Blog tour: The Lion Tamer Who Lost

It is with immense excitement that today I join the blog tour for a novel that I have absolutely adored! 

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that The Lion Tamer Who Lost has broken my heart. What you might not know is that I would gladly have my heart broken all over again by the story of Ben and Andrew. Again and again and again.

Without further ado, below you can find Chapter 5 of Louise Beech’s wonderful novel – followed by an exclusive commentary by the author herself. How wonderful!


Chapter 5

ENGLAND

Somehow Right


Ben’s mum assured him that there are no wrong words, only the ones we really, actually, truly meant to say.
Andrew Fitzgerald, The Lion Tamer Who Lost

Andrew’s reflection was the first part of him that Ben saw.
Ben had gone to pay off a library debt, and to start an essay that he wouldn’t look at again for ten weeks – he was heading home from univer-sity for summer the next day. The library was full. But a computer in the far corner was free. As Ben took a seat in front of it, he saw gold hair in the mini squares of a mosaic mirror on the wall, like a pixelated photograph. The owner of the hair was hidden behind the computer screen opposite.
Ben opened the notes for his ‘How Not To Lie with Statistics’ essay and read them through. None of it made sense. The man opposite typed slowly and banged his foot against the chair leg: tap, tap, tap. Irritated, Ben peered around his own screen to glare at him, without success. All he was able to see of him was his reflected, pixelated hair in the mirror on the wall above them.
Tap, tap, tap. The rhythmic beat drove Ben mad. He banged his flat palms on the keyboard. The man peered around his screen, now, frowning. Ben caught his breath.
Somehow right.
These words came to him.
Somehow right.
Perhaps Ben had seen him before on the university campus; perhaps familiarity fired the odd feeling of knowing him. He had to be a mature student by the looks of him – unshaven, blond, pretty, but as though it had all happened by accident. His loveliness was at odds with a faded black shirt.
The man frowned, returned to his screen, and read his work slowly and softly aloud. It stirred something jittery in Ben’s stomach. His dad had always mocked when he read aloud as a kid. He used to poke Ben’s shoulder blades and say that only babies couldn’t read in their heads.
Ben tried again to concentrate on statistics.
But the foot tapping continued to annoy him.
‘That’s aggregating,’ he snapped.
The slow-reading man looked around his screen again, continued his involuntary foot dance, and said, ‘Talking to me?’
‘Yes.’ Ben paused, sensing he’d said the wrong word again. ‘I said that’s fucking aggregating.’
The slow-reading man looked back at his screen. ‘I think you mean aggravating. If I were aggregating you I’d be collecting you.’
Ben hated being corrected; his dad did it constantly: Ben, how can a lad with half a brain think there’s an l in chimney? It’s not chimley! Even your bloody mother wouldn’t have thought that! And it’s scapegoat not scrapegoat!
‘I said aggravating,’ Ben insisted. ‘You heard wrong.’ ‘What, twice?’
The man continued reading softly aloud.
Ben couldn’t think of anything to say.
He was sick of his dad’s insistence that he wasn’t applying himself to the degree. He looked around. At the next table four women read a fashion website and discussed whether handbags were bigger now than they had been ten years ago. None of them had looked at him when he came in. Ben wasn’t interested in them, but it hurt. No one ever looked at him when he walked into a room.
But the slow-reading man opposite looked somehow right. Ben wasn’t sure what it meant or why it had come to him.
Before he could think, he said, ‘Do you want a coffee?’ The man raised his sandy eyebrows. ‘I’m busy.’ ‘I mean from the machine in the hall.’
‘Okay, thanks.’
Ben fetched two drinks and placed one next to the slow-reading man, who thanked him, barely glancing up.
Sipping his coffee, Ben asked, ‘So what’re you writing?’ Something about this man made him feel bold.
The man sighed but then seemed to rethink: ‘I’m writing about legs.’
‘Legs?’
He smiled a sort of half-up, half-down smile and his face changed.
Somehow right, Ben thought again.
‘How they work,’ he said. ‘And how they don’t work.’ ‘Why?’
