The Mask

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When I was little, watching The Lone Ranger, Champion the Wonder Horse, Wagon Train and the like, it was the convention that when a baddie pulled a kerchief over the lower half of his face he became unrecognisable.  Sheriffs, neighbours, even relatives would have no idea that it was he who was holding up the stagecoach or stealing the miners’ payroll or threatening the tellers in the bank.

Dutifully wearing my anti-covid mask I was therefore surprised on entering my local Waterstone’s the other day to be greeted with “Hello Mr Peacock”.

So either bookshop staff are unusually prescient, or the scriptwriters on those 1950s westerns were taking a short cut …

[Other bookshops are available.]

Grave’s End by William Shaw

When a corpse is found in the freezer of an unoccupied mansion, DS Alexandra Cupidi is handed a case made even colder by nobody seeming to know – or care – who the dead man is.

Her investigation is complicated by suggestions of a political cover-up linked to a greenfield site designated for a high-profile housing project, plus the discovery of a young boy’s skeleton dating from decades earlier. A find her instincts tell her is somehow linked.

Cupidi is also still coming to terms with being a parochial cop after an ill-advised liaison with a fellow officer in the Met resulted in her relocation to the flat-lands of her Kent.

The book deals intelligently with the conflicting interests of progress and traditional country values, while Shaw makes superb use of the landscape of Dungeness as a dramatic backdrop to murder, corruption and the struggling local wildlife.

To my surprise, I was totally hooked by the brief, inspired chapters by the old badger.

I will resist giving further spoilers about the plot, but must mention the author’s mastery of character, especially that between women: Cupidi’s difficult relationship with her spiky teenage daughter, Zoe; her distance from her own eccentric mother; her evolving partnership with young, man-magnet colleague, Jill Ferriter.

I was delighted to be introduced to this writer by a fellow member of ninevoices and to discover that this police procedural is one of a series featuring the complex but likeable Alexandra Cupidi. I have invested in another. But you should be warned that I am reading them out of order, and you may wish to begin at the beginning, with The Birdwatcher.

And don’t worry about that badger. He isn’t in the least twee and has important things to teach the reader.

Getting Published

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On the subject

On the subject of entering competitions, here is exhibit A, the latest book by Highland Noir writer Margaret Kirk, who won a Good Housekeeping New Novel Award back in 2016. This is her third book, which I fully expect to be as page-turning as the other two.

So, don’t dismiss writing competitions. They are well worth entering – and could be the the start of a career as a professional writer.

Writing Competitions to Enter in May

This is a big month for those hoping to have their novels noticed. Maybe, like the lambs I saw recently kicking up their heels near Penshurst Place in Kent, it is time to spring into action, either with that book you are writing, or with a short story from the possibilities below.

To begin with, the Yeovil Literary Prize have extended their deadline until 31 May. This is for novels (opening chapters plus synopsis) up to 15,000 words; short stories (max. 2,000 words); poems (up to 40 Lines); and ‘Writing Without Restrictions’. Prizes: Novel: £1,000, £250, £100; Short story and poetry, £500, £200, £100; Writing Without Restrictions: £200, £100, £50. Entry fees: £12 Novel; Short story: £7 Poetry: £7 for one, £10 for two, £12 for three; Writing Without Restrictions: £5. Details: http://www.yeovilprize.co.uk

The deadline for the £10,000 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition has been extended until 14 May. The winner of this competition for completed manuscripts by unpublished and unagented children’s writers will receive a publishing contract with an advance of £10,000 and the offer of representation by a literary agent. What’s not to like? Entry is for completed, full-length fiction manuscripts (30,000 to 80,00 words) for readers between seven and YA. Entry fee is £18. Details: http://www.chickenhousebooks.com/submissions/

BPA First Novel Award 2021 is for unpublished novelists and offers the winner £1,000 plus an agent introduction. First prize is £1,000, with a manuscript review for the runner-up. The top three entrants also receive agent introductions. The entry fee is £20 and the deadline 31 May. Details: bluepencilagency.com/bpa-first-fnovel-award-2021/

