(I’m not singing this time, promise!) I’ve just been sent the finished audiobook of Somewhere Beyond the Sea and it’s absolutely blown me away…
On Monday I went down to the studio in London to record some author bits for the audiobook and I could tell from the team that they were excited by the work Clare CorbettandJonathan Bailey have done reading Seren and Jack’s chapters in the book.
But I wasn’t prepared for how amazing it would be.
Here’s the thing: probably most people don’t know that I studied Drama at university and for a long time my ambition was to be an actor. It didn’t happen (two awful auditions put paid to that idea – remind me to tell you about them some time…), but I have never lost my love of drama, film and theatre. When I write, I see it in my head like a film. I remember a writer telling me once that writing books is the best way to fulfil a secret acting ambition – we give ourselves all the best lines through our characters. In my case I think that’s true! So where I couldn’t appear on a physical stage, I create a stage – a TV screen, a film screen – on the page instead.
When words on the page are brought to life by performance, magic happens. I read all my books aloud when I’m editing – particularly when I’m doing the final proof edit. If the rhythm is wrong, especially for dialogue, I always work out the right one by speaking it first. I write with a particular rhythm in mind – it’s very similar to writing music. The beats have to be right, the light and shade placed correctly, otherwise it clunks and is difficult to read.
So when I listened to the two opening chapters featured in the Soundcloud clip below, I knew where all the beats were. It’s scary waiting to see how someone else has interpreted your words! And what happened next was magical. Every beat, every rhythm, every point of emotion and humour, wistfulness and pain were hit perfectly – and there was more, too: nuances in the dialogue that I hadn’t anticipated, moments where I was drawn closer to the characters as they spoke, moments that made me giggle. It was like hearing my story for the first time and I couldn’t believe I wrote that. I wrote that! Wow!
I dream of one day writing a script that’s produced as drama, either for TV or film. Listening to Clare and Jonathan’s performances of my words has made me think that it might yet be possible. Somewhere Beyond the Sea is written from Seren and Jack’s alternating perspectives and is the closest to a monologue/Talking Heads-style story I’ve ever written, so to hear it spoken and performed so perfectly has made me so proud of what I’ve created.
Being very British I’ve often downplayed pride in my work, but I’m changing that, starting now. Somewhere Beyond the Sea is my heart and soul and I’ve poured everything I’ve got into it. I am so utterly proud of it. And the way that Clare and Jonathan have not only respected my words but illuminated them, given them breath and life, is an absolute gift. Often as an author the mountain-top moments are few and far between, but this is one of those pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moments where it all comes together.
Want to hear what’s reduced me to tears and made me grin like a LOON all afternoon? Click this link to hear the first two chapters of the Somewhere Beyond the Seaaudiobook, starring Clare Corbett as SEREN and Jonathan Bailey as JACK. Prepare to fall in love!
Meet DAVID MYERS – Cerrie’s ex-boyfriend who is also the Deputy Head at the school where she works. He cheated on her and broke her heart, but could he be trying to win her back?
David is ambitious and driven, with a very high opinion of himself. But I wanted to show readers that Cerrie loved him for five years, so there had to be something she could love about him. He’s good-looking and charming when he wants to be, but he differs from Cerrie in so many ways. As the story progresses, we see him soften a little – which should set alarm bells ringing for Cerrie. But where matters of the heart are involved, could she believe he wants to make amends this time…?
David was great to write because I loved writing a flawed character and the tension between him and Cerrie was really interesting to explore.
Here’s an excerpt from Christmas in St Ives – this is where Cerrie finds David already waiting with new teacher Tom Keller in the hall for the first nativity rehearsal together:
My dream actor to play David in the film version of Christmas in St Ives(because dreams can come true, can’t they?) is NICHOLAS HOULT – known for Skins, Warm Bodies and About a Boy. I think he has the perfect mix of looks, charm and edge to bring over the complexities of David’s character:
Meet ST IVES – the real star of Christmas in St Ives and Somewhere Beyond the Sea. Quite simply, I’m in love with this place – and Cornwall in general. St Ives is a special location for me, Bob and Flo and our families. I love everything about it and have visited in every season. From its beaches to its quaint winding streets and hidden treasures, St Ives is unique and I knew I wanted to set a book there.
Here are my five favourite bits of beautiful St Ives:
Breathtakingly beautiful – I wrote several scenes of Somewhere Beyond the Sea sitting on Porthmeor Beach. My favourite beach and always feels like coming home.
