Tag Archives: unrequited love

Wednesday Write-In #77

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

warm beer :: ridicule :: double vision :: colt :: connect

This week, a voice and a scenario came straight into my head, and it’s something slightly different from my usual style – or so I think, at least. Let’s see if you agree.

Image: ubercomments.com

Image: ubercomments.com

The Last Drop

I’m laughing when I fall into the kitchen – someone shoved me, but I’ll never know who. The swinging door slaps smack against the panelboard wall and I tumble, bumpidibump, through it.

‘Hey!’ I shout, already half-up from my knee-bashed crouch. ‘Not cool!’ I get ready to turn around and go after them, but something makes me stop. Something catches me.

And it’s then that I see you, perched on the countertop beside the half-open fridge, and you see me too and there’s that look in your eye again, that look, the one you used to get. Before.

‘Warm beer,’ I mumble, nodding at the fridge, and the words come out all sticky and burning, like napalm.

‘Nothing worse,’ you say and your voice is as fresh and shocking as rain in winter despite the fact that I have heard it before, so many times, and in so many different colours.

‘Yeah.’ I pull myself up onto my feet again and make myself swear I will not trip and I yank my fingers through my stupid hair and I start walking toward you like I was planning, all this time, to do it anyway.

‘How’ve you been?’ you ask as I get close enough to close the fridge door. It meets with a soft moist little noise, a flumf sort of noise, one that gets me thinking about other stuff, the sort of stuff that gives me double vision as I imagine the things that could have happened between us but didn’t.

‘How’ve I been?’ I sound so stupid. ‘Fine, I guess. School. The usual. You?’

‘Same,’ you say, tossing back the last of your beer. You still drink the same brand, and your hair is still golden on top and brown around the back of your ears and down your neck and you still move your head like a colt does, like a coiled spring, like you’re ready but you don’t know what for.

‘How’re your folks?’ I clear my throat, trying not to look at you. I don’t know why I even asked about them, because the ridicule still burns like a blowtorch flame, and the tears are all still fresh in my mind and the anger will never die. I remember what they called me and even though they didn’t use the same words to talk about you, I know you suffered too in your own way. You’re in a different school now, one where you can just be you and not a part of us. You put your beer bottle down so gently that it barely makes a tink on the marble.

‘Folks are fine,’ you say, and when you look at me I happen to be looking at you and then our eyes get all mixed up and there’s no escape. There’s the old connect again, the one where I know my heart’s beating in time with your heart and our breathing falls into step like two old friends.

But then, a stumble.

‘I’ve – got to go,’ you say, and you slither down off the counter like a little kid, all elbows and urgency, and you blink and look away and it feels like I’m falling. ‘Enjoy the party, or whatever.’ And then you’re gone.

I pick up your beer bottle and there’s just a tiny dreg left in the bottom of it and so I put it to my lips and drain it, my eyes feeling like two blobs of molten glass and my nose starting to melt inside. I drink back the sour drop, all that’s left, and then I chuck the bottle with all the other empties, and it settles down clinkidiclink among them like a long-lost traveller arriving home, until I don’t know which one is ours any more.

When I get back outside to the party, someone tells me you’ve gone home early, and I pretend that I don’t even care, and everyone is fooled.

Maybe even me, for just long enough to get me through.



Book Review Saturday – ‘The White Darkness’

This week’s book is a relative ‘oldie’; the edition I have was published in 2005. However, I’ve chosen to review it because I am currently completely obsessed with the Polar regions, and also because Geraldine McCaughrean’s ‘The White Darkness’ was one of those books which made me really, truly want to be a writer.

I mean, I’d always wanted to be a writer. But this book, along with several others, opened my eyes to how imaginative a novel can be, and how emotionally affecting. Geraldine McCaughrean is a legend, of course, who has written more books than most people have read, and I’ll never be on a par with her, but still. Her way with words, and her ability to tell a story, are a huge inspiration.

