Friday, 18 August 2017

Excerpt from my latest mystery-thriller, 'What I Did Not Say'.




99p until 25th August

view book on Amazon


Terry


The atmosphere in the courtroom crept into my bones.  Here I stood, accused of murdering Jack Banford.  The past weeks I’d spent in police custody, appalling as they had been, were as nothing to the chill animosity that now flowed towards me from all directions. 
I took a deep breath and looked up.  I would face what was to come.  I would not crouch and hide.
Melissa took the stand first.  Expert witness.  She would presumably be followed by the pathologist, although I was not privy to the order of witnesses, of course. These were just simple thoughts that ran through my mind. So much clutter, trying to organise itself.   
When Melissa looked at me, I met her gaze. Despite my resolve, I felt my knees weaken.  She was here in her professional capacity, the look said.  She was not here as my ally.

“Good morning, my name is Jonathan Bewley, counsel for the prosecution.  Will you state your full name, please?”
I listened, wondering what Melissa would say, remembering the evening she had come to visit.
“Miss Shinkley.  How long had you known Jack Banford?"
“Almost two years.”
“And, in what capacity?”
“I was assigned to his case by social services.”
“Could you tell the court why this was?”
“Yes.  His mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and every effort was made to keep Jack at home for as long as possible.  With appropriate support, he managed admirably.”
 Heads nodded and a gentle wave of what could only be sympathy flowed invisibly around the room.  Melissa was a good person.  She had Jack’s best interests at heart.  It was odd to be excluded from the goodwill she was generating.
“Thank you.  Thank you, Miss Shinkley.”
The prosecutor smiled.  Melissa smiled back.
“Now.  I understand you met the accused on one occasion at his home.  Could you explain how this came about?”
Melissa spoke as though I were not in the room.
“It was after I had been informed that Jack was spending time at Mr. Pickup’s house.  We, I mean, social services are obliged to follow up reports if a child is deemed to be putting himself potentially at risk.”
“At risk?”
“Yes.  We have to know where a minor is spending his time outside the family home.”
 “Please go on.”
“I thought it best to meet Mr. Pickup in person and so I suggested going along with Jack one evening.  He went there to observe the stars.  It was an interest of his.  I spoke to his mother, Vera Banford, and established that she and Mr. Pickup were old friends.”
“And what was your impression of Mr. Pickup when you met him?”
“I thought him eccentric.  He seemed to have Jack’s best interests at heart, though.”
There was a tone to her voice that contradicted her faith in my intentions.
“Do you feel guilty, Miss Shinkley?”
This was a strange question.  Melissa was visibly taken aback by it. 
“Yes.  I feel guilty.”
It was clear to see that the jury members had drawn their own conclusions.  Several of them looked my way.  Counsel for the prosecution had succeeded in turning Melissa’s admission of guilt into an assertion that there was something in me to inspire fear.  That I was someone who might harm Jack.
The guard on my left shifted his position.
The prosecutor referred to a file before continuing.  He was changing tack.
“Would you tell the court how you came to know Jessica Morley?”
“I met her on the day I first went to visit Jack.  She was his constant companion.”
“In your professional opinion, was the friendship between Jack and Jessica a beneficial one?”
“Undoubtedly.  Jess is a strong young woman who had a stabilising influence on Jack.  The time they spent together gave Jack a degree of normality to his life and provided him with a loyal friend to confide in.”