Porthmeor Beach is Bob and Flo’s favourite for sandcastles and races to the sea.
St Ives Harbour
Looking from the town towards Downalong. I never get tired of this view.
Looking towards the town – you can see St Ia’s church on the right.
Harbour Beach is Flo’s favourite to dig when she has a new spade for her holiday!
I took this on my birthday in January. The perfect sunset to end a perfect Porthmeor day.
You can just see my lovely Mum-in-law sneaking out of the photo on the left!
Looking down Fore Street towards St Ives Bakery and the approach to the Post Office.
Looking up Fore Street’s cobbles towards the Baptist Church and the Poppy Treffry shop
Cyril Noall Square is the inspiration for the courtyard where Seren’s dad’s gallery MacArthur’s is located.
This sign outside a shop in Fore Street inspired Seren’s dad, Mark MacArthur’s, theory of life.
On our anniversary last year, Bob got up early to write this message on Porthgwidden Beach – aww! I chose Porthgwidden for Aggie’s coffee hut because of this.
The lovely shell and seaweed heart Bob made for me on Porthgwidden Beach. This inspired the seaglass stars you’ll read about in Somewhere Beyond the Sea!
Find your own adventure in Cornwall: go to www.visitcornwall.com for lots of lovely ideas and places to visit right across the county, or if you fancy staying for a while, www.aspects-holidays.co.uk have a fab range of cottages, apartments and holiday homes to choose from.
Come back tomorrow for another 24 DAYS OF SPARKLEMAS exclusive… Every day between now and Christmas Eve I’ll be sharing all kinds of sparkly goodies. Don’t miss a present from me this December! xx
Meet TOM KELLER – the new Aussie teacher who is volunteered by the Head of St Piran’s primary school to help Cerrie with her beloved Christmas play. He’s admittedly gorgeous and an instant hit with her colleagues, but is there more to him than it seems?
Tom appears at a time when Cerrie is feeling most vulnerable: it’s the first staff meeting at St Piran’s School since her very public break-up with her ex (and Deputy Head of the school) David, and everyone is watching them to see how they react to each other. In a surprise move, Gloria Masters the Head introduces Tom and completely upstages Cerrie’s former flame. But Cerrie’s relief is short-lived when Gloria announces Tom will help Cerrie with the play.
I loved writing Tom because he begins as a bit of an enigma and I liked the slow reveal of his personality, as seen through the effect he has on everyone else. He was also a bit of a surprise: I wrote Somewhere Beyond the Sea before Christmas in St Ives and in the original draft of the novel Cerrie was married and we never heard about her home life. When I decided to focus on her story in Christmas in St Ives, I wanted to give her a love story of her own. I was as surprised as Cerrie and her school colleagues when Tom Keller appeared! I then went back to Somewhere Beyond the Sea and rewrote Cerrie’s scenes to fit the story, which made her a much stronger character. I love it when serendipities like that happen in my writing!
Here’s an excerpt from Christmas in St Ives – this is the first time Cerrie and Tom lead a rehearsal together and Cerrie has just asked him to play the music she’s written for the play:
Meet KIERAN MACKLIN – a photographer with a quick wit and a hidden love. He’s the Third Amigo to Seren and Aggie and known for his cheeky sense of humour, but Kieran is hiding a secret…
In Christmas in St Ives we see him realise what’s going on (no spoilers! Read the novella to find out more!), but three months later in Somewhere Beyond the Sea, things are about to become a whole lot more complicated. How long can he run from the truth?
Kieran was a blast to write. He’s cheeky as they come (I reckon he’d even give Ed Steinmann from Fairytale of New York a run for his money in that department!), but deep down he’s battling his heart, his past and his fierce loyalty to his friends.
My dream actor to play Kieran in the films of Christmas in St Ivesand Somewhere Beyond the Sea (because of course BBC Films and Richard Curtis are avid readers of this blog and, you know, are probably looking for the NEXT BIG THING…) is JAMES NORTON – as seen in Happy Valley and Grantchester. (Photo: Pinterest)
Meet AGGIE KEATS – owner of a beachside coffee hut on Porthgwidden Beach, who is harbouring a secret.
She’s Seren’s best friend and the first to offer an opinion about what Seren should be doing with her life. Something has just happened that has thrown everything she thinks she knows about a close friend into question – but will she act on what she feels, or pretend it never took place…?
