The opening chapter to: The Truth About This Charming Man

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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My second novel The Truth About This Charming Man is available right now in paperback and for your smart phone, tablet, computer or kindle e-book reader!

The film will be along some time in the next decade.

How to finish a novel

 

So I just finished typing THE END on my fourth novel, and I’ll be honest with you, it feels a bit weird.

I was beginning to think I’d never get here! My amazing spreadsheet, that calculates my likely completion date (based on how many words I’ve written since the start of the project), reckoned I’d be done by September – October at the latest. But that was assuming the novel would come in at 80,000 words – average novel length, and more or less what all three of my previous works of fiction weighed in at.

However, as I reached that epic word count the story was nowhere near done. It was the writing equivalent of running a marathon only to have someone tell you after twenty six gruelling miles that the finish line has been moved. I had to keep going.

Never mind. At least the majority of the book had been written. And the last time I ‘wrote a novel’… and the time before that… there was something about having the end in sight that propelled me forwards. A sudden sprint to the finish line. But this time, the closer I got to the end of the story the slower I got.

Part of that was because I wasn’t entirely sure how the story should end. In fact, if it hadn’t of been for my chums in my writing group I might still be searching for that elusive ending.

Even when I had the ending, those last couple of chapters were extremely troublesome. This morning I spent almost 5 hours writing approximately two hundred words. That’s 40 words an hour. Less than a word a minute.

But…

It’s done.

Finally.

Except of course…

It’s not.

Starting next week I’m editing: I already have a pile of ‘go back and fix this’ notes. Then I’ll print the whole thing off, and do ‘the big read through’. When I’m done with drowning my sorrows (because traditionally at this point most authors think they’ve written a massive pile of horse poo), I’ll take my big red pen and start slashing and hacking.

I’ll be honest with you, the last two times I quite enjoyed this part – this is the moment when it actually starts to feel like I’ve written a book, something I can be proud of. But I suspect books might be a little like children; you might have had something to do with their creation, you might have created others, but it’s a mistake to let your guard down.

When I’m finally done slashing and hacking I’ll give the book to the half dozen trusted folk who have been waiting patiently to read it. My ‘first readers’.

And when I’m done working through their comments (which could easily range from ‘not sure she should be wearing a yellow dress in this scene’ to ‘this ending doesn’t make any kind of sense’) well… then I’ll send it to my agent.

And that’s when – ‘scuse the language – sh*t gets real.

In my experience, feedback from Agents tends to fall into two broad categories: Either they like your book, but have two or three suggested changes (those changes being ‘the beginning’, ‘the middle’, and ‘the end’), or… they don’t like your book, and would rather you’d written something else.

But that’s a long way off. Months away.

For now I’m just going to celebrate the end of this stage, and feel proud that I got to this point. Again. My fourth novel. My eighth book. That in itself, isn’t bad going.

So, check back again soon to see how the editing’s going. In the meantime, if you’re a writer, feel free to share your experiences of getting to the end of a first draft. And if you’re not a writer, but have always fancied writing a book, feel free to ask me a question or share your novel writing attempts in the comments.

Now then, where did I put my red pen?


Struggling for Christmas Present ideas? Then why not solve all your Christmas Present Conundrums in one hit by visiting The Novel Coffee Shop (98 London Road, Southend-on-Sea, SS1 1PG), on Saturday 1st December 2018 between 1:30pm and 4pm, where I’ll be signing copies of all my books, along with Sci-Fi author Claire Buss, and Children’s Fantasy author Daisy Bourne.

Click the flyer below to see a bigger version!

Stop Waiting, and START DATING! (Now updated for #Tinder )

The definitive guide to twenty-first century dating – whatever your age!

 

It’s been four years since my popular dating book came out. Four years!! Where on earth has the time gone?? I mean… you could have easily met someone, got married, had a kid, and got divorced in that time! Or… you could have sat around, at home, just waiting for the man or woman of your dreams to knock on the front door…

Here’s a funny little story that I don’t get to tell very often.

A while back I got invited to talk to a Women’s Institute in North Essex. This was a return visit, and so I started (as I always do) by asking if anyone remembered how long it had been since my first visit.

“16 months!” said a lady in the front row.

“16 months?” I replied. “That’s very precise!” Before leaping into the torrid tale of How I Met Kylie Minogue…

When I’d finished speaking, the lady in the first row got up to give ‘the vote of thanks’ (I always pity the person who’s been given that job).

