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What I thought of… King Kong (2005) #movie #review

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kingkong-movie

So apparently there’s another King Kong movie.

Well WHAT A RELIEF! I mean, there was I breaking into a cold sweat wondering if the powers that be had run out of movie ideas or if they were going to be forced to remake ‘Spider Man’ for the umpteenth time… oh wait.

Anyway, it was whilst I was having this very conversation with a friend of mine that I was reminded that the last King Kong movie, in 2005, was really rather good – a point which I was unable to dispute because somehow I never saw it. So, I punched up my LoveFilm app and rented it right away, (first person to mention NetFlix gets a slap) – and a week or so later I was watching Jack Black lark about with an oversized monkey. Here’s what I thought of the movie (warning: this review contains some spoilers):

It’s too darn long.

Jeepers it’s long. Honestly, there are times when I wondered whether it was EVER going to end, and I think part of the reason it feels so drawn out (although this isn’t just a feeling, it is 3hrs+) is because at times King Kong is nothing more than a dull monster flick.

A common problem with films of today, in my humble opinion, is that they spend too long on fight sequences, car chases and special effects. It’s as if filmmakers find themselves struggling to spend the zillion pound budget they’ve acquired, and so they shoe horn in another explosion, or a few more more car crashes, or something else to go whizz bang pow. But the thing is, we’ve seen it before – 1,000 times! In 3D! And in Dolby Stereo! Even back in 2005! That stuff isn’t impressive any more! Get on with the bloody story!

In Kong’s case, there are long drawn out sequences where Peter Jackson (director) actually seems to have forgotten all about Kong and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) preferring instead to concentrate on the other characters and yet another run in with more dinosaurs or overgrown bugs. Which would be absolutely fine if this were Jurrassic Park, because that’s the point of Jurassic Park, but this is King Kong! The clue is in the title.

In fact, now that we’ve mentioned Jurassic Park, there were moments when I caught myself thinking WWSD (What Would Spielberg Do). There’s a scene for instance when Carl Denham (Jack Black) drops his camera and loses all the footage he’s been filming. It’s a pivotal point in the story, and it’s over in a heart beat. Whoops – dropped my camera – bugger. Now, were Spielberg in the directors chair that camera would have rolled down a hill, fallen through a crack in the ground formed by an earthquake, and after being tossed in the air by a passing dinosaur, it would end up hanging on a flimsy branch by its shoulder strap, inches from Carl’s finger tips. But he can’t quite reach, and he’s forced to crawl his way along the branch, on his belly, 150 feet above a river of flowing lava, and just as his fingers touch the strap… well you get the idea.

One thing Spielberg wouldn’t have done is forget about the relationship between Ann and Kong, which is the WHOLE POINT of the story. But somehow, despite the film being over THREE HOURS LONG, we barely scratch the surface of what is, in essence, a story of the world’s most unlikely romance.

Two other things bugged me; Jack Black seems wrong for the role. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still excellent, but somehow not villainous enough. And that’s my second beef. The villain doesn’t get his come uppance! So he loses his monster on the opening night of his show. Big deal! WWSD? He’d have had Carl standing on the sidewalk, looking up, when the hairy one eventually falls from the Empire State building, and… squish.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s the best over-sized gorilla love-story remake of our generation, and the new one will feel like a half-hearted rip-off. Have your say in the comments below…

(Trailers for the 2005 film, AND the new 2017 film below)

And now compare with this year’s offering…

The Truth About Great Cover Design…

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TTATCM publicity

Book covers.

I hate ’em.

No really, that’s the truth, because that age old piece of advice – never judge a book by its cover – is universally IGNORED!

Everyone judges pretty much everything by its cover, ESPECIALLY books. So it really doesn’t matter how many months I spent slaving over the words on the inside, if the cover isn’t absolutely perfect (or as close as), I’ll have pretty much wasted my time. After all, I went through goodness knows how many covers for my first novel and to this day I’m still not entirely sure we got it absolutely right (read about that here).

So it was with considerable trepidation that I approached the cover design for my latest fiction offering; The Truth About This Charming Man. And just for “fun” (yours, not mine) my agent thought you might enjoy seeing the personal torment we went through to arrive at the FABULOUS jacket above / to the right. That’s nice of her, isn’t it.

Anyway, let’s start with these three doodles…

The Truth - proof4 The Truth - proof The Truth - proof2

If you’re shaking your head in bewilderment I can’t say I blame you. Let me give you some context:

My latest novel was never intended to be a novel at all. Back at the beginning of 2015, in a desperate attempt to plug the hole in my bank account, I’d written a five part story entitled The Truth. The plan was to submit it to a well-known weekly women’s publication in the hopes that they might serialise it. This is a bit like trying to solve a financial crisis by purchasing a single lottery ticket, but still, I was determined.

The basic plot was (and still is… to some degree) about a thirty something actor who, despite never having secured a ‘proper’ role on stage or screen, has, somehow, landed three unusuallet’s call them ‘positions’… pretending to be whoever his clients need him to be. And although it still isn’t proper theatre, by and large, life is pretty good for our hero… until the day he needs to play two of those people. At the same meeting.

