The Elephant Girl: Prequel III – Henriette Gyland

In the last prequel to “The Elephant Girl” we see yet another reaction to events, this time from…

THE BUSINESSMAN

The screaming headline reporting the murder of Mimi Stephanov left nothing to the imagination. Derek Moody had retreated to the dining room to finish his late morning coffee and read the newspaper undisturbed. It was his son Jason’s ninth birthday, and the boy’s excited chatter echoed from across the hallway as he played with his presents.

wrapped-presents-resized-201He smiled to himself. Business was going well, and he’d lavished presents on his son, including a bike with 21 gears. That plus paying this terms’ school fees and for the holiday to the Bahamas they were taking at Christmas had hardly made a dent in his savings. Life was good.

Well, maybe not that good. One of his wife’s empty-headed Pekingese dogs had left her side and was now standing beside Derek’s chair, peering up at him through raisin-coloured eyes, its lower jaw protruding and making it look every bit as dumb as it was.

‘Get out,’ he snarled.

Whimpering, the dog turned tail and clattered back across the hall, sweeping the floor tiles with its thick belly fur. Derek shook his head. What his wife saw in those mutts he’d never been able to figure out.

He glanced back at the paper, and at the photo of the smiling Mimi Stephanov, taken at a glitzy charity dinner two months ago. She looked every inch the successful business woman and socialite. Pity she’d been such a difficult person.

Carefully he folded it in half and dropped it in the log basket next to the marble fireplace he’d had installed recently, at great expense. Just then Jason entered the dining room followed by his mother and the infernal Pekes.

‘Thanks for the bike, Dad.’

‘You’re welcome, Son. The man in the bike shop said it was the best model on the market.’

‘Yeah, it’s cool. Dad,’ Jason asked hesitantly, ‘is it okay if I cycle down to Tom’s and we can go on our bikes together? I promise we’ll only go on the pavement.’

‘Tom? Do we know a Tom?’ Derek turned to his wife.

She nodded. ‘Tom’s father did our conservatory last year.’

‘So, he’s a builder?’

‘He runs a construction firm, yes.’

Derek looked from his wife to his son, saw the cautious look in their eyes. Well, they should know better.

‘Son, we don’t mix with people like that. Now, let me call Percy’s parents, and we can arrange something.’

‘Aww, no, not Percy,’ Jason protested.

‘Why? What’s wrong with him?’

‘He’s a wimp, Dad! He cries like a baby when he falls over.’

‘Now, now. You just have to be a little tolerant of him.’

Ignoring further protests from his son, Derek left the dining room to telephone from the hall. As he dialled the number for Percy’s parents, he thought of another child altogether. Mimi Stephanov’s daughter, who’d been in the car with her mother.

How much had she seen? He needed to know.


The Elephant Girl: Prequel II – Henriette Gyland

It’s time for the second prequel to “The Elephant Girl”, and this time we’re seeing  the action through the eyes of…

THE RUSSIAN

It was Vitali who informed him, in those clipped tones of his, so devoid of any feeling – or so it seemed to the listener – that police had found the body of Dmitri’s wife. Beautiful, desirable Mimi had met her inescapable end on a deserted London park lane, in the early hours of a chilly autumn day.

Drawing a deep breath, Arseni tied the dressing gown tighter around him and peered down at the tree-lined street. It had rained in the night, and the pavement was littered with glistening russet leaves, creating hazardous conditions for joggers and early morning dog walkers.

Behind him, in the large four-poster bed, his current girlfriend Irina was stirring, drowsily stretching her perfectly sculpted arms above her head. An elegant foot with red-painted toenails poked out from under the covers.vodka-and-caviar-resized

‘Seni?’

‘Go back to sleep,’ he replied in Russian. Irina gave a contented little sigh and rolled over to sleep on her stomach.

Arseni turned away and continued to stare out of the window. Irina was tall and slim with a glorious head of thick chestnut hair. She had a sweet nature too, but boy, did she irritate him with her habit of sleeping on her front, taking up more than half the bed so whichever position he lay in, he would always brush against her half-naked body.

A lot of men envied him, he knew, but despite his endless supply of pretty girlfriends, something was missing.

His thoughts returned to Mimi. Beautiful, desirable Mimi. Suddenly tears welled up in his eyes, and he allowed himself a moment of grief that it had all gone so horribly wrong. If only she hadn’t rejected him. Hadn’t teased him with her knowledge of his inner-most desires.

