Leading Lady at Last



by Michelle Dennison, writing as Julianne Alcott

“Iris, in the movies, we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason, you’re behaving like the best friend.” — Arthur from The Holiday.

For years I played the ‘best friend’ role in my life; a supportive, loyal doormat. Then I took charge, and took back control of my life.

I am unashamedly a romance novelist. Whether I write sci-fi, spy stories or a murder mystery, the most important part of the plot for me is the love interest.

So I decided to be the Leading Lady in my own romance plot. My friends and I started going out more; a change from sitting in front of our computers every Saturday night, or going to the movies alone.

We went to a place called Hops, which is a pleasant venue to dance, having an open air place with tables and chairs, where one can sit and talk, away from the loud music.

I found myself in the role of Elizabeth Bennet though. No one wanted to dance with me, and I was reminded of how undesirable I am to the male population.

Feeling rather down, I went outside and amused myself by looking around for the cutest guy in the room. A pastime I’m sure Jane Austen ladies engaged in as well.

I saw him… He was with a group of people outside; definitely the cutest guy there, and definitely someone with a personality, unlike many other men in the room who just seemed to be faces or bodies.

I’m not the sort to randomly chat to cute strangers, so I went back inside to my friends and tried to be cheerful.

After that, things took a promising turn, when the swimming coach at gym started showing an interest in me. I invited him out with my friends, but he couldn’t make it. He spent the whole night flirting with me via sms though, in a sort of Bridget Jones skirt situation.

He kept saying that he wanted to spend time with me, but was too busy.

After half a month of nothing, I decided that my romance plot was putting my readers to sleep, and I would have to spice it up a bit.

So my friends and I went out again.

My eyes roved around the dance floor, looking for danger spots, and the all-important identifying of the best looking man in the club.

Danger spots were duly noted. The exuberant young man who was already intoxicated at the beginning of the evening; his rugby team had either won or lost. The elderly predatory man to my left, and the ominous band of women who weren’t there for the men…

Yes, there he was, the best looking man in the room.

He was not classically handsome. The cliché went with tall and dark and stopped there. But he had kind eyes, a face that was very pleasant to look at, and laughter lines that hinted at a sense of humour. He was plainly dressed in slightly torn jeans and a dark blue shirt.

I ended up near him. We danced. We talked briefly about a song (as much as was possible with the decibels that flung themselves around the room) We swapped names, and established that we lived about an hour and a half away from each other. His smile was enchanting, and his glass seemed to be filled with only Coca cola, which was quite something in a room where I was about the only sober person.

And then he left the dance floor and never came back.

It was probably me. He had to get away from the freaky woman who danced like a lunatic, back to the safety of his little hometown.

Back in the safety of my own home, I reviewed my holiday plans. I had long been discussing a day trip with my daughter. We would zoom off into the distance, meander around the Midlands and explore my third favourite town, Howick.

And then it struck me.

Howick was where the mystery man from the club lived.

Why not make my proposed day trip after all, and venture into his territory?

I might even see him there, if it was meant to be.

Okay, he would probably be taking a walk with his wife and three children, but at least I was being slightly like the heroines in romance novels.

So I found the map. Told my excited daughter about our plans and packed our warm clothes just in case.

A few hours later, we drove back to Pinetown with no sign of the mystery man. I could have written so many romantic scenarios where we met unexpectedly, but obviously it was not going to happen in real life.

The swimming coach told me that he was too busy to sms me, so I told him that he didn’t deserve to have me in his life. I’m tired of men who think they can give me as little effort as possible and I’ll just keep coming back for more. Like Kate Winslet’s character in The Holiday, I had gained something resembling gumption!

My friends were going to Hops again, but I didn’t feel like going. Why put myself in a situation where more men could make me feel sub-standard? Where I would be like Jane Eyre hiding behind a curtain, watching all the beautiful butterflies being admired.

I would go to the Pavilion Shopping Centre, and watch Jeremy Renner in the new Bourne movie. Alone again. Naturally.

I was by the ticket counter, when I suddenly felt that I should go out after all. Why was I watching a movie by myself?

