Nuala Casey

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  1. When the Cheering Stopped.

    On the tenth anniversary of 7/7, I look back at the day jubilation turned to horror.

    SummerLiesBleeding_lge

    Ten years ago, life in London as I knew it changed and would never be the same again. On 7th July 2005, fifty-two innocent commuters were killed on their way to work, blown up by a series of bombs – three on the tube network, one on a London bus – that were detonated at the peak of rush hour.

    The day began with drizzly rain and I remember pointing out the sky to my boyfriend, Nick, as we walked towards the overland station at Queenstown Road in Battersea. I had never seen a sky like it, there seemed to be no light poking through, no movement. I can’t describe it as dark because a dark sky has shades, a certain sheen or lustre to it, nor was it like the fluffy, pregnant skies that precede a thunderstorm. No, the sky that bore down on London that morning was a stagnant mass, how you imagine the earth would look after the death of the sun.

    As we got off the train at Waterloo ten minutes later, everything seemed normal. Back then Waterloo was home to the Eurostar so the station was a strange mixture of flustered commuters and happy holiday-makers. It was eight-thirty when I kissed Nick goodbye and watched him walk towards the tube which would take him to his office in Piccadilly.

    An hour later I was sitting at my desk watching the large television screen that filled the opposite wall of the sparse reception area. BBC News was reporting a power surge on the tube network that was causing massive delays. A large graphic of the tube map was spread across the screen with red and blue dots highlighting where these ‘power surges’ had taken place. I saw the blue Piccadilly line, the yellow Circle line but no brown Bakerloo – the one Nick would have taken to get to Piccadilly Circus. I picked up my mobile and dialled his number but it went straight to answerphone. He must still be on the tube, I thought, as I pressed ‘end call’ and looked up at the screen. But now there was no talk of power surges and delays just a stark red Breaking NEWS caption flashing on and off the screen and a sombre newsreader telling of, what appeared to be, a terrorist attack on the tube network.

    Within minutes, the reception area was filled with people: the traders from the corporate bank, the journalists from the sports magazine who rented office space on the same floor, all standing looking at the screen in disbelief. I tried to see over their heads, turning the volume up high to hear any mention of the Bakerloo line. Then I heard someone say that with all the delays earlier in the morning commuters might have had to get on different trains and change.

    I dialled Nick’s number over and over but still it went to answer phone. It felt like an eternity though it was not yet ten-fifteen.  Then something shifted; the tone of the newsreader went from controlled to harried as she crossed to a grey-faced reporter in Tavistock Square. ‘Jesus Christ,’ exclaimed one of the traders and I stood up and looked at the picture on the screen. It showed a red London bus with its roof blown away. There were people standing in the shell of the bus, still holding bags and bottles of water, their faces dazed and grey with dust.

    At that moment it felt as though London was under attack. Nobody knew what was going to happen next. We were on the sixth floor of a tall, prominent building, right next to Waterloo, one of London’s major stations and the gateway to Europe. The security guard for the building arrived minutes later and told us we were not allowed to leave, that Waterloo Station was going into lockdown as a security precaution. Still I kept dialling and dialling.

    I sat with my phone in my hands as the news unfolded on the screen: three tube trains travelling from King’s Cross – two Circle Line trains and a Piccadilly Line train – and a Number 52 bus travelling through Tavistock Square had been blown up in what appeared to be a series of terrorist attacks. Eventually, at ten thirty the landline phone rang on my desk and I heard Nick’s voice. He had walked to work in the end, after seeing there were delays but his phone had gone down and he couldn’t get any reception. Like me, he was standing in his office watching the news reports coming in. There was a lot of speculation flying around – talk of army tanks in Leicester Square, of the SAS swooping in; of London being declared a no-go area and of us being held in our offices until further notice. None of us knew what to believe; all we could do was sit and watch and wait

    The room was silent as the first images of survivors came through. There on the screen were bloodied faces, battered bodies stumbling out of Kings Cross Station where ambulances lined the street, out into the grey morning, into light, into fresh air and safety. Men and women who had set out that morning to work and now found themselves stumbling around in chaos, confusion, blood and terror. One by one they came, but where had they come from, what had they seen? Who had been left behind in those mangled carriages?