I love Aggie. She’s ferociously independent, funny and fearless, but also hugely loyal, strong and a great friend. Aggie’s lines are some of the most enjoyable I’ve written in both Christmas in St Ivesand Somewhere Beyond the Sea.
Meet CERRIE AUSTIN – a teacher with a recently broken heart who adores her job at St Piran’s Primary School, working with a class of seven-year-olds.
She’s Seren’s close friend and the voice of reason on the Save the Parsonage campaign committee. In Somewhere Beyond the Seanext year you’ll see her continuing story. But Cerrie’s story forms the heart of Christmas in St Ives, so no spoilers here, but hopefully you’ll love her as much I do…
Meet SEREN MACARTHUR – a talented jewellery-maker torn between her family and future.
Seren’s story is told in full in Somewhere Beyond the Sea, but she’s introduced in Christmas in St Ives. I’ve adored writing Seren – she’s bold and practical but also capable of dreaming and fighting through the worst circumstances. She’s determined, strong and capable of so much more than right now she thinks she is.
Welcome to the fifth – and final – part of my #WurdyChristmas treat short story. Yesterday I asked you to make a tough decision for Lucy – so did she choose to stay in the beautiful winter world, or return home to change her own life?
Thank you for getting so involved in this story – it’s been so much fun to write! Read on to find out what happens when Lucy makes the biggest decision of her life…
You can stay here. Permanently. And you’d never want for anything, never feel lonely again. Or you can go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be. It’s your choice…
What kind of a choice was that?
Lucy looked at her grandmother – her beloved Gran who, even this evening before everything happened, she would have given anything to see again. Here Gran was, as vibrant and vivacious as she had ever been in life, dancing with Bing flippin’ Crosby for heaven’s sake – and Lucy wanted more than anything to stay by her side. Who decided Gran would be the one asking her to make an impossible choice? It seemed unnecessarily cruel. But, if it meant Lucy could see her grandmother whenever she wanted, was it worth the risk?
Who would miss me if I stayed here? Her parents, for sure. Maybe her workmates at Tony & Frank’s. Certainly not Aaron Morgan. Had he ever really cared about her, or only about what he got out of their relationship? She could be safe here in this startling winter world. She could be happy…
So, she should stay.
‘Gonna have to hurry you, kid,’ Bing said.
Lucy’s choice was easy, wasn’t it? She was surrounded by beauty – the dazzling snow sparkling like diamond dust on everything in sight; by joy – the look in Gran’s eyes when she danced with her hero; and by possibility – the village in the distance that invited her to explore and the handsome stranger in whose arms she had found such freedom. Beauty, joy, possibility – what more could anyone wish for?
Choose carefully, the note back on Sophie’s desk had said, your choice will change your life…
Tony had been right – Lucy wanted her life to change. What better than a fresh start in a beautiful place? Because what was the alternative? Return home as a dumped girlfriend, face the inevitable questions about what happened and maybe even get in trouble for spending the night in the restaurant. Not much of a choice.
‘Lucybobs, what does your heart tell you?’ Gran asked.
How can you ask me that? Lucy felt tears prickle her eyes. Her heart longed to stay where people she loved were. Given the chance to remain in contact with Gran why would she ever choose to walk away?
‘I don’t know,’ Lucy said. ‘What would you do?’
Her grandmother held up her hands. ‘I made my choices in life, dear. This has to be one of yours.’
Bing nodded. ‘It’s your gig, kid. If anyone else made this decision for you, you’d regret it.’
He was right, of course. This whole experience had begun with someone else’s decision. It had to end with Lucy’s own.
And that’s when it hit her.
This is my choice. It’s all been about my choices.
Without realising it, Lucy had been slowly taking back control of her own life tonight. The choices she had made hadn’t seemed like they belonged to her – investigating a song she remembered from childhood, picking a gift, choosing a door to walk through – but with each one she had felt stronger, become braver.
They were all looking at her now, Gran, Bing and the beautiful stranger – all willing strength and courage into her with their smiles.
‘I think –’ she began…
A huge pile of snow glanced across her right shoulder, almost knocking her over.
‘He shoots! He scores!’
Lucy regained her balance and turned to see two familiar faces engaged in a snowball fight. Both were still dressed in evening suits but each had added a candy cane-striped scarf and camel-coloured overcoat to their attire.
