Reading Your Manuscript on Kindle

I find it easier to spot my mistakes when I read my work from a different media.  I recently uploaded my manuscript to my Kindle which was very easy once I discovered a couple of tricks.  Here’s how I did it.

STEP ONE – clear formatting

Copy document into a new file.

Highlight complete document (Control +A)

Single line space whole document

Change font to <Times New Roman> 12 point

Then click on <FORMAT>

Choose <Styles & Formatting>

Choose <Clear> to clear all formatting

Make sure there are no tabs.

STEP TWO  – First line indents

Select PARAGRAPH

At <Alignment> select <left>

At <Special> select <1st line> by <0.5>

Obviously make sure you then <Save>

It sounds tricky but it’s really very easy.

Emailing  Document to your Kindle

By email obviously send it to whatever your Kindle is called.

In Subject just type the word CONVERT

Then attach your newly formatted document and send it.

Sometimes it comes through to the Kindle quickly, other times it takes a while.

Setting the Scenery.

I wasn’t born in Dorset, but I am very fond of my adopted County and happy my children are natives.

I’m drawn to the water. I became engaged next to an oil rig in the Arabian Gulf, married beside the boats in Weymouth Harbour, and toasted at a thirteenth century inn at Osmington Mills, where the cliffs overlook the English Channel and stories of contraband and shipwrecks are fodder for an active and hungry imagination.

It is no surprise to me that people want to write about the area. I do.

Dorset’s landscape is awe-inspiring, with magnificent views around the Jurassic coastline, sandy bays and secret coves; its history is rich with myths and legends and tales of smugglers. There is the abandoned World War Two village of Tyneham, and the dangerous, crashing waters of the Bill, to provide mystery and drama. And then there is Chesil Beach. I’ll tell you about her one day.

On a hillside not far away is the White Horse of Osmington, a depiction in limestone of a mounted King George the Third, who took many holidays in Weymouth. The sculpture was created in the King’s honour, but he was so upset that he was shown riding away from the town, he never returned.

Within the last week, following a gorse fire, we almost acquired a piebald. Thankfully, the fire was extinguished before too much damage occurred.

Further inland, there is the splendid and statuesque figure of the Cerne Abbas Giant, in all his glory. I would love to make him an integral part of a novel.

Not surprisingly, there are stories of the Giant’s magical fertility abilities, and folklore suggests that childless couples can increase their chances of fertility and conception by doing one of the following: dancing around a maypole erected upon the Giant, making love on top of his phallus or, for those women of a slightly less exhibitionistic nature, simply sleeping on him. Alone.

I will not be commenting on the effectiveness of these methods.

Recently, I learned that Enid Blyton was fond of Dorset and there is a suggestion that some scenes from her Famous Five books were based around Lulworth Cove. Certainly, this is plausible, as the Jurassic coastline is the perfect setting for an adventure.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Thomas Hardy, Dorset’s most famous author. I find it exciting to visit the places mentioned in his novels.  Is that geeky? http://www.dorsets.co.uk/arts_and_crafts/hardy_wessex.htm

Having made the decision to base my novels in and around Weymouth and Portland, I hope I’m able to convey my love for the area in my story-telling.

I can understand why Dorset attracts authors and I can see how and why she creates writers.

What is it about your favourite place that inspires you?

Laura x

Duff Dates & Chat Up Lines

What’s the worst chat up line you’ve ever heard?

Here are ours…

Catherine: Do you like chocolate? (‘Yes’) Well, drop your snickers and I’ll give you a boost.

Jan:  You’ll do.

Celia: My wife doesn’t understand me. No really, someone said it to me.

Laura: Do you paint your hair?

Lucie: You scrub up well! 

Debbie: Get your coat on, you’ve pulled!

Sue [heard about this] : Do you believe in love at first sight or shall I walk by again?

Liz: I’ll cook you dinner if you cook me breakfast!

