Dunn is released on amazon: But what are therapy cults, and why is she writing novels about them, anyway?

A bit of background……

Back in 2004 I was thoroughly miserable. Fortunately, none of the events in Dunn actually happened to me. I didn’t get embroiled in a psychotherapy cult. I just met someone who unintentionally made my life worse, and they knew someone who had.

And so the spark of an idea emerged. I wrote the first paragraph (which I have since abandoned), realised I didn’t actually know anything about psychotherapy cults, and went off to China for 6 months to get over the death of one of my dearest friends ever, and various unsuitable love interests. Neither worked, but I did have a great time in China and get lots of research on psychotherapy cults done.

After 9 years + of actual writing/rewriting/scrapping/sulking/starting again etc, my debut novel ‘Dunn’ is finally released as an ebook on amazon/google play/apple iBooks.

here

And more to follow 😁. There will be a paperback available on the matador-troubador website here next month too. So, now the hard work of trying to get people to read it begins.

But what are therapy cults?

I found out that various groups had lured people in to a cult-like ‘self-help’ and ‘pseudo-therapy’ scenarios over the years. Some of them were selling New Age ideas and treatments; some were pedalling methods for self-help; others counselling methods. I won’t name any groups, but if you look, you’ll find them mentioned all over the net.

As the name suggests, therapy cults are generally selling some kind of treatment, so they’re targeting vulnerable people.

Examples include New Age therapy cults that promise cures for terminal diseases, often claiming that mainstream medical practices are ineffective; and counselling and self-help groups that offer pseudo-psychological therapies they claim will help victims to be more confident/successful/happy/all of the above.

‘The Salvation Program’ in ‘Dunn’ is based on the latter.

How do they get followers to join and stay?

Cults seem to employ various methods of recruitment, including direct invitation; the use of leaflets and advertisements; direct street recruitment, and even advertisements in mainstream magazines/TV in the States.

Most of these crop up in ‘Dunn’.

My main character, Aidan Dunn, is invited to a ‘Salvation program’ recruitment meeting by Sophie Harris, who uses what Aidan perceives as their ‘burgeoning relationship’ to get him to join phase one.

Later in the story, Aidan uses leaflets and magazines along with a direct street approach, to successfully recruit to the program.

But why do recruits join and stay?

What these groups mostly seem to have in common, is the destruction of victims’ perceptions of themselves and their history. Key relationships often suffer as a result, be that with family and friends or mainstream medical practitioners. Either way, the victim becomes dependent on the cult as a result.

Thought reform and control

I read an old psychology book by Margaret Thaler Singer, called ‘Cults in our midst’ whilst I was in China, and most of the ‘thought reform’ processes that I have tried to capture in ‘Dunn’ are based on those described in that book.

The author, Margaret Thaler Singer, summarises the objectives of these types of cult in three succinct points, which I have paraphrased above, and outlines the basic method used to get victims in such a state of dependence as follows:

1) Subtle behavioural changes introduced and reinforced with peer pressure

At his first ‘Salvation program’ phase one meeting, my main character, Aidan Dunn, is lured into a chanting circle – something not in character – by an attractive girl and the feeling that he is an outsider.

2)Time controlled

All Aidan’s weekends are taken up with ‘Salvation program’ meetings and seminars, effectively controlling his social interactions. His only other contact is Sophie, who only wants to talk to him about the ‘Salvation program’.

3) Rewards and punishments are used to reinforce the cult’s ideology

This idea comes up again and again throughout ‘Dunn’, but perhaps the best example is that used on Jim by Mrs Tressel in an early chapter. She excludes him from ‘the circle of love’ when he won’t say that he is a failure and is rewarded with her attention when he capitulates.

4) Members rewarded for rejecting their old personality and life view, and punished for non-conforming

Aidan is rewarded by Stephanie for changing his memories of his childhood and punished with her disapproval when he resists. She subsequently coerced him into confronting his parents about his childhood, resulting in isolation from his parents (though, actually, in Aidan’s case, I think that may be a positive). At group seminars, members are also rewarded for sharing confessions about their past and punished with disapproval if they don’t. I explore this theme a lot in ‘Dunn’, because it’s so horrible!

I’ll stop there for fear of accidentally dropping spoilers in.

Needless to say, this was an interesting, if terrifying topic to write a novel about. I would be lying if I said it was an entirely enjoyable experience, as it lays bare just how horrible and manipulative humans can be too each other, and highlighted just how dark some of the creatures lurking in my brain actually are.. This, and the fact that I’m exceptionally cynical, is the main reason that the novel is darkly humourous. I wrote it whilst teaching full time (thank goodness I can now be part time); raising a child, and getting addicted to running to keep myself sane. I needed to keep it fun and lighten it up in places. Some of the characters are deliberately unpleasant (more about that in a post next week) and so writing about them was not always nice. I quite enjoyed giving them a hard time…. More on that next week

Sea caves, islands and 26 degree water. What more can an open water swimming enthusiast want? A bikini that you can actually swim properly in would be good and dolphins would have been a bonus.

