This is how it began. My sister Anna, a brilliant and witty writer, suggested that we should try to write a romance novel according to the guidelines published by Mills & Boon. Not as easy as it sounds, apparently. She created a finely judged opening paragraph and sent it to me. And, intoxicated by the stylistic possibilities that are simply not offered by my usual literary output of press releases on Bedfordshire’s latest social housing project, I have taken up the gauntlet. The idea is that we will take it in turns to develop the story, in full view of you, dear reader.

We are taking this project seriously, but I am already acutely aware that writing about simmering desire with one’s own sister might be possible only with tongue tentatively in cheek. We have agreed not to discuss our plot ideas, so the novel will unfold as unpredictably to us as to our readers. This could lead to trouble later on, but for now it seems a very liberating way to start.

Who knows where this project will take us? To the dizzying heights of publication by the world’s leading romance brand? Probably not. But wherever we end up, it should be fun getting there…

Friday, 23 December 2011

Part 31 – Action Hero

Crikey, this is quite violent stuff. Who’d have thought it of a vicar’s wife?

I’m worried that now Cleft and Topaz are within moaning distance again, we really ought to let them Do It at last: there’s only so long a girl can bubble and simmer without needing a Rennie. And if the vicar’s wife can do violence, there is really no reason why she shouldn’t do sex as well. I’ll have to play this one carefully…

Part 31 (by Anna)

His prey let out a torrent of hoarse Spanish and writhed like a lizard beneath Cleft’s sole. Cleft’s mind worked quickly. Who was this reptile? What was his game?

Then realisation darted at him like quicksilver. He saw the scuff marks on the baked mud, the snaking tracks of a whip and the unmistakable imprint of a kitten heel.

‘You goddam no-good worm!’ he spat at the gasping creature beneath him. ‘What have you done with her?’

The man tried to wrench himself upright and shook his fetid head. ‘I no knowa whatcha mean.’

‘You know well enough you piece of scum!’ Cleft, in his ire, was massive against the blazing sky. ‘You take me to her now, or else I promise you you'll never see daylight again.’

With a single rapid movement of his muscled wrist, Cleft flicked the whip so that it snapped around the man’s bulging torso. With the other hand he pulled it tight and knotted it so that the man’s short arms were bound to his sides. He inserted a boot beneath his rump and kicked hard so that the fellow lurched with a cry to his feet and stood swaying there, a spool of spittle swinging from one broken tooth.

‘I’ll do the driving,’ said Cleft shoving him towards his dust-caked car. ‘We don’t want any scenic detours along the way.’

Wrenching open the back door, Cleft flexed a mighty leg and sent the cab driver sprawling across the ripped back seat. Then he eased his huge frame behind the steering wheel and flicked the key in the ignition. The car belched into life with a cloud of dust and diesel.

‘I hope you’ve got a good sense of direction because I don’t want any funny games,’ he growled, eyeing the slumped flesh in the rear view mirror. With an unwholesome roar, the car and its cargo began juddering down the rough track, flinging in its wake such dense plumes of filth that Paradise Heights and its unrealised promise were obliterated.

A mile or two of silence save for the grinding of the engine and the hoarse breaths of the bound man, then the tangles of vegetation thinned, roofs sprouted here and there and track divided.

‘Which way?’ Cleft barked. No answer. ‘Which way, vermin?’ he repeated, aiming a steel-like fist into  his captive’s soft belly. Winded, the man pointed eastwards and the car lurched down a scarred lane. At the next junction the cab driver gestured to the left. Wispy grass and stunted thorn trees gave way to decomposing shacks with metal roofs.

Eventually, a grunt from behind brought Cleft to a halt. He hauled on the hand brake and surveyed a scabrous white bungalow through the caked window. A frenzy of barking erupted and from round the side of the house leapt a half-starved hound tethered by a rope.

Cleft unwound his long body from the driver’s seat and stepped onto the dried mud path that led to the front door. Nonchalantly, he locked the car door behind him, leaving the cab driver prostrate in its simmering heat, and, adjusting his shades, he moved in measured, powerful strides to the front door.

The dog launched himself at Cleft’s calf but, without shifting his gaze from his goal, Cleft kicked out sideways and the animal fell insensible to the ground. Unruffled, inscrutable, Cleft ducked his head and entered the crepsucular hallway.

‘Hey there!’ he called, his voice vibrating through the rancid darkness. ‘Anyone here?’

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Part 30 – Deft Cleft

Sorry this is so long – got a bit carried away with the sheer poignancy and thrill of it all. I’ll do a short intro to make up for it. Besides, I need a gin.

Part 30 (by Oliver)

Topaz groped through her mind, clutching at the images that flashed before her: ruffled sand silver in the moonlight; a hand, firm and tanned, grasping her soft shoulder; Terence fussing, nurturing in his fond way; her mother’s face, looming like a suede mask gashed with magenta; and always, always Cleft’s towering figure, firm with manly arrogance.

