Jobbing actor Jonathan Stapleton - failed husband, slightly better father, with no ambition, and a modicum of acting ability - doesn’t need complications in his life, but that’s what he gets with Callum Henley - younger, talented, impulsive, and inexplicably crazy about him. How can they hope to succeed as a couple when one is heading for fame and fortune ... and the other prefers to stay at home?
"Who the fuck is that?" Some of the provincial vowels that drama school had supposedly smoothed out were evident in the half-awake bellow from behind the closed door. Judging by the direction from which it came, Callum was obviously still in bed.
"It's Jon. There's a problem." Then, when there was no sound of movement from within, he added, "Callum, I'm serious; open the door."
An incoherent sound followed, the creaking of bedsprings, and a fumbling with latches before a sleepy fair head and unshaven jaw appeared around the corner of the door.
Jon drew a breath. He did not quite know how to deliver what could be either the best or the worst news of Callum's life. "Douggie's broken his leg," he said, gently. "You're going on, at least for the week."READ MORE
Callum blinked, blue eyes struggling to focus, and then he stood back. "You'd better come in," he said, holding the door open. "What happened?"
Standing in the gloom of the ground-floor bedroom, its extra-thick curtains cutting out a glorious spring morning, Jon related what little information he had. The room looked as if a bomb had hit it: stale clothing was piled on one chair, with several pairs of shoes scattered on the floor. It was obvious that Callum's nights here had been solitary, at least recently; no girl in her right mind would have spent more than half an hour in this turmoil of her own free will.
"Christ, I'd better find some clothes." Callum, wearing only a pair of faded blue boxers, was glancing around despairingly as if expecting a valet to waltz up with a freshly-pressed shirt and pair of trousers. "I'm sorry the place is such a mess."
They were always like this in the beginning, the first-timers who lodged at the Old Crown. They could never get it into their heads that Jon wasn't the landlord, only his representative, and that he didn't care if their rooms were untidy or their bedding was never washed. He handed over the keys at the start of the season and took them back at the end, and if there was any damage he dealt with it; beyond that, whatever they did behind locked doors was their own business.
"It's not important." He was trying to sound reassuring. "Why don't you have a shower and get dressed? I'll make you some breakfast, if you like."
"Good God, really?"
"Yes, really. Bacon, tomatoes and fried bread?"
"Fine. I mean, that's extraordinarily kind." Callum still looked stunned. "I'm going to need a taxi, aren't I?"
"I'll take care of it."
Jon was moving towards the door, about to abandon Callum to his own devices, when on impulse he paused and turned back.
"This is only happening because you're ready for it," he said. "Concentrate on doing one thing at a time, and let people help you if they want to - although you don't have to listen to every piece of advice you're given. Nobody's jealous; we all like to think it could happen to us one day, too."
"You're telling me I haven't got time to fall apart, aren't you?"
"Absolutely. And to grab your chance with both hands because it may not come again."
"Got it. Thanks. Promise I won't let you down."
But Jon had left the room and was back in the kitchen taking the bacon out of the fridge before it occurred to him to wonder why it was his business whether Callum Henley succeeded or not.COLLAPSE
"a perfect example of character-driven plot"
Rainbow Awards Honourable Mention (2011)
Length: 135,000 words/484 pages