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Fly or Fall
I was born in
Kent, in the . As a child I drew copiously, encouraged by the adults in my life who always told me I was good at art, but from around the age of ten, I also wrote. These two hobbies, particularly the writing, sustained me through my teenage years when the romance in the stories I conjured in my head was the only romance I experienced. Writing was only abandoned when I left home and real life took over from the fiction. UK
I did not go to
Oxford or . Instead, after leaving school at sixteen, with only 5 indifferent GCE passes, I went to Cambridge . (It may not have been one of the more prestigious schools of art, but Croydon fostered the disparate talents of some notable alumni, including Ray Davies, Malcolm McClaren and Mervyn Peake.) Croydon Art College
I did not work on any of the broadsheets, in television or publishing, but did a variety of jobs - shop assistant, beauty-consultant and barmaid. I also had a job which consisted of picking up American tourists and sending them on a free sightseeing tour of
which culminated in lunch at the Hilton. The unsuspecting holidaymakers were then subjected to an intense sales-pitch, selling London real estate. I was no good at this ‘commission only’ job and, unsurprisingly, didn’t enjoy it. I was very relieved when I eventually landed the job of my dreams, working as an illustrator with an advertising design studio. I eventually went free-lance. Florida
I married and resumed writing while my son, Tom, was a toddler. My first ever completed novel, Just Before Dawn, was published less than 2 years after I finished the first draft. My second, Desires & Dreams, followed it onto the book shelves eight months later. But my publisher was new and it was small. It failed to achieve the required marketing push and wide distribution which would have given its authors - and itself - any real prospect of success. Though they were available in libraries, I never saw my novels in a book shop, other than in my own home town. The publisher ceased to trade after about five years.
My husband was head-hunted and I found myself living in Gloucestershire. Not only had I lost my support network of friends and family, I’d also lost my publisher, so I knuckled down and continued to write what I had always written, with the intention of finding a new publisher. But my books, which could be described as women’s contemporary relationship fiction, are unconventional, subversive and surprising. Though there is always a love story at their core, they never followed the current band-wagon (whatever it happened to be at the time), and they failed to spark any interest in publishers, or even literary agents. So, with the dawning of the new digital age, and specifically the birth of the Kindle, I decided to self-publish.
I have been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers and was one of the initiators of the successful community shop in my village. Still a keen artist I regularly attend a weekly art class, design Christmas cards and have recently been commissioned to illustrate a children’s book - which tells the story of the Viking King, Harald Hardrada - to coincide with the Viking exhibition at the British Museum, in the spring of 2014.
Blurb for Fly or Fall
Eleanor - known as Nell - thinks of herself as a wimp. Even though her life has not been easy, she clings to the safety of the familiar. Married young and dependent on her teacher husband’s wages, Nell has stayed at home in Battersea with her twin children and her increasingly invalid mother. Following the death of her mother the family’s fortunes suddenly change. Trevor, her husband, is wildly enthusiastic about their ‘move up in the world’; he plans to give up teaching and move house away from
. Nell is gripped by a nebulous fear of some unknown disaster that is waiting to trip them up, but her husband steamrollers her objections. London
Now in her early thirties and living in an unfamiliar landscape, away from old friends, Nell feels cast adrift. She is increasingly aware that Trevor is no longer the man she married and their young teenage twins, Jonathan and Juliet, are grumpy and difficult. The women she meets, Felicity and Katherine, seem shallow, materialistic and promiscuous. The new house is unwelcoming and needs modernisation. She is thrust into a continuing chaos of rubble and renovation. Although one of the men working for the building firm is infamous as a local Lothario, he doesn’t make a pass at her. At first she’s grateful, but can’t help wondering why he’s not interested.
When Nell takes a bar job at the local sports club, she is exposed to an overheated atmosphere of flirtation and gossip. Influenced by her new friends and the world in which she now moves, she begins to blossom and to take pleasure in the possibilities which seem to be opening up for her. She meets and forms a deeper friendship with the quirky new-age
, a very different character to her other friends. As Nell begins to enjoy herself and to become more enthusiastic about her life, it seems her husband is on the opposite end of a cosmic seesaw on a downward trajectory. When she is pursued by a beautiful and enigmatic young man, and she is tempted into behaviour she would never have previously imagined herself capable of, the foreshadowed disaster happens. Elizabeth
FLY or FALL follows the dismantling of all of Nell’s certainties, her preconceptions and her moral code. Unwelcome truths about her friends, her husband, her teenage children and herself are revealed. Relationships are not what they seem. The hostility between brothers is exposed and finally explained. She realises the hair’s breadth between wishful thinking, self-deception and lies.
Ultimately FLY or FALL is a love story, and by its conclusion everything has altered for Nell, the woman who doesn’t like change. But she has rebuilt herself as a different person, a braver person, and she has embarked with optimism on a totally transformed life.
Available for Kindle and paperback
FLY or FALL
The cartoon rabbit ran straight off the edge of the cliff. He hung, oblivious to his predicament, feet pedalling the empty air. There was a snigger, halfway between laughter and derision, from the twins.
Perhaps belief is everything, I thought. If you believe you’re still on the same level, that life hasn’t changed, you won’t see the void which has opened beneath your feet. And if you don’t see it, you don’t fall. Inevitably the rabbit did stop running, did look down. I felt with him the nightmare lurch of panic, the sudden plunge downwards as he dropped out of frame. The result was explosive. As the dust cleared a precisely incised, rabbit shaped crater was revealed at the foot of the cliff.
‘I still can’t believe the amount of money....’ I murmured, with a dazed shake of my head.