Image: bonniesbooks.blogspot.com

Image: bonniesbooks.blogspot.com

The first cool thing about ‘The White Darkness’ is this: the main character, Symone, is hearing impaired, but it doesn’t hold her back from having the adventure of a lifetime. The second cool thing is this: she gets to travel to the South Pole as part of the story. But the third, and coolest, thing about this story is: it features Captain Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates. In case you don’t know who that is, I’ll tell you – Captain Oates was the famous explorer who is credited with saying ‘I am just going outside. I may be some time,’ on the ill-fated Polar expedition led by Captain Scott. The men were lost, starving, and dying of exposure, and Captain Oates felt he was holding them back, so he walked out into a blizzard in order to try to save their lives by forcing them to go on without him.

Tragically, of course, his sacrifice was in vain, because all the explorers perished anyway. His famous last words live on only in Scott’s journal. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it was an extremely brave thing to do, though, and it has gone down in history as an act of heroism.

In case you haven’t guessed already, I have a ‘thing’ for Polar exploration, and the story of Captain Oates has always interested me. Geraldine McCaughrean takes the character of Captain Oates – because the way he appears in this book, he is a ‘character’; it’s not the ‘real’ Captain Oates – and weaves him into the life of a modern teenager. Symone, you see, is in love with Captain Oates, and has been for years.

I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now – which is ridiculous, since he’s been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way – in ninety years I’ll be dead, too, and then the age difference won’t matter. (Page 1)

Captain Oates – or, at the very least, an imagining of him – lives in Sym’s head. They talk to one another, and he keeps her company through some very challenging life events. He is her source of comfort and support, her advisor and her guide. She has lost her father and is under the influence of the decidedly weird ‘Uncle’ Victor, who is a family friend and not a blood relative. The story begins when Victor decides that Sym and her mother are coming with him on a trip to Paris. However, as they prepare to leave, Sym’s mother realises her passport is missing. That leaves Sym, and Uncle Victor, alone. And it isn’t Paris he wants to bring her to, either – it’s the South Pole.

So why does it emerge that Uncle Victor has hidden Sym’s mother’s passport? Why does he want Sym – and Sym alone – to join him in what turns out to be less of an exploration than a quest? Uncle Victor is looking for something, something he truly believes exists at the South Pole, and he’s willing to sacrifice anyone and anything, including Sym, to get to it.

In Antarctica, Sym’s relationship with her uncle begins to unravel, but – worse still – her connection to Oates begins to disappear, too. He doesn’t want to return to Antarctica, the place where he ‘died’; the trip causes him huge grief. It places a massive strain on their connection, the most treasured thing that Sym possesses. I love the way McCaughrean handles this plot device, because it’s clear that Sym knows Titus isn’t real – she knows he’s dead, and that the voice she hears in her mind isn’t really his. And yet she loves him, and she needs him, and there are hints dropped all over the place that there’s more to Titus’ voice than just Sym’s imagination. All in all, it’s a heartrending and emotional relationship and (speaking as a person who was slightly obsessed with W.B. Yeats as a teenager, despite the fact that he was quite dead at the time), one I could entirely understand and get on board with. Not only did it highlight Sym’s isolation and loneliness, but it also spoke of her loss – the loss of her father, the lack of a significant male presence in her life, and her desire for a love relationship which goes hand-in-hand with her fear of it – and, besides all that, the voice of Captain Oates is marvellous. Full of plummy English public-schoolboyness, it’s a voice I loved reading.

At the book’s conclusion, Captain Oates’ voice is the most real thing about the situation Sym finds herself in. When at her weakest, and near death, Oates is all she has. It’s truly a remarkable thing to read. It made me weep the first time I read this book, and the second, and the third…

I have never read anything quite like ‘The White Darkness.’ Sym’s voice is a strange one for a fourteen-year-old, admittedly: it’s a little too adult, in places, and perhaps a little too knowing. But perhaps that’s to be expected when the character is bookish, shy, socially isolated, lacking in friends, and obsessed with a long-dead man. She’s apart from her peers, and it shows in everything she says and does. I loved her, and I loved the way McCaughrean writes about her, and I loved her version of Oates.

‘The White Darkness’ is an odd and different little book, but it’s one I love. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you think of it. If you haven’t, maybe you’ll check it out and let me know whether you liked it.

Happy reading!