How had it come to this? Her life, secure and comfortable, its future path sparkling before her; all collapsed into a haze of pain and darkness and fear and solitude. And the throb in her ankle pulsed on, and with an inward satisfaction she felt that it was a direct link back down the lost path of her existence, to a sun-baked rock and a stand of prickly pears, their swollen, rubicund tips full of the promise of love and life.

The door scraped open, the sudden light searing Topaz’s eyes and making her blink in momentary blindness.

‘You eata this.’ The voice was gruff, all semblance of peasant charm gone. And a tin plate, its enamel chipped, was kicked across the floor and skidded to Topaz’s feet. The polenta and olive mash would have piqued her appetite in La Gavroche or El Bulli; now she sullenly saw it for the peasant mess it was, and turned away, disgusted.

‘You bedda hope-a money come soon,’ sneered her captor. ‘You no get more-a food than this.’ And he slammed the door, encasing Topaz in darkness once more.

So he had not suspected her; the relief glowed inside Topaz, lighting the way for hope to creep shyly in. Maybe Cleft had received the note. Maybe he was, even now, coming to find her. Or maybe she had pushed him away too forcefully that time at the little inn. Maybe this was it, and she had thrown away the chance of her family ever paying a ransom.

She quivered in the chilly dark and, swallowing hard, settled gingerly into the dusty corner and waited for destiny to decide her future.

High above, the sun gleamed on the silver hull of the Piaggio Avanti as it wheeled above Malaga airport. Cleft peered, clench-jawed, from the cockpit, aligning the plane’s nose with the runway but also darting questing glances around the brown, parched mountains that heaved up all around. Small chance, he knew, of spotting the hovel where Topaz was held, but if he could see Paradise Heights he could perhaps see the lie of the land around.

For he knew that it was to Paradise Heights that Topaz would have fled. Where else did her desire and her destiny fuse? Where else was hers and hers alone in this treacherous, fickle world? As surely as a dove returning to the nurturing nest, or the spawning salmon crossing oceans to find again the place of its own birth, Topaz would be drawn to Paradise Heights.

The plane skidded onto the runway with a little screech of tyres on tarmac. Barely waiting for the engines to stop turning, Cleft leaped from the controls and sauntered urgently through the terminal. He endured passport control with ill-concealed impatience so that by the time he was free of the slow wheels of Spanish bureaucracy he sprinted to the taxi rank in front of the airport. He wrenched open the door of the first cab he saw and barked at the sweating back in front of him ‘Paradise Heights, and step on it, brother.’

The cab screeched away from the terminal and was soon juddering steadily along the motorway, then into the foothills that peaked gently on the rim of the city. As the roads grew rougher, Cleft’s heart beat faster, though he kept his face inscrutable, firmly chiselled behind his wraparound shades.

Up into the rocky passes jolted the cab, and Cleft did not notice the small, mean eyes flicking at his face in the rear-view mirror, glinting with trepidation and – could it be? – recognition. At last the taxi wheezed to a halt on that familiar hilltop and, flinging a few notes at the fleshy, inscrutable back of the driver, Cleft sprang forward across the stony ground.

There were the stakes and tapes that marked out the floorplan of Topaz’s villa; there was the crevice in which her slender ankle had been twisted. Cleft almost felt once again the sudden warm weight of her body as it tumbled into his arms, and heard anew his voice saying ‘Gotcha!’ as she fell.

A small spasm of yearning knotted in his belly as he saw the flat rock on which they had lain so briefly. And so encompassing were these beloved memories that he did not hear the slither of footsteps on the stones behind him. It was only when a sudden snap sounded, a whoosh whispered past his ear and the coiling end of a whip grasped his ankles that he spun round to see the empurpled face of his driver spitting hate and fear into his own.

Quick as an arrow, Cleft seized the snaking whip with both hands, the sinews in his arms shifting beneath the lightly haired tan of his skin and his face glowering into wrath and threat. Pulling sharply, he sent the man sprawling forward into the dust and, almost before he realised what was happening, he planted one large foot in the small of the driver’s back, the point-toed cowboy boots imprinting his supremacy on the grovelling figure.

‘Gotcha!’ Cleft snarled.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Part 29 – Pilot Episode

Fancy Cleft being able to fly a plane! Although I am not sure that Anna has researched the finer points of piloting very deeply; surely it takes more than thrusting a lever to get an aircraft off the ground? Never mind. Let’s press on.

Part 29 (by Anna)

There were no available flights to Spain that day. Taut with urgency, Cleft strode from desk to desk. The response was always the same regretful negative.

‘I have to be in Spain. By this afternoon. Period.’ He leaned over the counter towards the badly permed woman manning British Airways and watched her sallow skin pink up as he had known it would.

‘Look here,’ he said huskily. ‘I've got what it takes. Sort something for me.’

