How many bottles of Merlot did we get through? Three? Four? I think Michael finished half a bottle of port by himself.”

“No,” says Nathia with a shake of her head; she looks as if she has great invisible weights hanging from her shoulders. “I’m tired of this. This endless – farce. This isn’t me. It never was.” She lifts her eyes from the floor and gives me a long weary look.

“I was going to wait a few more weeks,” she says, opening the drawer where she normally keeps her collection of instruction manuals and warranty documents for the kitchen paraphernalia, but instead produces a white envelope. She passes it to me and resumes her stance against the work surface.

“What’s this?” I ask, though I think I can guess. Nathia takes a deep breath.

“Formal termination notice,” she says. “Effective immediately, your services are no longer required.”


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What Would Your Three Wishes Be? (Chapter 6 of TGGGTGTG)

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Michelle Ward (of Phoenix FM) asked me recently if I had a favourite chapter in my novel The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl.

I’m not sure if I’m really supposed to have favourite chapters – if I am then I’m pretty sure it should be either the first, or the last chapter… but in my case, I have to confess, it’s chapter six.

Chapter Six serves as a bit of a breather for the reader. The plot jumps back in time to 1988 when our hero, Jason Smith, is still in his teens, and – thanks in part to British Rail – finds himself accidentally on a date with his old school crush, Melanie Jackson.

Unfortunately for Jason, things aren’t going too well. You know what it’s like I’m sure; that moment the Universe has finally handed you the opportunity you’ve been waiting for your whole damned life, and you’re screwing it up!!!! Fortunately for our Jase, in a moment of complete brilliance, he manages to grasp back control of the conversation by asking Melanie what she would wish for, were he to be able to grant her anything.

Three anythings to be precise.

Three wishes.

Mind you, what she comes up with isn’t exactly what he’s expecting, in fact…

Actually, how about I just let you read the chapter for yourself?

Here we go then. Chapter Six. Hope you enjoy.

Friday 8th January, 1988

“Passenger announcement: British Rail regrets to announce that due to adverse weather conditions, services in and out of Liverpool Street are currently subject to delay. Passengers are advised to continue watching the information boards for further details. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

As I descended the stairs from the rainy streets, the station concourse was a heaving mass of suited bodies, most of whom were gawping at the words ‘cancelled’ or ’delayed’, but each one silently – or not so silently – doing what they did every Friday evening: hating British Rail.

Why was it always a Friday? The reasons varied, of course – overhead line problems, incident at Bethnal Green, engine failure, leaves on the line, wrong type of snow – but it always happened, always, on a Friday night, when all that I wanted was to get back to Chelmsford and join Alex in the Tulip. In a few weeks I would be twenty. And how would I be celebrating that particular milestone? If British Rail had anything to do with it I’d be standing on the concourse of Liverpool Street Station with the rest of the goons.

I threw my bag over my shoulder and headed back up the steps and into the city.

* * * * *

I was the only one in the Wimpy. Other than the waitress. And the burger chef. I sat by the window and watched the rain streak down the glass to the sound of the strip lights fizzing and popping over my head.

Kingsize and chips,” stated the waitress as she placed my food on the plastic table. I turned to look at her, but she’d gone.

Kingsize and chips. Normally I’d argue that this particular meal was a bite-sized portion of happiness on a plate. Right now, however, it was taking the place of several pints of Guinness, the company of my best friend, and the promise of a five minute stagger back to his mum’s house for as much toast as we could eat.

I let out a long, miserable sigh, picked up the burger, and went to take a bite.

“Jason?” I looked up into two gorgeous emerald green eyes, and froze. Those were her eyes. My field of vision widened to take in her nose. Regal in nature. That was definitely her nose. Then there was the slightly coy, but nonetheless playful smile. And those beautiful white teeth. And that hair, tumbling out from under a cerise beret – even though she was now a blonde my heart wasn’t fooled for a moment; it was still her. And all at once I was fourteen again, trombone in hand, looking across at her from my place in the brass section.

“I thought it was you,” she said. “You don’t recognise me, do you? It’s –”

I swallowed.

“Melanie. Mel! Hi! Of course I… of course – Hi!”

“I was walking by and I thought, ‘Is that Jason Smith?’ And, well – here you are.”

“Here I am!” I said. Nothing happened for a moment. And then she smiled.

“That looks nice,” she said, glancing at the burger in my hands. “Do you come here often?

“Here?” I asked. “No – I – there’s a problem. With the trains.” I jerked my head in the general direction of Liverpool Street Station.

“So you can’t get home?”

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll sort it out. At some point. They usually do.” I nodded. Then smiled. Then nodded some more whilst I tried to think of something to plug the gap in the conversation. “Is that why you’re here?” I asked eventually.

“No, I saw you as I was walking past –”

“No, I meant, are you stranded in London?”

“Me? No, I live here now,” said Melanie.

“In the City?”

“No!” laughed Melanie. “North London. I work in the City. I’ve just left the office.” I glanced at the clock on the wall – it was a quarter to seven. “I was walking to the tube,” she added. I nodded. And smiled.

“Right,” I said.

