TAKING ADVICE & OFFERING A SAMPLE
I’m not drowning, but I’m certainly up to my eyeballs preparing for the release of my new book, Tatya’s Return, as well as trying to remain calm and keep everything in perspective. I’ve not even been on Twitter for two whole days - which at 140 characters per tweet – says how busy I’ve been. Remembering Armageddon won’t descend if I don’t reach my self-imposed targets is important.
This week I’m taking advice from several posts which advise putting the first chapter of your novel on your blog, which accomplishes two goals at once: a post for this week, and some e-marketing. (Has anybody seen my copy of E-book Marketing for Dummies?)
So for your reading pleasure today, please enjoy (hopefully!) the first chapter of my debut novel, One Summer in Montmartre.
A timeslip story where researching the past brings happiness to the present.
Anna is curious when a love letter written by the artist of her favourite painting is discovered. With her marriage in trouble, and still grieving from the sudden death of her son, she decides to visit Paris to see if she can learn anything about the mysterious Hélène to whom the letter is addressed. In Montmartre Anna is thrown together with Francois, whose help becomes invaluable, and she finds herself struggling to overcome her growing attraction to him.
Luc Marteille is a volatile artist attracted to the new Impressionist movement. Known as a devoted family man, he becomes obsessed with a young model, Hélène. Despite being engaged, Hélène is flattered by Luc's attentions, and develops feelings for him that could jeopardize her future.
Separate in time, yet connected by an artist's painting, conflict between love and duty weaves a common thread throughout these two tales.
One Summer in Montmartre
Life is unfathomable in its infinite variety. People come and go, loving, hating, making babies, dying, laughing, crying their tears, caring and not caring as they live their lives. On the whole, we view our own life as the most important.
London - May 2007
Anna was indifferent to the clamorous sounds of the city, focusing on the click of her heels as she walked. She kept her head down and her attention fixed on the pavement, diverted on occasion as a pair of flamboyant shoes flashed passed. Even the smell of freshly ground coffee failed to tempt as it teased its way through the air chasing a flirting drift of newly baked bread. From time to time, she looked up to check her direction, trying at the same time to ignore the hurrying passers-by. She avoided looking at shop windows – she did not want to catch sight of herself.
Anna did stop once, when a window display caught her eye. She was mesmerized by the long swathes of pure white cloth, before noticing her reflection in an oversized gilt edged mirror in the centre.
The black jacket and skirt she wore did her no favours. Her hair, bright auburn in her youth, now fading and tired, was scraped back in a bun, although several strands had escaped and fluttered around her face. Her pallor, and the dark shadows under her eyes, made her look wraithlike and ghostly. She wanted to retreat into her inner world, away from the noisy bustle of pedestrian and motor traffic. Anna had postponed this trip after the sudden, shocking death of her son, Jeremy, in a car accident six months ago, until she surrendered to the fatalistic realisation that each day would be no different from any other.
Jeremy had loved spring. A shame it wasn’t raining, because then no one would have noticed a tear or two, but the fresh spring day with chubby white clouds scudding across a blue sky and air that was apple crisp with promise meant she needed to work harder at the pretence of normality.
The old fashioned bell tinkled as she opened the narrow door of the art restoration shop tucked away in a corner off Belmont Mews. Sighing with relief, she gratefully accepted the peaceful respite offered by the dark comforting interior. She had come here for a purpose. The world reconfigured itself back into an identifiable place where she could function.
Mr. Bentonly popped out from between the faded purple velvet curtains which separated the front of the shop from his workspace. He adjusted his glasses, his careworn face creasing into a smile when he saw his customer.
‘Ah! Mrs. Seeger. How good to see you! I hope you and the family are well?’
A sliver of panic edged itself into her awareness. What should she say? The truth? She didn’t need to hear the same respectfully polite phrases trotted out where they ran needle like along well-worn grooves rasping at her grief. People were sometimes uncomfortable when a truth they were unprepared for was laid out too bluntly. And whereas she and Greg had used this particular framing shop for many years, this was a business relationship.
‘We’re fine, thank you.’ She hoped her clipped tone would discourage conversation.
‘And the children? I expect they’re grown up and flown the nest?’ His mild politeness hurt.
‘Oh yes, off doing their own thing.’
She pushed down on the emotional wave swelling in her gut. For a second she was back in the church, standing at the end of the pew next to Jeremy’s wreath covered coffin. She’d been so medicated she hardly managed to stand - Greg’s hand under her elbow held her upright - and the one image impossible to eradicate was of Jeremy’s broken remains inside the coffin. Her prayer, then and ever since, was that his guardian angel had taken away his pain and eased the last few minutes of his life.
Please God, she begged, no more questions.
‘Does the frame do justice to the painting?’
Mr. Bentonly gave no indication that her change of topic came as a rebuttal. Remorse flitted briefly across her mind. He’d never been anything else other than courteousness personified.
‘Please, come through. You can check for yourself and if the work is satisfactory, we’ll arrange a delivery date.’
Mr. Bentonly led the way, cautiously threading a path through stacks of frames of various shape and size on one side and paintings in stages of re-framing on the other. Anna’s painting, illuminated by glistening shafts of sunlight, stood at the rear of the crammed workshop. He stood attentively to one side as Anna examined the frame. The doorbell chimed.
‘Take your time, Mrs. Seeger.’ Mr. Bentonly left to attend to his customer.
Anna turned from her scrutiny of the frame to the picture itself which depicted a large bunch of flowers in a vase on a windowsill. A few strokes and dabs of paint indicated a rural landscape outside the window. But the flowers drew the eye in, dominating the picture; a glorious riot of chrysanthemums, forget-me-nots, cornflowers, daisies, poppies, lilies and roses with every line, shape and shade giving visual delight.