Captain Lawrence 'Titus' Oates.  Image: artblart.com

Captain Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates.
Image: artblart.com

Wednesday Write-In #55

This week’s challenging and pesky little collection of words were:

refresh  ::  firm handshake  ::  poach  ::  salary  ::  jazz

And here is what I made of them…


Image: lindsayrgwatt.com

Image: lindsayrgwatt.com


Café au Clay

He walks into Café Refresh, six minutes to eight on the nose, like he’s done every weekday morning for the past year and a half. He puts away his phone with a flourish as he walks through the door, exactly like he did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. He nods his head, absentmindedly, to the smooth jazz playing softly over the speakers as he stands in line for his coffee. He searches the board, like he’s making a well-considered choice. He even frowns, just a little, like he’s thinking hard about what to order.

Today is going to be the day. I’m ready.

Three people between us.




‘Morning!’ I’ll have a…’

‘Regular Americano and a brown scone, no jam. Comin’ right up.’ The coffee is already starting to pour, and his tray is trimmed. I saved the nicest scone I could find and kept it to one side for him, first thing when I came in this morning. I folded up a napkin, and made sure his knife was gleaming. I even put his butter into a little pot.

As I speak, he leans back a little, blinking.

‘Well. You’re on the ball today!’ he says, with a laugh. Maybe it’s the surprise in his voice, and maybe it’s the mirth, but suddenly, I feel stupid. My hand shakes, making the spoon tinkle against his coffee mug. He takes hold of the tray and steadies my grip, and I find myself wondering whether he has a firm handshake, and whether he plays sport. What he does at weekends. Whether he reads poetry. What he likes…

Then I see him looking at me with a raised eyebrow, and I feel like someone’s filled my head with boiling water.

‘Right, well… um. That’ll be four twenty-five, please, sir.’

‘As it always is,’ he says, handing me a crisp five-euro note. I ring up his purchase and the till pops open. I reach over to give him back his change, but he’s already walking towards the milk-and-sugar station.

‘No, no, love – you keep the shrapnel,’ he says, over his shoulder. ‘God knows your salary can’t be up to much. Or is it ‘wages’, just, when you’re in the service industry?’ His voice is too loud, and I feel like my heart is too big, suddenly, its thump filling my whole chest. I watch his shoulders as he chuckles, and I burn.

He walks back past me again, throwing me a wink.

‘Keep up the good work, and you might even find a Starbucks talent-spotter coming in here to poach you. If you keep your nose clean, that is.’

He snorts with laughter as he finds his way towards his normal window seat. He opens his newspaper with a crack, and gets lost inside the business pages.

I breathe. I unlock my teeth.

I put his change into my pocket, and I think: Tomorrow morning, I’ll swap the sugar sachets with salt. We’ll see who’s laughing then.


‘Cinnamon Toast’ and a Book Review*

Behold the loveliness of this book cover:

Hypnotic, isn't it?Image: amazon.ca

Hypnotic, isn’t it?
Image: amazon.ca

I read this book over the long weekend, and it wasn’t a second before time. I’ve been waiting for it to come out for several months (it’s so hard to wait for books!), but it was more than worth it. It’s the kind of book which turns its reader into a really rude so-and-so, a person who’s unable to talk to anyone or take part in anything that doesn’t involve their faces being stuck into their book. So, apologies to anyone who might have tried to speak to me while this book was anywhere within grabbing distance. I probably didn’t hear you.

The book (Janet E. Cameron‘s debut novel, ‘Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World’) is set in 1987, in a small town in Nova Scotia. We meet Stephen Shulevitz, a boy who spends his early years living with his parents in a hippie commune, dealing with their unusual relationship with one another as well as with him. At the age of eight, he moves to small-town Riverside with his mother and begins to attend regular school, where he suffers due to his perceived ‘snottiness’, or superiority, over the other children. Of course, Stephen has no intention of elevating himself above his classmates. He simply sees the world differently, has been educated differently up to this point in his life, and finds it hard to adjust. His parents separate, and we read of the sometimes poignant relationship between Stephen and his mother. There is a lot of love between them, but on occasion it fails to find its way to the surface. The book basically takes us through Stephen’s life as he negotiates his family difficulties (including re-establishing a relationship with his estranged father), makes friends, makes mistakes, deals with his Ukrainian, Russian and Jewish heritage, and falls in love. And all this before he’s even finished school.

