Monday, 22 September 2014

Publication day!

I'm having a wonderful day today - it's publication day for my first full length novel, The Emerald Comb. Lots of lovely friends have been spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter, and this evening I've finally had some time to sit down and update my own blogs with the news.

I'll keep most of the news about it over on http://kathleenmcgurl.com/the-emerald-comb so please go there for more details and links to guest posts, author interviews and reviews of the book. Or 'like' my author facebook page https://www.facebook.com/KathleenMcGurl which will also be kept up to date.

Meanwhile, here's the blurb for it - hope it appeals to you! If you read it and enjoy it, please do leave an Amazon and/or Goodreads review. I'd really appreciate it!

Some secrets are best left buried...
Researching her family tree had been little more than a hobby – until Katie stepped onto Kingsley House’s sprawling, ivy-strewn drive. The house may be crumbling today, but it was once the intimidatingly opulent residence of the St Clairs, Katie’s ancestors. Arriving here two hundred years later, emotion stirs in Katie: a strange nostalgia for a place she’s never seen before... and when Kingsley House comes up for sale, Katie is determined that her family must buy it.
Surrounded by the mysteries of the past, Katie’s pastime becomes a darker obsession, as she searches through history to trace her heritage. But she soon discovers that these walls house terrible secrets. And when forgotten stories and hidden betrayals come to light, the past seems more alive than Katie could ever have imagined.
Moving between the 21st and 19th centuries, The Emerald Comb is a hauntingly evocative novel, perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Quick post about a fab offer

A little bird told me (well actually, a tall and rather glamorous bird told me) that Della Galton's fabulous Novel Writer's Toolshed ebook will be on promotion at just 99p from tomorrow (Friday).

If you haven't already read this one, it is well worth getting even if you don't intend trying to write a novel. It covers the differences between short stories and novels and whatever you write, it's essential to understand what works and what doesn't for your chosen length. Della herself reckons this is the best of the how-to books she's written. I think they are all excellent!

And if you are thinking about writing longer fiction, People's Friend are desperate for longer (4000 words) stories. Woman's Weekly are on the lookout for serials (10,000 or 13,000 words, in 3 or 4 parts). My Weekly and DC Thomson are always wanting more pocket novels. There are opportunities everywhere for all lengths. Della's little book might just help you get started.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Books!

Delighted to announce that my book The Emerald Comb is now available for pre-order! Publication date is still over a week away and it is kind of hard waiting for it to come around.

Meanwhile, my friend Peter Jones who I've featured on this blog before (How To Do Everything And Be Happy) has published a novel, The Good Guy's Guide to Getting the Girl. It's a humorous tale of a bloke trying to find a girlfriend, and it's due to be on promotion at just 99p from tomorrow! I heard the first chapter of this book a few years back and have been waiting and waiting for Peter to get round to publishing it ever since. Finally he has, it's on my Kindle and I'll be reading it next.

One problem with being a writer is that I know a lot of other writers, and they all write darn good books. I am struggling to keep up with reading everyone's output! But I wouldn't have it any other way. Keep it up, everyone!


Friday, 5 September 2014

Snippets

I heard on the grapevine that Woman's Weekly are urgently looking for stories of all lengths. They don't want issue-led - go for something quirky instead. Unusual structures work well for them.

Also, that same grapevine whispered in my ear that People's Friend need more longer stories - 4000 words. Here's a little insight into what kind of stories the Friend accepts.

Feeling blocked? How about a course in which you'll write a short story in a day? Taught by the fabulous Helen Walters. Here are the details.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Australian That's Life guidelines updated

Submission guidelines for Australian That's Life Fast Fiction have been updated and are available here

An important thing to note is that they will no longer take second rights, so you can only send them stories which are unpublished or have never been published in an English-speaking country. 


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Not long now...

... till publication date for my first full length novel! The Emerald Comb will be published as an ebook by Carina UK on 22nd September. Don't worry, I will remind you all when it's available!

Here's the cover, which I know many of you have already seen on facebook, twitter or my other blog, but for those who haven't - hope you like it!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

How To books and a new online magazine

Compass Books are releasing a couple of new titles of interest to writers:  Fiction - the Art and Craft by Colin Bulman, a retired university creative writing lecturer; and Creating Meaningful Dialogue by Suzanne Ruthven who has written or ghosted many books as well as having been editor of The New Writer. I don't know about you, but every now and again I feel the need to read a how to book. I learn something new from every one, and some of them are so inspiring they leave me buzzing. There is always more to learn about this writing lark!

Kishboo is a new electronic quarterly magazine, which you can read online, on an Android phone or on a Kindle. It will run a rolling short story competition, for stories up to 2000 words. Entry fee £3, and top prize £50 each quarter. Owners Sharon and Keith are preparing the first, Winter 2014, edition now, so to be in at the start do go and look at the website! As well as the competition there are opportunities for article writers and quiz compilers - they need plenty to fill each issue.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A course and a competition

Helen Hunt (who's now happily married but I believe she is keeping her author name as Hunt) is running a one day workshop on writing short stories. She's published hundreds and really knows her stuff, and she's also one of the loveliest writers I know, so this is definitely one to consider. Details here. Course is in Manchester on 20th September, so one for you northerners, perhaps. Discount for early bookings!


