Genial: The Love Song of Simon and Julie

In July I published the latest in the Dereham Nodes, Genial: The Love Song of Simon and Julie. Genial is the next novel in my Dereham series of novels. I don’t like to think of it as a series, really. The novels are stylistically and generically different. The novels are simply interconnected. They are set in the same town, and that is where the interconnections occur.

Genial is Node 4.5. Why Node 4.5, you might wonder. There is a reason, naturellement. This node is more a novella than a novel, as it is only about fifty thousand words. The story is also, in terms of genre, quite different to the other novels. It’s a love story, as the subtitle indicates. It doesn’t really involve spies, UFOs, the paranormal, crazy people, or any of that stuff. It does involve friendship, which, I realise, is quite a theme of the later novels in this series. It also takes place in the background to everything that is happening in Raven of Dispersion (Node 4), while Simon later becomes a major character in The Ethical Hitman (Node 5). So, to me, it felt like a novel that was in the same network, but slightly off the main routes.

So, what is Genial about? It’s about the summer of 1976 — the dazzling summer, the long hot summer, the summer when the sun shone always, and would shine always and forever — and young old friends Simon and Julie drift through the glorious lazy holiday that stretches before them, wondering what they should do about the loves they somehow left behind, before the sun came out. As they share time together under the blue skies, in the sultry heat, with their friends — the friend who loves his car, the friend who loves fixing cars, the friend whose boyfriend loves his drink, the friend who loves all the boys, the friend who loves somebody else’s girlfriend — they wonder who it is they should love. Out on the hills, out in the fields, and riding in cars with the wind in their hair, Simon and Julie become languorously entangled. Can this entanglement last longer than sunshine? Or is it only a creation of this magical summer? Their story is episodic, picaresque, sentimental, romantic. And most genial.

Various characters from other novels appear, and Simon and Julie themselves re-appear in later novels in the series. The novel also holds another secret or ludic notion, a notion at which the blurb on the back of the book hints.

I had a break from writing after finishing Genial. It’s been a pretty intense 15 years of writing and editing (especially when you consider that my day-to-day job is technical  writing!), including five novels and three non-fiction books. However, this year will see me get back into the groove as I work with sometime co-author Kevin on Node 0, and start writing Node 6. And I will be chasing a publisher/agent again.

Simon and Julie – A Fragment – Chapter 2

[Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog.]

Julie walked into town. She had no plan. She had rung Sarah’s house but there had been nobody there. Then she had dared ring Simon’s, but nobody was there, either. She had only momentarily contemplated ringing Tim before dismissing the idea. She had managed to elicit some more money from her parents, on a promise that it would be paid back from the money she got from Boots at the end of the week. She had bought ten Number Six in the Spar shop, and had enough left over for a drink or two.
The afternoon was hot and sunny. She was wearing jeans, tee-shirt, and jesus boots again, as she had seemed to do for most of the summer. Sometimes she despaired of the heat, wondered if it would go on forever, but most of the time simply enjoyed the odd, slightly Mediterranean, feeling that had descended on Dereham. Everybody was in tee-shirts and jeans, or in floaty, strappy, A-line summer dresses. Some of the more hippie girls were in halter-tops and skirts. In the evenings, people were drinking outside of the pubs, standing in the streets, smoking and chatting, and the beer gardens were, for a change, full and lively. Older people were preparing meals with salads and cold drinks and eating them in the garden. Young people hung their heads from car windows; music, thin and tinny, issued from the cars; hands  and arms were held out of the windows, sometimes flat and streamlined, sometimes made into blunt fists, and sometimes upright to cool the palms; shoeless feet rested on dashboards and doorframes.
She looked at the clock on the side of St Peter’s church tower. Five past one. The pubs would be open for another hour or so. She remembered what Simon had said yesterday. She should go to the White Lion. She hadn’t gone last night because… well, she had no money, and hadn’t wanted to bump into Tim. She’d had a nice day yesterday with Simon, Chris and Gray. The day had been so lovely and relaxing she had no inclination to ruin it by bumping into Tim.  In the evening she had watched some television with her parents and sister, and then gone to her bedroom to listen to Carole King and James Taylor and read a book. Today, Tim would be at work in Southleigh, so she was free to enjoy the sun. And perhaps enjoy Simon again, if he was around.
She crossed the road to the crescent of shops that curved around the market. In the centre of the shops was the White Lion. She walked up the steps, and went to the saloon bar. She poked her head around the door; there was no sign of Simon, but his friend Mark was there, chatting with two other people Julie knew, Imogen and James. She went to the bar and bought a Britvic orange. When she turned, she caught Mark’s eye. He waved her over.
“Nice to see you here,” Mark said as she sat next to him.
“Simon said I should come here more often,” Julie said. “Is he around?”
“No, he’s gone for a walk with Stuart, out over the hills. Fitness freaks, the pair of them.”
Julie knew that Simon did Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Stuart played badminton, and walked a lot. They sometimes did go off on long hikes together. Oh well, she would sit here and find out what had been happening in the worlds of Mark, James and Imogen.
“It’s too hot for that madness,” Mark said. “That’s why I have a motorbike.”
“Uh, I thought it was to pull the, uh, chicks,” James said.
Mark sighed, and then frowned. “There’s only one chick I want to pull,” he said.
Everybody knew who he meant, so nobody said anything.
Julie looked at James. He was drinking brandy, as ever. He had a job in Bensons at the weekends, and received generous amounts of pocket-money from his well-off parents. His beard was very extravagant for an eighteen-year old.  She smiled.  “Can I just say just say, your beard is more ridiculous every time I see it.”
Mark and Imogen laughed. “Always to the point,” Imogen said.
“But it is! You’re turning into a caveman.”
James had always been a fast developer, and had needed to shave before any of his friends, sometimes turning up in the fifth year at school with a faint five o’clock shadow. His hairiness had only increased during sixth-form, as he had become more of a freak, growing his dark hair until it reached his shoulders, and encouraging the beard that had quickly sprouted from his chin into a full Victorian-style monster.
“Shaving is for the bourgeoisie,” James said, always quick to separate himself from the proletariat and the middle-class, yet still hoping – while he drank brandy, pocketed the money from his parents, and read T S Eliot – that he was still relevant and connected with the working-class.