There it was again. A gap in the conversation. Only not so much a gap, more a bloody great rift. Something was supposed to be happening now, but I had absolutely no idea what.

“I suppose I’ve got time to join you for a bit,” Melanie said, taking off her mittens and matching scarf.

“Oh – really? That would be – Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked.

“Mmm – a Diet Coke would be nice.”

“Right!” I said, putting my burger down. “Let me get you one!” I stood up and started digging deep in my pockets for loose change but my fingers met nothing but tissues and screwed up receipts. I dug deeper, hoping for a miracle, but considering Melanie Jackson had just walked back into my life after a five year absence, two miracles in one night seemed highly unlikely.

“Here,” said Melanie, reaching into her handbag, “let me.” She produced a five pound note and passed it to me.

“Thanks,” I said, barely managing to conceal my humiliation. “I’ll be right back.”

* * * * *

“So you didn’t go to uni then?” asked Melanie. I shook my head.

“More studying?” I said, stuffing the last of the chips into my mouth, then washing them down with tea. “Give me a break.”

“But you were one of the clever ones!”

“Not really.”

“I always thought uni sounded like fun,” said Melanie, playing with the straws that poked through the lid of her Coke. “All those parties…” She leant forward to take another sip, looking up at me as she did so, which made her eyes seem all the larger.

“Yeah,” I said. Parties? Ugh. “Why didn’t you go to uni then?”

“Oh please,” said Melanie after a long noisy slurp of her drink. “And study what? Brain surgery?”

“Why not?”

“Nah, I needed a job. A girl needs shoes! They don’t buy themselves. Well, not unless you have a boyfriend.”

I’d barely registered what she’d said before I heard the words “You don’t have a boyfriend!?” tumbling out of my mouth with all the subtlety of a rhinoceros at a village tea party. But Melanie didn’t seem to notice.

“Not really,” she said, before hoovering up the last of her Coke.

“Oh,” I said, following it with a small nod to conceal my confusion. Not really? What did that mean? Either you do or you don’t, don’t you? ‘Not really’ sounded as if there was a bloke in Melanie’s world who thought he was her boyfriend but would discover, possibly in the not too distant future, that he wasn’t. Poor bastard.

“Nothing serious,” said Melanie, reading my mind. “You know what it’s like.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I said. No. I didn’t understand that at all.

“What about you?” she asked

“What about me what?”

“Any girlfriends?”

I laughed. “Me? No,” I said.

“Really?”

“Well,” I said, feeling myself flush slightly. “Nothing serious. You know…”

“Footloose and fancy free, eh?” said Melanie.

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“I always wondered,” said Melanie, idly playing with her straw again, “why you never asked me out.” For a moment or two, time ground to a halt. Even the strip lights above us seemed to stop their manic flickering whilst they waited for me to respond.

“You did?” I asked, swallowing.

“Yeah.”

“Well…” I puffed my cheeks out. “I guess, I erm…”

“Maybe you didn’t fancy me?” said Melanie with a shrug.

“What? No! I mean, yes! Yes I did.”

“Did?”

“Do!” I said, correcting myself, then almost as quickly: “Did! No – Do! I mean –” Melanie’s smile broadened until it was a fully fledged grin and her eyes flashed like a card player who’s holding all the aces. I felt my face flush again, and took a deep breath. “You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”

“A little bit,” said Melanie, running her tongue along the edge of her lovely teeth. I could feel my face getting redder still. Other things were happening too: my heart was beating out a rumba, and a shy smile was sidling across my face. I looked down into my empty polystyrene cup to try and hide it. “Come on,” she said, touching my arm. “Let’s find a pub – I’ll buy you a proper drink.”

* * * * *

I staggered back to our table with another round. I was extremely drunk. Though not the usual blurry intoxication that followed a few pints. Instead everything, and everyone, sparkled with a magical sheen. The barman greeted me with a cheery wink. Fellow drinkers smiled at me as I passed by. Even my stagger was just a side effect of feet that were through with walking and wanted to dance.

Melanie grinned as I sat down next to her. It had been the only way I could hear what she was saying over the collective din of the Red Lion’s clientele. Now, of course, most of the after work drinkers had left but moving to the other side of the table would have seemed rude. At least, that’s what I was telling myself.

“So where were we?” I asked.

“You were telling me about computer games,” said Melanie, “the ones you would make – and how amazing they would be.”

“I was? Oh.” I scratched my head. “And yet somehow you’re still here? Enough about me – tell me what you’re doing.”

Melanie’s shoulders slumped.

“Oh, I just work reception for Harris, Harris and Harris. It’s a law firm.”

“Right. And is it good?”

Melanie gave me a long, serious look.

“No Jason, it’s crap. It’s the world’s most boring job.”

“Oh,” I said. “But is the money good?”

“Not really.”

“Right,” I said. “So what did you want to do?” Melanie sipped her Malibu and Coke, and stared into the distance.

“I guess that’s the problem,” she said after a while. “I didn’t really know.”

“Alex always thought you’d be in a band with Robert Palmer,” I said, bringing my pint to my lips. “Like one of the girls in that video…”

“Oh did he now?”

“Yeah.”