The years melted away, and she could hear Greg’s voice dizzyingly full with eagerness and love.
‘No,’ Greg insisted, laughing. ‘I’m carrying my beautiful adorable bride over this threshold too!’
He’d lifted her up, and doing his best to ignore the abundant creamy white silk and chiffon tangling round his legs, staggered across the room until they collapsed on the bed, arms and legs flailing wildly in the air and laughing hysterically.
‘I love you,’ he said, his blue eyes dancing with happiness. The ebullient mixture of champagne and youth meant it didn’t take Greg long to shed his wedding apparel, while Anna struggled to extricate the elaborate pearl and gold clips out of her thick copper hair. When the mass of curls tumbled down her back, he’d paused for a moment, his breath caught in his throat and, overawed with the beauty of her, he hardly dared speak.
But they’d fallen back into hysterics as Greg struggled with the thirty tiny silver hooks tucked behind a seam at the back of her dress, cursing the fact his fingers were blunt spades and unsuitable for such tasks. When at last she escaped her wedding finery, they made urgent, passionate love.
They were ready to leave with the taxi waiting outside to take them to the airport for their honeymoon in Monaco, when Anna spotted a big, rectangular object wrapped in brown paper leaning against the wall. Curiosity took precedence and she’d imperiously made him wait, a humble servitor, as she searched for a scissors and cut the string binding the paper in place.
‘I bet it’s a mirror, with a gorgeously elaborate frame,’ she speculated aloud, ignoring Greg’s playfully piteous pleas about times and aeroplanes.
Tearing the covering off, she’d been silenced by the blaze of colour leaping out from the painting, and startled at the generosity of such a gift.
‘Oh Greg, It’s beautiful. I adore it.’ She ran her fingers along the intricately carved border. ‘Gold leaf,’ she murmured. ‘The frame’s a work of art too.’ Turning to Greg, she reached up impulsively planting a carmine kiss on his cheek.
‘We’ve got the rest of our lives to gaze at it when we get back, but we have a plane to catch. Come on!’
He grabbed her hand, pulling her out of the room and down the stairs.
Their youth and passion had made them invincible; they were confident and secure in their exacting demand of joyous fulfilment from life. Somehow, in that time and in that place, they’d been untouchable.
The gilded memory receded, and Anna moved further back to view the painting, momentarily lost in delight. Lucas Marteille, an artist associated with the French Impressionist movement, had painted the picture, and it was, without doubt, one of his finer works. Gregory’s father had inherited it, and he, in turn, had given it to them as a wedding present twenty-five years ago. The painting with its vivid colours encapsulated life itself, and she’d placed it in their bedroom, wanting to contemplate it at her leisure.
Some time ago, she’d noticed the gold leaf on the frame flaking off around the edges and contacted the framer for his services, but hadn’t been ready to come and view the new frame until today. Seeing the painting once more, she recognized how much it meant to her.
‘Is everything satisfactory, Mrs. Seeger?’ Mr. Bentonly inquired softly at her shoulder.
‘It’s perfect. How soon can you have it delivered? I’ve missed this painting. It really is my favourite possession.’
Back out at the counter, Anna paid and made arrangements for delivery.
‘Ah, I have one more thing.’ Mr. Bentonly’s voice wobbled with a faint tremor. ‘This.’ He took out a faded envelope from under the counter. ‘We came across this attached to the inside back of the frame.’ He handed her it to her.
Anna took the thin yellowed envelope, turning it over and inspecting the back. She opened the unsealed flap with care removing one sheet of folded paper.
‘I believe you’re the first one to open that letter since it was placed there.’
She paused momentarily as her heart skipped a beat. A fleeting presentiment flickered into life but fled before she grasped its intent. She read the letter before passing it to Bentonly, who waited with patient interest. He glanced at the page but ruefully returned it.
‘I’m afraid, Mrs. Seeger, I don’t speak French. Would you be so kind ... ?’
She knew a little French and was proficient in the little she remembered, but her vocabulary was limited. She scanned the letter.
‘The signature says Luc Marteille but I need a French dictionary to translate the whole thing. I’ll read you what I can, if that’s alright?’
‘Oh, more than satisfactory,’ Mr. Bentonly replied. Anna cleared her throat.
‘My dear Hélène, ... we have parted ... remember this ... shall keep ... I know you love me ... ’
She broke off and stopped reading.
‘I’m sorry but there are too many words here I don’t know. What I’ll do is I’ll send you a copy after I complete a translation. Would that be okay?’
‘Oh, yes. That’s very considerate of you. A fascinating find don’t you think?’ he said as Anna replaced the letter in the envelope, where it had lain cocooned for over a century, before slipping it into in her handbag.
‘Yes, indeed, and my thanks for this intriguing letter, and of course, for the work on the frame. It’s a pleasure doing business with you. I’ll be in touch.’
‘Goodbye Mrs. Seeger.’ The doorbell tinkled as she left.
Taking a deep breath and plunging into the pulsing streets, Anna encountered the strangest of feelings. The unforeseen discovery of the artist’s letter, and knowing her painting would soon be home, offered space for a gleam of hope to slip in, lifting the despondency of her earlier mood. Walking briskly back through the lunch time crowd, she realised she was experiencing anticipation and something else recently absent from her life, optimism.
If you enjoyed this extract, the book is available on Amazon – or pop over to Wattpad and read any of my posted stories ... just click on the links to the right.
Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku
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To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.
P.S. I'm still at a loss to know why Google changes the line spacing changes mid-text when I upload, no matter what font/size I try to adopt. My apologies, but after 20 minutes of fiddling back and forth, I give up!
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