Writers – dispelling the myths

Glendurgan maze cr Judy DarleyMany writers love myths, but what do they feel when the myth in question is what it’s like to be them? Award-winning short story writer and children’s author Rebecca Lloyd examines the myths that surround writers, and sets about dispelling a few, beginning with the concept of the writers’ muse.

Vintage bus cr Judy Darley

Myth: Writers are unable to write without a muse
Fact: Writers who believe this are denying their responsibility for their creations

In the non-writer world, there are not muses so much as ideas. Ideas may not come thick and fast, but when they do, the one who thought of them doesn’t attribute it to something ‘out there,’ but rather to their own ability to think something up.

I believe it unlikely that writers who wait for the arrival of the muse will ever be able to turn out very good work because they haven’t taken on full responsibility for their own creations. When a writer who believes in the muse has written nothing, it can’t be his fault, can it?

But sometimes the bus doesn’t come either, and then you walk. In other words, there are some days when your writing is better than it is on other days, but the important thing is to write consistently. Djuna Barnes wrote: “… working every day is important – one may write the most lamentable balls but in the end one has a page or two that might not otherwise have been done…”

Myth: Once, created, characters do much of the work for the writer
Fact: The characters are much of the work of the writer

The myth of the muse is supported by another declaration you sometimes hear even from respectable novelists, and it is that their characters “take life and form all by themselves,” – outside the will of the writer. This is a way of implying that writing is somehow magical. Yet, if you consider that we are only knowingly engaged with about one tenth of our brain and the rest is subconscious, it is little wonder that some of the hidden 90% leaks through onto the page, and it is that gives the illusion of characters coming to life by themselves.

Myth: Writers are born, not made
Fact: Many people are born with writing talent, but it’s those who work at it who progress into writers

The ‘born not made’ myth must put a few potential writers off the whole business – at least for a while. As a creative writing tutor, I come across students who haven’t told friends and family about their writing aspirations for fear of ridicule because it suggests they’re attempting to be someone less than ordinary. So, the would-be writer with little confidence is unlikely to assume their identity as a writer easily in the face of this.

Cat on wall cr Judy Darley

Myth: Anyone could be writer, if they wanted to
Fact: People who quite fancy the idea of being a writer rarely actually put the idea into action

Myths about writers can contradict one another. Most suggest that the writer is ‘special,’ but there a few myths that attempt to keep the writer in his place. For instance, there are people who, on meeting a writer, will declare: “They say there’s a novel in all of us.” Few people who say this have ever tried to write anything more substantial than an email. Equally, they are unlikely, however when meeting a bricklayer to state: “They say there’s a brick wall in all of us.”

The person is trying to tell you that writing is easy; anyone can do it if only there was enough time, and they say it to make themselves feel better in front of you. This is in direct contradiction to the myth above.

Harbour Festival audience cr Judy Darley

Myth: writers need to know who they’re writing for
Fact: While writers need an idea of a target audience, you can never truly know who will read your work

Then there’s the myth of writers needing to know whom they are writing for. If you were a writer of romance, you’d know that you were writing for people who read romantic fiction, but who are those people? How can the writer know? They could be anyone.

If you’re a children’s writer, you have to target your work to the age group you write for, but who are the children who are reading your work?

Myth: Writers should write about what they know
Fact: Writers are imaginative creatures with the ability to carry out research

Sometimes you hear the idea that writers should write about what they know. Novels would be very limited and utterly boring if writers only wrote about what they knew, and it would make historical novelists into supernatural beings for knowing all that stuff automatically. Writers do research. Research is good.

Myth: Writing talent is all it takes to be a successful writer
Fact: Marketability and persistence are just as important, if not more

It’s widely believed that you have to be a great writer to be a best seller. This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny if you think about the chick-lit novels that sell in their millions. That’s not to deny the right of these types of writing to exist, and more importantly to make money for publishing houses so that they can then risk, if they dare, taking on writers whose thoughts about life go deeper than sex, lipstick and daft shoes.

Of course, there are good writers who have had best selling works, but I would bet that there are far more mediocre writers who have hit the big time.

