by Stuart Moston
First published: March 2012 (first Kindle edition)
‘So, Julian, what you’re saying is: you want to get back together with Saffron. But in the meantime you’ve gone and got engaged to someone else?’
‘You’ve always had a gift for putting your finger on the nub of the matter, Winston. I mean, to me it seems so much more complicated than that.’
It does get quite complicated. Julian doesn’t know Saffron has changed her mind and wants him back, and Saffron doesn’t know Julian has got engaged to an old flame, Melanie. So even as Saffron prepares to cross the Atlantic to tell Julian he must propose to her forthwith, Julian is resigning himself to the fact that he’s lost Saffron forever and, being a gentleman, he is busily stiffening his upper lip to do the right thing by Melanie. They’ve kept their engagement secret so far, but at last Julian must see to it that the happy news is announced in The Times.
Some background: in the face of conflicting evidence, Melanie (who’d had an undergraduate fling at Oxford with Julian) had struggled for about ten years to work out whether she was gay or straight. Then she struggled for about another ten years, in her increasingly analytical PC manner, to decide whether she should identify as Orthodox Bisexual or Bisexual with Lesbian Preferences or Lesbian With Bisexual Tendencies. Then, just a few weeks ago, she met Polly and opted for the latter. Now Melanie has decided her new girlfriend is probably The One. But she feels terribly guilty. She must let her fiancé and lifelong friend Julian down gently. (It’s bad enough that it was Julian who introduced her to Polly in the first place.) And above all, Julian must never know she had started seeing Polly while still engaged to him. (It’s a good thing that when Julian starts writing a new novel, he shuts himself up in his ancient family home in Cumbria for weeks on end. Mel can safely assume Julian won’t come down to London for a while...)
Meanwhile Saffron’s father, Louis, is entirely unhappy about her plan to marry this English halfwit, and he wants to break them up. Louis Alexander is a corporate mogul’s corporate mogul. As it happens he owns the company which has just bought the company which owns the company that has published all twelve of Julian’s novels. Louis’s role in such takeovers is always to oversee the streamlining which enhances the profitability of the new acquisition. So he has a vested interest in ensuring Diomede Publishing gets rid of Julian, whose sales have been falling so steadily it could almost look planned. But Louis doesn’t want Saffron to think this purely commercial decision was motivated by personal spite, for which Saffron might never forgive her dad.
Diomede’s new managing editor, Hugo Mosley, has always disliked Julian and would love to reject his next MS. But he thinks Julian is still going out with the daughter of the new owner. Hugo thus feels obliged to go out of his way to protect Julian in the impending shake-up, fondly imagining that this is what the owner really wants, and thus inadvertently thwarting Louis Alexander’s true wishes. Of course, if Hugo should discover that Saffron and Julian are no longer an item, all this would change. In which case, Julian’s career would end abruptly, he’d be totally broke, and he couldn’t in all decency foist his worthless self on a new wife.
Unless, of course, he can produce a decent novel. Which is currently looking unlikely, as he struggles with the worst case of writer’s block in history. But he may not have long to rescue his future, as there was that little matter of the belated announcement in The Times of his engagement to Melanie…