I waited there for hours, reading my book and staring at the door, waiting for him to come back.
The door clicked open, but it wasn’t Edouard who came in, but the other couple’s son from his operation. Within minutes of greeting each other, the son had a reality tv show playing on his phone, his mother was playing the game on her phone and the father was watching a soap drama on his.
No headphones. No nothing. Just three different sounds blasting against one another. Why couldn’t they talk with one another? Coming back to civilisation has been a stark wake up call for me, seeing how often mobile phones and technology is constantly used.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a teenager walking down the street without their face glued to the screen, relying on Instagram likes, Snapchat and Facebook notifications to boost their self esteem.
I can’t stand it. I want to take these teenagers to the woods, take away their technology and their contour makeup kits and show them how amazing they are without all of this junk. Show them how to climb a tree. Show them how to make a den. Show them how jumping in puddles and getting dirty is actually fun. No one even knows what they’re capable of.
No one knows what they can achieve. I’m concerned for the new generation of teenagers. I’m concerned for their hearts and their self belief. I’m concerned for the well-being of this family before I launch into a foul-mouthed English tirade about manners, etiquette, tea and biscuits.
I continued to stare at this family as they were transfixed to their screens, not realising that their actions were graining against every fibre of my being. Eventually I pointedly whipped out my headphones and attempted to listen to my music. But only one of the headphones worked and my hearing was filled with the sound of explosions, shouting amidst the cheery repetitive tune of some candy crush game.
But for some reason my British sensibility told me to be quiet. It got the better of me. I didn’t want to be rude and didn’t want to point out what they were doing was so obviously impolite in the fear of seeming so myself.
God damn our English manners.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. The same female doctor who had helped Edouard walked in with a smile.
“It went very well,” she told me with a friendly nod. “He has a beautiful nose!”
I breathed a sigh of relief and watched her walk over to the family. Not one of them looked up to listen to her as she spoke to them about their son’s operation, but continued to stare at their phones watching their games and their programmes as she continued to speak.
My jaw dropped, wanting to once again say something, imagining myself standing up and saying something great, full of grandeur and righteousness. But I remained seated, my tongue useless and paralysed with frustration in my mouth. I knew that whatever I had to say would not be understood anyway.
My majestic sentences full of righteousness would be lost like dust on the wind, useless and forgotten as the family continued to tap away with their hardened fingertips against the “like” symbol on their phones.
I lay back on Edouard’s bed, irritated and glared at the ceiling, waiting.
Eyes drifting shut, he finally arrived. I jumped off the bed as they brought Edouard in, pulling the other bed out. He blinked at me dazed, his eyes huge as he tried to take in his surroundings.
“Love, are you ok?”
He saw me and nodded, grabbing my hand. I breathed a sigh of relief before I felt his hands run down over my backside. I blinked in surprise and looked up at the family. They were none the wiser, their eyes constantly downcast at the myriad of bright lights and colours.
“Yes, yes, Edouard I’m glad you’re ok,” I said, trying to hide the fact that he was grabbing my ass in his drug filled stupor. A silly grin covered his face as I tried to pry his hands to himself. “Get some rest, love.”
Finally he fell back to sleep and my bum cheeks were safe once more. Hours later after he recovered, it was up to me to drive his 1980’s 4L Renault.
I stared fearfully at the vehicle as I led Edouard down the street, his face a bandaged concoction of bruises, swelling and watering eyes. I had never driven on that side of the road before. Had never driven a car that old before. I breathed in deeply as we got into the car, thanking God for the slow progress of city traffic for once, taking my time and using plenty of pressure for the ancient breaks.
The next few days was about keeping Edouard comfortable, although he was his usual self. The mask irritated him a lot, making him itch and scratch his face constantly. I was surprised at how quickly his face healed as the doctor removed it the following week. “It’s not the same nose!” he gasped. The doctor had explained to us that she had fixed two breaks, the first being when he was eighteen whilst playing basketball. His nose now resembled what it would have looked like in the first place.
The days passed, we worked out in the gym, explored Marseille and enjoyed the vibrant life of the city. We visited the Jack London exhibition and were blown away by his adventure and story. I was immediately inspired by the fact that he was a traveller and a writer.
I had been so busy recently I had been neglecting my own story-writing.
I started writing seriously when I was eleven. I discovered writing at nine when I wrote a story called The Magic Mirror and The Goblin King. It was sixty pages long, not including the many illustrations I did, following a group of girls who fell into another world, going missing one by one as they attempted to overcome the trials of The Goblin King to find their way home.
My teacher called me aside after class to discuss the story, asking where I had gotten my inspiration from.
“I dreamt it,” I said, trying to sound mysterious. I remember feeling regret at that moment, because my teacher seemed disappointed by my answer.
But eleven was when it really started to set in that that was all I wanted to do. I would be surrounded by history books, books on mythology, legends, King Arthur, Alchemy, castles and strongholds- everything you could imagine.
I sent off my first 400 page book to Harper Collins (hey, I didn’t have many friends, ok?), one of the biggest publishers in Britain who had published Lord of the Rings. Of course they said no, but that didn’t stop me. Hasn’t stopped me. I went on to publish my first book Tartarus in 2012, published the series The Girl with Nine Lives in 2013, the sequel in 2014 and the third in the same year. After that I published a children’s book in 2015.
One of my favourite memories was having my first book signing in Coventry at a place called The Big Comfy Bookshop. All of these years being told by people that I would never be able to achieve my goal and suddenly I was signing books for people. It was a humbling experience that someone- anyone would want to read my work. It made me feel like a “real” writer.
It took a long time to create a new story I was ready to share with the world.
