Alison Bliss, celebrity model and critically acclaimed writer, walks into the sea one ‘bluethroat morning’. In death she becomes a greater icon than in life, and the Norfolk village where she lived is soon a place of pilgrimage. Six years later her husband Harry, a schoolteacher, is still haunted by her suicide and faithful to her memory. Until he meets Helen and they fall in love.
Harry and Helen’s relationship initiates a return to the scene of Alison’s death where they meet ninety-eight year old Ern Higham, and a tale is revealed that has been generations in the making. As Harry pieces together a tragic history and finally confronts his own pain, he discovers that to truly move forward, first he must understand the past …
‘Come on, Harry. When was the last time you got yourself laid?’
‘None of your damn business.’
‘You’re a handsome man. It’s a waste.’
‘I’m fine. I do have a social life. Give it a rest, won’t you?’
It was nearing the end of the summer term. We were drinking at the White Swan, a quiet pub, for the City, tucked away in a side street, the perfect antidote to a day at the school. We sat outside on wooden benches, glad to be in the shade on such an evening, sheltered from the sun by the tall buildings that surrounded us. The air was thick and smoggy but there was no traffic here, and though, as usual, we were skirting around the issues that really mattered, it was always good to have a beer with Richard, especially now, when everything seemed so precarious, when I was putting off decisions for as long as I could.
‘I mean it’s no life, is it?’ he said. ‘All this fending for yourself.’
‘I have friends. Really. I’m quite all right. Anyway – why the sudden concern?’
‘Friends aren’t the same thing. You need a woman. Alison – well, she wouldn’t have wanted you to pine.’
‘It didn’t look that way to me.’
He paused. We didn’t normally talk about Alison. Perhaps he wished he’d kept quiet.
‘All right. But you shouldn’t still be suffering. It’s over six years. Don’t you think you should give yourself a break?’
I hardly knew what to reply. Richard and I had been pals for years, but though I’d always sensed he understood me, we seldom talked intimately and this frankness surprised me. I suppose he must have known that things were about to change because he said things that had clearly been on his mind for some time.
I was fifty-eight years old, but I’d decided, at last, to take early retirement from King Edward’s. I felt it was time to get away. I had vague ideas about travelling but, as yet, nothing was planned. The future was a blank.
I emptied my glass. Normally Richard would be getting home now, back to Richmond. Frances, his wife, would be expecting him. But that night he offered me another and I wasn’t about to refuse. When he returned from the bar, he got straight to the point. ‘There’s somebody you should meet. A friend of Frances. Why don’t you come for dinner?’
I grimaced. This wasn’t like him.
‘Come off it, Richard.’
Since Alison, I hadn’t met a single woman who moved me. The last thing I wanted was for someone else to do the choosing. And besides, I didn’t want this. Richard continued regardless. The woman was called Madeleine. She was devastatingly attractive, he said, and very bright. A widow.
‘You are kidding?’
‘A young widow. Early forties. Used to be married to a business analyst, so you’ll be a breath of fresh air. She’s a freelance journalist,’ he said, ‘does a lot of work for Vogue. She’s perfect for you. Well read. Very classy.’
‘No objections. You’ll adore her.’
I knew that he meant no harm. Yet his words unsettled me. It was not something that I could rationalise but, given my hatred of the press, his suggestion that I meet a journalist was naïve and hardly tactful. Doubtless this woman was only in it for the story.
‘I can’t meet a journalist. Especially not a fashion journalist.’
‘Paranoia, Harry. You haven’t met the woman. Anyway, she doesn’t write about fashion. Trust me, won’t you?’
‘I can’t do it. I’m sorry. She doesn’t sound my type.’
‘Rubbish.’ Then he softened. ‘Come on. She’s dying to meet you. Nervous as hell, actually. Think of your reputation.’
‘Why so keen?’
‘Women are intrigued by you. You know that.’
‘They’re only interested because of Alison.’
‘What does it matter?’
‘I’m not trading on Alison’s reputation to get myself laid.’
Jacqui Lofthouse is the author of four novels ‘The Temple of Hymen’, ‘Bluethroat Morning’ ‘Een Stille Verdwijning’ and ‘The Modigliani Girl’. Her novels have sold over 100,000 copies in the UK, the USA and Europe and have been widely reviewed.
Jacqui began her career as an actor touring India as Sheila in J.B. Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’. She went on to study Drama and English at the University of Bristol and subsequently worked in radio production and media training. In 1992 she studied for her MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia under Sir Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain.
Jacqui has taught creative writing in a broad variety of settings including from City University to Feltham Young Offenders Institution. She has also taught English and Drama in London secondary schools.
In 2005, Jacqui founded The Writing Coach, a coaching and mentoring organisation for writers (www.thewritingcoach.co.uk). She is currently working on her first YA novel and returning to actor training at Identity School of Acting. She has recently been cast in four short films. Jacqui is delighted that Blackbird Digital Books are publishing the first digital edition of ‘Bluethroat Morning’ in May 2018.