Myth: Writer’s suffer from writers’ block
Fact: Writers can overcome writers’ block – by accepting it doesn’t exist

The myth I hate in particular is that of writers’ block. Ordinary folk, lesser mortals that is, get tired at work, but writers have to have a special name for it to distinguish them from other people. Whether or not your writing is going well or not, a writer still has to get the words down on paper – that is the job, never mind about being tired, you have to do it anyway. Later it can be done better, and that’s not true of many jobs, so writers should just be grateful, and not believe in this daft idea.

Myth: Writers need a special space in which to write
Fact: Finding the perfect space in which to write depends on the individual

Virginia Woolf talked about a writer needing a ‘room of her own.’ I go along with the notion that to do your best work you need to be in favourable conditions, but these will differ from one writer to another. A crowded café could be a person’s special place to write. Many writers carry a notebook with them in which they work out storylines and/or make notes about things they notice, so a lot of writing and writing ideas happen on the hoof. I think that as long as when you are writing nothing else matters at that moment, then wherever you are is that special place because you are fully concentrating.

Cornwall shore cr Judy Darley

Myth: Writing is the loneliest of lonely professions
Fact: Writing is solitary, but rarely lonely

People talk about writing as ‘a lonely occupation.’ To call it lonely makes it sound sad. Writing is a solitary occupation, that’s true – as are millions of jobs. How can you actually be lonely if you’re fully concentrating on writing? The loneliness myth is part of the old stereotype of the artist working alone for months in his garret, and he must face the universe single-handedly – he’s ‘one man against the wherl’ isn’t he? Well, no, not necessarily.

The important thing is for writers themselves not to believe in these myths as none of them do the business any good. The more the act of fiction writing can be de-mystified the more confident people will be to become writers themselves, and in my opinion we always need new writers. When asked recently if a writer needed to be ‘full of angst,’ my reply was not angst, but passion, and an equal measure of discipline to go with it.

Rebecca Lloyd cr Rosie Tomlinson

Rebecca Lloyd cr Rosie Tomlinson

About the author

Rebecca Lloyd is a short story writer and novelist. Her short stories have been published in the UK, Canada, US and New Zealand. Rebecca’s story The River won the inaugural Bristol Prize in 2008.  She is the author of Halfling (Walker Books, 2011) and co-editor of the anthology Pangea (Thames River Press, 2012).

Her short story collections include The View From Endless Street and Mercy and Other Stories.

Remember Me To The Bees – Travelling North

Travelling North cr Louise BoulterThe 20th story in my debut collection Remember Me To The Bees is Travelling North. The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

Before I even began compiling this collection of short stories, the title of it settled on me like a bee on a flower, and refused to flit away. Initially I thought it would be the title of the short story that became Travelling North.

I knew I wanted to write something about following the crops, through Britain, but couldn’t find my way into the tale, until I saw a news story about a man who had frozen to death while camping on the Scottish island of Skye. It wasn’t the story I wove in, but it gave me an image of an older man travelling with the crops, with a far younger companion to offset his beliefs and impression. This pairing became Alun and Shiv, and gave me an opportunity to explore the assumptions we make about one another, as well as the lies we tell ourselves.

In case you were wondering, the phrase Remember Me To The Bees is explained in this story. You’ll have to read the tale to discover the meaning though!

A short excerpt from Travelling North

Alun was a surprisingly good travelling companion. Something about him was deeply reassuring. He was good at deciphering bus timetables, charming waitresses into giving them a bit of extra blood pudding with their breakfast, that kind of thing. She had a feeling people assumed she was his daughter, despite the milkiness of his skin next to hers. The confusion on their faces as they tried to puzzle it out alternately amused and irritated her – she’d experienced it often enough with her mum.

Couldn’t they see she was too old to be travelling with her dad in any case?

Their time together was full of misunderstandings. She couldn’t work out whether it was an age thing or a culture thing. Sometimes they’d be in the middle of some great conversation and she’d gradually become aware that they were talking about completely different things.

Last weekend, for example, on their free day, they’d journeyed to the beaches at Claigan, north of Dunvegan Castle, staying there till the sun began to slip down towards the waves. The sky was still blue in places, but the clouds were golden, rimmed in pink like sea creatures with vulnerable undersides. He’d reached forward suddenly, towards her, stopping just short of touching her face. She’d been wary, realising she no longer wanted to be kissed by this man who had become like an uncle. A friend.

“My daughter would be your age now,” he’d breathed, and she felt her insides chill, sensing some terrible tragedy. She looked at him, full of pity, but he shook his head, almost seeming confused.