I went to Hops, and tried to be cheerful, but I couldn’t help thinking about the swimming coach. Why did he start something that he never intended to do anything with? He knew that I was confused and hurt, but he didn’t care what he was doing to me. Why was I never special enough?

I spent about half an hour moping, and then I asked myself why I was being sad over a jerk who didn’t appreciate me! My gumption returned in spades, and I shook myself out of my blue mood.

And then I saw him…

The cute guy from last time. (not the one from Howick; the other one)

And I asked myself, why didn’t I just go and dance with him?

Some crazy burst of bravery took over me, and I went onto the dance floor with absolutely no clue what I was doing. I wasn’t brave enough to tap him on the shoulder and ask him to dance, so I went with the crowd and hoped for a miracle.

After about two songs, he turned around, and I smiled at him. We started to dance together, awkwardly at first, but then growing more and more comfortable. When he held my hand, I felt an amazingly safe warmth steal over me, and I knew that something special had just happened.

I was the leading lady of my own romance story, and I had just found my leading man.

And it all started when I held the hand of a stranger, and found myself at home…

In my Shoes

by Penny M

There’s something revealing about cast-off shoes. I become conscious, not for the first time, of the array of footwear that litters my floor. I pause to consider the words of past critics, some intent on irritating, some nagging, and some stumbling.

Another selection of boots, tackies, peep toes, flatties, wedges, pumps, courts and sandals patiently reside in my wardrobe. The smell of leather and mould mingles beneath comfort zones. Many pairs have loafed so long that I am surprised they don’t walk out, of their own accord. Those lucky enough to socialise on a regular basis return less and less to their allotted space.

If they could write footnotes, what would they say? Where have they been and what have they heard? Who wouldn’t want to be in them, and who would? Have they walked in peace and shared the Good News, or have they blistered, stomped and stood on somebody else’s toes?

I realise that shedding my shoes at the end of the day is an expression of relief. But it’s more than that. It’s a contented sigh of independence. In kicking them off, my constant supporters are liberated and so am I. I do it because I can, kick them off that is.

But now my conscience irks me. Slippers, shoes and boots silently sock it to me and my rebellion is exposed. I almost miss the nags and the stumbling ones. I am alone with a horde of footless fancies. I long to see my carpet again. Oh, to slip into control and walk unimpeded. I resolve to release leather soles from forgotten corners and send them to some barefooted prisoner of poverty.


I am sure of one thing; no matter how many times I kick them off, I am blessed to own more than one pair. There are many who would want to walk in my shoes, if only because I have them. Gone is my desire to walk in somebody else’s. I think it left with the last nag.

Digging Deep

By Jacqueline Dowling

It’s a funny old thing, one’s subconscious. The way it niggles and flops about, always scratching at the edge of either a good idea, or some long forgotten happening or hearing that just won’t reveal itself.

Then suddenly whoops, you wake up, usually at an inconvenient 2 am , that time when the goblins and ghosties are out and active. The body sluggish, the mind monochromatic , biorhythms on pause – pencil and notepad nowhere to be found.

And that’s when it flares. All the stuff that’s been churning around begging to find shape, forms a large bubble which fizzes into words and flows on and on … at least that’s what the fundis would have us believe.

It happened to me, after several visits to the fishing harbour, watching the snoek boats come in with their catch. I’ve never felt any great kinship with eco-warriors yet…at 2 a.m one morning I found pencil and pad.

How much is enough?

There’s ice in the wind. It whips through the tang of salt, seaweed and the fish filled oak-saturated haze from the smoke house.

Blown spume shivers and dances in a caramel frenzy across crusty musseled rocks, dragging here and there, snagging chunks of sea as it passes.

Great gunmetal grey walls of ocean batter dolosse and explode in outrage. A fury of spray bursts into the light and creams, hissing, across the seawall. Racing down into a flood of infinity.

Far out at sea tiny blobs of colour rise and fall, now seen, now gone. It’s that time of year – the sea is alive with snoek.

Above the little harbour, gulls spiral and wheel. Their wild lost cries screeching through the ragged air. Ice white breasts glow amber in the late evening, rapacious beaks snapping at passing strings of fish gut hanging and swinging in the high wind.

