Sunday, 10 December 2017

EXCLUSIVE! Sneak preview of the first chapter from the new book...

Okay, okay, it has been way too long! I hold my hands up - I have neglected this blog for far too long, but in my defence and in the words of the great Tom Stade, my children have compromised my dreams! :)

I guess I owe all fans (yes, all three of you) of the Sex, Love & Dating Disasters series a huge apology for my radio silence, but since the release of The Flood last year I am pleased to say that I have been working on the third instalment, and I am delighted to release a sneak peek at the first chapter.

This is a work in progress so it is definitely subject to change, but I'd love to get your feedback and initial thoughts. Hit or miss? Funny or not? Excited or underwhelmed? I have three weeks off work over Xmas and after resisiting the urge to download Football Manager 2018, I am 100% committed to working flat out to get as much done on this new novel, and to reveal more details in the coming weeks.

I hope you enjoy this snippet...

Stone the flamin’ crows…
‘Okay Dan,’ I whispered to myself, exhaling a large gulp of oxygen, creating a feint whooshing noise. ‘You can do this.’
I took another deep breath and released, creating a small puff of vapour brought on by the cold night air. I held my hand up to knock at the door, but the nerves paralysed me. I closed my eyes tight, willing myself to do this.
‘Come on, pull yourself together,’ I muttered, attempting some sort of personal pep talk, but my clenched fist remained frozen, held aloft, more reminiscent of a poor man’s fist pump than an actual attempt to knock at a door. I must have looked like Tim Henman at Wimbledon from yesteryear; my balled fist of conviction not fooling anyone. I was doomed to failure.
‘Come on,’ I urged myself again, but my body simply wouldn't respond. It was like I'd reverted to that 12-year-old version of myself, desperately trying to build up the courage to call Fiona Mendleson all those years ago. I must have picked up the phone, dialled and hung up immediately at least 30 times that day before finally finding the spirit to see it through, only for her dad to answer and shout at me for my incessant drop-calling. At which point I hung up again.
But that was then, and this was now. That timid 12-year-old boy had been replaced by a 25-year-old man. Albeit a man who was too scared to knock at a girl’s door.
‘Damn it, we spoke about this.’ I hissed at myself, annoyed that I'd talked myself into coming here and now I was going to bottle it.
I slowly lowered my hand. I wasn't going to knock. You could give me 30 opportunities to knock and I'd still freeze like a rabbit caught in the headlights, and there wasn't even an overprotective dad in sight to tell me off this time.
‘You're pathetic,’ I cursed myself, my head bowed, eyes shut tight in shame and disappointment. After everything I had experienced over the last week – the chaos that was that trip to Latvia that I'd wanted to tell her about so much – it was ridiculous that I couldn't even bring myself to knock on at her door.
I was mad, mad at myself for building my hopes up that coming here tonight was a good idea. What was I thinking? I continued to berate myself, the whispers of self-deprecation acting as some sort of strange comfort as I resumed my lonely, solitary conversation with myself
‘What would the boys say right now if they could see you? I'll tell you what they'd say, they'd say man-up! Take off those frilly knickers and grow a pair!’ Well, that’s what Jack would say.
But I wasn't finished there. Fuelled by the thoughts of what my best friends would say (again, Jack in particular), I went one step further and adopted a silly high-pitched impression of a little girl.
‘What's wrong Dan? Did you leave your training bra at home?!’
‘Who goes there?!’
The voice startled me out of my monologue. I looked up to see a pension-aged woman peering around the corner of her doorway the next house along, hair in curlers and wearing a pink fluffy dressing gown that had seen better days.
‘Sorry,’ I whispered, aware that I'd probably been talking louder than I thought. ‘I didn't mean to disturb you.’
‘Tom!’ she yelled. ‘There is a strange man out here taking about frilly knickers and bras.’ She fumbled at something in her hands, before shining a torch in my face. ‘I think it's that pervert who has been stealing my underwear from the washing line.’
The light momentarily blinded me, and I held my hand up to block the yellow beam, just in time to see Tom appear at the doorway in his vest and braces, holding up his baggy brown trousers which were held in place just under his armpits.
‘Get out of here you bloody nonce!’ The old man yelled at me, defending his wife's honour. ‘You'll be getting no more panties from this house tonight!’
‘Shhh,’ I did my best to placate him, although the next line out of my mouth wasn't that well thought through. ‘I'm not here for your wife's old briefs!’
‘Don't make me come over there and teach you a lesson, sonny.’