Vanessa: Do you like big cars? (said by a French man with raised eyebrow and a smirk, waving a BMW keyring)

Tell us about your worst date:

Catherine: I went out on a date with a guy who I think fell in love with me immediately. He was far too hand-holdy for me. We went to the cinema which was fine, but as he thought it was going so well he asked me out to dinner … at McDonald’s. Not that I’m a snob, but it’s not my ideal date venue. Safe to say there was never a second date.

Sue : Went away for a camping weekend with husband (boyfriend at the time). Went on his motorbike. The exhaust burnt a hole in the panniers, which burnt my clothes (actually my sister’s, I had borrowed her trousers). Eventually set up the tent – it rained. Tent door wasn’t zipped up properly and our remaining clothes got soaked. Needless to say the weekend ended there and we went home less than 24 hours after leaving. That was my very brief and unsuccessful affair with camping.

Vanessa: Has anyone seen Pretty in Pink? Do you remember Andie and Blane’s first date? Well, that. But without the pink dress and the happy ending. I was at art college, used to indie nights at the student union, dancing to Nine Inch Nails in my Doc Martens. I met him at a friend’s party where I’d been forced to wear a dress and non steel toe-capped shoes so probably looked fairly normal. He asked me out and we arranged to meet in a bar where all the girls wore stilettos and lycra. I wore ripped jeans and DMs. I took him to a pub where all the boys wore black and had piercings. He had Hugh Grant hair and wore Chinos. I was home alone by 9.30pm and never saw him again.

Laura: A bad date? Hmm. It has to be one Gajitman and I shared on our honeymoon – that still counts as a date, right? We were in Venice, wet from the persistent rain, hungry from our day’s activities, and searching for something to eat. We had exhausted the pizzerias and pasta restaurants and were happy to find a cheap and cheerful burger bar. Back in those days, vegetarianism was not as popular in some European countires as it was in the UK, and the burger joint offered no meat-free alternatives, so I settled for fries in a bun. I consumed many chips and possibly two buns to restore my depleted energy levels. By the time we returned to the hotel, I was feeling ill. I rushed to the bathroom, knelt (because I could bend in those days) at the foot of the toilet and threw up. A chip made its escape through my nose. It was not a pleasant experience and no, I didn’t enjoy the food more, second time around. Gajitman entered the bathroom and leaned over the bidet. I was curious. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked. He glanced sideways and grinned. ‘If you’re sick, then I will be too. We’re married now and that means we do everything together.’

Celia: Asked back, aged 17,  to meet my first husband’s parents I was totally over excited by the sight of their well-stocked drinks cabinet. At my house we had sweet sherry, and that was just for Christmas. After deep thought, I chose a brandy and babycham – cool or what? (We knew how to impress people in the seventies.) Taking a happy swig, I put it down next to me, not wanting to look greedy, and concentrated on making intelligent conversation. I had decided things were going quite well, when their round, smelly and much adored dalmation heaved herself to her feet, broke wind silently and waddled over to me. In the resulting confusion – windows being opened,  etc, the dog bent to inspect my drink and slobbered right into my glass – long, glistening strings of dribble. Point of etiquette – should I mention it, and risk my future in-laws thinking I was a dog-hating snob, or take a deep breath and drink it. Well, what would you have done?

Jan:  This wasn’t a date as such. Two guys – neither of whom were as tall as my friend or I – were chatting us up in the pub one night when we suddenly heard all this shouting and cheering going on over the far side. It was a strip -o-gram. Our two admirers were desperately craning their necks to ogle a glimpse of flesh but not being tall enough to see properly used mine and my friend’s shoulders for leverage.  Nice!

Lucie: When I was about 14 I really fancied this boy and we had been texting for weeks. We finally arranged to meet up and I spent hours doing my hair and picking out some nice clothes. I walked into town and stood outside Woolworths; the agreed meeting point. I waited. I waited some more. I waited about two hours before I left. He stood me up. At 14, I was heartbroken. So technically not a date – although do you need both parties for it to qualify as a bad date? 