“Uh huh. And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“What did you imagine I’d be doing when I left school?” I felt myself blush again. Melanie saw it and raised an eyebrow.

“Erm, I thought you might be a model. Or something.”

“Really?” she said, that familiar evil grin working its way across her face. “And what kind of modelling did you envisage?”

“Just modelling,” I lied.

“Uh huh,” she said again, leaning forward to stare into my eyes. “Thought about this a lot, did you?” I swallowed

“Not a lot,” I lied again.

“Mmmm,” she said, and smiled. She leaned back and picked up her glass again. “Sounds like I should have come to you and Alex for career advice, rather than taking the first crappy job that came along.”

“You could always get a different job,” I suggested.

“It’s not… that simple.”

“Sure it is,” I said. But Melanie dropped her gaze to her lap and suddenly I could see that the crappy job situation was a conversational minefield that we’d wandered into, and only a miracle, or something similar, was going to rescue us from it. “Look,” I said, placing my pint on the table in a determined manner, “how about this – I’ll grant you three wishes.”

“What?” said Melanie, looking up.

“Three wishes. Right now. One time offer only.”

“You’re going to grant me three wishes?”

“Sure. But you have to make them now.”

“And I can have anything I want?”

“Well, I thought we were talking about your career but –”

“If you’re going to start handing out wishes, Mr Genie of the Guinness Barrel, I’m not going to waste them on work!”

“Well ok,” I said. “Three wishes, to do what you like with.”

“Right,” she said, repositioning herself and putting her hands in her lap. She looked past me and bit her lip whilst she considered her options and, not for the first time that evening, I suddenly wanted to kiss her. And it was more than a mere urge. I found myself having to exert considerable effort just to prevent myself from leaning forward and –

“Ok,” said Melanie. “Wish number one: I wish I had a pair of Jimmy Choos.”

“Jimmy what?” I asked.

“Only the best damn shoes on the planet!” said Melanie. I frowned.

“You’re going to use your first wish on shoes?!”

“Not just ‘a pair of shoes’!” said Melanie. “Jimmy Choos – they’re in this month’s Vogue and everything!”

“Yeah, but why didn’t you wish for a million pounds or something – then you could buy all the bloomin’ shoes you –”

“What? I can do that?” she asked.

“Well, of course you can do that!” I said, and I picked up my pint.

“Ok – I wish for a million pounds.”

I put up my hand whilst I took a sip. “Too late now,” I said, “you’ve made your wish.”

“What? No! That’s not fair.”

“Too late,” I said again.

“It’s not too late!” protested Melanie.

“Judge’s ruling, I’m afraid.” She let out a long exasperated sigh, then resumed her thinking pose, though this time her face was fixed into a determined frown.

“Ok,” she said after a moment. “Second wish – I wish I could have my first wish back!”

I shook my head.

“Sorry. No can do.”

“That’s not fair!” I held up both my hands. “Ok, ok,” she relented, putting her hands in her hair and massaging her scalp. My eyes dropped to her chest and for a second or two I was back at school, sitting in the orchestra, peering at her from behind my music stand. “Ok,” said Melanie, unaware of my leering, “wish number two: a million pounds.”

I frowned.

“That’s a bit boring.”

“What? I can’t have wishes if they’re boring? Who makes these rules?”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t have your wish – just that it was a bit boring.”

“But you suggested it!”

“Yeah, for wish number one – instead of shoes! I was expecting something a little more interesting for wish number two.”

“Well, I’m sorry!” said Melanie, folding her arms across her chest.

“No, no, that’s ok. You can have your million pounds.”

“Thank you!”

“What are you going to do with it?” I asked.

“I’ve got to tell you that as well?”

“No, I just thought you might have something in mind.”

“Jason,” she said, putting a hand on my thigh, “I’m a woman – it’ll be spent in no time.” She took her hand away and I glanced down, fully expecting to see some sort of glowing sparkly hand print.

“Ok,” I said, after taking a moment to compose myself. “Wish number three?” She sighed.

“That’s easy,” she said, turning in her seat to face forwards. Her shoulders slumped, and a chill swept through the room. “Somebody who doesn’t run out the door twenty seconds after… you know.” Her chest rose and fell as she took a melancholy breath. “Someone who will lie there, just for a little while and maybe talk to me for a bit?” A lump formed in my throat. I wanted to put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her, but – I couldn’t. This was Melanie Jackson. And I’m Jason Smith. Instead I watched as she traced her finger round the rim of her glass, acutely aware that somehow the magic had stalled, and that our evening had begun to nosedive into a black sea of despair.

No. I wouldn’t let it. Not this evening. Melanie Jackson had walked back into my life, lent me the money to buy her a Diet Coke, invited me out for a drink and spent the best part of two hours flirting with me. Either this was destiny or, more likely, destiny had her back turned! Either way, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t about to let it crash and burn.

“Would you be wearing… anything… at this particular moment?” I asked, with a cough.

“What?”

“After, you know… the sex?”

Melanie blinked.