But before I had the chance to reply, a third voice entered the foray, this one coming from the opposite side.
‘Everything okay, Tom?’ a bespectacled man asked from the open doorway of a house to the left.
‘It’s the underwear thief, Chris,’ Tom yelled to his neighbour, which only served to wake the neighbourhood as a scatter of living room lights flickered to life up and down that small stretch of road, accompanied by the occasional dog bark; a clear signal the commotion had not gone unnoticed.
‘I'm not an underwear thief,’ I pleaded my case, trying to bring an end to this sorry scene.
‘You filthy little git,’ Chris with the specs said, a healthy dose of disgust clung to his words. ‘So you're the one who's been wearing my Trisha’s stockings and suspenders?’
‘I've not been wearing anyone's stockings and suspenders,’ I fired back, now on the edge of hysteria, unsure how I'd quite managed to get myself into this situation. I'd simply come here tonight to see the face of the girl I loved. It was bad enough that I'd wimped out of knocking on her door, but how it had escalated into this was beyond me. This night simply couldn't get any worse.
‘What’s going on out here?’
I stand corrected. It just got worse.
‘Dan? What are you doing here?’
It was a voice that tipped me over that edge. There she was, the reason I now found myself in this ludicrous position. I was twisted over this girl; she’d got to me like no one else. I had so much to tell her, but I had no idea where to start.
‘That’s the underwear thief,’ Tom’s wife said.
Explaining that I wasn't the underwear thief was probably a good place to start.
‘I'm not the underwear thief,’ I repeated, looking from Tom and his wife and then to a Chris. ‘I'm not!’ And finally, I turned to Kelly, my voice softening. ‘The only thing I'm here to steal is your heart.’
Okay, I didn't say that last line, but that was my intention. I loved this girl and I didn't care who knew. But instead of that rather corny Hollywood line, I think I mumbled something like: ‘I don't wear women's underwear, Kelly.’
See why I tried to convince you that I used the Hollywood line? Anything would have been better than having to defend accusations being thrown my way that I stole an old lady’s panties and then wore them like some sort of trophy.
‘It’s okay guys,’ Kelly said to reassure her neighbours. ‘This is a friend of mine. He might be a lot of things,’ she continued with a grin, ‘but he's not the type to dress up in women's clothes. At least I hope not.’
‘I don't!’
Kelly apologised to Chris, Tom and Tom’s wife for the disturbance. I offered a rather meek ‘Sorry’ which I'm sure didn't really appease them, especially as Tom’s wife continued to eye me suspiciously when I said I hoped they caught the real underwear thief soon. Eventually they all retreated into their homes.
Kelly stared at me, not in a confrontational way, but her raised eyebrows and half smile was enough to tell me that she wanted to know what I was doing here.
‘Hi Kelly,’ I said, rather sheepishly.
‘Hi Dan,’ she returned with a full smile. ‘Why don't you come in before the police get here to arrest the notorious underwear thief.’
She stepped aside to let me in. I wandered into her living room, and turned to see Kelly standing in the doorway, arms folded, but still smiling.
It was the first time I'd laid eyes on her in two weeks. She was wearing a mauve pyjama t-shirt with check patterned bottoms. Her curly brown hair bounced softly against her shoulders, and her dark brown eyes dazzled in that dimly lit room. And those curves, of my God, those curves!
She was a sight for sore eyes, the last person I thought of at night before I went to sleep and the first person on my mind when I opened my eyes in the morning. I'd barely been back in the country for two hours and she had been the first person I wanted to see; to tell her about the adventure I'd just been on.
‘What are you doing here, Dan?’ Kelly broke the silence, forcing the issue as to why the prime suspect in the mysterious missing underwear case had turned up at her house after dark without any warning.
It was a fair question, but where could I start? The last time we had seen each other was not exactly conventional. In fact, having greeted her at the airport following her return from a years-long travelling, I'd made a bit of a fool of myself, practically laying my heart out on the line to her, only for it to be crushed in a split second.
But more about that later.
I was here on a mission, to repair some of that damage, but to also show Kelly that I was not going down without a fight.
‘I just...’ I hesitated. But I'd come too far to back out now. Time to lay it all on the line. ‘I just wanted to see you.’
And there it was it, in its most simplistic form. I just wanted to see her. I had so much more to tell her, but right now, those six little words were all I wanted her to know.
‘Are you sure that isn't just your alibi to clear your name for stealing Mrs Daly’s undergarments?’ Kelly said, smiling and lightly swaying to one side.