For the novel writers amongst you, here's a new competition with a big prize. The judge is a literary agent so this could be a great way to get your foot in the door. £1000 prize, deadline 2nd November, and they want 20 pages and a 200 word synopsis. Good luck to all who enter!








Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Weekly News - submissions

With thanks to Alan and Patsy who forwarded this to me. Many of you who regularly submit to The Weekly News will already have seen this email, but for the rest of you, and because I am often asked for advice on whether to chase or not - I will reproduce Jill's email here. Hope she doesn't mind but it'll get the word out!

Owing to a fair amount of enquiries about stories previously sent to me, I've decided to send an email to everyone who's submitted in order to make sure any loose ends are tied up.
Obviously, it is a broad sweep and I'm not necessarily a fan of standard emails, but in the circumstances, I think this works best.
So, if you have sent me any stories between June, 2013 and the end of June, 2014 and haven't heard from me about an acceptance, then please take this as a non-acceptance of your story and feel free to submit elsewhere.
For anything sent from April, 2014 onwards, there is a now a 12-week turnaround. If your story is to be accepted for publication, you'll hear from me within 12 weeks of submission. If you haven't heard within that timeframe, again, please take this a non-acceptance, leaving you free to submit elsewhere.
I am aware this is a million miles away from the sort of responses I sent when I first started, but time constraints and other aspects of my job meant I only have 3.5 hours each week to devote to fiction in its entirety and I have to streamline things to make sure people aren't waiting around as many are right now.
I hope it means things move a lot more smoothly and quickly.
Many thanks for your patience and loyalty to The Weekly News - it's very much appreciated.
Jill Finlay,
The Weekly News.



This is really helpful - we now all know where we stand now. Although it's wonderful to get personal responses even when it's a 'no', with only 3.5 hours a week to spend on fiction it's perfectly understandable that can no longer be done. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A market, a competition and news from Ireland's Own

Bits and pieces for you today

1.  Here's a possible market for your short stories, especially the 3-6000 worders - Cracked Eye publish stories of all genres, and pay their authors (though I don't know how much).

2.  The Bath Novel award 2015 has just opened for entries:
The Bath Novel Award www.bathnovelaward.co.uk
International competition for aspiring and self published writers
£1000 1st prize
Shortlist Judge Mildred Yuan, Literary Agent (United Agents)
Closing Date 31 Mar 15
First 5000 words and synopsis
£20 entry fee
Full details www.bathnovelaward.co.uk

3.  Ireland's Own fiction editor Phil Murphy is retiring. From now on submissions should be sent to Sean Nolan sean.nolan@peoplesnews.ie but best to wait till mid September as there is a bit of a back log. With thanks to Sue B for passing this news on. 

Finally, if you have any information of interest to womag writers, please do contact me on the link above. I don't write short stories myself any more and am losing touch with what's going on in womag world, though I do want to keep this blog going! So I'm relying on you lovely blog readers to pass on snippets for me to publish on this blog. 

Thank you! 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Guest Post - Sam Tonge: The Long and the Short of it

If you're a regular reader of this blog, womagwriter and novelist Samantha Tonge will need no introduction, as this is her third guest post for me (I think!) Her latest novel, From Paris With Love, has just been published by Carina UK (my new publisher! Woot!) and here's a post from her talking about the difficulties of writing novels to short deadlines and still trying to write short stories in between.

 The Long and Short of it

When my debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was published last November, I kept telling myself that, come the New Year, I would start writing short stories again, Last year I sold around fifty to The People’s Friend – I stopped subbing in September when I signed my three book deal with CarinaUK Harlequin. There followed a frantic few months of revising, editing and promoting the book and before I knew it 2014 had arrived…
The thing is, with a digital-first imprint, the turnaround is VERY fast. I signed in September. Doubting Abbey was published in November. Then the deadline loomed for book two. I began writing the standalone sequel, From Paris with Love, in December. I handed in the manuscript in April. Revisions and edits then followed. 

Then writing posts for my blog tour. The book was published last Thursday, 24th July.
However, as soon as I’d finished editing that one, the deadline for book three loomed. The manuscript for my Christmas book is currently with my editor. We hope to have the revisions and edits finished by the end of August.

So within around a year, I’ll have had no time, nor the headspace, to start producing shorts again, due to becoming the published author of three novels. Yet I am lucky enough to write full-time – during school hours, anyway - so theoretically it should be more than possible. I know writers who wear many different writing hats, and would find it laughable that I find it so difficult to switch between, and time-manage, two genres. But the long and short of it is, quite simply, my brain isn’t wired to skip from one fictional project to another. I made one feeble attempt at a submission, a story about a school prom, but it was rejected for being too light-hearted. Clearly I’d failed to jump out of my chick lit tone.

What’s more, I find it stressful trying to manage these two areas of writing. Around January time I felt like failure, telling myself I’d worked so hard to find success with the People’s Friend and was now throwing all that away. I told myself I HAD to start writing shorts again – apart from anything else, my wallet missed the income - but inside I knew that my novel deadlines weren’t going to go away; that if I put pen to paper for a women’s magazine, I’d be fretting at the back of my mind that the time could have been spent writing another chapter for the next novel, instead.

