What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Choosing the title for a book is an increasingly difficult task. In a world of marketing and focus groups and branding there is more to think about than just picking something that represents the content.  However innovative and “out there” marketing and promotion folks like to think they are, the fact is, apart from a rare outlier, they tend to drag things towards a lowest common denominator. There is a  narrow range of things that will have a universal appeal, that will call out to everyman, and bid them to buy.

Of course there is some segmentation, Sci Fi has a different lexicon of potential titles to Historical Fiction. But within the genres you see that lowest common denominator emerging (how many sci fi books have Stars in their title was a recent discussion with a book reviewer friend).   Reach back in time and the titles of classic sci fi books were just woeful. Today I don’t think “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” would pass the publishing companies’ doors. The money men would barricade it in. If only they spent as much effort on editing, rather than relying on spellcheckers, but that is a separate rant.

And yet in those halcyon days with names like a mouthful of rocks, the galaxies like grains of sand, sold. In numbers. Big numbers.

So what has changed, what has made us conservative, safe, following the herd on book titles?

It is in parts due to affluence, falling print costs, improved technology and self publishing which have all lead to an explosion in the amount of content. And it is no longer sufficient to aim for a sold out print run, with a few boxes of remainders in the attic. In fact in the age of digital printing the concept of print run is becoming obsolete. Today every writer has half a sleepy eye on the dream of film rights, or a tv mini series. We can’t trust the movie execs to see through DADoES to see Blade Runner.

But there is also the dreaded Return on Investment. The money men are all about de-risking, payback periods and net present values. Making something safe to get a small return is better for them than something bold that may fail. So titles are researched and winners are “proven” chosen based on “evidence”.

Ask what people will buy and they will tell you what they know, it is the trap of the focus group.

If you stick to what people know you narrow your range into the domain of cliches and tropes.

And here’s the rub, fans of a genre know the tropes. They can spot them in a title, and it will be a warning sign of “nothing new here” for the contents.

As a proof by counter example some of the best recent fantasy written has been by Joe Abercrombie, whose book titles are seeming non sequiturs pulled from the middle of famous quotes. And the content was fresh, challenging and hugely engaging.

Lynch’s “Lies of Locke Lamora” – tricky title, was better than his follow up “Red Seas Under Red Skies” which started to become a little predictable.

It’s the internet, two examples are incontrovertible proof. But the paradox is real enough, for the experienced reader, bold content is unlikely to hide behind a bland name (note unlikely, not impossible), and yet for the general reader, a bold title is a challenge they may shy away from. The real question is does the money win, or the art? More thoughts on art and money here.

All of which leads to me to moment of self reflection. I agonised more over the naming of my book than I did over naming my children.

There is a well established precedent that the title of a book of short stories should be taken from one of the stories, or, if they are all based on a theme, setting, or character, they reference that common element. It is not a law, but it is a precedent, which post Magna Carta has the strength of law.

That narrowed my choices to seven, as the stories cross genres, plot lines and no character is reprised.

The objective was to find something representative, memorable, and to which I could associate an image to make an attractive cover.

I discarded “Ali Baba and the Little Thief” straightaway. It was too long, and with the addition of “and Other Stories” the whole thing would become too unwieldy with too many ands.   It was a shame because I’m quite proud of the story.

I won’t take you through them all, but I narrowed down to the following, which I put to my own focus group.


Broadly the guys liked The Lethe Cluster, the girls liked Image. The clincher was that only two of the stories are Sci Fi, but Lethe would only invite a sci fi readership.

Even without a marketing team or sales experts I fell into the same trap as above. Lethe is the centrepiece, but it would be a challenge for a broad readership to pick the book, so I went with the title that has more general appeal, but is bland.


Mistake? You decide.



Tradesmen’s Crossing

Tradesmen’s Crossing

If you are but an eye aligning scales, and I a weight like coin, then who in truth is God? Should I be awed to know you so capable at trade? A deal done for eternity, and salvation so cheaply purchased.