‘Maybe,’ I smiled back. And then silence. Not an awkward silence, but a silence that said a thousand words. The electricity in that room was so strong you could have cut it with a knife.
‘What are you really doing here Dan?’
Okay Kelly, time for the main event. No going back now, Dan.
‘I don't know,’ I started, attempting to play down the magnitude of this moment. Hey, I didn't want to come across too desperate, right? ‘I've just got back from a crazy trip in Latvia with the boys, and I guess I just wanted to tell someone about it.’ I paused, searching her eyes, hoping that she was feeling the same as me. ‘I wanted to tell you about it.’
It was time to stop tip-toeing around the subject. Kelly was the girl for me. Whenever anything of any significance happened in my life, she was the first person I wanted to tell about it.
I started to piece all those heartfelt words together in my head that completed the most wonderful jigsaw in the world. Words like friendship, yearning, warmth, caring, tenderness, affection, fondness, devotion, passion.
They completed a Scrabble board of my feelings towards her. Nothing could stop me hitting the high score in this game and winning her heart. It was time to do this.
I didn't hear the lock turning to open the front door, but I did feel the sudden draft of cool air pass through me. Then a voice. That voice.
‘Hi babe, only me.’
Kelly shifted uncomfortably, the corners of her smile took on a new meaning; forced. Then the voice again, moving towards us from the hall.
‘I just saw Chris outside.’ That deep Australian twang stabbed at my senses, making my teeth itch. ‘He said you've got the underwear thief in here.’
And then he appeared at the door.
‘What's going on babe?’ He greeted her with a kiss.
‘Carlos,’ Kelly started, a glimmer of apprehension to her tone. ‘This is my friend Dan. You met him the other week at the airport.’
Carlos narrowed his eyes at me, trying to recall our brief encounter.
‘Oh yeah,’ he beamed. ‘How's it going Darren?’
Darren? It didn't even sound like Dan! But before I had time to correct him, he grabbed my hand and shook it. ‘So, you're the one who's been sniffing old lady Daly’s underwear, huh?’ And he laughed, although it was more of a bellow. Either way, I didn't like it much.
‘I'm not the underwear thief,’ I said, pulling away from his firm handshake. ‘It was all just a misunderstanding.’
‘Sure it was, Darren.’ Carlos chuckled again, slapping me across the top of my arm. It was quite forceful, causing me to stumble slightly from one foot to the other, but I regained my composure to save face, although the fact I instinctively reached to give my arm a little rub pretty much killed any equilibrium I'd attempted to display.
‘And my name is not Darren,’ I sputtered out; trying to win back some sort of control, although it quickly dawned on me that this whole bumbling act was nothing short of a Boris Johnson impression without the blonde hair and posh accent.
‘He's just teasing you,’ Kelly interjected. ‘Take no notice of him, Dan.’
‘Of course I am,’ Carlos said, a big beaming smile plastered across his rugged good-looks. He wrapped his muscular arm around Kelly’s waist and gently pulled her towards him. She didn't resist, but continued to look awkward, for my sake more than anything else.
I kind of nodded and half-smiled to acknowledge how bloody hilarious Carlos was. Pretending to get someone's name wrong – what a comedian. Not.
I sized him up, recalling our first meeting two weeks ago. All of those initial thoughts came flooding back. That Australian confidence and bravado oozed from every orifice. The dark tan that sparkled against his athletic physique was the perfect match, and the stubble he was sporting was more manly than trying to be too stylish, but it worked on both levels.
He had this constant grin on his face, like he was always on the verge of revealing the punchline to the world’s funniest joke.
I desperately wanted to find something wrong with him; a fault in his make-up that would boost my own self-esteem that I somehow had a chance of winning Kelly back from this Aussie pin-up.
And then a final thought seeded itself into my brain; the exact same thought that had planted itself in my head when I first laid eyes on him when he'd initially shattered my heart by returning home with Kelly. My Kelly.
I bet he's got a big penis.
The bastard.
God I hated him. Of course he had a big penis; guys like Carlos breeze through life without a care in the world, because quite frankly, when you have a big penis, what have you got to worry about?
But as I continued to ponder the advantages of being well-endowed, something awful happened. The thoughts flying through my head whisked me away into a daydream, staring aimlessly at nothing in particular; that glazed wide-eyed look gave away the fact that the lights were on, but no one was home.
‘Whoa, you okay there mate?’ Carlos shook me from my trance-like state back into the real world. ‘Why don't you take a picture? It lasts longer!’