Before signing my novel deal, I also greatly underestimated the amount of promotional work necessary, to get a digital book in front of readers’ eyes - the interaction on Twitter and Facebook, the long blog tour on well-known chicklit blogs, finding reviewers and sending free copies out to them…. That’s not to mention putting together picture boards on Pinterest, setting up an account on Tumblr, and creating a website just for the book… I could go on.

Eventually, I do hope to find some balance. I miss working with the lovely People’s Friends editors, and the daily interacting with fellow short story writers and magazine readers. Yet, at the same time, I love writing novels. Becoming a published novelist has been my goal for ten years and now that I’ve finally achieved it, I feel that I owe it to myself to give it my all. I believe the first couple of years of being a published author are crucial, in terms of creating a brand and garnering a loyal readership. So, just for the moment, I’ll be sticking to 90,000 word stories. At least I’ll save money on stamps…



I get that, Sam, I really do. I've been unable to write short stories for a while now, since I began concentrating on longer fiction. Like you my dream was to get a book deal, and now that I have, there's no time for writing shorts. Unless my writing class is holding an end-of-term competition - I just have to enter all those! 

Best of luck with the book launch. I've just been over to Amazon to buy it. Loved Doubting Abbey and am desperate to find out what happened next to Gemma and her posh bloke!


Bio
Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family, and two cats who think they are dogs. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, came out in November 2013.
Blurb
Every girl dreams of hearing those four magical words Will you marry me? But no-one tells you what’s supposed to happen next…
Fun-loving Gemma Goodwin knows she should be revelling in her happy-ever-after. Except when her boyfriend Lord Edward popped the question, after a whirlwind romance, although she didn’t say no….she didn’t exactly say yes either!
A month-long cookery course in Paris could be just the place to make sure her heart and her head are on the same page… And however disenchanted with romance Gemma is feeling, the City of Love has plenty to keep her busy; the champagne is decadently quaffable, the croissants almost too delicious, and shopping is a national past-time! In fact, everything in Paris makes her want to say Je t’aime… Except Edward!
But whilst Paris might offer plenty of distractions from wedding planning – including her new friends, mysterious Joe and hot French rockstar Blade - there’s no reason she couldn’t just try one or two couture dresses is there? Just for fun…


Links



Saturday, 19 July 2014

Two great blogs

Here are a couple of must-read blog posts - especially for those who write longer fiction as well as (or instead of) short stories.

Firstly, Sally Quilford's write-up of a talk she gave at the RNA conference last weekend. I so wanted to go to that but it clashed with the pier-to-pier swim. Ah well, next year, definitely. She spoke about her favourite genre, Romantic Intrigue. Her blog post is full of excellent advice on how to mix a romance with a crime story, and end up with something hugely satisfying which you will stand a great chance of selling. I have realised that my time-slip novels are essentially romantic intrigue, with the romance in the historical story strand, and the intrigue in the present-day story.

While you are over there, do take a look at Sally's other recent blog posts. Ever wondered what a McGuffin is (and no, MacDonald's don't serve them) ?

Secondly, and still on the subject of the RNA conference, here's another write-up of the weekend along with photos.  This gives a wonderful taste of what it was like, and makes me even more determined to get there next year!




Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Woman magazine + Accent Press novel competition

Ooh look, here's a great opportunity for the unpublished novel writers among you. Woman magazine have teamed up with Accent press, to find a new contemporary women's fiction writer. The winner gets a publishing contract with Accent, as well as a week long writing retreat in the Dordogne. What's not to like!

Send a synopsis plus first three chapters by the end of November 2014.
Full details here:  http://www.accentpress.co.uk/woman-writing-comp.html 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

One Hundred Proposals - chapter 2

As promised, here's chapter 2:

