Friday, March 30, 2012


I don’t write fantasy, or SF, so my world building does not involve strange worlds, or new life forms, but nevertheless a lot of my books are set in a world of my own imagining.

It’s an English county, a little bit like Gloucestershire. At its heart is the city of Melchester — which made it’s first appearance in my second book, A Point of Pride — that has grown up along the River May, once a major river port. All those old warehouses are now desirable waterside apartments.

There’s the thriving market town of Maybridge — first appearance, A Stranger’s Kiss — upstream from Melchester. It was once the centre of an agricultural community, but has grown by leaps and bounds over the years and now has a business park and lively arts scene. There is talk of a Literary Festival…

Scattered around the county are the small villages, Upper and Lower Haughton, Longbourne, Little Hinton.

I know these places. I may have created the names, moulded them to my own needs, imagined local shops, garages, pubs, but I grew up in a town very like Maybridge. I spent sunny Sunday afternoons watching cricket in the village that I call Upper Haughton. I have a Stanley Spencer painting of Cookham Moor —the Common in Longbourne in my world — as the wallpaper on my work computer. (My Dad actually saw Sir Stanley Spencer painting in Cookham churchyard when he was a lad.

The fact that I can feel these places, know the sound of my footsteps as I cross the little wooden bridge to the island in the River May (Ray Mill Island on the Thames), can see the weeping willows trailing in the river, the aviary, meant that writing The Last Woman He’d Ever Date was like taking a walk through a precious memory. And I can’t remember how many times I took a short-cut on my bike down a footpath…

   Claire Thackeray swung her bike off the road and onto the footpath that crossed Cranbrook Park estate.
   The “No Cycling” sign had been knocked down by the quad bikers before Christmas and late for work, again, she didn’t bother to dismount.
She wasn’t a rule breaker by inclination but no one was taking their job for granted at the moment, besides, hardly anyone used the path.      The Hall was unoccupied but for a caretaker and any fisherman taking advantage of the hiatus in occupancy to tempt Sir Robert’s trout from the Cran wouldn’t give two hoots. Which left only Archie and he’d look the other way for a bribe.
   As she approached a bend in the path Archie, who objected to anyone travelling faster than walking pace past his meadow, charged the hedge. It was terrifying if you weren’t expecting it — hence the avoidance by joggers — and pretty unnerving if you were. The trick was to have a treat ready and she reached in her basket for the apple she carried to keep him sweet.
Her hand met fresh air and as she looked down she had a mental image of the apple sitting on the kitchen table, before Archie — not a donkey to be denied an anticipated treat — brayed his disapproval.
   Her first mistake was not to stop and dismount the minute she realised she had no means of distracting him, but while his first charge had been a challenge, his second was the real deal. While she was still on the what, where, how, he leapt through one of the many gaps in the long neglected hedge, easily clearing the sagging wire and she was too busy pumping the pedals in an attempt to outrun him to be thinking clearly.
   Her second mistake was to glance back, see how far away he was and the next thing she knew she’d come to an abrupt and painful halt in a tangle of bike and limbs — not all of them her own — and was face down in a patch of bluebells growing beneath the hedge.
   Archie stopped, snorted, then, job done, he turned around and trotted back to his hiding place to await his next victim. Unfortunately the man she’d crashed into, and who was now the bottom half of a bicycle sandwich, was going nowhere.
   ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ he demanded.
   ‘Smelling the bluebells,’ she muttered, keeping very still while she mentally checked out the “ouch” messages filtering through to her brain.
   There were quite a lot of them and it took her a while, but even so she would almost certainly have moved her hand, which appeared to be jammed in some part of the man’s anatomy if it hadn’t been trapped beneath the bike’s handlebars. Presumably he was doing the same since he hadn’t moved, either. ‘Such a gorgeous scent, don’t you think?’ she prompted, torn between wishing him to the devil and hoping that he hadn’t lost consciousness.
   His response was vigorous enough to suggest that while he might have had a humour bypass — and honestly if you didn’t laugh, well, with the sort of morning she’d had, you’d have to cry — he was in one piece.
   Ignoring her attempt to make light of the situation he added, ‘This is a footpath.’
‘So it is,’ she muttered, telling herself that he wouldn’t have been making petty complaints about her disregard for the bye-laws if he’d been seriously hurt. It wasn’t a comfort. ‘I’m so sorry I ran into you.’ And she was. Really, really sorry.
   Sorry that her broad beans had been attacked by blackfly. Sorry that she’d forgotten Archie’s apple. Sorry that Mr Grumpy had been standing in her way.
   Until thirty seconds ago she had merely been late. Now she’d have to go home and clean up. Worse, she’d have to ring in and tell the news editor she’d had an accident which meant he’d send someone else to keep her appointment with the chairman of the Planning Committee.
   He was going to be furious. She’d lived on Cranbrook Park all her life and she’d been assigned to cover the story.
  ‘It’s bad enough that you were using it as a race track—’
  Oh, great. There you were lying in a ditch, entangled in bent bicycle, with a strange man’s hand on your backside — he’d better be trapped too — and his first thought was to lecture her on road safety.

The Last Woman He'd Ever Date will be published in July in the US and dates to be announced in the UK and Australia, but you can pre-order on Amazon now.

1 comment:

Nicola Marsh said...

Looking forward to this one, Liz!

Snappy title and the hero on the!