Friday, 27 June 2014

When Alice Met Danny - T A Williams


About the book...
Devastated after losing her job, eternal pragmatist Alice leaves London for a new start in Devon. It’s there that she meets Danny.

Then she meets another Danny.

And then she meets Daniel – Danny to his friends…

In fact, there seems to be a Danny at every turn! Her neighbour’s a Danny; there’s little baby Danny; there’s a vicar, a windsurfer, even a dog called Danny! And whether it’s laughter, comfort, a flutter of romance or a walk along the beach, they each bring something special to Alice’s new life.

You might say it’s a coincidence. Alice certainly would… at first! But when she suddenly risks losing not just one Danny, but all of them, she begins to wonder: might there be more in a name than she ever guessed?

About the author....
I was born in England of a Scottish mother and a Welsh father. I now live in Devon, in south west England. I started writing when I was 12. "The Lake Dwellers", all 43 handwritten pages of it, draws shamelessly upon "Swallows and Amazons". A decade later I started writing more seriously and produced "The Man of Blood", a thriller set in northern Italy where I was living at the time.

Ten years ago, I began to write a trilogy of "serious" historical novels set in the Middle Ages. The medieval period is a brutal, often tragic era, and it was for a bit of light relief that I sat down in January 2013 and wrote "Dirty Minds". 

I had a whale of a time researching the nether regions of the internet and I discovered a staggering amount about the quirks and foibles of my fellow man (and woman). If you ever have a decade or so to spare, try typing "Sex Stories" into a search engine. You will be amazed. I certainly was.

When Carina UK offered me a publishing contract, I was delighted. They liked the first book, "Dirty Minds", so I threw myself into writing a second in a similar, fairly varicose vein. This book, "The Room on the Second Floor", came out on 22nd January 2014. It is a mixture of two love stories and a murder mystery, set in an old English manor house. Oh yes, and they turn the second floor into a brothel...

My third book, "When Alice Met Danny" came out on 3rd June 2014. This is my first attempt at romance or "chicklit". Maybe an unwise thing for a male writer to attempt. I await your comments with some trepidation. As usual, the canine glue holding the characters together is a black Labrador.

Carina UK are publishing my fourth book later in 2014.

At long last I have found my voice. And it's a voice with a smile. I hope you like my work.

Guest Post...


The nuts and bolts of getting published

One of the greatest things about getting a publishing contract is that you get to work with a professional editor. Writing is a solitary pastime. We writers sit there and make it up, all the time wondering if others will enjoy what we have written. Up until I got my first contract with Carina UK, the only people who had ever read my stuff were my friends and my long-suffering wife. Friends rarely do any more than say, ‘Great. I really enjoyed that. Well done.’ And they say that even though it has taken them three months to plough through the manuscript (if they have). My wife is a bit more direct (you should hear what she says about my clothes), but, when all is said and done, she will always tend to be supportive, rather than confrontational.

Having a professional read your work is a real eye-opener. I imagine that long hours are spent at editor school learning how to tell writers politely that what they have written is crap. Well, maybe not total crap, but in need of serious pruning, retuning or rewriting. And doing that without injuring the fragile self-esteem of the poor author, cowering in his or her garret, dreading the arrival of the e-mail, is no mean feat. I remember the first report I got back from my editor on book one, Dirty Minds. It was a three or four page document starting with a very enthusiastic first paragraph, heaping praise upon the book, but this was then followed by a whole load of “suggested” changes and improvements. This was my first book to be accepted by a publisher. I knew full well what “suggestions” meant; a nod’s as good as a wink… I sat down and made all the changes.

And you know what? These changes made it a better book. Looking back on it, there is no doubt in my mind. What my editor told me to do was the right thing.

So, what does an editor bring to a manuscript? First of all, and I can’t emphasise this enough, they have the ability to see beyond the book to the buying public. They know what sells. They will suggest changes to the plot, characters and locations that will enhance the book’s chances of making it in the immensely competitive world of publishing. Secondly, they have read hundreds and hundreds of books of all shapes and sizes. They can see things the author can’t. As an author, it’s your baby, your creation. You are too close to it. The editor can shine an impartial light upon it and that is priceless.

After the first round of editing (this is often called the Structural Edit), the author and the editor arrive at a version that satisfies both of them. At least, that’s what should happen. Whether Richard Adams really was told to rewrite Watership Down, but without the bunnies, is debatable, but some changes take longer to make than others. Anyway, the next step is for the manuscript to go for Copy Editing, aka proof-reading. This means it gets shunted off to another type of editor. This is (I imagine, never having met one in the flesh) a man or woman d’un certain âge, probably wearing a cardigan and fuelled by countless cups of herbal tea. There’s probably a cat somewhere around them as well. They worship at the feet of Lynn Truss on a daily basis. Anyway, they go through the book, changing colons to semi-colons, correcting spelling and checking whether the Marquis’s whip was in his left hand or his right hand.