Chapter Two
I woke the next day with a start, being quite simply torn from a dream about Jack – a memory of playing with him on the beach as he tried to put wet seaweed down my back. As I became more conscious, the loss of losing him hit me all over again.
I knew immediately that someone was in the room with me. I was face down on my pillow and I leaned up and swept my curtain of tangled brown hair off my face. Harry was sitting next to me on the bed, sipping his coffee and reading my very dog-eared copy of The Hobbit.
I scowled at him. I wasn’t a morning person.
‘Do you not knock?’
Harry’s attention didn’t even waver from the page he was reading. ‘You gave me a key.’
‘I could have been naked.’
He put his book down and looked at me. ‘All the more reason for me not to knock.’
I blushed and climbed off the bed.
Most mornings I woke to this. I must admit, it was a lovely way to wake up. One night, after these early morning visits had become more regular, I went to bed in my sexiest lingerie in the hope that the following morning he would come in and be so turned on that he might immediately ravish me.  But not only did he not even bat an eyelid when he saw me in my black, satin nightie, he was more excited about his McDonalds breakfast and the free hash brown he had been given by the girl flirting with him behind the counter than what I had to offer. To add insult to injury, as I tried to arrange myself subtly into a sexy pose on the bed next to him as he chomped through his Bacon and Egg McMuffin, I had simply slithered off the bed into a crumpled heap on the floor. Nowadays it seemed much easier and more comfortable to sleep in my regular pyjamas.
Harry handed me a coffee fresh from the café round the corner. I took a sip – it was made exactly how I liked it, with three sugars and a dash of hazelnut syrup. As I went to take another sip, I realised that a small heart had been drawn in the froth on the top. I smiled and hovered near his side, peering round him to the brown paper bag I could see tucked by his hip.
He was busy reading so I coughed loudly to gain his attention. When he glanced up, I looked deliberately at the bag.
‘How do you know this is for you?’
‘Because you always bring me nice things from the café. What is it this morning, an apricot Danish, ooh a walnut plait or…’
He whisked it out the bag and showed it to me, and the words dried in my throat. Iced into the top of my favourite cinnamon swirl were the words ‘Marry Me.
I had almost forgotten about this silly hundred proposals thing. I’d hoped he’d forgotten as well. But now it looked like he really did mean to torture me. One hundred days. One hundred different ways to break my heart.
I looked at him and he was watching me hopefully.
‘It’s certainly unique.’ I took the bun from him, and picked a currant out of it, averting my gaze from his. I forced my voice to sound normal before I spoke again. ‘If I bite into this am I at risk of swallowing a diamond ring?’
 He shook his head. ‘No ring. You said a ring was clichéd. Besides, why propose with diamonds when you can propose with cinnamon and coffee?’
‘You should take a picture of it before I eat it. Put it on the blog.’ I had a huge lump in my throat.
‘Good idea.’ He whipped out his phone, pressed a few buttons and pointed it in my direction. I held it out for him to get a good angle and realised my hands were shaking. Harry realised it too. To my shame, tears swam in my eyes.
Harry was off the bed in a second. ‘What’s wrong, what’s happened?’
‘Nothing, I’m fine. Just tired.’ I stepped away from him but he pulled me back, holding me tight and squashing the bun between us. I breathed him in, his wonderful earthy smell as he started to stroke my back.
‘Did something happen with Tiny Tim?’
I couldn’t keep up with the lie any longer and it had achieved nothing anyway.
‘We broke up,’ I said into his chest, hoping that would explain why I was soaking his shirt with my tears.
‘Oh honey, I’m sorry.’ His hand moved to my hair and my breath caught in my throat. ‘Had you been seeing him long?’
Oh what a tangled web we weave.
‘A few weeks. It wasn’t serious, but I really liked him. But obviously I liked him more than he liked me.’
‘Well then the man’s an idiot. Who wouldn’t love a girl in a cow print onesie?’
I giggled.
He tilted my face up to look at him.
‘Right, enough tears. Any man who makes you cry is not worth it.’
If only he knew.
‘Anyway, I have a day out planned for you today, so stop moping around and get yourself showered and dressed.’
He released me and we both looked at the squashed bun. Although it looked a bit worse for wear, the words ‘Marry Me’ were still very obvious on the top. Harry took a photo and I quickly ate it so I wouldn’t have to stare at the empty words any longer. It tasted good, despite the fact that with every mouthful my heart broke a little bit more.
‘So, as proposals go, is this what you imagined for yourself?’ Harry asked, when it was gone.
‘Undoubtedly. The perfect proposal. So you don’t have to bother with the other ninety-eight different ways now. Write on the blog that you bought me a cinnamon swirl and I caved. I’m a cheap date, easily pleased.’
Harry pulled a face. ‘It was a bit cheap and naff, wasn’t it? Ok, for my next one it will be something huge.’
‘Really, the cinnamon swirl was cute… and don’t underestimate the value of cute.’
But Harry was already walking away into the office, scrolling through his phone as he went.
‘Harry, are you listening? Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a personalised cinnamon swirl.’
‘Get in the shower, woman, I need to make some calls.’
I sighed. I had to sway him from this path. Ninety-eight heart-breaking days stretched ahead of me like an endless desert, with no respite from the sun.
I got in the shower and stuck my head under the stream.
No, I could do this. Proposals were my entire waking life. My dreams were plagued by them too. Something like this could only be good for business. I just had to become immune to the words. They were empty and meaningless. And now I knew that I was to expect it every day, I could prepare myself for it, pretend in my head the words meant something else.
I got dressed quickly and walked into the office.
‘Hey.’ Harry was busy typing. ‘Our blog has nineteen followers already.’
‘Our Proposer’s Blog? This hundred proposals malarkey?’
‘Malarkey? I’m offended.’ He smiled up at me briefly before returning his attention to the screen. ‘Yes, I guess they want to see what I come up with next.’
I leaned over him to see what he had written and caught a whiff of his wonderful clean earthy smell. There was the close-up picture of my squashed bun, and another picture I hadn’t realised he had taken – of me eating it, my hair a full bird’s nest, my face red and blotchy from the tears, dressed in my rather unflattering cow print onesie. Great!
Under the picture was Harry’s blog.

Proposer’s Blog

Day 2: The Cinnamon Swirl Proposal. Location: Suzie’s bedroom (I assure you, nothing saucy going on here).

