Children In Read 2020

This year I’m taking part in the Children in Read charity fundraising offshoot of Children in Need.
With over 300 authors and 500+ books to bid for, there is something for everyone – please scroll through the website lovingly put together by Paddy Heron (@ChildrenInRead) and John Jackson (@jjackson42).
Mine and Cathy’s three-book Adventures of Charly Holmes series (listed under Action and Adventure) is one lot, so bid away – the winning bidder (UK only) will receive paperback copies signed by the author and personally dedicated…

http://mybook.to/CharlyHolmesSeries

Please visit the website and scroll through the many books on offer: https://jumblebee.co.uk/childreninread2020

BBC Children in Need

What We Do

We provide grants to projects in the UK which focus on children and young people who are disadvantaged. We are local to people in all corners of the UK and support small and large organisations which empower children and extend their life choices.

We are currently supporting over 3,000 local charities and projects in communities across the UK. The projects we fund help children facing a range of disadvantages for example poverty and deprivation; children who have been the victims of abuse or neglect or disabled young people.

BBC Children in Need currently awards grants at six points during the year and funds two types of grants. The Main Grants Programme is for grants over £10,000 per year to support projects for up to three years. Meanwhile, the Small Grants Programme supports projects for up to three years, and includes grants up to and including £10,000 per year.

Through the Year

The BBC Children in Need Appeal Night takes place every year in November. The Appeal show is a whole evening of entertainment on BBC One with celebrities singing, dancing, and doing all sorts of crazy things to help raise money.

There are also plenty of one-off specials of your favourite programmes, which in the past have included Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, The One Show, EastEnders and much more!

Before we get to BBC Children in Need Appeal night, there is plenty going on around the UK. You can get lots of tips and ideas on how to get involved, including how to organise an activity in your local area, or there is plenty of fun stuff going on for you to take part in so there’s something for everyone.

For every pound donated to BBC Children in Need, a minimum of 95p goes directly towards changing the lives of disadvantaged children and young people across the UK. This includes the grants we make to projects working with children and young people around the UK, the costs of making sure that these grants are properly monitored and evaluated, and the costs of undertaking research and initiatives designed to ensure we have a positive impact on young lives.

A Fresh Look at King Arthur

Arthur Rex Brittonum… a novel of Arthur.
Kindle/paperback- http://mybook.to/ArthurRex
ibook/kobo/nook/other-
https://books2read.com/Arthur-Rex-Brittonum

A story of an imagined, historical Arthur, freed of the glitz and glamour of the Camelot legend.
No round table – instead Arthur hosts his councils of tribal chiefs in ‘Arthur’s Roundel’, the Roman ampitheatre at Caerleon.
No Holy Grail – instead the pre-Christian search for the Treasures of Britain, and an encounter with the ‘talking’ Head of Bran.
Arthur is accompanied by Welsh folklore (pre-Medieval) knights, Bedwyr, Kay, Lucan and the sons of Gawain – Agravane, Mador, and Gaheris, who all belong to the earliest incarnations of the Arthurian legend.
Arthur’s peers are ‘real’ historical tribal kings and chiefs of the late 5th/early 6th centuries, including, Meirchion Gul; Owain Ddantgwyn; Cadwallon; Geraint; Vortipor; Cyngar and Caradog.
Arthur’s enemies are names plucked from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – Cerdic; Octha (son of Hengist); Icel King of the Angles, and, for a bit of fun, Beowulf, the legendary Angle warrior and slayer of monsters.
Father (later Saint) Asaph is Arthur’s chaplain, and literary monk, Gildas, appears as a dour novice.

Abandoned Re-loaded

I’ve just re-published a new, longer second edition of Abandoned, book one in A Light in the Dark Ages series. It addresses the complaints at the brevity of the original novella that told the story of Marcus and the defence of Calleva. This is now incorporated into a longer story that charts Britannia’s troubled journey from abandonment by the Romans to choosing a king to organise their defence from determined raiders.