“Miss Shinkley, did either Jack, Jessica or Vera Banford ever give you cause to doubt the safety of Jack’s spending time in the company of Terry Pickup?”
“Not directly, no.”
“Please explain.”
“Vera, Mrs. Banford, had nothing but admiration for the man, so much so that it was hard to believe he could be so perfect.  She was fiercely defensive of his good name.  It made me suspect that there was another side to Terry Pickup she wanted to conceal.  And on the evening I accompanied Jack to Mr. Pickup’s house, I put his awkward behaviour down to eccentricity, ignoring the gut feeling I had that he was not all he seemed.  As far as I know, Jess never met Terry.”
“Vera Banford wanted to protect Terry Pickup?  Can you be more specific?”
“The last time I saw Vera, she gave me a photograph album which had been compiled by Terry.  It contained pictures of the places she had visited as a young girl.  Terry drove one of her father’s coaches and was charged with Vera’s personal care.”
“I see.  Could you describe these pictures?  Item five, My Lord.”
The jury began an examination of the album.
“They were mostly of Vera, but included some taken of other children, usually boys.  Many of them in shorts or swimwear.  There were quite a few shots of one boy in particular.   I think that Mrs. Banford believed them to be artistic.  I would say that they were mildly pornographic.”
This caused a stir in the courtroom.
I remembered the album.  That anyone could say my pictures were pornographic made me shudder.
“In what way?”
“I remember thinking that they were intimate.  Too intimate.”
“Did you tell Vera Banford your opinions?”
“No.  She died before I could speak to her again.”
“Did Jack see the photographs?”
“I don’t know.”
“Would it have been possible for him to see them?”
“I should say it would have been easy for him to find them if he’d wanted to. They were kept on a shelf in her room. His mother slept a good deal.”
“If he had seen them, in your expert opinion, what effect would they have had on him?”
“I should say he would have been shocked.  Jack never spoke of Terry Pickup as more than an old friend of his mother’s.  The photographs were intimate, as I said.”
“They were intended to be for Vera Banford’s eyes only?”
“That’s what she told me.”
“Why did she want you to see them, Miss Shinkley?”
“She said they would help me understand Terry better.  I think she considered the photographs beautiful.  Works of art.”
“And were they beautiful?”
“In a way.  As I said, she considered them artistic, whereas I found them to be mildly erotic.”
“Erotic?”
“Yes.”
Was no one going to explain the vast difference between erotic and pornographic photography?  The pictures were all about focus and tone.  They captured movement and intention.  They…
“Did Vera Banford ever suggest to you that her relationship with Terry Pickup had been anything more than platonic, Miss Shinkley?”
I froze, bracing myself for what awful travesty might come next.  My head was pounding and I had begun to feel dizzy.  The guard to my left put a hand under my elbow.
“She once said that Terry had bewitched her.  I don’t know exactly what she meant by it.  She never mentioned a physical relationship.”
“Bewitched.  Hmm.”
I wanted to silence this man.  His deliberate distortion of the truth was astonishing.  My knees gave way and I suddenly sat down heavily on the bench.  The next few minutes were taken up with providing me with a glass of water and a towel.  When I was able to stand once more the trial continued as though nothing had interrupted it. 
“Were you aware that Jack and Jessica were to meet Mr. Pickup on the afternoon of 28th November on the banks of the River Severn?”
“No.”
“In whose care was Jack Banford at the time?”
“His father’s.”
“Was Mr. Banford aware of the meeting?”
“I don’t know.”
“Thank you, Miss Shinkley.  No further questions.”