‘Pull yourself together,’ he muttered in his adopted English and wiped his eyes. He took a sip from his tea glass, then pulled a face. How many times did he have to tell that useless maid he preferred coffee in the mornings?

Vitali had also told him – and this time there had been a hint of emotion in his smirk, an undercurrent of glee – that Mimi’s five year-old daughter had been in the car at the time. A child so easy to overlook. Many difficult questions surrounded that child, but right now the thought occupying him most was what she might have seen.

He put the tea glass back on the breakfast tray with a clack, and shook Irina awake.

‘Get up and start packing. We’re going back to Moscow.’

Irina sat up, her dark hair artfully tousled. ‘Why you wake me?’ she pouted.

‘What are you, stupid?’ He slapped her on her naked thigh. ‘I said, start packing!’

The Elephant Girl: Prequel I – Henriette Gyland

When you read a book, have you ever wondered how subsidiary characters perceive and react to events in the book? To celebrate the publication of “The Elephant Girl”, over the next couple of weeks I’ll be writing a short piece from the viewpoint of three different characters. Today it’s…

THE GRANDMOTHER

Agnes Ransome accepted a cup of coffee from her secretary, then turned her attention to the papers on her desk. Although the family-owned auction house was now run very efficiently by her youngest daughter Letitia and her step-daughter Mimi, and she herself was officially retired, Agnes still kept her hand in once a week.

Whereas her other daughter Ruth… she glanced at the sleeping form on the leather sofa. After yet another argument with her husband, Ruth had slept in the office.

Agnes despaired at her daughter’s disastrous marriage. At least Letitia had had the good sense to remain unattached. Then there was Mimi whose husband had died far too young. Aside from her own few blissful years with William, the Ransomes had a terribly track record when it came to happy-ever-afters.

Abandoning the paperwork, she poured Ruth some coffee from the Thermos the secretary had left, then woke her up.2013-07-04-1525-resized2

‘It’s 8.30. You might want to freshen up before the 10 o’clock auction.’ She noticed a cut on Ruth’s hand. ‘And get that seen to.’

Ruth shook as she reached for the saucer with both hands. ‘Thanks,’ she mumbled, and Agnes smelled the gin on her breath.

The door opened, and Letitia almost fell into the office, her face as white as a sheet. ‘Mother, it’s Mimi.’

‘What about Mimi, dear?’

‘She’s dead. Murdered!’

Agnes felt the blood leave her face, and she steadied herself against the desk. From the sofa Ruth made a strangled sound and dropped her coffee cup with a clatter. A dark stain spread on the Persian rug.

‘But that’s… how?’ asked Agnes.

‘Stabbed. In her car. The police want to talk to all of us.’

‘And the child? Where’s Helen?’

Letitia wrung her hands. ‘In hospital. Apparently she was on the back seat when it happened.’

‘Oh, my God!’ Ruth covered her mouth with her hand.

A tight feeling grew in the pit of Agnes’ stomach. ‘Was she harmed?’

‘She had a seizure, from shock I imagine, but no, she wasn’t harmed.’ Letitia sent her sister a hard look. ‘Well, that’ll make life easier for you, won’t it, Sis?’

Ruth glared back at her. ‘I won’t pretend to be heart-broken. And it’s not as if you’re going to miss her either, is it?’

‘Girls!’ Agnes snapped, although both in their forties they were hardly that. ‘This isn’t productive.’

Letitia turned to her mother with a brief panicked expression in her eyes. ‘But how will we cope, Mother? Without Mimi? We’re just about to float on the Stock Exchange.’

‘I’ll have to come out of retirement.’

‘But, Mother, your health – ‘ Ruth protested.

‘Don’t talk such nonsense. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Letitia is right, the company won’t succeed otherwise. And then we need to decide what to do about the child.’

The child, she thought. So many issues surrounding that little girl already, and now another: if Helen was on the back seat, how much had she seen?


Henri wants to be…

blueprint-for-love-50-percent1When my sister and I were children, we used to play a game called I-Want-To-Be-Her. It was quite simple – whenever we were watching a film or a TV series, we would shout “I want to be her”, meaning a character in the film/programme, usually the most beautiful actress. In the interest of fairness we would also take turns at being the one to get first dibs.

You might think this would keep the peace, but you’d be wrong. My younger sister proved to be infuriatingly adept at spotting the right woman to root for, or the one “to be”, whereas I often ended up “being” the beautiful villain-ness.