Simon and Julie – The Beginning – Fragment

[Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog.]


Simon walked along Goldfinch Drive towards home. The sun was hot, the sky cloudless, a pale hazy blue, pearly towards the sun. The road was inclined slightly, and at the brow there was a shimmer above the asphalt. On both sides of the shimmering road were neat, semi-detached houses with well-tended front gardens. He had left Nick and Mark at The White Lion, sitting in the beer garden. Simon couldn’t afford another drink, and found sitting in the hot sun stifling. He had wanted to move, to stretch his limbs, so decided to walk home, where he would read a book, perhaps, in the shade.

At the top of Goldfinch Drive, just before he would turn into Magpie Road where he lived, Simon found Chris and Gray leaning against the front wing of a mustard-yellow, 1968 Triumph Vitesse. The car was Gray’s, and was in the drive of his parent’s  large detached house. Chris saluted as Simon approached.

Simon slowed. “Hey guys. What’s happening?”

“Nothing,” Chris said.

“Nothing yet,”  Gray added.

Yet? You have a plan then?”

“Could be, could be,” Gray said. “We’re thinking of going for a drive.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere,” Chris said.

“So why are you still standing here?”

“Petrol,” Gray said. “We only have enough petrol to get us to Southleigh and back. And we don’t want to go there.”

“Put some petrol in then.”

“Ah, well, now there’s the crux of the matter, the very rub if you will. We have no money.”

“Well, I do have about fifty pence in my pocket,” Chris said.

“I want to move,” Gray said. “It’s hot, I’ve got a convertible, I want the wind in my hair and a breeze in my face.”

Chris nodded along the road. “It’s Julie,” he said. Simon and Gray turned to look.  A young woman approached them along the road. Her hair was shoulder-length, blonde, straight, parted in the middle. She wore jeans, jesus boots and a tee-shirt.

“Can’t you borrow some money from your mum and dad?” Simon said.

Gray shook his head. “The kiddies are gone away. On holiday. Torquay.”

“Oh great,” Simon said. “When’s the party?”

“No chance,” Gray said.

Julie drew level with them. “Hello there. There’s a party?”

“No,” Gray said.

“His parents never forgave him for the last one,” Chris said. “They told him they’d sell the car if he did it again.”

“I love my car.”

Julie looked at Simon. Her eyes were very blue. They sparkled in the sun. “I thought I saw you down town with Mark and Nick.”

“You did. But they wanted to drink some more. I was too hot. I met these two on the way home. They were idling.”

“Do you have money, Jules?” Grey said.

Julie put her hand in her pocket and withdrew two ten pence pieces, a five pence piece, and a couple of coppers. “Not even enough for ten Number Six.”

“Here, have one of mine,” Chris said. He offered Julie the cigarette, and lit it with a match.

“So where’s Tim?” Gray said.

“We’ve fallen out,” Julie said. “I haven’t seen him for a while.”

“How long is this separation going to last?” Simon said.

Julie blew smoke into the blue, tilted her head back, smiled. “Don’t pretend to be interested. I’ll talk to Sarah about it later.”

“Thank god for that,” Chris said. “We have important matters to think about. So how much have we got between us? Si, you said you had about fifty pence. Julie, you want join us? Put your twenty-eight pence in the pot?”

“Sorry, I need my money,” Julie said.

“And I need mine for a class,” Simon said.

“Oh, come on,” Gray said. “Why go to a class in the summer when you don’t have to?”

“It’s kung fu.”