Just had my first swim in the Channel after 10 days swimming all day in the Adriatic, and it was …. Weedy; opaque; chilly, but great fun as always. It felt very odd swimming in a wetsuit after 10 days of swimming in a mix and match bikini! Why can’t anyone sell boyleg bikinis with tops that you can actually swim properly in! After one attempt to swim in my only vaguely trendy bikini I decided that I didn’t want the whole beach to see down my top, so had to swap to using the top from my cheap Slazenger back-up. Unfortunately, it had skimpy bottoms! Hence the mix and match. There’s a hole in the market here that someone should fill. I hate skimpy bottoms.

But I have to say. Verduela near Pula in Croatia was the perfect place to go for an active beach holiday, without jet skis etc to ruin everything. I hate jet skis even more than skimpy bikini bottoms (for reasons other than the risk to my own safety as a swimmer). I hate even more than that the motorised paddle boards that people ride in the swimming zone where I live, but let’s leave that there and get back to Croatia (if only!)

This was the view from our balcony at the Park Plaza. A thoroughly civilised and relaxing way to start and end the day.

We went past the island opposite on a glass-bottomed boat and saw the coolest massive vertically-growing clam type things. They grow to over 2 feet tall sometimes, apparently. Can’t remember what they’re called though…. and the photo didn’t come out.

The abundance of marine life we saw in the bays around our hotel was quite phenomenal. The fish weren’t of the bright, tropical, flashy variety, but the diversity down there was amazing, and the underwater limestone landscape was quite dramatic, with lots of little canyons and lava-like rocks harbouring all sorts of fish/urchins/corals/crabs.

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There are also turtles about, though we didn’t see any in the wild, fortunately, because that close to shore and they risk being injured by boats. The Pula aquarium does an excellent job of rescuing injured turtles and releasing them, though, and we just missed the next release. It’s such a shame that tourism is responsible for so many injuries to these and other creatures. The Dolphins don’t come into the bays anymore, because they have sensibly realised that motor boats are dangerous. This is my main reason for me hating jet skis. They and motorboats are so damaging to marine mammals because they’re too fast for them to move away from. We don’t do motorboat or jet skis for those reasons. Obviously, plastics and fishing nets are the other key threats to marine life that we pose. I’m working on reducing our plastic use, but it’s so hard when everything comes wrapped in it! Fish I only buy from certified sources, but even those are likely to leave some ‘ghost gear’, as it’s referred to in the water.   This is one of the main themes I’m trying to raise in The Longhand Chronicles – the destruction that is we are inflicting on our environment. I’m blaming the Lord of Darkness for enchanting humans because it’s so horrible to admit that it’s our species that do all the damage.  It is, though! As a biology teacher, I have to conclude that we as a species are trying to naturally select against ourselves. But enough of my ranting.

On the subject of ‘The Longhand Chronicles’, I really have done nothing useful for weeks.  I finally updated the cover for  ‘The Seagull’, and I have left the name as it is for the moment to avoid confusion.

I also wrote the first draft of chapter one of book two – The Host and the Oak Tree, but I haven’t started draft two of book one. I think if I’m going to enter it in the Watty awards, that’s what  I need to do. You can only enter stories published there since August 17, so there’s only one chance.  I might as well take it.  My husband, an avid fantasy reader, has raised lots of points that I need to sort out in addition to those raised through all the helpful feedback I’ve had on Wattpad. I figure that if I can redraft the first five chapters by the deadline of August 1, that will help but it is a year off, so I’m not going to stress.

Dunn is still on schedule for release at the end of July and that was the main goal for this year. The cover is agreed, it’s gone to print, and the ebook is being prepared. In fact, it just came through to be checked now. so that’s the beginning of next week sorted. So back to Croatia.

 

We did a couple of trips in addition to the amazing glass-bottomed boat, one another boat trip which involved me swimming in to a sea cave. It’s to the right of the swimmers below. I’m second from the front in my mismatched bikini. My son could have swum the distance easily, but you had to swim under a rocky overhang to get into the cave with very little air above and he wouldn’t have liked it. The cave was amazing, but there were too many people in there. I beat a hasty retreat and went out to play around in the waves in the 8M water around our boat. After that we went on to the Kamenjak islands and had a lovely lunch on the boat, attracting some familiar guests.

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The other trip we went on was a mammoth 7.30am until 10.30 pm epic to the Plitvice lake national park. This place is amazing.  It’s a totally unique mass of limestone, waterfalls, lakes and fish, spread over a series of hills, covered in beautiful forest.

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The lakes had so many different shades of blue and green in them, and the waterfalls pouring out of tree roots and moss and down limestone cliffs were awe-inspiring. Thunder overhead added to the drama.

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It really did remind me of parts of my book. Shame we spent a very flying visit there. I would have loved to spend proper quality time there, dreaming up new water sprites for the Longhand Chronicles, but if you get a chance go. Unique is the only way to describe it.

We spent most of our time in the sea, but couldn’t miss the opportunity to inflict some Roman ruins on our son as he’s done them at school

P1000765Unfortunately, he hates Roman’s, they’re stupid, and just wanted to get back to the fish.

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Another amazing trip and somewhere I would definitely go back to – preferably on a wildlife trip to try to find the elusive Lynx, Wolves and black bears that live in the vast forests that cover everything, but definitely back to swim in that gorgeous sea with all its life. A totally cool country.