It’s an idea that Kate and I originally came up with many years ago – although typically, when I actually came to write it, it morphed into something very different, and in my humble opinion, far better, than what we’d originally envisaged.

In fact, so pleased was I with my second piece of full length fiction that I resolved to self-publish it as a novella should the magazine in question decide not to take the story. Hence the doodles above. These are *some* of my attempts at what I thought might be the cover… and I hated them. I still do. In my head I had this idea about our hero falling between sinister versions of the two famous actor masks. I realised too that the design had to be at least sympathetic to my first novel, but I just couldn’t get it to work; close friends I shared these doodles with said it made the book look like a murder mystery. Arrrgghhh!

FORTUNATELY, around March of last year, destiny stepped in.

I’d just landed myself a new agent, who in turn had secured a publicity deal with amazon, which led to my first novel being re-vamped and re-published. But before I’d even signed my contract, my agent was understandably keen to know what else could be in the pipeline. So I showed her The Truth, and… she loved it.

Though she didn’t love the title.

Or the fact it was a novella.

“Go away,” she said, “and turn this into a proper, full-length novel… with a better title.”

Nine months later and I had finished The Truth About This Charming Man.

Which brings us onto this…

THE TRUTH kindle proof

 

I was still basking in the glory of somehow completing an entire novel in the tenth of the time it had taken me to write the first one, when this cover was designed. Maybe I wasn’t being objective but at the time I loved the masks. I loved the way they’re all angry or sad with the exception of the one he’s wearing. I loved the spot light. I loved everything about it. I was in love!

So pleased was I – and so confident that both amazon and my agent would love it too – I grabbed my wallet and went right ahead and had the finished artwork made up.

Oops.

My agent did like it, sort of, but there were some problems.

Firstly, apparently books that are obviously about actors or acting are unpopular with publishers (as are books to do with writers, or writing). So anything with actor masks on it was a strict no-no.

Secondly, my market, apparently, is women’s contemporary romantic fiction. Regardless of whether my books are heavy on the romance or not 90% of my readers fit that demographic, and therefore it’s those ladies that have to look at the cover and go “Ooooo…”

I was sent back to the drawing board, with strict instructions to come back with ‘at least three’ ideas that we could pick from.

Several days later – with the dread that this entire process might take as long as it did last time hanging over my head – this design popped out:

TTATCM man in heart sketch

I liked it!

I felt we’d finally cracked the font. I liked the colour. The strap-line felt right.

I wasn’t sure whether we’d get away with the mask on the man…  more than that though, I was even more worried it still wouldn’t appeal to the women’s contemporary romantic fiction market.

A fear that was addressed by the following…

TTATCM bench sketch copy

Bear in mind this is a sketch, so it’s a bit rough round the edges. Those lines on the bench wouldn’t be there in a finished version.

I hate it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. It’s more or less a scene from the book, and I like the London skyline, but it’s so… chick-lit. There’s nothing wrong with chick-lit of course, but slap a cover like this on my book and I could envisage two things happening:

  1. I’d lose every single one of my male readers (even though there are probably about 6, and I know them all by name).
  2. There would be more than a few female readers who were hoping for a plot that’s a good deal more romantic than the one I’ve actually come up with.

Put simply, I wasn’t convinced it was a  good fit, even if I knew, in my heart of hearts, that this was probably the cover amazon and my agent would go for.

There hardly seemed any point in having a third idea – so I suggested a simple typographical solution, using the font and background colour from the first idea, maybe the border from the second idea. Just something we could throw into the mix so we could say, hand on heart, that we’d delivered three covers. The book equivalent of a guy in a red jersey beaming down to an unexplored planet with Captain Kirk.

What I got was this…

TTATCM typographical solution sketch

This is another sketch. Those glasses, I was assured, wouldn’t have the words shutterstock across them. But I wasn’t listening. What I was thinking was…

Woah!

I knew pretty much instantly that this was it. There was a kind of stirring. In my loins. Despite the fact that this design was turned out in the time it took me to send an email, go downstairs, make a cup of tea, and cup back up again – I just knew.

And I wasn’t alone. I sent all three covers to several friends, and most chose the design above over the other two. Especially those friends who hadn’t seen any other design, or had no idea what the book was about.

My favourite bit of feedback was this:

“I like the glasses. It makes me think of ‘deception’ – but also about those comedy glasses you could buy with a big nose and bushy eyebrows attached.”

Perfect!

Interestingly, those that didn’t choose this design, chose the couple on the bench. But no one liked the guy in the mask.

So, naughty though it may be, I casually forgot about the guy in the mask. I know, I know – I was tasked with submitting three ideas, but I wanted my favourite to have at least a 50/50 chance of winning even though I was 100% certain that the chick-lit cover would beat it to a pulp!

And I’m delighted to say I was wrong.

My agent circulated the two covers (the ones on offer) round her agency and my fave won hands down! The only objection being that it might not be *quite* romantic enough… and was it possible to ‘fix’ that? Which is why we came up with the finished version below by adding a little bit of a glow and a few love hearts (including the dot on the i in the word ‘charming’).

Personally I prefer the un-romanticised version, but hey – it’s not that much of a compromise. I’m still proud to be associated with this design.