However, rather than the usual comments (‘what an interesting talk’ or ‘judging by the laughter I think I can safely say everyone enjoyed that’ or ‘where do you get your energy from?’)this lady proceeded to tell me, and her fellow WI ladies, how sixteen months earlier she’d rather coyly bought a copy of How To Stop Waiting And Start Datinghaving asked me whether it would be suitable for ‘a lady of her age’.

She took the book home, read it cover to cover, followed each and every step (including the advice on buying a pay as you go mobile phone), and four months later – much to the amazement of her daughter and friends – finally met George. And they’d just celebrated a year together. The happiest year of her life. And that’s how she knew it was sixteen months.

Her story is similar to many that I sometimes hear, as I travel around Essex. Stories from people who, for one reason or another, had given up on dating websites, or thought they were too old, or met one too many Lotharios… but with a little help from yours truly, found love again.

So why a second edition?

Shortly after the first edition came out, the world of dating changed. With the ever increasing popularity of phone apps, Tinder suddenly crashed into our world. Finding the man or woman of your dreams became as simple as swiping right (or left) on a bunch of selfies. People who Tinder thought you might like to spend the rest of your life with.

Except that anyone who’s ever used Tinder will tell you that it’s not that simple. You swipe right on a bunch of people… but you never seem match with anyone. Or you DO match with someone… but they never ever message you back. Or they do message you back… but they turn out to be… erm… well let’s just say unsuitable. The potential for heartbreak just goes on and on and on…

If ever there was an app designed to put you off dating for life, Tinder is it.

Well.

You know me.

That’s like a red rag to bull!

Why doesn’t Tinder work? Could it? Was there a way of using it that everyone else seemed to have missed? I needed to know.

Now unfortunately it took a little while longer than I anticipated to research test, and write my conclusions, but four years on the entire book has been updated. And not just for Tinder either. Every single piece of advice I put my name to back in 2014 has been scrutinised, and where appropriate, given a fresh new lick of paint.

Tell me more about How To Stop Waiting And Start Dating (second edition)

I’m so glad you asked. Chapters includes…

Tinder; Yay or Nay?
How to make Tinder less frustrating,
and is Bumble any better.

D*ck Pic!
How to avoid getting *those* type of messages

Flash Bang Wallop What a Picture!
How to take the perfect selfie,
why it might be a good idea to include a horse in your photo,
and why you should stop doing ‘duck face’!

First Contact
What to say in your opening message,
and what to do when they reply!

Forget ‘First Dates’!
A smarter, easier, stress-free way to meet someone for the first time!

Sex On The First Date?
That question, answered.

What Type of Pizza Are You?
How to score at Speed Dating events

Also

The Four Laws of Dating
As non-negotiable as gravity!

The Ten Golden Rules of Dating
One more rule than the last edition
– break them at your peril!

And much, much, MUCH more…

If you’ve ever found dating a challenge, if you’ve found dating apps or websites to be less than fulfilling, if the thought of a ‘first date’ terrifies you, I promise this book will guide you through the potential pit falls, help you avoid the liars and Lotharios, and show you how meet and date people you actually like.

“Hilarious anecdotes and brilliant step-by-step advice”
Sarah T, Reader

Wait a minute… there’s more…

And as if that wasn’t enough, the mini-companion-guide to How To Stop Waiting And Start Dating has also been given a makeover. Whilst the actual content hasn’t changed all that much, From Invisible To Irresistible has a new title. One that makes much more sense. One that actually tells you what the book is about!

If the thought of dating apps or websites or any of that techno-malarkey makes you feel slightly nauseous – and you’d rather meet someone ‘the old fashioned’ way – How To Be Even More Attractive could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Both new editions are available right now, in paperback, and for your kindle enabled phone or tablet. What’s more, whether you want a paperback or an ebook, you’ll pay less than you did for the first edition. How To Be Even More Attractive is just 99p!

Other ebook editions for other ebook reading apps and devices should be available early 2019.

If you have any dating relating stories that you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to pop them in the comments below (or click/tap here if you’re reading this in an email).

And if you are reading this in an email, why not forward it on to a friend who might find it interesting?


Find the books, right now, on your local amazon site:

How To Stop Waiting And Start Dating
How To Be Even More Attractive

Chatting to Michelle Ward on Phoenix FM…

Last week (ish) I was invited back to Phoenix FM to talk to Michelle Ward about my latest novel ‘My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend’.

