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About the author:
In a past life Dougie has been a dockyard worker, student, musician and song writer, playing in several bands, performing live and recording music. He has a degree in Learning Disability nursing and a post graduate diploma in autism. Dougie lives in Dunfermline, Fife, with his wife, teenage daughter, older son and hyper active golden retriever. He is interested in identifying with a physical place and the feeling of belonging therefore Edinburgh and especially Greece are prominent in his writing. The Homecoming is his first novel, inspired by a love of all things Greek, her islands, people, landscapes, sea, light and ambience all of which are important themes and symbols in his writing.
What inspired you to write your book?
In the novel Louis finds refuge in the character of the sea, it becomes a comfort to him and he feels connected to its constant presence. He becomes aware of an awakening in himself and this became an important symbol in the novel.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Two Seconds to Steal a Life Time.
Louis ran through sheets of rain, regretting his decision not to have hailed one of the ubiquitous black taxis that patrolled Edinburgh’s George Street, now conspicuous by their absence.
His fingers, wet and numb clenched the collar of his coat. He cursed his attempt to stem the flow of irritant droplets staining his shirt in damp dark patches and moulding the cold material uncomfortably to his chest.
Escaping the constant deluge he finally entered the warm hallway with an involuntary shiver. Rain water dripped from him, forming globular beads on the floor. A sudden stillness settled around him, he felt tired, and quickly removed his drenched jacket with a welcome relief.
Louis had enjoyed a few drinks with work colleagues in a city bar and now his taste buds stirred for more. In the kitchen he plucked a beer from the refrigerator. He savoured the cold sensation as it caressed his throat and wondered why the first drink from a bottle was always the best.
It took a few moments for the contours and shapes of accustomed objects to gradually unfold, emerging from the darkness, as the refrigerator’s thrum washed over him, reminding him, as it always did, of the purring of a contented cat.
He placed the half drained bottle on a work surface and slid his feet from the confines of his shoes, a release that enabled him to curl and stretch his chilled toes. He considered making something to eat. Emma would be asleep and the satisfying appeal of sliding beneath the sheets and feeling the warmth of her body against his skin pulled him towards the bedroom. The door stood ajar. Reveling in anticipation he peered through the dull light. Gently he pushed the door which protested with a tired creak.
The crisp white sheet provocatively rose like a solitary hill, shrouding the bed and sparing his eyes, however, the emanating sounds were not as conducing. The sheet slid from entwined bodies, exposing their nakedness. Louis felt himself drowning as if rushing water had engulfed his lungs, stealing his words of reprisal with involuntary gulps for air. He stared at them incomprehensively paralyzed.
Emma lifted her head. ‘Oh shit, Louis…I’m sorry.’
The words hang in the air, taunting him. Instinctively she covered herself and her shame. His world suddenly stopped upon its axis. This kind of thing did not happen to him, to Emma, and then a profound rage grasped him, multiplying in his mind, electrifying every nerve and sense, urging him to tear the sheet from them.
He moved into the room, a demented animal, and his life of intricacy and detail, the life he identified as his own was ripped from him, it ceased to exist. Two seconds to steal a life time.
A week had passed. Closed blinds illuminated the room in a soft rim of light concealing the outside world. As much as possible Louis avoided entering the bedroom preferring instead the uncomfortable hardness of the sofa. He had slept in his clothes and now they stuck to his skin becoming unwelcome and oppressive. He rose from his slumber and caught his reflection in the mirror. For a second he was undecided which of the two left him the most uncomfortable, the clinging fabric or the stranger that stared back at him. They were both equally alien, a hot shower would purify his skin, the stranger he consolidated would need more than the cleansing qualities of water to slide down the plug and disappear.
He showered and dressed. The process was mechanical and routine and with it Louis rediscovered a reassuring familiarity that had previously deserted him. He felt an urge to escape his self-imposed house arrest. He found the confines of each room suffocating as if their walls were slowly but gradually closing in on him. That morning he decided to go out for breakfast.
He emerged from the stairwell of the basement flat where Lansdowne Crescent curved, hugging elegant town houses and verdant lush trees. A mantle of freshly cut grass searched out his nostrils with its mint fragrance. As he walked he gazed at St. Mary’s Cathedral whose tapering spires seemed to scrape the slate grey Edinburgh sky. Years of endless traffic fumes stained and darkened the cathedral’s façade engraining its stone with pollution’s modern trademark. Perversely, he now considered, it had been this disfigurement that had first lured him towards the cathedral’s imposing grandeur.
He crossed a busy street, alert to the traffic. He followed a path adjacent to the cathedral where a mass of scaffolding and tarpaulin had been erected around its side walls, scaling every contour and fixture like a huge bandage applied to attend to its wounds.
Louis imagined the miniature side chapels inside the cathedral where worshipers contemplated their worries or celebrated life’s pleasures. Like small islands they were unattached and distinct from the main altar, their profound stillness and mystic qualities lay waiting to be discovered and on occasions Louis found himself seduced by the refuge that such places offered.
