Category Archives: Dating and Sex

Crime, taxis, and writing YA novels

Across the world, taxi drivers provide a great service: ferrying people to and from airports and hospitals, driving people home after parties so that they can drink a glass ofTaxi wine or three without worrying about being over the limit, helping – as I have witnessed – old ladies back to their homes after a shopping expedition (and even ensuring the food gets put into the fridge and freezer before they leave). They put up with anti-social hours, reduction in sperm count (so I’m told – it’s all that sitting), and quite a lot of verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse from inebriated passengers.

But there have been a number of articles in the paper recently pointing out the sinister role some taxi drivers have played in serious crime including sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. I was not fully aware of this when I wrote my YA novel, GIRL FRIENDS. In the novel I wanted to convey something shady, sinister, and foreign, with links between nearby towns. Two seedy taxi firms seemed to fit the bill as illustrated by this excerpt about one of them:

Grace takes us away from the main shopping area and down a side road into a more run down part of the town. It’s not late but, with the darkness and a couple of shuttered shops, it looks deserted and I start to feel even more nervous. Grace’s step quickens.  “Hurry up,” she hisses at me, “nearly there.”  She points to a lit up building towards the end of the lane—it looks like a take away of some sort, but I can’t make out the writing above the shop. “But I’m not hungry…” I start to say. “Idiot,” she responds. “I know you’re not, this is where we’re meeting up.”

I see, as we get closer, that it isn’t a pizza take-away any more, but has been taken over by a taxi business. The name across the painted out window is foreign and I don’t have time to take it in. “Grace, I can’t, this isn’t my scene at all,” I almost whimper.  But by this time, she is already going through the door and I feel I can’t leave her now. Besides, I don’t know this part of town, and don’t want to go back on my own. Perhaps we can just have a brief chat with whoever this new boyfriend is, and then head back. The home must have given her a deadline for returning and it can’t be that late on a school day, surely?

Grace pushes the door open, and greets the woman behind the counter.  “Hi Bev.”  Bev looks as if she is in her forties—much older than my mum anyway. She is short, fat and greasy looking, with lank, dyed-blonde hair with dark and grey roots showing at the scalp, and huge eyelashes. Even with the short time I have to take her in I can see that these are false. I feel I should be pleased there is a woman on the premises, but the sight of Bev does not exactly re-assure me. She looks up as Grace strides in and smiles at her. But it’s not a friendly smile, more of a leer. No, I definitely don’t like the look of this Bev person.

“Hallo darling,” she greets Grace with a bored drawl. “Brought your little friend, I see.” She adds, looking me up and down with ill–concealed contempt.  Bev’s accent is thick and foreign. It’s not an accent I recognize—but I’m hopeless at accents, even British ones. She is sitting at a short counter with two phones in front of her. The rest of the small office is bare apart from a couple of tatty chairs and a battered sofa. She has a heater on full blast behind the counter and the air smells stale and stuffy. 

Despite this, I shiver. What on earth has this place got to do with Grace and any date she has set up? Perhaps we are going there by taxi? I turn to question Grace, but she has gone round the counter and is standing next to Bev. Bev looks up at her and smiles again. Again I feel her smile is false and unfriendly, rather than warm and genuine. This time she winks too, one large heavily made up upper eyelash bearing down, then rising again, with difficulty, from the caked lash below. I shiver again.

“They’re in the back,” she says after a short pause. “They’re waiting for you.” Grace nods to her, then turns and gestures for me to follow her. Nothing bad has happened so far, but all my instincts are telling me this is not where I want, or ought, to be. But I don’t want to be on my own either, or to leave Grace at this stage—even if it is her doing that I am here in the first place.

GIRL FRIENDS is narrated by 15 year old Courtney. If you want to find out whether her instincts are sound, and Grace is indeed heading for big trouble, you may like to purchase my book from Amazon.

Girl Friends - cover

 

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

 

solstice logo (1)

 

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Download GIRL FRIENDS for free this weekend!

This weekend (Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th January) my YA novel for mid-teenagers isGirl Friends - cover on a special promotion on Amazon, and can be downloaded for free. As you can imagine from the title, it centres round two girls (Courtney and Grace) who are friends. There’s quite a lot of humour, a potential boyfriend, and a fast paced sub plot. The book also tackles some difficult and topical social issues – like child sexual exploitation. A number of people who have read it have described it as a ‘must read’ for all teenage girls. Admittedly this has mainly come from teachers and parents – but don’t let that put you off!