 

 

 

How do you stay in and write when the sun is out?

Until now, I have written my books with a loose plot in mind, but no plan. It’s worked okay! The soon-to-be renamed ‘Seagull’ plot came together mostly fine. It needs work, obviously because its a first draft, but the skeleton and some basic ligaments and tendons are there!

Book two: The host and the Oak tree, though, came to me quite clearly whilst I was lying on the sofa with a purring cat. And it needed a plan so that I didn’t forget the ideas that just kept intruding on my feline cuddle. Because now the sun is out and I want to be swimming in the sea, not typing indoors getting neck ache/back ache/butt ache and more muscle pulls.

So, that’s what seems to be happening.

It’s 25 ish degrees; the sea is flat and the buoys are out. So my friend and I swam to one this morning

Head-out breast stroke mostly because it’s still ice-cream headache cold, but a start. And it was great, apart from my steamy goggles.

Then I had marking to do and it was too nice to go home, so I sat on the beach in my towel and started it, with Melissa and Miranda:the seagull Goddesses from book one of the Longhand chronicles for company.

So no writing other than this today then, realistically. Oh well. It is supposed to be a year off, after all

Proofs sent …. Better find something new to write for the next 4 months …

It’s been a while since I updated this, because I’ve been busy.

Had a manic Easter holiday with my son and various friends and Matador sent the typeset proofs through for me to check. So I’ve been reading through Dunn AGAIN, checking the formatting, commas etc. It’s mostly okay, but there were a few rogue punctuation marks outside quote marks etc …. But it’s done and sent.

And other than that, its been frustrating running/strength training and core exercises, with too little swimming in the middle! I’ll get there. Just not yet!

The sun has been out, though and that has made me feel loads better. Had a glorious sea dip, a few nice early morning short runs and felt amazing. It’s gone now, though …. The wind and cloud are back!

Never mind. We are off to Croatia for our family holiday in less than 5 weeks and that should be sunny.

The lovely husband has started casting his critical eye over ‘The Seagull’ and so, I will be starting the second draft of that imminently.

I am in two minds about which new writing project to start next …. It kind of makes sense to keep going with book two in the Longhand series and see where that goes …. I’m not even sure if its a trilogy or duology yet. But I’m the sort of person that likes a change, and I have other ideas. Some centred around the Morrigan (goddess of war and death) and her Banshees and others based around Dunn. I have loose ideas about a sequel and a prequel. But I also started another novel based in the present and near future about the impacts of climate change some years ago before I got sucked into the Celtic mythology idea and started ‘the Seagull’. So who knows …. Maybe I’ll scope out a few chapters of each idea and see which grabs me most. I’d written a few rough chapters of the climate change novel, so that might be a good place to start. Who knows.

Draft one of The Seagull is done!!! But I’m starting to wonder if running races are too……darn hamstring!

Goal two of my sabbatical year is officially complete. I have finished draft one of the soon-to-be-renamed Seagull and pressed the magic ‘completed’ button on wattpad. Now watch millions of people not flock to read it!!!

But it’s good to get it done. That was the point of putting the story on wattpad, really, and having a schedule to work towards did help me keep going. The link is

here

Louis, my main character, has almost passed the Morigan’s (goddess of war and death) test….all he has to do at the start of book 2 is get his mother to wake from the dead (she’s currently entombed as a stone statue), and then they’re well on their way to defeating the lord of darkness, Balor. Once they unite all of the other arguing Gods and break Balor’s spell on the humans, the earth will be saved. Sounds like they’re about as close to success as I am.

So, now what?

No proper running, that’s for sure. My legs have utterly put their foot down (pun totally intended) and had a tantrum that rivals one of my son’s!

I have a new free NHS physio and she says ‘NO’ …… back off the ten mile runs I had (prematurely, apparently) built back up to over the last month and be content with 3-4 until it’s properly better! Properly! As in no stiffness/soreness after. Its fine during, but after…..not so fine. I was telling myself it was just DOMS but she did a strength/pain test, and NO. Its not fine!!! It hurts on totally the opposite side and there’s scar tissue and evidence of strain there. So I have to back off again 😭

As an ex-scientist I know she’s right. I haven’t felt it pull again, but it’s stiff and sore. I’ve read about tissue recovery (a bit!) and I get it. Injuries take 6 weeks minimum to heal.

But the last pull I felt was Feb 25th, and it had felt MUCH BETTER!! As in 8 and 9 mile runs with no after issues!

WHY THEN?

I do partially blame stretching! When you know something’s not right, don’t listen to other people!!! No names named!

So, how do I make my brain listen this time? It looks like I am going to have to totally suck it up with this one! I am not doing a proper run any time in the next six weeks! Let alone racing. Then I have to build everything up super-carefully. Back off and accept it, brain.

How totally depressing.

It could be time to admit defeat, give up any thoughts I had of qualifying for London and then Boston marathon, and DEFINITELY being happy with my 1 hr 43 half marathon and 47 min 10k. I’m nearly 43 for goodness sake. I started running at 36. Why can’t I be happy with that?

Because my brain doesn’t work that way!!!