“Probably not,” she said

“Well, I can’t see why any man in their right mind would want to run off.” Melanie blinked again. “I mean – this one wouldn’t. Not in a million years. So, erm,” I took a decisive breath, “- wish granted.” She smiled. Not the cheeky grin that I’d seen several times that evening, but the warm, coy smile of someone who recognises when a friend is trying to be nice.

“Thank you,” she said, softly.

“You’re very welcome,” I said. A thought occurred to me. “Ok, look, I feel a bit bad about your first wish – I’m not saying that it was unfair or anything, but I think that in hindsight, maybe I could have explained the rules a little better –”

“Yeah!” said Melanie, poking me in the ribs with a finger.

“So in view of that, and on the strict understanding that this is a goodwill gesture from us in the wish-granting community –”

“I can have another wish?” she asked, clapping her hands together and bouncing up and down in her seat.

“I’m going to let you amend one of your wishes.” The bouncing stopped.

“Amend?” she asked suspiciously.

“Yes. But,” I said, as she opened her mouth to speak, “think about it first! Don’t just blurt out ‘I want another pair of Jimmy blahdy-blah shoes.’”

“There’s nothing wrong with wishing for a pair of Jimmy Choos!” said Melanie. “I don’t think you appreciate just how amazing they are!”

“Yeah, well, whatever,” I said, waving away the comment. She assumed her thinking pose. Her top lip curled and wriggled around under her nose whilst she considered her response.

“Ok,” she said.

“You’re ready?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“So which wish are you amending?”

“The third one,” she said.

I moved backwards like I was trying to assist my eyes in focusing.

“The third one?”

“Yes.”

“Wha- ok then. So what is it now?”

Melanie took a deep breath.

“I wish that one day I’ll meet a guy. And he’ll be… well, perfect – and by perfect I mean perfect for me. Not necessarily the kinda guy I would pick, because I always pick bastards, but the kinda guy that, I dunno, my mum would pick… if my mum had decent taste in men. Do you know what I mean? Anyway, I’d meet this guy and it’ll be ‘the moment’.”

“The moment?” I asked.

“Yeah. The moment. I might not even realise it at first, but looking back later I’ll realise that that was ‘the moment’ – when my life changed, and everything got better, and all because of him. There, that’s my wish. I want the moment. Can I have that please? Jason?”

“Sorry,” I said, shaking the entrancement out of my head. “I was distracted.”

“What by?” she asked.

“Erm…”

“Tell me.”

“Your lips,” I said. “Moving.” She smiled. Not the cheeky Melanie Jackson grin, or the coyness I’d seen a moment ago, but the new, bright, sensuous smile of someone who knows just how powerful smiles can be.

“Melanie –” I said.

“Oh my God,” said Melanie, looking over my shoulder.

“What?” I said, swivelling round to try and see what she was looking at.

“Is that the time?” There was a clock on the opposite wall. I checked my wrist watch.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Oh Jason, I had no idea it was so late – excuse me.” She shuffled down the seat and stood up.

“Are you – are you leaving?”

“’Fraid so. Sorry. I was supposed to be somewhere else half an hour ago,” she said.

“Really? Where?”

“Oh, just this place.”

“Well, is it important?” I asked.

“Erm, yeah,” she said, checking for something in her purse and producing a travel card. “Look, I’ve really enjoyed this evening. Maybe we can do it again sometime?”

“Yeah, that would be –”

“Ok. Great,” she said, leaning forward to kiss me on the cheek. “Well, take care,”

“Ok, but when?”

“I’ll – I’ll call you,” she said as she squeezed past me.

“But you don’t have my number!”

“I’ll look you up.”

“But – look me up where?”

“Sorry, gotta run,” she said as she got to the door, and all but sprinted out of the pub and into the city streets. I stood there, rooted to the spot, my hand on my cheek where her lips had brushed, swaying slightly as if someone had just slugged me round the back of the head with something heavy. For a split second I wanted to run after her, grab her by the arm, and… something. What? What would I do? I felt my knees buckle and I slumped back into the chair. There was nothing I could do. Because she was Melanie Jackson. And I’m just Jason Smith.

My eyes settled on her wine glass, noticing for the first time the lipstick mark on the rim, and I thought about Melanie’s last wish – her amended wish – and ‘the moment’ she craved so badly. I picked up the glass and examined it.

“Wish granted,” I said.


Fancy reading the rest? Right now the paperback is about six or seven quid – something like that – whilst the ebook is normally just over £2. BUT, right now, amazon have the novel as part of their July Summer-Reads Promo – which means if you’re quick, you can download the entire thing for just 99p, and help push me up the charts! Go on, help out a struggling author 😉

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Start Dating, Stop Waiting

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heart-love-romanceBefore I started on my quest for happiness, I was using my problem solving skills to figure out what actually works when it comes to courting the opposite sex. From the pen-pal clubs of the early eighties, to the lonely heart newspaper ads of the nineties, from postal dating services to the more formal introduction agencies – there hasn’t been a dating service that I haven’t tried!

And after many, many years of seemingly making every dating mistake there is – scouring every scrap of scientific research I could get my hands on – I finally cracked it. There’s love in my life. And it wasn’t an accident.