Debbie: Same as Jan, this wasn’t on a date, but during a night out in the 80’s with a girlfriend when we met two young men in a bar.

My friend was soon engrossed with one of the guys. ‘Mine’ was quite good looking and we were having a laugh, although it was packed in the bar and the music so loud I couldn’t hear everything he was saying. I had to tell him to speak up a couple of times. Anyway, all of a sudden, he looked at me, his eyes glazed over and he kind of glared, and then, out of the blue, he head butted me!

‘Well, there’s no need for that!’ I shouted. Feeling shocked, I put a hand to my forehead to see if it was bleeding. Then I went mad. Seeing red, I tossed my drink in his face and  slammed the glass down on a table but he grabbed for my arm and tried to say something which I couldn’t hear. His hair and shirt were soaked. My friend and his stood there open mouthed in amazement watching as I yanked my arm away, shouted, ‘Let go of me!’ and hurled some choice expletives at him.

By now everyone was staring at us and two bouncers came over and started leading us both towards the exit door. ‘Did you see what he just did?’ I said, feeling outraged. 

The bouncers tried to calm things but my friend, now incensed, stepped in and began shouting at both men too. Before long we were all arguing and shouting over each other. I was still reeling and holding my head and by now,  feeling really embarrassed and upset that we’d been kicked out. 

It wasn’t until we were outside, without the loud music that the guy who’d assaulted me turned to me, his face totally sincere and full of horror at what had happened and said, ‘Look I’m really, really sorry. I didn’t head butt you, honestly. I just sneezed…’

Liz: I was seventeen, shallow and wearing heels that were put on this earth purely to dislocate ankles.
He had a sports car, weird hair but a good sense of humour. So what could go wrong?
I can’t remember where we had been, but on the basis that I hadn’t sneaked out of a back door or taken a call from a friend regarding an imaginary burst pipe in my imaginary house; it can’t have been a bad date. Until he dropped me home.

We had talked about a second date and I was keen to impress to him so I made sure I walked with a little extra wiggle across my drive way towards my front door conscious that he was watching me. And then it happened. The clunk. The clink. The thump.

My heel had slipped into the tiny gaps in the metre long grate that was in my driveway and as if there was some kind of secret cement, my heel was well and truly jammed.

I could feel my face redden as I became more aware of my date’s eyes on me as I tried to wriggle my heel to freedom.  There was only one way to escape this nightmare situation and that was to pretend that there was nothing wrong.

A glance over my shoulder saw his confused and concerned expression, to which I beamed a smile of reassurance back. The show must go on.

I stepped forward dragging my troubled heel behind bringing with me the long narrow grate attached like a metallic ski until I reached the front door. The confused and concerned expression from my date had now evolved into a slow stunned shake of the head.

I knew before I had even attempted to walk into my house that this was going to be a problem because the length of the grate was bigger than the door. It was impossible for me to get into the house, but I had already made an idiot out of myself so what could possibly make the situation any worse?
Without hesitation, I bent down and unzipped my boot releasing a bright pink and white striped sock and without looking back I entered the house and refused to acknowledge the whole situation had ever happed.
Who ever knew his sense of humour was going to come in so handy?  
  

Introducing… Debbie White

Sperm are determined.

And swallows. Look how they fly thousands of miles from South Africa to make a nest and raise a brood in the eaves of our barn just because it’s where they nested last year. It’s their natural instincts to do so. They travel to whatever lengths, face whatever challenges and jump whatever hoops to achieve their goals.

As humans, we’re just as determined in the way we live our lives. Sometimes we’re driven by instinct, although more often by our upbringing, or our own goals and plans for life. My Nan brought me up and taught me the mantra, ‘There’s no such word as Can’t’  from an early age. It’s her legacy that made determination my middle name, so you can imagine how it affected me when I had to retire from my job as a Bank Manager due to ill health when I was only thirty-three.