The sun has burned my shoulders. Photon flail. I found you where the salt of dripping blood and sweat crept beneath the peeling skin.  My wounds. I welcomed them, easy as standing still, unflinching. You offered something other than the grave, and I gave. But the moment of clarity came when my raw flesh cried. A bargain of burn for burn.

Salt proves you capable of humour; a poison to complete each meal.

Your codicil of curses, taunts and ridicule has left me clothed in garbage, waste and humility. I will leave a trail of stench throughout your garden, beneath the laden boughs and grassy banks, but tears and tresses have washed my broken feet. You need not fear, I will not flinch when laughter chimes in harmonies from hanging harps, nor cry when tremens tips my cups across the sward. I do not begrudge the statements of fidelity, the false trails of timidity, the kiss. I forgive them and I forgive you, and the kiss.

This is the moment of transference, for what is done cannot be undone. Long before you raised me up, excruciate, the pit was dug, and light was just a faint reminder of the sun. But as the sweat of toil, the blood of blisters beaded and intertwined my shovel stopped. How was I to know the imperative of bracing walls? they trembled with the threat of falling in. At last you let me learn the art of climbing, fall by aching fall, until back braced on filth I reached upwards and out. Why did you not warn me that the light burns hot as fire?

Is salvation mercy or just a means of keeping busy?

You salved the cuts and placed the pitiless crown upon my head. Fatted calves poured their throat libations: alizarin, carmethene. I was succoured and symbol. Then you hoisted me aloft, hands nailed to heartswood. Everything comes down to price, and I was always too proud to haggle.

You are no God, and I am not your son. You are a merchant, and we have made a trade. Burning, wounds and salt on one side of the scales. I will foul the sweet air of your sanctuary, but tread lightly on the turf.


My book available here and here among others. Buy it, review it, tell me what you think.

The Door I Never Opened

The Door I Never Opened

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose-garden.

TS Eliot – Burnt Norton

I cling to my regrets. They are milestones and millstones, showing where I have been, or the doors I did not open. Keepsakes, chains on snowflakes that bind my failing memory.

There are things I would change. Most are actions or decisions of such monumental personal proportions that I cannot unravel the consequences. Life, death, love and loss are contingent on those turning points. Best left alone, I think.

Little moments, almost inconsequential incidents also haunt me: a choice of words, a second’s hesitation. Given the chance to do these over I would take a different path.

This is one.

There is much I regret about that final year. My glittering academic career, punctuated with awards and scholarships, came crashing to earth. I ignored the syllabus and threw myself into night-long discussions on metaphysics, maths, syntax, and the recipe for the perfect mozzarella salad. I wrote a lot of bad poems. A lot, and really bad.  I spent hours tapping them out two-fingered, but I could not bring myself to spend a fraction of that time in the library reading about my course.

All that is set. Let it stay.

I’d change the two words I said to you one summer afternoon before we sipped elderberry cordial in the shadow of Woolf and Wittgenstein.

There is a lot I don’t remember about that year, twenty and some have passed since then. I do remember you. We smoked on the window seat in my room, our legs dangling towards the river and the Bridge of Sighs three storeys below. I should have been revising for my finals.

You asked me to turn you into a vampire. I bit your neck.

I remember how much you loved those windows. I remember I didn’t kiss you.


I remember the night four of us walked across the scholar’s garden. The moon through the branches striped the lawn. I took off my shoes and went third, it was our Abbey Road, or Belsize Park. “Do you remember, barefoot on the lawn with shooting stars?”

And I remember the day you were going on a trip upriver, and either I invited myself, or you insisted I go with you. There was a gang of your friends. Of them I remember nothing at all.

We watched the trees pass overhead from the bow of the boat, wading through the unreal beauty of Cambridge. You pulled me back as the others strolled to The Orchard tea room and said, “I do love you, you know.”

I said, “I know.”

Those words cut me today, while you have undoubtedly forgotten them. I don’t know what I was trying to prove, or what coolness and aloofness would achieve. A moment to be anyone but Han. I should have said anything else, I still don’t know what.