Abandoned second edition ebook coverThe narrative thrust is loosely guided by the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 1136 work, The History of the Kings of Britain. The romantic in me likes to think there might be some credence in his account of events in fifth century Britannia leading up to the coming of King Arthur (now widely thought to be a composite of a number of leaders who organised opposition to the spread of Anglo-Saxon colonists).
I’m holding the e-book price at just 99p/99c – so please help me replace the lost reviews from the now unpublished first edition. Much work has gone into this upgrade from novella to novel – I hope you enjoy it!
http://amazon.co.uk/dp/B07FKT7W8J
http://amazon.com/dp/B07FKT7W8J

Happy Publication Day for ‘Curtain Call’

Fellow indie author, C.H. Clepitt, has launched her new book today – congratulations!

C H Clepitt has a knack for creating real, relatable characters, who face adversity with humour and humanity, and Curtain Call is no exception.

Covers (2)When an assistant to the director role turns into P.A. to her favourite film star, Jen can’t believe her luck. Eleanor Francis is charming, kind and funny, but she has a secret, and when tragedy strikes, things threaten to unravel at an uncontrollable pace. Despite being out of her depth Jen has to adapt to her new role quickly, to protect Eleanor, with whom she is rapidly falling in love.

This is a sweet, understated story that will have you laughing and crying in equal measure. If you’ve enjoyed C H Clepitt’s other books (including the witty, I Wore Heels to the Apocalypse) then this is not to be missed.

“The story is very well written and flows nicely… I would love to read more about the two main characters in future books.” – Simon Leonard – Black Books Blog

“Love blossoms in an unexpected place in this emotional short story. A change of direction for Clepitt but delicately written and heartfelt.” – Claire Buss – Author of ​The Rose Thief and other novels.

“The story’s optimism that makes it such a joy to read and leaves one feeling there must be hope after all.” A.M. Leibowitz – Author of ​Keeping the Faith and other novels

Curtain Call is available in e-book format at £1.99 from Amazon –

 

Positively Dickensian

On a bleak Black Friday, 25th November 2016, I ventured out from the warmth of my humble abode to attend the most delightful author talk, the subject being arguably one of the greatest writers in our English language, Mister Charles Dickens.  The presentation, made in Slough’s newest space, a triumph of modern architecture, the Curve, was delivered with enthusiasm by historian Lucinda Hawksley, a great-great-great granddaughter of the man himself. She had come to share with us her new biography of her illustrious ancestor, ‘Charles Dickens and his Circle.’

charles-dickens-and-his-circleHer connection to this great literary figure made for an intriguingly personal approach in offering an insight into the life, loves, motivations and achievements of this extraordinary man, told through his associations and friendships with other celebrity figures of the Victorian Age. Indeed, a member of the audience remarked on a perceived family likeness, as she stood next to a portrait of the 27-year-old Dickens by artist Daniel Maclise.  This was the first of many portraits shown of Dickens (with a growing beard over his lifetime) and other notable Victorians. Some are paintings housed in the National Portrait Gallery in London (the publishers of this book) and others, illustrations and photographs.

Lucinda’s book includes portraits of the key figures in Dickens’ life, both family and friends that made for a good slide show, conveying a feel for the time as she delicately exposed the key moments of his life for us to get a sense of the man.  She told us that his early childhood in Portsmouth was a happy time, with his carefree parents creating an atmosphere of kindness, love and playfulness in a tiny terraced house (still standing as a museum).

Things changed for the worse when the family moved to the urban squalor of London.  Soon his parents got into debt and ended up in Debtor’s Prison.  In fact the whole family were interred, and the young Charles, then 12 years old, was sent out to work to earn enough to cover the family’s costs.  His first job was working in a shoe polish factory on the Strand, and he would walk there and back from his one room lodgings in Camden Town each day.