The woman's stubby fingers massaged her computer keyboard for a moment, then she shook her head sorrowfully. ‘Sorry ducks,’ she said, looking hungrily at the bronze valley that cleaved his squared chin. ‘Unless you can sprout your own wings you’re grounded until Wednesday. We’re full.’

Sprout his own wings. Of course! Why hadn’t he thought of it before? His lips curving into an enigmatic smile, Cleft thrust his way through the crowds towards the car park. It was there in his wallet along with the sliver of Topaz’s toe nail that he had pocketed secretly that day she had wrenched her ankle.

Once he had disentangled himself from Heathrow’s congested orbit, it was a quick run to the private airfield near the M4. At the security gates he flashed his passport to the skies and was waved in to a parking area near the small office buildings. Behind him, out of sight, the Ford Escort had also pulled up at the barrier, its driver engaged in heated negotiations with the official on duty.

Less than an hour later Cleft was studying the controls of a single turbine engined Piaggio Avanti. Thank the Lord he had perservered with that pilot training three years back and thank the Lord he had thought to bring the licence with him when he had left the States.

He thrust the lever and the aircraft began taxiing slowly towards the empty runway. Then, his muscled fingers dancing almost balletically across the controls, he lifted the huge machine into the air and reclaimed the skies that separated him from his destiny.

Far below, the Ford Escort glinted in a corner of the car park and its occupant was sprinting lankily towards the complex, but Cleft was unaware of this as he flung back his tousled head and laughed, his rippling body at one with the sinous tube of metal that bore him smoothly towards Spain.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Part 28 – Calling Cleft

Quite a dull piece, this – I confess it. But Anna will have Topaz escaping and being recaptured again and again until I give in and send Cleft to rescue her, so this is a necessary, functional interlude. Still, it’s a good chance to contemplate the turmoil that Topes has unleashed in Cleft’s hitherto hard heart. Just as well he doesn’t go for resourceful types.

Part 28 (by Oliver)

Sun was seeping through the thin curtains of the little inn’s bedroom, tentatively spilling milky light on to the crumpled bed where Cleft lay. He had not slept; his chin was shadowed with four days’ growth of beard and his clothes still lay where he had flung them the night Topaz had fled.

What had she done to him? No woman had ever possessed him as Topaz did. And no woman had questioned his actions as she had. A wrong had been done to the woman he loved; who better than he to avenge it? Calling Reuters had been a kinder course of action than the one he would have preferred – Cleft’s hands clenched involuntarily into fists as he thought about it.

Now he did not know what to do. He was a man of action, in life as in love, and this terrible not knowing had paralysed him. Not sleeping, barely eating, Cleft was merely being, unable to do more until he had Topaz back.

A scuffle at the door, and an envelope slid underneath. Almost reluctantly, Cleft rolled off the bed and picked it up. It was creased and limp, scrawled with a cheap biro and postmarked Spain. Who in Spain could know he was here? Suddenly forceful, Cleft ripped the envelope open and read the torn note within:

‘Dear Cleft, I am being held captive by a Spanish cab driver. A small house on a hill near Paradise Heights. Bring money. Topaz.’

No soft words, just urgency. Yet the ‘dear’ with which the note began smote Cleft as more fulsome tendernesses never had. She needed him now in a way she never had before; and that was all he needed to know.

Swiftly, energetically now that his life had a purpose once more, Cleft packed his few possessions, ran downstairs and flung a bundle of £20 notes on to the reception desk. As he leapt into his jeep he did not see a figure in a car opposite sit up and watch him intently. And as he slid the jeep down the lane, his frenzied mind saw nothing remarkable in the Ford Escort that followed him through the Berkshire countryside and sped behind him as he roared towards Heathrow Airport.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Part 27 – Full Circle

Honestly! I ingeniously get Topaz out of there (thank goodness for windows to jump out of) and now she’s back in again. I wish we hadn’t stipulated that we are not allowed to discuss each other’s ideas in advance… I’m sure Barbara Cartland never had this trouble.

Part 27 (by Anna)

Crack! She thought in that split second that her captor’s whip had ensnared her once again. A biting roughness flayed her ankles and she fell heavily, the trampled earth smashing against her parted lips. Then a frenzied barking and a hard wet something thrusting at her from behind.

‘Cleft!’ The name sprang unbidden, but in her inmost self she knew. That cursed rope that tethered the cab man’s dog and which she had seen twisting menacingly with its invisible burden when she had arrived. She had quite forgotten it as she had dropped from the window onto the side path. The dog must have been sleeping. It was not sleeping now. The tug as she had stumbled over its moorings had evidently alarmed the animal and now it was enraged.

Terrified, Topaz gazed up into its yellow slobbering jaws, felt its hot breath on her face and the vibrations of a growl rippling beneath its scabby fur.