TTATCM kindle

But… maybe we’ve got it wrong?

Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.


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Hot news; my second novel The Truth About This Charming Man is available right now, in paperback and for your phone, tablet, computer or kindle device!

Read the opening chapter, right now, right here.

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

How to talk to Michelle Ward about Boxing Day and Everything

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Almost exactly a year ago I popped into Phoenix 98 FM, to chat to the lovely Michelle Ward.

If you’re a regular visitor to my other blog – HowToDoEverythingAndBeHappy.com – you’ll already know that I’m a regular guest on the show, and together we present a slot called ‘Happy Club‘, whereby I dispense some tips and hints on happiness, and related subjects (for instance; here’s a show that we did on how to survive Christmas).

This particular time we were supposed to be talking about Boxing Day, but instead we ended up talking about, well, me – specifically, how I became an author and my tendency to get totally wrapped up in building a career, unfortunately at the expense on my own happiness.

We do eventually get around to discussing Boxing Day.

Eventually.

Anyway, if you’ve got a few moments, have a listen. Click the PLAY button in the image below, or click here to open YouTube. The last couple of minutes of the interview went a bit screwy, so I’ve just faded it out on this version – you haven’t missed much, honest.

If you’re not able to listen to audio at the moment, you can read a blog post about Boxing Day here.

Do you already have Boxing Days? Why not tell me (and other visitors to this blog) about them in the comments below, or over on facebook.


The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl (mentioned in the show) has been out a year now – get your copy for mere pennies from your local amazon store.

For other happiness tips, like Boxing Day, check out How To Do Everything And Be Happy, available everywhere in all formats… but also on amazon (.co.uk | .com)

And remember, Christmas is just around the corner and books do make incredibly good gifts!

What I thought of… Tomorrowland #movie #review

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A few nights ago I unplugged from the world, sat down in front of the TV, and watched Tomorrowland.

It’s a hugely enjoyable kids film – full of jet-packs, flying cars, androids, steampunk gadgets… In many ways it has the feel of 80’s movies like Back To The Future, or Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but whilst those films are classic enjoyable nonsense, Tomorrowland has at its core a much more interesting premise.

Though it takes far too long to get there, Tomorrowland eventually asks the audience this intriguing question;

Do we live in despair and fear
because the world is a terrible place

…or is the world a terrible place
because we live in despair and fear?

There’s a moment in Tomorrowland where the villain, played by the excellent Hugh Laurie, says these sad words;

“In every moment there’s the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. You dwell on this terrible future and you resign yourselves to it for one reason; because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today.”

As it happens these are ideas that I’ve been thinking about and playing with for a few months now in my ongoing pursuit of happiness. I’m yet to draw any solid conclusions – at least not ones that I’m ready to share – but I suspect that if I ever write a follow up to How To Do Everything And be Happy, well, there’s a good chance those thoughts will form the basis of the book.

In the meantime however I leave you with these wise words from Casey Newton, heroine of Tomorrowland, played by Britt Robertson.

There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is… which wolf wins?

The one you feed.

What I thought of… Photograph 51 #theatre #review

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Last night was fortunate enough to see Nicole Kidman in Anna Ziegler’s play Photograph 51 at the Noël Coward Theatre. And wow. Ninety minutes or so of theatrical magic as a cast of six tell the story of the structure of DNA was discovered – which I admit might sound a little dull side, were it not *also* the story of how of scientist Rosalind Franklin was cheated out of this ground breaking discovery by four overly ambitious male colleagues.

Or was she?

Well that’s for the audience to decide.

My only criticism – if I have one – was the ‘narration’, delivered throughout the performance by the male characters, as though they were discussing how they remembered past events. It was an interesting device but at times it seemed intrusive, as if there was just too much… but as I thought about it afterwards I wondered whether perhaps the cast who were just so strong, and so adept at non-verbal communication with their audience, that they’d managed to render some of the narration superfluous. If I’d been the director I think I’d have been tempted to cut a few lines… but maybe that’s not how big theatre works.

Anyway – if you get a chance to see it before it ends… grab it with both hands.

What I thought of… SPECTRE #movie #review

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Just got back from seeing SPECTRE, and… I liked it. I’d go as far to say it was the best Bond movie since Tomorrow Never Dies (everything after that was pretty much ‘meh’ apart from The World Is Not Enough which was just diabolical).

Anyway, back to SPECTRE; it’s not going to be a Bond movie that you look back in years to come with fond recollections, but, hey, those days are probably long gone because

  1. we’re older and
  2. the world has changed.

It is however a good story, and for once the action sequences are more than just a tiresome excuse to spend a gizzillion dollars.

Two things particularly struck me;

  1. the relentless number of cheeky references to famous scenes from all the other bond movies (it really is like every time they needed some action they just dug out a few pages from an old script – but I’m not complaining – it works) and
  2. Monica Bellucci’s magical basque which she definitely isn’t wearing under her dress, but then somehow mysteriously acquires by the very next shot! That did seem odd. But maybe I’m the only one who notices when an attractive woman is laying on her bed in expensive lingerie.

What did you lot think?

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.


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