This wretched end to his happy childhood deeply affected Charles, but being of strong character, he battled through and helped his family out of debt, eventually progressing to a better job as a solicitor’s clerk. He began to follow his heart’s desire to be a reporter by going ‘freelance’ and selling news reports to various publications.  Newspapers and magazines abounded in Victorian London, and he soon established a reputation under his pen name ‘Boz’, going on to serialise what was to become his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, in a magazine.  Much later, he finally dared to write about a family who were subjected to the shame and social censure of being sent to the Debtors Prison in Little Dorrit, a subject that haunted him through his life, given the trials of his parents.

Lucinda describes his struggles to achieve his dream of becoming a writer, and the crossover from journalism to fiction writing, through which Dickens could convey his observations and experiences of life in Victorian London.  Various characters entered his life, the first being his wife, Catherine.  She was the daughter of his newspaper editor, and is described as being from a well-off middle class family, and a cut above the ambitious but impoverished Charles.  Together they had ten children, nine surviving to adulthood (kicking the trend of only one in three children becoming adults in Victorian times).  During the course of their marriage he was transformed from an unknown journalist to a famous novelist.

Indeed, the rigours of poverty in industrial Britain were an ever-present theme in Dickens’s writing, and he spent much of his time campaigning for social justice and improvements for the poor.  Lucinda presents us with an array of celebrity friends and associates of the Dickens family – fellow writers and artists, philanthropists and business associates, painting a picture of the celebrity culture of the day.  He went on book promotion and reading tours, engaging with his readers, which has earned him the reputation as the first ‘modern’ author.  He also fought for copyright law, as his works were mercilessly bootlegged, robbing him of income.

Once he became famous, he joined the literary set in London, mixing with the likes of William Makepeace Thackeray, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot).  Illustrators and artists abounded, including JMW Turner, and Hans Christian Anderson was their house guest.  Philanthropists and radicals, royalty and musicians could all be found at their parties.  He was greeted with the fervour of a pop star on his visits to the United States of America, where he befriended Edgar Allan Poe, William Wadsworth Longfellow and Washington Irving.

Lucinda described some of the more poignant moments of his life, including when he left Catherine for his mistress, Ellen Ternan.  Dickens barely survived a devastating train crash in Kent that left him physically and emotionally scarred.  He had pulled Ellen and her mother out of their crushed carriage and was lauded for helping the wounded and dying.  He died exactly five years to the day after this awful event, in 1870 at the age of 57.

These were some of the fascinating insights into the life of Charles Dickens laid before us as the often stern faces of the Victorian greats and Dickens’ family members were flashed on the screen.  I procured a signed copy and started reading the book as soon as I got home.

 

Charles Dickens and his Circle, by Lucinda Hawksley, published by The National Portraits Gallery Publications, 2016.

 

Changes Made to Futuristic Novel

I’ve taken on board some useful feedback following the release of my first novel, Devil Gate Dawn, in April 2016, and as a result have made a few changes:

  • The cover has been changed to have a shadow figure standing at the gate
  • The quote on the front has been changed to, ‘Mild-mannered George must face his nemesis’
  • The start of chapter one now has George reflecting on an accident at work, indicating that such traumatic moments contributed to his decision to take early retirement.  Other work-related inner thoughts have been added through the early chapters, showing he is still haunted by past events.  These reflections stop when new events come to dominate his thoughts and actions.

DevilGateDawnModifiedCover_Aug_2016All in all, I’m proud of my achievement in pasting together this story from blogs and new material, and am thankful for the input of my copyeditor, Sinead Fitzgibbon, in helping to shape it into a structured story with sub-plots and suitably developed support characters.

George battles his way through problems with a calm, stoic approach, often bewildered by the extreme methods and actions of others.  In many ways, his pragmatic approach has mirrored my own problems with battling health issues whilst writing it.