“Is, I mean she is. Your age or thereabouts.”
No tragedy then, at least not in her terms.
“You miss her?’ she asked, trying to account for the grief in his eyes.
And he nodded, looked alarmingly like he might actually cry, and said, “For the past fifteen years. That’s how long it’s been.”

Then clammed up, refused to speak another word on the subject, leaving her completely bemused. What kind of man doesn’t see his daughter for fifteen years? She tried to imagine it, if, say, her dad had wanted to move back to Niger rather than England, if her mum hadn’t wanted to go and they’d separated. But even if that had happened, surely he would have visited, wouldn’t he?

Bees cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – delayed mail

Belated xmas giftThis week I received a very belated Christmas gift from my American cousins.

A Christmas present, in May! Apparently it set off from their hometown in November, spent a bit of time socialising with postal workers, skipped over to England, didn’t like the look of us, so hurried back, only to be dutifully re-sent to us. I can only assume it ran out of energy, so is now here, waiting to be unwrapped.

And what a great premise this kind of scenario makes for fiction writing. The letter that arrived too late, or fell into the wrong hands. The parcel that contained something unexpected, or sinister, or just, as someone I know once experienced, with a nibble taken from one corner and a sincere apology from a mail sorter who’d felt a bit peckish and couldn’t wait till their break.

What kind of interaction could this lead too? What misunderstandings might arise? Oh, there are so many possibilities!

Have fun with it.

If you write something prompted by this idea, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

The Owl Barn Residency seeks new artists in residence

Residency at The Owl BarnI absolutely love the sound of this place. Describing itself as a creative space in Gloucestershire for artists, makers and thinkers, The Owl Barn offers the chance to focus on your creativity, while engaging with the local community and the land.

It’s ideal if you’re keen to use your creative skills to make a real difference, as they run weekly art classes with local community groups, including a homeless shelter, an old people’s home and a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.

The Owl BarnIn exchange for three hours helping out around The Owl Barn each weekday, successful applicants will be offered a free studio space in the Owl Barn, a space to live in the Parlour below and basic food, mainly sourced from the gardens around the Owl Barn. If you’re interested, you’ll have the chance to learn about permaculture and food production through helping with the gardens, expansions to a young forest garden (I’m not sure what that is, but it sounds wonderful), planting out a pond, and growing delicious things in the polytunnel.

The Owl Barn are looking for residents to join then at the beginning of August for a three-month residency. “We will be looking for more residents later in the Autumn, so do get in touch if you are interested. We usually have four residents in the community at one time.”

For details visit www.owlbarnresidency.org or contact owlbarnresidency@gmail.com.

To apply, please fill in the form on The Owl Barn website as soon as possible, as they expect to fill the vacancy sooner rather than later.

The Owl Barn residency

All images in this post have been supplied by The Owl Barn

Review – Butterfly Man and Hardy Animal

Part of MayfestButterfly Man plunges you into a story from writer Nick Hunt, examining the psychological after-effects of one man’s loss, set against the world’s.

Butterfly Man, Ben played by Joe HallUsing audio and visual projection to heighten the viewers’ emotional states, this thoughtful one-hour play begins with Ben (played by Joe Hall) holding a jar containing what seems to be a real swallowtail butterfly (I’m assured it wasn’t harmed in the performance), and reliving a moment in past. The sound of the creature’s wings beating against the glass provides a constant background of noise as we watch Ben’s descent into depression following, but apparently not connected to, a tragedy in his family. Instead we are led to believe his breakdown in fact relates to a much earlier trauma, when the woodland idyll near his childhood home and all the wildlife living in it was destroyed.

The idea of a connection between mental health and access to nature isn’t a new one, and in an interview for mayfest, Nick himself explains that “the play is adapted from an essay called Flowers of the Sky by Dr. Mike Edwards.”

This is a work in progress, and while parts of it were beautiful and haunting (the scene in which Ben meets his doctor for the first time is incredible believable), others need something more. The final scene involved huge amounts of dialogue from Ben supposedly spoken to his partner (played by Amanda Horlock), but the two rarely make eye contact. I wanted them to be clinging to each other as he described discovering butterflies for the first time, and learning from them about love.

This intensity may well come, however, as the actors and co-directors welcomed for feedback after the performance, and are evidently keen to see their caterpillar of a play metamorphose into the butterfly it clearly has the potential to become.