    The day passed slowly. No work was done; the only phone calls coming through were from worried friends and relatives checking if their loved ones were safe. My dad rang me from the top of a moor in the depths of North Yorkshire. He was filming for his television programme, The Dales Diary, and had just heard the news. He had spent twenty years commuting to London from the North-East as a reporter for the BBC and had built a house in the northern countryside for his family of five children as a safe haven away from the city. Yet I had left that haven and headed for London as soon as I graduated from university, headed for the centre of the centre, to Soho, drawn to the neon lights like a moth, drawn to excitement and danger. ‘Thank God you’re safe,’ he repeated over and over, raising his voice to be heard above the wild winds that blew above his head on that desolate moor, a world away from the dirt and grime and terror of the underground where terrified commuters were emerging from tunnels like moles frantically searching for air and safety.

    Sometime around four, we were told we could leave the office. I remember waiting for a couple of colleagues who, like me, lived in South London and we walked in a sombre procession along the river towards Vauxhall. There were no tubes, no buses, hardly any traffic, just a stream of pale-faced workers walking silently towards home. Time had stopped, London life was suspended and all we wanted to do was reach our loved ones and hold them close.

    Eventually I got home and found Nick sitting silently in front of the TV. I joined him and we stayed there for the rest of the night, trying to make sense of what had happened, trying to find a reason. I remember the face of a woman whose fiancé was missing. She had that look of terror and pain in her eyes, the unknowing panic I had felt when I couldn’t get hold of Nick that morning. She stood holding a photograph of her fiancé up to the camera. He had stayed at a friend’s house the night before and I wished with all my heart that he had drunk too much, had stayed curled up on his friend’s sofa instead of going into work and had just woken up to hear the news. I wished he would ring that woman right now, tell her he was okay, take the fear and sorrow out of her eyes. But he didn’t. We found out later that he was among the eleven passengers killed on the Number 52 bus.

    The next day I travelled into work on the overland train. A pensive silence hung heavily in the air.  Nobody seemed to be reading newspapers or books that morning, we just sat rigid in our seats, looking around the carriage for suspicious packages, willing the train to get to Waterloo in one piece. The newspaper billboards screamed out the death toll, the air was filled with shock and paranoia. I monitored Nick like an over-protective mother, telling him he must walk to work, that he must not get on the tube, that he must ring me to let me know he had arrived at the office.

    Something changed for me that day and was never restored – my freedom, my light-hearted attitude to the city I loved. Once, London was the only place I wanted to be, now it felt like my jailor, bearing down on me, filling me with fear and paranoia.

    Exactly two weeks after 7/7, four more would-be suicide bombers attempted a similar series of attacks at Shepherd’s Bush, Warren Street and Oval underground and on a bus in Shoreditch, but their bombs failed to detonate.  In the days and weeks following I carried an anxiety around with me that I had never felt before. The fact that the 21st July would-be bombers had escaped, possibly off to plot something even bigger, left me feeling vulnerable and afraid all the time. Every night the news warned of another threat; that the most likely target would be an overland train or a bus or a crowded shopping centre.  I started to get panic attacks on the tube so I stopped using it; trips into Soho and the West-End, once a regular occurrence before 7/7, were curtailed. I avoided crowded areas, I stopped going to the theatre and the cinema. Life as I knew it ceased to be, it felt like London had stopped existing for me.

    It was a dark, paranoid summer – Muslim men were routinely searched at train stations, there were fears of vigilante attacks, and on the 22nd July, the day after the failed attacks, police shot and killed an innocent man, Jean Charles De Menezes, believing him to be a suicide bomber. What had happened to the spirit of our city, to the great benevolent host who welcomed in people of every nationality, colour and creed? What I had loved most about the city was the fact that people of all backgrounds and walks of life could co-exist peacefully. Now difference got you stopped and searched, made people look at you with fear in their eyes as you stepped onto the tube. I saw it on the street, on the looks exchanged among shoppers as a Burkha-clad woman walked past or a Muslim man fumbled with his rucksack. An invisible divide was slowly forming; fear given space to multiply becomes paranoia and hatred and I could feel the rumbling of dissent, of some great backlash about to be unleashed. It felt uncomfortable. This was not the London I knew.

