ShortRead of 11 June 2014
Authors: Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison
What's the story:
Dual narratives are a tricky beast. Dual authorship is even trickier. Yet Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison have managed to create a balanced, entertaining 'coming of age' story, packed with angst, awkward humour and familiar relationship pitfalls.
Sam and Hannah only have a few weeks to find 'The One'. Their lobster. Cue a summer of social misunderstandings, interfering friends and the 'burden' of virginity.
Release date: Out now
It all felt wrong. Totally, utterly, terribly wrong. What the hell were we doing? I decided to ask Robin.
‘This feels wrong, man,’ I said. ‘What are we doing?’
He was kneeling on the wet grass beside the big steel bucket, pressing one final textbook into the mangled mass of textbooks already squashed inside.
‘What are you on about?’ he muttered, holding the books in place with one hand while he used the other to retrieve a cigarette lighter from his pocket.
‘I think it’s pretty obvious what we’re doing.’
He sparked the lighter twice to check it was working. It was.
‘Yeah, what I mean is it feels wrong to be doing this after what happened this morning,’ I said.
‘We’re celebrating, you idiot.’
‘That’s my point!’ I yelled, as Robin stood up, swatting bits of damp soil off the front of his trousers. ‘There’s nothing to celebrate. I already told you how badly I fucked up French. So, if we’re celebrating, then we’re celebrating defeat. Who celebrates defeat? It’s illogical.’
Robin snorted. ‘We’re not celebrating defeat or victory. We’re celebrating the fact that it’s all over. It doesn’t matter how we did – it’s the fact that we never have to think about those exams ever again.’
He was way off, there. I’d thought more about that French exam since finishing it that morning than I had in the last six months. Which, to be fair, was probably why I screwed it up so badly. Fucking pluperfect tense. Who needs to go that far back into the past anyway?
Robin clicked the lighter again. ‘Right. Let’s do this then, shall we?’
This had always been the plan. Back at the start of sixth form, we’d agreed that the day we finished our A levels we’d celebrate by incinerating all our textbooks.
It was supposed to be a cleansing thing; a glorious cathartic bonfire that marked the end of childhood and the start of . . . well, not adulthood exactly, but definitely a step in its general direction.
But, in reality, it was just the two of us standing over a mop bucket in Robin’s back garden. If this was the road to adulthood, I was considering turning back.
Robin knelt back down and plunged his hand deep into the bucket to pull out my French textbook. He placed it carefully on top of the pile and held the lighter up at me.
‘Here, come on, man. Show those French pricks what you’re
really made of.’
I shook my head. ‘No. I don’t feel like it.’
He shrugged. ‘Suit yourself.’
He sparked the lighter and held the flame against the corner
of the book’s cover.
‘Why isn’t it burning?’ he demanded. ‘Nothing’s happening.’
‘It’s laminated, you dick.’
The flame was just about managing to turn the plastic-coated corner a faint browny-black colour. If we were going to use this method on every book, we’d be here all day.
‘Why the fuck do they laminate them?’ snapped Robin, extinguishing the lighter.
‘Probably to stop people like us burning them in buckets.’
‘Those bastards,’ he murmured. ‘They’re always one step ahead. Maybe we could just burn the inside pages. They’re not laminated.’
‘Then we’ll be left with a bucket full of empty book covers. What are we going to do with all those?’
Robin chewed his bottom lip as he considered this. ‘We could cut them up into little pieces and bury them? Or put them in a box and throw them in the sea?’
‘The sea? We live in London. The sea is at least an hour away.’
‘So? I could get my mum to drive us to Brighton when she gets back from work.’
‘This is beginning to sound like more hassle than it’s worth, to be honest.’
Robin groaned and stood up. ‘You need to perk the fuck up, Sam. If you’re still like this tonight, then I’m ditching you as soon as we get through the door. End-of-A-levels parties are the best parties ever; that’s common knowledge. I’m not having you ruining this one for me by whining on all night. This might come as a surprise to you, given your lack of experience in the area, but girls don’t exactly get turned on by blokes constantly complaining about French exams, you know.’
Maybe he was right. Maybe I could look at the French Fuck-up as a positive thing. The beginning of an entirely new and unplanned chapter in my life. No university, no job, no proper conventional future: I could totally reinvent myself, starting this evening.
Robin only heard about the party tonight through his mate Ben, who knew about it via a friend of a friend. So, there was a good chance we wouldn’t know anyone there. I could become someone else. I could start introducing myself as ‘Samuel’. That might make me sound deeper and more intelligent. I could be Samuel the mysterious drifter; Samuel who wears long coats and smokes roll-ups and gazes off into the middle distance enigmatically during conversations. Rather than plain old Sam, who fails French exams and tries to burn plastic books.
The problem is, you have to have done something with your life before you can start going around calling yourself Samuel. You have to have achieved something. Samuel Beckett, Samuel L. Jackson, Dad’s mate Samuel who drives a Porsche and used to go out with Nigella Lawson: they’ve all earned the right to those extra letters. What have I ever done? Won a Year 9 essay contest and fingered Gemma Bailey in a gazebo. I’m hardly in line for a knighthood.
I’d always thought that getting into Cambridge would be my big achievement. But now that I’d screwed up French – and I definitely had – I was going to have to find something else instead. I just had no idea what.
You won’t find many virgins called Samuel, that’s for sure. You remain a Sam until you get past fingering, I reckon. Or at least past gazebos.
Robin picked up the bucket and stomped off towards the house.
‘Right, let’s just give the fuckers to Oxfam and be done with it,’ he muttered.
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(Image: Flickr/Kate Hiscock)