The book begins with a scene from Stephen’s teenage years on the night he realises he’s fallen in love with the ‘wrong’ person – this is the ‘End of the World’ of the title. The story flips gently back and forth between the pages of his life as he tries to explain to us how he got to this point, and why, exactly, he fell in love. The book is narrated by Stephen himself in a very effective ‘memoir’ style; at times, he feels he’s ‘left out too much’, and he’ll go back to fill in the gaps. We are brought from the ‘present day’ back to important scenes from his childhood – the day his father left, the day he meets his beloved (and the circumstances behind their becoming friends in the first place), among many others – which gives a very realistic feel to proceedings. Despite this, the story doesn’t flinch from telling us all about Stephen’s mistakes. When he messes up, he’s self-aware enough to tell us about it without attempting to explain it away. One particular episode, when he (almost without meaning to) betrays his best friend, had me in tears. I wasn’t sure if it was because I felt terrible for Stephen, or because I could relate so much to his friend (Lana); perhaps it was a bit of both. In any case, it was moving and real and completely believable. Despite the fact that it’s set in Canada (and there are significant differences between their ‘High School’ experience and ours here in Ireland), the emotions, insecurities and relationships were so effective that the story immersed me completely. For the length of time I spent reading this book, I was an awkward Canadian teenager in the 198os (despite the fact that the real me in 1987 was a greasy kid wearing glitter-boots, a sideways ponytail and a Jason Donovan t-shirt).

The characterisation in this book is excellent – even the minor characters are memorable. I found it interesting that the most fleshed-out and ‘real’ character in the story is the person with whom Stephen falls in love. This person’s failings and flaws, as well as their heroism, protectiveness and kindness are all described with such tender touches that by the end of the story I was a little bit in love with this character myself. It surprised me, because the love-interest is full of anger, and at times the hatred and darkness they exude oozes out of the pages. At one point, they hurt Stephen very badly and his life is put at risk, but despite this, Stephen’s love doesn’t waver and, as a result, neither did mine. I understood the character’s reactions, and I felt I knew where they were coming from – product of a broken home, left to take care of a much younger sister, overlooked by teachers and allowed to fall through the cracks at school – so their rage seems natural and even understandable. I was left feeling sympathetic and sorry for this character, as well as full of admiration for Janet Cameron, the book’s author – how right it is that the person into whose psyche we are given the most insight is the one with whom our narrator is in love. Who else does he know more deeply?

I enjoyed everything about this book, from its structure to its narrative voice to its evocation of a world at once totally alien, and completely familiar, to my experience. I have been the character of Lana, also in love with the ‘wrong’ person, feeling too large for comfort, not quite fitting in with the other girls; I felt such affinity with Stephen’s mother Maryna, dealing with her own memories of a hard childhood with an unforgiving father and the cultural baggage she carries, not because I’ve experienced this myself but because Ms. Cameron describes it so well. I admired Stephen for his bravery and constancy, and I hated his father, Stanley, for the way he treated his son. The book deals unflinchingly with drug use, AIDS (particularly the fear felt around the topic during the 1980s), sexuality, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, and rape – so in some ways, it may not be for the faint-hearted. But if you like books which touch your heart and make you think, books which evoke a time and place so skilfully that opening them feels like stepping into a time machine, and books which deal with the Great Universal of unrequited love, then this is a book worth reading.

Image: frontroomcinema.com

Image: frontroomcinema.com


*In the interests of full disclosure, I feel I should say that the author of this book is someone with whom I communicate on Twitter; this has not affected the impartiality of my review, however.

The Power of Love

I should just have stayed in bed this morning. I’ve been sitting staring at a blank screen for nearly two hours, trying to find a way to start this post – which, in a way, is sort of fitting, because today I want to write a little bit about my protagonist’s love life, and about love relationships in YA fiction generally. My character’s sixteen, so it makes sense, of sorts, that I can’t find a proper foothold on my words regarding her romantic life – because, when I was sixteen, I had as much knowledge of boy-girl relationships as I had about nuclear physics.