    Even after the 21st July bombers were arrested I felt as though I had been disconnected from the city, I no longer felt at liberty to walk its length and breadth aimlessly as I did when I lived in Soho, or hop on a tube without thinking about it. When I first arrived in London the tube represented freedom. I didn’t need a car or lots of money, I just needed my Oyster card and a comfy pair of shoes. I got such a thrill from not having to consult the map, of knowing to change at A to get to C via B. That’s when I felt I had become a real Londoner. Walking fast and not standing on the left side of the escalator, being privy to the unwritten laws that dictate daily life in London. And now what was once freedom had become entrapment, the tube was no longer a symbol of London life, it was a weapon, an enemy that wished us harm.

    Nick and I got married in December 2005 and in August the following year I found out I was pregnant. Three months before our son was born in 2007 we made the decision to move out of London; to find some open space where our little boy could grow up. But leaving was not easy for me, I sobbed and cried as I boarded the train at Clapham Junction bound for the South Coast and watched the city I loved disappear behind me, like a paper map being crumpled up by the curved expanse of the Downs. As the train trundled away, it all felt like a dream, the last six years of my life, as though I had made it up as I went along, like the magic land at the top of the Faraway Tree. But this is not it, I told myself, as I wiped my eyes and took out my notebook full of unfinished sentences and crossed out lines, this is not the end. One day I will return; one day I will find out how the story is meant is end.

    Two years after leaving London I enrolled on a Creative Writing MA course at York St John University, in our newly adopted city of York, and I started to write Soho, 4am. I wanted to make sense of that fateful twenty-four hours when jubilation turned to horror; wanted to tell the story of four ordinary people whose life changing experiences would be overshadowed by the extraordinary twenty four hours in which they took place. I also wanted to tell the story of Soho, the sounds and smells, the incredible people I met and lived alongside. I don’t think I could have written Soho, 4am if I had still been living in London. I needed distance to see it clearly; like standing back to view a painting, I needed to gain perspective. If I had still been living there I would have been too absorbed in the sheer London-ness of it all to see it as it was; as it really was. In the end, I think Soho, 4am is my love letter to London, to the battered but strong city that took me under its wing all those years; that inspired and scared me in equal measure and continues to both haunt and inspire my work.

  2. Writing Motherhood

    WritingMotherhood

    I am a huge admirer of novelist and poet Carolyn Jess Cooke so I was delighted when she asked me to take part in her Writing Motherhood tour. This fascinating project, inspired by Carolyn’s experiences, explores how becoming a mother impacts on the creative process and how motherhood is represented – or under-represented as we discovered through our talks – in literary work.

    I joined the tour in Swansea and York and was blown away by the women and men that I met and the stories they shared. From a young mother who confided that she felt guilty writing when her baby was asleep as she felt it was a luxury she should not be indulging in to a grandmother who shared a heartbreaking story of her own mother’s grief at the loss of a child and how that grief was hidden away. The constant thread running through both talks was the sense that becoming a mother changes the way you express yourself as a writer, the subject matter you tackle and the way you present your work. Carolyn spoke of how, after her child was born, her thoughts came out ‘novel-shaped’ while novelist C.L. Taylor explained how the anxiety and fears she felt for her child found expression in the tense psychological themes of her novels. All of the writers involved in these events lamented the fact that motherhood as a topic is vastly under-represented within contemporary literature with publishers often fearful that stories of motherhood will not sell. The response that Carolyn has had during this tour suggests otherwise and I was delighted to be part of such a powerful and thought-provoking project.

