I’m welcoming the Times and Places blog tour today at Cosy Books, and pleased to host an extract. Here’s a little about the book and a sample of the novel for you to enjoy.
Ten years after his daughter Justine’s death, an anxious Fergus embarks on a cruise with his wife. On board, he meets a myriad of characters and is entranced by some, irritated by others and disgusted by one. These turbulent feelings, combined with a sequence of bizarre events, only lead to his increased anxiety.
In a series of flashbacks, Justine enjoys an ultimately short romance, a woman concludes she killed her and an investigating police officer is drawn into her idyllic world. Fergus, haunted by poignant memories, withdraws in search of answers.
Back on the cruise, Fergus reaches breaking point, fearing he has done something terrible. By the time the ship returns, his world has changed forever.
“Times and Places” spans Atlantic islands, the Chiltern countryside, Cornish coasts and rural Slovenia, all of which provide spectacular backdrops to a humorous and moving tale of quiet spirituality.
This extract is taken from Chapter 27 of “Times and Places“. Ten years after his daughter’s death, Fergus is on a cruise with his wife, Sylvie, but his anxieties are steadily coming to a head…
Afterwards they walked on deck, Sylvie looking up at the heavens and the stars, Fergus tormenting himself with what he feared he may have done.
“It’s the farewell show tonight, shall we go?”
“Yes, yes, let’s,” Fergus answered, without really thinking about it.
Thirty minutes later and they were in the Poseidon Theatre and, as the Cruise Director told them what a wonderful performance they were in for that night, both Fergus and Sylvie realised they had made a ghastly mistake, but, alas, by then they were committed.
“So a big welcome to the stage, ladies and gentlemen, to our wonderful comedian, Mr Wilson Wilberforce!” The audience clapped as a balding late middle aged man skipped out on stage.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!”
“Good evening!” came back a self-conscious audience response.
“I said, good evening ladies and gentlemen!”
“Good evening!” the audience shouted out more loudly, with Fergus and Sylvie already sliding back in their seats.
“That’s better! I’m used to people falling asleep in my act, but it’s only polite to be awake at the start!” The audience roared with laughter. Sadly for Fergus and Sylvie, the comedian’s first joke was his best, and the last that raised a genuine smile. Thereafter they sat – feeling increasingly awkward – while he recounted a series of lame and crude anecdotes, both of them forcing enough laughs to seek to demonstrate they weren’t the prudes they were feeling, all the time wondering just how long the torture could go on.
“Wasn’t he wonderful!?” The Cruise Director enthused as finally the agony was over and he left the stage. “But we have plenty more in store for you, ladies and gentlemen, yes we do! Now, most of us have seen his amazing shows during the cruise, here is one last chance to see ‘Mystical Michael’, our very own on board magician!”
Mystical Michael swept through the curtains, feigned a trip and immediately entered a tedious monologue which eventually ended in the worst possible way:
“So, I am looking for a volunteer!”
“Oh no!” groaned Fergus.
“A volunteer required to help me dice with death this evening, before your very eyes.”
“Oh no!” The spotlight began to whirl around the audience.
“Someone with nerves of steel and the courage of a lion!”
Fergus felt disqualified on both counts and, just as the spotlight passed over him, he ran his hand anxiously through his hair.
“I saw a hand! We have our volunteer, ladies and gentlemen, let’s give him a round of applause!” An eruption of clapping rose from the audience as the spotlight lingered unrelentingly on Fergus. Sylvie gave the offending hand a sympathetic squeeze, as he got up and made his way half-heartedly to the magician. His horror at what was happening to him was dominant, but, looking down from the stage, there was also in the back of his mind a curiosity that he was now seeing the theatre as seen by the singers and dancers. Sure enough, beyond the front row, faces were unrecognisable in the glare of the lights, but he consoled himself that Sylvie was out there somewhere.
“And what’s your name sir?”
“And where are you from Fergus?”
“Ooooh, laaa de daaa!” Roars of laughter. “And are you married Fergus?”
“Yes, my wife is in the audience.”
“Lovely. And do you have any children Fergus?” The question, so public with Fergus on stage and in the spotlight, was cruel… but not intentionally so. The comedian waited for the answer.
“Have you forgotten Fergus? Or perhaps you don’t know!” More roars of laughter. “Come on, you can remember if you try, do you have any children?” The magician stood ready with the perfect quip for any answer but the one that finally came:
“I used to have a daughter.”
The theatre fell silent and Fergus could see the panic in the magician’s eyes as his response sank in.
“And where do you live Fergus?” he eventually asked.
“Oh yes, we did that one. OK, so this is what we are going to do…” and the magician launched into a detailed explanation of his interminable trick. The first step was for Fergus to sign a small white cannon ball which was then loaded into a gun on one side of the stage, while, on the other, the magician made a great show of standing in exactly the right spot. Finally, opening his mouth as wide as he could, he signalled with thumbs up that everything was ready and the audience counted down:
“Three, two, one… Fire!” Fergus pulled the chord, there was a flash and a loud bang, the magician stumbled backwards, briefly putting his hands to his face and then, regaining his composure, pulled out from his mouth the small white canon ball still marked with Fergus’ name.
“Wasn’t that amazing?!” The Cruise Director raved as the magician took a bow. “Ladies and gentlemen, the ‘Mystical Michael’… and a big hand for Francis too.” The magician took his final bow and, glancing frostily one last time towards the man who had nearly sabotaged his wonderful act, he retreated backstage. Fergus was released and, with the spotlight now as uninterested in him as the Cruise Director who had got his name wrong, he fumbled his way back to Sylvie in the darkness and sat down. She grasped his hand again and whispered:
“I’m so sorry.” He looked back at her and gave a short, resigned smile.
About The Author
Keith was born and brought up in the Chilterns, to where he returned after studying French at university in Aberystwyth and a subsequent spell living in west London. He has a love of nature, both in his native Buckinghamshire countryside, but also in Cornwall and wherever there is a wild sea.
Keith has been lucky enough to spend time living in France, Spain, Belgium, Serbia and Croatia, as well as being a regular visitor to Germany, and languages were the only thing he was ever half good at in school. Since graduating he has worked in government departments, but between 2005 and 2008 he was seconded to the European Commission in Brussels and, thanks to a friend from Ljubljana he met there, has travelled regularly to Slovenia, getting to know that country well.
Keith’s other great love is music and he plays classical and finger picking blues guitar, though with persistently limited success. He has always enjoyed writing, including attempts at children’s fiction, and in 2016 he began work on his first full book with “Times and Places” the end result: an accessible, observational story, mixing quiet spirituality with humour, pathos and gothic horror, and setting it against a rich backdrop of the natural world.
There’s a chance to win one of three signed copies of Times and Places in this giveaway hosted by the author. To find out more click HERE
(link opens in an external webpage and is not hosted by Cosy Books)