The questioning had been subtly manipulated.  Jonathan Bewley was a clever man. When Mr. Dunster stood up, I wondered what he could do to mitigate the damage his colleague had done.  At the same time, I knew that the world was a dangerous place and that I was at its sharp edge.  In some way, I suspected that I’d been waiting for this trial all my life.    

“Good morning, Miss Shinkley.  Counsel for the defence, Daniel Dunster.”
Melissa looked the picture of calm.  I remembered how she had laughed with delight at the sight of Saturn and its moons.
“I’d like to begin by asking whether it is fair to say that your knowledge of the defendant is based on a single visit to his home shortly before Jack’s accident?”
I took in the word ‘accident’.
“Yes.  Apart from in regular conversations with Jack.” 
“And did these conversations reveal anything about Mr. Pickup that could be substantiated, Miss Shinkley?”
“That depends what you mean by substantiated.  Jack–”
“–I mean, substantiated as fact, Miss Shinkley.”
“I... I don’t think how you feel about a person can be substantiated.”
The lawyer paused.  I knew where he was heading.
“You were not only Jack’s social worker but also his friend, would that be fair to say, Miss Shinkley?”
“I became close to Jack and his mother, yes.”
“And your opinions, your feelings, about Mr. Pickup.  Are these based on your professional assessment, or your feelings of empathy for a dying woman and her young son?”
Melissa stood taller. “I formed an objective impression of Terry Pickup.  It is part of my job to assess people.”
“Of course it is.  Of course it is, Miss Shinkley.  What I am trying to establish is whether your opinions, your feelings your perceptions are purely a product of your objective observations of my client...perhaps we should move on.”
Dunster turned his attention to his notes.  “Let’s see, now.  Could you explain to the court how exactly you knew what Jack felt?  I mean, did he specifically tell you he was worried or anxious about going to see Mr. Pickup?  Did he communicate specific concerns?”
Melissa was having trouble.  The questions were slippery. But I was interested in the answer.  It was important for me to know how Jack had felt.  When Melissa spoke, I was overcome by a sense of vindication.
“Well, no.  Not in so many words.  But I sensed that something was not quite right.  I have a lot of experience in such matters.  I decided that it would be best to meet Mr. Pickup, which is why I accompanied Jack to one of his astronomy evenings.”
“Ah, I see, you ‘sensed’ that something was not quite right.  A hunch, perhaps?”
“No.  Professional training.”
“Of course. This visit had nothing to do with...intuition?”
“No!” 
“I think you stated earlier: ‘We have to know where a child is spending his time outside the family home.’  Was this not, in your capacity of Jack’s social worker, simply a case of professional duty?  You were required to make a report.  Not to go on a witch hunt, Miss Shinkley.”
I couldn’t quite believe what the lawyer had said.
There was an uncomfortable stirring coming from the public gallery.
“Objection!  The reference to such medieval notions is inappropriate and highly derogatory.”
The judge spoke in a level tone. “Sustained.  Kindly keep to the facts, Mr. Dunster, and abstain from colourful language.  Rephrase the question.”
“Yes, My Lord”
“Were you required to write a report on Mr. Pickup, Miss Shinkley?”
“Yes, but–”
“Your comments in this report would be strictly objective?”
“Of course...”
“Would you explain what you meant when you described the defendant as ‘eccentric’, please?”
“Well, I thought him unusual.  His manner was a little shifty.  He was awkward, in my professional opinion.”
“I see.  Miss Shinkley, may I ask you to put yourself in the defendant’s position for a moment?  Let’s imagine you are to receive a visit from a member of the social services because you have offered to instruct the son of a close friend in a subject you have a particular talent for.   A boy who is considered by the authorities to be vulnerable.  How would you feel under these circumstances?”
He was cornering Melissa and there was nothing she could do about it. It was difficult not to be pleased.  
“I would think it perfectly reasonable.”
“As a professional, yes.  But, put yourself in Mr. Pickup’s position.  An ordinary member of the public.  How would you feel then?”
“Objection!  I fail to see why Miss Shinkley’s feelings about a hypothetical situation should be relevant, My Lord.”  Bewley stood with a hand on his hip doing a good job of looking outraged.
“Mr. Dunster is trying to establish whether the defendant had a good reason to act in a ‘shifty’ manner, I presume.”
“Exactly so, My Lord.”
“Then kindly continue.  Objection denied.  The witness will answer the question.”
Melissa spoke up bravely. “I imagine I would feel nervous.”
“Nervous enough to seem shifty?”
“That’s not the same thing.”
Awkward, then?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
I was comforted by the fact that the eyes of the jury were fixed on Melissa. And I had a new confidence in Daniel Dunster.
“After this visit did you file a report, Miss Shinkley?”
“Yes.”
“I refer you to item two, members of the jury.  On the first page, last paragraph.  ‘In my opinion, Terry Pickup poses no identifiable threat to Jack Banford’s safety.’  Was this your considered conclusion, Miss Shinkley?”
“At the time.  Yes.”
“At the time.  Hmm.  And, at the time, or since would you say that there was any single piece of evidence to show that my client intended to harm Jack Banford, the son of his dearest friend?”
“It was a brief meeting.  I did suggest a second visit.”
“Yes.  You did.  Page two, third paragraph.  ‘I suggest that, should Jack express concerns of any kind, a second and more thorough appraisal should be made of Mr. Pickup.’  Is that what you wrote, Miss Shinkley?”
“Yes.”
“It sounds to me as though you had no urgent concerns about my client.  Would I be right in thinking this?”
“At the time, yes.”
“You had no reason to suspect my client of any wrong doing?”
“Not at the time!”
“A simple yes or no, Miss Shinkley.”
“No.”
“And on no occasion, either at the time or since, did Jack Banford approach you with concerns about my client?” 
The insistent repetition of his argument gripped me.  Melissa’s frustration was clear.
“Well, no.  But–”
“Thank you, Miss Shinkley.  I have no further questions.”
As I watched Melissa leave the stand I willed her to look at me.  Instead, she glanced up at the public gallery and mouthed the word ‘sorry’.
I was exhausted.  Partly from the ill will that Melissa bore me and partly because my liberty hung in the balance.  I was in turn optimistic and terrified.  My head ached.  I dreaded seeing Jess testify against me, but not as much as I dreaded seeing Julian.  That would be difficult to endure.

