Monday, 21 July 2014

The Art of Letting Go

We're very proud today to be able to share with you an extract from The Art of Letting Go, fantastic debut novel of Chloe Banks, and particularly excited to be one of the first as today is publication day. I hope you enjoy this taster and I'd thoroughly recommend the rest of the book - I certainly devoured it! It is now available in both paperback and Kindle format on Amazon.





The sea was the colour of madness on the day I first met Ben. Not Slate or Ash, Gunmetal or Battleship, just grey. It was one of those autumn days that had lost its way and ended up in summer; storm clouds puffing up beyond the horizon, the wind gathering itself out in the bay. And into that grey world came Ben – an unwelcome splash of colour.
Even now, after all this time, I find myself wondering how Ben would start our story. As if it mattered. Chances are he wouldn’t think of it as our story at all, and he wouldn’t start with grey, I’m sure of that. He’d make that day a melodrama full of crashing waves, howling wind and colours with fancy names. It wasn’t like that. Not how I remember it. I remember an ordinarily dull June day – the kind where holiday-makers stayed in the shelter of the caravan park arcade and I could sit on the rocks to watch the storm approaching with only barnacles and guano for company. The grey sky, the grey sea, and me. I’d thought it was just me, anyway.
“Don’t move.” His voice came from the point where the rocks met the wet sand. “Keep looking out to sea, I’m nearly done.”
Nobody ever told me what to do. Nobody had presumed to order me around since October 1967. Maybe that’s why I did what he said. The chalk steps up to my house on the headland would be impassable within minutes of a downpour starting, yet as the first fat drops of rain splattered on the rocks around me I found myself frozen in place. A minute passed and then another, and my window of opportunity slammed shut with the arrival of the wind, belching on to land in a splutter of sea spray.
“OK, all done.” The figure crouching in the periphery of my vision rose to his feet two minutes too late for me to avoid a soaking. His voice had lost its urgency. “You can move now.”
He might have been a couple of decades younger than me, but he wasn’t as young as he’d sounded. Approaching 50 perhaps, with the first peppering of grey at his temples. A paint-flecked shirt ended halfway down goose-pimpled forearms, ripped jeans were caked in sand. He had a pencil tucked behind his ear and a sketchbook under his arm. I knew at once I wouldn’t like him. No, that’s not true – and I’m not scared of the truth anymore – I knew at once I didn’t want to like him.
“Ben Summers.” He held out a wet hand. “I’m renting Anchor Cottage for the season.”
He jerked his head at the tiny building sitting a few feet from the furthest reaches of the Spring Tides. It was Mrs. Baxter’s cottage. That alone should have warned me.
I didn’t take Ben’s hand. “It’d be courteous to tell me why you’ve kept me out in this rain.”
“Of course. Sorry.” He flipped the sketchbook open and held it out. “I should’ve asked before drawing you, but you looked so perfect I didn’t want to ruin the moment.”
Raindrops were already blurring the edges of the pencil and soaking through to the page beneath, distorting the fragmented lines. I tried squinting, but it made no difference. “Doesn’t look anything like me.”
He laughed, and it was one of those annoying laughs that only the truly good-natured can pull off. A laugh that is certain one day you’ll be remembering this moment together round a log fire, wine glasses in hand. A laugh that doesn’t allow for the possibility of not being the best of friends.
“I guess that sums up what I do.” He shut the book again and stuck it under his shirt. “I paint and draw stuff that doesn’t look like what it’s meant to be.”
“How ridiculous.”
“You think so? Why don’t you come up to my cottage and see for yourself?”
“No thank-you.”
“Please. I feel terrible for keeping you out in this weather.” He shivered, shirt already clinging to his collar bones under the weight of rain. “Come and have a cup of tea at least.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Just a quick one?” That laugh again. “I don’t bite.”
I should’ve walked off by that point – made my way home the long way, past the caravan park. I don’t know why I was still there. Perhaps it was his eyes. I remember noticing then, right at the start, how peculiar they were. They weren’t blue-grey, or green-grey; they were true grey, the colour of madness. They were holding me in place as firmly as his voice had done moments earlier, pinning me to the sand. I was only halfway through refusing his invitation for the third time when the weather decided to take his side of the argument. That summer was one of the wettest on record, and this was not the first or last in a long line of rainstorms, but it was a particularly bad one. When Nature took off the handbrake, there was nothing for it. Without another word, we ran for the cottage.
That was where it started, I think. In Ben’s cottage, as I stood dripping on the mat, was where the insanity of both our lives took its hold. Not that I could see it at the time. As Ben picked a damp towel off the floor and presented it to me for my hair, I was only concerned with ignoring the offer – in staying there with him as little time as possible. I wasn’t on my guard. But I suppose madness is rather like that, isn’t it? Only visible in hindsight. If we could see it coming, blowing whistles and waving streamers, it would have no hold over us. We’d cross the road, avoid eye contact, remember that bus we had to catch. We’d run for cover as soon as the rain started.
If that summer – Ben and the man who became Michael and all the rest of it – taught me anything, perhaps it was how madness makes puppets of us all in the end. It steals over us as a creeping grey shadow, disguising itself as the best course of action, the easy decision. We find ourselves in situations – as I did that day in Ben’s cottage – we never consciously chose, doing things we never meant to do. All because of one decision, one moment in time. And then suddenly we’ll see it – we’ll feel the jerk of the strings – and in a moment of lucidity, we know it’s too late. We’re already soaked to the skin.


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13 comments:

  1. Sounds intriguing! Just popped it on my Goodreads 'to be read' list :-) xx

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  2. Kindle, you say? I'm off....

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    1. Good to hear it's available on your side of the pond too.

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  3. It sounds interesting, I shall pop it on my Amazon wish list.

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    1. Wish lists are useful things aren't they. I hope friendly people peruse yours when it comes to a birthday or christmas.

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  4. Hi Jenny,

    This looks really good. I've just downloaded a sample to my Kindle to add to the long list of books yet to be read on there. It may be one that gets moved to the top of the pile.

    Mitzi

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    1. I hope you like it. We all have such long "to be read" lists don't we!

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  5. Oh gosh, if only my pile of books to read wasn't already so massive! xx

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    1. There are too many good books out there aren't there! On the other hand, theres a lifetimes supply of good books out there!

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  6. Oh...it does read well, I must look it up!xxx

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    1. I hope you do and enjoy reading it.

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  7. Thank you for your kind comments! I really hope you enjoy reading. If you do I'd be glad you let other people know about it too!

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