So I developed my own brand of deviousness – or maybe that devious streak was already there, which might explain why I always ended up as the bad girl… hmm. Anyway, I would persuade (read: bully, cajole, trick) her into watching re-runs of the same programme when it was my turn to choose first, and then choose to be the good girl. It worked, but the victory felt hollow because it still didn’t change the fact that she was better at spotting the nice people than me. Grrr!

However, today I get first dibs, and I choose to be my heroine, Hazel, who features on the cover of my sweet romance mystery novella, “Blueprint for Love”. I just love her red coat and black boots, and I wouldn’t mind living in that house in the background either…

So does Hazel have a devious streak, or is she a goody-two-shoes? Or maybe her personality is somewhere in-between. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Henri shouts, “Stand and deliver!”

thd_packshot-web1Actually it’s the other way round, I’m the one who’s delivering. It gives me great pleasure to reveal the cover for my next novel, The Highwayman’s Daughter, which will be published in January 2014.

In contrast to my contemporary romantic suspense novels, the setting for this book is Hounslow Heath in the 18th century, during the golden age of “gentlemen of the road”, and it’s a swash-buckling romp, light-hearted in parts but with darker elements too, as well as a core mystery.

I really love this cover, with its hint of intrigue and the central character’s slightly androgynous clothing and untamed hair, which tells us that she’s free-spirited and possibly a bit of a tomboy. I also love the green marbled background symbolising a forested hide-out (in 1768 Hounslow Heath was still densely forested in places), and the font has undertones of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Another reason I’m very excited is that this is actually my first historical novel. I always saw myself as a writer of contemporary fiction, so when this story presented itself to me, almost completely written in my head, it was rather a shock to the system. Should I ignore it and concentrate on my contemporary work, or should I go where the story was taking me and see what happened?

I trusted my instinct and went with the story. When I’d finished it, not only was I thrilled that I’d written a novel in a historical period which has always captured my imagination – the Georgian period – I also discovered that I’d succeeded in creating my own story universe (and by that I don’t mean an alternate universe…) as well as the basis for a trilogy.

So I’m very glad I didn’t ignore the call to “stand and deliver”!

Interview With the Hero by Henriette Gyland

I’m nervous. There are no two ways about it. Sweaty palms, unable to sit still, I keep touching my hair and face to make sure it isn’t sticking out in all directions, and that I don’t have toothpaste on my chin.

This is the first time I’m interviewing one of my characters for the Choc Lit Gazette, and this guy, Aidan Morell from Up Close, is Drop Dead Gorgeous. Classic features, thick brown hair (a tad too long?), a physique to die for. Bright green eyes, like peridot gems, regarding me as if he knows something I don’t.

I clear my throat and begin the interview with a confidence I don’ t feel. “So, Aidan,” I say, “I understand you trained as an artist.” He nods. “I did a college course, yes, but I’ve always enjoyed drawing. I used to scribble in my school books, much to my mother’s horror, but now I’m a bit more sensible and carry a small sketch pad with me for whenever inspiration strikes.”

Photo by Stonda via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Stonda via Wikimedia Commons

“I’ve noticed you do a lot of seascapes,” I continue. “Is this why you chose to make your home on the North Norfolk coast?” “Not really,” he shrugs. “One of the joys of being an artist is that it’s a very mobile profession, and you can do it anywhere. As it happens, I was born and raised here, and came back to help my mother when, uhm, my brother became ill. I then realised that the wild beauty of the place inspires me in my work.” He throws me a smile, and my stomach does a little dive.

“But before that, I understand you were in the Navy, as a Mine Clearance Diver,” I say. “Could you tell us a little bit more about that?” “Sure. An MCD deals with any explosive ordnance below the high watermark. The Iraq War was over, but there were still a lot of unexploded mines bopping around in the Gulf, and it was our job to make sure it was safe for shipping. And before you ask, because I can see you’re about to, I was injured, yes, but not by a bomb, just an accident on board. One of my colleagues wasn’t quite so lucky…”

Feeling bolder, now that the interview is going so well, I pose the question I’ve been burning to ask him. “Your mentioned earlier that you came back because your brother was ill. Isn’t it true that he attempted suicide several times, and eventually succeeded? What were your feelings about that?”

In the silence which ensues it dawns on me that I have truly put my foot in it, and in my first interview too. A vintage Gyland gaff. Choc Lit Gazette are never, ever going to ask me to interview one of my characters again!