At first I didn't have a clue what he was going on about. Another wisecrack that no doubt was laugh-out-loud in his head, but as I shook off the remaining cobwebs, it dawned on me that in my half-conscious state whilst I contemplated the size of Carlos’ manhood, I had been staring straight at the bulge in his jeans.
‘I wasn't… I mean I…’ I stuttered like Gareth Gates on acid. I'd come to win back Kelly’s affections and now found myself having to explain away the reason I had been eyeing up her boyfriend’s impressive lunchbox.
But before I had a chance to even attempt to explain why I'd been staring at his groin, Carlos beat me to the punch.
‘Hey, will you quit looking at my cock.’
‘I… No, I wasn't…’ Oh God this was so awkward. I literally had no words (other than admitting I was trying to work out the size of his willy, but I couldn't exactly say that!).
‘Carlos!’ Kelly giggled, tugging at his muscular tanned arm. ‘I told you to stop teasing him. Take no notice of him Dan. That's just his way.’
And the way she said ‘his way’ left an ache in my heart. It was said with endearment, as though his way made her laugh and feel good inside. I felt I couldn't compete with that, especially as my way at that precise moment in time was to get caught looking at another man’s package.
‘I hope you're not trying to get a peek at my underwear,’ Carlos jibed, his big white smile mocking me again. ‘We’d better keep our undies under lock and key whilst Darren is around!’
I smiled, a rather pathetic smile that said I somehow found myself in the rather unenviable position of now being happy to be labelled a knicker thief called Darren, instead of having to explain why I was taking such a keen interest in his meat and two veg.
I followed up my pathetic smile with an even more pathetic chortle, which sounded more like the air being released from a balloon. For a second, it killed the mood.
‘Anyway,’ I said to break the awkward silence brought on by my weirdness. ‘I guess I'd better be heading off.’
‘But you only just got here,’ Kelly said, her tone urging me to stay. ‘Besides, you said you wanted to tell me all about this crazy trip to Latvia.’
‘What crazy trip to Latvia?’ Carlos butted in. ‘Isn't that one of those Eastern European countries you poms like to go to for bachelor parties?’
‘Yes, but it wasn't a stag do…’ I tried to explain, but Carlos was clearly excited and cut me off.
‘I bet you’ve got lots of stories and about strippers, booze and hookers, and shit like that, eh?’
‘Well, yes, but it wasn't like that…’
‘This sounds like a great story!’ He turned to Kelly. ‘Babe, I'm going to get a drink. Glass of wine?’ Kelly nodded her head, before Carlos made a dash to the kitchen. ‘I'll get you a tinnie too, Darren.’
‘It’s Dan!’ I shouted, but the second I heard Carlos’ distant laugh I knew I shouldn't have bitten. As Carlos sought out alcohol, my eyes rested back on Kelly. ‘This story isn't all about strippers, booze and hookers.’ I protested.
She smiled, shook her head ever so slightly and walked towards me. ‘It’s good to see you again, Dan,’ and she put her arms around me and hugged me. For some reason, I was taken aback and hesitated to return the hug for a split second. Maybe it was having her back in my arms after all this time, or maybe I'd built this moment up in my head for so long that a simple hug sucked the life out of me. Whatever it was, I eventually wrapped my arms around Kelly and held on tight. I never wanted to let go.
You see, Kelly and I had a bit of history. We'd worked together and before she left to go travelling, we'd become good friends, then more than friends. We even had a bit of a fling, if that's what you could call it. Okay, we had sex. Once. But it was amazing, and I'd thought about her pretty much every day since she left.
Standing there, with her in my arms, it just felt right.
‘Jesus mate, I go away for two minutes and I come back and find you dry humping my missus!’
Carlos’ voice jolted me away from Kelly, who just rolled her eyes; an indication that she was all too used to his sense of humour. Me on the other hand, I was still a bumbling idiot and reacted all too easily.
‘I wasn't dry humping her,’ I pleaded my defence, the first hint of my impatience wrapped itself around my tone. ‘We were just, er –‘ dammit, I'd said more than I needed to, and now found myself trying to explain away something that didn't need any further explanation ‘– hugging it out.’
‘Hugging it out?’ Carlos recoiled, his face itching to take the piss out of my response. ‘Who are you? Ari Gold?’
I sighed, the final line of my defence when I didn't really have a better response.
‘Come on, let's sit down,’ Kelly said, motioning us over towards the sofa to put me out of my misery at the hands of this joker.