Who knows what it would change. I forget now if I ever saw you again after that day. Perhaps once in a fleeting goodbye and a promise to write. Perhaps not. Those facts might remain unchanged. But the burden of two careless words in my memory would be lifted, and I would tread a little lighter.



If you are interested in my storytelling look here

More memories from college collated here

The Joy of Books – A Guide for the Valentine’s Day Escape Artist

We’ve all been there. Filled with good intentions a week before, our minds bubbling with exotic and innovative ideas to surprise and delight our significant other, we’re mentally prepared for V day. And then Alex calls for a drink and Ben needs a favour and Charlie has ticket to the football and before you know it its Feb 13th and you’re out of time.

Welcome fellow travellers to the wonderful world of the Valentine’s book – cheap, easy to acquire, personalised and sure to make you look thoughtful and romantic, as long as you choose the right one.

If you have a day in hand go for a physical book. You can get expedited delivery from online sellers, and in London at least you can track down a book shop on every other high street. Poems are the obvious choice because fiction spans so many story lines you might trigger an adverse reaction. (Unless you want to signal to someone not your partner that you would rather be with them[Jude], would rather they weren’t with the person they are with [Wuthering Heights], or want to kill your partner [Gone Girl].) Having said that my own book of stories has roses on the cover and would work a treat.

So which poetry book? There are so many to choose from and not all of them fit the Valentine’s bill. Gabriela Mistral’s MadWomen is probably only appropriate if you want to give a break up gift. Brilliant as it is, the message is all wrong. Similarly Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters, the undercurrent of tragedy and regret will pull you into an emotional maelstrom.

Neruda is the natural choice. Romantic, sensual, accessible and familiar, but it is a bit uninspired. You won’t get any points for thinking outside the box, or applying some diligent research. The same goes for the old romantic standards. Shakespeare, Barrett Browning, and Pam Ayres, all worthy luminaries of the English speaking world, but so well known, and gracing so many greeting cards you’ll get nothing back for the effort.

That means you need to cast the net a little wider – if you want something with a slightly melancholy romantic turn you should pick up Cavafy’s Collected poems; there is a distinct homoerotic sensibility running through it, which adds a level of poignancy when set in context of the time he was writing.

If you are after something with more violent passions then Vicente Aleixandre’s Destruction or Love is the perfect choice (my Goodreads review of it is here). The hardback edition is a beautiful and weighty tome – you’ll be considerate, worldly, and a harbourer of dark and brooding passions all at once.

Rumi has suffered a little by becoming a campus favourite, and therefore a bit saccharine for more mature sensibilities, but if you can find a copy of The Book of Love, you should ease your way out of any strife.

An acquaintance recently wrote a translation of a Li Bai (aka Li Po) poem, which made me look the Tang dynasty poet up. How did I miss this? (bangs head on wall). Buy two, one for your significant other, and one for yourself in case you ever break up because you won’t want to be without it.

In a similar vein the love poems of Catullus to Lesbia are vaguely remembered by many, but under read by all. In the UK Walt Whitman is not part of the school reading list, and so won’t be familiar, but it is better suited to someone with a bit of grit in their soul.

If you have really run out of time (it is six pm on Feb 14th, and you need to do a real Houdini act) then there are two options. If you have been together long enough to be able to send or gift books to each other’s Kindles or tablets then you could still wriggle out jail. My friend Rik Roots has written the very credible Poems to Quote to Your Lover, and many of the writers above are available in ebook form.

Be wary though. Some of the older books are just scans of an early edition with crappy page breaks and no hyperlinks. I recently picked up a very cheap copy of Rumi for my tablet only to find the text and notes poorly laid out.