He navigated one more street before encountering the slate-coloured cobbles of William Street. He had always thought of this area as a self-contained village hidden within the heart of the city. Its small and elegant juxtaposition shops, diverse and eloquent in their appeal were the main attraction towards this thinking. It was here in its several pubs that he spent long ardent evenings with Emma, illuminated by conversation and the laughter of friends. Life was balanced, insulated and predictable, properties that cocooned him in a warm security that seemed impregnable. That life had now been swallowed, digested and spat out.
‘Amber’s Cafe and Deli’ epitomized its name embellishing all shades of orange. Over the years Louis and Emma had become regular customers, preferring its blend of unpretentious and intimate surroundings. A friendly and familiar voice greeted him.
‘It’s nice to see you Louis, your usual?’
‘That would be nice, thanks Carla.’
He sat at a table by the window. A disregarded issue of that day’s Scotsman lay on its surface. Normally he would scan the sport pages looking for any mention of Hibernian Football Club in a header. The paper lay unopened.
‘You know I never seem to get anything done these days, I’m not complaining it means the place is busy, you just missed the breakfast rush. Anyway, how are you Louis?’ Carla placed a coffee on the table.
He leaned back in his chair. ‘I’ve felt better. I’m all over the place really,’ he paused. ‘She’s moved out, packed most of her things and left. He was waiting for her in his car.’
She nodded without looking up. ‘I know.’ Her voice held a trace of guilt.
Louis said nothing but nodded an acknowledgment. Of course Emma would confine in Carla. He felt a moment of betrayal.
‘It’s starting to feel real now,’ he said finally. ‘There’s still a few of her things left in the flat. I’ve been holding on to the thought that sooner or later she’ll realize she made a mistake. I would have taken her back you know. That’s not going to happen, not now.’
‘No, I suppose not.’
He stared out of the window. ‘Every morning I wake into a nightmare Carla.’
‘It’ll get easier. I’m sure it will.’
She reached out and touched his arm. Their relationship had initially consisted of coffees, small talk and scanning the surface of each other’s histories. It was part of Carla’s job description to be pleasant, sociable and interested in her customers. At first, Louis and Emma fitted into this neat package, but with time it developed from following the manual of customer care into a mutual friendship that the three of them had grown to value.
That morning Louis noticed a sparse somnolence about Amber’s. Two business men seated in a corner wore the regulation uniform of the city, non-descriptive suits and briefcases. The older of the two displayed a proficient air of dominance about his demeanour. He spoke profusely while barely drawing breath between self-indulgent sentences. Louis noted his companion nodding robotically at intervals, well-rehearsed from experience, a self-imposed silence only punctuated by the occasional agreement.
The older man’s face was rounded and portly; a beetroot complexion populated his exaggerated cheeks while protruding folds of skin escaped the neck of his starched shirt. His prodigious shoulders stretched the material of his jacket which gave the impression that his suit was ill fitting and too small for his accentuated frame. A lighter and a packet of cigarettes appeared from his pocket and were placed on the table by short stumpy fingers complimenting Louis impression of a lifestyle that did not agree with an already over worked heart, a pulsating time bomb on the countdown to zero, Louis thought .
Carla sat opposite him.
‘Louis if there’s anything I can do or if you feel the need to talk don’t hesitate, I’m a good listener as you know.’
He smiled warmly, welcoming her words.
‘I feel like the clown in Emma’s circus. Everyone seemed to know, most of her friends knew. It’s funny; you think you know people, until something like this happens. I would’ve called a lot of those people friends. It looks like I was the last to know. How could I not have known?’
‘It’s not unusual Louis it usually works out that way. If it’s any consolation I’d no idea either. Although it can’t compare to what you’re going through but in a way I feel cheated as well. She kept her secret from me too – until you found out that is. God she’s a good actor. She called me and said that she’d been seeing someone else and that you’d found them together. Seemingly you broke his nose; it was the least he deserved. She didn’t go into the details at first. We agreed to meet and she told me the whole thing. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. I was so angry with her but she wouldn’t listen. She thought I was going to be a sympathetic ear, she got that wrong.’
‘I keep going over it, trying to work out just what went wrong and why. What did I do that made her want to go with someone else? When did she start to feel like that?’
‘You’re not to blame Louis. Everyone knew you worshiped her,’ Carla touched his hand. ‘Think of it in this way, and I say this as a friend, if this was going to happen then maybe it was better that it happened now. You wouldn’t want this to be any more complicated than it already is. Would you?’
Louis knew that this was a reference to children. There had been a time when both he and Emma discussed and contemplated the idea of having children. Louis had always instigated these one sided conversations knowing that he was pulled in that direction more than Emma ever was. She was not comfortable in the presence of children she preferred to live in the adult world. ‘I was not born with motherly instincts’ she often retorted. She very rarely applied her affections towards her friend’s children and on the occasions that she did, it was with the minimum of interest. She was not cold towards them however it was made obvious that the barriers she put in place were there to be observed. Without an invitation her space was not to be invaded.