‘Good dog, nice dog!’ she murmured. A sudden memory struck her of herself, ten years old and dressed in her shiny new hunting pinks. Her first day out with the hounds. Her father, purpled in the autumn sun, beaming proudly at her; her mother’s gold stilettos sinking gently into the mud of the stableyard and then the reality capsized as one of the dogs, agitated by the melee, sank its teeth into the leather of her riding boots. Her father had raised his crop, ready to bring it down on the creature's head but Topaz had been too quick for him. Instead she had laid her soft child’s hand there and the dog had subsided.

‘That thar daughter of yers has a rare magic with animals,’ the stablehand had told her father admiringly. Now the adult Topaz laid slip brown fingers on the scalp of Spanish mongrel. For a dreadful momemt she feared its yellow fangs would pierce her flesh; the creature hestitated, panting hectically, then sat down suddenly on its haunches.

Topaz unwound the rope from her grazed shin and made to rise but a searing pain through her ankle – the same ankle that she had wrenched in the rut and which had barely healed – and she knew she was going nowhere. She hauled herself upright and leaned with her back against the mottled concrete of the house. The dog inched closer and sat, still panting, his pungent slobber spooling onto her dress.

Minutes later an eruption of dust and a crash of gears announced her captor’s return. The dog’s noisy greeting drew his attention to the fugitive and he waddled swiftly over on bandy legs.

‘Whaddya thinka you do?’ he rasped angrily, kicking at her with a battered loafer. A hand, greased with sweat, clamped her slender wrist and hauled her painfully upright. Topaz’s ankle gave way and man caught her as she fell and, inserting one fleshy damp shoulder beneath her armpit, he half dragged her back into the pungent twilight of the house. This time, though, they passed the door of her brief prison and continued down the lino. Then he opened a further door, revealing a square of dank blackness. And with a single, brutal movment, he pushed her inside.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Part 26 – I’m a mediocrity, get me out of here

I can’t be doing with Topaz incarcerated. Not that I feel any great sympathy for her; in fact, I feel very little of anything for her, which I suppose is bad for an author to admit. It’s like saying you don’t love your own kids.

No, it’s because the more I can keep up the plot’s momentum, the sooner I can hand over the sexy climax to Anna and stop parading my inhibitions. So let’s get her out of there.

Part 26 ­(by Oliver)

And ‘dear Cleft,’ she thought, as she inscribed the address of the little inn where his hot kisses, his manly weight, had broken down her resistance at last. Yes, he had betrayed her by spreading the news of her father’s disgrace. But now, when all seemed to be lost, how she needed him! Needed him more deeply, more yearningly than before.

Then it had been his beauty she needed, with a yearning desire that still caused her to tremble. Then it had been his manly force, his difference from Terence, that drew her, tied her to him with gossamer webs of frightening strength. Now, though, there was so much more that Cleft could offer: companionship, humour, the assurance that all would be well. Before, she wanted him. Now she knew she needed him in the most profound way.

Topaz finished the letter, confident that her captor’s rudimentary English was no match for her script coursing fluidly across the paper. She was right. When the cab driver returned, buttoning his fly and scratching a foetid armpit, he squinted at the letter, then ‘Good,’ he said. ‘I go senda letter now. You no try moving.’ And he locked the door again before slopping off down the hallway to his cab, which stood outside the front door.

Dazed though she was, Topaz saw her chance. The door was out of the question, but there was the window...

Sinuously swinging her legs over the sill, Topaz jumped lightly onto the hard-baked ground beneath the window. Where was she? Where should she go? And how would Cleft find her?

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Saturday is Caption Day

A bit of Mammasaurus fun, this, but she's doing something different today with her own pics. I haven't got one but thought I'd steal her idea anyway. So see whether the picture below inspires any wit or ribaldry, and express it in a caption.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Part 25 – Kidnapped

What can I say? Nothing that Anna’s writing has not said already in this sensitive and probing instalment. Her ear is perfectly tuned to the cadences and character of the exquisite Spanish tongue. Her careful nurturing of the plot is subtle and uncomfortably true to life. In Topaz she has created a vividly imagined character who lives and breathes on the page. (Raven locks? Weren’t they honeyed before?).

This looks disturbingly like a nascent sub-plot, which Mills & Boon does not encourage. Looks as though I’m going to have to get masterful again, plot-wise. And I certainly need to get Cleft back on the scene but quick.

Part 25 (by Anna)

‘Thena you comalonga me,’ said the man. His wrist jerked almost impercetibly and the end of the whip snapped about her bare ankles.

Topaz hauled herself stiffly to her feet, still half blinded by the unforgiving sun. The man laid moist hot fingers on her forearm, not ungently, but implacable, and pulled her down the dusty slope towards his battered, simmering car. He opened the passenger door, gestured her in, then, with an alacrity startling in a man so stout and overheated, he darted round to the driver’s side, leapt astride the seat and started the engine with a loud diesel-fumed roar.