The message is already there – that in harming our environment we risk damaging our own mental health – in fact there’s a lovely line from Ben at one point explaining that the Greek word psyche means both spirit or soul, and butterfly – binding the play’s ideas together in one neat package. Find out more at nickhuntscrutiny.com/news/butterfly-man.

Hardy Animal cr Laura DannequinOne thing definitely not lacking in Hardy Animal – written, created and performed by Laura Dannequin – is intensity. Disarming in its portrayals of the frustrations, fears and hopes of a dancer enduring chronic back pain, it explores the lengths we’ll take in a bid to restore normality, the confused perceptions we’ll face from others, and the strength required to unlearn and relearn our own body’s capabilities.

It’s a beautiful and stark work, almost poetic at times, painterly at others – using spoken work, careful lighting, the vulnerability of exposed skin, and, at last, a brief, extraordinary dance that draws the whole thing together into a moment you’ll feel you’re truly a part of. Powerful, and unexpectedly uplifting. Find out more at www.lauradannequin.co.uk.

BUTTERFLY MAN

 

Remember Me To The Bees – The River

The River cr Louise BoulterThe 19th story in my debut collection Remember Me To The Bees is The River. An earlier version was published by Gemini Magazine – actually it was one of my first published stories, and really encouraged me to keep writing.

The story enmeshes you in the world of a small girl for whom losing a pair of shoes in a river is at least as worrying as the concept of death.

The exquisite artwork at the top of this post is by Louise Boulter. The others are my own.

A short excerpt from The River

Phoebe sat on the bank and unfastened her patent leather shoes. She dipped her feet into the cold flow, giggling as mud oozed between her toes and small hidden things tickled her soles. Her shoes bobbed in the shallows like a pair of tiny dinghies.

The River near bank cr JDarleyTucking her skirt into her knickers, she slipped off the bank into the river, wading along with gentle waves lapping at her pale, freckled thighs. She heard a splash behind her as Alec joined her in the swirling water. Phoebe led the way, taking care to put each foot down gingerly to test the depth before putting her full weight onto it, just as Alec had shown her.

Alec knew everything there was to know about animals and nature. He pointed out a heron as it unfolded into the air from the bank, transforming from a motionless grey stick into a billowing sheet like a magic trick.

As they followed the river from one field into the next, Phoebe saw something caught in the reeds ahead: a few bright flowers tangling with something more solid. Intrigued, she walked as fast as the water allowed, but as she neared it a small paw was loosened by the current and swung out. She stepped back in surprise and almost fell.

“What is it?” she asked. “An animal?”

Alec picked up a branch and prodded the small corpse, turning it so that a neat whiskery face was revealed: shining, vacant eyes and a pair of astonishingly long ears. A dark red mass glistened where the fur of the stomach should have been.

“A hare,” Alec said. “Killed by a fox, I reckon. Dying, dying, dead and it’s not coming back.”

“Really?” Phoebe asked, disconcerted. Dying was what Mum said was happening to Granny.

“Dead,” Alec repeated, sounding equally unsettled. He heaved himself out onto the riverbank. “Come on, out. That water’s disgusting. We’ll walk back along the lane. Where are your shoes?”

Phoebe gasped in horror, realising she’d left them floating amidst the weeds. Alec took her hand and they ran back to where they’d entered the river, but the shoes had disappeared, gone forever, as surely as the life of the hare.

The River far bank cr JDarley

Midweek writing prompt – another’s eyes

Bunol graffiti cr Judy DarleyThis week, i want you to consider the ‘write what you know’ adage, and turn it on it’s head. Make your protagonist someone as unalike you as possible.

Consider the scene above. I took that photo in Buñol, Valencia, on a particularly peaceful day, when not a single tomato waited to be thrown. The only life I saw there was a scattering of old folks dressed in black sitting together and chattering, observing the hours passing.

I challenge you to write about this graffiti from the viewpoint of one of these old people. Are they saddened, enraged or stirred in some other way? What does it remind them of from their own youth? How does it make them feel about the youth of their village today?

Alternatively, write it from the point of view of the young person who did it. What were they feeling? What motivated them? How did they feel afterwards? Scared? Proud? Ashamed?

And in your writing, don’t forget that Buñol is a very small village, which means that this old person and this young person almost certainly know each other, may even be related to one another. How does this heighten or soften their response?