‘Boys, boys! The lady was just making her decision,’ Bing frowned.
Tony and Frank’s gaze instantly dropped to their snow-covered feet like naughty children being reprimanded for too-rough playground games. ‘Sorry.’
‘I should think so, too. My granddaughter deserves more respect. So, Lucybobs, are you staying here?’
The snow had begun to fall again and Lucy felt the soft kiss of pristine white flakes against her skin. This world – wherever it was – was breathtaking. The prospect of staying here forever threatened to steal Lucy’s heart…
Apart from one, tiny detail.
It wasn’t real.
‘No,’ Lucy replied – noticing the sky dim a little, ‘I don’t think I can.’ The sun hid behind a vast bank of white cloud that had appeared from nowhere. ‘I love you, Gran – and it’s an honour to meet you, Mr Crosby. But this isn’t the change I want to make.’
One by one the tiny white lights on the bandstand began to extinguish. A long shadow passed from the top of the rolling, snow-covered hills to the valley far below, lights in the small village that huddled there disappearing, too. Seth gave a low bow and was lost in the encroaching dusk. Bing saluted Lucy, kissed Gran’s hand and, with a slow turn, vanished.
Lucy felt her heart swell when Gran stepped forward and took both her hands. It was bittersweet: this could only be another, more final, parting.
‘My darling girl,’ Gran said, her falling tears sparkling as if they contained glitter. ‘You did it.’
‘I love you. Don’t leave me yet!’
But Gran was shimmering now, her body becoming stardust. Lucy felt the pressure of her grandmother’s hands on hers becoming less and less – and she let out a sob as Edith Smith finally melted into the darkening snowscape.
‘I – I didn’t say enough,’ she cried, her hands still outstretched as if she could catch the last few stars where Gran had stood. ‘There was so much more I wanted to tell her.’
Tony’s almost-transparent hand rested lightly on Lucy’s shoulder. ‘You did good, Lucy Smith. We should get you home, if that’s where you want to go?’
It hurt, but it was the only choice.
Go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be.
Gran had known the best decision all along.
‘Aww, boss, just one more snowball,’ Frank pleaded, as the last of the light faded from the incredible winter world. His voice seemed to be coming from a long way away now. As Tony’s laugh rang out with a metallic, hollow echo, Lucy braced herself…
Lucy’s cheek was cold and her head hurt. An indistinct sound was playing somewhere nearby, repeating over and over. Not a song this time, but something Lucy couldn’t yet place. Slowly, she lifted her head and found herself at the red vinyl table in the first booth where she’d fled as soon as she had reopened the darkened restaurant.
Except Tony & Frank’s was dark no longer.
From every table, booth wall, serving hatch, window and stool that lined the bar, tiny sparkling white lights shone. It was almost as if the interior of Tony & Frank’s had become the bandstand in the winter world Lucy had just left. The restaurant was ablaze with light. At the far end where the serving hatch revealed the now illuminated kitchen, the Founders’ busts sparkled with scarves of looped silver tinsel Lucy couldn’t remember them wearing during her evening shift. Tony appeared to be grinning, while Frank grumpily surveyed the empty restaurant.
Had she dreamt it all?
The nondescript sound came again, this time more insistent. Bewildered, Lucy rose and moved towards the front door, her shoes leaving damp footprints across the black-and-white chequerboard floor. She couldn’t think how her feet could have become so wet. Unless…
This time when the sound repeated, Lucy immediately recognised it. The knocking continued until she found the front door key on the giant bunch of keys in her pocket.
‘Okay, okay, I’m coming.’
‘Police,’ said a gruff voice from the other side of the door.
Great. Turning the key in the lock and pulling open the heavy oak-and-glass door, Lucy dug out her brightest smile. ‘Hello, officer.’
The middle-aged police officer at the entrance didn’t smile back. Instead, he peered around Lucy to look into the restaurant. ‘Are you alone, madam?’
‘I am. I’m supposed to be finding a taxi to take me home.’
The police officer’s brown furrowed into a frown. ‘Can I ask why you were here, alone on Christmas Eve –’ He checked his watch. ‘– Ah, my mistake. Christmas Day…’
Soon it will be Christmas Day…
Not soon. Now! Lucy looked at her watch – and saw the hands had moved to read three o’clock. She had come back to change her life, just as she’d told Gran she would.
‘Well?’ The police officer’s radio crackled into life and he turned away to angrily bark a reply into it.