Topaz clutched the sides of her prison as the car rattled down the rocky track and felt her hands dampening against the baked worn leather. Dust plumes smoked upwards from the bouncing tyres, almost obscuring the world beyond the window. She closed her eyes and concentrated on disciplining her stomach, which fizzed and seethed each time the car lurched round a hairpin bend.

‘Cleft,’ she whispered, almost involuntarily through cracking lips. ‘Cleft, if you love me, hear my pain now.’

There was a screech as the car braked, and a lingering stench as her chauffeur exhaled trapped air. Topaz pushed her unkempt raven tresses out of her eyes as she peered through the grimy window and she saw that they had reached a house – a small, low, scabby white building with a dead vine knotted around its corrugated roof. A door stood open at the end of a dried mud path, and through the gloom beyond it Topaz could make out a length of scarred linoleum.

Frenzied barking erupted as she extended a tanned, vulnerable foot from the car and she saw a demented shadow contorting on the mud and a frayed rope writhing around the corner of the house.

‘In here,’ growled her captor, prodding her in through the doorway. ‘No shout or I do bad thing.’

With outward docility and inner tumult, Topaz stepped into an almost bare room walled with unplastered concrete. A tangle of clothes and blankets lay on a mattress in one corner and the floor, of the same cracked lino, was striped with sun filtered through the closed slat blind. There was a wooden chair near the window and a bulky television, which looked 30 years old, stood on a cardboard packing case. The man motioned her to the chair and lifted one slat of the blind to peer briefly outside.

‘You nowa stay with me till I hava money,’ he said. ‘You write-a family and tell them for money. Then you go.’

He disappeared and Topaz heard a key turn in the lock before his feet tramped out of earshot down the hallway. Almost immediately he was back again bearing a scratched glass of luke-warm water, a slice of pitta bread and a sheet of frayed lined paper torn from a spiral note pad. Plucking a biro from his waist band he thrust it at Topaz. She could feel the sticky warmth of his belly imprinted in the plastic.

‘Youra daddy,’ he rasped with a grin that exposed bent yellow teeth. ‘You write youra daddy for send ten thousand euros in cash to here,’ and delving into a baggy pocket he produced a mail box address scrawled on the back of an envelope.

‘Youra Daddy. Howa he called?’

Topaz paused, then bent over the paper. ‘Dear Cleft,’ she wrote.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Part 24 – Miss Whiplash

Bit S&M, this, but frankly what do you expect when a sound ‘like’ a pistol shot (but presumably not a pistol shot) sounds out on a bare mountain? Whips were the only thing that sprung to mind. Sorry.

Part 24 (by Oliver)

Startled back to now, Topaz looked up at a large figure that towered blackly above her, silhouetted against the strengthening sun. For a moment – a breathless, precious moment – she wondered how Cleft had found her here so soon. But then she saw that the outline was not the taut, slim figure of Cleft but that of a small, middle-aged man. Even against the sun, she could see that he was bald, sweating, his breath laboured and a bullwhip swinging in his hand. The air seemed to hum still with the explosive crack of that whip.

‘What do you want of me?’ whispered Topaz, recalling with a thrilling jolt the other time she had uttered those words.

‘You give me money, quick,’ said the man, in urgent tones. ‘I no have time for wasting; before you give me thirty euro to bring you here – you rich, I know.’

And then Topaz remembered that day – so long ago it seemed, yet only a week before – when she had urged the cab driver to bring her to Paradise Heights as fast as he could. Funny how one could never really escape the loops of destiny, she thought.

‘I have nothing,’ she whispered.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Spilling the Beans

You know how Life keeps getting in the way? Ages ago, Fay C at Glass Half Full tagged me to one of those strangely compulsive ‘memes’ in which you find yourself unable to stop spilling all sorts of beans to complete strangers. She told me to answer ten questions about myself. I was all for it, but holidays and work and parenthood and more work conspired to keep my beans firmly under control.

No longer: Fay, I have finally obliged. The ego has been fired up once more, my inhibitions have been tossed aside and I can finally reveal my answers to those impertinent questions.

Describe yourself in seven words
Lazy, procrastinatory (is that a word?), realistic, affable, pedantic, opinionated, content

What keeps you up at night?
Used to be money, or lack thereof. Last night, wondering what to blog about what keeps me up at night. Usually, insomnia.

Who would you like to be?
A baronet with a private income and a small manor house in Dorset.

What are you wearing now?
A pale blue Oxford shirt, navy pullover and beige jeans. And slippers.

What scares you?
Snakes, pensions and a film I once saw 20 minutes of by accident called Wrong Turn.

What are the best and worst things about blogging?
The best: a wonderful displacement activity; a brilliant impetus for creative writing; the warm feeling you get inside when somebody comments.

The worst: the cold feeling you get inside when nobody comments; the stress of trying to get people to read it; the worry that readers will think that Topaz is my ideal woman, and Desire Be My Destiny my ideal fantasy.

