It’s been a busy 2018 with Staying in with… posts on Linda’s Book Bag and I’m delighted to welcome another new to me author, Leslie Jones, to stay in with me today to tell me about one of their books.
Staying in with Leslie Jones
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Leslie. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought along my debut novel, Spiral. If you’re sharing this then you will have, like me, strong recollections of England in the ‘Sixties, or curiosity about an era when many of the things we take for granted now did not exist. You might recall a time when our lives were not dominated by smartphones or social media. Can you remember, or imagine, when phone calls were often made from call boxes – when the nearest thing to social media was a library – and when social networking meant going to the pub?
(Having been brought up in a village where entertainment meant pressing button B in the red phone box, I can relate to this entirely Leslie. We did have a pub but the nearest library was 16 miles away via a weekly bus.)
What can we expect from an evening in with Spiral?
When I started writing Spiral four years ago, I decided to set the story in the early part of the ‘Sixties to create an interesting backdrop. However, I soon realised the joy of writing had turned into a cathartic exercise in unpacking from my mind the memories lying hidden in the recesses – perhaps before age faded then too much. Throughout the novel, I have threaded in much of what I can recall of the early part of the decade: sometimes small details that, for some reason stuck in my mind.
I have tried to write in a way that will enable the reader to see what I am depicting – in that way, an evening in with Spiral should be a great alternative to watching a film on TV.
(I think an evening in with a book is always preferable to watching a film on TV actually…)
A reader left a very encouraging review to this effect:
I found the main character very reminiscent of Joe Lambton who was at the centre of John Braine’s Man at the Top book and TV series. In fact, the characterisation was so well done that in my mind I cast a young Phil Daniels (Eastenders) as the cheeky, ever optimistic, Frank.
(That’s a smashing response.)
What else have you brought along and why?
Well, I’ll cook supper first. It will, of course, be meat and two veg – perhaps my favourite steak and kidney pudding!
(Ooo. You can come back again if you’re going to cook comfort food Leslie.)
Maybe some background music: some of the UK chart hits from the early ‘Sixties, especially the Beetles. Of course, smartphones, tabs and laptops will be banned!
Before committing to an evening in with Spiral, I thought it might be worthwhile to gain a feel for the main character, Frank. This is not an excerpt from the book but I have brought a ‘Day in the life of Frank.’ This reflects his character and will also give you an idea of how the story is written.
Thursday 24th January 1963
Frank squeezes his eyes closed as the familiar intensifying light of the Goblin Teasmade penetrates his eyelids. He knows the persistent buzzing indicating the tea was ready would follow and, his eyes still shut, he leans across and switches off the alarm, avoiding the unwelcome intrusion to his waking moments. A dull throb towards the back of his head reminds him of the “lock in” at the Stag’s Head. If only he’d avoided the invitation to stay for one more.
Helen is already up and about, he notes with no surprise – she would be downstairs preparing breakfast. He wonders if he’s in trouble. Perhaps a tad – after all, he didn’t get in ’til 1 pm, and he probably woke her despite his efforts to be quiet. But things were going well – and Helen acknowledged he was working hard to provide a secure and prosperous future for her and Peter. A late night might be forgiven every now and then.
After pouring himself a cup of tea, he sits up in bed, reaches for his packet of Rothmans, lights one and lays his aching head back on the pillow. The first drag on his cigarette makes his head spin – but a few sips of over-strong tea helps to calm that down. He smiles contentedly.
‘Peter! Come on, your breakfast is ready!’
This was Helen. He imagines her standing at the foot of the stairs, holding a pan of Quakers Porridge Oats, staring impatiently upwards towards their son’s bedroom door. Seconds later, Frank hears the door across the landing banging open followed shortly after by the sound small feet tapping rapidly down the stairs. Peter had roused. Frank grins, knowing his son would be eager to administer the ritual swirling of Tate & Lyles syrup into the grey glutinous mass that represented his breakfast.
The smell of cooking bacon drifts upstairs. Despite his hangover, Frank realises he is hungry. He climbs out of bed and lurches uncertainly to the bathroom across the landing. ‘Bloody hell it’s cold!’ he mutters, hoping Helen had lit the fire downstairs.
‘Come on Frank, you’re going to be late if you don’t get a move on!’ Helen yells up the stair well
‘I’m getting dressed, darling! Be down in a minute!’
Frank studies himself in the mirror as he adjusts his woollen tie, a recent birthday present from Helen. He smiles at his reflection, admiring the “rugged but handsome”, Helen’s description, face staring back at him. He grabs his tweed jacket from the back of the chair where he had placed it with surprising neatness, given his inebriated state the night before, scoops up his packet of Rothmans and zippo lighter from the bedside table, and heads downstairs.
He stares at his empty plate, full only a few minutes ago with bacon, two crisp rashers with rind on, two fried eggs, slightly runny, the way he likes them, a pork chipolata, black pudding and, his favourite: fried bread.
‘That was smashing darling, just what the doctor ordered,’ he says. He sees that Peter, having demolished his bowl of porridge, is now mashing egg soldiers into his mouth.
‘Well, no wonder you’re so hungry – you didn’t make it home for supper last night and…’
‘I did tell you I wouldn’t be home ’til late. I couldn’t let old Fred down. He’s been with the company since before the War.’
Frank’s good humour vanishes in anticipation of the nagging he thinks he’s about to receive. He fumbles in his pocket for his cigarettes and lights one.