    Here is my own account of how motherhood impacted on my writing:

    Becoming a mother brought me back to life. I had spent my early years with a pen in my hand writing stories, poems, plays and songs. For me, writing was as normal as breathing, a way of expressing myself, of making sense of the world and my place within it. Books and writing got me through the toughest times at school, they held my hand through teenage love and a broken heart, they acted as road-maps as I set about navigating the rough terrain of adulthood. Writing was never a vocation it was a necessity; I needed to write to feel alive. My pen and paper took me through university where I won the national student screenwriting prize and as the Millennium dawned my future seemed assured. But then in my twenties my life fell apart. I suffered a miscarriage which prompted an eating disorder that saw my weight plummet to six stone. The world became a twilit gloom, a netherworld that no amount of writing could ever make sense of. I spent my twenties living in Soho, drifting through London, singing in jazz clubs and feeling numb. I would scribble down ideas for novels in the middle of the night knowing that I would never have the energy to pursue them.

    Having my son, Luke, who was born in 2007 changed everything. I started to slowly come back to life, as a person and as a writer. I was no longer starving myself to numb the pain, I was nourishing my body to feed another. I began to see things that he could see, magical things like hidden mushrooms on the way to the park or the absurdity of one word having several meanings. Luke had so many questions and I was the one who had to provide the answers and in doing so I began to see the world in all its colour again.

    But as my outlook has broadened the same cannot be said for the attitude of certain people towards working mothers and this everyday sexism has been something that has shocked and frustrated me. For example, I recently spent a week away on research for my latest novel and before I left I was asked, in a rather terse way, who would be looking after Luke while I was on my trip. The question, surprisingly, was posed by a young woman in her twenties and when I heard it I felt so angry and frustrated that, not only should I have to explain myself for earning a living, but that this question would never be put to a man. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later my partner set off on a week’s research to Kent and nobody asked him who would be looking after his son while he was away. Fathers are never asked how they juggle work and children yet for working mothers it is often the first question asked. This subtle guilt that is directed towards mothers is something that I had never experienced before having my child and it is a subject I hope to tackle and challenge in my work.

     

    This following piece of writing was inspired by the well-meaning but destructive advice that is often doled out to pregnant women, new mothers and women who have experienced miscarriage and stillbirth and the harm it can do as women struggle to reclaim their bodies and make sense of what is happening. It is called The Weight of a Girl.

    The Weight of a Girl

    Babies are supposed to be warm, I told them, as they placed you on my stomach.  They are supposed to cry out and suckle and look up with milky-blue eyes. But you, the girl who had hidden in my womb for seven months, didn’t stir though you were fully formed. She is just sleeping, I told myself, as they wrapped you in a hospital-issue blanket and took you away. And I almost believed the lie.

    The midwife told me that some women cannot carry female babies; that their bodies cannot sustain them and I carried that thought with me and made myself the guilty party. My body was a toxic place; a frozen wilderness where children shrivelled and died and so I would no longer nourish it; I would punish the body that had failed my child.

    Hungry and exhausted I longed for the release of sleep when you would return to me in my dreams. Sometimes you were alive and thriving; other times you just lay there like you did that first day. And I wished for you to come back. I saw you on tube trains, on buses and in parks: a little girl with black curls and a radiant smile. One day I watched from Albert Bridge as a beautiful doomed whale thrashed and blustered in the alien waters of the Thames and its stillness in death reminded me of you.

    And then one scorching May morning you came back to me. I saw you standing in the corner of a bright delivery room as my healthy baby boy took his first gasp. Your eyes burned into my soul as he flopped heavily onto my chest and his heat seared my skin. I felt your resentment as I put him to my breast and filled him with the goodness I couldn’t give to you. You were with me as I waited for them to examine him and we held our breath until they told us all was fine.

    But the whisper of you echoed through the halls of his early years; an incomplete picture that I needed to fill. And though we left it to chance I knew as I held the test in my hands and looked at the faint blue cross that the baby growing inside me was another you. I couldn’t tell anyone the news, even at three months, as an unquiet voice gnawed at my temples telling me that this would never be.

    Some people are not built to carry girls, another nurse told me, as summer breathed its last and my boy child played hopscotch in a hospital garden. And I believed her as I lay on a sterile bed looking at a screen where a child hung suspended in amniotic fluid.

    ‘Babies are like parasites,’ said an overworked GP, three days earlier, as he offered me indigestion tablets to make me go away. ‘They can survive on very little. Don’t worry. This baby is going nowhere.’