The 2021 Page Turner Awards are inviting entries for unpublished and emerging writers. The categories are: Ebook award for published books. Open to any published or self-published book. Screenplay award, for completed scripts and screenplays. Writing award for completed unpublished manuscripts. Writing mentoring award. All awards are for fiction and non-fiction. Prizes include mentoring, publishing packages, audiobook production, marketing and book promotion packages, writing and publishing courses and manuscript critiques. Each entry costs £30. Closing date 30 May. Details: https://pageturnerawards.com/

Bath Novel Award is asking for the first 5,000 words of a novel, plus a one-page synopsis. Prizes: 1st – £3,000; 2nd – agent introductions and feedback; 3rd – Cornerstones online course. Entry: £28. Deadline 31 May. Details: http://bathnovelaward.co.uk

Bridport Prize for short stories (up to 5,000 words), novels (first 8,000words) poetry (up to 42 lines) and flash fiction (up to 250 words). Prizes: £5,000, £1,000, £500 and 10x£100 for short stories and poetry; £1,000, £500, £250, 3x£100 for flash fiction; £1,000, £500, 3x£100 for novels, plus editorial guidance. Entry fee: £9 for flash fiction, £10 per poem, £12 per short story, £20 novel. Deadline 31 May. Details: http://www.bridportprize.org.uk

The Bedford Competition is for short stories up to 3,000 words, poems up to 40 lines. Prizes in each category £1,000, £200, £100. Entry fee: £7.50. Note: Closing date 1 May. Details: http://www.bedfordwritingcompetition.co.uk

Bristol Short Story Prize for stories up to 4,000 words. Prizes: £1,000, £500, £250, 17x£100. Entry fee: £9. Note: Closing date: 5 May. Details: http://www.bristolprize.co.uk

Frome Festival Short Story is for stories between 1,000 and 2,200 words. Prizes: £400, £200, £100. Entry fee: £8. Closing date: 31 May. Details: http://www.fromeshortstorycompetition.co.uk

As ever, please check entry details carefully, especially deadlines which can change at short notice.

Good luck – someone has to win!

Writing Competitions to Enter in April

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With Easter fast approaching…

With Easter fast approaching, we suggest you let your imagination roam and write an entry for one of the competitions below. How about a story about whoever might live through the portal in this old tree, near Kent’s Scotney Castle? A rabbit family? A fairy band? Some lilliputian people?

On another miniature theme, Retreat West Micro Fiction require exactly 100 words, to a prompt posted on the website each month. Prizes: 50% of the total entry fees received. Entry fee: £4. Closing date 10 April. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

The Yeovil Literary Prize is for novels (opening chapters and synopsis up to 15,000 words), short stories (maximum 2,000 words), poems (up to 40 lines) and ‘writing without restriction’. Prizes: Novel: £1,000, £250, £100; Short story and poetry, £500, £200, £100; Writing without restrictions: £200 £100, £50. Entry fee: Novel: £12; Short story: £7; Poetry: £7 for one, £10 for two, £12 for three; Writing without restrictions: £5. Closing date: 30 April. Full details: http://www.yeovil

The Bath Short Story Award is for stories up to 2,200 words, in any style, and on any subject. Prizes: £1,200, £300, £100, £50 for the best local writer, £100 Acorn Award for the best story by an unpublished writer. Entry fee: £8. Deadline 19 April. Details: http://bathshortstoryaward.org

Killing It : The Killer Reads Competition from HarperFiction is open for entries from undiscovered crime writers. They want the first 10,000 words of an unpublished commercial crime, thriller or suspense manuscript. Three winners will be chosen, and will receive editorial reports from HarperFiction editors on their full manuscript plus editorial mentoring from a HarperFiction editor. Send the first 10,000 words of a complete or near-complete work, plus a synopsis of up to 500 words and a brief paragraph about yourself. ENTRY IS FREE, but each writer may enter once only. The closing date is 7 April. Details: http://www.killerreads.com/killing-it/

RA & Pin Drop Short Story Award for stories up to 4,000 words. Prize: A reading by a special guest at an evening at the Royal Academy of Arts. FREE ENTRY. Deadline: 15 April. Details: http://pindropstudio.com/

London Independent Story Prize for short stories, max. 1,500 words; flash 300 words; short screenplays, max 30 pages; feature screenplays. Prizes: £100 for stories and flash, Final Draft software for screenplays. Entry fee: £7 for flash, £10 for screenplays. Earlybird deadline: 15 April. Details: http://www.londonindependentstoryprize.co.uk

As ever – PLEASE double-check all entry details, including the deadline dates. We live in changing times and this has altered things like deadlines, or even resulted in cancellations of some competitions.