If you don’t have the option of sending something over the ether then get a really nice card and crib in a poem. Choose someone relatively unknown and if you are too cheap to buy a copy use the Amazon “Look Inside” feature to lift a poem, and scribe it into the card. The onus is now really on you to pick something personal. Alice Meynell’s Renouncement is intense and if your significant other is not a regular poetry reader you might get away with it. There are some lines buried in Shelley’s Epipsychidion which only avid fans will remember, so you could easily take a couplet or two (although have a care, from memory Charlotte Bronte quotes the “seraph of heaven” line in Vilette). Nicholl’s Sonnets to Aurelia are also hard to get hold of, and although many of them are scathing and cold (again good for a break up message), you can definitely pick up a couple of romantic lines e.g.:

In my ruins hour remembrance brings

Faith to my doubt to my intention grace

Reminding me how feebly fall such stings

On one whose eyes dared once your eyes to face

And read in them what no ill can remove

The Love that to the Love said “I Love”

(I did that from memory – self high five)

As a writer I urge you to credit what you crib! Apart from the good practice, in a Google dominated world you may get found out as a Knock Off Nigel and things will go downhill from there.

The Look Inside technique will work on the list above, although you might only get the first poem in each book. If you are in for something steamy then try Eiff’s 31 Tanka, it charts an entire relationship from start to end so there’ll be something for you in there, but definitely NSFW.

Remember the mantra – when all else fails a book will bail you out.

Good Luck and Happy Valentine’s Day


My book available here and here among others. Buy it, review it, tell me what you think


DP: Haiku

Daily Prompt on Haiku, one for each of five days:



alarm ringing change

dawn, the sabbatical ends

for sleep leaden eyes



rise coffee phoenix!

drowsy afternoon ashes




packed trains, laden minds

blank faced in contemplation

filing our regrets



work hard, get married

buy a house, and buy a car

have kids, have kids. die



i tie my own chains

freedom embraced in farewell

a wage slave again




If you are interested in more of my writing please check out my book: Image and Other Stories

A Family Affair


A Family Affair

The plaster smelled of wet plastic. The initial delicious coolness against my skin was losing its charm as Amy worked her way around my body. It was heavy and cold and I couldn’t feel my feet any more. She was less than halfway done, I figured by the time she was finished hypothermia would have set in.

Amy was muttering weights and times under her breath almost constantly, and from time to time she would stop to spray water on the parts she had already covered to keep them moist. It made the process of being plaster moulded by my twin an agony of stillness. The cold was doing nothing for my ego either.

I winced as she slapped plaster -there- a little less gently than necessary. “You realise your future nieces and nephews are in there?” I asked as her fingers roamed around with rough thoroughness.

“Shut up, concentrating,” was all I got in reply.

“It’s just, in the circumstances, that’s not really reflective of, you know…” I stuttered to a halt. Finally her head of frizzy hair lifted and her grinning face was revealed. Her eyes were twinkling with supressed laughter. She winked at me. “Don’t worry Dave, I’ll make you proud.” Her head dropped out of sight again, “Now be quiet, I’ve never done a full body before and I need to keep an eye on the drying times.” There were a few moments of laboured breathing as she adjusted the rack I was lying on to begin filling in around my arms, which were stretched over my head. She took me by surprise when she went on, “Of course the other guys I’ve cast didn’t seem to have any problems.”

I was about to twist my head to look at her in shock when a plaster covered hand grabbed me by the chin. “Don’t move you idiot.”

I let it drop, art was her business and I let her get on with it. I had designed the rack she was using, which spun around on three axes giving a range of manoeuvrability for her work. She had been working on me for over half an hour, merging legs and torso and neck, letting it all part dry, and then spinning me round and moving onto my back. The really tricky bit was yet to come.

I was numb from chin to heel when she whirled me about to face her. “Are you ready?” I tried to nod, but my head was rigidly caught in plaster. I managed to squeak out a “Yes”.

Earplugs went in first, then she put clingfilm over my mouth, smoothing it carefully. She pierced it with a straw that she left in place. More clingfilm went over my nostrils, and two more straws went in just before I began to struggle for breath through my mouth. She put clear little plastic caps over my eyes and Vaseline in my eyebrows and hair. When the plaster came the world went dark, and very very cold.