What is the last website you looked at?, to find a contact number to rearrange a delivery. Well, you did ask.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My nose. Or my jawline. OK, my nose.

Slankets, yes or no?
No, no, no. Nothing with a contrived, conflated name. No Manx. No Mankles. No Manbags. No Moobs. Although at my age I’m going to have to concede the Moobs.

Tell us something about the person who tagged you.
We know each other only electronically, but I am always inspired by her emotional honesty and her musings on syn-free recipes, hence my feelings of inadequacy about using Bolognese sauce from a jar in a recent flurry of despairing Tweets. And anyone who gives their blog such a positive title must be a mighty pleasant person to hang out with. I, too, love a half-full glass, but not as much as a full one.

The rules of this meme, as set out in the original post by Super Amazing Mum state that, having answered the questions, I must tag others to do the same then return to the original post and leave a comment confirming Mission Accomplished. So I tag Ordinary Parent, the Middle-Aged Matron and Motherventing to answer the same ten questions.

Maybe I’ll find out what makes such awesome bloggers tick. Maybe some of it will rub off on me.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Saturday is caption day

And now for something completely different. The great Mammasaurus, who I believe holds the blogosphere together single-handedly, has instigated her weekly Caption Day.

I provide the picture:

And you provide the caption. The more the merrier.

Part 23 – Bliss deferred

No time for preambles: we have been neglecting the romance of the century lately, and Topaz and Cleft are eager to see whether they are any closer to a blissful union. Not yet, apparently: looks as though Anna is leading us down another plot U-bend…

Part 23 (by Anna)

The plane had touched down late in the evening, when the Spanish coast had been a prickle of orange lights far below. Now it was well past dawn and she had still not eaten.

The taxi driver had deposited her at her request on the lower flanks of the mountain. It was an empty landscape itching with insect sounds. The track was a scar of dust gaping ahead of her, the scrub like wiry hair springing up from it margins. She could feel the air thickening with the gathering heat as she toiled upwards.

She wondered what she would do when she reached the top. Events had tossed her so abruptly about that she had had no thoughts beyond the urgency of return. The answer, she trusted, would lie in the rocks and the ripe, raw vegetation that grew so untameably over her private peak.

The sun was high in the sky by the time she arrived at the place and the heat was already moistening her tired flesh. Exhausted, now she had achieved her goal she moved towards the tangle of prickly pears. She saw the rut which had commenced it all and the rock. But that was all they were: malicious thorns, a tear in the ground and an empty stone. How could she have expected more? What, indeed, had she expected?

Drained now of energy and purpose, she sank down on the parched ground and laid her hot forehead on her knees. She had come all this way for nothing. She would have wept although no tears came. The shifting sun was the only clue to how long she remained crouched there. Then came a sound cracking like a pistol through the humid silence.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Part 22 – Bling It On

Milling & Booning is supposed to be as far removed as possible from my real life – write about what you know? Bah! But it occurs to me that even the restricted existence of stay-at-home dads can feed into Topaz’s thrilling world.

This week I am writing (properly – i.e. paid to) about the prime London lettings market, wrestling into submission market reports on the blingiest, most vulgar, most over-gadgetted properties that Russian gazillions can rent. And I sense Topaz close by, drooling over  the gold-mosaic bathrooms and stainless-steel kitchens which are far too smart to contain a kettle or a toaster. Of course: it’s Brinkworth Place! Funny how Literature will keep muscling in when I’m trying to be serious.

Part 22 (by Oliver)

Pain flamed through her already tender ankle, and at first Topaz wondered how she could make it to the garages, built to resemble a stable yard on the other side of the house. But by clutching at the gleaming white walls of Brinkworth Place, grasping at the massive bronze elephants that flanked the entrance, she managed to drag herself there and called out to the mechanic to fetch the keys to her Ferrari.

Sitting in the car, her forehead resting against the fluffy leopard-print cover of the steering wheel, she gave in to her pain at last. The sobs ground upwards from somewhere deep within, tearing like glass at her throat, and a mosaic of jumbled images beat on her consciousness: Terence, meekly bringing her weak tea in bed; a flat, sun-baked rock, fringed with prickly pears on a mountain far away; the broad red face of her father leading a prize thoroughbred mare to the Dunkley stables; the eyes glaring suddenly from her mother’s caramel face.

And most of all – most wrenching of all – the massive, dark presence of Cleft, always brooding with tantalising ferocity in the periphery of her mind. And as each thought of him forced its way almost unbidden, that familiar heat glowed in Topaz’s stomach, and the small of her back tingled where she could still feel his gossamer touch strengthening into something more urgent.

Moaning softly now, Topaz let the maelstrom break through her mind. But as it receded, just one thing remained. A rock. The whiplash dart of a lizard. The screening stand of prickly pears, their swelling ruby bulges ready to burst with one touch against the tautness of their green stems. And, beyond it all, the azure Mediterranean, calm, utterly placid in the late afternoon sun.