Excerpt from Girl Friends

If a look could kill, Grace gives me one then, so I shut up. I think briefly about her mother living now in a special hospital for the criminally insane and wonder if Grace misses her: whether it is better to have a mad mum like she has or a sad apology for a mum like mine. Who knows? Who cares anyway—it seems we’re more or less in the same boat.

The tense moment passes. I look across at Grace and she winks and gives a small smile. I smile back and feel my whole body relax. It’s great to have someone in your life who knows almost everything about you and understands. I hope in some way it is the same for her. We drink our coffee in reasonably companionable silence. It’s pretty dark outside by the time we’re down to the last dregs.

Grace looks at her watch—I notice for the first time that it is new. A new alertness comes over her. She digs into her bag and gets out her make-up—peering into the mirror to touch up an already flawless face. She looks across at me.

“Oh, Cor, you do look a mess. Here.”  She starts to lay about me with the powder.

“What the…? Heh, get off.”  I pull away but she has grabbed me firmly and continues to powder my nose. Then she releases me and sits back.

“Well that’s sorted the greasy shine. Now for the eyes.”

“No, Grace, lay off. I don’t really go for much make–up.”

“Time you did,” she retorts, advancing on me with eyeliner. “I’ve bought you your tea, remember, so you do as I say.” That’s true, so I sigh and let her get on with it, even allowing her to re-style my hair, pulling some bits across my face, and pushing other bits behind my ears. Across the restaurant, I see the lads behind the counter looking at us. Surely it must be against company rules to use the dining area as a beauty parlour and one of them will come across and throw us out. But it’s not busy and they are just laughing, enjoying the show. Eventually she is finished and stands up to look at me from all angles.

“Mm, not too bad.” She is obviously pleased with her work. “You should wear a tighter top.”  She pulls at mine from behind and then looks round at the front, before sighing and letting it hang loose again.  “But first, you will need to get yourself a proper bra—that one is doing nothing for you—it must be a least one size too big—and the cups are too small—so you’re just all saggy.”

“Yeh, well, it’s an old one of Mum’s that she’s got too fat for,” I reply.

“Why am I not surprised?” Grace rolls her eyes. “Time you thought about yourself a bit,” she adds reprovingly. “You’ve got to make the most of your assets— use them or lose them as they say.”

It is news to me I have any assets worth making anything off in that department and I pull away from her, embarrassed. “I’m off to the loo,” I say, heading that way as I speak.

When I wash my hands, I catch sight of myself in the mirror. At first I don’t realise it is me—just someone with the same baggy top. The face is quite different; harder, older, more sassy and, I peer more closely, definitely more sexy. Not the Courtney I have known and lived with for nearly sixteen years, but I’m not displeased. I’ll go along with this face this evening anyway, if only to please Grace. I can get back to the real me tomorrow. So, apart from a bit of poking around with my hair, and a small wipe at my eyes to get rid of some of the purple shadow Grace had selected for me, I leave it all intact and return to the dining area.

Grace is standing by the door when I return, reading a text on her phone—not her usual old Nokia, but a new one I haven’t seen before. She looks excited—agitated even.

“Come on,” she says as soon as I reach her. “We’re on a date.”

Links:

GIRL FRIENDS was released by Solstice publishing in 2016 and is available in print and as an e-book.

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Swear words and story telling.

My YA novel, Girl Friends, features a lot of characters who, in real life, would swear frequently and rather unimaginatively. My initial mistake was to reproduce their conversations faithfully. That is, until a more experienced author pointed out that a) this was boring and b) no publisher of a YA novel would consider publishing my book if it remained in such a raw state. I hope my subsequent re-drafting – which did find a publisher – resulted in a sharper, more readable story. It is certainly a lot shorter!

A problem in real life is that many people use expeltives without realising – in the end it just seems like padding around the small, not necessarily very rude or significant point they want to make. Constant swearing can be tedious to listen to – even more so to read.

Consider the following dialogue, quoted in The Joy of Words, by Fritz Spiegl, purportedly between a soldier charged with rape and his defence lawyer.

“Well, I met this f’kn bird in a f’kn disco and we had a couple of f’kn drinks and went back to her f’kn place to have some f’kn coffee.”

“Then what happened?”

“Well one f’kn thing led to another, and before I f’kn knew where I was, we, you know, we was having sexual intercourse.”

