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About the author:
2009 The Reader Magazine (story, Into Thin Air)
What inspired you to write your book?
I was decorating, painting a wall in my home, when I created something of a fantasy whereby a young man forged his identity to try and get close to someone.
Here is a short sample from the book:
The prospect of meeting up with Jazz always causes a physical reaction in Max. This time, his body is performing worse tricks than usual. His palms are sweating and his stomach lurches as if he’s taking a trip across the sea in the middle of a storm. What he needs to do is to get things over with, to find out exactly where he stands and what Jazz is thinking. The sooner he knows, the better it will be. Unfortunately, the hands on the clock seem to be conspiring with his stomach and appear to be dragging things out as much as they possibly can.
He idles away his time behind the till drumming his fingers on the books he’s supposed to be putting away and watches the lunchtime rush come and go. Angela hasn’t returned from her break and she’s been at least an hour and ten minutes, which is way out of order.
Jazz and Max have had a weekly lunch-date in the Garbanzo ever since he started working in the shop. They even carried on getting together when he moved out of the flat. It only stopped happening 3 months earlier when Jazz told him she needed a chance to cool down. To find some space. Funny that it seemed to coincide with her meeting Alan.
Today will be their first meeting since then. Max is hoping it will be the first of many, if nothing else giving his lunch-hours a sense of purpose once again.
A pressure builds up behind Max’s eyes and he’s expecting a headache to arrive at any time soon, when Angela walks through the entrance on the floor below.
She has a different hairstyle than when she left. Her straight, flat hair has been transformed into gentle curls that bounce with every step. As if that isn’t enough, it’s even changed colour from a mousy brown to a vibrant red. It kind of suits her, but he’s too cross with her to say.
On the ground floor Chris gives a wolf-whistle and a round of applause as Angela passes by.
Max doesn’t want to waste another second. He pulls on his jacket and skips past the cafe that has virtually taken up half of the space from the book shelves since he started working there.
He takes the stairs 2 at a time as he makes his way down to the ground floor, noticing the poster for the event the following week is crooked and making a mental note to straighten it when he returns.
For meeting Jazz he’s wearing his favourite work clothes – a tight white shirt with a narrow collar, a yellow silk tie that sparkles in the light, neatly creased drainpipe trousers and polished winkle-picker boots. His hair is perfectly quiffed so that he could be a refugee from The Stray Cats and his face is shaved so that he looks too young to be out of school when the light catches him in profile.
At the bottom of the stairs, Chris calls him over. “Max. Hey, Max.”
Even though Max is keen to get out, he can’t resist finding out what has put such a broad grin on his friend’s face.
Chris leans forward, shifts the pile of ‘Hard Times’ that he was supposed to have put on the classics table at the beginning of the day and whispers behind his hand as if imparting some deep secret of the book-selling world. “He’s in again. Science-fiction.”
Max turns around slowly, trying to be subtle.
Sure enough, there he is. He looks like he eats for Great Britain and has a face like the cratered surface of the moon. He’s rocking slightly on his heels as he browses through a book. Max recognises the title from the spine. It’s ‘The Blob’, new in and completely ignored up until now. The man holds it close to his face like always, as if he’s in need of reading glasses. A bead of snot has formed at the tip of his nose and lengthens as the book-sellers watch. The string of snot eventually stretches too far and breaks, the drip falling onto the ‘The Blob’s’ fresh pages.
Chris and Max cringe together and burst out laughing.
Max makes another mental note, to avoid the sci-fi section that afternoon, and heads for the exit.
As soon as he’s outside, he pulls out his packet of cigarettes and takes out a smoke. He lights it with his Zippo and sucks in as much nicotine as he can. It’s supposed to calm the nerves, but instead just makes his heart beat faster and his nausea grow. That doesn’t stop him and he puffs hard as he crosses the road and heads off down the alleyway opposite the shop.
At the Phoenix Cinema, he takes a copy of the new programme and slips it into the inside pocket of his jacket. He puts out his cigarette in the ashtray that’s attached to the wall outside the foyer and pops a tablet of chewing gum into his mouth.
Before he goes in to the cafe for his date, he stops to calm his breathing.
As soon as he’s ready, he wanders over to the door.
He loves The Garbanzo and the way it never seems to change. Behind the chrome counter there are large mirrors that give the place an open, spacious feel. They’ve been there since the 1950s, as have the black and white Italian tiles and the stools that stand to attention in front of glass cases which are filled with delicious looking cakes and sandwiches.