I’ve made notes for a follow-up, and have pored over the 10,000 words of my abandoned novel, The Langley Leopard (submitted to the Richard and Judy novel competition three years ago!) that preceded this one, looking to salvage bits.

I’ve temporarily dropped the price to 99p and equivalent in other currencies to attract new readers.

In the meantime, I’m immersed in the mid-fifth century, ploughing on with researching and writing my next historical fiction novel, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans.

http://hyperurl.co/ii7gpl

Devil Gate Sundown

Thanks to all the 300+ who took the time to read my opening 5,000 words and nominate my novel, Devil Gate Dawn, on Amazon Kindle Scout. This is a promotional platform for exposing new authors.
Today (8th April) is the last day of my 30 day exposure, so if you haven’t already, follow the link and nominate me!
https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3AC6627K4Q0B2

All who nominate will get an email from Amazon in a week or two when the ebook is published on Kindle, with a link.  I intend to make it a FREE download for the first 7 days, to encourage as many reads and reviews as possible.
Thereafter, I will put a nominal £1.99 price on it and see how it goes!
Thanks to all my friends, my copy editor and beta readers for your valuable feedback. Changes have been made to the final version to make it a more compelling read.
I hope you all enjoy reading it, and PLEASE put a Star rating and brief review up on Amazon for me!

image

Please Nominate My Book!

My first novel, Devil Gate Dawn, has been selected for the Amazon Scout scheme (it has been professionally proof-read and copyedited and they have approved my manuscript).  This means I am competing with other debut novelists for an Amazon Kindle publishing deal.

Their stats record how many reads I have of my 5,000 word opening extract, and I have an encouraging 200+ reads after the first week – the promotion period runs for 30 days and ends on 9th April.  When they first put up my opening 5,000 words I carefully read through it and yes, spotted a couple of minor errors and things I’d like to change, but also notice, with horror, that my first dramatic moment comes just after the cut-off!

I got in touch with them (amazon.com in the USA) and requested a re-submit.  After a couple of days they agreed, and I did some editing and re-submitted.  The new version went ‘live’ on Friday evening, and it now reads much better (in my view) and ends on a dramatic high…

Please read my extract and if you feel it is worthy, please nominate it.  After the 9th April, the book with the most nominations wins a publishing deal…help make it me!

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3AC6627K4Q0B2

 

Always Adoring Alliterations

The usealliteration example of imagery is designed to make a piece of writing come alive in the imagination of the reader. One of my favourite devices is alliteration…repeated use of the same letter at the start of words to convey an image based on word sound associations.

The example opposite from Edgar Allan Poe has the repetition of words beginning with ‘n’ and the rhyming of ‘napping’ with ‘tapping’ to plant images in the readers’ minds and thus build suspense.  Genius songwriter Bob Dylan started one of his songs with:
‘You’ve been down to the bottom with a bad man, Babe, but you’re back where you belong…’ the repetitive use of words beginning with ‘b’ has the effect of conjuring up a babbling brook.

I’ve attempted this device in my forthcoming book, ‘Hello World’ (currently being copy edited), in a scene where retired railway signalman, George, combines his rail-track mind with hungry anticipation of an Indian feast:
“…the arrival of dish after dish, like rolling stock in a sumptuous siding; platters of pompadoms, paneer, pilau rice… mind the doors please!” …mmmm…that’s made me feel hungry! ‪#‎amwriting‬

The Seesaw Sea of Fate

RED IS SUPPOSED to make you thirsty.  So say the psychologists, Stephen Joyce thought dryly as he surveyed the flock wallpaper on the wall of the pub.  Old and dirty, it had an unloved look about it.  The walls between the cream chipped paint sash windows had framed prints of scenes from Old London.  The one nearest him had a Victorian gent in a top hat promenading along a pavement with a parasol-touting lady on his arm.  Glancing at his smart phone, he checked the time again – a quarter past two.  Sean was late.