Topaz held her breath mid-moan, catching the full pout of her lower lip between her gleaming white teeth as she felt once again the hand of destiny leading her on to Paradise Heights. There, everything would fall into place.

The site, she realised with a sudden gleaming clarity, would be paid for with her money; her father’s wish was for her to live there. Above all, the mountain was imbued with Cleft’s presence, as if the very essence of his musky masculinity had entered each rock, each crevice. She would not see him again, she knew. But how could she forget the slow burn of his touch, the electric pulse of his questing kisses, the warm weight of his body looming over hers? Why should she forget?

Clear-headed now, Topaz started the car and, as the electronic doors of the garage slid open, she revved the engine at full throttle. The roar of scarcely contained power throbbed through her body as Topaz sped down the drive, and an almost poignant feeling of freedom swept over her. She had lost Cleft, and her parents were now as strangers to her. Yet she still had her trust fund and the irrepressible vitality of youth, and as the Ferrari shot like a golden arrow along the leafy Berkshire lanes her bronzed face broke into a genuine smile for the first time in days.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Part 21 – Seven for a Secret

Be careful what you wish for. The other day I admitted to a secret yearning for more tagging, and hey presto, the brilliant The Last Slayer at A Hell of a Woman came up trumps, even before I had outed myself as a closet egomaniac. So before we let Topaz get down to business, allow me to disclose a few things about myself – things you never knew you wanted to know, and that I never knew I wanted to share.

The Slayer told me to reveal seven secrets. With a name like that, I’d be foolish to refuse. Here goes.

1            I can’t open my eyes under water. That’s why I’m a great admirer of Esther Williams. Not only did she not need goggles, she smiled all the time – properly, with her mouth open. Like this:

2            I love cleaning the loo. Not the really nasty bits, of course, but putting the Harpic Power Plus down and then scrubbing and frothing with the brush. As my Twitter profile says, I don’t get out much.

3            A well-known television personality and dancer once copped a good feel all the way from my left buttock down the back of my thigh while he was appearing in panto at Richmond Theatre, where I was press officer. I was at a loss to know how to maintain a professional demeanor and get the hell out of there without offending the star of the show, who was going to be around for the next eight weeks.

4            I used to be able to put my foot behind my neck. Not very useful, but a good ice-breaker at parties.

5            I once fell through a mahogany dining table after being fed too many vodka jellies. I can still remember the thud of bottles raining down around my head as I wondered why the carpet was suddenly up against my cheek. Given the circumstances, I’m impressed that I can remember anything at all.

6            When I was 11, I wee-ed in a bottle and threw it into the Shenandoah River in Virginia. We didn’t care about green issues in those days. To this day I can’t hear that haunting song ‘Shenandoah’ without smirking.

7            I played Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard of Oz. It was a boys’ school. We didn’t get to choose our parts. I could sing ‘Over the Rainbow’ like you wouldn’t believe, in a piping treble. Still can, in a growly baritone.

There you are: so easy to write, so hard to live down. And if I can do it, so can the Ageing MatronKatetakes5 and Sazen. Go on, I dare you…

Do I get that badge now, Mrs Slayer?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Part 20 – The Ego Has Landed

I return refreshed, and looking at blogging with new eyes. Because the last post showed me a different side to blogging – the egotistical one.

I like to think that this blog isn’t all about me; I am but a humble servant to the literary muse, a conduit for the thoughts and emotions of others, even if they are fictional. And it really isn’t all about me – half of it is Anna’s contribution.

But of course, anyone who blogs is in it for themselves, otherwise we wouldn’t obsess about our viewing stats. And yesterday’s Musical Interlude was all about me. It’s an intoxicating feeling, even if it means that my self-esteem depends more than ever on those stats, and how many comments are posted.

So I scurry thankfully back to hide behind Topaz ’n’ Cleft, secretly hoping that someone might Tag me again so I have a good reason to talk about Me without looking as if it was my idea. Meanwhile, Mrs E-B shows her true colours, and I’m not talking about russet spray-tan and cerise lipstick…

Part 20 (by Anna)

The midday sun glared down on her as her kitten heels snapped fervidly down the muddy lane. Her breath came in ragged gasps, each one tearing at her throat and heart, yet she did not founder. Unconscious of the snakeskin uppers that bit into her tender foot, she tore onwards. Only when she reached the start of the driveway that curled between the lines of young conifers did she pause.

She leaned against one of the orange brick gateposts and gazed up at the stone folds of the pineapple that crowned it, and three male faces shifted before her; one pale and fretful beneath a sheen of damp, one worn with time and worry and one as brown as the leather-topped dining table in Brinkworth Place. It was the thought of this last face that caused her to falter, but only for an instant. Removing her chafing shoes, she padded wearily up the close mown verges of the driveway and into the house.