From the ceiling hang cotton wool clouds and various model aircraft that are positioned in dog-fights. One of the German planes has a broken wing and points straight at the floor. He’s never understood why, but this plane is Max’s favourite.
Jazz is already at their table, the one in the corner of the window.
She looks gorgeous, as ever, not that everyone appreciates her beauty. It’s probably the glasses that mean she doesn’t attract much attention when she’s out – thick lenses and round plastic frames, but she likes them and that’s what matters. Her hair is cut into a short bob and her skin is perfect, but it’s when she smiles that Max feels a wave of joy washing over him. Perhaps it’s the sincerity of it he likes, or the way it spreads right across her face and lights up a room. Whatever it is, she’s smiling at him now and he feels all his agitation leave him just as though he’d left it at the door.
He kisses her cheek as softly as he can manage, slips off his jacket and hangs it on the back of his chair, careful to make sure it won’t crease while he’s there.
“Hi stranger,” she says.
“It’s been a while.”
“Since I met Alan and everything got super-intense.”
The mention of Alan might as well have opened the door and let Max’s anxieties rush back in. His shoulders tense and he has the urge to run. Instead, it’s his words that speed out of his mouth at full pelt.
“Alan? I’m glad I got to bring you together. I just knew that you’d have lots in common.” That’s an obvious lie and Max tries to cover it up by turning to nod to the waitress.
The waitress steps over confidently in her high heels, her beehive hair stacked immaculately on top of her head and her body showing all of its voluptuous shape in a black and white uniform that must be at least a size too small.
“2 Cappuccinos, please,” he says, and the waitress flutters her long eyelashes at him as she writes on her pad.
“Not for now thanks.” The waitress turns and Jazz lets her eyes follow the wiggle of her hips.
“She fancies you, you know?” There’s a Geordie softness to her accent that adds to her charm. Boy, he’s missed her being around.
Max feels his face go warm and gets back to the point. “You and Alan? Do you think it might be serious?”
He’d meant to be more subtle. Let the story unfold in the telling so that he could find out exactly where he stands without asking. He takes a deep breath as he waits for the answer. If things are rocky, he’s going in for the kill and will ask her for a proper date.
Max’s stomach feels heavy as his heart sinks, as if he’s eaten a box of his gran’s rock cakes. “Like that fairy tale you’d all but given up on I suppose?”
“I hope so.”
She hopes so. That’s bad. As if she actually wants it to work out. Asking for a date is clearly out of the question. “It doesn’t seem fair. I should have been your Prince Charming.”
“Max you are a prince, just not mine, that’s all.”
“It was nice pretending though, wasn’t it?”
“I was never pretending.” He knows that’s true. Jazz couldn’t even tell a tiny white lie if her life depended on it. “Don’t worry. Things will all fall into place for you one day. You’ll find your sweetheart.”
The waitress arrives at the table and carefully puts down two coffees. This time she smiles at Jazz and doesn’t look at Max.
“See?” Jazz says when the waitress leaves, “she definitely fancies you.”
“She didn’t even look at me.” Max picks up the glass sugar dispenser and pours a small mountain of crystals onto his sprinkling of chocolate. “How do you know, Jazz? That things will fall into place for me? Sometimes I get the feeling that it’s there waiting and I just never seem to get there. How the hell will I find a sweetheart if I carry on like this?”
“Just keep turning the corners and see what’s there.” Jazz spoons some of the chocolaty foam from her mug and into her mouth.
“A lingering smile perhaps. Better still I’ll be the hero of some disaster, helping my true love: the mugger; the dropped shopping; the car that won’t start…”
“But you’re completely useless with cars.”
“I could enrol in a class.”
“Picking up shopping lessons?”
“I could start with that one.” They laugh and Max stirs his coffee.
“You don’t need classes in anything, you know plenty already.”
“If I know enough, why are you going out with someone else?” Here he goes again. Even he’s tired of hearing the old argument.
“Sorry.” He can’t help himself. His mind just spins in circles. “What about tonight? Do you fancy….never mind. I’ll shut up and drink my coffee,” which is exactly what he does.
He gives it some thought and decides to try another angle. “Can you make it here next week? Get back into the old routine?”
“I’ll make it.”
“Then don’t forget to bring along a present. It’ll be a year since your big elbow got in the way. We should celebrate.”