Pub pic1

It was Sean who had proposed that they meet up for a pub crawl on his birthday.  They had used to work together from the late 80s to the mid-90s on Fleet Street when he was a young reporter on the Daily Mail and Sean Malone was a printer in the dungeons of Associated Newspapers.  By the mid-90s the golden age of newspaper publishing on Fleet Street had come to an end, with Associated moving west to Kensington as the financial sector spread its tentacles outwards from the City to meet the legal firms clustered around the Inner Temple, squeezing out the wheezing alcoholic newspaper men.  Both Stephen and Sean left the company at that time and moved on to pastures new.  They had kept in touch, but now only met a couple of times a year as their lives moved on divergent courses.

He was in one of his favourite City pubs, the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street in the heart of Fitzrovia, once the bohemian centre of literary inspiration from the Romantic Poets right through to twentieth century figures including Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and Anthony Burgess.  Yes, inspiration in the bottom of a glass.  How many of the great poetic and prose works of English literature were inspired by beer, wine and high spirits?  His musings were ended by the bustling figure of Sean, who brought a draught of cold air with him as he burst through the side door.  “Sorry I’m late, Northern Line, you know.  Anyway, great to see yer and happy birthday!”  He shook Stephen firmly by the hand.  “What are yer having?”

They settled into a corner booth and started to chatter like a couple of excited teenagers.  Now both in their mid-40s, they had not lost the timeless pleasure of sitting in a pub, sipping on a pint and enjoying the company of a friend.  Sean’s Irish accent was as strong as ever, despite having lived in London for over twenty years.  “Oi’ve been workin’ for a printing firm up in Kilburn, not far from my digs.  It’s not as well paid as Associated but it’s walking distance from where I live, and has the best pubs in North London.”  He took a long draught from his pint of Guinness.  “What have you been up to?”

Stephen described his ups and downs.  He had left Associated after completing his training as a news reporter and went to work for Reuters News Agency.  This had enabled him to travel to some of the worst war zones on earth – Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.   He had lived in tents and army barracks and reported on the lives of soldiers in the field, as well as on the wars themselves.  He had come to understand the utter futility of these stage-managed conflicts, and seen the shattered lives and despair absent from the steralised war rooms in London and Washington.  He now worked as a home-based freelance feature writer, from his cluttered office in a cosy flat in Islington.  He had also found the time to get married to his girlfriend and fellow reporter, Julia, and they had a six-year-old son, James.

“So what’s the plan?” Stephen asked his friend.  “Oi thought we would go ‘round the pubs in this area and end up in the Tattershall Castle – y’know, the boat on the river by the Embankment.”  He grinned as he raised his glass and had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  “Oh yeah, I remember many a boozy night on the floating pub on the river – good call,” Stephen laughed and they clinked glasses in a toast to old times.  “Drink up, let’s move on,” Sean said as he downed his pint and grabbed his coat.  Outside they turned north up Charlotte Street, crossing over the road and round the corner into Charlotte Place and into the Duke of York. “Ahh, one of my favourite pubs”, Stephen said, “A decent pint of bitter and the place where Anthony Burgess was alleged to have found inspiration for A Clockwork Orange, following an altercation with some knife-wielding thugs.”

They found elbow room at the bar and stood supping their pints.  “Have you tried writing a book yerself?”  Sean inquired.  “Well, actually, I have copious notes from my war correspondent days and it is in the back of my mind to write up an account.  But you can’t separate the politics from what happens on the ground.  War is what happens when the political process breaks down.  Getting stuck into the motives and machinations of self-serving political leaders like Bush and Blair kind of puts me off from starting.”  They drank quietly for a couple of minutes.  “Come on, let’s move on.”  They drank up and wandered down Rathbone Street to the Marquis of Granby.  They entered the grand old pub, with pictures of prize fighters adorning the walls.  Sean said, “Now it’s my turn to tell you something about this pub.  It was here that the rules of boxing were first thought up by the Marquis of Queensbury and his high society friends.  A gentlemen’s sport, fought by poor men for money.”