The fountain still tinkled heedlessly into its marble basin and yet the great hall with its glossy white flooring and gaping atrium had altered impercetibly; become alien, menacing even. The gold-framed portraits of her father and mother, once so cheery in their rainbow oils, stared coldly at her. Even her own likeness, painted for her twenty-first birthday, seemed a stranger’s face.

‘Dad! Dad!’ Craving reassurance as her world seem to slide perilously around her, Topaz ran urgently through the white double doors into the living room. Music hummed softly from the small vents in the wall but the room was empty. Topaz noticed as she turned the wedding files scattered over the leather sofa and her mother’s magenta imprint on the drained sherry glass beside it.

Desperate now, she hurtled across the hall, the cold marble burning her bare soles. Dining room – no one. Sun room – the same. The air thickened. The house loomed. Topaz wrenched open the door of the sauna where her father sometimes lingered after a morning at the stables. Wet heat assualted her like a blow, but the wooden bench was empty.

‘Dad! Mum!’

She took the shallow stairs two at a time, banged open doors as she came to them, swept each empty room with pleading eyes and tore onwards. Her own bedroom came last and as she stumbled in she started at the figure on the bed. Her mother gazed coldly at her, her eyes almost menacing in their thick mascara frames.

‘Terence came round after you left,’ she said. ‘He told me what's been going on. About this brutish American who’s turned your head and goodness knows what else.’

Her scarlet fingernails stabbed at the peach silk counterpane and Topaz noticed that an object was clutched between them.

‘He also told me that you know the situation now. If you let yourself be led astray by some oafish stranger, all this’ – she gestured round the opulent chamber – ‘will be lost to us. I won’t let you do this to your father. I won’t let you do this to me.’

Topaz stood silent. She looked levelly at the woman seated before her – at the sculpted yellow hair, the coppered skin, the white slacks that stretched a little too tightly under their gold-leather moorings. And love turned to momentarily to pity and then to something harder.

‘It’s too late,’ she replied. ‘What’s done is done. The world knows now and all of us will be tainted with the shame of it. It’s worse for you – all this’ – and she echoed her mother’s sweeping gesture – ‘has become too much part of you, whereas liberty and love will be enough for me to live on.’

She swung round to leave the way she had come, but her mother, moving with startling swiftness, was too quick for her. She lunged at Topaz’s shoulder and Topaz saw that the item she clutched was a key; the gold-tasselled key that belonged to her bedroom door.

‘You will not leave this place until you are wed,’ said Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth. ‘I intend to make sure of that.’

With one powerful movement, she hurled her daughter towards the bed and darted onto the landing. The door crashed shut and Topaz heard the key turn in the lock.

Her breast heaving, she crossed to the window and clutched the swagged silk drapes. There was no doubt now in her mind. Her family had forefeited her loyalty and affections and she owed nothing to Terence who had been complicit in her sacrifice. Cleft, too, would see no more of her after his treachery.

But she remembered his velvet voice: ‘We are creatures of the sun and the sea and the maquis,’ and she knew it to be true. With or without him she had to return to the place where her soul could roam freely. The place where destiny had tapped her shoulder.

Without further thought, she hoisted one of the silk drapes out of the window, dangled from it for an instant then dropped ten feet onto the damp grass.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Part 19 – Musical Interlude

That adventurous Middle-aged Matron has Tagged me. This is the first time I’ve been tagged, and it’s not like it was when I was a lad, when it meant being chased and caught and then you’re ‘it’. No, Adventures of a Middle-Aged Matron has suggested that I share my most thrilling music, a jolly idea started by Mammywoo and passed on by Flossingthecat. So here goes: a bit of a rag-bag.

You want thrilling? I give you a 100-piece orchestra and an augmented operatic chorus in full flow. Not enough? Throw in a children’s choir. How about some visuals? Try serried ranks of slightly sinister-looking angels holding fairy lights. I give you the Prologue from Boito’s opera Mefistofele. It’s a bit slow-build, this one (which adds to the thrill when it all lets loose), but if you’re impatient, skip to about 5 minutes in and prepare to have your socks blown off by a combination of monumental music and a gloriously lavish, camp staging.

Now for something completely different: Hello (Turn Your Radio On) by Shakespears Sister. I never could make out what it’s about, but you don’t need to understand the words to be thrilled by great music, otherwise no one would listen to opera. The guitar solo is amazing; the video’s brilliant, too. This is as near to cool as I get.

This one’s all about carefree student days and early romance (Reader, I married her). The most thrilling days of one’s life.

Finally, this is what I listen to as I sit down with a whisky when the daughter’s finally gone to bed. As all you parents out there will know, that’s a truly thrilling moment.

Since I am new to this tagging game, I'm not sure of the etiquette of tagging people to whom I haven't been formally introduced. But as an avid admirer of the magnificent Mammasaurus and Crystal Jigsaw, I'd love to find out what they thrill to, musically speaking.