After spending weeks in hospital over the next couple of years my health stabilised, and I eventually grew bored of watching daytime TV and the continual stream of mum and toddler coffee mornings. I needed something for me; something to strive for, to make me feel alive again. So I started a small business, hand crafting and painting personalised keepsake gifts but a few years later, my health got the better of that too. I hated the thought of giving up again but I couldn’t keep battling the flare-ups in my hands and wrists.

It didn’t take long for the familiar cloak of boredom to weigh heavy on my shoulders again and for my restless brain to crave stimulation. Not being one to sit around moping, I considered doing an Open University course. I’d always fancied myself as a bit of a writer and wished I’d stayed on at school and studied English and been a teacher. But then one day, I came across a notebook in a drawer and I read the pages of a storyline I’d written while on maternity leave with my second son. It was funny, but I’d forgotten all about that notebook.

A little like Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Sliding Doors,’ do you ever wonder if you’d done one tiny thing different, whether the end result might have changed completely? Well, as I sat and read through the story I’d jotted down it came to life in my mind’s eye and I felt compelled to write it, even though I had no idea how to write or structure a novel. Armed with a copy of Jane Wenham-Jones ‘Wannabe a writer’ I booked myself on an Arvon Course. Now three years down the line, I’ve served a fulfilling apprenticeship learning the craft of writing and am currently on the third re-write of the novel.

Charles Darwin famously said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Living with an auto-immune disease and being in chronic pain has meant I’ve had to adapt and re-invent myself several times over the years. It’s meant compromising but it doesn’t mean abandoning my dreams. I still have dreams. They are what keep me going some days.

Sometimes I feel like a salmon – another determined little breed – with the constant feeling of swimming against the tide, travelling upstream. However, one thing I do know is I’ll never ever give up.

I have to write. When I don’t, I feel restless and unfulfilled. Writing is the milk in my tea; the fondant on my cup cake, the ice-cream on my jelly. And with the support of my amazing friends and family, the RNA and my wonderful writer friends on the NWS, I know I’ll get there in the end…

Hopefully, you will follow my writer friends and me on our journey.

Until another day

Bye for now

xx

Introducing….. Liz Crump

Dropping from a lace bust, whispers of ivory and folds of cream silk flow down to the floor finished by a lace hem where crystals sparkle and shimmer discreetly hidden beneath the depths of the fabric.

As a child, this was the wedding dress I imagined I would wear. But then as a child I didn’t have a clue about the troubles an hourglass figure would bring!

Most little girls dream of princess themed wedding days and I was no exception. I loved the idea of the fairy tale happy ending with a prince in shining armour. But that dream soon fizzled out. When? Maybe it was the moment Robbie left Take That and broke my heart (how could he?!)

What really happened was that I grew up and I found my romances in other areas of my life.  As I grew up my focuses in life changed and I became a bit too career minded.
Over the years I put everything into my career and although it has now paid off, it has also meant that, by choice, there has been no gap in my life for romance.  Well there is one tiny little gap for romance and that’s in my novel.

I joined the Romantic Novelist’s Association, New Writer Scheme in 2011 and had a real eye opening year. I began to understand an industry I knew very little about and I began to write a novel that had real structure and purpose.  I also made some life long friends, for who I would have given up on this dream of getting published without.

I sent my partial submission off to the RNA NWS last year wanting nothing more than to put a big apology across the front of every page I had written. It was the first time anyone had ever looked at my work and the thought of it filled me with dread. Luckily for me, my reader gave me some excellent feedback that made me look at my novel objectively which gave me the courage to keep writing.

My current Work In Progress has developed considerably over the year but it follows the life of Andi who has spent her entire life sacrificing her own happiness for others. When she suddenly finds herself betrayed by those closest to her she decides to put herself first for once and make drastic changes to find her own happiness in love. Andi will do what it takes to find love, even if that means changing who she is to fit the mould.  But Andi soon discovers that happiness and love often come with heavy prices to pay.