I lost track of time, afloat in a noiseless, motionless world. A level of terror at being trapped in a void crept in, and was building into a scream I would never be able to release when I felt a faint vibration. It completely filled the emptiness.

Amy had taped a fine wire up my sides and left the ends poking out above my head. Very slowly she was using it to saw away the plaster into to perfectly matched halves. The sensation went down both sides and then stopped at my ankles. Through the plaster and earplugs I heard cursing. Loud, vitriolic cursing. I couldn’t make out all the words, but I could guess, and I wasn’t sure I knew what all of them meant.

Her voice was suddenly close by my ear. “Dave, I forgot to wire up the insides of your legs and thighs.” There was a pause. “I’m going to have to cut you out. Sorry. This could take a while.”

It took me a moment to process what she had said. The wires were there to separate the two halves of the cast with the least possible damage and create a perfect replica of me. They ran from my head, up and down my over stretched arms and then to my ankles. I could remember her laughing as she had taped them to me. I couldn’t remember her running the wires up the inside of my legs. A very cold and very unpleasant sweat pushed through my numb skin. I wanted to thrash around but I was still under a weight of plaster that was only partially separated.

She must have sensed my panic. “Dave, you have to stay very still,” she said. “I have a hacksaw and I will be very careful, but it will take some time, I can’t risk using any power tools.”

No she couldn’t. I would get her for this. I began plotting my revenge through little spasms of panic every time the saw blade scraped my skin. She left the very worst til last. I felt the vibrations radiating from the centre of my body outwards. Suddenly I really needed to pee. It took an age as she gently cut her way through the plaster.

If I could have moved I would have sagged into the mould when she finally stopped. I could feel her strapping the upper half of the cast onto the rack. With a rattling of chain she winched it away. And then there was light and breath and noise. I was out. She ripped away the cling film and cut off the cable ties holding my hands in place above my head. I tried to use my own hands to haul myself out of the lower part of the cast but my arms flailed around bloodless and useless.

Then the pins and needles kicked in all over my body and I screamed.

I don’t remember much about what happened next. It was all a blur until I was looking into the deep brown eyes of Cousin Kate. Beautiful, intelligent, calm Cousin Kate. She was talking at me but the precise words weren’t piercing the fog. If I had control of my body I would have leaned forward to kiss her. It was OK, I had worked it all out; we were third cousins, kissing cousins.

Cousin Kate. Also known as Dr Kate Rovero, of the clan of doctors Rovero, and its various matrilineal lines. The doctors Rovero et al. of whom in my generation there were twenty in various fields of medicine, all alumni of the medical college founded by our shared three times great grandfather Dr Miles Rovero.

And then of course there was Amy the artist and me, the engineer. The two misshapen pears in the barrel of perfect medical apples.

I don’t know what had possessed Amy to call on Kate when there was a platoon of doctors in her phonebook. She knew very well Kate specialised in neuroscience, we had been given the drill of all the cousins and their specialities by our disappointed mother often enough. She also knew I had the most terrible crush on Cousin Kate; ever since I had worked out that not all girl things were the same as this odd appendage called Amy.

Yet here she was, and here I was, half out of my senses, wholly naked, tactically covered in Vaseline, shivering with cold, worse than that: shrunken with cold, and if I didn’t mistake the smell, I think I had wet myself somewhere along the line. I could only hope that had happened before Kate arrived.

Kate was rubbing me down with what looked suspiciously like the mouldy old tartan blanket from the back of Amy’s Volvo. Amy was in the corner sobbing over a kettle that was just at that moment coming to the boil. The babble of voices that had first broken through my stupor started to make sense.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Kate’s was exasperated and seemed to only have the echo of the fire I knew she was capable of. She had probably asked the question several times over.

Amy didn’t seem to be in any fit state to answer, so I thought I had better pitch in. “It’s a dental amalgam we adapted,” I said between my still chattering teeth. “Should have been perfectly safe. Amy uses it for casts all the time.”

“And just how long were you in it?” She asked sternly.