Looks like its back to the strength and core training basics again, with more work on my balance to help my poor hamstrings out! I have to do one legged squats once my balance is good enough to stand for 30 seconds without wobbling.

I CAN , I thought. I do chest/shoulder high kicks in Tae Kwon Do (when my legs are ok) and balance fine! But apparently not properly! I compensate for some screwy knee inward motion and my hamstrings have to do more than they should! That and glute strength are the problem as well as the hip tightness from sitting. So, whilst all the glute stuff I’ve been doing is essential, its not enough on its own! The new exercises should start to work in 6-12 weeks, then I have 4-5 months of rebuilding fitness!

So I could be ready for next April

If I don’t sabotage it doing something daft.

5-10k swim event it is then.

Don’t need much hamstring for that….theoretically

Release date for my debut novel ‘Dunn’; hamstrings seem to be on the mend; they cancelled the marathon I was going for in the autumn; and there’s a mouse loose about this house….

Finally, the estimated release date for Dunn…..dun dun, dun. Pun totally intended.

It’s the 28th July….the day after my son and I get back from our desert island turtle experience.

The blurb is now up on the Matador website here, along with an author profile and a couple of dubious photos of me on holiday. I picked one’s in which I am wearing shades in some ridiculous attempt to:

a) disguise myself so that I am totally unrecognisable to everyone except anyone who’s actually met me

b) hide the ever increasing wrinkle problem

One of the above is a joke….can you work out which?

The book cover is yet to be revealed …. They’re hopefully making the one I suggested better. Formatting is not my strong point.

So, what should I blog about now the ‘writing goals’ for my sabbatical are nearly done? The pain of completing my final draft, editing, proofreading editing, deciding to self-publish etc etc is done. I have not quite finished draft one of the Seagull, but nearly. I am a chapter or so away from the end (I have been at various back/neck/hip fixing appointments this week, so I have written nothing).

I’m enjoying the ‘lifestyle’ blog aspect, for no other reason than it gives me a nice record of what I have done. The journal style is appealing, but perhaps I should be writing posts on ‘writing process’ and my characters now too. If not on WordPress, then maybe on the blog linked to my website, which you can find here . Maybe I will do some on both.

The problem with writing is that its seriously screwed my neck/hips/back and, consequently, hamstring.

The Physio I see referred me to a magic chiropractor, who seems to have helped the hamstring by doing something horrible to my neck and back, but God I’m stiff!! Sitting/standing typing has turned me into a stiff grumbly old woman. My hamstring is improving currently, though. But they’ve cancelled the marathon I was planning for the autumn because of roadworks, so that goal is currently postponed. Hopefully next spring I can smash that London qualifying time, and possible even aim at Boston. I can do it on paper from half marathon times! Maybe…..we shall see.

There has to be a solution to the typing problem. What is it, though? Voice recognition software is seeming like a possible answer…but I’m loath to go down that route for some reason. It just doesn’t seem like writing (though writers probably said that when we moved from pens to computers).

In addition, reading and typing on the phone is a bad idea for the neck, of course, so my wattpad activity has declined dramatically. So have my reads with that, unfortunately, but I can’t keep up the momentum of commenting on lots of stories for very little (if any) gain. I will post the whole of the first draft of The Seagull up there, but I’m not sure its the right forum for a mid-grade/early teen/young adult novel (I am back to being unsure about my target audience). Everything else in the fantasy genre on there is medieval/wizardy stuff. Is it high fantasy? I don’t even know! I definitely don’t fit there. What is urban fantasy? Mine has urban elements, but I’m not sure it fits there either. Of course it could just be crap. I’ve had some positive feedback on wattpad, but a few negatives too. It is a work in progress, so very rough around the edges, but my thinking behind posting it was to get some extra usable feedback. Some of the feedback I’ve had is really helpful, but most of the negative comments were from people who really do write worse than me. And you know what they say about people in glass houses. My writing tutor has been up and down about the writing, but not the idea and lots of people were positive. Basically, it needs a lot of work. First drafts do!!! Back to the mantra good writing is rewriting….

Anyhow, I’ve wittered enough. One of my delightful cats (I have a suspect, decide which you think could be guilty of rodent torture)

brought in a mouse to play with, and it has taken up residence behind the sofa. It’s not falling for my improvised humane mouse trap, so I’d better go and shift the sofa!

Think positive …. My hamstrings are tight, but not currently injured and Dunn is now in ‘production’ …

I had a bad day the other day and wrote a very ranty post, which I have since deleted.

Whilst I still require the mixture of vodka, valium and St Lucia that I suggested then, I have decided to try to be more of the Zen, accepting, earth mother that I decided I wasn’t on Thursday.

Not!!!!

But I am feeling less annoyed with the world.

The kid has behaved better

The hamstrings are tight, but haven’t given out in short slow runs again (yet)

And, whilst no one else has bothered to read the Seagull on wattpad, I haven’t had any more patronising feedback either. I maintain (as I discussed in my deleted, ranty post) that constructive feedback can lose its impact due to throw-away (?hyphen) comments, such as ‘practice more’, but I’m just about over it on this occasion.

