Table of Contents
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Epub ISBN: 9781409039747
Published by Arrow Books in 2005
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Copyright Â© Jemma Harvey 2004
Jemma Harvey has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
Special thanks to Harry Graham's niece for permission to quote âCalculating Clara' Â© 1899
âOne Perfect Rose' by Dorothy Parker Â© 1926 Excerpt quoted from
The Penguin Dorothy Parker
, Penguin 1977. Reproduced by permission of Pollinger Limited and the proprietor.
âNobody's Chasing Me' Words and Music by Cole Porter Â© 1949 (renewed) Buxton-Hill-Music Corp, USA. Warner Chappell North America Limited, London W6 8BS. Lyrics reproduced by permission of IMP Limited. All Rights Reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in the United Kingdom in 2004 by Century
The Random House Group Limited
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA
Random House Australia (Pty) Limited
20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney,
New South Wales 2061, Australia
Random House New Zealand Limited
18 Poland Road, Glenfield
Auckland 10, New Zealand
Random House (Pty) Limited
Endulini, 5a Jubilee Road, Parktown, 2193, South Africa
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Papers used by Random House are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin
ISBN 0 09 946356 3
Typeset in New Baskerville by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Polmont, Stirlingshire
Printed and bound in the United Kingdom by
Mackays of Chatham plc, Chatham, Kent
There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart's desire. The other is to gain it.
G. B. SHAW:
Man and Superman
There is wishful thinking in Hell as well as on earth.
C. S. LEWIS:
The Screwtape Letters
How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
It all began the day we went to the Wyshing Well.
(Of course, it didn't really, because things never actually
, they just continue on from stuff that's happened before, but that's where I'm going to start.)
The well was in the gardens of the Bel Manoir, a Palladian mansion recently converted into a hotel and restaurant, complete with understated Oriental dÃ©cor â the Prince Regent effect without the vulgarity â and a celebrity chef presiding over the cuisine. (He presided but I doubt if he actually
â unless there was a TV camera around.) We'd been lunching there with one of our authors, Jerry Beauman, to celebrate his release from prison. Georgie didn't like the choice of location at all â the prices on the wine list went well into four figures â but Beauman is one of our Big Names so she had to agree. There wasn't much to celebrate, in our view. Beauman had been doing time for some sort of financial fraud so elaborate even he claimed he hadn't understood what he was doing, although the judge hadn't believed him. All Jerry could do was make the most of the rather dubious publicity and spend his gaol-time working on a new book about a wronged hero, duped by a villain who envied him his glamour and success, incarcerated despite his innocence until following his release he is finally able to turn the tables on his accusers and vindicate his good name. I wasn't listening to his account of the plot over the meal (I'm not his editor) but I knew what it would be. I was only there because the Publishing Director couldn't make it. Georgie (Georgina Cavari, Publicity) grabbed the wine list in her capacity as official hostess and did her best to keep the bill down. Unfortunately, Beauman is a major seller, if not quite as major as he boasts, and since there really is no such thing as bad publicity for a writer we toasted him with sinking hearts, knowing the book would be a huge success. At least, it would be after Laurence Buckle â who
his editor â had done the necessary revisions.
Once Jerry had swanned off with poor Laurence in attendance to discuss the manuscript Georgie, Lin and I tottered into the garden to recover.
We're the heroines, so I'd better tell you something about us. Just quickly, for now. I'll do the flashbacks later.
If I take us in order of age, I start with Georgie. She's forty-two, but you wouldn't know it. I've heard some of the girls saying: âIf I look half that good when I'm her ageÂ .Â .Â .', the way people do, only I don't join in because I don't look half that good
, and I'm twenty-nine. She's nearly as tall as a model and has a double-D bust on a size eight figure and the kind of skin that looks as if she should be advertising face cream for the older woman: âBecause I'm worth it.' Her hair is a short, professionally-tousled mop streaked several different shades of blonde, and she has big brown puppy-dog eyes which effectively conceal the fact that she's a cynic, pragmatist and optimist by turns, and sometimes all at once. She used to be married to an Italian count but, as she says, âthe
didn't count'. Titles are two a penny in Italy, apparently, where everyone is a member of the aristocracy or the Mafia, or both. She lives alone in a house she can't afford and refuses to have a cat, on principle.