Is the way to a woman’s heart through her stomach?
Our Suzie McKenzie has a very sweet tooth and so I thought to charm her with a sweet proposal of her own. Nadia’s Bakery, St Patrick’s Road makes the best Cinnamon Swirls in the world and it’s one of Suzie’s all-time favourite things to eat for breakfast. So when I explained the situation to the lovely Nadia this morning she was more than happy to provide me with a personalised one along with a heart-topped latte.
So what was Suzie’s reaction? She seemed a bit blasé about it actually. Wolfed it down and barely registered the words.

That wasn’t true of course, but it was better he wrote that than writing that I burst into tears.

I always thought those proposers that pop the question with a ring at the bottom of the champagne glass were silly who wants to fish the diamond ring out of the toilet a few days later? Though now Suzie’s eaten my proposal, there’s nothing left of it apart from the icing on her lips.

I immediately checked my lips and I saw Harry smirk out of the corner of my eye.

Next time, I will do something grand. Something she can’t possibly miss. Plus, who would really say yes over a 59p Cinnamon Swirl?

‘That makes me sound shallow,’ I said, squeezing past him to log on to my own computer.
‘Not shallow, just greedy. And don’t bother logging on, we’re going out.’
‘I can’t, it’s our busiest time of the year, you know that. Three days before Valentine’s Day, all those last minute Larrys will be phoning us up for support.’
‘I’ve already diverted the calls to your mobile and you can still pick up your emails, besides today is completely work orientated – we’re sourcing new locations, so stop making excuses and get your boots on.’
When I hesitated, he grabbed my hand and pulled me out the office.
I laughed. ‘Where are we going?’
‘First stop, we’re going to buy you some decent pyjamas, so the next boyfriend won’t be scared off by seeing you in that onesie.’
I stopped dead and when he turned to look at me, his eyes were kind.
‘Jack bought it for me,’ I said, quietly.
‘I know.’
‘I’m not getting rid of it.’
‘I’m not saying throw it out. But I know Jack, he had a wicked sense of humour and you know as well as I do that he bought it for you as a joke because you used to take the piss out of onesies and people that wore them. You know that he never intended for you to wear it at all let alone every day since his death. If you want to keep it, keep it. All I’m talking about is options. Something else you could wear that would show off that fabulous figure of yours.’
I opened my mouth to protest as the last words he said slammed into my brain. Fabulous figure?
He moved his hands to my shoulders and when he spoke his voice was soft.
‘I know you’re trying to keep your brother alive, keep him close, but he would be cringing if he could see you wearing that thing and you know that. Keep him close with your memories of him, not by compromising who you are.’
I blinked. That was very profound for half nine on a Thursday morning.
‘I’m just saying, the Suzie McKenzie I know and love wouldn’t be caught dead in something like that.’
‘I think it’s funny.’ I knew I sounded like a petulant child.
‘Yes, for about five minutes after you opened your present – it’s not quite so funny eight months later.’
He had a point. I’d washed it so many times that the white patches were now grey and the udders were looking decidedly limp.
‘And while we’re on the subject. You can stop wearing black as well. We’re not in the Victorian times anymore.’
He pulled me into the bedroom and I followed, still in shock over his brutal honesty. He opened my wardrobe and pulled out my favourite scarlet jumper dress. ‘You can wear this today with those purple leggings.’
They would clash horribly. I smiled
‘And you can wear them with those Barbie pink boots you love so much and…’ He rooted around in one of my drawers, finally found what he had been looking for, pulled it out and thrust it into my face. ‘This. You’ll wear this.’
‘But –’
‘No buts. Get changed. You have five minutes.’
I stared after his retreating back and then down at the black shirt and black trousers I had put on out of habit. In the months after Jack’s death my taste in bright and garish clothes had seemed disrespectful somehow. Was one month too soon to return back to my colourful spots, stripes and swirls? Was two months? But now it had been eight months and I had seemingly been wearing black ever since. My bright clothes even seemed to have a thin layer of dust on them as they hung forgotten in my wardrobe. Harry had a point. Again.
I came downstairs a few minutes later, dressed in my purple leggings, scarlet jumper, pink boots and my red and gold spotted sequinned beret that I adored and Jack hated because he said I looked like a toadstool. I felt lighter already.
Harry grinned when he saw me. ‘You look beautiful.’ He offered me his arm. ‘Now let’s go.’
I leaned into him and walked out into the early morning sunshine.
*
‘No way. I’m not doing that,’ I said, staring at the scene before me in horror. ‘There’s nothing romantic about that.’
‘Who says proposals have to be romantic?’ Harry said as he bent down to forcefully remove my boots.
‘It’s the rules. Flowers, fireworks, chocolates. A stuffed teddy with the words emblazoned across a red heart. Not this. Never this.’
‘I disagree.’
‘You would,’ I said as Harry pushed me gently but forcibly forwards in the queue.
‘I think proposals can be weird, funny or in the case of this little adventure, adrenaline filled.’
I was next.
‘If I die –’
‘I’ll wear a cow print onesie to your funeral. Now get up there.’
My phone rang in my pocket.
‘Oh I have to get that, shame I’ll miss my turn.’
But to my annoyance, Harry had already wrestled my phone from my pocket and had answered it. He was more than capable of dealing with our customers and he knew I knew that.