On a positive note, Dunn is now in production. It should be released in around 16 weeks (ish), so that’s exciting 😁

I have nearly finished draft one of The Seagull too. The word count currently sits at 54,500 so it is novel length now, with a few chapters left to go. Its a first draft, so it needs a lot of work, but the skeleton is there and a fair bit of muscle.

Unfortunately, my own skeleton/muscles are unhappy. It seems I need a break from the computer, so I am going to finish draft 1 and then focus on getting my flexibility back, because my back/hips and hamstrings are currently still pretty bad.

Had a massage yesterday, and the masseur pulled the ‘oh dear, you’re stuffed love face’ when I mentioned that my hamstring was straining recurrently, so I am currently feeling very negative about getting back to where I was and progressing with running. The physio has been positive that we can sort it, so I’m holding onto that and doing everything I’m told …. I have managed a couple of short, slow, treadmill runs without incident, but it’s really hard to be ‘grateful for every mile’ as the articles tell you to when you have to drop from 20 mile runs to 3, and drop from 7.50 min miles (I know this is a jog to a lot of the macho types that post in injury forums, but I was happy(ish) with getting to this target pace for half marathon at 42 years-old) to 10 min mile (theres nothing wrong with that pace either, its just relative to where I was, its a big drop) …. I am grateful, but still gutted. Even mild injuries suck. And I feel like it’s never going to get better, regardless of what the physio says 😭

So, its all a bit bittersweet at the moment.

The sitting-related back/hip/hamstring problems are making me positive about going back to work in September, though, because I don’t get to sit for more than 15 minutes there. So every cloud has a silver lining.

Yuck, I’m making myself want to vomit.

Also have loads of cool trips lined up for the summer. And I am grateful for those.

Croatia (Pula) with lovely husband and stroppy son at end of May/June for some snorkelling/paddle-boarding/swimming.

Going on a bonding trip to a desert island in Cape Verde off West Africa during turtle breeding season with the demon child. Lets hope we can have fun!

Staying in a Tipi in the lake district so I can swim 3.8km of lake Coniston (I am working through the swimable ones year by year, because we love it there)

Then it is our tenth anniversary, so were off to Orkney to see iron age ruins and hopefully some orcas/seals….though hopefully not orcas eating seals.

So there’s no time for marathon training anyway

🍸

Chapter one of Dunn

This will appear on my website (KayJayauthor.com), just as soon as I sort it out 🙂

Prologue

When does a story start?  When the action starts?  When a life starts changing?  Or when a life is formed?  Surely a story isn’t complete without the whole picture.  A background canvas on which a life is slowly painted, building up in layers as the years add depth and character.  But you won’t care about that.  You won’t care about my whole history.  You’ll only want the juicy stuff – the dirt on Yvette Blake; my reasons for joining the Saviours.  So, let’s start with why I joined.  Let’s start with my darling wife Sophie – the mad witch who ruined my life.

 

CHAPTER ONE:  BEGINNINGS (NOVEMBER 2010)

The best thing about trying to get money out of people for charity is that they usually trust you already.  You must be a nice guy if you are working for such a noble cause and for peanuts as well, they assume.  Because you already have their trust half the battle is won.  Sure, they often walk past with no more than a ‘sorry man’ but pick the right ones and you’re home and dry.  Pick the guilty ones and they’ll sign up without a fight.  Sophie looked like one of those, and I saw her coming a mile away.

I saw her, eyes down, avoiding the sight of her short designer haircut reflected in the mirror-like windows.  I heard her, expensive heels tapping quickly along the polished pavements of the financial district.  I felt her, guilt emanating from her skinny form as she trudged through the crowds.  She seemed to emit a wave of conscience.  It shone like an aura around her tired thirty-something frame, parting the sea of investment bankers that laughed its way past the Big Issue sellers and beggars.  She was just what I’d been looking for: a target, so I plastered on a smile, switched my eyes to ‘puppy dog’ and got ready to block her path.  She didn’t notice me until it was too late.  She was too busy scrabbling in her posh handbag for a coin to appease the beggar who was following her down the street.  She handed him some change then rushed straight into my waiting smile.

“Afternoon miss, could you spare a moment?”  I pleaded.

She tried to dodge me, swerving to the left, heading for the gap between me and the office-block windows.  I sidestepped, eyelashes fluttering at maximum.

“Sorry, I’m late for a meeting,” she said, stopping but not looking up.

“Just a couple of seconds,” I entreated.  “C’mon I’m having a really bad day.”

She snorted and looked up, her big brown eyes meeting mine.  It was just for a second but that was enough.  The jacket of her grey suit bunched up as she wrapped long, thin arms around her skinny body.

I winked, hoping my eyes were sparkling.  “Thanks for stopping … bet you’re having a better day than me.”

Her shoulders relaxed a bit, and her thin lips parted to expose gleaming white teeth. “I doubt it,” she said, eyes flickering to my name badge.  “Listen, Aidan, I really do have to go, but I’ll catch you on my way home if you’re still here about six?”

“I finish at five … but I could meet you for coffee?” I stammered, cheeks burning as I anticipated her scornful rejection.

A corner of her red-lipsticked mouth creased into a smile.  “Oh … okay then,” she replied.  “There’s a Costa Coffee on Canon Street.  I’ll see you there just after six.”  And she was gone.