“Oh yes,” Gray said. “Forget I said anything. Ahem.”

“Haven’t you two got any money?”

“I’ll need another packet of fags,” Chris said.

Gray shrugged, pouted. “And I have some money, but I need to make it last for the week.”

“Have your parents taken their car?” Simon said.

“No,” Gray said. “It’s in the garage.”

“Has anybody thought,” Simon ventured, “to siphon some petrol from the Mini?”

Gray looked at Chris. “Well, you’re the mechanical brains of this outfit. Can we?”

“Well, yes, we can. Simon, that is brilliant. If you smoked, I’d give you a fag. Julie, give him a kiss.”

Julie dropped her cigarette on the floor and scraped it across the asphalt of the driveway beneath her sandal. She leaned over and kissed Simon on the cheek. She smelled of tobacco, scent, soap and sunshine.

Simon and Julie – a Fragment

Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog. In this section, Simon and Julie have been out for a walk. As usual, for that summer, the night is warm, the sky is practically cloudless. They are lying on a patch of brown, dried grass at the edge of a housing estate, only dimly lit by streetlights, and looking at the sky. They have been talking about a mutual friend, Sarah.


Julie picked at some of the brittle, brown grass. “Do you like Sarah?”

“Sarah is pleasantly pneumatic,” Simon said.

“Pneumatic?” Julie said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s from TS Eliot. Uncorseted, her friendly bust /Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.”

“Oh, I see. I think.”

“And Huxley uses the word too, in that sense. He describes Lenina Crowne as Wonderfully pneumatic.”

“Are we talking about breasts here?”

“Maybe.”

“Are we saying … I mean, are you saying, Sarah has large breasts?”

“Perhaps.”

“Well, haven’t I?”

“To be honest,” Simon said, “I’ve never really noticed your breasts. I mean I’ve looked at them, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think you’re a boy or anything.”

“I am relieved.”

“But I’ve never really thought about their… err… size. They are not the thing I notice first about you.”

“Well, what do you notice first, then?”

“Your eyes.”

“My eyes?”

“Yes. They are light blue. And they sparkle.”

“But aren’t they rather narrow. Don’t I look like Clint Eastwood?”

“Yes. Clint Eastwood with breasts. I just don’t know their size.”

“My eyes or my breasts?”

Simon laughed. “Your eyes may be narrow. I cannot properly gauge that. I mean, obviously you’re not doe-eyed–“

“Obviously. Thank you for reminding me.”

“But.. and there is a but… your eyes shine. They coruscate. I like to make you smile, because then the light dances and dazzles in your eyes.”

“Really?” Julie smiled, and light danced and dazzled in her eyes. Simon fell for a moment, a giddying moment in which the Earth lifted and spun and itself danced. And just in that moment there was not enough breath in the whole world. And then Julie punched him lightly on the arm.

“You great big enormous flirt,” she said. She brushed some strands of his long fair hair away from his face. “I’ve always liked your eyes, too. A deep blue. And flirty, like you.”

They were silent for a few moments. Simon rolled over on his back. He tipped his head and saw long stalks of grass. He slowly pulled one from its sheath, and put the moist green end of it in his mouth. “Arrr, ” he said. “You know, we also call her the Coventry Climax.”

“Who? Sarah?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, she works in the banana factory­–”

“Sometimes it’s like Innuendo City around here.”

“Yes. Indeed. Anyway, they have fork lift trucks there. That’s their name. The make and model. The Coventry Climax. Pneumatic Sarah, the Coventry Climax.”

“I hope you would never call her that.”

Simon shook his head. “Why, of course not. When I say we, I mean Nick, Mark and Gaz. Nick named her thus.”

“Ah yes, Nick. A cad and a bounder.”

“He is. I shake my head and tut loudly whenever the epithet is used.”

Simon rolled over onto his side. He wanted to see Julie’s eyes. Julie was already on her side, her head leaning against her hand, looking at him. “Take that piece of grass out of your mouth, Si,” she said. “It is not cool.”

“Oh. Don’t you actually think two bits would be cooler? Wouldn’t I look dapper?”

Julie smiled again. The world tilted slightly, then  Julie looked at her watch and righted it again. “We have to go Si,” she said. “You’re a lazy-arse student, but I have to be in the shop at 8.30.”

Simon sighed. “Alright.”

Julie leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. The world whirled. “We’ll meet up again soon, yeah?”

Simon could barely get the words out. “Yes, of course.” He stood, and then offered his hand to Julie. He pulled her up. She smiled. If only she would stop smiling the world might successfully and uninterruptedly spin and orbit, and he might walk her home securely attached to its surface.

Julie slipped her arm through Simon’s and they began to walk towards Julie’s house. “You can tell me more of the names Nick has given people.”

“I will. They are, quite literally, Nick-names.”

“Oh, very good. Do I have one?”

Yes, Simon thought. Miss Lovely