How Lucy was going to change her life was still an unknown. Like the song that first sounded in the kitchen, like the destination behind the impossible doors. But she had already made choices that had changed her experience tonight – and she was determined to change the rest of her life for good.
The squeak of the front door summoned her attention. Leaving the police officer to argue with the disembodied voice of his colleague back at the station, Lucy made her way to the entrance – just as another policeman entered.
Hair the colour of a clear midnight sky. Winter blue eyes that sparkled in the light of the fairy lights in the restaurant…
‘Hi,’ he said, looking over at his colleague, then around the lavishly lit restaurant. ‘Are you the only person present?’
Lucy managed a nod, instantly feeling dumb.
‘We were patrolling the retail park and we saw the lights come on.’
‘I’m sorry, that was me.’
‘And how did you get in?’ He had taken a notebook from his pocket and was now awaiting her story. He lifted his pen to the pad and Lucy remembered how strong the stranger’s arms had been as they had held her. What would it be like to be cradled in them in real life…?
What am I thinking? This isn’t the same man…
‘I let myself in,’ she rushed, hoping her answer would mask the growing flush creeping up her neck. ‘I’m assistant manager at Tony & Frank’s.’
The PC looked at his watch. ‘So it is. Merry Christmas.’
Lucy was about to reply when the older police officer returned. ‘Have you taken her statement?’
‘I’m doing it now, Sarge.’ The young PC turned back to Lucy. ‘So, you let yourself in – because…?’
Lucy sighed. ‘Because my boyfriend dumped me this evening after work and I didn’t bring my car, so I let myself back in with my keys.’
‘For what purpose?’
‘To call a taxi… Probably to wait it out until daylight. Then I’ll walk home.’
‘Have you seen the weather outside? You won’t be walking very far.’
Lucy peered through the window and gasped. Every inch of the car park where Aaron had trashed her heart was now covered in glittering, shimmering snow. ‘Oh – wow…’
‘Not to worry, Miss…?’
‘Smith. Lucy Smith.’
The midnight blue eyes seemed to sparkle. ‘We can give you a lift home, Miss Smith – can’t we, Sarge?’
The older police officer looked less than impressed. ‘Well…’
‘Aw, come on. It’s Christmas. And we can hardly leave Miss Smith here.’
‘I suppose so…’
Lucy, weary from the rollercoaster she had been on, smiled at the thought of reaching her own bed before daybreak. ‘That would be wonderful, thank you.’
‘Right. I’ll radio in. Miss Smith, could you turn off all these lights and secure the premises?’
Lucy was aware of the young PC’s eyes on her as she closed down Tony & Frank’s for the Christmas break. When the last set of lights had been turned off, she offered him a shy smile. ‘All done.’
‘Great. Our car’s out here.’ Together, they began walking across the newly fallen snow to the police car parked in splendid isolation on the deserted car park.
‘I’ll be glad to get home,’ Lucy admitted.
‘I’ll bet. So, your fella dumped you?’
‘On Christmas Eve? That’s harsh.’
‘It is. It was. But – I think I’m better off without him.’ As Lucy said it, she understood. The first way she could change her life was to make sure she didn’t let anyone else treat her as second best. She wouldn’t waste any more tears over Aaron Morgan. Tonight had taught her that she deserved more. She had left so much behind in order to return here – she had to make her decisions count.
‘Guy sounds like an idiot to me,’ the police officer said.
‘Maybe he was.’
‘Trust me, I see a lot of idiots in my job.’ He gave a self-conscious smile and offered Lucy his hand. ‘PC Seth Bell. At your service.’
When Lucy took his hand it felt warm and familiar…
* * * *
In the darkened restaurant, silence returned. Above the open serving hatch to the kitchen, two plaster busts kept watch over Tony & Frank’s. A length of silver tinsel shuddered to the black-and-white chequerboard-tiled floor, where it sparkled in a pool of pale blue emergency light.
And in the middle of the table in the first booth, a small silver box dotted with diamond-hearted stars began to glow…
Welcome to the fourth part of my exclusive #WurdyChristmas treat short story. Yesterday, I asked you to choose which door Lucy should walk through – gold-trimmed or green-trimmed. The lead swung between the two for a while, but you made a good choice!