At long last, after this second round of corrections has been made and approved, the manuscript moves off to the Digital People to be turned into an e-book. The Digital People are probably around 15 years old, wear big headphones and live on Red Bull. They are the sort of people you need when your computer eats your manuscript that you hadn’t backed up. They probably couldn’t care a hoot about your manuscript, but they magically turn it from Microsoft Word into an Epub file.

And that’s it. Next step fame and fortune. Well a little bit of fame would do, really.

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My thoughts....
I am so pleased to be part of the first blog tour organised by lovely Leah from Girls Love to Read I had read quite a few dark books and needed something a bit lighter and this book looked like it would hit the spot.  I loved the cover it just shouts 'pick me up' so I did.  Wow, the first surprise for me was finding out the author was a man! I just wasn't expecting that at all.

Alice has been absorbed in a job for seventeen years in London when she is suddenly made redundant.  The time has come for some life changing decisions and on the advice of a friend decides to buy a house at an auction that she hasn't even seen and moves from the razzmatazz to sleepy Devon.

This for me, was a very easy read, just hitting the spot when I needed it.  It's  a book that is more about characteristics and stereotypes than the characters themselves. Trevor did however, create a strong central character in Alice, she up sticks and lifestyle, going from a buzzing, vibrant city, where very one studiously ignores you, deliberately avoiding eye contact to village life where everyone including the dog wants to know everything about you - in fact knows it before you've met them. I love the fact that at first her gut reaction is to fall apart, but almost instantly pulls herself up and tackles things head on. She copes amazingly with everything thrown at her when most of us would just have curled up and cried.  I've lived in London and now live in a small, semi rural,  market town.  I've gone from being almost invisible to everyone telling me my business before I even know it myself :)

There's a couple of strange twists in this book one of which is the fact that the majority of the  supporting cast in this book all appear to be called Danny or some such variant, each playing a pivotal role in Alice's journey of self discovery.  Which, in itself is weird and amusing as the only friend from London Alice was bothered about leaving behind was called Danny! Friendship, trust, openness and optimism are all characteristics that shine from this book.  Each of the Danny's bring a new dimension, that Alice takes from and uses to grow in herself - it's a journey of self discovery that will amuse and in the end uplift you.

In life everything happens for a reason and Alice expertly demonstrates, as she is guided along, that the best thing to do with life is to grab it by the horns and live, embrace change and just go for it.  We only get one crack at it - so LIVE. 

A final note - I had my doubts as to whether a 'bloke' would get it! To get beneath the skin of a woman and process how she'd feel in various scenario's.  Let's just say I don't have any longer - Trevor you nailed it. If you want a nice read, to curl up with on a Saturday afternoon in the garden then this is a book for you. 

I gave this 4/5 stars

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Who Are You? - Elizabeth Forbes

About the book...
Alex, a career officer in an elite regiment, returns from Afghanistan a changed man. He has left the Army behind and is attempting to forge a civilian career as a security advisor. His wife, Juliet, is delighted. She, Alex and their son Ben now live in a well-appointed house in a leafy London suburb.

But all is not well. Juliet's research on the internet suggests that Alex is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but pride means that he will not seek professional help.

Finding solace in web forums, Juliet is offered the use of a cottage and is urged to remove Ben to a place of safety. After a lot of secretive planning and the financial support of Alex's mother who had suffered at the hands of her husband, Juliet and Ben escape the tyranny of their home with the hope of starting afresh...

About the author...
Elizabeth Forbes lives in Herefordshire with her husband, dogs and chickens. She studied with the Open University for a BA in Literature, graduating with First Class Honours.

My thoughts...
Firstly a huge thanks to Hattie and all at Cutting Edge Press for the ARC of Who Are You? I was given a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Wow, what a book! Where do I start?  Alex and Juliet are living, what on the surface is a reasonably 'normal' life for a couple embarking on life together after Alex left the forces. I think most of us, news reading people wouldn't expect this to be plain sailing given the reality of the conflicts in Afghanistan   Anybody who has served there is bound to be affected no matter how rounded a person they were beforehand. 

This book spares no punches, it was all consuming the characters and the scenario's so life like and real I felt genuine pain, hurt and distress at times.  At times I thought I couldn't read anymore and kept closing the book, then opening it and reading a bit more.  It was harrowing, yet compulsive.  I didn't want to read it yet I had to know what happened next. 