Stephen was not to be outdone and added; “Literary figures also drank here, including Eric Blair, who wrote as George Orwell.  He worked for the BBC, just ‘round the corner, during the Second World War, helping the war effort with propaganda programmes and where he no doubt got his ideas for Animal Farm and 1984.  This pub inspires me, Sean.  To think that one of the great English novels – 1984 – may have been dreamed up in here, that Orwell rubbed shoulders with working class men having a pint after work, and sketched in his mind the character of Winston Smith.  That TV programme – Room 101 – is based on 1984. It was the place where political prisoners, including the unfortunate Winston Smith, met their fate.  ‘A boot stamping on a human face forever’ was Orwell’s bleak description of what happened in Room 101.  The fact that they’ve made light entertainment out of it cracks me up.”

“Never read it,” Sean said in a nonchalant manner.  It was as if the entire works of English literature was nothing more than a colossal waste of paper.  He tried to move the conversation back to sport.  “The only English literature I’m interested in is the form on the horses in the Saturday paper.  This is more of a sporting pub, with the pictures of boxers on the walls.  You got any interest in sport?”  Stephen paid for the beers and sipped the frothy top of his pint.  “Only the fortunes of Arsenal.  I used to go up to the old Highbury Stadium and stand on the North Bank.  Those were the days – the Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon back four, and David Seaman in goal.  Those ugly buggers scared off all attackers.  No wonder Arsenal boasted the meanest defence and the most humourless manager in George Graham.  I like the current manager, Arsène Wenger, but somehow I can’t summon the enthusiasm to go to the new Emirates Stadium.  I hear the ticket prices are astronomical.”  “Yeah,” Sean chipped in, “I only watch the horses in the bookies and the footy in the pub.”

From there they stopped in The Wheat Sheaf on Rathbone Place, a narrow pub which used to be a coaching inn in days gone by.  “This was the pub in which Dylan Thomas met his wife-to-be, Caitlin.”  Stephen had not given up trying to educate his Irish friend.  “She was with another man, but Dylan chatted her up and started seeing her.  After a whirlwind romance they got married and lived happily until Dylan’s early death from the demon drink.”  “Sounds like a man after my own heart,” Sean chuckled.  Stephen continued: “I brought Julia here for a drink one time and told her the same story, about Dylan Thomas.  She surprised me by reciting a few lines from his poem Under Milk Wood.  I can still remember it:

The only sea I saw

Was the seesaw sea

With you riding on it

Lie down, lie easy

Let me shipwreck in your thighs.

I knew from that moment that I was in love – I was destined to marry her.”

IT WAS A CHILLY, blustery October day and it was already getting dark at 4:30pm as they headed towards Oxford Street.  Stephen, whose 44th birthday it was, had already had four pints to Sean’s three, and he was starting to rock from side to side, like a ship caught in a heavy sea swell.  “Whoops! I’m rolling on the seesaw sea!” he cried as he stepped back onto the pavement as a Boris Bike sped by, splashing some rain water onto his shoes.  It was crowded with shoppers, and he turned to see Sean dodging his way past a group of five or six Muslim women, clad in black from head to foot, who hurried by, not replying to his “Oops, sorry!” as he nearly walked into them.  “Bejesus, they can’t even acknowledge you,” he muttered under his breath; “London used to be a friendly place.”  They navigated their way past black cabs and red buses to the south side of Oxford Street and headed towards Soho Square.

As they hurried down Dean Street into the heart of Soho, Stephen decided to have some fun with his friend; “You’re a fine one to comment on the multicultural society – you Paddies are everywhere!”  Sean let out a loud guffaw and replied, “Come on, the Brits and Irish are practically cousins.  We’re all from the same wet and windswept islands off the north coast of Europe.  London’s now full of  those who tink they can bypass hundreds of years of development by taking a short plane ride or bunking through the channel tunnel just so they can get subsidised housing, free education and healthcare.  They’re spoiling it for the rest of us.”