Do the doors lead anywhere? Are Tony & Frank real or figments of Lucy’s imagination? And does she trust them enough to put her life in their slightly transparent hands? Find out below – and don’t forget to vote in the poll at the bottom to decide what I’ll write for the last part of the story tomorrow! Happy reading, lovelies!
Lucy stared at the two red doors that had materialised on the back wall of her manager’s office.
‘Time’s marching on, kid,’ Tony said, appearing by her side. ‘What’s it gonna be?’
Lucy glanced at the clock above the jumble of shelves, boxes and not-so-mythical Founders. It still read one minute to midnight. If time was marching on, it was doing it at a glacial pace.
Tony sighed. ‘Don’t think. Act. Follow your heart.’
Lucy turned from the doors to stare at him. ‘Why? Why is it so important that I choose?’
‘Because you want something to change.’
‘So tell me what’s behind each door so I can see if it’s the change I’m looking for.’
‘Nuh-uh. Can’t do. This has to be your decision. Ask your heart…’
‘Logic works better for me.’
Tony’s surprise registered immediately. ‘It does? That’s not the Lucy Smith I know.’
This was way past a joke now. ‘You don’t know me! I’m stuck in my workplace because my stupid boyfriend – ex-boyfriend – dumped me instead of proposing. I have no transport. I haven’t a hope of a taxi because it’s Christmas Eve. I’m hearing that song over and over again, I’m being asked to make decisions when I don’t even trust my own mind any more because I’m talking to someone who doesn’t exist and… and…’
‘…And you want something to change?’
‘So pick a door.’
It was impossible. Everything that had happened since she’d returned to Tony & Frank’s was impossible. And now she couldn’t even win an argument with a figment of her imagination.
But he was right, wasn’t he? Ever since Aaron had driven away instead of asking her to marry him, the only thing Lucy Smith had wanted was for things to be different. She might be staring at two doors that couldn’t possibly be there, invited to do so by a suave Italian-American restaurant owner who absolutely couldn’t be there either, but she did have a choice.
Gold. Or green.
‘How do I choose?’ She whispered, tears stealing her voice.
‘Just go through the one that feels right, kid. There’s no wrong answer.’
‘There aren’t any –’ Lucy could hardly believe she was about to ask this, ‘– monsters through there, are there?’
‘Not unless you want them to be. So go already.’
Lucy Smith closed her eyes and wished with all her heart. Then she walked towards the back wall of the office and pushed open the red door with the gold metal trim…
* * * *
Intense, blinding white light immediately burst into her vision and Lucy had to shield her eyes against it. She was also aware of an intensely cold air – as if she had stepped into a refrigerator. A flurry of soft, cold pinpricks batted against her face. It felt like – no, that was impossible. There was no way she could believe it was snowing inside Tony & Frank’s… Pulling her coat tightly around her body she blinked until faint outlines began to appear through the all-white light. What met her eyes stole her breath faster than the freezing atmosphere.
A vast, gently undulating snowscape stretched out before her. Rolling hills dotted with wind-bent trees and hardy dry-stone walls were visible from the left, while to the right snow-covered cliffs fell dramatically to a midnight blue, half-frozen sea. Between hills and ocean a tiny village huddled, its lights studding the view like a host of sparkling stars. And not very far from the natural snowdrift that now half-claimed her shoes stood a bandstand.
It was beautiful – like a perfect scene from a Christmas card – and Lucy turned back to look at Tony and Frank. But the Founders were nowhere to be seen, along with the red and gold door that had brought her here.
And just like that, Lucy Smith was alone.
She tried to rationalise it but could find no explanation that worked. This couldn’t be the car park on the out-of-town retail park where Tony & Frank’s stood alongside a cinema and other chain restaurants. There it was midnight, or thereabouts; here the midday sun reflected by the snow was dazzling. So where was she? And how on earth could she get back?
Silver Bells, Silver Bells…
That song again! But this time it sounded incredibly close and was playing at the right speed. As Lucy looked a couple appeared on the wooden platform of the bandstand, dancing together to the music. They looked happy and in love. Lucy was instantly drawn to them. She began to walk towards the bandstand, her shoes crunching and squeaking in the freshly fallen snow. Tiny lights began to appear along the white-painted cast iron sides of the bandstand, one at a time, like stars bursting into life in a marshmallow-white sky, until the whole structure was ablaze with twinkling light.