Now I know you’re probably all sick to death of me plugging the latest book (this’ll be the last one for a while – promise!) but the interview was such fun to do that I couldn’t not share it with you.

I’ve done a fair few radio interviews over the past few years (you can find them all here or on youtube), but of all the radio shows I’ve been on, Michelle’s interviews are my favourite. Yes, she takes the mickey out of me on air, and yes, she keeps me on my toes with her completely random comments or questions, but it’s all part of the fun.

This interview was quite long (about twenty minutes), with breaks for commercials and traffic and all that jazz, so I’ve broken it into two parts, and Michelle’s rather cleverly edited out all the ads for double glazing.

In this first part, Michelle asked me how I became an author in the first place, which somehow ended up in a discussion about how to meet the man or woman of your dreams on facebook. See what I mean? You wouldn’t get that on the Radio 2. If you can’t see a big PLAY button in an image below, click here.

In the second part we finally got around to discussing My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend. I told her how the story came about, why the cover was such a pain to get right, and who would play the three main characters should the book ever get made into a movie.

Again, if you can’t see a big PLAY button, click or tap here.


Click or tap here, to visit amazonThat’s enough now! 

This’ll be my last plug of My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend for a while, which means two things:

  1. Your email inbox is about to get a lot less interesting and
  2. that the price of my third and arguably best novel will be going back up very, very soon. To avoid missing out on getting a fantastic laugh-out-loud read that costs less than a cup of coffee, click or tap here to visit amazon – or type BuyTheBook.TODAY into your web browser.

And remember, you can follow me on social media via the links below

The difference between male and female book covers…

Book covers.

I hate them!

No really, I do. Because the age old advice – never judge a book by the cover – is universally ignored.

Recently my third novel, My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend, came out and I couldn’t be more delighted. Like my previous two novels it’s sort-of a romantic comedy, only this one’s about… well, you can probably work it out from the title.

I went through hell and back with the designer working on the covers for my first two novels (you can read about those experiences here and here), but when it came to this book, I was pretty sure it would be a walk in the park. And here’s why:

In the opening chapter of My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend, there’s a silly joke about our hero’s girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend being soooo perfect that there’s probably a Tibetan temple dedicated to him. It would be your standard Tibetan temple; chanting monks, a sixty foot golden statue – only obviously the statue would have an extra pair of arms so that Sebastian (the perfect ex-boyfriend) could hold various symbols and representations of all the wondrous gifts that he brings to the world.

That, I thought, would make a great cover for the book. I put all this in an email to my wonderful designer and this is what he came back with.

I was pleased. Okay so it’s not perfect by any means. It’s quite difficult to read some of the words against the patterned background, but as a concept it’s pretty darn close to what I had in my head. However, even though I really like covers that wrap around the spine and continue on the back, it seemed a shame that we couldn’t see all of Sebastian. Plus I had a nagging feeling that despite the cartoon style grin, this cover didn’t necessarily scream romantic comedy at anyone casually looking for a new book to read.

So with that in mind I decided to familiarise myself with covers of other women’s contemporary humorous fiction, written by male novelists, and from a male viewpoint. And here’s what I found:

I think you’ll agree, there’s definitely a style. Lots of flat colour. Slightly cartoony. Silhouettes seem popular. Oh, and all of them (with the possible exception of two) are EASY TO READ – particularly when reduced to a thumbnail. So – Mr Cover Designer Man – would it be possible to take that original design for my cover, and tweak it so that it wouldn’t look out of place when filling that gap in the bottom right hand corner?

Oh, and could I have a couple of ideas to pick from? Thank you.

Here’s what I got back.

 

Wow!

Now remember, these are just rough-and-ready sketches, so any weird blobs or lines wouldn’t be there on a final finished version, but even so, my gob was well and truly smacked. I loved them. All of them. Not equally of course, but each one was a massive improvement on the original, and I was utterly convinced that with a bit of tweaking we had a finished cover. All I had to decide was which one.

It was an easy choice.

Now obviously this one is a clear winner. No doubt in my mind. I was a little worried about my name getting lost at the bottom there, but really the title’s the more important thing.