Someone has to win, remember. Best of luck that it might be you this time round.

Empathy, e-books and Easter

Have the last fifteen months – horrible in all sorts of ways for everyone – changed what we read – and how we read?

Lots of us may have turned to comfort reading – books which make no demands and distract us from the turmoil and sadness around us. Books which help us sleep. Books with happy endings which cocoon us in a safer, more sunlit world. Or historical fiction so we can be transported into another time. The past may have been brutal and squalid for many, but at least it’s escaping from the horrors of the present. Or crime fiction with its pleasures of puzzle-solving and the satisfaction of order restored. Books we loved as children and teenagers, and now search for with nostalgia and a longing to recapture something lost.

Others may have grasped the opportunity to tackle books they’ve always meant to read and somehow never quite got round to – classics, ‘difficult’ authors, unfamiliar genres.

I haven’t managed many of those. The most serious book I have been reading this week is non-fiction: Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor in developmental psychopathology at Cambridge University and director of the Autism Research Centre. It’s not his most recent book, being published in 2011, and I’ve read it before, but events in the UK drew me back to it. The front flap of my hardback says that it ‘presents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals to treat others inhumanely, and challenges all of us to reconsider entirely the idea of evil.’ On the back cover Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London, writes that the book is ‘a compelling and provocative account of empathy as our most precious social resource.’

Baron-Cohen argues that ‘Empathy is like a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble. It is effective as a way of anticipating and resolving interpersonal problems, whether this is a marital conflict, an international conflict, a problem at work, difficulties in a friendship, political deadlocks, a family dispute, or a problem with the neighbour.’

With so much suffering and mental illness everywhere resulting from the pandemic, empathy is something we need more than ever. Reading, as we identify with fictional characters and care what happens to them, must surely be a vital way of building up our capacity for empathy.

 Back to how we read. The pandemic and lockdown has meant that even those of us who love the tactile feel of physical books may have taken to e-books for the first time. No shelf space for more physical books and it’s hard to make room for any with the charity shops being shut.

It’s why I’ve relaunched e-book editions of All Desires Known and Of Human Telling. Hard-hitting stories of family and marital conflict behind closed doors – ‘sharp-eyed, funny and redemptive’. They might be a good e-book read at Easter.

Buy “All Desires Known” on Kindle

Buy “Of Human Telling” on Kindle

Help when writing

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I’ve started to get helpful messages from Mr Microsoft on improving my writing.  Little unsolicited bubbles appear when I’m hard at it composing on Word.  Sometimes, he thinks he can punctuate “better’ than me.   Most frequently he offers to help me be more concise, be more succinct, have a more condensed style, say what I want in fewer words, ramble less.  Such impertinence. 

Every Writer Needs a Cat

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xxx

Are writers attracted to cats? Or cats to writers?

In a Zoom interview last year, Maggie O’Farrell spoke of retreating to the solitude of her children’s Wendy House to tackle a poignant passage needed for her book Hamnet. Accompanied by her cat. The previous summer, I attended a talk by Tracy Chevalier during which she admitted that much of her writing was done, not at her computer, but curled up with a pen and notebook on her sofa. Accompanied by her cat. A handful of years before that, Margaret Atwood regaled a masterclass in central London with the story of a stranger knocking on her door with a gift of prawns for her cat, which he had befriended on his walks to the station. He did not know she was a famous author, only someone who would be happy to deliver his gift to her feline friend.

Authors who have complex relations with their cats are not new. Dr Johnson, author of one of the most influential English dictionaries in history, is known for considering his cats as more than useful rodent operators. His most famous feline companion was called Hodge, of whom James Boswell, Johnson’s biographer wrote:

“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge… I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, sir, but I had cats whom I liked better than this, and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, “but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.'”

Hodge lived with Johnson at 17 Gough Square, off Fleet Street in London, his home from 1748 to 1759. Both Boswell and the writer Hester Thrale mention how Johnson would go out himself to buy oysters for Hodge because he did not want his servants to feel demeaned by doing errands for a cat. Which shows not only Johnson’s consideration for his servants, but how much he wanted Hodge to enjoy a favourite treat.

