With mere weeks before the publication of my first novel, Diazepam for Sale, I thought it wise to include a blurb and extract in this blog. I'm so excited that I might just explode... I hope you enjoy it.
BlurbEmma used to be happy; now she looks as if life has fallen on her from a twelfth-floor window and she forgot to put out her arms to catch it. She used to be creative but now she can barely imagine a sunny day in the rain. She is young, beautiful and engulfed in the creative vibes of Brighton, but she divides her time between sitting on her own private pebble indentation on the beach and watching the dregs of afternoon TV – chewing gum for the mind.
With her doctor refusing to offer her a prescription for anything other than condescension, she is offered an unusual cure for her depression from a man who promises to help her wear life like a pair of loosely fitting loungey pants. And so begins her bizarre journey into a past that belongs to someone else and a present that she wishes didn’t belong to her. And the future? If only she could get off the merry-go-round and start again it might just be okay.
Emma wasn’t crying when she arrived at the doctor’s surgery, but it was here that the sadness really hit her. It was as if someone had switched her off at the mains or replaced her endorphins with Marmite. She tried to form the words to tell the receptionist about her eleven-thirty appointment with Doctor Hue and all she could manage was a shaky murmur. The woman behind the desk raised one eyebrow, asked her name and processed her with all the enthusiasm and compassion of a shop girl swiping a sweaty lettuce over a bleeping scanner. She handed her a wooden tag with the number three pressed into it, pointed her in the direction of the waiting room and quickly turned her flawed attention to a suspiciously orangey man who had queued behind.
Emma still wasn’t crying when she sat down in the waiting room, but whether the tears were on the inside or flowing for the whole world to see really made no difference to her as she lowered herself into an uncomfortable chair and tried to make sense of her surroundings. At a glance, the brightly decorated room inspired hope and was a tranquil greenroom to warm up for the doctor/patient show. But it was a ruse. The posters pinned to every available scrap of wall space told her that everything remotely fun, tasty or indulgent was bad for her and used a range of colourful characters to convey the sombre message. A small notice by the door told that twenty people had missed their pre-booked appointments this week and a new policy was being put in place to put this time-wasting to an end (maybe including the use of some kind of corporal punishment), and all of the other signs informed patients of misery classes they could attend to get them through a soul-destroying life. A problem shared is a problem halved, but with misery’s penchant for company, Emma pictured the distress of the cancer and rape victims, the co-dependants and the alcoholics, dividing and multiplying and taking on a life of its own to form a kind of hyper-misery to inject back into the world.
She picked up a battered copy of Hello magazine, with a smiley face sketched in the O in biro, and pretended to read the taglines. The tears, however, were now lurking just under her lids and would burst out at any point, so she had to concentrate hard.
The old woman sitting opposite her was also concentrating hard. She was an antique with very little hope for restoration; her skin had a recycled quality to it, her ankles were bound in frayed bandages so that her toes were blue and puffy, the fat around her calves spilling over like poorly executed soufflé, and her head moved at intervals of its own volition. An aware onlooker would doubt that she could even pull herself out of her chair without some part of her falling off, but Emma was not an aware onlooker. She didn’t even notice the old woman until the smiley face in the O frowned and raised an eyebrow in her direction – at least that was what the blur in front of her looked like after staring intently for ten minutes.
Slowly, she pulled her head heavily from its slump, swept a parting in her lank hair and felt a jolt of terror and embarrassment to see that the old woman was staring not only right at her, with eye balls that no longer fit their sockets, but she was looking on with such an expression of pity that Emma could feel it landing on her cheeks and transforming them into glowing radishes.
The old woman’s fingers twisted into painful sausages and the stress of age and illness was contorting her features, blending her seamlessly into the glum-making posters behind, but still there was pity for Emma. It was as if the depression inside of Emma was oozing from every pore and encasing her in a sticky gloom, hiding everything that the woman should be seeing, should envy – the vibrancy of youth; delicate features which when ignited by delight illuminated a room; fiery red hair that no amount of hair dye could imitate, luscious and rich; a smile, which when not transforming her lips lived coyly in her eyes. None of it was visible through the gloom. Her eyes were dead, her hair greasy and even her uncomfortable posture compromised the youth. The smile, which had been a trophy of hers for so long, she kept in a cupboard at home in case of emergencies.
Despite the excruciating creaking of her bones, the old woman eased her body forward and reached out to touch Emma’s leg. As her face came closer, Emma’s instinct was to look or run away, but there was a softness and wisdom that held her gaze.
Very slowly, the old woman’s shaky mouth opened, preparing to offer advice or wisdom or a recipe for chicken soup, or any number of things that Emma would never find out because the number three flashed behind her and with the buzz, the woman’s mouth slammed shut and the hand was pulled away.
‘I have to…’ Emma finally said and held up the number three tag to finish the sentence. She then slowly backed towards the door and half-curtseying out of the room.
And then came the tears.
Maybe it was the name on the door – Doctor Hue – in solid, impenetrable, gold lettering. She tried to compose herself and raised her tear-drenched hand to knock on the door, but the voice beyond boomed, ‘Come!’ before she even made contact.