I watched her androgynous brown hair bobbing through the crowd, saw her long arms hanging awkwardly beside her angular body and thought how unattractive she was.  Yet I felt strangely excited about seeing her again.  I imagined her taking me out for dinner; back to some posh apartment; to bed.  I daydreamed my way through the afternoon – I didn’t sign anyone up to that week’s charity!  And all I got that night was coffee.

***

Sophie arrived a few minutes after six p.m. and perched on her seat whilst I bought the drinks.  She seemed tense, crossing and uncrossing her arms whilst she told me distractedly that she was an investment banker; that she lived alone; that she was too busy to meet at the weekend for a drink.

“Too busy doing what?”  I asked.  “Anything exciting?”

She squirmed uncomfortably in her designer suit and told me that she thought it was exciting.

I waited for her to elaborate, watching the dim lamplight reflecting in her glossy lipstick.  She slowly rotated her half-full cup, studying the eddy of cold latte that swirled against its sides.

“How about you?” she asked, changing the subject.  “What are you doing at the weekend?”

I drained my cup.  “Pub probably,” I told her.  “Maybe a club with my friend Terry.”  The last bit was a lie, but I thought it might make me sound more interesting.

She smiled and said something patronising about being young.  I told her twenty-five wasn’t young, and she said I wouldn’t say that when I got to thirty-three.

Looking back, I suppose I was hooked then.  Snagged by the smell of her expensive perfume and the immaculate makeup that failed to cover the fine lines around her eyes.  But mostly I was hooked because she ran.  If she’d caved in that night, then I’d probably have run the other way – decided that she wasn’t worth it.  But she didn’t cave in.  She reluctantly agreed to meet me sometime the following week, even more reluctantly supplied me with her mobile number and then said she had to go.

I texted her the next day, but she didn’t reply.  I called her the day after, but she didn’t answer.  And I forgot.  I forgot that she was meant to be my target: some needy woman who would sign up to the charity, or better still, keep me.  I forgot that I was supposed to be in control.  She started to play on my mind and plague my thoughts.  She turned into some enigmatic goddess in my brain, and I wanted to know everything about her.  I hadn’t experienced anything like it before.  It was like a craving that niggled at me constantly, and by the following Wednesday – nine days after I had met her – I was getting desperate, so I texted her again.

I started with a nondescript message – something that I hoped would sound nonchalant: Alright Sophie?  Fancy a drink tmrw?

You would have thought that she would be grateful!  You would have thought she would have thanked her lucky stars that I was interested.  I mean, how many thirty-three-year old’s have a bloke almost ten years younger interested in them?  Not many but she didn’t reply for three days.  She didn’t reply until Saturday and then only to tell me she was busy.  It was dismissive.  It was rude.  It was addictive, so I persisted.

How about a coffee after work next Wed then?  I’m buying ☺

In New York next week sorry

Next weekend?

Not back until Sun 

She eventually agreed to meet me for a drink the following Friday but said that she had better not have a late night as she had commitments on the Saturday.

I told her that sounded intriguing, but she didn’t expand.

See you Joe’s wine bar, 6pm

Read her message.  And I couldn’t wait.

***

She wasn’t there when I arrived at six, so I ordered a small glass of red wine.

“Seven pounds please,” said the barman, looking distastefully at the crumpled tenner that I handed over.  I lifted the sparkling glass to my lips, stifling a grimace as the most expensive vinegar in Britain hit my tongue.

The barman smirked and turned to serve someone richer with a smile that hadn’t been there for me. “Good evening sir … good week on the markets?”

I slouched towards an uninviting, plastic table in the corner, placing my glass carefully in the middle before removing my coat and slumping into the seat.  And fifty minutes later, almost an hour late, Sophie arrived.

She peered through the window like an apparition, haggard and bedraggled, searching for me in the sea of suits and briefcases that filled the bar.  She spotted me and waved, but I was cross, so I ignored her.  And when she finally managed to open the door and reach me, I pretended to be surprised.

“I thought you’d forgotten,” I said, downing my wine.

“Aidan, I’m so sorry.  Thank you for waiting.”

“I was about to give up.”

She lowered herself tiredly into the egg-shaped chair and leaned back.  “Sure, sure, and who could blame you …  I’ve had an awful week.”

I rocked my glass backwards and forwards hoping that she would take the hint and buy me a refill, but she crossed her legs and studied the tip of her wet shoe.

I sighed.  “What can I get you?”

“Oh,” she looked up, “erm just a mineral water please.”

“A mineral water?”

“I don’t drink … at the moment.”

“Do you want to push the boat out and go for a J2O?”

She shook her head.  “No, I …  I’m sticking to plain things right now.”

I shrugged and headed to the bar, hoping that they took debit cards and that mine wouldn’t be declined.

She thanked me weakly when I returned, drifting off into her own world and watching the rain snake down the dark window as I made banal conversation.  Wasn’t it awful weather?  Wasn’t it dreadful about that earthquake in that country?

I told her that the charity we were collecting for that week were emergency fundraising to help with the recovery effort, hoping that she would sign up or at least offer a donation.

“Oh right,” she replied disinterestedly.  “Where was it again?”  Then she asked how my week had been for the second time.

