"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!" (Mary Quallo, St Louis)

"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!"  (Mary Quallo, St Louis)
Coming next week - Carla Eatherington

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Alan and Penny

Well, the Denmark Holland game was excellent, full of attacking football, but the Germany Portugal game was a waste of time. I turned over to watch greyhounds.

Had a brilliant day today. Didn't go to the betting shop because of the weather so watched the racing on TV. I love horse racing so I don't need to bet to enjoy it and Channel 4 are peeing all over the BBC's coverage.

Most of my books contain horse racing segments. Alan, Emily's older boyfriend you are about to be introduced to, and Jake (who you aren't), meet in the Nottingham Market Square Betfreds and both love racing, though Emily is bemused by their interest.

Wrote 6,500 words on TIW. Probably do another 6 tomorrow. Did some work on the covers tonight with Dawn and have made plans to go photojournalisting on Monday around the Notts inner city to get a good flavour and possibly a cover background. I'm toying with the idea of moving the entire setting from Bilborough to Hyson Green, purely because of the high rise flats and the area is a bit more multi-cultural. There are 370 different ethnic and religious groups in a square mile in Radford and I've moved Emily in a different narrative direction. Possibly New Basford, which I've written about before. I don't know.I'll see. That's the joy of writing novels.You can go wherever you want, whenever you want.

Here's the first segment ever of The Illustrated Woman.

Emily meets Alan at the local Health Centre and they strike up a friendship and then a relationship. They've been seeing each other for six months. It's a Saturday (9th June) and Alan comes round to see Emily and Penny, her seven year old daughter who is slowly and inconveniently for Mum, starting to like Alan. Coming to terms with her mixed feelings, Emily reminisces about the night they went out for their first date.

He came round later and he more or less ignored me and made a beeline for Penny. 

They spent an hour together on the carpet, a Rastamouse DVD, singing along, building something in Lego. I watched them from my vantage point on my sofa, my legs tucked under. 

He was such a natural. Soft and funny, effortlessly dipping into kiddy language and Penny’s world and she didn’t stop talking and laughing and every now and again, she’d come over and show me what Alan and she had built. Some sort of space rocket in red and yellow bricks.

‘That’s lovely, darling.'
‘It is, isn’t it,’ she said.
‘She’s an absolute natural, gal.’ Alan said to me, a big grin on his awkward looking face. A plain shirt and jeans as usual. Old trainers. 

Every time I saw Alan, the contrast between Tyrone and he was striking, but the trainers were the obvious thing. 

Tyrone replaced his trainers every month and threw them away. I tried to get him to recycle them at the charity shop, but he wasn’t interested in that. He didn’t have much to do with charity, or the environment. I watched him throw away nine or ten pairs. Air Jordans. Reeboks. Some hardly worn. 

Such waste offended me and twice I returned to the bin outside his mum's house after we’d parted and recovered the trainers, donated them to the charity shop. By contrast, Alan's trainers had been welded to his feet since the nineties. 

‘Yes, she is, isn’t she.’ I replied. ‘Why don’t you make me a car, darling?’
‘I will, Mummy. Uncle Alan, can we make a car?’
‘Come on, we can make Mum a big charabanc we can all get into.’ He said, cheerfully.
‘What’s a charathingy…’
Alan laughed. ‘It’s the biggest car in the world.’
‘Can we go to the seaside in it?’ She asked enthusiastically.’
‘We can go all the way to Blackpool,’ he said.
‘Oh no, not Blackpool, ‘I said. ‘How common!’
Alan looked at me. ‘What about Llandudno?’ He said. ‘That’s nice. There are castles.’
‘Oh I love castles. Mummy, can we go to see the castles?’ Penny asked. ‘Please, Mummy.’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Llandundno it is. Better make it a comfortable car. It’s a long way.’

It was moments like that which made me think about marrying Alan.

I knew being around Penny and I was good for him. He was chirpy and jokey and he was absolutely meant to be a dad. He was safe as houses – I had been with men who I wouldn’t let within a mile of Penny, but I could leave Penny with him while I went about my business in the precinct, shopping and stuff, and I wouldn’t give her safety a second thought.

He was a born dad.

But there was me to consider. My stuff.

I remember telling him about the Story Fund really early on. 
Well, that night we slept together after watching Thor at the pictures. 

(I blame Chris Hemsworth. He was especially hot in Thor and my integrity was thus compromised). 

In my bed, he saw the Story Of My Life for the first time. 
He liked it. 
No, scratch that, he loved it. 
He asked me loads of questions about it and I told him. 
The absolute truth. The whole truth. I omitted nothing. I told him everything about that tapestry.

 I have no idea why I did that and I could have lost Alan before I had found him.

If I wanted to lose a man, telling him on the first night we were in bed together, after the first formal proper girly date I had ever been on, a nice one - that I slept with a range of neighbours, visitors and friends for money, purely to pay for a whole body illustration and that I, and I told him this, had been visited by a man that very morning, a man I met at a party on the estate a year ago, a regular visitor in his fifties and who always paid me double what I asked for because he liked me and I liked him - was probably the best way of doing it.

He looked shocked and I expected him to get up and walk out.

In fact, to be honest, that was what I wanted. 

Alan was too good in bed. I didn't trust that and I didn't like what it meant. It made me feel trapped and claustrophobic. It did my head in and still does; (Crap lovers give me freedom to breathe). He was too soft and too caring. Too sweet.

I have never been with such a generous lover and I had been with enough men to know that Alan was one of those men who tried to make women love him through profound sexual attention in order to compensate for his lack of good looks. 

He spent ages pleasing me. Ages. And he did, Jesus, he did. So many of the guys I’d been with – well, all of them actually – pleased themselves, it was a shock to my system and I couldn’t deal with it at all. So when he asked me about my tattoos, I didn’t hide anything because I didn’t care whether he came back or not. 

He was too much then and he's too much now.

I had loved the evening at the cinema. I had dressed casually. Wore a black polo neck jumper, jeans and a pair of wedges. None of the stuff I’d become accustomed to wearing at estate parties or clubs in town, stuff I wore when I went out with friends like Kate and Kirsty. It was nice to dress down a bit and I spent a week thinking about what I would wear. 

Alan looked nice too in a leather jacket and jeans and nice boots and I felt quite proud to be seen with him. It was all unusual and I felt a bit awkward, didn’t know what to say, but Alan chatted away amiably and put me at my ease. He had made a real effort and I appreciated that. 

As we walked up King Street to the Cineworld from the Square, I told him I wasn’t interested in the Aniston film and wanted to see something else. When I suggested Thor in 3D he laughed as if I had surprised him, but as I was to become accustomed to, he did what I wanted and Thor it was.

After, we had a drink in the pub closest to the bus stop and we talked and I remember having that out-with-the-brother-I-never-had-feeling and being incredibly comfortable with him. 

It was such a normal night and I was spellbound by the dullness of it. 
Alan didn’t even want to come back to the flat. He actually was going to give me a good night peck on the cheek on my doorstep.
Honestly, he was.
 A goodnight peck on the cheek. 
Maybe it was the men I had once chosen to be with, but in ten years, no one had ever tried to give me a peck on the cheek on my doorstep.
This man was a different proposition altogether and I invited him for coffee and surprisingly, he hesitated, as if it was somehow inappropriate to do so. 
That blew my mind.
I assured him it was okay and one thing led to another, as if often does with me, and I rolled us a bifta and poured us a glass of rum each and that was it.


The Story of My Life.

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