Sine then I had been writing a series of books called The Contract of Maddox Black. It was a huge deal for me. I had been searching for a world where I belonged in amidst the turmoil of unknowing, discontent and the need for adventure. A release of energy I didn’t know I had boiled inside. A storyline and a world came bursting out of my heart, taking me places I never expected to go. Where I needed to go. I completed three books over 2015 and 2016. I published the first book of the series in Australia in January 2017. Maddox Black was free.
I finished editing the second book on the passage to Ascension Island. It was a huge achievement for me, after spending nearly two years editing the damn thing. I could feel the fury of my characters as they fought to break out of the story, fighting to be released into the open world.
As I walked around surrounded by the stories and creations of the sailor Jack London, I knew it was time.
It was time for Maddox to return It was also time for Edouard and I to return to Paris to see his parents. It seemed to be so for many things.
We were also going as his friends from Peru were visiting, Raul and Monica. They were on their honeymoon and wanted to travel Europe together- but not without seeing Edouard first. Edouard’s friend Galette and her two children, Noah (5) and Lena (7) were also visiting. Nine people and one cat were suddenly under this roof with a flurry of Spanish, French and English.
It was getting easier for me to communicate little in my native tongue- usually when a glass of wine was in my hand, the cat was about or there was a generous supply of saucisson in front of me. I was happy to drift off into my own world as Edouard attempted to bridge the gap between three worlds, becoming exhausted with the constant switch. But I was impressed with his ability to speak the languages so fluently. I wished that I had worked harder at school. But I wasn’t going to be that hard on myself.
The school I went to was a place called Alderman Smith Secondary School in Warwickshire, now the Nuneaton Academy. Now, I believe it’s a pretty good school. But back when I was there, it was a place where students made weapons out of pencil sharpeners, teachers sobbed into cupboards and the Science teacher was busy giving girls a one on one biology lessons. Luckily for me, I escaped that one, thanks to my severe acne.
I was always content to be lost in a good book- mostly C.S Lewis. I would read ahead most of the exercise books and then hide my own Narnia book in the centre so I could drift away. And when I couldn’t do that, I would just stare at the wall, losing myself in one of my story ideas.
It was a pretty awesome skill until I actually had to do my exams. I had a bad time at school, being bullied or shoved most days. I wasn’t exactly a pretty girl at school, so I withdrew and enjoyed spending my time either reading or drawing. So I wasn’t the average everyday school girl. I didn’t want to join in with the crowd. I didn’t want to stand in the rain outside of the butchers with the rest of the gang if I could spend my lunch time in the art studio.
I would skip classes a lot to escape in the library or the art rooms, hidden away by the teacher who either believed or didn’t believe my story of having a “free” period. The art studios became a haven for me. And when they weren’t available, I would quickly run through the small rear gate of the school, hiding behind the back lane and run down the street until there was no chance the school could make me go back. Sometimes students were found and were dragged back. I never got caught.
I would quickly take off my tie, change into my trainers and pull up my hood so I wouldn’t be recognised, pacing the hour home back to the village where I could finally breathe that sigh of relief and victory as soon as I started to walk down the country lanes. I would tape the morning radio show on cassette and listen to it on the way home, constantly rewinding Razorlight’s Golden Touch over and over again.
It’s a sensation of escapism that I’ve seldom come across since. So maybe it’s my own fault that my education is minor on probably the essential items- like with all areas of Science, Mathematics and Languages. But at the time all I was interested in was English, Drama, Art, Music and History.
I think that hasn’t changed to this day.
But I’m trying.
It was a wonderful thing seeing Edouard back with his good friends from Paris. And I admit, I did get quite drunk at one of the meetings, having drunk a bottle of wine before we actually went out.
Edouard’s best friend Bruno was playing a game of basketball, and whilst Edouard went to watch it, I stayed in to do some vital Delos work.
When he came back to pick me up after the game, I was already prepared to speak my best French, mingle and make a good impression. Of course, meeting the French isn’t like meeting the British. I need to remember that.
Sometimes I forget that I’m in a different culture. And of course you wouldn’t think that with us being fellow Europeans but there is a stark difference of how the British and French socialise and how we present ourselves.
But this night felt familiar. Everyone was pleased to see each other and were happy to drink rum out of a bottle. I have never met another rowdy and loud French girl as of yet, whereas they are in abundance in England.
And maybe that’s ok.
The British women are competitive with the men of our country, keen to prove we can do anything they can do, drink, dance, arm wrestle- you name it. We’re fiery creatures who don’t like being told no and we’re damn well ready to celebrate life. And maybe the French women are like this.
The language barrier is still a problem, and maybe the women in France just think I’m a loud and crazy British girl. Maybe they know they don’t have anything to prove.
But the social aspect of British culture is to meet for beers round someone’s house, and then we go out to drink more. That’s it, pure and simple. At the end of the day, we’re Saxons.
“She’s perfect for you Edouard!” his friends tell him, making thinking he is just as insane as I. I have a lot of emotions wrapped up in me.
Gratitude, excitement, missing home, missing friends and family, frustrations of not being able to speak the language, frustrations of not having any real close friends in France, frustrations of wanting to paint, wanting to write, wanting, wanting, wanting-
Sometimes I just need to take a breath.
I know I have a wonderful story. But I’m human at the end of the day, and there’s no light without the dark, like there are no shadows without the sun. And there’s a balance always.
As the journey in Paris came to an end and we returned to Marseille, I sat before my computer and bought myself a return ticket back home to the Midlands.
“You will go for two weeks?” Edouard asked. He had always supported me in a trip back to England, knowing I had to get rid of this energy within me.
Britain was calling and I needed to answer her.
“Yes. I hope you’ll still like the British girl who comes back,” I said. “I have a feeling that I’m going to have my English batteries topped up!”
I sat back and stared at the screen with a smile.
I was going home.