Here the most common expletive in the English language has been used with such a lack of discrimination it has become meaningless, and isn’t used when he gets to the nub of his account.

Or perhaps the soldier was wiser than we think. The word expletive actually comes from the Latin expletus / explere. This does not mean a swear word / to swear, but ‘a filling in’ – exactly how he used the word.

Aside from being a rather long-winded and boring book (in my opinion) maybe DH Lawrence, in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was fighting the wrong battle when he shocked polite society by trying to normalise the use of that particular expletive.

If you would like to read my novel, Girl Friends, or any of my other work, please follow one of the following links:

Girl Friends - coverGirl Friends

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

Amazon Author Pages

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

 

solstice logo (1)

 

 

 

Getting teenagers to read.

Hello, and welcome to another ‘Happy Everybody Reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare.

Teenagers, or Young Adults as they are called when they are potential book readers, lead pretty full lives these days. School exams, sports and other after school activities, friends and parties and, perhaps dominating all of these, social media and computer games. Reading for pleasure doesn’t seem to get much of a look in.

There are exceptions of course – books by JK Rowling have a huge teenage following (not to mention avid adult readers). But I’m not sure whether it is the fact that Harry Potter was a boy wizard (and wizards etc. are very popular these days) or that, when she started writing about him, Harry was young enough to appeal to the pre-teen reader and they, once hooked, just carried on reading about him.

Of course there are still teenage book-worms around, but convincing Joe or Jo Ordinary that a few hours spent away from the phone or computer screen with a book is time well spent – fun even! – can be quite a challenge. Undaunted though, authors who write regularly for the YA category keep scribbling away. And we certainly cherish any reviews that young, or not so young, readers leave for us.

Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my contemporary YA novel Girl Friends. (Sorry, no wizards, but there are quite a few sinister and creepy human characters. And a burgeoning first romance).

Excerpt:

Talking with Laurence seems so natural; as if I had this kind of conversation with mates every day of the year. And yet so unreal. I keep pinching myself to check I really am in Café Nero, sipping coffee from a cup across a table from a fit looking boy and carrying on as if it is the most natural thing in the world for me to be here.  All the time though there a part of my brain saying ‘Look at the state of you, Cor. The day you are allowed to go to the college without wearing uniform you turn up in faded supermarket jeans, a shapeless T-shirt that could have probably done with a wash, and certainly benefited from being ironed, the black trainers you wear every day for school, and no make-up, because Mel and Josie have been messing with the few cosmetics you own, and they have ended up too disgusting to use again.’  Glamorous, I am not. Yet, here I am talking to a guy who seems really interested in what I have to say. Not that it’ll come to anything, of course. So I might as well enjoy it whilst it lasts—savour every minute and slot it in my memory bank to dream on when I get home. “…So what do you think, Courtney?” I jump. “Sorry?” “I just asked you if you wanted to meet up at the weekend—go to the park, have another coffee or something.” I gasp. “Not if you don’t want to, of course,” he adds hastily. “I’m going to be in town anyway on Saturday, so I just thought …” “Oh, I’ll be in town too. I always come in now to work in the library—things get a bit hectic at home …”

And here is a ***** review of the book left on Amazon Books in March 2017.

Girl Friends - coverThis book is truly a wonderful read. It starts early with a bleak portrayal of a typical evening in the life of Courtney Jacks; there is domestic abuse, alcoholism, and saturated fear throughout that first introductory chapter. But then you also immediately see what a good hearted person the main character, Courtney, is.
I think that this book touches on a lot of adult themes, but it is 100% something that Young Adults can and should read. There is the struggle to improve yourself, the delicate balance needed to maintain friends, how to overcome self-doubt, and most importantly of all is how to save a friend who needs saving.
By the end of the story, I cared deeply about all the characters, and in post-analysis of their development, found no critique but only praise for how well Margaret made every character into a brand new creation by the end of the book.
The book was very enjoyable from start to finish, and I heartily give it a 5 star review.

If you would like to read the book, here are the links: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS or myBook.to/GirlFriends

Unsure? You may prefer to try a more fairy-tale short story as a taster – Sleeping Beauty. http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01CKKNG7Q  or myBook.to/TheSleepingBeauty

 

A Dark Truth

Hello, and welcome to another ‘Happy Everybody Reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare.