I shrugged, although whether she could tell over the shivering was uncertain. Amy returned with a cup of green tea. “It was about an hour and half in the full cast,” she said

“How long was the process?”

“Two hours, maybe just over. You have to work quickly or it…” Amy’s explanation tailed off under Kate’s glare.

“It didn’t occur to either of you geniuses to just break the damn thing apart?”

“But that would ruin it,” we said in unison. Kate looked from one to the other and then closed her eyes and shook her head. She checked me over with brisk professionalism while I sipped the tea, making me follow her finger with my eyes, jabbing my fingers and toes with some of Amy’s sharp tools.

Eventually she stood up, dusted off her knees and took off the doctor face. Worry and tiredness warred across her features. “You got lucky,” she said to me, then turned to Amy, “You both did. Now get him dressed and home and into bed.” Amy nodded, so Kate followed up with, “And no more of these experimental shenanigans.”

I shot Amy a guilty look, which she shot back. Kate was a sharp one and she caught us. “What’s this?”

“Well, Dave was first so we could test the technique, then he’s going to use it on me for the next one.” Amy explained, a hopeful smile attempting to break out across her lips as she spoke. Kate was a couple of years older than us, and while I fancied her, Amy had always looked up to her. Kate’s approval meant something to Amy’s otherwise independent spirit.

“No you bloody well are not. This stops here.”

“But the project’s not nearly complete,” I protested, now slightly more in control of my mouth and limbs. “We need the Amy casts to make the whole thing work.”

“Are you kidding me? Dave, that was really dangerous.” Kate pointed at the rack, “Neither one of you is getting back into that death trap again.”

“Death trap?” She had stung my pride in my work. “That’s a piece of precision engineering. It worked perfectly.”

Amy followed up on my lead, “we know exactly what went wrong, I forgot one part of the process, that’s what made the whole thing take so long. We’ll be much better at it when it’s my turn.”

“You are both completely nuts.” She stamped over to the cast, looking for more reasons to stop us, or perhaps just a hammer. “What the hell is it that you’re working on anyway? What are you willing to go to such lengths for?” She stopped. Realisation dawned on her face. It softened away her anger and I fell in love all over again. “It’s for next week, isn’t it?”

We both nodded. She looked from me, to Amy, and back again. “OK, but Amy’s the one that knows the process and how to work the materials.” She looked from one to the other again, “So I’ll be your model.”

I was stunned, with a simple sentence she had left herself to our skill, just like that. And I’d just landed the prospect of seeing Kate naked. It must have shown on my face, she pointed at my own obvious lack of clothes and said, “but I’ll do it in a bikini.”

*                                   *                            *

Amy flapped around me like a mother hen until I snapped at her to leave me alone. She fled back to her studio to make me into a statue. A life sized Dave reaching up over his head. When Amy phoned through with the weight of metal used to make my statue I was able to run some calculations  on the weight of resin that would make Kate. Actually that would make five Kates leaning forward like figureheads on a ship, and reaching back with their hands, which would join to form a circle.

I didn’t feel up to hitting the workshop, so I spent the afternoon curled on the sofa with a notebook making amendments to the final design, and deciding how I would need to arrange the weights and gears to make the whole project come together.

When Kate stopped by to check up on me I was busily sketching what I imagined her naked body would look like. I flapped the notebook closed when the bell rang, and gulped like a schoolboy when I saw who it was.

The apartment that Amy and I shared was on the edge of the university district, easy enough for us to get in to run classes, but far out enough that we could rent a nearby warehouse and split it into her studio and my workshop. It also put us a comfortable distance away from the College and Mum and the campus of family that were concentrated close to it.

Despite my protests Kate made coffee and then checked my eyes and pulse, she took my blood pressure and asked some general questions about how I was feeling. It was about half an hour before she got to the point of her visit.

“What’s really going on here Dave? You guys have always been off doing your own thing, and now this,” she waved her hands roughly in the direction of our studio cum workshop.