I’m delighted to be part of both the Romaniacs and the Romantic Novelist’s Association, New Writer Scheme and the friendships that come with them. I look forward to celebrating everyone’s success and hopefully keeping you entertained with our blog!

Lots of Love

Liz x

Introducing… Vanessa Savage

A few weeks ago, I woke in the middle of the night, sat up, heart pounding, a terrible question on my mind… Was I romantic enough to be a proper Romaniac? Or was I just a maniac? Should I put the Ro in brackets? Be a (Ro) maniac?

So I sat back and thought about my recently finished book, and the next book I want to write, and realized I was worrying about nothing. Yes, some of my stories might be dark, and yes, sometimes the love interests can be shoved to the sidelines while the heroines figure stuff out, but the stories are still full of love – some of it doomed and not all of it romantic, but enough for me to qualify…

While one book is resting between drafts, a new idea is already brewing and begging for my attention… characters are forming, and scenes are appearing in my mind. I keep seeing things when I’m out, potential settings for the new book that have me reaching for a pen.

I’m not inspired by exotic locations – I love reading about them, but looking at a beautiful beach, white sand and turquoise sea, doesn’t get my pen twitching.  Unless that’s a tear trickling from under the sunglasses of the girl on the sun lounger, unless the couple walking hand-in-hand through a flower-filled meadow have a dark secret they want to share. I like the shadows, I like writing about what goes on behind the smile, the closed doors. A lonely house, fog rolling in, an empty fairground … even when I try writing a rural idyll, I end up stumbling into a dark wood that just begs to hide a terrible secret…

But. But… I do like a happy ending.

However tortured and full of angst my characters are, I can’t leave them like that – I have to make sure things are going to get better. And all that dark, shadowy stuff – doesn’t it just make the light all the brighter when it comes?

I’m reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my daughter at the moment. The early chapters are horribly bleak – it’s the middle of winter, snow is falling, the family is starving, they live in a hovel, Mr Bucket loses his job, Charlie has cabbage soup for supper every single day… but we are racing through the book, feeling Charlie’s pain, desperate to get to the bit where it all starts to get better for him… And how much more delicious it is when he finds that golden ticket, when he finds that fifty pence shining in the gutter. Hurray for Charlie Bucket! That’s my favourite moment in the book.

But imagine if the story had ended with him missing the fifty pence, never finding the golden ticket, nose pressed against the shop window, watching someone else find it while Charlie either slowly starves or freezes solid…

No, I don’t think so. No tragic love stories for me either, no Romeo and Juliet, no Wuthering Heights, no Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate their literary merit – they are beautiful, haunting books, just not for me. My characters might start out troubled, in the shadows, but there’s light and magic in that empty fairground, there’s love hiding in the corners of the rusty caravan that shelters them from the rain, and after loving and nurturing my heroine all the way through, I am not going to kill her off.

A friend of mine loves nothing better than a good weepie – she’ll stock up on tissues and sob her way from cover to cover. But me? I don’t see the attraction. I have to have a happy ending. Real life doesn’t always have that; the bad guys don’t always get caught, people die. But I read books to escape real life. If someone recommends  a book and tells me I’ll need a tissue at the end, I don’t want to read that book. I don’t mind a good cry in the middle, or at the start but at the end … there has to be at least the hope of a happy ending.

So, here is my story with the requisite happy ending:

Once upon a time there was a woman who wanted to be a writer, so she joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme and met some other lovely, if maniacal, writers and they become friends and called themselves the Romaniacs and all lived happily ever after…

What a lovely, happy ending.

What ending do you need from a story? Fairytale happy? Or happiness-on-the-horizon? Or is a good, tragic, Romeo and Juliet ending the one for you?

Introducing … Jan Brigden

As my English teacher at high school so rightly observed: “Janet, you appear to be wearing your rose-tinted spectacles again. This was supposed to be a horror story, not a love story.”