If love, lust or romance feature in your goals for this year let me see if I can impart some of my dating prowess to you now. Here are my top five tips for dating success.

Dating Tip Number 1: What do you want?

Figuring out who it is you’re looking for is probably the most effective thing you can do to kick start your love life. You might think (as I used to) that you can’t afford to be picky, that finding someone who doesn’t repel you too much and is content to remain in your company might be the best you can hope for. I’m here to tell you that the reverse is true.

After months, possibly even years, of less-than-satisfactory relationships with long periods of nothing in-between, I sat down and wrote out what I actually wanted. A list of qualities that I hoped for in my ideal person. And about six weeks later I met my wife, Kate.

Now – that’s not the whole story, obviously. There were a few stages between writing my ‘perfect woman shopping list’ and choosing to sit next to this beautiful blonde I spied from across the room, but a few months into our relationship I looked back at that list and I was amazed at just how many of the criteria Kate met. Coincidence? Perhaps. But for the time it would take you to create your own list isn’t it worth the effort?

Dating Tip Number 2: Go online!

By my calculations online dating websites are responsible for one in five marriages. Include relationships that haven’t got as far as the altar, throw in the likes of facebook and other social media websites, and I estimate 50 percent of all romances probably start on the internet. Which means that simply using your computer to meet people could double your chances of dating success.

Dating Tip Number 3: Pick a good dating website

There are a LOT of dating websites out there – finding a good one can be a challenge. My current feelings are the free-ones can be just as good, sometimes better, than the paid-ones. For extra oomph pick a site that does some form of compatibility matching!

Dating Tip Number 4: To meet ‘the one’, you must first meet ‘the many’

Very, very few people go on one date and hit the jackpot first time. In fact, in the years I’ve been chatting to people about this stuff I’ve never met anyone who has. Dating is a numbers game. If you find someone you like online send them a message. If they respond toss a couple more messages back and forth. If you still like them arrange to meet. Meanwhile; continue to browse the dating sites, continue to send messages, continue arranging dates. Exclusivity should be reserved for that special someone you’ve dated more than once, in real life, and even then only if you want to.

As well as a numbers game, dating is a skill. The more dates you go on the better you’ll get.

SDSW drop shadow colour smallDating Tip Number 5: Have fun!

Dating is tough. It has to be said. Some days it can feel like a slog. But if it always feels like a slog, if it’s tough without being the slightest bit pleasurable, well, then you’re doing something wrong!

Try changing your mindset. Dating can be a fun. An adventure. Exciting. It’s a little like a lottery; Sometimes it’s just OK. Sometimes it’s better than OK. Occasionally it’s a total disaster, but every now and then it’s magical. And those moments make up for everything.

Secondly, make sure you’re doing things you actually enjoy. For me, a good first date takes place in a coffee shop, if it’s going really well I might suggest wandering across to the pub over the road. Dinners and first dates don’t mix well. But that’s just me. Maybe you’re into bungy jumping, or white water rafting or long walks in the countryside. Picking an activity you enjoy will significantly increase the chances of your first date going well.

Want More Tips?

If you want to delve into the detail behind the five tips above, pick my brain for more nuggets of dating gems, or need a little more hand holding, then I have some very good news. How To Start Dating And Stop Waiting, my third self-help book, is available in paperback and as an ebook. An audio version – which includes the companion guide From Invisible To Irresistible will be available any day now.

Opening Chapter: How To Start Dating And Stop Waiting

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SDSW paperback

Yesterday saw the launch of my third (or is it fourth?) How To book – How To Start Dating And Stop Waiting. It’s available now in paperback, as an ebook, and (once I’ve finished recording it), as an audio download from audible. Pop along to amazon  and select the format of your choice. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the opening chapter…

To Begin With

On my thirty-second birthday, as I sat at my mother’s dining room table in front of a large cake, thirty two candles threatening to ignite my beard should I lean too far forward, I realised that the only ambition I had left in life – the only dream I hadn’t given up on – was to be married.

Or at least in some sort of steady, loving relationship.

A long term partnership with someone whose ying was a close match to my less than melodic yang.

But even this, this last naive expectation of life, was looking increasingly unlikely. Every candle on that cake was some sort of burning epitaph to just how utterly rubbish I was when it came to affairs of the heart.

There had been relationships in the past – of course there had – but I’d kind of ‘fallen into them’, by accident. And after the ladies in question had tried, and failed, to mould me into the kind of man they actually wanted, those relationships had withered and died. There hadn’t been an ‘accidental relationship’ for a while. Colleagues no longer described me as an eligible bachelor. Some had started to question my sexuality.

So as my family launched into a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ I decided there and then that the prospect of being single for the rest of my days was unacceptable.

Something had to be done.

Around that time there was a BBC TV show called ‘Would Like to Meet’ where a team of experts (a flirt coach, an actor, and an image consultant) would take some hapless individual and turn them into a heartthrob or a man-magnet. It very quickly became my favourite TV show. I’d watch it avidly from one week to the next hoping to pick up some tips. And the conclusion I came to was that I too could do with a similar makeover – albeit without the entire viewing nation of the United Kingdom looking on.