“It’s Mum, she’s so into this clan thing, how everyone is a doctor of medicine, and marries other doctors and begets more doctors, and the whole Rovero legacy. We just wanted to show her that what we do has some value too.” It sounded weak when I said it out loud.

“Everyone knows Auntie Jen can be,” she hunted for a diplomatic word, “Difficult.” She took a sip of coffee, “She does take the whole Rovero thing pretty seriously.”

“And the funny thing is that she is two steps down the maternal line. I think it is just the fact that grandma never did it, and it would ridiculous, that stops her double-barrelling Rovero into her name.” I stopped there, it was all sounding a bit childish and bitter. Amy did needle and spite much better than I did, she could really lay on the acid, while I just sounded whiney.

Kate changed the subject, “So show me the project, I got the gist of it yesterday, but I want to know what I’m getting myself into.”

I flipped open the notebook to the master drawing. “It’s basically a tulip with five petals and a central stalk. There are counter rotating gears between the one Dave and the five Amys.” I stopped, “or the Kates I should say now. In the circular base there are asymmetric weights.” I flipped over the page, “So when the Kates catch the wind the Dave spins in one direction and the Kates in the other.” I flipped over another page that showed the bearings, getting a bit geeky in my element. “The tolerances on the bearings are incredibly tight. To the uninitiated it will look like a perpetual motion machine.”

She took the notebook from me and flipped back to the first page. “It’s beautiful.” She smiled ruefully, “The funny thing is I always envied you two. Off in your own world away from the pressure and expectation of the clan. And now you come up with this…”

I sat back, surprised by the revelation. To the outward eye Kate was a true scion of the house, first in her class at everything, qualified and practising a year before she should have been, and in a technically demanding field of medicine. I tried to explain, “Mum could never accept that we just weren’t into medicine. It’s so important to her. Dad was cool with it, I think he liked having something else to talk about over dinner, even if it was Rodin and Brunel. We got a chance to try and tie it all back together, we couldn’t turn it down.”

She smiled at me and flipped idly through the pages, not really paying attention to my hard work. “I always wondered what it would be like to do something else.” There was a faraway note to her voice. “There are so many other things we all could have been, but our beloved ancestor seems to have laid down the tracks for us all.” She flipped on a few more pages, “Well not all of us.” She looked at me, “In a way I’m proud of you and Amy, you both broke the mould and made your own way. I guess that’s why I want to model for your project,” she gave me a bigger smile, “So that I can be part of your revolution.” I think the confession embarrassed her, because she looked away from me back to the notebook. Her own face looked back, accurately rendered by my hand. “Oh.” She flipped forward another page to my imagined naked Kate.

I leapt off the sofa, spilling my coffee as I grabbed the notebook. “Sorry, I was just doodling,” I said lamely, trying to ignore the hot coffee running down my leg.

She gave me the full bore smile then, like the sun coming out of the clouds on a rainy day. “I’ll see you tomorrow evening in the studio.” Then she was gone, and I was smelling her perfume and spilled coffee and grinning like a village idiot with an amusing turnip.

*                                   *                            *

I was in my workshop when Kate arrived the next day. I didn’t hear her car roll up as I was busy on the lathe with my ear defenders on. When I saw her in the doorway between Amy’s studio and my workshop I waved an apology and bent back over my equipment. For the mechanism to work it had to be very precisely balanced, and I couldn’t afford to leave a component half finished.

When I was done I walked in on Amy explaining her finishing process to Kate. She had a file in one hand, and was waving it at a full sized naked model of me, in a bright aluminium alloy.

“It’s called forgiving,” she said, “taking out all the small imperfections from the casting and pouring, and giving the whole thing a perfect finish.” She looked evilly at me, “Of course some subjects take more forgiving than others.”

I gave her a childish sneer, which thankfully Kate missed, and then we got started. It took an hour, it went without a hitch and at the end I got to lift Kate out of the cast and carry her to a corner of the room where we had set up heaters and blankets and a thermos of tea, and rub the circulation back into her. It seemed like a more than fair reward for my near death experience and I figured myself heftily in karmic debt. Some days life just throws you a break.

