Almost ten years ago, I embarked on what was to be my first attempt at a novel. Coming up to a decade and several rewrites later, it is finally starting to take shape. I’m certainly not a novelist—I’m not even sure if I’m a decent writer— but this book is, or will be something very important to me.
The book revolves around two students, Matthew and Jodie, who meet at college in the 1980s. The book isn’t auto-biographical, but I wanted to be comfortable about the setting. Maybe unusually, no other character will be properly defined. The story is simply about the relationship between these two teenagers and covers some pretty difficult subjects (which I’m not planning on mentioning here), and any other rounded protagonist would merely serve to distract.
I have written 44,000 words so far and what follows are two very brief extracts. One from Matt and Jodie’s “first date” and the second a “morning after the night before” for Matt. Please ignore any typos or grammatical errors… story first, English accuracy second…
Any comments would be more than welcome—unless they include the word “crap”
The restaurant was fairly busy. Not packed, but there seemed a nice atmosphere or buzz about the place. We received a friendly welcome from what appeared to be one of the waiters—the notepad sticking out of his apron and pen behind his ear gave it away—I confirmed that we had booked and we were duly escorted over to a small table, at the end of a row of other tables set up for dining couples at the far side of the room. The tablecloths were of the disposable variety, but comprised the red, white and green colours of the Italian flag, adorned with a small candle flickering away happily in the centre.
Jodie slung her jacket over the back of her chair. She had taken the seat next to the back wall, which meant she could look out across pretty much the whole of the restaurant. I couldn’t but I was more than happy with the view!
We were handed menus and asked what we wanted to drink. We decided to sample the house white wine—a bit of a gamble on my part, because I was hardly a connoisseur—and within moments, a different waiter brought along a wine-filled glass container which, to the untrained eye, looked like a cross between a large flask from a chemistry lab and some sort of urine specimen bottle. Right at that moment, the reality of the taste could only be better than the prospect.
The waiter poured a small amount of wine into my glass, stopped (too quickly for my liking) and looked enquiringly at me. I glanced at him, and then across at Jodie, who was already giggling. “Try it!”
“Because that’s what you do. Make sure it tastes okay then he’ll fill up both glasses.”
I peered sheepishly up at the waiter, who didn’t quite manage to stop rolling his eyes in time. “It’ll be fine. Thank you.”
I couldn’t be certain, but with glasses duly filled, I was sure he mumbled something under his breath as he turned and walked away. I felt such an idiot.
“You don’t come to restaurants very often do you?!” Jodie was still chuckling as she sampled the wine. “Mmm, that’s nice. Quite dry.” She took another sip.
“Yeah, dry. Just what I was thinking!”
Jodie put a hand across her mouth, spluttered as she swallowed the wine, then laughed out loud.
“Anything you fancy?” I nodded towards the menu that was covering most of Jodie’s side of the table. Jodie’s smile and raised eyebrows were enough to make me look at the floor as I felt my cheeks starting to glow—yet again. “. . . on the menu!”
“Ahhh,” Jodie sighed melodramatically. “Surprise, surprise I’ll have the chicken salad.”
It only needed a quick look to confirm what I’d picked earlier, a hot and spicy pizza with pepperoni and chilli, although I should really have had a plan B because the jet-black hair and slightly-olive skinned waiter who was on his way over to our table could only be . . . yes, it was bloody Luigi.
He acknowledged Jodie, then me: “Ciao Signora, Signore. Are you ready to order?”
I so wanted to say “hello Dave” back, but after my faux pas with the wine, I thought it best just to be polite: “Hi . . . er, yes . . . can we have the chicken salad and a pizza . . . Inferno please?”
I gave myself a mental pat on the back for using the restaurant’s name for the pizza, thereby avoiding having to say “pepperoni”, and denying Luigi the chance to repeat the order but roll several extra r’s into “pepperrrrroni”.
“Grazie. Any garlic bread or chips?”
He actually said “cheeps”, but I’ve opted to anglicise rather than try to attempt anything vaguely phonetic.
“No thanks.” I smiled and handed back the two menus.
I woke to find that my head had been transformed into a lead weight that was way too heavy to be lifted up off the pillow. The scuffling sounds from the corridor suggested that some of the lads were getting themselves ready for some midweek education, one instructive boat I looked destined to miss. I groaned loudly as I rolled over, rubbed the fingers and thumb of my left hand across two very painful temples and, with admirable concentration and no little effort, managed to sit up.
Having struggled to my feet and shambled pathetically over to the sink. I turned on the cold tap, cupped my hands and doused my face several times. The effect was one of apparently instant refreshment, which disappeared as soon as the tap was turned back off. I screwed up my eyes and became aware of a sickly, bilious feeling somewhere between my stomach and my throat—although I couldn’t work out exactly where.
I glanced over at the foot of the door, half expecting to see a reply to my note, but there was nothing except the faint streak of brightness from the corridor lights. My thoughts turned to Jodie. How had she slept? How did she feel after last night? I shook my head to banish any negative thoughts. There was no logical reason for me to doubt that the special person I saw in Jodie was real and, more relevantly, that she saw something similar in me too. The most pressing concern was to get rid of the throbbing pain in my head: then, and only then, would I be ready to face however much of the day was left.
I didn’t quite make it for the eleven o’clock lecture—mainly because it started at ten. The topic was due to be Victorian social history. It was actually quite an interesting subject, or rather it should have been. Sadly the History department seemed to be inundated with particularly dull lecturers, and Mr Henderson was just one more face in a wholly uninspiring crowd.
Buoyed by a cheese and ham toasted sandwich—served with lettuce, tomato and a nicely blackened piece of cellophane which was well and truly stuck to the bread—I was able to face the afternoon’s lessons with renewed energy. I managed to last through two one-hour talks, along with a half hour tutorial. Seemingly the powers that be were slightly more impressed with the quality of my work than I was with the standard of some of the lecturers, but it was certainly comforting to know that as far as the course was concerned, I had made a steady start.
As I strolled back across the campus, I wondered whether there would be a piece of paper waiting for me. I turned the key and clumsily opened the door, the simple action being complicated somewhat by the weighty text books I was carrying. There was no note. I flung the books onto the bed—two remained on the duvet, but one bounced off the edge and onto the floor, coming to rest face down on the rug. I bent down and dejectedly spun the book back onto the bed. . . .