The equation was not could she fit into the world that a child brings? But rather could a child be neatly packaged into her world with minimal disruption.
Before Emma, the potent call of the priesthood was alluring and consistent. Louis’ journey embellished a childless path married to Catholicism and his prospective parishioners. The church and its consumption of study, prayer and reflection consumed his life as he attended seminary at Blair’s College, Aberdeenshire and then the Pontifical Scots College in Rome.
It was while in Rome that Louis fortuitously met Emma Myers. She was on holiday in the city with friends. Her brother Jez, a friend of Louis and fellow student at the Pontifical Scots College invited Louis along to meet Emma in one of the many cafes that populated the square where they frequently spent their free time away from their studies. An immediate attraction was born and a cordial relationship ensued. Emma began to spend most of her time with Louis, whenever the demands of his studies allowed. They would meet at her hotel and amble around the sites and venues the city offered, Louis acting as her guide. On her last night the physical attraction between them was confirmed by a fumbled and embarrassing kiss within the Piazza Navona.
When Emma returned to Edinburgh their correspondence became more frequent and detailed. The secular world and in particular Emma’s world became magnetic, they constantly occupied Louis’ thoughts, their consistency held his emotions in a state of conflict. He fought the battle, yet his allies of church and vocation subsided removing themselves from the fabric of his life as the potent allure of a woman reverberated around every aspect of his being.
His prayers for guidance became intense. He confided in close friends. There was no manifestation of comfort just emotive storms of volcanic proportions. His faith was not in question however his expression of that faith was conducive towards the perpetual stream of entrapment that he faced. Emma had become the central aspect of his life to the Church of Rome’s detriment.
Within six months of their first encounter they were living in Edinburgh, Louis earning his living as an architect, his profession for five years, before he joined the priesthood.
Chocolate speckled froth camped itself on the tip of the younger business man’s nose as he placed his cup on the table. He boyishly wiped the cause of his embarrassment; simultaneously his sweeping eyes panned the surrounding area to gauge if his dignity was still intact.
‘The only times we ever argued were around Emma’s refusal to even consider having children. And now it doesn’t matter anymore, how ironic is that, it’s a joke. I’m so fucking angry. Sorry Carla.’
‘That’s alright Louis at least that’s the healthy way to express your anger. It doesn’t get you into trouble,’ Carla said with some sincerity. ‘I heard Paul was pressing charges against you for breaking his nose,’ she shook her head disbelievingly. ‘What a self-indulgent creep. I don’t know what Emma sees in him.’
‘She persuaded him to drop the charges.’
‘Well that’s something at least. Trying to appease her guilt I suppose,’ Carla said satisfied.
A sudden thought crossed his mind, this was one of only a few times he had been in Amber’s without Emma and from now on it was going to be a reoccurring theme he realized.
‘I thought I knew everything there was to know about her. Sometimes I even knew what she was thinking just by looking at her expression or gesture, but really, I didn’t know her at all. The person I thought she was wouldn’t have done this.’
‘Look, why don’t we go out for a drink one night or come over to my place I’ll cook a meal or we could get a carry out, you look like you haven’t been eating much.’
Louis rose from his chair, abandoning his coffee; it was time to go he was not ready to socialize.
‘That would be nice but just now I wouldn’t be good company. I’ll see you soon Carla.’
Carla’s lips curved into a smile. ‘You haven’t ordered your breakfast yet. Sit down and I’ll make some toast and eggs. I’ll even poach them for you,’ she added.
‘I’m fine. Honest.’
‘Well remember to call I meant what I said.’ She rose from her chair.
‘I will,’ he paused holding the door open.
The warmth of the cafe immersed him in the smells of palatable food and the exuberant aroma of strong coffee momentarily rooted him to the spot. It was in cold contrast to the chill that nipped at his feet, unwelcoming and intruding. A suitable metaphor that depicted his life he thought.
Carla moved to the counter and attended to the business men’s food, both were salads. He must be on a diet, Louis thought; was his friend offering a gesture of moral support? Louis wondered for how much longer the overburdened suit would take the strain.
Carla glanced at him and smiled. For the first time he saw her differently. He registered an assurance in their friendship that she would always be there for him. He felt compelled to linger a moment longer.
He valued her counsel. He had his mother to thank for that. The memory of it brought a slight smile to his lips. His mother’s taste in coffee did not accustom her to the rich fine beans of the coffee world. This was the cause of some amusement between Louis and Emma and upon their weekly visits to his mother they would first frequent Amber’s in order to top up their caffeine levels before the unpalatable onslaught of a cup of Tesco’s own make.
The cold air seeped through his clothing, he must go, he thought.