However, just to be absolutely sure I’d picked the right one, I decided to ask some other authors. Specifically romantic fiction authors. Specifically female romantic fiction authors. I uploaded all six new designs (plus the original design) into one of the private facebook groups for the Romantic Novelists Association and asks my fellow novelists to vote.

I’m not going to lie to you… I was shocked at the result.

With the exception of one person (Hello Sue Lovett), every single woman chose one of the following:

This left me scratching my head. I was so sure my choice was the better cover and yet here I was being out-voted by 10 to 1! (Incidentally, Sue chose the original, first design).

So I asked my partner what she thought. Along with all her (female) work colleagues, she too picked one of the two covers above, with the majority of her colleagues picking the version on the right.

Not only that, but almost every woman I’d asked took the time to tell me that, although they liked the design, they hated Sebastian’s orange tie! One woman (Hello Virginia) said it reminded her of Halloween!!

Still reeling from this new information I decided to ask my male friends which one they would go for. With the exception of one person (Hello Patrick – there’s always one isn’t there) they all picked the same one I’d chosen, or a near relative.

So this left me with a rather interesting conclusion and a potentially troublesome conundrum.

Conclusion: Different covers appeal to male and female readers.

Conundrum: Do I pick a female cover, or a male one?

It really wasn’t a hard choice if I’m honest.

I write Women’s Contemporary Humorous Fiction. 90% of my readers (possibly more) are women. If I’m going to continue trying to make a living out of this writing lark then I had to choose the cover that the RNA ladies and my girlfriend’s colleagues had gone for.

Thing is, I didn’t like it.

The strap line seemed sort of lost at the bottom, and my name seemed a bit lonely up there at the top. And the two new silhouettes (which are supposed to represent Adrian and his girlfriend Paige), well they just seemed to be plonked either side of the word PERFECT for no reason.

I went back to Mr Cover Design Man with these thoughts and a couple of days later I went back to my girlfriend and novelist buddies with these four variations:

At first glance there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference between them so let me talk you through the key points.

  • In three of the designs Adrian and Paige have been resized to create a sense of perspective. Now we have a ‘scene’ being illustrated. In fact, in two of the designs they even have their own shadows!
  • Two of the designs obviously have borders whilst two don’t, but in all of them the colour of the tie has changed to match the word perfect, and my name has been tinkered with to make it look more ‘fun’.
  • Finally in one version the grin has made a reappearance, because I like the grin. I thought it was funny and would make people laugh. Turns out I was wrong. Most people told me the grin was off-putting and scary.

Everyone liked the pink tie though. And aside from comments about my name being hard to read, and the strap-line being too long, everyone chose either the second or third version.

And those comments were easily addressed.

I present to you, the final version:

 

And I have to say… I love it. Of all the covers on all my books, this one is most definitely my favourite.

It’s perfect.

Or is it? Let me know what you think in the comments.


Click or tap here, to visit amazonHot news! 

My latest novel, My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend, is just 99 pennies for a limited time only. Click or tap here to visit amazon or type BuyTheBook.TODAY into your web browser.

And remember, you can follow me on social media via the links below

Who could be in a movie of ‘My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend’? Part 3

My third novel came out a few days ago (read about that here), and as you might remember from my previous two novels, I find it useful to ‘cast’ each character before I sit down to write (you can read more about that here and here).

Here then, are a couple of pictures that until recently were pinned just to the right of my desk; those talented stars of stage and screen who I would dearly love to breathe life into the lives of people who up until a few days ago only existed in my head.

If you’ve already started reading My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend I’d love to know what you think. Post your thoughts, feelings, or alternative casting ideas in the comments at the bottom of this page (or here if you’re reading this in an email).

Character Name: GENIE  GRIMSHAW-HIGGLESBOTTOM

Age (in the story) / Date of Birth:  Fifty (3rd November 1964)

Nationality: English

Who are they?: Paige’s work colleague and excited bride to be… 

Who could play them in a movie adaptation?: Jane Horrocks

“Genie – isn’t quite what I was expecting.

She’s nice, though. And every bit ‘the girl in the office’ – which is quite a feat as once you’ve got past the nose and the mouth and the eyes and the hair, she’s clearly a woman in her early fifties, although she seems completely oblivious of the fact. Instead she kind of bobs around when she talks, which is a lot, and always at a hundred miles an hour, pausing only to laugh and giggle at anything that might be considered in any way amusing. And as she does so, her tinkly Yorkshire accent sort of wriggles its way inside your ears and tickles your ear drums, and after a while you become dimly aware that you haven’t actually been listening to a single word she’s saying – but you’re smiling nonetheless. And all this derived from a ten minute chat in the departure lounge.”