Johnson further demonstrated the Hodge’s importance in his life by inviting his acquaintance, the writer Percival Stockdale, to write the cat’s epitaph:

“Who by his manner when caressed

Warmly his gratitude expressed;

And never failed his thanks to purr

Whene’er he stroaked his sable fur?”

It is surely fitting that outside 17 Gough Square, now a museum to Dr Johnson, stands a statue of Hodge with oyster shells at his feet which was sculpted in 1997 by John Bickly. The animal, modelled on Bickly’s own pet, stands at “about shoulder height for the average adult, which is just right for putting an arm around.”

A writer, like a cat, often needs their own space. And what better companion can there be than a feline presence, perhaps curled on the corner of their desk? In my own establishment, Gizzie will happily allow me to read passages of my work-in-progress out loud to her when I struggle with a piece of difficult prose. Doing that to my husband would put him in an difficult position: might criticism land him in the spare room? Reading aloud to oneself feels awkward: one expects the men in white coats to turn up at any moment. But a pair of considering and intelligent golden eyes will concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Creative Writing Competitions to Enter in March

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Two members of ninevoices entered – but failed to win – the same writing competition during the course of February (names/details redacted to save their blushes). HOWEVER, one of them succeeded in being shortlisted, while the other was longlisted. Surely the equivalent of being awarded a silver and a bronze medal at the Olympics?

The point we are trying to make is that engaging with a writing competition offers advantages in addition to a possible prize cheque. It concentrates the mind, pushes you to either compose something new or to polish a piece of work that has been languishing on your hard drive. If your entry is either longlisted or shortlisted, it proves you stand above the crowd. Perhaps most importantly, it exercises your writing muscle.

Bridgend Writers’ Circle Open Short Story Competition for stories between 1,500 and 1,8700 words. Prizes: £100, £50, £30, plus publication on website. Entry fee: £5 for one, £7.50 for two. Closing date 1 March. TODAY. Details http://www.bridgendwriters.org

BBC National Short Story Award, up to 8,000 words. Prizes: £15,000, 4x£600. FREE ENTRY. Closing Date: 9am on 15 March. Details http://www.bbc.co.uk/nssa

Hastings Literary Festival Writing Competition for short stories up to 2,500 words; short stories by BAME writers up to 5,000 words; poems, up to 40 lines; and flash fiction, up to 500 words. Prizes: £200, £100, £50 in each category; mentoring for best Sussex entry. Closing date: THIS COMPETITION APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN CANCELLED, BUT THEIR TWITTER WEBSITE DOES HAVE A VIDEO SAYING THEY HOPE TO GO AHEAD WITH 2021 FESTIVAL. BEST THEREFORE TO KEEP CHECKING FOR NEWS. Details: http://www.HastingsLitFest.org

White Review Short Story Competition for stories between 2,000-7,000 words, “by emerging writers”. Prizes: £2,500. Entry Fee: £15. Closing date: changed from 4 March to 26 April. Details: http://www.thewhitereview.org

Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize for published and unpublished (at least 50,000 word) adventure novels. Prizes: £15,000. FREE ENTRY. Deadline 7 March. Details: http://www.wilbur-niso-smithfundation.org

Harpers Bazaar Short Story Competition. Stories on the theme of “Threads”, up to 2,200 words. Prize: publication, plus a weekend break at The Mitre, Hampton Court. Entry appears to be FREE. Deadline: 15 March. Details: shortstory@harpersbazaar.co.uk

Fowey Festival Short Story Competition, for stories not exceeding 1,500 words. With Daphne du Maurier’s popular collection of short stories in mind, the title of the competition is “Breaking Point”. Apparently when Daphne du Maurier was writing the collection – entitled “Breaking Point” – she “found solace and peace after a turbulent period”. A timely thought. Prizes: £200 and £100. Entry fee: £10, which goes towards supporting the future of the Festival. Deadline: 7 March. Details: ww.foweyfestival.com

Evesham Festival of Words are seeking short stories of up to 2,500 words on any theme. Prizes: £100, £50, %30, plus an engraved trophy for the winner. Entry fee: £5. Closing date: 12 March. Details: http://eveshamfestivalofwords.org

Short Fiction/University of Essex International Short Story Competition, for stories up to 5,000 words. Prizes: £500, plus publication; £250; £100. Entry fee: £9. Deadline: 31 March. Details http://www.shortfictionjournal.co.uk

Writers Bureau Annual Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000 words. Prizes: £300; £200; £100 £50, plus a choice of Writers Bureau courses. Entry fee: £5. Closing date: 31 March. Details: http://www.wbcompetition.com

We live in confusing times, so do PLEASE check all details before entering any of the above. Good luck with those entries!