Okay, so my zombie was more Romeo than Psycho…

I confess I’m a dreamer. A thinker. A lover of all things romantic, from chocolate love hearts and long stem roses to a good old-fashioned emotionally charged moral dilemma. Tales of chance encounters and dates with destiny captivate me.

After all, I believe fate had more than a hand in reuniting me with the man I’m now married to.

More years ago than I dare to consider have passed, the two of us were at the same house party. Me, huddled in one corner of the lounge with my girlfriends, wearing my new red dress and sipping a glass of fizz. Dave, also in red, a V-Neck jumper which he insists to this day wasn’t patterned (it was!) rooted in the kitchen area (where else?) with several other blokes, clutching a can of lager. Our eyes met, numerous times, a little exchange of smiles here and there, but we never actually managed to speak to each other before my taxi arrived. I never forgot him though. I did spy him once from afar but felt too shy to go over and tap him on the shoulder in case he didn’t recognize me.

Fast forward fourteen years from that first encounter and there we both are at another mutual friend’s party. I hadn’t wanted to go as I’d recently come out of a long-term relationship and thought it would be all couples. My older sister talked me into it; said it was better than sitting on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. The first person I saw when I walked into the hall that night was Dave – very much single – having just come out of a relationship himself. We spent the whole evening chatting to each other. Much to the delight of our fellow guests, we even managed to sneak-in a slow dance.

It transpired that we’d been playing cat and mouse for years; frequenting the same pubs, clubs and restaurants, staying at the same holiday park, missing each other by two days.

But now we’d created our own love story.

Or to quote Mum’s words to me over dinner the next day: “Ships that pass no more, Jan…”

Introducing… Lucie Wheeler

I am a strong believer in fate. I believe that things happen for a reason and I believe that you should take what life throws at you and turn it into a positive. This is exactly what happened to me pretty much two years ago this month.

I am not your stereotypical writer. I haven’t been writing stories since I was knee high and I haven’t read all of the classic stories that, probably, I should have. I didn’t grow up dreaming of being an author, or a journalist, or anything writing related actually. I grew up wanting to be a physiotherapist, and then later, a dancer. I left school, went to college and received a diploma in performing arts. I then secured a place at University and was set to train and become a dance teacher. A couple of months before starting the course I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do; it wasn’t my dream. I didn’t know what my dream was, but I knew it wasn’t that. So I cancelled my place and cancelled my student loan.

But then it dawned on me – what do I do now?

I flitted between lots of office and retail jobs, never really feeling fully at home. I hadn’t yet found my ‘place’. In 2006 I fell pregnant and had to re-think work. I couldn’t continue where I was and my husband  told me I could stay at home. Up until now, I had played about with some words and written half of what I now realise was a crime novel. But I had no direction or skill, I just wrote what was in my head. It became stagnant and I didn’t know how to rescue it, so it went into a drawer with some other random pieces of paper with words scattered all over them but no consistency. I left it for another year or so before I wrote anything else.

And so to keep my brain active, during my pregnancy I trained as a beauty therapist and when LO was 6 months old, I started a mobile beauty therapist business. I didn’t earn much and only had a handful of people interested, but it got me out the house and kept my brain ticking over. But it still wasn’t ‘it’ and after only 18 months, I stopped. I moved house, moved area and never started it up again.

So here I was, in a new town an hour and a half away from all my friends and family. My husband was working everyday and I had made no new friends. Whenever LO napped, I began to jot things down again. It never developed into anything and will probably end up staying in the folder with everything else, but it kept me going.

In February 2010, I was invited to a clairvoyant evening at my local pub. My husband and I had made friends with the landlord and landlady there (they have since become very good friends and were usher and bridesmaid at our wedding last year!) and so I was happy to go along and have a reading. This is where my writing life changed forever.