So over the next few weeks I tracked down Image Consultants, and contacted one. Back then, Image Consultants mainly worked for corporations, re-styling senior corporate executives who might otherwise look less than sharp in the boardroom, but I had surprisingly little problem persuading my consultant of choice to broaden the scope of her client base to include one sad and lonely thirty-something guy. She took one look at me, threw away every item of clothing I’d acquired in the previous decade, and in an afternoon gave me some much needed va-va-voom, in the wardrobe department.

And once I’d been completely re-styled, I looked around for a flirt coach.

These days, you can barely move for self-styled relationship experts and flirt coaches – heck, I’m just about to tell you why I’m one of them – but back in 2003 I could find just one. And she ran courses.

I took several hundred pounds from my savings, and booked myself on a ‘flirting weekend’. Nervously, I took my place in the front row, and when instructed I turned and introduced myself to the stunning blonde sitting next to me.

“I’m Peter,” I said.

“I’m Kate,” said the blonde.

Then she smiled.

And I was smitten.

The course wasn’t that much of a success, in that it didn’t teach me how to flirt. Not that it mattered. My strategy had worked, somewhat differently but infinitely better than I’d hoped. On the Monday evening Kate and I had our first date. By the Tuesday I’d officially found myself a girlfriend. A few months later I found myself on one knee. And a year to the day after we’d first met, I found myself married.

It didn’t last.

Two and a bit years later I lost Kate. To a brain haemorrhage. At Stanstead airport.

And when the dust settled – when I adjusted to a world without my wife – I was single again. The loneliness returned. And though I’ll never be able to replace my beautiful blonde, I needed to fill the space that she’d left.

Something had to be done

It’s my considered belief that ‘dating’ – whether that be online dating, speed-dating, “hey – what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” dating – is similar to job hunting; it’s just as brutal, many times more frustrating, and potentially far more heartbreaking.

And just like job hunting nobody wants to become ‘good’ at dating. To get good you have to do lots of it, and the very fact that you have to apply for a lot of jobs – or go on a lot of dates – raises more questions than it answers. It’s not really something you want to shout about. Never the less, I was determined. There was no way I wanted to return to the way things were, before Kate, life’s just too damn short. So date I did.

Many, many, many times.

And finally, after years and years of being completely useless at finding romance, I cracked it.

There’s love in my life again.

Just as there can be in yours.

Welcome to How To Start Dating And Stop Waiting.

If you’ve been sitting around, on your own, telling yourself you should really make an effort and ‘get out there’, this book might be for you.

If you’re already dating – or you’ve tried it – and you’ve encountered nothing but liars and Lotharios, started your own personal collection of dating disaster stories, all whilst beating off people you wouldn’t normally look twice at, this book is probably for you.

And if you’d rather fast forward through the dating stage as quickly as possible, and find someone you’d like to have a relationship with – whatever type of relationship that might be – this book is most definitely for you.

But before you get too excited, let’s establish some ground rules. Buckle up and prepare to learn the hardest lesson this book has to give.


‘How To Start Dating And Stop Waiting’ is available NOW in paperback, as an ebook, and shortly in audio from audible.co.uk & .com
Visit amazon to purchase the book.

To celebrate the launch of the new book, get the companion guide, FREE for your kindle enabled device, NOW. But hurry. This is a limited, never to be repeated offer.

You don’t need a Kindle device to read a Kindle book. Download the FREE kindle app for your computer, smart phone or tablet from amazon (.co.uk | .com)

Spend 99p, lose POUNDS

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It’s a funny thing about running Happy Talkies and Happiness Workshops, I’ve started to notice that the same ‘wishes’ – and therefore the same ‘goals’ – come up time and time again.

Many people for instance want to embark on exotic trip around the world, visiting as many wondrous sites as possible. Others have burning desires to write a best seller (though asking to see someone’s ‘first chapter’ is usually enough to ensure they never come back to Happy Club ever again). But THE, number one goal – the one that perhaps half the attendees in any given workshop will share – is to lose weight.

And I can understand that, because I’ve been there too.

It seems to be the curse of the thirty / forty something. And not that long ago I too was standing in front of the mirror, wondering where on earth the skinny figure of my twenties went to, and why my body hated me so much. Of all the goals I’ve set myself over the years, shedding those extra pounds was one of the toughest.

Like most people I started with what seemed like obvious solutions (broadly summarised by ‘eating less’ and ‘moving more’) – but when those things didn’t work for me I threw my heart-rate monitor in the bin and went in search of something that might.

After much trial and error, I cracked it. I’m back to the size I was when I first met Kate, and whilst I wouldn’t call myself an expert, I definitely learnt a thing or two about weight loss on the way – stuff that I’d very much like to pass on.

Which is why last year I teamed up with Author Della Galton, and co-wrote my second book; How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim.

For a limited period
How To Eat Loads and Stay Slim is just 99p or 99c
for your kindle or kindle enabled phone, tablet, pc, or mac
via amazon (.co.uk |.com)
– but hurry! Price goes back up at 11pm next Wednesday.

