Wicked Wednesday treat from Chloe Thurlow
On a school trip to The Prado in Madrid, I bought a print of Goya's Maja Nude, a painting of the Duchess of Alba which is thought to be the first by a European to show pubic hair. I pinned it up in the dorm I shared with three other girls knowing, I suppose, that Sister Theresa, in change of discipline, would rip it from the wall the moment she saw it. Which she did.
What is it about pubic hair that makes people so hysterical?
The girls at the convent at that time were beginning to shave their mons pubis, the of fashion, not rebellion, and the endless battle between girls leaving their blouses unbuttoned and the holy sisters trying to hold back this rippling tide of flesh was symbolized in my mind by Goya's masterpiece. After I left school, I bought another Maja print to hang on the wall and it has appeared in my writing with a four line poem penned by an unnamed author.
The Duchess of Alba once said to Goya
Remember, I am your employer
So he painted her dressed to please her
And he painted her nude to annoy her
All writing is autobiography. If I were to write a story about a young black man from Memphis, my geographical, gender and ethnic opposite, I would provide him with patience and perseverance. I would make him quick on his feet, moody, secretly ambitious and easily manipulated – to a point.
That is the point that appears at the end of the first act of The Secret Life of Girls, the most autobiographical of my novels. It is the story of Bella, who discovers early in life that sex is just fun and people take it far too seriously. She is content flirting with the gardener at home, with twins and a young nun at school. She allows her stepfather to run sun oil over her cute little body - and doesn't close the curtain when he watches her try on new underwear in the store.
Then Bella's life and hopes shatter like a Ming vase. Her father had died after losing all his money importing ponies from Tibet to breed for polo. Bella had thought her beloved home, Ickham Manor, had been left to her in trust. When she learns that the sweaty-palmed sun oil spreader, Mr. Daviditz, has secretly bought the house to pay her father's debts, she feels betrayed. Her experiments with sex have been fun. Now sex is the weapon of choice she uses to reek revenge.
Novels divide naturally, like plays and film, into three acts. In the first act, we have the set up, leading to a problem that needs to be resolved. In the second, we set about overcoming conflicts to reach resolution. The final act brings redemption and we send our hero off wiser into the future – in this case, Bella in America, which I have yet to write.
During the opening scenes of The Secret Life of Girls, Bella is spoiled, privileged and is used to getting her own way. Once she discovers that her mother is in league with the conniving Mr. Daviditz, she resolves from within the walls of her strict school to make enough money to buy back Ickham Manor. Bella plays the piano and writes songs. She is blessed with a blend of naiveté and charisma that draws people to her. As she combines her gifts to put her world back in balance, the reader should shift their attitude and be with her all the way to the end – which is designed to be what they expect – but not in the way they had expected it.
In this EXCERPT from the beginning of the book, Bella describes what happened in the potting shed one summer's morning with the gardener.
I watched absorbed as Mr Lawrence positioned the cuttings in a tray, his movements slow and steady as if he was enjoying the job and was in no hurry to get it done. He made a hole in the black earth with his thumb, selected another stem, and pressed the soil back in place. He had wide, strong fingers that fondled the fragile shoots with the same delicacy you need to sew on a button or write someone's name on a birthday cake.
He took another puff on his cigarette then left it balanced on the side of a silver tin. There was a spray gun on the bench and, when all the cuttings were standing in neat lines, he misted the tray with several short, sharp tugs on the trigger. I had moved closer than I meant to and the spray was cool on my hot cheeks.
For as long as I could remember, Mr Lawrence had avoided looking in my direction, but now his dark eyes made me flush as they met mine. There was a faint smile on his lips as he moistened my face, my neck, and he kept on jerking the trigger on the spray gun, soaking the top of my flimsy dress. My breasts had begun to tingle and my nipples like the green shoots in the seed tray seemed to burst into life and were trying to burst through the fabric.
Mr Lawrence moved round the bench. He aimed a long jet of water down my spine before returning the container to the work top. He ran one hand over the bumps of my back and cupped my bottom. With the fingers of his other hand, he rubbed the tips of my nipples in a circular motion that made the breath catch in my throat and warm dribbles ran down the insides of my legs. The earth on his fingers stained the dress in two circles around my breasts. He moved his fingers over my swollen lips and, one by one, I took them into my mouth.
I had forgotten to put on any knickers and his other hand was stroking the tense bare flesh of my bottom. His fingers slipped into the sticky pool between my legs and I often wonder what may have happened next, the next in this case being the door bursting open and Mother standing there with the light behind her like the monster that woke me from my dreams.
'Bella. Bella. You. You…'
She crossed the shed in one long stride and hit Mr Lawrence across the face with such a hard slap it left four white stripes on his cheek.
'You animal. You oaf. Get out this minute,' she screamed, and I knew that instant that Mr Lawrence tended more than merely Mother's prize-winning roses.
The Secret Life of Girls is published by Xcite Books and is available as an ebook and in paperback.
Find Chloe online:
Twitter - @chloethurlow1
ART credits: Francisco Goya, See Wikipedia for further information about Goya
Birth of Venus by Vasilis Bottas
and a contemporary representation titled The Birth of Chloe.