In the meantime, the pathologist, a slight man with a sallow complexion and eyes that bulged, took the stand and was sworn in.  He delivered his professional assessment in a voice that hovered between apology and boredom, which added to the horror and made me shudder.
Jack had drowned.  He had bruises to his left shoulder and upper arm, which were shown to be inconclusive, in spite of brave attempts made by the prosecutor to prove that they were inflicted during a desperate struggle with me, the accused.  The pathologist would not be drawn.  He was immune to conjecture.  Cold water had entered the boy’s lungs and passed into the body’s lymph channels via the ruptured alveolar walls and pulmonary veins, thence to the heart, brain and liver.  Jack would have passed out within four minutes of submersion, at which point he would have either asphyxiated or experienced organ failure.
When he had given his testimony, the pathologist stepped down and I listened to his sharp, neat footfalls, thinking only of Jack.

I ate little lunch.  Inside my cell, I was tortured by what had happened that morning and also by what was to come.  There would be no real surprises.  I knew the charges against me.  I understood the testimony that would be presented.  But in the courtroom it was not only what people said that counted.  Melissa had performed badly.  Badly enough to silently apologise to Jack’s grandmother as she left. 

When a guard came to take me up, neither of us spoke.  I walked the passageway behind him and climbed the narrow stairs, taking my place like a lamb to the slaughter. 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Just a snippet (comments welcome)



I thought I'd post the occasional excerpt from unpublished pieces.  It could be part of a work in progress or a snippet from one of the many 'ideas' I have for my next book.  Friends is the result of something my mother told me about the farm she grew up on in Shropshire in the 1930s.  It's also inspired by the feelings I have for friends I used to know and have lost contact with.  I've experimented with leaving out speech marks.  Hope you like it.



FRIENDS

'Dear Charlie'.  No.  'Dear Charlotte'. No. 'Hi Charlie'.  Maybe.

Two o'clock.  The afternoon seemed hollow.  The washing machine noise irritated her.  If she switched it off, what else would she hear?

Hi Charlie,

It's been a long time.  I was wondering how you were.

No.

Charlie, with red hair and eyes too big for her face.  Blue. She smelled of wood smoke and had dirt under her fingernails.  A fine seam of earth from potato picking, or stacking vegetables.

Dear Charlie,

I've been thinking of you.