Now, I am as sceptical as you get with mediums, clairvoyants etc, so I went there purely to have an evening out with a friend and see what all the fuss was about. I’d never had a reading before so was intrigued as to how they worked. I never expected to believe what she said to me. A few things she told me were quite vague and could have applied to anyone, so I was not convinced. But then she said something to me that made me sit up and listen. She said to me that the ‘thing’  I had been thinking about doing for a while, I should do it because it would be worthwhile and I would do well at it. The only ‘thing’ that had been on my mind was to find a course to learn how to write properly. Some may say that this, too, was a vague comment, and you may be right, but personally to me at that time in my life as soon as she said those words, it meant only one thing.

The following day I signed up to a novel writing course with the London School of Journalism.

Since then, in two years, I have completed the course, enrolled with the Romantic Novelists’ Association on their New Writer’s Scheme twice, completed my first full length novel and sent it off to a publisher, started working on my second novel, entered a few competitions, attended numerous writing events and spent 17 months on the ChocLit tasting panel.

And for the first time, I feel I have found my true passion. I am home.

Introducing…Celia J Anderson

Writing has been my passion for some years now, along with teaching and drama, but I’ve only recently put my toe into the water when it comes to meeting other writers. It’s been a revelation. To be able to swap notes, commiserate when agents don’t faint with delight at our work, to hear other viewpoints, and just to snigger at how ridiculous we often are – bliss. Whether I’m writing romance, children’s fantasy or picture books, this is my idea of the way life should be. Although being published would also be good.
Continuing Catherine and Laura’s theme, my story is about Valentine’s Day, 2007:

***

The man stood in the doorway of the restaurant. Breakfast time in San Francisco – crisp winter sunshine, trays of fresh fruit, snowy linen cloths and a woman by his side, for a change. He had left England under a thick blanket of snow, the February skies mournful and grey. Here, the cold was sparkling, clean and enervating and the Golden Gate Bridge soared high over the sea. Following him to a table by the wide window overlooking the bay, the woman said ‘I’m sorry; I’m not very hungry, are you?’

He smiled, picking up one of the enormous menus.. ‘No, but that’s not a problem – we’ll just order the smallest thing we can find. What about French toast and fruit; is that ok? Do you like French toast?’ Signalling to the waiter, he realised with a stab of alarm that he knew next to nothing about her.
‘I like everything! It’s just that I still get a weird lump in my throat sometimes when I try to eat, even after all these months. And this week, coming over here to a strange place, especially to go to Matt’s wedding – well, it’s hard, isn’t it?’
The man nodded. He’d never talked about his grief to anyone before, ‘Sometimes I just feel guilty for still being alive, to be able to eat great food and drink chilled wine and see the sunset, and go out walking.’
‘And go to new places, and meet people, and make new friends…’ she agreed. Her eyes were suddenly full of tears and the man blinked in sympathy. There was a silence, and he tentatively reached for her hand. ‘I know, it’s a bugger, isn’t it?’
The waiter brought their order and they laughed, breaking the tension. The plates were so loaded that the toast spilled over the edges, and the enormous slices of watermelon dwarfed the heaps of strawberries and kiwi. He looked at her and felt a sharp pang when he saw green eyes instead of blue. He didn’t know that she was seeing blue eyes when she had half expected green.
‘So much for a light breakfast,’ he said.
Later, as they wandered along the boardwalk, a street trader stopped them in their tracks, holding out a handful of black t-shirts hopefully. The man shook his head, ‘Sorry, we don’t need anything today.’
‘Hey, you got no choice, dude – you gotta pay the forfeit.’
‘Forfeit?’
‘That’s what I said, didn’t I? You’re out here, in the most beautiful bay in the world, on the most romantic day of the year, and you ain’t holdin’ the lady’s hand. That’ll be ten dollars, and the t-shirt’s free.’
The man and the woman exchanged sheepish glances, both blushing. ‘But…I don’t really know her,’ he stuttered.
‘Yeah, right – who you tryin’ to kid? Gimme the ten dollars, and you got a deal.’
Grinning, the man dug out a note from his wallet, and handed the t-shirt to the woman. ‘Happy Valentine’s Day,’ he said.
They were married in December, 2008. Neither of them ever wore the t-shirt.