‘For a book.’ He paused. ‘It’s a children’s story so you’d be able to read it.’ Ben knew he was mocking the fact that he looked so young. This man looked late thirties.
‘You’re doing a creative-writing degree?’
‘I’m not a student, I’m a writer,’ said the slow-reading man, ‘I like this place. I also have a job in another library, but when I try to work there I can’t concentrate.’
‘But kid’s stuff?’ Ben realised too late that his tone was scornful. The man looked back at his screen, making it clear the conversation was over. His foot resumed its rhythm. Ben’s coffee tasted of rejection. He always got it wrong. This was how it went when he tried to flirt with girls in front of his best mate, Brandon; they would laugh at Ben’s clumsy words, and look him up and down, clearly disappointed; so then he would be cocky and they would ignore him. Then they just talked to Brandon who knew how to keep smiles in place.
Was the slow-reading man indifferent too? Had Ben wrongly imagined the somehow right vibe? The thought of leaving without finding out for sure made his heart flip over. In his seat at the back of class he had secretly studied other lads, looked at thick necks, messy hair, broad backs, imagined what he might do with them. He wasn’t really sure what type of man he would go for … if he ever had the chance.
But none of his classmates had made him brave like this.
‘I’m going back home to Hull tomorrow,’ Ben said.
The man continued typing.
‘End of term,’ said Ben.
In the mirror, the man typed right to left; in the real world left to right. His foot tap quickened. A black medical alert bracelet encircled his wrist. As he typed, a half-moon bruise peaking from beneath his sleeve was eclipsed, then revealed, eclipsed, then revealed.
Nearby the women laughed.
‘Not looking forward to it.’ Ben was unable to shut up.
The man’s foot missed a beat.
‘Can I aggregate you sometime,’ Ben said.
The foot stilled.
The slow-reading man said, ‘You don’t even know my name.’ ‘Does it matter? Unless it’s Tarquin.’
The left side of the man’s mouth smiled. ‘It’s not Tarquin.’ ‘Well?’
‘How old are you?’
‘Why does that matter?’ Ben plonked his paper cup on the table. ‘Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk to strangers?’ ‘Tell me your name and you won’t be.’ ‘I’m busy,’ said the man.
‘That’s a weird name.’
‘Ha.’
‘How long will you be busy for?’
The man smiled fully; it was still half-up, half-down, as though he wasn’t quite sure yet. ‘For the foreseeable.’
‘Why, what’s happening then?’
‘I have to finish my book,’ he said.
‘What’s it called?’
‘I haven’t got a title yet.’
‘What’s it about?’
‘I’m not ready to share that.’
‘Aren’t strangers the best people to share stuff with?’
The man paused, sighed. ‘Okay. So far, it’s about a young boy called Ben who lost the use of his legs in a car accident. While he’s recuperat-ing this lion comes to visit him in the dark. He wishes for him, and he arrives. Well, um, that’s about it so far…’
Ben was sure the man blushed.
‘I’m Ben, too,’ he said.
No?’
‘How weird is that?’ Ben didn’t say that he also loved lions.
‘I’m Andrew.’ Now Andrew held Ben’s gaze, long enough for him to notice gold flecks in his irises, stubby eyelashes, widened pupils.
‘I’m twenty-two,’ said Ben. ‘Is it your first book?’
‘Third. I’ve not had much success with my first two. One of them was used in a school though. You might have read it,’ he teased. ‘I have to get on with it anyway.’
‘Okay.’ Ben smiled. ‘You didn’t answer my question.’ ‘I did.’ Andrew started typing again.
‘No, about me aggregating you. God, I’m embarrassed now.’ ‘You said you’re going home tomorrow.’
He had been listening. ‘I am. You live here in York?’ ‘No, Beverley.’
‘I’m from Hull,’ said Ben. ‘We’re close.’
Months later, when they first argued, Ben would insist that if it hadn’t been for his autacity (audacity, Andrew would correct) they might never have happened. That if he’d not taken a black felt-tip from his jean pocket and walked up to Andrew and opened the book next to him and written his phone number across the first page and held it out until it dried, Andrew could never have called him. Andrew would remind Ben that he hadn’t rung him because Andrew had accidentally added a surplus digit when transferring the number into his phone.
But when Ben snapped the lid off his pen that day by the mirror in the library, they knew none of this. Andrew looked at the numbers as they dried – five nines, two threes and a jumble of others – and then at Ben’s face.