The last time she'd seen Charlie was the day she'd left the farm.  There, in the corner of the open barn,the old trap stood, empty.  On the wall, the harness hung from a thick spike like an ornament, never to be attached to the pony and ridden down to the fields, carrying picnic baskets and flasks of cold orange squash.  Even at the last moment, she had hoped for a reprieve.  A miracle to give Charlie back her home.  But the van was filling up and Mrs. Churchyard was sweeping the kitchen, moving towards the door and finally propping the broom against the pale yellow stone wall.

Charlie ferried boxes and looked across the yard at her friend.

Dear Charlie,

I'm sending this to your aunt's address.

The fields on a summer's day were cut like butter into the land.  Like butter.  The corn fell and was collected by machine, with workers following behind and picking up the scattered heads that had gone astray.  At midday, Charlie said, come on! and laughed.  Charlie had known what to do.  There she stood, heaving the baskets and the boxes of fruit onto the cart, bringing the pony from the stables and slipping on it's harness.  I'm going down to the cows.  There's one not happy, said Mr. Churchyard, striding out in boots undone, tucking in his shirt. Bound to be the hornets, I should say.  Afternoon Jude, he called.  Having fun?  I nodded.

Dear Charlie,

We had some good times on the farm, didn't we?

He squeezes them. Said Charlie.  They burrow down into the cow's skin and can't be seen, but Dad finds them and pinches them.  They shoot out and drop down.  Mostly dead.  If not, he puts his boot on them.  Let's go.

She drove the cart.  I sat beside her.  Rocking, our heads full of horizons, we went down to the big field.  I never wanted to take the reins.  Scaredy-cat.  Charlie laughed, but in a kind way.

The day she left, she didn't laugh.  The van made dust rise like smoke and I saw her hanging out of the side window, her curls joggling.  We stared at each other for as long as we could see, and even after I stood and watched and waited for what would come next.

Dear Charlie,

When you went the farm was not the same.  I ran home and cried to think I'd never see you again.  I used all the tissues in my box of Kleenex.  Then I went down for tea with red eyes and my mother sat with me on the couch and we watched television.

I wanted to find out where you had gone.  But I didn't know how.







Sunday, 6 August 2017

Finding new readers

Last week I ran a promotion on One Summer in France in tandem with a Countdown Deal on the next two books in the series, Bunny on a Bike and Stranded in the Seychelles.
I didn’t pay for any marketing, just used the Amazon features. 
Before long, the free downloads were impressive.  In the end, after a five-day promo, I amassed eight hundred and seventy.  Almost double the number I was expecting.  I posted on Facebook and in We Love Memoirs and tweeted once or twice (don’t want to spam my non-writer friends).  Then I found out that BookSCREAM had included One Summer in France in their newsletter.  I found them on Twitter and they seem like a nice bunch of people. Thank you very much indeed for your help! 
Following the promotion, I’ve had modest but very welcome increases in downloads for all three Carol and Bev books and a couple of extras for my other titles, particularly my Memoir of An Overweight Schoolgirl.  Nothing to shout too loudly about – the royalties would have to roll in tsunami-like to change my financial situation.  But, like the majority of authors who take their art seriously, I’m happy to find new readers and get the occasional feedback in a review.

Happy Days


If you want to use BookScream, here’s a link to their Twitter page: BookSCREAM

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Bev's books - special offers


Want a free fun read this summer?  From 26th - 28th July you can download One Summer in France FREE.



I've also discounted the other books in the series. From 28th July - 4th August you can download Bunny on a Bike



for just 99p each.




Happy reading! 


Monday, 24 July 2017

I read, I write, I watch television, I grow stuff. Oh, and I live in France.


Just back from a holiday in Cap d’Agde (pronunciation varies but reminds Al and I of a song involving pushing a pineapple and shaking a tree…). It’s a jolly little resort made up of a million campsites one of which I chose more or less at random.  Yelloh Village – you may have had the pleasure, as it’s a chain.  Anyway, I foolishly took along and failed to read through the latest draft of my new DCI Alice Candy manuscript.  I got to page ten on the third day, hunched over in bed, trying to ignore the rave that was going on not far enough away from my open window, open due to the online misrepresentation of what was supposed to be ‘air-conditioning’ and which was in fact a wall-mounted fan.

