I am exceptionally pleased to announce that book 6 – Dying To Make You Mine – has gone to the editor. I await the verdict with the usual combination of fear and excitement, but if all goes well, it will be out in August.
This one is different. It’s Anna in 2019, aged 49, in the age of Tinder and Bumble. As you might expect, given her track record at relationships, it doesn’t go entirely smoothly.
I’m very pleased with it… there’s murder, mayhem and a killer twist. Here’s the (unedited) first chapter to give you a sneaky preview…. 🙂
Dying to Make You Mine – Chapter 1
MEN, in my experience, are not like normal people, and if you need any proof of that, try dating in 2019.
I love a hug. I’m quite outgoing. I enjoy the thought of spending time with a special friend, learning from them, exploring the world together, going on adventures and getting up to mischief. I’ve just never been very good at relationships.
I don’t do arguments, I’m not a big fan of stress and I’m allergic to heartache. I struggle with the thought of someone seeing me, the moment they wake up, before I’ve even been in the shower.
Some people, I think, define themselves by their relationship status. They can’t abide being alone, and adopt a panic-buy mentality, lurching from one unsatisfactory partner to the next. I like being single and I don’t miss the sense that I’m always going to disappoint, and be disappointed, once the first flutterings of a crush abate.
There’s great satisfaction in setting my own agenda and I cherish my hard-won freedom to do so. But despite enjoying my own company, sometimes I find it stimulating to meet someone new. And occasionally, over the last four years, I’ve been on what – for want of a better word – could be described as dates.
The last thing I expected was to fall in love. And in retrospect I wish I hadn’t, because maybe then, fewer people would have died.
I tried a long-term relationship once, but in every respect, the end of it was less surprising than the beginning. I met someone, he made me laugh, and within a few weeks I was pregnant. I hadn’t been either planning or expecting that, but there was no going back.
Inevitably, the novelty wore off, and although, for the sake of our daughter, we soldiered on for many years, our partnership eventually succumbed to the inevitable. The split was amicable. He was an entirely decent man, but I couldn’t imagine us growing old together in a nursing home. We’re still in touch. In the modern age, it’s difficult to lose contact with someone completely.
Starting 2015 freshly single, I set out to try new and exciting pursuits. I had singing lessons and acting lessons. I tried to learn German. I started to write books based on adventures from my younger years, in the days when I shared a house with an investigative journalist and got sucked into all sorts of dark and dangerous situations. I travelled around parts of Europe, discovering Germany, Italy, France and Luxembourg, and spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, given that the first forty-five years had already passed.
In the meantime, I have, of course, become utterly dependent on my phone. We all have. It’s my only constant companion, and like most people, I’d be lost without it.
It’s overloaded with apps, but to try to simplify things, I’ve grouped them all into folders based on the seven deadly sins. Gluttony is Pizza Express, Wahaca, and anything else food or restaurant related. Sloth is SkyGo, YouTube, Netflix, the Kindle app, and all other entertainment. Greed is shopping, including my Nectar card, Amazon and Naked Wines. Pride is work and everything to do with my business. Envy is Facebook, Instagram and other social media, dominated by pictures of friends having fun and going on holiday. Wrath is news, and one particular bank. All the dating apps, obviously, are in Lust.
At first, meeting men was so far off the agenda, it wasn’t even on the longlist of potential agenda items. But then, on a whim, just before Christmas 2015, I downloaded Tinder and set up an account, and the next thing I knew, I had a very steep learning curve ahead.
I think things change as you get older. When you’re young and exploring the world with a partner, you move around together, dream together, plan the future together. Everything is new, and the possibilities are endless and exciting. It’s so much harder when you reach a certain age, with your own home, career, commitments and family obligations. I was happy with my life. I wasn’t looking to mess that up by embarking on a relationship, unless it was for someone spectacular. I wasn’t looking for a live-in boyfriend, but I thought it would be stimulating to broaden my social circle. I was too old and too experienced to want to play games.
I didn’t swipe right on many. Immediate rejections were anyone with a shirt-off gym pic, a Snapchat filter, the ubiquitous fish, obvious serial killers, anyone with a prominent car, those posting pictures of motivational quotations, and, of course, anyone who thought they were being clever and original by stating they were looking for their “last first kiss”. How dull would that be?
Any mention of “banter” was an immediate left-swipe, as were those who hid their eyes behind sunglasses, any form of text speak, poor grammar generally, and excessive use of emojis. Many just posted group shots and left me to guess which was which. (Clue: probably not the good looking one.) Some looked significantly younger than their stated age. Some significantly older. Both were a red flag. And anyone who looked like they spent their summers on a sun lounger was an immediate no, because I don’t like the sun. It makes my nose peel.
My first Tinder date, in early 2016, set the tone quite admirably. He was a dancer, allegedly, and, like me, he was writing a book. We met at a bar in Hackney.
“What’s your book about?” I asked.
“My eight hundred Internet dates,” he said, with no hint of irony.
We didn’t make it to date two.
Without fail, everyone had baggage of some description. I met one potential conquest in the bar of a hotel. After a brief discussion he said he needed to disappear for a moment, but first he had to introduce me to his “Mistress”. Hello, I thought. Unusual.
The Mistress subsequently informed me that the room was ready, and once my date had locked himself into his handcuffs, she’d be delighted if I would join her in giving him a stern whipping. Had he looked anything like his profile picture, I may have been tempted, just for the fun of pushing boundaries. Again, we didn’t make it to date two.
In fact, many looked nothing like their profile pictures. Some were a foot shorter than they claimed. I’m in no position to be heightist, given that I can barely reach the top shelf of the supermarket in even my highest of heels, but I find dishonesty particularly unsexy.
There were, of course, those with wives or girlfriends who apparently simply didn’t understand them. I felt for those. It was nonsense, clearly, but they aspired to live the grass-is-greener single life. I was the real deal. No commitments. No need to feel shame in the most debauched of one night stands. Not that it was like that, but they weren’t to know.
I moved on from Tinder to Bumble, OK Cupid, Happn and Plenty Of Fish, and learned more about the great British public than I ever cared to.
There were those who wanted me to wear particular items of clothing or, indeed, wear particular items of my clothing themselves. In the Fifty Shades era, there were plenty of budding Christian Greys, and lots who would send a message or two and then disappear into the ether. Of course there were vast numbers who thought I’d be so turned on by a badly-lit photograph of their out-of-focus penis that I’d immediately drop both my underwear and standards, in enthusiastic abandon.
Not everyone was a disappointment. There was Carl, who worked as a journalist on The Times. He was lovely, and we kept in touch, long after the distance between us ruled out any form of commitment. In fact, I made several very good friends. Another, Stuart, had moved to England from his native South Africa at the end of a particularly traumatic marriage. He was a flight attendant. We had several dates, but again, our schedules and the geographical challenges of living outside London meant that every meeting felt like the first, such was the unfamiliarity. We parted on good terms.
So, I continued exploring, getting increasingly disillusioned with the whole shenanigans, meeting endless strangers for endless first dates that rarely led to anything other than a backlog of ironing and other domestic chores. Internet dating is like a computer game. It breeds a culture of transience, in which others are seen as disposable. I deactivated most of my accounts, only occasionally looking, whenever hope triumphed over hard-won experience.
And then I came across Stef and everything changed. Looking back, he played an absolute blinder. Right up until the day he was killed, by a woman I’d never met.