It’s  a mixture of hard science (eg. how hunger really works), quick ‘cheats’ (eg. how to make zero fat chips), psychological techniques (eg. why focusing on your food as you eat is really important), ingenious strategies (eg. how to cut down on sugar without going cold turkey), and easy peasy recipes (eg. my ‘roast potato & egg smashup breakfast’ or Della’s ‘apple ginger clafouti’) – all served up in an easy-to-digest, humourous read from authors who’ve been where you are now.

If you’ve read How To Do Everything and Be Happy, the format will be familiar to you. Several broad chapters, broken into smaller sections, each of which result in an Action Point. However each thought provoking, scientifically-provable, action point also has a STAR RATING. There are fifty four stars available. You get one just for buying the book! Collect enough and you’ll steadily increase your chances of being able to eat loads AND stay slim. Collect enough stars (thirty or more would be a good target to have) and we personally guarantee that a slim figure, coupled with a healthy but satiated appetite, are yours for the taking. No dieting required.

How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim is available right now as an ebook, paperback and audio download. You can read the opening chapter here, or how about we read it for you? Just click the big play button in the video link below to listen to the opening chapters.


If you enjoyed listening to us you can download the entire book from audible (.co.uk | .com)  – an amazon company and the internet’s largest supplier of spoken word entertainment.

If you’re new to audible, and in the UK, you can get it for free. Just use this link, follow the instructions and search for  ’How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim’.

 If you’re reading this in an email or can’t see the video link  just click here

Opening Chapter: From Invisible To Irresistible

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To Begin With…

Not that long ago, I walked into a crowded lecture theatre and sat myself next to the prettiest girl in the room.

If you’ve read any of my other books, or ever heard me speak, then you’ll know this was how I met my wife, Kate – at a flirting course, some ten years ago. But this was a different lecture theatre. This was much more recent. And the subject being discussed wasn’t flirting, it was poetry.

I ought to state for the record that I have absolutely no interest in poetry whatsoever. I have exactly one book of poetry in my house. It’s currently helping to prop up my computer monitor. But as you’ve probably already guessed, I wasn’t there for the poetry. I was there for the girl.

But what I didn’t realise at the time – couldn’t possibly realise – was that the girl I so casually sat myself next to, as though that were the only available chair in the room, had no interest in poetry either. She was there for me.

I’ve never been all that lucky in love. ‘Luck’ and I parted company long ago. Other people get lucky. I don’t. ‘Fingers crossed’ has never really worked for me. Chance is not my friend. I prefer to leave nothing to it.

I realised long ago that if I wanted my life to be anything more than bearable, then it was necessary to figure out what I wanted, followed by a way to get that thing, all without relying on probability.

One of those things was ‘love’.

So what of the girl in the poetry seminar? What became of her? That perhaps is a story for another time. For now I’d like you to concentrate on how we met.

You might think that we had very little say in the mutual attraction we felt. And whilst I would agree with you to a point, I, for one, had done everything I could to become a stunning specimen of poetry-hating manliness. My appearance, my wardrobe, my attitudes – even my apartment – they’d all undergone a series of self-imposed makeovers so that this special poetry-infused opportunity (and the moments that followed), could actually happen. Had I walked into that room two, maybe three, years earlier, I’m not so sure the lady in question would have given me a second look. Let’s face it, she wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Welcome to From Invisible To Irresistible.

If you’ve ever stood on the sidelines and watched people pair off, whilst wondering why no one seems to look at you twice, this book might be for you.

If your dating exploits only seem to get so far, or it feels like you’re always the one doing all the chasing, this book is probably for you.

And if you’re open minded, prepared to take a good hard look at yourself, make a few changes – if the end result means a more attractive you – then this book is most definitely for you.

Now then, could I interest you in some poetry?


From Invisible To Irresistible is available, right now, in paperback and as an ebook. Follow the links below:

How To Eat Loads and Stay Slim – opening chapter

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Last week I formally announced the impending publication of my next book, How To Eat Loads and Stay Slim, co-written with author Della Galton. This week, for those of you who haven’t figured out that the book has already got it’s own website, I thought I’d share with you the opening chapter.

To Begin With…

Peter Says…

When I was a much younger man, ‘size’ wasn’t a word that I ever had to worry about. ‘Height’ on the other hand…

It was (and still is) extremely hard to get trousers that didn’t flap about somewhere above my ankles, or sleeves that don’t stop several inches before my wrists. But I never had to breathe in to button a pair of jeans, and I never put on a shirt only to find that the buttons and button holes were no longer on speaking terms. Even in my twenties, when I was mostly living on a diet of pizza and beer, where people have a ‘bottom’ I had a ‘place where my legs met’. Girls would tell me how lucky I was. Guys would question my ability to lift a bag of sugar. I’d just shrug, convinced that I’d never lose my ability to hide behind lamp-posts or squeeze between railings.

How wrong I was.

I met my wife-to-be in my mid-thirties. The fact that I met Kate at all was something of a minor miracle, but her arrival in my life coincided with another miraculous event: I’d started to put on weight. In a matter of months I somehow went from ten stone eight (148 pounds) to thirteen stone (182 pounds). People started to tell me how ‘well’ I looked. Occasionally I was described as ‘cuddly’. And as Kate and I curled up in front of the TV to munch our way through a family sized bar of Dairy Milk, she’d rub what she fondly referred to as the ‘Buddha Belly’. It was almost enough to put me off my chocolate.