Of course I didn’t see her again for several days, because Amy and I were locked together, building. Kate was sworn to secrecy as part of our plot and as she now featured so heavily in it, but her part was done.

There was one other essential conspirator: Dad. He was academic director at the Rovero College, a position he had earned in spite of, rather than because of his marriage to a daughter of the clan. Family were generally kept away from influential posts in a tacit agreement with the Board. His position meant he could pull strings and make certain arrangements for us.

We were working towards a memorial service, the annual tip of the hat to Dr Miles Rovero who had established the College, brought medical training to the region, and involuntarily set up the family business. This year was special, a hundred and fifty years had passed since he had first opened the doors and every one with a hint of Rovero blood was descending on the College grounds for a gala dinner, with alumni and professors all thrown into the mix.

There would be a distinct shortage of doctors all-round the country that night, and as I had seen the champagne order, it would be unwise to get taken ill the next morning as well.

We had a few bumps along the way to the final installation. Amy got copper grease in her hair which took three visits to the hairdresser to get out, and I nearly lost a finger fitting the acrylic mounts for the turning mechanism. But we got there, on time and ready for the big reveal.

I’ll be honest; it was a pretty swanky do. All black tie and evening gowns, a string quartet in one corner, a jazz band in one of the large tents, waiters with trays of little bits of food and enough booze to float a boat.

Kate was everything Mum thought a Rovero should be which included carrying the right surname, so I think she was disappointed to find Kate hanging about with Amy and me, thick as thieves. Mum very unsubtly bustled her away to some people she simply must meet. I wondered what she would make of Kate’s contribution to our work.

When the time came for the main address Amy and I were called up to the podium, which would have annoyed Mum no end, her delinquent children on show for everyone to see.

I spotted Kate at the front of the crowd and called her up as well. She resisted at first until Amy’s indecorous insistence threatened to ruin the solemnity of the moment.  I was nervous and excited all at once. We’d planned this for months, built it in a week, and then nearly destroyed the whole thing when the crane tipped during the installation.

I felt Kate’s hand slip into mine, and realised she would be incredibly nervous as well. It would be her body spinning in front of the thousand people when the cloth went up. Amy was already gripping my other hand hard enough to crush my fingers; all that working with plaster and sculptures had given her an iron grip. It tightened further as Dr Barfield, president of the Board and MC for the night, explained how two Rovero descendants had built the monument that would commemorate the milestone of a hundred and fifty years. I missed the rest, caught in the moment and Kate’s proximity, until with a flourish several dozen yards of silk was removed to show our work.

The moment was perfect. The sun was setting, catching the enormous flower of Amy’s imagination. In the centre rose a silvery Dave stamen, highlighted golden in the sunset, and shooting shafts of reflected sunlight through the translucent deep lavender Kate petals, which joined at the finger tips and heels to make a cupped flower. The slight breeze caught the whole thing and made it spin gently, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd.

“What made you think of it,” asked Kate, her voice filled with wonder. My drawing hadn’t done it justice.

“It was Mum’s idea actually. She said everyone else could lay their medical certificates at the feet of Miles Rovero, but we may as well just come and throw a bouquet of flowers,” Amy said, “So we did.”

Kate laughed.  Amy was led away by Dr Barfield to show the monument to eager admirers. We watched her bask in their adulation.

“You know what they are really impressed by don’t you?” Kate said, nudging me in the ribs.

“You mean apart from the five spinning naked women?”

Her jab in the ribs was sharper this time, Amy had filed away the bikini lines and Kate was presented to the world as nude, her chest pushed out, her arms thrown back. It would have been beautiful even on a spoil heap.

“At least mine is accurate,” she replied, “Your twin was quite generous in how she interpreted certain bits of you.” A slow flush rose up behind my wing collars and onto my cheeks. Kate slipped her arm in mine, and lead me off to the buffet. “Don’t worry Dave, your secret is safe with me.”


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