I turned the conversation to her.  “So … how about you?”  I ventured.  “What’s this thing that takes up all of your weekends?”

She started, taken aback.  “I go to a group,” she replied hesitantly.

I waited for her to elaborate.  She didn’t, so I said: “A group?”

She nodded.

“What, a rock group?  A sewing group?  What kind of group?”

She drained her glass discreetly, a bit at a time but with obvious purpose.  “Sorry I can’t tell you the details … yet,” she replied, glancing at her watch. “Anyway – I really must go.”

“But you only just got here!”

She stood up and edged her arms into her coat, buttoning it deliberately.  “I know, but it’s eight o’clock, I really have to get going …  I’ve got a lot to do.”

I rose, perplexed.  “Okay.  Well, see you soon.”

“Sure …  I’ll text you.”  Then she turned and went, waving through the window as she passed.

I looked at my almost full glass indignantly then picked it up and downed it. The acidic contents burned my mouth, but I forced myself to swallow it, ignoring the disapproving looks of the other customers.  How dare she, I thought, stuffing my hands in my pockets and stomping across the packed bar.  How dare she show up late and leave so abruptly.  How dare she string me along like I was nothing!  Like she was doing me a favour.  I rammed my shoulder into the stiff door and pushed my way out into the night.  Well, that was it, I decided.  She could contact me.  I wasn’t going to run after her.  And I didn’t.  I held out for a fortnight, heart jumping every time I received a text.  It was never from her, but I couldn’t let her go, couldn’t bear to be nothing to her.  For two weeks the image of her pitiful, rain-soaked form kept me awake – I wanted her badly, so I gave in and sent her a text.

It took her days to get back to me. I was fuming by the time I received her brief message.

Next Sun 12?  Really busy at mo

That was it.  No apology, no kiss, nothing!  I waited a day before texting back.

Yeah ok.  Where? 

Sorry, Aidan.  I have other plans now, but I can do the following Fri?  I’ll take you out for dinner.  I owe you a treat I think x

It was almost pitying if a text can have a tone.  I agreed anyway, telling myself that a free meal was a free meal.  That she did owe me.  But if I’m honest I was dying to see her again – captivated by her mystery.  And she’d added a kiss, which gave me hope.

***

I arrived late for dinner at the poshest restaurant I had ever seen in my life.  It was a different world.  I felt like an imposter.  I looked like one too, in the shirt I’d dragged out of the laundry basket and ironed; the shoes I’d only worn once to a job interview.

The guy at the front saw me for what I was.  He looked me up and down then finished wiping the wine glass in his hand before asking if he could help.  I told him that I was meeting someone.  He asked what name the table was in, but I didn’t know Sophie’s surname.  He raised an eyebrow and asked if I could see her.  I couldn’t, so he led me through the restaurant, as though escorting an unruly child through a china shop.  Eventually, I saw her, huddled in a corner nursing a glass of white wine.  She unfolded herself as we approached.

“Aidan,” she said, rising stiffly from her chair and air-kissing my cheek.  “So glad you could make it.”

“Drinking today then?”

She looked at her glass, cheeks reddening.  “Yes I … felt like a drink.  What will you have?”

And, as is usually the case, alcohol helped the conversation flow.  Three or four drinks later, things were looking promising.

“Shall we get more wine?” I enquired as she sloshed the dregs of the bottle into my glass tipsily.

“Waiter,” she called.  “Same again.”

We were still drinking brandy when the last table of suits left the restaurant.  Still drinking brandy and talking about – everything – her childhood, her job, her rich indifferent daddy.  The alcohol opened a floodgate, and the deluge just kept coming.  I couldn’t get a word in.  Couldn’t ask any questions as she babbled and slurred her way through her life history.  The waiters circled our table, swooping to retrieve napkins, empty glasses, and coffee cups.  Eventually, Sophie raised an arm for the bill.  She stabbed defiantly at the numbers on the card reader and finally entered the right PIN – she was trashed.  I couldn’t let her go home on her own in that state, so I offered to accompany her.  She hesitated for a moment then agreed.

When she invited me in I thought that the ice maiden had cracked; that a couple more glasses of wine in her Regency apartment would seal the deal.  I caught a glimpse of her antique king-sized bed and thought I’d wake up in it.  But she didn’t welcome me into her bed.  She showed me into her cavernous lounge, dragged a duvet out of an old wooden chest and left me staring up at a chandelier from the sofa bed.  She didn’t even make me a cup of tea before she stumbled to her room and locked the heavy looking door with a definite click.

***

She was watching me from a ‘restored’ antique chair when I woke up.   I groaned, hangover needles piercing my temples.

“Tea?”  she asked, uncoiling her long limbs and heading for the door.

“Please … how are you doing?”

“Oh, fine considering the amount of poison I swallowed – are you suffering?”

“You could say that.”

“My group leader’s right, alcohol is evil.  I hope I didn’t embarrass you.”

“No,” I lied, “not at all … What’s this group then?”

She raised a dismissive arm.  “Oh, it’s nothing.  I’m not sure it’s really your thing, Aidan.  Sugar?”

“Three, please … how do you know it’s not my thing if you won’t tell me what it is?”