Almost – but not quite.

As the months passed my weight crept ever upwards. My chins (plural) got ever bigger. Eventually I no longer felt comfortable being naked in front of my fiancé. That was the turning point. Not the naked part – the fact that my girlfriend was now my fiancé. And on hearing the happy news one of my colleagues asked me when I was starting my diet.

“Diet!?” I asked with a mixture of indignation and confusion. What had diets got to do with marriage?

“Of course diet,” she said. “You’re never as slim as the day you get married!”

This was news to me, and something of a shock. And although the logical, adult part of my brain was quick to dismiss this as utter nonsense, another part – the part that has always been ready to believe anything negative or damaging – had adopted this as a Universal Truth; I had only a few months to lose those pounds that I still thought of as ‘extra’ – or they would be mine forever.

You’ve been there I’m sure. It’s probably the reason why you picked up this book in the first place. Maybe you’re at that point now. In which case you probably know a couple of other things too, namely that diets and exercise are miserable, soul destroying ways of losing weight, and if you stop either one for a millisecond then those grams that you worked so hard to shed come straight back the moment you so much as look at anything vaguely tasty.

There are few things in life as cruel as how the human body manages its weight.

At least that’s how it feels.

And so, after a couple of years of running in my lunch hour, and returning to my desk hot, frustrated, and not the slightest bit slimmer than the day before (or the week before, or any of the preceding months), I finally threw my heart-rate monitor in the bin and went in search of a pain-free, exercise-free, scientific way to restore my trim figure. This book – or at least my half of it – is the result.

Welcome to How To Eat Loads and Stay Slim.

If you’re fed up with diets – this book might be for you. If you’ve started to wonder whether you’ll ever be able to lose weight, stay slim AND enjoy your food – this book is probably for you. But if you’re open minded, happy to make small changes to your lifestyle, and prepared to put in a little effort – or at least could be, if you had a good enough reason – then this book is most definitely for you.

Now then, allow me to introduce you to my co-author…

Della Says…

Like Peter, I am lucky enough to be tall (5’ 10”) and until I was thirty five, which, incidentally, is also the age I was when I got married – must be something in this “marry and get fat” theory – I was pretty slender without putting too much effort into it. Mind you, I had always been very active. I loved to go swimming and running and having four dogs certainly helped to keep my weight down.

Then suddenly I had a husband who was a foodie, which meant he liked eating out, and he liked to have wine with our meals and he liked me to experiment with cooking good food. Not that I objected to any of this! But slowly the weight inched on. I went from being the skinny size twelve I’d always been to a size sixteen. This does not sound too bad, it didn’t look too bad either because I’m tall, but I hated my extra weight with a vengeance.

I began to dress to cover up lumps and bumps. Big loose tops and black trousers became my uniform. I gave up swimming because I didn’t want my cellulite thighs on display on the walk from changing room to pool. I avoided hugging friends I hadn’t seen for a while so they couldn’t feel how much weight I’d put on. (How sad is that!) I gave up clothes shopping because it was too depressing. Nothing looked good any more.

Choosing an outfit for a night out from my existing wardrobe was also hideously depressing and would entail trying on my entire wardrobe – by this time I had three sizes in there, size 12 (dream on!), size 14 (possibly on a good day) and 16 (comfortably unflattering) – and trying to decide what made me look the thinnest.

I’d always felt a little self-conscious about being tall, but being tall and overweight made it worse. I felt as though I was turning into some huge lumbering hippo.

My mother and my sister also struggled with their weight. My mother had given up worrying about it long ago, my sister, like me, had yo-yoed along on a fat-thin rollercoaster.

In my quest for permanent weight loss I tried the following:

  •  slimming pills;
  •  herbal remedies;
  •  crash diets;
  •  small portions;
  •  not eating in the evenings;
  •  not eating certain foods;
  •  various celebrity diets;
  •  some decidedly cranky diets;
  •  slimming groups;
  •  excessive exercise – and I mean running marathons (I don’t do things by halves).

Nothing worked permanently.

But some things worked for a while.

The answer to being slim, I finally realised, was to stick to a variety of tried and tested principles. My tried and tested principles which had worked for me. To my immense relief and pleasure, these principles did not include banishing any food from my life. They required planning, but they weren’t time consuming (I have no spare time in my life), and they weren’t costly. (I spend all my spare money on dogs).
But they do work. Hurrah! Finally, I am the same weight now as I was when I was twenty and I know how to stay there. And it is much, much more enjoyable. I also feel healthier, which is a big bonus. I also don’t worry if I want to go on holiday and I put on a few pounds because I know it won’t be difficult to shift them again.

If this sounds like it might suit you – then read on – and hopefully some of the principles we talk about in this book might change the way you view staying slim too.


How to Eat Loads and Stay Slim,
will be available later this year
as a paperback (ISBN 978-0-9568856-2-3), 
as an e-book, and in audio.

To be notified of the release date subscribe to this blog