As you would expect it's not just a simple story about someone suffering with PTSD and how this impacts on their family.  Lizzie gave us two, deep, highly intelligent, lead characters who each had a story.  As ever events in childhood rear their head in adulthood.   The children we were definitely shape the adults we become.

This book is a like a game of cat and mouse, with the protagonist changing with each chapter.  My thoughts and feelings towards both Juliet and Alex changed more times than in any other book I've read.  I genuinely despised them both at times and at others felt such deep pain and concern it was weird.  When you live with someone for a long time you know what buttons to press to evoke a reaction, be that good or bad and both Alex and Juliet were experts - each knowing the others weak spot.

Life should be about discovering new things, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and trying different things.  I liked the synopsis for this book and really wanted to read it yet I sit here now a couple of weeks after finishing it and I'm still trying to process my thoughts. 


Would I recommend it? - absolutely.  It has to be one of the best written books I've read in a long time. It's darker than most of my friends would read, and when asked if I enjoyed it I'm almost hesitant to say yes, it feels wrong for so many reasons - anyone who has read it will know what I'm talking about. 

I'd urge anyone who enjoys a really good book, that'll make you think, is happy to be shifted outside of their comfort zone to give it a go.  It'll stay with you long after the final page but that's a good thing.  The best kind of book in my opinion is a book that makes you think, that keeps you guessing and Lizzie did this with panache.  There are several twists that had me virtually talking to myself, silently praying and almost too scared to read on in case I didn't like the outcome, I'm so glad I did.

Thank you Lizzie - I've found another new author :) Cutting Edge Press - the name says it all - I'm so glad I stumbled across you via Amanda Jennings.  Two powerful ladies that pack a punch.  


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Me Without You - Kelly Rimmer

About the book...

A story of how love can break our hearts - and heal them.
A year ago I met the love of my life. For two people who didn’t believe in love at first sight, we came pretty close.
Lilah MacDonald – beautiful, opinionated, stubborn and all kinds of wonderful in ways that words could never quite capture. The woman who taught me to live again.
My Lilah, who gave me so much, and yet kept from me a secret that she knew would break my heart.

My name is Callum Roberts, and this is our story.
Buy the book: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Amazon Aus



About the author...

When Kelly's childhood friends grew out of make-believe games, she realised she'd have to become a writer (or join the real world with them, but that seemed far too dull).
Several decades later, she lives in rural Australia with her husband Daniel and their two young children, and when she’s not reading, writing, or daydreaming about reading and writing, she has one of those unfathomable IT jobs which no one outside of the industry really knows about.

My thoughts...
I was given an ecopy of this book by Kim at Bookouture in exchange for an honest review which I am more than happy to give. 

This story is told in almost equal parts by the two lead characters Lilah and Callum who meet on the ferry home from work. Callum is strangely drawn to Lilah and despite her bare, dirty, feet which he finds repulsive he asks her to have dinner with him and she agrees - much to her surprise.

Kelly then took me on a roller coaster of emotions that ensured Kleenex are still in business  and will be for a good while yet. Both Callum and Lilah for very different reasons are sworn singletons but it's obvious from the start that they've been drawn together for a reason.

We all go through life making decisions about the way we live our lives, sometimes we share the reasons why and sometimes we don't!  This book is no different, mirroring reality in so many ways. Significant events shape the way we choose to live our lives and this became very apparent in this book as I devoured the pages.  They were never quite on the same page - one half of the couple ready to wear their heart on their sleeve and the other pulling back and as much as they tried not to, surging forward again, just like the tide.  Nature cannot be controlled, what's meant to be will be and the same goes for Lilah and Callum's relationship.

I'm a firm believer that people are in our lives for a reason, some for the here and now and some forever - Callum and Lilah enrich each others lives in so many ways - pushing each other out of their comfort zones, living for the here and now. Something we all now we should do but somehow never seem to have the time to. 

Kelly's writing was so simple and pure, she created plausible characters which firstly touched my heart, then quietly broke my heart.  I was warned I'd cry, just not how much!  This is a beautiful book, which has many, many, light, funny moments, with such beautiful descriptions - I so want to go to Australia but at the heart of it is a love story that was so real it hurt.  If I take only one message from this book it's to live - really live - not to find reasons to put off enjoying the life I have now - the ironing can wait :)

Thank you so much Kelly for wrapping up such a difficult subject in such a beautiful relationship.

I gave this book 5/5 stars

Sneak Preview, Chapter 2 - One Hundred Proposals - Holly Martin



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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