Keeping secrets. We all do it. At least, I hope we all do, I’d hate to think it’s just me that squirrels away those price tags on the newly bought jeans... I guess it gives us a sense of being in control of things, handing out information on a ‘need to know’ basis rather than blurting it all out to the first person who asks. And I’m quite bad at it, anyone discussing their secrets is likely to say ‘don’t tell anyone, and especially don’t tell Jane’.
And yet, in my novel Please Don’t Stop the Music, all the characters have secrets. From Ben, the one-time rock star to Jemima, maker of jewellery, they all have things they’d rather never came out. Here’s the blurb, to give you the idea.
How much can you hide?
Jemima Hutton is determined to build a successful new life and keep her past a dark secret. Trouble is, her jewellery business looks set to fail - until enigmatic Ben Davies offers to stock her handmade belt buckles in his guitar shop and things start looking up, on all fronts.
But Ben has secrets too. When Jemima finds out he used to be the front man of hugely successful Indie rock band Willow Down, she wants to know more. Why did he desert the band on their US tour? Why is he now a semi-recluse?
And the curiosity is mutual - which means that her own secret is no longer safe ...’
So, how does someone like me, ie, someone who is so bad at keeping secrets herself that she actually answers questions like ‘does my bum look big in this?’ honestly (but is ashamed of herself afterwards), come to write a book about such secretive characters?
I guess it’s just that I’m fascinated with people who are not what they appear to be. People who seem superficial but have whole lives packed with deep thoughts, or characters who’ve changed lives, jobs, even names to hide their identity. What motivates them? What secrets do they have that are so bad, so undeniable, so life-changing? Plus, there’s a nice sense of affinity with people keeping secrets – I can imagine that theirs are so much worse than mine; okay, so maybe I massage those figures I see on the weighing scales down a little, but someone else is keeping a secret so MASSIVE that my little omissions when it comes to confessing my dress size are nothing.
I shall leave you with a little taster, to whet your appetites. Happy secret-keeping! (PS, don’t let on that I weigh more than I confess to, will you?)
I squeezed past Jason, who was on his way up the stairs with Harry, and opened the front door to Ben. He was carrying a bottle of wine, wearing a suit minus the jacket and with the top shirt button undone. He had his hair loose but sort of swept back. It suited him.
“Hello.” We faced each other across the crumbling front step.
“You found us all right then?” I took the bottle he held out.
“Your instructions were great. The taxi driver never knew this place existed before now, it’s a lovely village.”
“Thank you,” I replied without thinking.
“Build it yourself then, did you?”
“Ah, I see Mister Polite has released control of your body. Come in.”
Ben followed me into the living room and then we stood, side by side, silent. He was wearing the nice aftershave again. “This is fun,” he said finally.
“Yes. Not a bit awkward or anything.” I could see him eyeing up the dress, and to forestall any difficult questions I grabbed the bottle from the dining table and poured him a glass of white wine. “So. Sit down.”
“I didn’t mean – ” I took a giant sip of my wine. “Please. Sit down. If you can bear to soil yourself with our petty furniture that is.”
“I’ll try.” Ben sat. I perched on the arm of the saggy but comfortable chair opposite and carried on drinking. “So, is it just yourself here or–?”
“Oh, no, I share the place with Rosie. She’s my friend, the one I told you about.”
“Right.” Ben took a sip of his wine and looked around at the walls. They were plain stone, whitewashed and hung with several of Rosie’s pictures, but even so they didn’t merit quite the scrutiny that he was giving them. The silence stretched.
“Dinner will only be a minute!” Rosie stuck her head into the room again and I seized on the distraction.
“Ben, this is Rosie. Rosie, this is, obviously, Ben.”
Ben stood up and smiled. “Hello.”
Rosie came out of the doorway towards us, grinning a grin which slowly left her face and she turned to stare at me.
“Jemima?” she asked.
“What? You told me to invite Ben, so I did. That’s still all right, isn’t it?”
Rosie looked from me to Ben and back again. “Well, yes, of course. Sorry, I’m just – distracted. Um. Nice to meet you – Ben. Jem, could you come and give me a quick hand, the chilli is playing up out here.”
“All right.” I followed her into the tiny kitchen which was full of bubbling noises and steam, which accounted for the frantic nature of her curls. She shut the door behind us.
“What?” I was genuinely puzzled by her reaction. “I know he’s a bit skinny but he’s OK, honestly. Well mostly OK. Especially when he’s not wearing Lycra.”
Rosie dropped her voice so that it was barely audible over the sound of the boiling. “Don’t you know who he is?”
“Yes, I already said. It’s Ben.”
Rosie ran her hands through her curls. She now looked as though she’d been attacked by an evil hairdresser. “Jemima,” she said very evenly. “I know I’ve never asked questions about your past or anything but just tell me this. Did you spend the last five years on the moon? That man, in there,” Rosie put both hands on my shoulders. “That man. That is Baz Davies.”
“His name’s Ben.”
“No!” Rosie shook me now. “Baz Davies! The Baz Davies. Lead singer and guitarist in the biggest band to come out of Yorkshire in the last ten years and I am including the Arctic Monkeys in that. Haven’t you ever heard of Willow Down?” She sighed. “Listen. Willow Down. Huge. Sensation. Made Coldplay look like some outfit touting round Working Men’s Clubs. Went to the States. Huge in States. Baz Davies...” she flung out an arm to indicate the living room, “... dropped out. Went to ground. Band fell apart.”
Benedict Arthur Zacchary Davies.
“Oh,” I said.
“He’s been off the radar for five years.. No-one knows what happened, they were in the middle of a tour of the States that was, apparently, phenomenal. I saw them once.” Rosie’s eyes suddenly went misty. “Fibbers, that club in York. They played Foolish Words, my favourite, I got drunk and went home with a bloke who turned out to be hung like a mule. Ah, happy days.”
I walked out of the kitchen and back into the living room. Ben was still perched on the edge of the sofa, rolling his now empty glass between his fingers.
“We subdued the chilli but I’m afraid the rice might go for your throat,” I said.
Ben looked at me. “You know.”
“What? That you used to be in a band? Yes. Rosie recognised you. Saw you play Fibbers, apparently.”
He gave a short laugh, then shook his head. “That’s gone, not me any more. This is who I am.”
I felt a little tremble down my spine. “Yes.”
“I’m not that person now.” Ben stood up.
“I’d better go.” Ben handed me the glass. “I’m sorry. I thought it would be all right, but people keep – it’s like they won’t let it go.”
Please Don’t Stop the Music is published by Choc Lit Publishing www.choclitpublishing.co.uk
Jane can be found (not being secretive) at www.janelovering.co.uk or followed on Twitter @janelovering
Jane is the author of three published books, the owner of a terrible car and wearer of quite shockingly awful hair. She lives in Yorkshire with her wonderful husband, four of her five children (the eldest having been persuaded to leave home - eventually), two dogs, four cats and a hell of a lot of cobwebs. She believes housework to be an invention of the Devil and chocolate to be at least three of the major food groups. She has a day job in a local school, and writes to avoid being asked to do laundry. Her books are described as ‘quirky romantic comedies’ but you have to make up your own minds on that.