    But I knew she was leaving me as more blood came away and I saw you in the corner of the bathroom as I crouched on the floor. ‘Never,’ you whispered, like Poe’s raven. ‘Never again.’ And I listened to you because you were the voice I trusted, above all others.

    ‘You’ll be taken down to surgery,’ said the doctor, leaving the door open as I undressed so the world could see my failure. ‘Then we can scrape the matter away.’

    We took our matter and we gave her a name: Nerina. The sea nymph, the girl whose being was too heavy to bear. And we took her down to the river that runs through our city and let the water carry her away. She is there as you are here in my head; two girls swimming in different directions but never coming home.

    Some women aren’t meant to carry girls. I heard the well-meaning voices in my head as I took my boy ‘s hand and walked back to the house. And as he chatted excitedly about train rides and chocolate cake and an egg with two yokes, the words grew lighter, they twisted and contracted until all that was left, all that existed, was a mother and her child beating back the unbidden explanations with the weight of their love.

     

     

  3. 60 Second Stories

    City of Ghosts.

    It is quiet in the church, blissfully so, nobody could imagine that outside the elegant simplicity of those stained glass windows, lies one of the most powerful cities on earth.

    Sitting in her pew, her hands clasped in front of her, the woman feels very small, reassuringly small. She no longer lives here, she does not have to compete; she can simply sit back and watch as the city rushes about her.

    She looks up as a young man steps onto the altar. He is holding a violin case in his hand. The afternoon recitals, she thinks, another thing she had forgotten. She watches as he takes the instrument out of its case, balances a sheet of music onto a wooden stand and begins to play. The woman smiles. He is young, eighteen, maybe nineteen, a student from one of the music colleges playing to an audience of three: the woman; the verger and an elderly lady lighting a candle. Yet to him, if he closes his eyes this could be the Royal Albert Hall or the Opera House. That is what people do in London, what she had done when, as a young aspiring singer she had played spit and sawdust dives imagining she was in Madison Square Garden.

    People come to London thinking they can conquer it but they can’t, nobody can, not the politicians or the bankers, not even the billionaires and oligarchs. The great city will always be bigger than its constituent parts. You can close your eyes and imagine you are the king and queen of it all but you will never solve its mystery, never truly be a part of it. The city is a fortress and you need strong armour to survive it, to defend yourself against its onslaught. You need coping mechanisms, crutches to deal with daily life here: Her’s had been bulimia, for others it is drink, drugs, sex. Really, a coping mechanism is as essential to a Londoner as an Oyster Card.

    The music is beautiful and she closes her eyes but as she does so she sees that image again: an image of herself lying on the grass with rosemary scattered on her feet. Rosemary for remembrance; she whispers the words in time to the music and then without warning she starts to cry. She cries for the music, for the image in her head, she cries for the life she has left behind, for the people who died that day; she cries for the emptiness, for the past, for the ones who will never come back… As the music rises she thinks of her past and it’s a watercolour painting caught in the rain, the colours bleeding into the street leaving just sepia shadows of things that once existed, things that once formed a part of her, things that once were and now will forever be somewhere in another world, another life.

    She wipes her eye with her sleeve and thinks about the night she tried to take her life. She had tried to drown herself in the bath in that poky little flat, probably would have succeeded if he hadn’t walked in and pulled her out. It feels like that now as she sits listening to a stranger play a familiar melody in a place she once knew so well, the same feeling of disconnectedness, this is what death must be like, wandering round old places, old haunts, and feeling nothing. Numb. She has often thought of the aftermath of that night. Had she died, her friends and family would have tried to piece together her final hours, her final day, looking for clues and what would they have found? A bin bag full of empty junk food wrappers, her clothes lying in a heap by the bath, the phone sitting on the shelf? From those disjointed fragments they would have tried to piece it all together, to find out why.

    But they would never have known because she would have taken the secret with her, inside her head, where her worries and dreams and insecurities bred like tiny organisms, growing bigger and bigger until they pressed against her skull, hammering to be let out. So her loved ones, none the wiser, would have let her go, their last image of her a drowned girl with an empty stomach and a troubled mind.