Hot and bothered, I squinted at the bundle of A4 paper and blamed my husband for the print size and spacing.  All to no avail as he quoted my request for a font size of twelve and extra wide margins.  Double spacing hadn’t been specified, apparently.

Three days gone.  And editing barely begun.

We had neighbours with young children on either side of our mobile home.  (Mobile homes, or tin boxes with zero sound or heat insulating properties, are not recommended for authors wishing to add value to a manuscript.)  I wanted to make sure there was continuity and check detail.  My neighbours wanted to vie with each other in a ‘tolerant parents’ contest, calling to their children in increasingly harrassed tones, urging them to stop destroying various toys, washing lines, plastic chairs and wooden deckings.  In the end, with nerves frazzled and wanting to strangle someone, anyone, I knew that going to the beach was the only option.

Ah, the beach.  No, really.  The Mediterranean does it well.  Soft sand, blue skies and water heated to a temperature cool enough to make you squeal and yet just perfectly refreshing once you were ‘in’.  If I couldn’t write, I could read, stretched out on my mat, working on my tan.  What could be nicer?  A pleasant walk along the beach?  An enormous human turd in cross-section?  I stepped around it, wondering where the other half might be, still questioning how it had settled next to a group of oblivious tourists chomping on beignets.

Oh, well.

In a matter of what seemed like minutes, with a number of salads under my belt and a higher number of glasses of wine sloshed down in some of the most chilled out restaurants I’d ever eaten in, built on the beach, with the sea fifty metres away, I eventually forgot about the editing I hadn’t been able to do.  I’d had a great time.  And so had my sons and my husband.

The journey home was fabulous.  Our Peugeot 406 had developped alternator problems which had been easy to ignore until the day we left Cap d’Agde.  As we clanked to reception to hand in our signed inventory, pedestrians looked round in astonishment believing, no doubt, that they were moments away from being killed by a tractor with engine problems.

“It’ll be okay,” would be the mantra of the day.
And the magic of positive thought seemed to be working… 

Then, approaching Toulouse a message flashed up on the dashboard, ‘battery charging fault’.  It was the first of many, each one staying on for a little longer.  I diagnosed the problem, slowed down and it disappeared. 

We limped home, grafeful for every mile covered and momentarily appalled as we almost got taken out by a poids lourds pulling out in front of us at two miles an hour from the hard shoulder.  Al shouted, “go, go, go!” and I did.  Never had I been so focussed – I made for the gap with inches to spare.

We got home in one piece and lugged in the cases.

To celebrate, I went to the butcher's and bought entrecotes which we ate with jacket potatoes and butter.  Bye, bye Caesar salad and café liégeois.

Yesterday and today I’ve been putting the garden to rights.  Tomorrow my friends arrive for a week.  We have no car until Thursday.  Maybe I’ll wait until next week to get Alice Candy by the scruff of the neck and sort her out.

Or, I might get started right away… 


The first DCI Alice Candy book is available here.  It’s a dramatic tale that will have you guessing from the start.


Locked Away by B. A. Spicer








Friday, 7 July 2017

Living the dream is not quite so simple for Martha Burton.

My lovely house - a lifetime of renovation!

France is wonderful – the weather, the food, the pace of life.  I have a bakery on my doorstep and the beautiful town of Saintes with its majestic river and colourful cafes a short drive away.  In my garden there are tomatoes re-seeded from last year which will be small and sweet and delicious.  I have an olive tree and a ridiculous number of thriving rose bushes.  But the most precious commodity I have is time.  My children are grown and about to fly the nest.  My husband and I look forward to a simple life and a lot more travelling.  And, best of all, I will be able to devote even more time to my writing.

From 14th - 19th July I’m running a promotion on A Life Lived Twice. Although it is most definitely not autobiographical, it is set in France, with lots of authentic detail.  Of course my experiences here have fuelled the setting and the characters to some extent, although this is primarily a work of fiction - thank goodness.