‘Are you going or what, love?’ asked a big gruff man whose face looked like it had been punched several times. His nose was bent in two places and he had a huge scar across his forehead. Had he sustained these injuries doing this? I shrunk back but Harry pushed me forward.
‘Yes she is, and send her as high as you can.’
The man nodded, somewhat evilly I thought.
I climbed the steps to my doom and they attached thin rubber cables to my harness. I kept my eyes on Harry as the man bounced behind me for a few seconds, causing me to bounce as well. A moment later I was propelled some ten feet into the air, a scream tearing from my throat. I fell back to the earth but no sooner had I touched the ground than I was sent back into the air again, this time even higher than the last.
We had been walking along the Thames when the sounds of screams had attracted us. As we rounded the corner, we saw the bungee trampolines and watched with amusement as we saw people screaming, being bounced higher and higher in the air. My amusement had quickly turned to horror when I realised Harry had paid for me to have a go, and that we had come here deliberately for this reason.
I screamed again as I flailed in the air, kicking my legs helplessly in the hope that it would slow my descent. Each time I thought I was going to crash into the ground, I came to a slow stop, bounced gracefully off the trampoline and was propelled back into the air again. As I was thrust into the air for the fifth time, a bubble of laughter escaped my throat. It was a rush – a terrifying, brilliant rush. The man bounced with me, sending me higher, and I roared with joy.
All too soon the experience was over, and the man slowed me down and stopped me. He unhooked me and I quickly clambered down the steps and ran straight into Harry’s arms, still laughing uncontrollably.
Finally my laughter subsided.
‘Thank you.’
‘You’re very welcome,’ he said, into my forehead. ‘You see, at this point, while your heart is still pounding furiously and with the grin plastered on your face, I would propose.’
‘And I would say yes.’
I felt him smile into my hair.
‘So one we can definitely add to our repertoire?’
‘Yes, I take it all back. I love it.’
‘They’re not here all the time, but the guy is going to give me his card as they go all round the UK. We can phone them up if need be and find out where they are.’
‘Excellent, it’s great to get contacts like this.’
‘Are you ready for the next part of our day?’
I pulled back, intrigued. ‘There’s more?’
‘Yes.’ He chivalrously picked up the bag containing the pyjamas he had bought me earlier. Very simple, very elegant satin pyjamas. I’d liked the black but Harry put his foot down and we’d eventually agreed on a dusty rose.
‘Was the phone call anything good?’
‘I’ve emailed over to him our basic package.’
I sighed. ‘That’s the fourth today.’
‘Hey, the basic package is a good little money earner. You know – on average – half the customers that buy the twenty pound package from us, come back and spend ten times that on a big extravagant proposal.’
‘I know, but at this time of year I kind of expect to get more big proposals rather than so many basic packages.’
Harry was right, we earned quite a bit from our basic package. For twenty pounds, we sent our customers a brochure of our top fifty proposals. Ideas ranging from the romantic to the ridiculous, top class restaurants to tiny little tucked away cafés strewn with fairy lights. We included days out, fun experiences and romantic getaways. We also included vouchers for discounts and special offers at these hotels and restaurants and if our customers went there, we also got ten percent of their final bill from the companies for introducing our customers to them in the first place. It also gave brief details of more elaborate proposals, something only we could organise, with the promise of a refund of the twenty pounds if they were to book one of the grander proposals with us.
‘Romance isn’t always about big gestures though,’ Harry said. ‘Sometimes it’s the words the man finds or the effort that he has gone to. It doesn’t have to be something expensive.’
‘I know that, the smaller gestures are sometimes the best, a message written in the sand on a favourite beach or a personalised cinnamon swirl.’ I nudged him as we walked along the road and he smiled. ‘But from a business point of view I’m not sure people paying us twenty pounds to send them to propose elsewhere is the best idea. They could spend a hundred pounds or more at these posh places. That’s a hundred pounds they could have spent with us.’
Harry switched sides with me and I wondered why as he put himself between me and two men who were arguing, placing his hand on the small of my back as he nudged me round them. I felt embarrassed by the goose bumps that suddenly exploded over my body at his touch.
Harry continued on as if he hadn’t noticed my heart leap out of my chest. ‘Most people have in their mind what kind of proposal they want to do before they contact us. For most of them it would involve some kind of romantic meal, so they’re not likely to spend their money with us anyway. By providing them with a list of romantic places to eat, not only do we get the twenty pounds but also any kickbacks from the restaurants too. We’ve probably earned more money from the basic package than we have from the big proposals – so I wouldn’t knock the smaller gestures if I were you. Come on, through here.’
Harry ducked into a tiny alleyway that wound round the corner out of sight. He knew London like the back of his hand and very rarely went on the underground. There was always so much more to see when on foot. I followed him, his hulking frame almost filling the alley wall to wall. The walls were covered in graffiti and chewing gum, but some of the pictures sprayed on the bricks were very skilful. As we came to an old boarded-up window, he stopped and as I drew near he pulled me to his side, with his hand at my waist, sending delicious shivers down my spine.