    And then what? Would she have remained in the flat, or gone back to her childhood home, would she have re-visited everywhere she had lived, on some afterlife road trip, slipping from room to room, an eternal surprise guest? She can never escape the past, she thinks, as she stands up and makes her way out of the pew, she is the past, her former selves live on inside her head, haunting her, both within and without.

    As she opens the door and steps out into the noise and light of Trafalgar Square, she feels something shift; sees a question hanging in the air above her. If life is so precious, how can she justify living it half-heartedly, dancing around his moods like a boxer dodging the punches? London is here, she thinks, as she walks down the steps, it has not changed but as she tries to grasp hold of it, to take some of its flesh in her hands, she can’t get a grip, it falls away like powder, like some dreamscape that cannot be penetrated. We are all ghosts, she thinks as she walks away from the square and disappears into a crowded St Martins Lane.

  4. 60 Second Stories

    The Seal

    I watch the old woman watching the river and wonder if I should speak. We’ve been together for over an hour and she hasn’t said a word.

    ‘Nice weather, Maggie?’

    ‘Aye.’ She speaks without looking up.

    ‘Want another Liquorice Allsort? Quick, before I eat all the blue ones.’

    ‘No ta,’ she says, her papery eyes disappearing in the glare of white light from the water.

    ‘We’ll have to be getting back soon,’ I remark, looking at my watch and making a mental ‘kerching’ as another £6.50 is earned. Two hours and fifteen and a half quid later I can escape.

    Maggie stays silent as I munch the rest of the sweets and watch the pleasure boat go up the river, its passengers pointing and waving at us as they go by.

    ‘Have you ever been on a boat, Maggie?’ I ask, remembering the senior carer’s advice to ‘keep them talking.’

    She shakes her head and I try to think of something else to say, something that will sustain us on the twenty- minute journey back to the home.  Then I remember something, a story I read in the paper last week.

    ‘Apparently you get seals in the river,’ I tell her, as I take hold of the wheelchair handles and release the brake. ‘A couple of fisherman nearly hooked one last week. They felt a weight on the end of the line it was so heavy they were worried it was a dead body, but you know what it was Maggie? It was a seal.’

    I watch the back of Maggie’s head for any sign of acknowledgement, any hint that she has heard me but there is no movement just a slight ruffle as the river breeze flutters through the white fuzzy hair.

    ‘They let it go,’ I continue, as we make our way up the towpath, past the Victorian terraces and up towards the playing fields. ‘As soon as they realised what it was they unhooked it; said it wasn’t injured but I reckon it was shocked, poor little soul.’

    As we cut through a cul-de-sac of bungalows towards the village I ask Maggie if she’s enjoying the trip out. She nods as I point out pretty window boxes and hanging baskets along the way. A ginger Tom slinks down one of the driveways as we pass and rolls on his back hoping to be stroked.

    ‘Look at him, Maggie. There’s a pampered puss if ever I’ve seen one. What do you think of him, eh?’

    Silence.

    I turn the corner then pause to press the button at the traffic lights and as we wait for the green man to appear Maggie finally says something but her words are drowned out by the noise of the traffic.

    ‘What’s that, Maggie?’ I say as we cross to the relative quiet of Briar Close.

    ‘Said I had a daughter once.’

    ‘A daughter,’ I repeat, dreamily as the mock Tudor outline of the home comes into view.

    ‘Yes a daughter,’ says Maggie, her voice animated and clear.  ‘She were only a few hours old… Bright blue eyes she had and curly dark hair like ‘im. ‘

    She talks in staccato bursts as though she is being forced to read the lines from a script she doesn’t approve of. I go to speak but she isn’t finished and as we reach the double doors of Rose Vale Nursing Home she turns and looks at me for the first time since we left the river.

    ‘I called her Hazel,’ she says, her ice-blue eyes boring straight into mine. ‘ I drowned her in’t bath.’

    The doors open and Trish, a senior carer with a Marine haircut, appears, taking the wheelchair from my grasp.

    ‘Had a nice walk, Maggie, love?’

    ‘Yes, thank you.’

    ‘See anything nice?’

    ‘Not really,’ she replies, then she turns and meets my eye as I stand impotently by the door. ‘But mi’laddo here says he saw a seal.’