“Are you for real?” he says eventually. The gentleness in his voice is almost too much for me to bear, and makes me feel like a naughty child brought to task by a kindly neighbour. “What do you imagine my feelings to be? However, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Okay,” I say, swallowing hard, “perhaps we could return to your art. I’ve had a good look at some of your pictures and see you use a lot of greys, but when I get up close to the paintings, those greys suddenly turn into many other colours. How do you achieve that effect?” His eyes light up, and he launches into a lengthy explanation about blending oils, about light and brush strokes, all of which appears to be quite involved and technical.

But it’s his passion which shines through – passion for his work, for what he regards as purity, indeed for life and everything in it. I’m beginning to form a picture of the real Aidan which unfortunately is outside the scope of this interview.

Finally he gets up, and we part, shaking hands and exchanging promises to keep in touch. “And I’m sorry about that personal question earlier,” I add. “Don’t sweat it,” he replies and turns to leave. From the doorway he sends me another smile which has me in turmoil and makes me wonder what life with this guy would be like.

If I wasn’t already hitched, and he wasn’t fictitious, I mean…

Remember, Remember …

… the 7th of December. Well, I’m not likely to forget that date in a hurry, am I? Because it’s PUBLICATION DAY of Up Close today! Hooray!

Box of author copies

Box of author copies

There’s a tremendous sense of achievement. Some people even liken it giving birth, and there are certainly elements which can easily be compared: the hard slog (read: feeling like a beached whale), dealing with rejections (read: hormones), the long wait (a lot more than 9 months…), the final hard push, and then cradling the product in your arms.

That’s where the analogy ends. This isn’t just nature taking it’s course, each day moving closer and closer to an inevitable outcome, but something born out of my imagination alone. It didn’t come from the blue lagoon, instead it came from what can be best described as resembling an overblown, grey walnut – my brain. And that makes it so much more.

So is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Recently my friend and fellow writer, the lovely Jean Fullerton (see http://www.jeanfullerton.com/), pulled me to one side and said, “I didn’t want to tell you this before, but you’ll never get a break now. You’ll either be writing a book, editing a book, or talking about a book.” And she’s absolutely right.

Today I’m talking about Book 1 (Up Close), while I’m awaiting the edits for Book 2, and the creation of Book 3 is well under way. I get breathless just thinking about it!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Far from it. This is what I’ve always wanted, even before I realised I wanted it. Where my heart always was, what I am. An author. And even if I’d known beforehand what crazy, hard work it was going to be, I wouldn’t want it any other way.


Henri’s Wednesday “W” is for War Artists

Drawing the Rifle Brigade HQ at the 2nd Battle of El Alamein

Edward Ardizzone drawing the Rifle Brigade HQ at the 2nd Battle of El Alamein

For many years the British government officially commissioned a number of artists to create visual accounts of the impact of war, and in particular the Second World War saw a number of well-known artists enter war zones and describe it how they saw it. Not just the fighting and the suffering – many of them stayed well behind the troops they were following – but also the celebration of small victories, the waiting around for orders, or just doing mundane things like eating, sleeping, or entertaining themselves. Some also depicted the destruction on the home front, the injured in hospital, women working in the munitions factories or as land girls, or terrified families seeking shelter from the falling bombs. I expect some of the names will be familiar to you: Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden, Henry Moore, Stanley Spencer, Graham Sutherland, and Ronald Searle (as a prisoner-of-war), just to mention a few.

With the 300th: Outside the Billets at Merris (note the washing hanging on the line)

With the 300th: Outside the Billets at Merris (with permission of the Imperial War Museum)

By happy coincidence I happen to be related to Edward Ardizzone by marriage and have had the privilege of accessing some of the archives.

He had a fantastic visual memory, and although he recorded some of the horror of the battlefield, it’s his depiction of the lighter moments and the camaraderie between the troops which stand out for me. The picture on the right is a typical example of such a moment (note the washing on the line).

You can read more about the artist here, http://www.edwardardizzone.org.uk/

By another happy coincidence(!), the hero in my forthcoming novel Up Close is also an artist. He’s not a war artist as such, and although he served in the navy in peacetime, he has his own take on what soldiers go through in combat and when they return home.

During WWII many of the very best of British artists would enter various war zones. Today, most of the column inches go to the art stars such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, or Grayson Perry, and it would be hard to imagine any of them being parachuted into a conflict zone. However, there are still artists such as John Keane and Peter Howson who tread this less fashionable path.


Henri’s new cover

eg_packshot-copy1

Today I’m taking a little break from editing my first novel (don’t worry, dear editor, I’ll be right back!) to share my excitement over the cover for my next romantic thriller ”The Elephant Girl”, scheduled for publication next summer.