‘There’s a place called Bubblegum Alley in California, and a Chewing Gum Wall in Seattle, where millions of pieces of gum have been stuck on the walls. It’s so bright and colourful that what started as something gross has now been declared an official tourist attraction. People travel from miles around to see it and to add their own gum to it. Some have even created little works of art amongst the thousands of globules.’
He stood back a bit and pointed to the wall. There in a heart made from pink chewing gum were the words ‘Annie, marry me,’ also made from chewing gum.
‘Love can be found in the most unlikely of places, you just have to look for it.’
He stared down at me and for a moment I wasn’t sure if he was talking about him, or about me and him.
‘It doesn’t need to be about romance, just little heartfelt gestures.’
I smiled. ‘I wonder if she said yes.’
Harry pointed to the green letters written in globules of chewing gum underneath the heart. In big proud letters, the word ‘Yes’, stood out.
‘I like it.’ I grabbed my phone from my pocket and took a few shots. I had to put this on the website.
‘I knew you would.’
‘You see, I don’t need big gestures, so whatever you have planned for our next proposal, it doesn’t need to be a big yacht or a trip to the moon.’
He walked away, heading towards the sunlight that was piercing our gloom.
‘I’ll cancel the space rocket then.’
‘Harry, I’m serious. Don’t waste your money on me.’
He ignored me as we stepped out into the sunlight. He was incredibly generous with his money and he had a lot of it. He didn’t get a very good salary from me but he didn’t really need it. Years before, whilst travelling around America, he’d had the foresight to invest in a tiny little up-and-coming online social media site called Connected. He’d given a thousand dollars at the time, money he had won at a casino, and years later, when Connected had been the biggest social media site in America and probably the world, he had sold his shares for a huge sum.  He’d never told me how much he got from that little endeavour. But it was enough that he could afford the huge house on the other side of the green from me, bought when the property prices had plummeted. And he always seemed to have enough money for little gifts and meals out.
‘Spending money on you is never a waste. And we’re running late now so we’re going to have to run.’
He grabbed my hand and started jogging through the streets, winding his way expertly through the other people.
‘We could catch the tube,’ I whined, as I tried to keep up with his long-legged pace.
‘Running’s much more fun,’ Harry said, without breaking his stride.
*
The Glade at Sketch was like nothing I’d ever seen before. With its white bricked front, Sketch looked like a simple townhouse – and we’d actually walked past the place before we’d realised it was there. But down the darkened staircase and to the left, a tranquil wooded glade had been transported from some fairy tale forest to this seemingly unassuming restaurant in central London. Trees covered every wall and surface, the leaves of which were painted in every shade of green and gold imaginable. A huge chandelier dominated the ceiling, casting delicate lights over every surface from its tangle of branches. Tiny gold fireflies danced around the walls and floor. Mirrored panels near the roof moved slowly, catching the light from the huge sun roof above us and sending its rays across the room as if the sun was moving through the trees. Wicker chairs, tables and sofas with huge green embroidered cushions were placed casually throughout the room as if they were garden furniture and we were all just simply sitting out in the garden somewhere, enjoying the sun.
‘Harry Forbes, we have a reservation for afternoon tea.’ Harry said to the beautiful waitress who looked like a woodland nymph with the plaits and twists in her hair, and her floaty dress.
The waitress showed us to our table and we quickly placed an order for tea. Breakfast tea for me, something that sounded like a rare tropical disease for Harry.
‘Harry, this place is beautiful.’ I couldn’t stop looking around, until my eyes met with his and I realised he’d been watching me. ‘Thank you for today.’
‘My pleasure. I just wanted you to have some fun. You’ve been so down lately.’ He paused, awkwardly, while he rearranged the cups on the table. ‘The food here is amazing.’
I reached across and squeezed his hand. ‘Thank you.’
The afternoon tea arrived just as Harry was poised to say something else. I reluctantly let him go so there was room for our cake stand on the table.
Harry was right, the food looked and tasted amazing. The sandwiches were all topped with extras like quail eggs and caviar, bringing a simple egg mayonnaise sandwich alive with an assault of different flavours.
There was an array of cakes, all tiny, mouth-watering bites of pure pleasure, some kind of trifle and of course delicious fresh fruit scones.
‘So tell me,’ Harry said around a mouthful of something chocolaty, ‘Tiny Tim, did you and he…?’
Oh God, Tiny Tim was going to come back and haunt me forever.
I picked up some kind of pink meringue that literally dissolved as soon as it touched my tongue. I licked my lips as I played for time.
‘Did we what?’ I smirked as Harry shifted uncomfortably, waving his hands around in what I presumed was some kind of representation of the act. The man had no problem discussing his sordid sex life but he was still awkward when discussing mine. I wanted to play him at his own game.
‘He liked to dress up,’ I said as I popped some kind of fruit tart in my mouth. The fruit was crystalized and was like an explosion on my tongue.
Harry’s eyes widened. ‘Like air hostess, police woman, cheerleader, that kind of thing?’