They pushed through the door of the next pub on their journey, the Coach and Horses on Greek Street.  A busy pub with an upstairs restaurant frequented by actors, actresses, playwrights and theatre workers.  Sean muscled his way to the bar and ordered the round.  Stephen had been reflecting quietly and said, “You know, London has a long history of absorbing waves of immigrants, going back hundreds of years.  But there’s something not right about what’s happening now.  In the paper this morning it said that there are already over 600,000 unemployed migrants from EU countries.  Add that to the millions from Commonwealth countries and you wonder if this island will sink under the weight.”  “Yeah, and they won’t even talk to us.  Integration my arse”, Sean added as he supped his pint.

Stephen decided to change the subject: “Now, let me tell you something about this pub.  The journalist and barroom raconteur Jeffrey Bernard used to drink here, and it is where playwright Keith Waterhouse got his inspiration to write the play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. It is set in this very pub, where Jeffrey awakes in the early hours of the morning and emerges from under a table to reflect on his life-long association with booze.  In fact he died from alcohol-related complications shortly after the play opened.  Like I said before.  There is a strong relationship between booze and English literature.”

Sean put his empty pint glass down on the bar and said: “Sounds like the sort of play I should see.  OK, we’ve done literature, immigration, politics, religion and sport.  Let’s take a break and get something to eat.  How about we go over the road into Chinatown for a Chinese?”  Stephen nodded and they made their way across Shaftesbury Avenue and through the archway into Chinatown, walking along Gerrard Street and into the Four Seasons restaurant.  The ground floor was full of diners, and they were ushered up a rickety wooden staircase where they were seated at a large round table with other recent arrivals.  “Service is rubbish but the aromatic duck is to die for,” Sean whispered.  Stephen briefly scanning the menu, before Sean leaned over and pointed to the ‘Set Menu for Two’.  “That’ll do,” Sean said, ordering two pints of lager from the tiny waiter.  Stephen opened up a new subject: “You haven’t told me if you’re seeing anyone at the moment?”

“Erm, no, not at the moment.  I’m between relationships,” he smiled.  “I had a girlfriend, Molly, until a couple of months ago.  She’s from County Clare, and works behind the bar in The Jolly Miller.  It didn’t work out – she worked long hours on evenings and weekends; it was impossible to get a date, and I became jealous of all the lads chatting her up.  I bet you’re loving it, being a husband and daddy.”

“Yeah, it’s great and it has given me new purpose and direction in my life.  You can’t go on being young, free and single forever.”

“Don’t know about that,” Sean said, “London’s the place to be if you’re single.  There’s plenty of distractions here.”

They laughed and joked as they rolled their duck pancakes, and tucked into bowls of fried rice and things swimming in monosodium glutamate.  Sean insisted on paying as it was his friend’s birthday and he had invited him out.  “You’re a bad lad Sean, but it’s good to see you again.  I remember our drinking days around Fleet Street and Blackfriars.  We were young then – work hard and play hard, spending whatever we earned in the pubs.  This is a timely reminder that it’s all still here. Life goes on; it’s just that the punters get younger.  Let’s head on to that pub next to Charing Cross Station and then down the alleyway to the Embankment and onto the Tattershall Castle.”

Sean took his opportunity to say what was on his mind.  “Steve, you couldn’t help me out could yer?  I hate to ask, but I need a job – do you have any contacts in the production side of things?”  Stephen eyed him cautiously, feeling he had been ambushed.  The alcohol had made him slow to engage his brain and think of a reply.  “I can’t think of anything offhand.  Let me give it some thought over the next few days.”  There was a slightly awkward and embarrassing silence, broken by Sean, “Yeah, of course, sorry to ask, but yer know how it is.”