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Head first in Milliners’ Guild

Milliners Guild pink hat cr Judy DarleyThere’s something about hats that’s unexpectedly enticing. Not the woollen stay-warm necessities we drag over our ears in wintertime, but the gorgeously constructed froth and fibre creations more commonly seen at weddings and racetracks.

I discovered Milliners’ Guild in Bristol thanks to a write-up in Clifton Life magazine, and just had to check it out for myself. With aqua walls, dark wood and more sky-blue mannequin heads than I could count, it felt like an art gallery rather than a shop – with the artwork on offer being beautifully sculpted hats.

Milliners Guild hats cr Judy Darley

Many of them, with their gauzy layers, sprinkles and feathers brought to mind ornate confectionary creations, or exotic flora found in heat-dazed glasshouses.

Milliners Guild top hat cr Judy Darley

Snazzy summer picnic wear!

The shop’s owner and queen hat-maker is Ani Stafford-Townsend, who says she’s keen to ensure the guild element of the name is a central part of the business.

Annabel Allen cr Judy Darley“All the bespoke orders are created by myself and my assistant Annabel (Allen – a milliner herself with bags of talent, pictured left), but we also have the work of more than 20 other milliners, bag designers and jewellers in the shop,” Ani explains. “One of the aims of the shop is to provide milliners from around the country the opportunity to sell their work in a quality retail setting.”

Ani says that anyone who wants to can get in contact with images of their creations. “If the style fits with our client base, we can arrange to meet and view the work.”

The shop also hosts a weekly evening millinery class plus one- and three-day workshops, so you can have a go yourself. “We put the emphasis on learning proper millinery skills – there’s no glue gunning in our classes!”

Hats made from Sinamay

Way back when, people put on a hat every time they ventured out, and while I think that’s a bit too demanding, I do believe we’re missing out on a wonderful opportunity to express ourselves through fashion – the cherry on top, in fact. What better way to add some frivolity, some fun, a touch of wow-factor or simply a bit of joy to an outfit?

“Although people tend to limit wearing hats like mine to weddings and to the races, I hope that in the future that will change and people will wear them any time they want to feel a bit special- like a pair of high heels,” says Annabel. “I think hats offer a way to express your personality – they can add fun, glamour and elegance.”

I couldn’t agree more! I vote for re-introducing hat-wearing to everyday life – I’m sure it would make getting ready in the morning a much happier task, and we’d never have to worry about bad hair days again.

Hat cr Judy Darley

The perfect hat to wear while novel-writing.

A cuppa with writer Rebecca Lloyd

Rebecca Lloyd cr Rosie Tomlinson

Rebecca Lloyd cr Rosie Tomlinson

This week I have the pleasure of catching up with award-winning short writer Rebecca Lloyd, who has recently had two  collections – The View From Endless Street and Mercy and Other Stories – published in quick succession.

Kettle’s on. What do you fancy?

Coffee, please, black and powerful!

When writers are interviewed they often say they’ve always wanted to write from when they were young children. Is that the same for you?

No, not at all. I didn’t consider the idea until I was 49… and since then, I’ve never stopped considering it, or doing it. I’m sure that as a child I just hung about listening to people and keeping out of the way and indulging in my real passion which was insects and other creatures. I was bought up in a suburb of Sydney in Australia, so there was a lot of really interesting wild life to get involved with.

Do you have a muse?

I think the idea of a writer having a muse is really a male writer having a wife to make his lunch while he works at his writing, isn’t it? But if a muse really means something that inspires a writer, then my muse would be all I see and am curious about around me.

There are a lot of rogue publishers about, aren’t there? How would you recognise and avoid them?

Actually that is getting harder and harder. Since the onslaught of self-publishing some of the old vanity publishers have remodelled themselves into businesses that still lie in wait to get a writer’s money, but they’re much more subtle these days. And then there are new hybrid publishers who also try to make writers pay for what they should not pay for, but they can make it seem almost reasonable, for example by making them first pay to have their manuscript edited by their own editing team.

A writer should not have to pay for this, but I can see how tempting it might be. The most notorious of the rogue publishers are often talked about and if a writer researches properly and knows what to look out for, they shouldn’t find themselves in conversation with rogue publishers. The only good thing I can see about self-publishing is that it has lessened the impact of the vanity publishing industry.