We sat down, me on the armchair and Carlos next to Kelly on the sofa. He threw a can of lager at me, which I just about did enough to catch, and then he cracked open his can and took a big gulp. Kelly sipped on her wine, and perched herself on the edge of the seat.
‘So come on then mate,’ Carlos said. ‘Let’s hear this story.’
‘I’m not too sure where to start,’ I said, holding the can in my hand.
‘The beginning is normally a good place,’ Carlos said, laughing at his own joke. The idiot.
I ignored him. The truth was I really didn't know where or even how to start this story. It was one of those ‘too crazy to believe’ stories; the type you'd only see in a film, or to make it easier for Carlos, an episode of Neighbours.
‘How did this all come about?’ Kelly asked, encouraging me. She'd seen first-hand the ridiculous and downright bizarre situations I'd managed to get myself into over the last couple of years. If anyone was going to believe this story, it would be her. ‘Does this have anything to do with when we last saw each other at the airport?’ Kelly asked.
Ah yes, the airport. Kelly knew me too well.
‘It certainly played a big part in what played out,’ I replied.
It was that night two weeks ago that I’d made the mad dash to the airport with Rob, along with our two best friends Jack and Ollie, to try and stop Rob’s girlfriend, Veronika, from flying back home to Latvia.
But we were too late.
We missed her by minutes. Rob was devastated. I'd never seen him like this before. Rob was not the type of guy to fall for a girl that easily. If anything, he was normally spoilt for choice due to the fact he was so good looking that he was never short of admirers and tended to jump from one girl to the other.
But Veronika was clearly different. She'd ignited a flame in Rob; the type of fire that burns brightly when you know you've met the one. I should know, that same fire was burning inside me right now.
‘What happened next?’ Kelly asked, intrigued.
‘That's when I saw you.’ It was true. After all of that, I bumped into Kelly who was returning to the UK after her year of globe-trotting. I can't tell you how happy I was to see her.
But she wasn't alone, of course. She'd picked up Carlos along the way, and I'd pretty much hated the guy since I'd laid eyes on him.
‘But what made you all fly off to Latvia?’ Kelly pressed me.
‘Because we made a pact.’ I told her about the promise we'd made to each other that night at the airport.
We promised to help Rob find Veronika, no matter what. We promised Ollie that once we got back home, we'd help him win the heart of a girl called Steph who he'd fallen head over heels in love with, but she was engaged to some arsehole banker. As for Jack, we'd simply promised to find a girl – any girl – who could put up with his crap! That was perhaps the biggest challenge of them all.
‘That’s amazing,’ Kelly said. “The fact that you guys care about each other so much at you made this pact. I didn't know men cared so much.’
‘Well,’ I shrugged, playing it nonchalant like it was no big deal, but inside I felt like I'd struck gold. If I played this whole thing right, maybe, just maybe, I could win Kelly’s heart back tonight.
‘Yeah, amazing,’ Carlos scoffed, shuffling forward in his seat, taking another swig on his beer. ‘Back home in Oz, you'd probably get beat up for acting like that, but if you poms like that sort of thing, good luck to you.’
And he smiled. It's was a mocking smile. A smile that said: ‘You'll never win Kelly back with crap like that.’
What he didn't know was that I had an ace up my sleeve. My story was so amazing, so eventful, so romantic (kind of), that once I was done telling it, I'd be a hero in Kelly’s eyes.
‘What made this Veronika sheila run off in the first place?’ Carlos paused, making it all too obvious that he had another wisecrack up his sleeve. ‘Did she get spooked after coming home and find Rob’s best friend going through her underwear drawer?’
‘Carlos!’ Kelly slapped Carlos across the top of his thigh, as he raised his hands with a stupid look on his face like he'd done nothing wrong.
‘What?’ he said. ‘I'm only having a bit of fun. You don't mind do you, Darren?’
‘Not at all,’ I lied, through gritted teeth.
‘I just want to hear the whole story, like you babe,’ Carlos turned his attentions back to Kelly.
Okay Carlos, I'll tell you the whole story, but be warned – after I've finished, Kelly will be so impressed that she’ll practically fall out of your arms and into mine.
I cracked open my can of lager, forgetting that not two minutes ago Carlos had launched the can at me, and the beer inside that tin exploded, drenching my face in foam.
I think it took exactly 0.3 seconds for Carlos to react with howls of laughter. Even Kelly joined in, although she at least attempted to stifle her sniggering. This was going to be a long night.
‘It all started two weeks ago,’ I said, wiping the remnants of beer from my face.