Character Name: NIKITA {surname unknown)

Age (in the story) / Date of Birth:  Fortytwo.

Nationality: Polish

Who are they?: Surprise companion of Sebastian Tunbridge

Who could play them in a movie adaptation?: Vera Farmiga

“Which is when a woman in dark glasses and a particularly… well… flattering, short, low-cut, figure hugging, dress, squeezes past the flight attendant, and takes the seat next to Sebastian. They exchange hushed words, and a ripple of laughter, then she tosses a head full of flowing chestnut locks, turns and looks over her shoulder – at us. She gives us both a warm, friendly smile… and then, very deliberately aimed at me, a playful wink.

Out of the corner of my eye I see my girlfriend’s mouth drop open, before her head spins round to face mine.

“Do you know her!?” she hisses.

“No!” I say.

“Who is she!?” she asks.

“How the hell would I know?”

“But she winked at you!”

“I know, I was here the whole time!”


Click or tap here, to visit amazonHot news! 

My latest novel, My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend, is just 99 pennies for a limited time only. Click or tap here to visit amazon or type BuyTheBook.TODAY into your web browser.

And remember, you can follow me on social media via the links below

Who could be in a movie of ‘My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend’? Part 2

My third novel came out a few days ago (read about that here), and as you might remember from my previous two novels, I find it useful to ‘cast’ each character before I sit down to write (you can read more about that here and here).

Here then, are a couple of pictures that until recently were pinned just to the right of my desk; those talented stars of stage and screen who I would dearly love to breathe life into the lives of people who up until a few days ago only existed in my head.

If you’ve already started reading My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend I’d love to know what you think. Post your thoughts, feelings, or alternative casting ideas in the comments at the bottom of this page (or here if you’re reading this in an email).

Evan Evans (Ken Stott)

“You wanted to see me, Evan?” I say as I stick my head round the headmaster’s door. His big round puffy face was a picture of total boredom a second or two earlier – like a three-week-old balloon left over from a children’s party – but the moment he sees me his head re-inflates and bounces around on sloping shoulders.

“Ade!” he says. “Come in. Sit down. How’re things?” I take the seat on the other side of the large mahogany desk.

“Oh, you know,” I say.

“Excellent, excellent.” He clasps his hands together and leans forward. “And how’s that lovely lady of yours?”

“She’s, erm… good,” I reply with some rapid nodding thrown in to indicate just how good she is.

“Any wedding bells in the offing?”

“Oh – er – you know,” I say again, but this time he’s not going to be deflected.

“Not really, no.”

“Well… Maybe.”

“Good!” he says, throwing me a wink. “Don’t want to let a woman like that get away.” And I try and ignore the feeling of my heart being torn out, dropped in the waste paper basket, doused in petrol and ignited in front of me.”

Gary Cooke (Asa Butterfield)

“A ball of screwed up paper whizzes over my head and bounces off the wall. I wait a full three seconds then casually glance up at the minor skirmish that has inevitably broken out in the moments that my attention was elsewhere.

“Mr Cooke,” I start, addressing the lad who is currently engaged in a tug of war over a mobile phone with another pupil, “Is there a reason you are out of your seat for the third time this period?”

“I need to borrow something.”

“Again?”

“Er yeah.”

“You seem to have been particularly forgetful when you packed your bag this morning.

“Yeah, I didn’t, I er… Yeah.”

“Sit down.”

“But Sir…”

“Sit down,” I say again. “Now.”

“But I need – ”

“If I have to tell you a third time, Gary, you’ll be coming back here at a quarter to four.” He stands there. Defiant. “And tomorrow night,” I say. “Two lots of detention if you don’t sit down right now.” And I can tell he’s conflicted. It’s like he wants me to give him detention, but at the same time acknowledges the fact that it’s a punishment and therefore something to be avoided. “Quarter to four it is then,” I say, and half the class breaks into forced laughter and jeering.”


Click or tap here, to visit amazonHot news! 

My latest novel, My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend, is just 99 pennies for a limited time only. Click or tap here to visit amazon or type BuyTheBook.TODAY into your web browser.

And remember, you can follow me on social media via the links below