‘Well, you might have called. I didn’t expect you to be that late. I take it you’ll be back early today? Oh Frank, didn’t you agree you wouldn’t smoke at the table when Peter’s around?’
‘You’re right, I did. Sorry. Look, I’d better be off. See you later.’
‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’
Frank leans down and brushes the top of Helen’s head with a brief kiss, ruffling Peter’s hair as he passes his high chair. Peter grins up at him, his mouth plastered in egg yolk; Frank hopes his son would not insist on kissing him goodbye.
‘Don’t be late tonight, Frank, I’m cooking your favourite: “Mixed Grill”.
The saloon bar in the Avondale is full of the normal throng of lunchtime drinkers.
Frank glances at his watch. ‘I shouldn’t really – I’m interviewing at three – the new sales position.’
‘Go on, one more won’t hurt. I’ll drop you back at the depot by quarter to.’ This was Bob, one of the depot van drivers and a regular drinking acquaintance.
‘Aren’t you supposed to be in Guildford this afternoon?’
Bob grins. ‘No problem, I’ll put my foot down. Never been late before.’
‘What if the Police stop you? Come on, Bob, you’ve necked four pints so far!’
‘They’ll have to catch me first! Oh, stop worrying Frank – a few pints won’t affect my driving. Why would the Police want to stop me?’
‘Suppose you’re right. Okay, but only one more!’
Frank studies the young woman sitting across the other side of his desk. ‘Not bad, not bad at all,’ whispers his inner voice, as his eyes appraised he with the expertise of a serial womaniser.
‘Well, you do have an impressive record – at least on paper. But how do you think you’ll cope in this type of work? After all, most of our sales reps are men, and the customers you would be dealing with are as well. You might find it a bit…’
‘Oh, I don’t think that would be an issue. I can handle men and…’
‘I’m sure you can,’ Frank replies, grinning back and trying hard not to stare at her cleavage. ‘Anyway, I’ll be in touch.’
A few minutes after the young woman had left, Bob, the Managing Director, stands framed in the doorway.
‘Don’t tell me you’re taking her on, Frank,’ he says, lighting his pipe.
‘I’ve not decided yet, Bob, there’s a few more to interview yet. But she seems very capable and I reckon if…’
Bob waves his pipe, cutting him off. ‘She’d be with us for five minutes before she’s pregnant – and where will that leave us? Are the other applicants all men?’
‘Yes, they are, but shouldn’t we…?’
‘Oh, stop being so gallant, Frank. We’ve got enough women working here doing what they’re good at: administration. Round pegs, round holes, eh Frank?’
Franks stares at the empty doorway for several seconds after Bob made his exit. He frowns, wondering if it was Bob’s pre-emptive overruling of his employment decision, which undermined his authority, or the fact he had lost a possible prospect for a dalliance.
Frank takes a circuitous route home. Helen’s instruction that he should not be late plays repeatedly in his mind. But he needs to make a phone call, one that could not be made from the office in case it was overheard, and not from somewhere where someone might see him and wonder what he was up to. He drives to the next town and stops at the Red Lion where he knows a coin operated phone booth outside the gents offered the prospect of a private conversation.
That’s so evocative of the era Leslie. Thank you, both for introducing Frank and for staying in with me to chat all about Spiral. Now, where’s that steak and kidney pudding you promised me?
At the dawn of the 1960’s, Frank Armstrong had it all: a flash car, smart clothes, a good job with career prospects. With his foot firmly on the corporate ladder, rapid promotion seemed certain. Of course, winning the affections of the Boss’s daughter, Helen, went some way to providing a leg up – but Frank is a man of charm and wit, someone for whom doors will always open.
If only he’d realised what he had! Unfortunately, contrary to his carefully manicured persona, Frank has a flawed side to his character, one anchored in a past he can never quite let go of. He has a liking for booze, and a wandering eye – a lethal combination! He makes rash decisions, each one his last – at least that’s what he promises himself. But an apparently well-intentioned act of bravado sets him on a course for disaster, one that will see him losing everything: his wife, his son, his job – his self-respect.
Ever the optimist, he plans his way back. But is it too late?
With several interconnecting sub plots, the reader will follow Frank’s journey against the backdrop of the emerging recreational drug culture and the attitudes of the time – a time when phone calls were made from call boxes, and social networking meant going to the pub.
Spiral is a tale of love and betrayal, obsession and addiction, good and evil. Ultimately, it is a story about human fallibilities, self-awakening, and the realities of life at a time very different from the one we live in today.
Spiral is available for purchase here.
About Leslie Jones
Leslie Jones is an avid reader but new to the writing game – Spiral is his first novel. His job, which involves teaching leadership and management and HR qualification programmes in the Middle East means that he is abroad for a week or two most months when he uses down-time productively for writing.
Leslie is a baby boomer – and Spiral is aimed at that generation. Leslie writes in a way that might appeal to those who can remember the joy of reading library books – perhaps a slightly old-fashioned style – or perhaps retro!
After a lengthy career as a naval officer, which Leslie enjoyed (mostly), his career followed an erratic path through event management, management consultancy, operational management, and finally learning and development. Leslie likes to teach.
Leslie is married, lives in beautiful West Sussex with his wife, Jean, and his younger (adult) daughter Chloe, who has learning difficulties, and their Golder Retriever, Darcie. He enjoys staying fit, sailing his veteran dinghy on the local reservoir, and coarse fishing.
You can follow Leslie on Twitter @lesliejones45 and find him on Facebook.