Picture of Nerdy Girl

I knew a lot about unrequited love, sure, and doomed, pointless, overblown, tearful dramatics; it was a painful time for me, in so many ways. I spent years convinced I’d never be loved, and I spent years wondering what was so wrong with me that nobody would even ask me to dance at a disco, let alone ask me out on a date (Not that we really ‘date’ in Ireland – it’s more like drink-fuelled combat). It would never, of course, have occurred to me to ask someone out on a date myself – when I was sixteen, the only tones permitted for use when speaking to a boy were utter disdain or raging sarcasm.* I could never quite manage to work out how other people managed to arrange to see each other romantically, when all they were able to do was hurl abuse at one another. At least I had the benefit of attending a mixed school, so boys were a part of my daily life from the age of thirteen or so. Well, they were a part of my daily life the same way that watching nature programmes on TV makes gorillas a part of your daily life; they were there, but untouchable – and, sometimes, a bit terrifying. Despite this, I’m glad I had the opportunity to get to know how to deal with male people on an everyday basis, as it proved useful in college and life. Somewhat useful, at least – I did manage to ask someone on a date when I was in college, as a postgraduate, actually, and it was a total disaster. At least I had the guts to try by then, though.

But there you have it – a potted history of my early love life. Not a lot to go on, really.

From my perspective now, as a (very) happily married (approaching) middle-aged person, the pain of my teenage rejections has largely faded, though of course I’ll never forget it. I can see now how much it shaped my character, and how not being seen as ‘dateable’ in school meant I learned to make friends with boys and appreciate them as people. In a strange way, I’m almost glad of it; I think the person I am now owes a lot to my teenage travails. My protagonist is quite different, insofar as she’s had a somewhat sheltered upbringing and hasn’t had a lot of contact with boys, besides her immediate family. She has no idea, at first, how to react when she meets a boy she’s not related to – due to the nature of their meeting, there’s a bit of fear there, but once her shock wears off she soon starts treating him just as another person. There’s no coquette about my protagonist, which I admire. Nothing gets my goat more when reading YA literature than encountering a previously strong, intelligent heroine who goes all giggly when a boy turns up, or who suddenly starts fretting about how she looks.  My character takes this strange boy at face value, and doesn’t even notice when he starts to warm towards her.

I’ve read a bit of criticism of YA books, and how love relationships are generally treated (just to make sure I wasn’t falling into any cliche-traps), and I learned lots about ‘insta-love’ and how much love triangles are abhorred by readers. Well, I don’t have any love triangles in my WiP, because they annoy me too, and I’m doing my best to avoid the ‘insta-love’ trap, where an author decides that two characters will fall in love without any real reason. I’ve read reviews of books which have decried the author’s decision to have the male lead fall in love with the female lead, just because it serves the story and not because there are any really lovable or admirable traits about the female character, nor any real attraction or chemistry between the pair, or any logical reason why they would fall for one another. It’s just love for the sake of it, which is something I want to avoid. I hope I’ve created a character in my protagonist who displays strength, courage, intelligence and self-confidence, who has bravery and integrity in spades, and who is easy to admire and love. It’s difficult, though, when you’re writing a story in the first person, because obviously we see everything from the character’s point of view. Her feelings about the male character are clouded and confused at first, because she doesn’t know what to make of them, and she ignores her thoughts in relation to him because they don’t make sense to her. Writing a love relationship like this is difficult, but all I have to do is remember my own confusion about love at that age, and it becomes a bit easier. I just wish I’d had my protagonist’s self-possession!

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has encountered similar issues in their characterisation – how do you deal with ‘awkward’ things like sexuality, romance, family issues and so on with your characters? Do you base their reactions on your own life history, or is it more a case of using your imagination? And does your choice of narrative voice help or hinder you?



*Not really. You were also allowed to talk to boys about music, cars and football, if you knew your stuff. For this, you could adopt a normal voice. I guess the dating stuff got mixed up in the football and music talk, but it will forever be a mystery to me!