  5. 60 Second Stories:

    THE EMPTY CAPSULE

    At night I would leave my bland, strip-lit office in Waterloo and head for home. As I walked along the South Bank, under swaying trees I would lift my head and look skyward to the eerie bulk of the London Eye. A ritual to be performed, an old ritual, but one I was bound to acknowledge each and every night.

    As the capsules floated past like ghosts I would close my eyes and count to ten, making a silent wish to the cosmos that all would be well; that I was imagining the distance, the frustrated sighs, the death throes of a love breathing its last.

    If the capsule is full, I would tell myself, then we still have a future. It would be a sign that I was taking the right path, that what we had was worth saving. And I kept on loving you, I kept on believing it would work because not once, through that dark and paranoid winter, not once  did I see an empty capsule.

    And so I thought it was a higher being that made me hold your hand over silent suppers and swallow my angry words when you turned your back. I thought it was fate that I had to endure this test and I told myself that in this city of eight million souls surely it is better to have someone near than go it alone.

    Then one icy December evening I stepped out of the revolving doors of my office and saw you standing on the street. You were dressed in so many layers; your thin body bound like an express parcel in chunky knitted scarves and sweaters and gloves. I knew it as I came towards you; I felt it creeping up my spine as we walked like a doomed pair of newly weds up the concrete aisle towards the beatific London Eye. Blue lights were newly threaded round the trees like fireflies fluttering around, but never settling on, a spot.

    We walked, arms loosely entwined, barely touching. I tried to feel your skin but your layers were a shield keeping me at bay. I looked at you; I wanted to catch your eye, to plead with you to put this sorry, dying thing out of its misery. But your eyes were on the lights, the blue reflected in your green like a spaceship landing in an unknown expanse of desert.

    Look at me, I willed you. But instead I followed your gaze and saw crowds of people swarming around the wheel just like they had the first time we met; when we stood in a clear glass globe and looked out onto our adopted city; onto the river and the Houses of Parliament, the great cardboard cityscape stuttering in the breeze.

    The people rushed towards us and we parted like the sea to let them through; our arms finally letting go. And as I watched you walk away I closed my eyes and asked whoever runs this show for validation; for permission to end the torture and get on with my life.

    I opened my eyes and saw you slipping into the darkness of the South Bank and as the bulk of your figure grew smaller and smaller I knew that there was no need to look up to see the empty capsule float out into the night.

  6. Summer Lies Bleeding Launch.

    I am delighted to be launching my latest novel, Summer Lies Bleeding, at Waterstones York on 7th August.

    It all starts at 7pm and will include readings and discussions, a Q & A, lots of wine and, in keeping with the restaurant feel of the novel, some surprise local delicacies to whet your appetite. Oh, and, of course, copies of the book to buy, take home and enjoy!

    Hope to see you there x

  7. DSC02585

    Waterstones, York.

    My first book event took place at Waterstones, York on Friday. It was a wonderful evening, warm and sultry, eerily reminiscent of the sweltering July of 2005 that inspired Soho, 4am.

    Huge thanks to the lovely booksellers at Waterstones for making the evening run so smoothly!

     

  8. DSC02514

    The Olympics and Me.

    As the first anniversary of the London 2012 Olympic Games approaches, I discuss my bittersweet relationship with sport and how the Olympic bid inspired my debut novel Soho, 4am.

    If anyone had told me when I was at school that one day I would write a novel which opened with the announcement of a major sporting event I would have laughed in their face. Sport was alien to me back then; it was something to be avoided at all costs – and I was the girl with the eternal note excusing her from hockey practice. At school, sport separated the ‘it’ crowd from the ‘others’. The popular boys and girls excelled at athletics, football, netball, hockey and basketball; the ‘others’ like me and my friends were more at home in the music room and the English Lit class; happier writing or singing about a field than actually running across it. I still have anxiety dreams about standing waiting to be picked for the team, watching as some mini-dictator in a netball skirt cast her narrowed eyes over me, weighing up just how much of a risk it would be to hand me the Wing Defence bib! One of the best things about leaving school and going off to college was the heady realisation that I would never have to go through those excruciating moments again.

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