Till Death Us Do Part

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by Maggie Davies

A cautionary tale – which won a Henshaw Press Short Story Competition a few years back – to mark Valentine’s Weekend. Perhaps it might inspire readers to write a competition entry of their own, and maybe get it printed in an anthology.

I wrapped my arms around Neil and kissed the top of his head. His hair might be the colour of fresh snow these days, but he was far from an old man.

‘We could die together,’ I said. ‘Fly to Switzerland. Make a holiday out of it. Then finish up at that special clinic they’ve got over there.’

‘Don’t be bloody ridiculous.’ He was cross. He’d always been short-tempered and the last few months had been a strain.

‘I’m serious, sweetheart.’ I moved to sit opposite him. ‘You know I couldn’t bear to go on without you.’

‘You’re insane, Beth. You’re still a young woman. In perfect health.’

‘Hardly young.’

‘You’re only sixty.’

‘I mean it, Neil.’ I put my hand over his. ‘I”ll throw myself under a train, if you kill yourself.’

‘Then I can’t do it, can I?’ He rubbed tired eyes. ‘I’ll have to turn into a vegetable and make both our lives a misery. Is that what you want, you silly woman?’

‘No,’ I said. That wasn’t what I wanted at all.

*

It started after Geoff’s wife died. Madeline had been failing for years and, living next door, we’d seen the hell they went through in her final months. Her deterioration had been particularly depressing for Neil, who’d been reading articles about dementia often being hereditary.

‘It’s like my Dad, all over again,’ he’d said, with a shudder. ‘If I ever get like that, I want you to finish me off. Take the carving knife to me. Promise?’

His father’s house smelled. The bathroom, in particular, stank. It took a while for Neil to find out why. The poor old chap knew where he was supposed to go to urinate. He’d just forgotten what to do when he got there and simply peed all over the carpet. It was humiliating for everybody. When he finally died it was a relief.

‘A meat cleaver might be more final,’ I said, trying to lighten his mood. ‘Though messier.’

It became a sick joke between us. Nothing serious. Then, over a few months, things changed dramatically. Neil had always mislaid keys and spectacles. I did myself, but he became incapable of finding anything. I put a wooden fruit bowl on the kitchen dresser and suggested he use that as a collection point, but whenever he went there for something, it was empty.

‘I’m losing the plot, aren’t I?’ he grumbled, after finally locating his house keys in the drawer where we kept the electrical leads. ‘Why would I put them in there? My brain’s turning to Swiss cheese.’

‘All sixty-nine-year-olds mislay things.’ I gave him a hug. ‘Tomorrow we’ll buy some vitamins. That might help.’

Several days later he accosted me in the greenhouse. He looked as if he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. ‘Why were my spectacles in the fridge?’

‘Whatever are you talking about?’

‘My bloody spectacles were in our refrigerator. On top of the Flora.’ He slapped the side of his head with his hand, as if to knock sense into it. ‘I am going bloody barmy. Aren’t I?’

‘Sweetheart, we all do crazy things. Remember when I started to reverse the car out of the garage? With the up-and-over door still closed?’

‘That’s true.’ He looked relieved, but not much.

However, days later, I glanced out of the kitchen window and said: ‘The bin, sweetheart. It’s Thursday. Didn’t you put it out?’

Neil glanced up from The Independent. ‘It’s okay, I did it when I got back from the newsagents. Before I raked up those dead leaves at the bottom of the garden.’

‘So where is it, then?’

He abandoned the paper and peered outside. ‘Damned if I know. Perhaps the bin men emptied it and stuck the thing next door by mistake.’

They hadn’t, of course. It was where it always was, behind the shed. Still full.