But today I’m not starting with a happy story. Last week the BBC showed ‘Three Girls’ over three nights. This was a gripping, harrowing, and horrifying dramatization of the sexual abuse, and other violence, a number of young girls experienced from a group of older men to in a northern town in England. Meanwhile the authorities, with some notable exceptions, stood by passively. Worse, when told about the abuse, they decided it was part of a lifestyle choice by the girls, even though all of them were under the age of consent. It seemed that nobody wanted to take any action against the men because they were Pakistani, and the authorities didn’t want to be accused of racism. Thanks to a determined youth worker, a doughty investigative journalist and the courage of the young victims themselves, cases were eventually brought to court and the abusers sent to prison. But there is a lot more of this out there, and more cases are slowly coming to court.

Why am I telling you this in a blog about YA books?                                                                     Girl Friends - coverBecause in my book, Girl Friends, the narrator, Courtney, is worried about her best friend‘s new boyfriend and the men he is introducing her to. She watches helplessly as her friend grows apart, drops out of school, starts drinking and taking drugs.  Only with the help of another girl, who’s ‘been there, done that,’ does she fully understand what is happening. Then it is a question of how to rescue her friend.  This being a novel, it all ends happily. If only real life could be like that!

Girl Friends deals with some tricky issues, not just sexual exploitation. It notes in passing that abusers can be white, and vicitms are sometimes black. But it is not a morality tale. It was written as an adventure story and is also funny, with a wry look at teenage angst and friendship, and Courtney’s chaotic family life.  It would be great, too, if it gives young teenagers (or their parents or teachers) some insight into how a they or a friend could be sucked into the appalling situation these ‘three girls’ found themselves in, and how to spot the warning signs before it is too late.

Excerpt:

Kal comes forward as we enter. Naturally I don’t know what his name is straight away, but I pick this up quickly from the conversation that goes on between Grace, him and the other men who are there. Even when they are not speaking English, it is still possible to pick up the names— Kal, Jayboy, Saqib and Davit. They are all old. Kal is the youngest and he must be at least twenty. I wonder, with mounting panic, which one Grace, or rather Kal—who seems something of a ringleader, or perhaps it’s just because his English is best—has in mind for me. I shrink down into my baggy sweater and pull another strand of hair over my face. This is so not my scene. But Grace seems fine or at least she is putting on a very good act of being relaxed and confident. She greets them all by name and she and Kal engage in a long kiss— tongues and everything. I turn away but Kal, surfacing from the snog looks across at me for the first time and says:  “Who’s your little friend?”

Links:

Girl Friends  is available from Amazon:

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

It is published by Solstice: http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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A YA story for our time.

Happy ‘Everbody Reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare.

Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my contemporary YA novel Girl Friends. 

Blurb:

Two teenagers, each looking for a ‘proper’ boyfriend: Courtney follows the old fashioned route via school and getting to know you chats over coffee. Grace finds a young man with a fast car who gives her expensive presents and promises to get her a career in modelling. But there’s a catch, and it’s a big one involving drugs and sex trafficking. Can the girls remain friends? More importantly, can Courtney and her new boyfriend (and his older sister) rescue Grace before she is in too deep? Does Grace want to be rescued?

Excerpt:

Girl Friends - cover” … Mostly young girls who don’t have any family to speak of. They get lured in by promises of enduring love or some such, and then also end up as prostitutes—with threats to slash their faces or break their legs, or hurt their family or friends, if they try to escape.” “That’s interesting. But I can’t see Grace falling for anything like that. She may not work hard at school or get great grades, but she’s not stupid.” “Well, maybe she believed that Kal had something more to offer her, something she really, really wanted. Something that made the loss of your friendship, the rows at the home, and missing school etcetera, all worthwhile.” “Oh, God, yes,” I am about to sit down again, but Hannah’s words deliver another shock. “He’s told her he can put her in touch with a man who can arrange a modelling contract for her. She’s mad to be a model— would do anything for it.” “There you are then.” Hannah sounds almost pleased, and this makes me so angry I nearly hit her. “But that solves nothing. We think we may know now why she’s behaving like she is, and can guess it won’t work out for her. And aren’t we the clever ones. But meanwhile, she believes she has a modelling contract almost in the bag. In fact she’s going today to meet this mythical man to get it sorted.” “Oh, Christ!” Both Hannah and Laurence turn to me with a look of dismay.

Links:

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

Girl Friends is published by Solstice: http://www.solsticepublishing.com

I’m taking a couple of weeks off. My blog will be back, with a number of author interviews lined up, after Easter.