Have you ever had writer’s block or do you really believe that’s just another one of the myths about writing?

At some level, I do still consider it to be mythical, but I have also experienced something of the sort. I think it was probably just depression and mental exhaustion but it was the strangest sensation of having ‘nothing going on’ in my thinking. It was frightening because it seemed to wipe away my identity as a writer. I couldn’t write a thing for ages. I did get better, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

You sometimes hear writers say that writing is agony for them. Is that the same for you?

Writing is beautiful for me, it’s nearly always hard work, but utterly lovely. I wouldn’t do it otherwise, and I’m tempted to say ‘Man up!’ to writers who talk about the agony.

Mercy by Rebecca LloydWhat genre would you say you write in?

I have had to accept that I write in the ‘New Black’ or the Weird Fiction or the Literary Horror genre, those are just different terms for a particular type of writing and an interest in particular subject matter. But for a long time, I resisted affiliating myself with a genre. However, since Tartarus Press published my dark short story collection Mercy this year, I’ve joined the clan of weird writers so to speak.

Apparently WiDo Publishing who published my other collection The View From Endless Street at the same time, are reminded of Roald Dahl when they read my work. They certainly think it strange, so I should just accept the fact, eh?

What kind of things help to fire up your imagination?

I was inspired to start writing during my short time working in Africa, I was inspired by the people I met and my relationships with them.

I guess it would just be various interesting aspects of the human condition that cause me to write, only after all this time I think the inspiration, is almost unconscious. My writing world is in my head, my other worlds are tangible and real, but they are separate and apart from writing.

The Nature of My Soul by Katie Timoshenko

The Nature of My Soul by Katie Timoshenko

I do have some artwork I like and relate to strongly. This is The Nature of My Soul by Katie Timoshenko who I met at the Peterborough Festival last summer.

Katie’s paintings are like my own thoughts on writing. Her paintings are done on glass from behind, just fabulous.

What’s your opinion about writing classes? 

Writing classes are fine except for people go persistently to them and can’t seem to move on. No writing tutor, whether they are famous or unknown, can teach a novice writer how to find the self-belief, self-discipline and resilience needed to be a writer – nor can imagination be taught. But what can be taught are the tricks of the writerly trade, and the sooner a new writer knows those, the sooner he or she will become good writers with a chance of publication.

Find out more about Rebecca Lloyd.

Remember Me To The Bees – Flyleaf

Flyleaf cr Louise BoulterThe 18th story in my debut collection Remember Me To The Bees is Flyleaf. A few years ago I spent several months travelling up the west coast of America, pausing in Portland for a couple of weeks. While there I dipped in and out of one of my favourite ever bookshops – Powell’s City of Books.

As I had been travelling for a while I’d accumulated a few books which, now read, I couldn’t justify the space for. I needed that space for new books to read! Powell’s buy second-hand books, but didn’t want the ones I had, so quietly, when nobody was watching, I ‘rehomed’ those books on Powell’s shelves.

But what if somebody had seen? What would they have thought of my actions? The thought amused me afterwards, and became the initial seed for this story.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Flyleaf

She glances around furtively, guiltily, stuffs the book onto the shelf, and flits away. The reverse of stealing: surreptitious gifting?

I follow her at a distance, looking at the shelves she has been adding to, and find I can’t tell which books she has inserted. It seems that whichever volumes were retrieved from her bag have been placed in exactly the space for which they were intended.

Then I reach one where there was clearly no gap to fill, and see a book resting atop of the others, the same title and author, but not yet catalogued by Powell’s – an outsider in their midst. I pick it up, rifle gently through its pages, look- ing for… what? A note? A stray hair? A clue. I even raise it to my nose and quietly inhale, but it smells only of paper, perhaps of dust; pleasing smells but certainly not telling. The book itself is perhaps the one clue: Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’. And scribbled onto the flyleaf: To Mara. Hope the journey is every bit as much of an adventure as the destination. Love N.

So now I have the woman’s name. The book is well-thumbed, presumably well-read, or possibly just worn out with being shoved into the bottom of a backpack. But why abandon a book that evidently meant so much to her?

She’s leaving the bookshop. I follow as fast as I can without visibly chasing her. I try to appear aloof, perhaps even a little self-obsessed, trying to maintain the persona I assumed on leaving the gym earlier this morning.