‘You meant to do it,’ I said, when he eventually came back inside. ‘Sometimes I mean to clean the oven, but then conveniently forget. Probably because it’s a chore.’

Neil paced up and down, like an animal in a trap. ‘But it’s not just the bin, is it? I lost my electric razor yesterday, and my credit cards the day before. Then I left the bathroom tap running last night when I went to bed. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do next. It’s like being in a nightmare.’

‘You’re preoccupied, that’s all. Though maybe you should see the doctor.’

‘I’m damned if I want to be asked if I know what day of the week it is.’

‘And what day is it?’

‘It’s Thursday. September the 25th.’

‘There you are, my love. You’re fine.’

*

The days dragged on until Geoff wandered in through the kitchen door one morning, as he often did, with some runner beans for us from his allotment.

‘I could do with my mower back, if that’s okay,’ he said to Neil.

‘Your mower?’

‘You know, mechanical thingy that cuts grass and makes a godawful racket? That you borrowed from me last weekend?’

Neil’s fists clenched at his sides. ‘I was planning to come over and borrow it. Tomorrow.’

‘But you’ve already got it, old man. That’s why I need it back.’ There was an awkward pause. ‘Okay,’ continued Geoff, looking embarrassed. ‘Tell you what, you hang on to it and let me have it back whenever it’s convenient.’

‘But I don’t have it,’ Neil protested, looking at me. ‘Do I?’

‘It’s in the garage,’ I said, avoiding his eye.

There was a silence, before Geoff slapped Neil on the shoulder in a not-very-convincing show of bonhomie. ‘Not to worry. I missed the dentist last week. He still charged me for the appointment, though. Grasping bugger.’

The incident hit Neil hard. ‘I told you I was getting like Dad,’ he said. ‘This proves it.’

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I kept silent. Instead I put my arms round his waist, buried my face in his scratchy sweater and gave him a big hug.

‘I’d rather be six foot under than lose my dignity,’ he murmured into my hair, sounding close to tears.

‘At least get a proper diagnosis,’ I urged. ‘What if you’re wrong?’

‘What’s the point of a diagnosis? There’s no cure, is there?’ He extracted himself from my grasp and looked me in the eye. ‘I’m taking matters into my own hands while I still can. I could deteriorate rapidly. That’s what terrifies me. Leaving it too late.’

‘Don’t do it, Neil. Please!’

‘You’ll manage. People do. Look at old Geoff.’

‘I refuse to even discuss it.’

‘But we must talk about it. Plans have to be made.He took my hand in his and kissed it. ‘I need you to understand,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t bear it if you didn’t.’

‘I understand perfectly,’ I said. ‘I just don’t agree.’

‘Of course you don’t. But you will support me?’

‘You mean, hand you a full bottle of pills?’

‘And get you in trouble with the law? Assisted suicide is a crime. It wouldn’t be right to involve you in anything like that. And that Swiss clinic business raises too many legal questions, never mind the cost. But I’ve done some research on the internet. If I steer my car into that nice, solid brick wall by the railway bridge, my worries should be over before I know what’s happened. Especially if I neglect to wear my seat belt and put my foot down, on a wet night. That way, the life insurance people can’t ask awkward questions.’

‘Oh, sweetheart, you mustn’t think about money. I’ve got my pension, haven’t I?’

‘A fat lot of good that will do you. Just think of all the money those insurance companies have had from us over the years. They owe us.’ He patted my arm. ‘You deserve some happiness after I’ve gone. I refuse to leave you hard up.’

‘Please, sweetheart,’ I begged. ‘Don’t do this. I’ll look after you, whatever happens. We promised, for better or worse. Remember?’

‘Not another word. My mind is made up. We’ll go away somewhere special for a second honeymoon. Then come back and I’ll make a quick exit.’

When the time finally came, Neil and I kissed goodbye at the door before he went out to the car. We were both crying. Then I watched him drive off at speed into the night. Losing him like this would be dreadful, but he was right: life would go on.

I went back inside and picked up the phone to dial Geoff’s number. It had taken us three careful months of planning to get to this.

‘Fingers crossed, darling, but I think we’ve finally done it,’ I said, when he answered. ‘All we have to do is wait for the traffic police to come knocking on my door.’

*********

Please note that my husband, both then and now, is very much alive.