Lin's next. Lindsay Corrigan, nÃ©e Macleod. Where Georgie is gorgeous and glam, Lin's beautiful. Her makeup's haphazard and her clothes tend towards ethnic, but it doesn't matter. She's the real McCoy, an unearthly fairy creature who looks as if she's just stepped out of the hollow hills, all wispy body and flawless face and misty Pre-Raphaelite waves of red-gold hair. And underneath there's a nice girl from Edinburgh whose looks have taken her places she didn't really want to go, namely to single parenthood in a house in Kensington, a succession of nannies who never seem to work out, and no leisure for a life of her own. And looks like hers â unlike Georgie's â don't last. She's thirty-one and it's starting to show: there's a faint tarnish of time and stress on all that flawlessness, a hint of mortal wear-and-tear on immortal perfection. She isn't particularly vain, but we're vain for her, and we're afraid she'll wilt like a dehydrated flower before Mr Right comes along to pluck her.
I know, old-fashioned bollocks, unsuited to the Liberated Woman. But Lin's an old-fashioned girl. She thinks Women's Liberation still means burning your bra.
And then there's me. Twenty-nine (see above). Emma Jane Cook, known as Cookie, because everyone in publishing is called Emma these days. I've got all the things you're supposed to have: an Oxford degree and a good job (well, mostly) and my own flat and a boyfriend called Nigel â but that's his parents' fault and there are lots of nice men called Nigel. (âOnly yours isn't one of them': Georgie.) I mean, it sounds good, doesn't it? But then there's the catch. The fly in the ointment. Me. A big fat fly â
fat, not Bridget Jones Oh-God-I've-gone-over-nine-stone fat, not a-couple-of-inches-of-spare-tyre fat, not I-can't-get-into-my-size-10-jeans fat, but
fat. FAT. Over two years' intermittent dieting I've just about got myself down from a twenty to a sixteen, if it's generous. And I'm only five foot four, so it isn't like the weight's spread out. My bust is vast, but it's balanced out by my hips, bum, thighs â you get the picture. My face is okay, but who cares? Hazel eyes, really good eyebrows (if anyone notices eyebrows), big lips that would look sexy on a thin face, but on mine, they just look â you've guessed it â fat. Hair dark, curling into a frizz. Big hair ought to counterbalance big body, but not in my case. I dream of slinky, sexy clothes with split skirts clinging to every lack of curve, but I wear loose, baggy, shapeless things to hide my loose, baggy, shapeless figure. I'm not really heroine material â unless there's a point in this story when I go on a miracle diet, and everyone suddenly discovers how beautiful I am. But I doubt it. I've tried every miracle diet there is, and only a very few pounds have oozed reluctantly away, like It girls forced to leave the party early. No, I'm just the narrator. Like Fanny in
The Pursuit of Love
, I just chug along comfortably while all the exciting things happen to my wonderful, glamorous friends.
Or so I thought that day at the Wyshing Well.
It was in a little arbour at the end of a gravel path so smooth it looked as if it had been ironed. Trellises arched over it, tangled with climbing plants, supposedly making it secretive and mysterious, but on that grey January day the effect was mostly rather dark. The well itself looked old, with green mossy stuff growing over the lip. There was no bucket, only the rusty chain wound round the winch. Chickenwire covered the top, presumably in case prospective wishers (well-wishers?) felt suicidal and tried to hurl themselves in. Or maybe they might want to retrieve the coins, a few of which could be seen glinting in the depths. On a plaque nailed to the side of the well there was a verse in a Tolkienesque script:
Toss a penny in the welle
Thynk on your hearte's desyre.
The charm wille aid who aids himsel
To wyshe is to aspyre.
The sentiment seemed a bit pragmatic to me, a God-helps-them-who-help-themselves type thing, not what you'd expect from the fairy folk, but I paid it no attention at the time.
âJerry Beauman to be rearrested, this time for indecent exposure, after flashing in front of a group of children and several gorillas in Regents Park Zoo,' Georgie said moodily. âThe gorillas will be permanently traumatised.'
âYour wish?' asked Lin. âOkay. I'll addÂ .Â .Â . the judge gives him ten years, in a cell with no laptop or writing paper. How's that?'
âLife,' I said. âAnd then he wakes up one morning believing he's turning into a Tellytubby.'