I shook my head. ‘Lots of different things really. One of my favourites was dressing up as a unicorn and he was a lion. He liked to take me from behind and he would roar when he came.’
Harry stared at me, his face unblinking. I picked up a tiny coffee éclair and caught the eye of a tiny little old lady sitting at the next table, her fruit tart poised halfway to her mouth. I blushed, realising she had heard every word.
Still, there was no going back now.
‘He liked to dress up as one of the flower pot men, Bill normally, I’m not sure why. I was always the flower, Weed. Then Bill would come at me with his big hose.’
The old lady leaned over to me. ‘Dear, do you have the name of the shop where you bought these costumes?’
‘I don’t I’m afraid, Tim always brought them with him. I will miss his big hose.’
Harry was still staring at me. ‘I didn’t realise you were into all that weird stuff.’
I licked the icing off the top of the éclair and popped it in my mouth, trying desperately to suppress my laughter but it was to no avail. I snorted so hard that a bubble of snot burst from my nose and I quickly had to wipe it away on my beautiful cotton serviette.
‘You’re joking?’ Harry looked almost relieved.
‘Of course I am.’
‘So you guys… didn’t…’
‘It’s none of your business. Just because you like to talk about all your sexploits, doesn’t mean the rest of us do.’
‘That’s a ‘no’ if ever I heard one.’ He smiled smugly. I wasn’t going to let him get away with that.
‘It’s a ‘yes’ actually, but it was just regular sex.’ I wanted to expand on that, regular sex sounded so boring. ‘Well as regular as three hour sex marathons can be. He had the stamina of a horse. We’d do it all over the flat. On the dining table, up against a wall, in the shower, in the kitchen, on top of the washing machine, backwards, forwards, sideways, doggy style.’
The old lady choked on her fruit scone.
‘Sideways?’ asked Harry.
‘Yes. You should try it, it’s great fun. Can you pass the sugar?’
I stared down at my tea. Sideways, how exactly would that work?
‘Tell me about your plans for the summer. You said you were thinking about going to New Zealand.’
Harry recovered himself well. ‘The land of the hobbits. I would love to. Maybe hire a camper van and drive from North to South. There’s so many things I want to do, but it’s more fun doing them with someone else.’
‘Sexy Samantha not keen?’
‘She’s definitely not the camper van sort. She’s more of the ‘five star hotel with daily spa treatments’ kind of girl. We should go.’
‘I would love that, I want to see the world, every tiny little pocket of it, but no girlfriend of yours is going to be happy about you taking another woman off on holiday. Sleeping together in the back of the camper van.’ I blushed as Harry’s eyebrows shot up. ‘I meant actually sleeping – not having sex.’
The old lady leaned in closer again, ready to catch the next instalment in my sex life.
‘I should hope not,’ Harry said, his tongue licking seductively up the side of his éclair. ‘I don’t have a lion costume.’
*
I sat back and watched the gold fireflies chase each other up the walls. I was so uncomfortably full, but everything was so hard to resist, that I’d had to eat it all.
We’d had a lovely time, chatting all afternoon, but one of the main topics of conversation from the other guests was the toilets and how funny they were. I had to check them out myself.
I excused myself from the table and, following the directions of the woodland nymph waitress, I walked through another restaurant to a very white room on the other side.
The stairs leading up to the toilets were a brilliant opulent white – looking like they led to somewhere much grander than just some toilets. I walked upstairs to a brightly lit room, the ceiling decorated with beautiful rainbow tiles, but as I reached the top I stopped in my tracks. Several pods sat in a white chamber at the top of the stairs, looking like white cocoons from an alien spaceship. They were about seven foot tall and tapered off like eggs at the top.
I looked around for the toilets but there was nothing else up here. On the other side of the room were several more pods. These pods were clearly the toilets and were obviously the reason for such amusement from the other guests.
I opened the door on one of them, expecting to hear some kind of space age whoosh and was slightly disappointed when I didn’t.
Inside was the weirdest toilet I had ever seen. There was no seat at all. I walked in and closed the door behind me. It was obviously some foreign kind of toilet where you stand. A long ceramic oval hung from the wall jutting out at the bottom to catch the waste. I stared at it – how on earth was I supposed to pee in that? Backwards seemed the only safe option. With a bit of negotiating I pointed my bum in the right direction and leaned forward into a sort of half squat. I quickly finished and after redressing I left the pod, dying to tell Harry about the very weird toilets. He was standing right outside and looked shocked to see me coming out of one of the pods.
‘What?’ I said
‘These are the boys’ toilets.’
I laughed. ‘No they’re not, the waitress pointed me up these stairs.’
‘Yes, the girls’ pods are over there.’ He pointed to the other side of the stairs where several pods were bathed in pink lights in comparison to the pods where I was that were bathed in blue.
Harry peered over my shoulder and burst out laughing. ‘Did the urinals not give you a clue?’
I looked back and gasped in horror. I had just peed in a urinal. Now he had pointed it out to me it was obvious. It wasn’t some weird foreign type toilet at all, just a bog standard urinal. I felt my cheeks glow crimson.
‘I’m intrigued. How exactly did you manage to pee in there?’
I quickly hurried to the sinks and washed my hands. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
I heard Harry go into one of the pods, his laughter so loud I could hear him from the outside.


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