I was absolutely stunned when I saw this. It’s totally different from my first cover, so different perhaps that you could be forgiven for thinking this book was written by another person. But, no, it’s still me, and as with the first book, it reflects the setting of the story. This time partly in India and partly in London’s multi-cultural Shepherd’s Bush area.

When it comes to the details, it’s almost as if the cover designer had a direct feed to my brain (mm, a slightly worrying notion now I come to think of it…). The elephant pendant is exactly what I imagined my heroine’s necklace would look like, and putting it on the spine of the cover as well was truly inspired. The pointed paper knife hints at danger, and the colourful fabric used for the background just screams, ”pick me up!”

Hand on heart, would you be able to walk past this in a bookshop and not stop to take a second look? I know I wouldn’t.

Henri’s Wicked Women on a Wednesday

Film and literature are full of villains and baddies, the perfect foil for the heroes and heroines, but what about the so-called “anti-hero”, fictional characters in the role of protagonist who aren’t necessarily heroic or even nice, the ones we love to hate? Because I write women’s fiction, here I’ll be talking about my 3 favourite wicked women (or 4).

Like butter wouldn't melt (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Like butter wouldn't melt (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Scarlett O’Hara
The raven-haired, green-eyed, and manipulative beauty from Gone With the Wind is the kind of heroine who makes people’s fingers twitch because they long to give her a jolly good slap. The trouble with Scarlett is that she’ll slap you right back. “Sir, you are no gentleman”, she says to Rhett Butler, to which he counters, “And you, Miss, are no lady”, thus hitting the nail on the head. Not only is she a fighter, she fights dirty. She steals her sister’s fiancé, romances the broken and weak-willed Ashley behind her friend Melanie’s back, drives her second husband to an early grave, and continues to use slave labour after the emancipation, substituting black slaves for unpaid convicts.

Why do I like her? Exactly because she’s a fighter, and because she, in her youthfulness, believes it’s for love, but as the novel progresses, it’s becomes clear the fight is for her very essence. Scarlett is inextricably bound up with the family plantation, Tara. The men in her life – her father, Ahsley, Rhett – know this before she does, and many of her selfish, and occasionally cruel actions are centred around preserving Tara and her family’s heritage. For that she pays the ultimate price: losing the people who truly love her despite herself.

Marquise de Merteuil
You may wonder why I have chosen the scheming scandal-mongerer from Dangerous Liaisons (played brilliant by the actress Glenn Close in the 1988 film btw., with just a hint of bunny-boiler madness about her) as my next anti-heroine. What is there to like about her? Clever, indolent, and bored, she’s a far more dangerous creature than Scarlett, and together with the cynical and jaded Vicomte de Valmont she orchestrates not only the downfall of an innocent young girl, but also the seduction of the sweet and faithful Madame the Tourvel, for nothing more than a bet. The prize? The Marquise will give herself to the Vicomte if he succeeds.

This lady’s come-uppance comes in the form of being hoisted by her own petard. Valmont seduces the faithful wife, but when he rejects her, as part of the bet, he breaks her heart and his own too in the process. Wretched, he tries to collect his prize, but the Marquise refuses to honour the bet because she has fallen in love with the him and cannot give herself to him as he loves another. Later she suffers a nervous breakdown.

What I like about her character is that despite proclaiming herself a cynic when it comes to romantic love, her weakness is that she cannot guard herself against it. She has committed hubris, laughing at the gods of love only to be struck by Cupid’s arrow herself.

Cinderella’s ugly sisters
Although this pair of anti-heroines aren’t exactly protagonists, they’re certainly show-stealers because they’re so deliciously wicked, both in the original fairy tale, but also in the delightful Disney cartoon. The reader/audience cheer when they get their come-uppance. In the

The coveted slippers (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The coveted slippers (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Disney film they’re not as mean as in the book, and payback is a little less harsh, sanitised, perhaps, for the benefit of a very young audience (i.e. they don’t get to marry the prince), but in the story they willingly cripple themselves in order to fit into the fabled glass slipper. One cuts her toe off, the other her heel.

I also like them because a deeper interpretation of the story reveals that more is at play – only by being true to yourself (as Cinderella is), will you win the greatest prize of all. For others to love you as you are without the need to alter yourself, either physically or with regards to your personality. An important message to us all maybe – every day we’re bombarded with images of supposed perfection, in glossy magazines, on TV and billboards etc., and it takes a certain degree of self-assuredness to stem up against such onslaught.

Having said that, I’d give anything to own, let alone fit into the shoes in the picture on the left 🙂