She slid through the door and craned her head back around the mahogany panels.  “Maybe I’ll tell you soon.  Maybe when I know you a bit better.”  And she withdrew her head and creaked away along the corridor, leaving me intrigued and irritated in a shaft of sunlight that shone through a gap in the velvet curtains.

Dunn is finally done … but so are my marathon plans

It’s been a while since I wrote this, predominantly because I have been moving commas around in Dunn and sulking about my mild hamstring strain!!!

So, it’s all my hips and lower back. The poor beleaguered hamstrings aren’t to blame …. They’re innocent victims of me sitting writing in a bad chair all day, then running without warming up properly etc etc. Whoops.

At least I now know the cause and my lovely husband has got us a yo-yo desk so we can alternate sit-standing. He works at home two days a week so it will help him too. I also need to stick to my strength and conditioning properly and probably reduce my speed when doing distance (15-mile run and intervals plus tempo in the same week ok. 20-mile run and the above NOT ok).

Sadly, it appears that it would be sensible to drop out of my April marathon, and the way it’s going, I will probably have to put off doing any more marathons until next spring (I’m secretly hoping for an autumn come-back, but honestly … probably not).  The hamstring strain (very mild, which is good but frustrating) happened at the end of Jan.  I then had three weeks of quite frustratingly slower running, watched my lovely husband start our usual half-marathon without me, and then the hamstring went AGAIN when I went for a slower run on my own in the afternoon.  So I need a break.  It’s official.  I am going to have to swim for a bit and work on my strength.  No triathlons, no Tae Kwon Do and no running at all for a bit.  I’m still to determine how long of a bit, but the way I see it, there’s no point me doing frustrating slower runs and lower mileage than I need to do for what I want to do, for the hamstring to keep going again and again.  It’s pointless.  I’m going to have to stop, which totally sucks.  But it would suck more if it was a bad injury rather than a recurrent overuse niggle.  At least it gives me a positive on going back to work in September.  I don’t sit down for more than 15 minutes there, so hopefully, that will solve the problem.

So, it’s a good job there’s good news.  Dunn – the first novel that has taken me nearly 9 years to complete has been SENT.  It’s gone.  I am waiting to receive confirmation that the contracts have been received by Troubador and then the publication process will begin.

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It’s a bizarre feeling.

I’m trying not to fixate on whether I got all of the commas and b***** hyphens right.  I’m definitely not thinking about semicolons (shudder) because I’m fairly sure that anyone with a modicum of proper English grammar teaching will find some problems with it!  They taught ‘free writing’ in my day (Oh, so long ago) and so, with the watchful guidance of the technical writer husband, Dunn has been a steep learning curve.  Hopefully, I can seamlessly transfer that learning to draft two of the Seagull, which I am nearing the completion of … still uploading it onto Wattpad, but have neglected it shamelessly for two months whilst I moved commas around in Dunn.  I have nearly reached 500 reads (499, which offends my liking for whole numbers if anyone can get on there and sort that out), but it’s slowed down lots since I stopped ‘sharing’ my story and publicising it on Twitter.  I haven’t been on Twitter either.  I’ve done nothing but Dunn.

It was great to write a new chapter today.  I’m up to chapter 21 of the Seagull (name probably being changed to The Seagull and the Raven, I think) and I think that I will finish draft one by Easter.  It almost made the knackered hips, back and hamstring worth it.  Then I remembered that I can’t go for a run, so I’m back to sulking again. Never mind.  The beast from the East (as some of the delightful British press are calling the snowstorms and cold) has hit … so it’s too slippery to run outside anyway 🙂

And I’m not going in the sea for a chilly dip whilst it’s -3C out there either.  Dreaming of sun, warmer days and working legs….  I’m sure I’ve rolled these ones out a few times now, but they encapsulate what I love about living by the sea.

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So nearly there with Dunn…but have a grade 1 hamstring strain

Well, it’s been a while. I have been busy moving commas around, adding and removing hyphens, and failing to become confident with the use of semicolons. And I’m nearly there. It would feel good, but I’ve managed to strain my hamstring AGAIN.

Okay, so I’ve had 4.5 months of no issues and I’ve done some good training, but, as my son would say: come on. So unfair!

Actually, though, I totally deserve it. I should have gone for a reduced volume week, but instead I did a long tempo run, faster-than-normal intervals and then thought, I know let’s try half marathon pace into the wind, up a hill….when an idiot pulled his car out in front of me and I accelerated that’s what did it. I am so annoyed/depressed/upset, but maybe I’ve learnt my lesson. Maybe.

Still, on a positive note, I have learned quite a lot about punctuation this last month, and The Seagull is now up to 464 reads and 86 votes on wattpad. That’s encouraging. And the physio reckons I will be fine by my April marathon. I am writing this on the bus back, trying to think positive. I have got a few long runs in the bag as I was going to aim to get below my 1.43 personal best in the half marathon I always do, but that goal is going to have to go on hold. Nevermind. There will be more half marathons and if necessary, marathons. And I have cute cats. No other photos to put here at the moment, as it’s grim out, and I can’t run anyway. The cats also think it is grim out and seem to be making nests in various weird places