******

Martha Burton is relatively young and attractive, values her newfound independence, has a very healthy bank balance and, although she wouldn’t admit it, is on the lookout for a new man. She leaves behind a faithless husband and a life that has become routine.  When she moves in to a charming Charentaise house and later meets the handsome and enigmatic Clement Berger it's easy to believe that a new and vibrant future beckons.

But the world is inhabited by all kinds of people, some of whom follow imperatives that are too dark to contemplate.  How could Martha have known the dramatic turn her new life would take?




Sunday, 18 June 2017

At the Beach with Bev and Carol


Bev and Carol are graduates, spending three months in France as part of their degree course.  They are young and frivolous, unfettered by preconceptions or mortgage payments. Bev is bookish, a bit of a dreamer, and Carol is down-to-earth, unafraid to say what she thinks.  In this (exceptionally frank) excerpt, they experience the challenges of their very first nudist beach.








‘Does ‘Naturiste’ mean what I think it means?’ asked Carol, standing in front of a very large sign with a very large arrow on it.

I wasn’t sure, but I thought so.

‘I don’t mind getting my baps out if you don’t!’  she reasoned.

The beach was coming up fast and we clutched at each other, controlling our giggles as best we could.  We might have made it, had we not heard men’s voices behind us and looked round to see two bronzed gods swinging up fast.

‘Christ on a bike!’ said Carol, stepping aside and staring rudely.

‘Guten Tag!’ 

Please don’t stop and have a conversation with us!  I thought.

They passed in front of us and we watched their perfect asses for a while, breathing in for what seemed to be a very long time and, eventually, remembering to breathe out.

‘Did you see the size of his cock?’ asked my gobsmacked friend.

 ‘Well, yes.  I didn’t have much choice in the matter, did I?’

‘Come on!  There must be loads more on the beach…’

 I wasn’t sure that I fancied the idea of so much nudity all in one place, but I had never sunbathed topless before, so I was keen to give it a go in an environment where one extra set of, admittedly, perfect breasts would not cause too much of a stir.

To my horror, Carol was untying her bikini top before we even got there and soon it was difficult for me to concentrate on what she was saying as I felt a little sea-sick in the face of so much uncontrolled bouncing.

‘God!  Your tits are enormous!’ I said.

‘Pretty good, eh?  Aren’t you getting yours out?’ 

'All in good time, all in good time, my little Devonshire divvy,' I said.

It was a beautiful beach and there were a fair number of people, mostly couples or small groups, generally without a stitch on.  This was a whole new experience for me.  The German gods we had come across on the path had set up camp near the sea and looked over to us, waving.  Carol was all for joining them, but I suggested that we should keep our options open for the time being, not mentioning that I was rather uneasy about diving into a conversation with a couple of blokes with their willies out.

So we put our towels out about thirty feet from the dunes and sat down.  It wasn’t that easy pretending that it was perfectly normal to be sitting with a load of people we’d never met before who seemed very pleased to see us.  I was aware of my breasts in a way that I had never been aware of them before.  I wished they would just shut up (metaphorically speaking) instead of pertly announcing themselves to all and sundry.

‘Shall we whip off our pants, too?’ said Carol, as she was actually whipping off her bikini bottoms.

‘Really?’ I replied, ‘I don’t know whether-’

‘Don’t be such a prude!  No other bugger’s wearing any.’

She was right.  So I did.

Having no clothes on in public was an altogether liberating experience.  I got used to it quickly and was soon stretching out in various poses, sighing nonchalantly and acting as though it was all terribly normal.  I got out my latest find and started to read. I had brought l’Etranger to the beach and made sure that the cover of the book was visible to others as I read. In those days I was deeply proud of my literary pretensions.  I breathed in the ozone and tried to remember what my French tutor had said about Camus, but I kept hearing the Cure singing ‘Killing an Arab’ instead.