Monday, 23 January 2012

Exerpt from The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets

It's really hard choosing an exerpt that sums up the spirit of a novel as well as giving a taster, but in the end, I decided on this one. The novel tells the story of Cass, growing up in a chaotic household under the dubious control of her eccentric mother. As her mother lies dying, the two of them reminisce about Cass's childhood. I chose this passage because it sums up my own mother, to whom the novel is dedicated. The primrose story is entirely true. I owe the cowpat idea to my own sons.

“We did have fun, didn’t we?” It’s as though she is reading my thoughts. “Do you remember the time I sent a note to school and we went picking primroses?”
“Oh yes!”
A blue and white spring day, a dapple of bright new leaves, and the primroses like stars in the chalky soil, their faces turned to the sun. We picked the slender pink stems, sniffing the perfume of the flowers, and filled a basket with them, then sat on our coats on the ground (“Don’t sit on the wet grass; you’ll get piles.” “Piles of what?” “Never you mind.”) to eat our picnic lunch of crisp rolls and ham and apples. It never occurred to me at the time to question what we were doing. My mother always reasoned that we were her children, and if she wanted us out of school for a day, then that was her right.
“What did you say in the note?”
“What note?”
“The note you wrote to the school on the primrose day.”
“I forget.” Her eyes start wandering again, then return with a snap. “On yes! I said you had your period!”
“Mum!” I was ten years old at the time, my chest as flat as a board, my body smooth and hairless as a plum.
“Well what did you expect me to say?” And of course, as usual, there is no answer to that.
“And Deirdre and the cowpat. Do you remember that?”
Blowing up cowpats with Lucas and his friends in the field behind our house, choosing a nice ripe one (“crisp on the top, with a squidgy middle,” advised Lucas, the expert); our excitement, watching the smouldering firework, waiting for the explosion; and the sheer joy when a particularly messy one erupted in a fountain of green sludge, splattering the blonde ringlets and nice clean frock of prissy Deirdre from next door. Oh, Deirdre! If you could see yourself! We rolled in the grass, kicking our heels, convulsed with mirth, while Deirdre, howling and outraged, ran home to tell her mummy what bad, bad children we all were.
“What’ll your mum say?” One of Lucas’s friends asked anxiously.
“Oh, Mum’ll laugh.”
Mum laughed. She tried to tell us off, but was so proud of the inventiveness of Lucas, and so entertained at the fate of prissy Deirdre, that she failed utterly. But she promised Deirdre's mother that we would all be “dealt with.”
“Whatever that means,” said Mum, dishing out chocolate biscuits and orange juice. “Poor child. She doesn’t stand a chance, with a mother like that. But I suppose she had it coming to her.”


Yvonne Osborne said...

Frances, this is truly delightful! Growing up on a dairy farm we had a lot of fun like this with our city cousins. I so related.

I especially liked:
"body smooth and hairless as a plum"

This is a cool site. Good Luck with your novel.

Tim Stretton said...

Lovely, Frances. As light as a Michelin-starred souffle!

Len Tyler said...

I wish I'd come across the cowpat trick when I was younger - still time to try it, though, I suppose ...

Tim Stretton said...

The next MNW outing, perhaps: a day's cowpat-blasting!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

What a lovely excerpt!

Paula RC said...

Wonderful, Frances Wonderful! I love the idea of blowing up cowpats.LOL

Unknown said...

Great extract! Love it.

It seems a shame we've reached the end of the fave para blog posts. I was really enjoying it.

Alis said...

Must go back and re-read The Birds and The Bees - this excerpt reminded me how much I loved it.
My brother and I were surrounded by cowpats growing up (like Yvonne, on a dairy farm, not just an insanitary household) but this kind of inventiveness never occurred to us! Shame...

Ann Weisgarber said...

I love this scene, Frances, and it immediately took me back to the novel. It's poignant and funny all at the same time. It's a treat to have a return visit to the birds, the bees, and all the other secrets to be discovered in the novel.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

I love it, Frances! Looking forward to reading more. Is your novel on eBook version?