‘So? What’s your problem? Any normal person would be jumping for joy.’ We were speaking quietly; the twins had yet to be told their father wanted to move, let alone that, without even putting the house on the market, we’d received an eye-watering offer for it.
‘I’m not arguing,’ I defended myself half-heartedly. ‘But I suppose I’ve always thought the amount it might sell for was academic. We have to live somewhere. Your job’s here, our friends are here, the kids go to school here. Why sell?’
‘We’ve been through this. There’s nothing to keep us, not really. Why stay in Battersea when we could live in the country? Clean air, green fields, a house with a proper garden and a driveway ... maybe even a garage ... to park the car off-road?’
I hadn’t reacted the way he’d wanted and expected, and I could hardly explain why to myself let alone to him. Why did I have such a sense of foreboding? If I agreed to sell and move out of
, our lives would change in countless superficial and practical ways but, to use Trevor’s words, they’d be changes which most normal people would regard as improvements to the style and quality of life. To him it was a no-brainer. Why stay in a property worth so much money when we could sell it and move somewhere better but cheaper in the country. Deflated by my reaction to his plans he had to work hard to keep his irritation in check. London
‘But it’s such an unremarkable house.’
‘For God’s sake, Nell. Where have you been? You’ve heard about the property boom?’
‘But it’s smaller than the others in the terrace, with a much smaller garden. I never in a million years thought.... Anyway, what about your job?’
He sighed deeply. ‘I’m a teacher, I can get a job anywhere.’
‘Are you sure about that?’
‘I’m not dragging us off to the depths of the country on a wing and a prayer. I’ll make sure I’ve something to go to. I may quit teaching altogether.’
‘But you love teaching?’
‘I used to,’ he retorted darkly. I felt I was being drawn into an
in Wonderland world where all my certainties were being turned upside down. ‘Look, the whys and wherefores are not important … the important thing is this.’ He waved the formal offer at me. His taut, flushed face betrayed his excitement, as he contemplated a very different future to the one I’d envisaged. Alice
‘I don’t want … we don’t need so much money. Wealth can be very corrupting.’
He sighed again. ‘Of course it seems a lot to us because we’ve been scraping along for years. It’s only recently things have eased up a bit. But we’ll still need a house to live in.’ His tabby, greying beard received another vigorous raking. ‘We’ll only have the balance to play with.’
‘I know that.’
‘Sure, our lives are going to change. But we are who we are. It is possible to be comfortably off, to have a few hundred thousand in an investment account, without abandoning your ideals. Unless you truly believe our principles are so flaky? The kind you adopt when you’re poor then slough off like a snake’s skin as soon as your circumstances improve?’
‘No one really knows how they’ll respond to temptation until they’re exposed to it. It’s a leap into the dark. Perhaps I am going to develop a taste for furs and diamonds and love-affairs. And you? Fast cars and bimbos?’
‘Do try to keep a sense of proportion. It’s not that kind of dosh.’
‘I am joking.’ But as I said the words I knew I wasn’t joking, not really. I had cloaked my real misgivings in the facile.
‘Anyway, how come you get to have love-affairs and I get the bimbos?’ he added, with a rueful smile. ‘Sounds a bit discriminatory to me.’
‘What is the male equivalent of a bimbo? A gigolo? A toy boy? Chance would be a fine thing.’
Much of the discussion so far had been conducted in this half-joking, half-serious vein. My insides still bubbled with a mixture of shocked surprise and apprehension, bordering on hysteria; I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. For me it was still too soon to properly and calmly evaluate what all this would really mean to us. At length he spoke again.
‘You think I don’t understand, but I do.’ His tone was now conciliatory, bordering on the condescending. I remained silent, repressing the urge to flash back, ‘Good for you.’
‘I know all this has been a shock. I know the last few months since Beryl died, have been hard on you. Losing your surviving parent has got to change your perspective on life and the way you live it. Even when she had long ceased to be the mother you knew. We always knew you’d inherit the house. The probate will soon be sorted and we ... you’ll get the title deeds. What the house is worth is the only new element for you.’
But not for him? Had he been comparing house prices for years? Weighing up what my mother’s death could mean for us? I sensed a ‘But’ coming, possibly an ultimatum. Did he want to secure my compliance here and now? Yet, as he proceeded, I saw apprehension in his eyes.
‘Seriously, Nell, it’s down to you. If you really don’t want to sell the house and realise some of the profits by moving out and down-pricing, then I can’t force you.’
I glanced away from his intent stare, back towards the TV, which now flickered in the corner without its cynical audience of two. Since I’d last looked, Bugs Bunny had not only survived his fall but had triumphed over his pursuers, in the interim mysteriously achieving a lifestyle of wealth and opulence. As the title music swelled the final frame revealed him lying back complacently against a pile of harem cushions, a jewelled turban balanced between his ears, the inevitable carrot held pinched in his fingers like a cigar.
‘Beats me why you can’t just accept it and rejoice?’ Trevor persisted doggedly. ‘Our ship’s come in. It’s our turn.’
He made my misgivings seem increasingly nebulous and perverse. How could I continue to resist? One moment I’d felt like I was at the edge of a precipice, facing a leap into the unknown, yet still clinging to the possibility of retreat. Now I realised the world had shifted on its axis; there could be no going back. The secure ground had vanished from beneath my feet. I had only two options left – to fall or to fly.
FLY or FALL: “Will the allure of the unknown ever overcome the fear of stepping away from solid ground”
TORN: She may escape her old life but will she ever escape herself?
LIFE CLASS: A story about art, life, love and learning lessons.
LIFE CLASS: A story about art, life, love and learning lessons.