The song swelled and changed as Lucy neared the bandstand’s steps. It was no longer the familiar recording she had fallen in love with. It was now a tender, intimate duet between two people in love – the couple on the bandstand who hadn’t even noticed they were being watched. The man twirled his partner, momentarily breaking hold to perform a solo spin – and Lucy gasped as she recognised him.
The man stopped dancing and gave Lucy a little half-salute. ‘Hey there. Pleased to meet you, Miss–’
‘Lucy,’ said his partner. ‘Miss Lucy May Smith.’
Lucy knew that voice. It was unmistakable – a much-missed sound she still longed to hear three years since it disappeared from her life… ‘Gran?’
Gran gave a grin that was uniquely hers. ‘Hello poppet.’
‘What are doing here? You’re –’
Gran held up a hand. ‘Ooh, shh-shh, we don’t like to use the D-word around here. People get proper uppity. I had to be here, Lucybobs. I had to see you.’
‘But – what are you doing with Bing Crosby?’
Gran’s cheeks reddened like they always used to when she’d been found out. ‘Well, I assumed it was the foxtrot but it could have been the quickstep…’
‘He’s a friend,’ she beamed, mouthing, From the other side. ‘Lovely, isn’t he? We clicked right away. I think he might like me for more than my fancy footwork.’
For the last three years Lucy had dreamed of one more chance to see her grandmother. It made no sense whatsoever. So why try? ‘Oh Gran, I’ve missed you so much. I didn’t get chance to say goodbye before you…’ Lucy stopped as a horrible thought occurred. ‘Wait a minute – am I dead?’
‘Of course not, dear. But I am glad you chose our door.’
‘Me, too. So, where are we?’
‘I haven’t the foggiest, dearie. But it’s rather lovely, eh?’
‘Then why am I here?’
‘Didn’t Tony and Frank tell you?’ She rolled her eyes. ‘They really are forgetful, those two. You’re here because you want something to change. And I want that for you, too. So much.’
‘Hey, Edith, this your grandkid?’ Bing was leaning against one of the bandstand’s barriers, puffing on a tobacco-stuffed pipe.
‘It is, Bing. Isn’t she pretty?’
‘Beautiful,’ Bing replied, flashing a huge smile at Lucy. ‘So, you ready?’
Another choice? Lucy’s head hurt. How was any of this helping her, other than granting one secret wish to see her Gran again? ‘I don’t know.’
‘Edith, the kid needs some help,’ Bing said.
When Lucy looked up at him she saw a younger man standing beside the famous crooner. He had hair the colour of a clear midnight sky and winter-blue eyes that twinkled in the light from the bandstand. He smiled at her and the silver and diamond-star box she still held glowed again.
‘Lucy, this is Seth. Dance with him.’ Gran’s cheeks bloomed like roses. ‘He’s rather lovely. And he dances like a dream.’
Seth smiled – and Lucy felt the world spin a little. ‘Would you like to dance with me?’
‘Is this the choice?’ Lucy asked, thinking that it might just be the easiest one she’d faced lately. Could she dance? She’d never tried before. But even if it was her first and only attempt, dancing with the handsome stranger seemed the most perfect idea.
Seth shook his head. ‘No. But dancing helps to focus your mind.’ He held out his hand and it was warm and familiar when Lucy took it.
Soon it will be Christmas Day…
For the first time in her life, Lucy felt free. In Seth’s arms she moved effortlessly around the magically lit bandstand, the fairy lights blurring into twirling, swirling arcs of spun gold. She felt no fear, no pain from her newly broken heart. Just joy.
I could stay here forever, she thought, just as the music came to an abrupt halt. Seth gave a small bow and stepped away.
‘Time to choose, Lucybobs,’ Gran smiled, a wash of wistfulness passing across her face.
‘What’s my choice?’
‘You can stay here. Permanently. And you’d never want for anything, never feel lonely again.’ Gran looked up at the softly falling snowflakes. ‘Or you can go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be. It’s your choice.’
‘Would I see you? If I stay here?’
‘Maybe. Sometimes. Possibly more.’
‘And if I go home?’
Gran smiled, her eyes glistening. ‘I will always be with you.’
‘You have a beautiful heart,’ Seth said, stepping forward. Lucy felt her heart lurch. ‘I think wherever you are you’ll find happiness.’
‘Time to choose, kiddo,’ said Bing. ‘What’ll it be?’
Lucy took a breath of icy winter air and closed her eyes. It was time to ask herself the question she’d been too scared to consider.
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