The air is full of sound.

Through a prowl of surging rollers, a boat slides down between the swells, rounds the quay in a burst of diesel fumes and comes thankfully to rest in the quiet harbour . An oiled rainbow creeps from the scuppers and spreads across the water.

As if tugged by the wind, more boats follow and still more. Tired fishers in green waterproofs cut engines, glide onto cradles and offload their catch.

Snoek are hurled to the ground, flung into trailers, containers, refrigerated vans and sacks. Men stand unshaven and inscrutable, silently tallying the haul. Arms folded against their corpulence, they count and count.

How much is enough?

Snoek, with beaks of razor teeth set in the rictus of death. Malevolence lurking in dulling eyes, they thud wet and sodden, flesh bruised, from boats gunwale laden, onto unyielding stone.

Water swirls, tinged rusty with blood and slimed with viscera from the gutted fish.

It’s all over for another day. Sated gulls bob, their cries stilled.

The boats have gone.

Now there is a hush, an almost tangible elemental relaxing and expelling of breath.

While the emptying sea sobs into the night.

It’s a funny old thing, one’s subconscious!

Countdown to Caffiene

by Sue Trollip

I’m attempting to go caffeine free for 3 days. I’m 24 hours in and was asleep for 8 of those, so it’s been 16 hours with no coffee. As luck would have it it’s also been a day that I didn’t have to go to work. I love not having to get up and go to work. I crawl out of bed, boot up the laptop and put on the coff… oh … I make myself a lovely cup of peppermint tea.

Peppermint tea is wonderful. It tastes like peppermint and has many amazing properties such as it’s caffeine free and smells like peppermint. Then I drink some water, more water and then I look at the yellow box of camomile, this is good I think, it helps with sleeplessness. That’s really not my problem. It’s wakefulness that I need help with. Camomile also has fantastic properties like keeping you calm and soothing your nerves. It suggests on the box that EVERYONE enjoys it without milk or sugar then, and you can almost hear the disapproval in the tea box copy-writer’s voice, it states: ‘If sweetening is required we recommend a teaspoon of honey’. Well I tried a dessert spoon of honey and down the hatch it all went.

It’s impossible to write while drinking these naf drinks. I need something strong, toe curling, dark and mysterious. I need beans, not these silly leaves. I need the smell of excitement and exoticness, not damp silage. I need smooth, silky decadence, not sticks hiding out in a teabag.

What I really need is the jittery boost that floods my veins when I’m three cups in and haven’t stopped for breakfast.

Today the writing is slow instead of my fingers jerking with over-caffeinated delirium across the keyboard, my brain is sluggish and my fingers are plodding. There’s no rhythm, there’s no flutter of keys only staccato jerking. To disguise this I’ve cranked up the radio. I hope the neighbours are out.

Only 48 hours to go … tick tock. Then for my prize!


By Hazel Bond

Three flowers dropped from my friend’s bouquet.
I salvaged them for my  tallest vase
And as I arranged them for display
I surveyed the friendship of three years past.

Patty had said I must look her up
And I wondered if I should obey.
Thanks for the message. Ta very much.
I’ll choose my friends in my very own way.

Then in came Margie fresh from her walk
To welcome me here was her mission.
We sat on the patio to talk
’Cause noisy workmen were in the kitchen.

That’s how it began, our friendship true.
We let our  hair down. We  searched our souls.
You brought chicken soup when I had flu.
Which you made between your bridge and your bowls

You read my stories. You bought my book
You praised my cooking, my baking too
My faults you totally overlooked.
It was a pleasure to drop in on you.

Once when there was a power outage,
Wrapped in warm blankets in my armchairs,
We swapped stories of life and marriage.
Good things and bad things and times of despair.

Out walking, we sat by the dam once
The wonders of nature absorbing
And pondering what was there for us
When death, as it must, should come calling.

And when the bad news was given you
You faced it with courage, not complaint.
Then helped by Bev and Jeremy too
You made the most of the weeks that remained.

Three flowers dropped from my friend’s bouquet
As it sat beside her photograph.
Reader, it was not her wedding day
It was there as they read her epitaph.

Bev and Jeremy are her children.