She dragged both hands across her face, cleared her throat and patted her summery skirt to free it of creases (or maybe to rid it of the little flowers that she never really liked), and slowly pushed through the heavy door.
Doctor Hue’s office was a true testament to his success. Everything gleamed as if it was polished three times a day: the desk, the books, the sports trophies that proved just how healthy he was, even the leather armchair, which Emma opted against sitting on through fear that she would slide off and land in the sea. She seated herself shakily on an uncomfortable chair opposite his colossal desk and felt suddenly intoxicated by a sickly sweet aroma, the origins of which were unclear. Doctor Hue, however, was very comfortably seated, although he always seemed to sit unfeasibly upright in his chair. He was either very proud in posture or was being operated by a puppeteer with an extremely long arm. If, indeed, this was the case, the puppeteer operated with immense subtlety; Doctor Hue’s hands moved only to tap on the keyboard in front of him or push his thin-rimmed glasses back into place; his head moved by slim, slow degrees as if he had originally been a puppet in a horror spoof, and his expression was fixed in a kind of faraway wonder that could be easily interpreted as boredom. None of this changed to welcome his patient into the room or put her at ease.
‘Miss… Crown,’ he offered without taking his eyes off his computer screen. ‘What can I do for you today?’
‘Well,’ Emma began then the tears came again and for a moment she couldn’t speak.
Doctor Hue either didn’t notice or was offering a po-faced decoy as he Googled what to do when patients cry.
‘It’s the same as last week and the week before,’ she told him. ‘You must remember me.’
‘Of course,’ he lied, still refusing to look at her.
‘You told me to come back if things didn’t improve.’
‘Have they?’ he asked, pushing his glasses further up his nose, his eyes now furiously scanning his monitor (or as furiously as his mysterious puppeteer would allow) to catch up with her symptoms. Then he stopped and did look at her. Something in his stare made Emma feel that the room, the chair and the doctor himself had suddenly grown and she was now a mucky dot on the furniture, something that his emphatic cleaner had missed and as a consequence, would later reap an almighty punishment. His face was devoid of compassion, sympathy, empathy. In fact, his eyebrows raised and his eyes glazed over as if she had already been in seventeen times that morning and he was no longer enjoying her company.
‘I really don’t know what more you expect us to do for you, Miss…’ This time he didn’t consult his screen for her name.
‘But I still can’t sleep. I’m breaking into tears all the time.’ She was crying as she spoke, not by way of demonstration or to prompt humility into his rigid, upright, never-needed-help-before face, but because she really couldn’t help it. ‘And the panic attacks; I’m still having panic attacks.’ She wanted to stop – the tears and the words – but both were relentless: a watery plea to a man who would move her along as soon as he could get a word in. ‘The locum gave me Diazepam a few months ago. It really helped, but nothing else does. Look at me. This isn’t normal. This isn’t how I’m supposed to be feeling.’
Then a new expression came to his face, one that she would never have predicted – a smile. ‘Diazepam,’ he repeated and grinned at the suggestion.
She felt smaller still, as if the furniture was now somehow ingested her. ‘Yeah. It helped. I didn’t –’
‘And what would you do with this Diazepam?’ he asked, emphasising the name of the drug to give it a meaning that Emma couldn’t quite comprehend.
‘No, no, no!’ he smiled and shook his head in time with the words. Then he didn’t say anything at all; he just stared, challenging her to speak, but the moment she found the courage to open her mouth he interrupted. ‘You do realise that Diazepam is highly addictive.’
‘Yeah, but –’
‘And you’re obviously aware that Diazepam has quite a street value these days.’
‘What are you trying to say?’
‘No, no, no! I really think, Miss...’
Emma summoned all her strength to fight him. ‘Crown! My bloody name is Crown!’ But he didn’t even look up at her attempt at an outburst. The puppeteer pulled hard on his eyebrows and folded his arms, showing Emma that her defiance had confirmed her status as an unstable addict and dealer. She wanted to say so much. The old Emma would never have allowed herself to be treated like this, but the old Emma would never be in a doctor’s office asking for Diazepam. She was a high-flyer, an artist, a creative who thrived on life. She would have told him what to do with his Diazepam and told him to ram his condescending, ugly, fat head up his arse. She would have cut the puppet strings and watched him flail on the floor like a dry fish sucking useless oxygen then stomped on the carcass. This Emma, however, cried openly and relentlessly, the world disappearing around her. As the room returned and her intense sobs became sad whimpers, she saw that Doctor Hue was staring at her, still smiling then he looked down at his watch. She took a deep breath and dragged her hand across her face. There was nothing more to say. She grabbed around for a little dignity and found just enough to stand up, turn away from the doctor and leave the room.
‘Come and see me if things don’t improve,’ she heard him say on the way out and she completed her turn on the conveyer belt, followed closely by the half-dead wise woman who she was sure would be packed off with a prescription for Paracetamol and a ‘Come back when your head falls off’.
Diazepam for Sale is available from 15 October.