‘That’s a library book,’ he said.
‘Shit.’ Ben gathered his things, suddenly sweating. ‘Well, I guess if you want the number you can copy it.’
And he left without looking back, tense with shame.
**
I’m really excited that this extract was given to you to share on today’s The Lion Tamer Who Lost blog tour. It’s one of my favourites, and it’s a key scene as Ben and Andrew meet for the first time. In film and TV this kind of scene is known as the meet cute; a moment in which future romantic couples meet for the first time, often leading to embarrassing situations, comical misunderstandings, and personality clashes. And there’s a little of each of those in this scene.
The meeting takes place in a university library – I chose this because Andrew is a writer who works in one (though not this one) and because words are one thing that really links them both. Ben is going to start an essay on the last day of term and finds himself sitting opposite a busily-typing Andrew. I intentionally had Ben first see Andrew’s reflection in a mirror before seeing the ‘real’ him. This was to show how like one another they are, despite an age difference and many opposing views. Two halves of the same image, I suppose you could say.
Ben is nervous. He hasn’t come out yet and has never dated - or even propositioned - another man. Yet in Andrew’s presence he feels a little braver than usual. The words that come to him are Somehow Right. I chose this phrase because we often get that strong gut instinct about people or situations in life. We make snap judgements based on feelings. If we listen, I think, to our intuition, we usually can’t go wrong.
Of course, it isn’t going to be that simple for poor Ben and Andrew though. This is a novel. I’m a writer. I’m going to be cruel.
An element of comedy and embarrassment comes into play when Ben gets his words mixed up. It’s a little quirk of his - miswords - and one he has throughout the book; one he shared with his late mother. He says that Andrew’s annoying foot-tapping is aggregating instead of aggravating. Though we don’t know why yet, Andrew is reluctant to engage, but clearly finds Ben amusing.
Their later conversation is short and snappy, natural and funny. I wanted to show the natural rhythm that compatible couples have, even early on, when they drop any barriers and just talk. Straight away they talk about the most important thing to Andrew – the book he’s writing. Extracts from this book begin each chapter, because the story is influenced in every way by Andrew’s relationship with Ben. Straight away, there is a coincidence, something the novel explores, especially in random repeat cute meets.
The scene ends with Ben mortified by having written his phone number on a library book, and walking away, full of shame. Throughout the book he suffers from this shame. Shame about his bigoted father. Shame about his appearance. And shame about his sexuality.
Though this is chapter five, it was originally the very beginning, and chapter one. It was therefore one of the first parts that I wrote. In the edits we decided we should begin in Zimbabwe and work back to this moment, and to many others. It felt like the right way to do it. Instinct, you see. Rarely lets you down…
**
I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I did! To learn more about this unmissable book, please feel free to follow the other stops on the blog tour:
I will also be back to rave about The Lion Tamer Who Lost on 28/09, giving you all an opportunity to win a copy of the book!

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for the Blog Tour support x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Anne, for the opportunity to read this amazing book!

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  2. Hi Silvia, thanks for this extract which really intrigues me as to what came before it-and what comes after.
    I love how you describe the reasons you chose this section, also it has really encouraged me to buy this book. Thank you ��

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rachel! I am so happy that this post made you want to read the book. I can't however take credit for the commentary, which was written by the lovely Louise Beech herself.

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