“No problem mate, that’s what friends are for.  I’ll help if I can.”

They walked out into the well-lit narrow street and turned their coat collars up against the wind and rain.  Theatre-goers hurried by, smartly dressed in their evening wear, on a special night out.  They returned to small talk about the people they had worked with and the nights out they had had.  Time changes things, the intervening years had taken them in different directions with differing fortunes.  The excitement and energy of youth had given way to a more circumspect and practical view of life.  ‘For one night only!’ a neon sign shouted above a theatre.  Stephen pointed to it and said; “One night only for me, my friend – I hardly get out these days.  I’m really enjoying this nostalgic stagger across London!”

The Tattershall Castle swayed gently at its mooring next to the Embankment riverside walk.  The old iron boat had been colourfully painted in blue and yellow, and they had to duck their heads as they went below decks to the cosy bar.  It gave the sense of being somewhere away from the city, the illusion of travelling to faraway places.  They were both pretty drunk by now and Stephen in particular was feeling the effect.  “I think this’ll be my last, I’m as pissed as the proverbial newt.”  Sean eyed some attractive office workers giggling across the bar as they moved to a standing-only table.

“I feel the sudden need for a fag,” he said.  “You haven’t smoked at all this evening, I thought you’d given up,” Stephen said.  “Ah well, you know, after a few pints I still get the urge.  I’ll just go up on deck for a quick smoke.  See you in a bit.”  Stephen smiled as his friend bounced off the wood panelled walls and followed an equally-drunk woman up the stairs.  He fished out his mobile phone and checked his mail, replying to a message from his wife.

He was distracted by shouts, screams and a splash coming from the deck.  Most of the drinkers responded and ran up the stairs.  Stephen followed.  A distraught, inebriated woman was pointing into the river, and Stephen saw his friend Sean, bobbing up and down, arms flailing as he struggled to keep his head above the murky water of the Thames.  Stephen ran along the deck and pulled a plastic life ring from the railing, throwing it to his friend.  “Here!  Grab hold of this!”

They managed to coax him around the bow of the boat and hauled him out onto the pontoon.  “Are you alright, mate?  What happened?”  Stephen was sobering up fast in the cool night air.  Sean looked up at him and rolled over, vomiting brown river water mixed with Chinese noodles.  “Come on, let’s get you home.”  Stephen managed to get him to his feet and got him to put his coat on – at least that was dry.  “We’d better get a taxi back to my place.”  Sean just groaned.

After a shower and with a hot mug of coffee in his hand, Sean sheepishly apologised to Stephen’s wife, Julia.  She tutted and fussed, blaming her wayward husband for what she assumed was a drunken prank that got out of hand.  “Come on Sean, tell us what happened, and get me out of jail!”

Sean groaned and said; “Stephen’s not to blame, Julia.  In fact he wasn’t there, as I was on the top deck, flirting with a woman who I’d just bummed a fag off.  Well, I leaned backwards on the rail, and it opened like a gate, and before I knew it I was falling down into the river.”

“Oh my God!  You must have been terrified!”  Julia said, shocked.

“Yeah, my life flashed before me, and it wasn’t a pretty sight!  Anyway, now I know what the Thames tastes like, and I won’t be bottling it.”

Stephen suddenly sprung to life: “That’s it!  I think I’ve got a job for you!  Honey, you remember your friend who works for the bottled water company?”

“Yes, you mean Lucy at the Essex Spring Water Company…what about her?”

“Well, she said they were looking for someone to organise their publicity leaflets and advertising materials…well, young Sean here is a publishing guru and is looking for a new job.  It could be a perfect match!”

Sean brightened up and managed a smile: “Wow, a job referral is almost worth taking a swim in the Thames for.  That’s the only thing missing from my CV.”

“What’s that?”  Julia asked.

“Good contacts and word of mouth recommendation – that’s the only way to get a job in this unfriendly, divided and deeply suspicious city.  Another coffee?”