Peopling Paradise

I knew her only vaguely. Billie, I mean. That she was a girl who had been raised In London – Peckham, where I had spent thirteen years – who was then transplanted, airlifted from that teeming, dirty-pavement, all-night city, with all its infinite possibility, to the crowding, claustrophobic Cornwall of my childhood memories.  Not to the picture postcard technicolour template of a hot August holiday, but to the bleak, ever-raining February, when every day is like Sunday, and Sundays never end. To a Paradise lost.

I had a sketch of her in my head. But, like Billie’s faint line drawing of her may-be father, there were so many pieces, features missing. I tried flicking through the faces of teenage friends, of TV actresses in my head, like a rail in TopShop, waiting to find one that fit. I tried picturing myself as Billie – because in the end, all our heroines and heroes are a part of us. But it was just that, a part. Just an awkwardness. She was too tall, too ethereal, too cool to be me.

But then I saw her. Trudging along St Saviour’s Road in a rain-soaked school uniform, her hair clinging to her face in tendrils: dark, like her eyes and face. Carrying a guitar and an art folder. My Billie. And from that moment she came alive.

But Danny, he was easy. The boys always are. Like Ed in Wonderland, and others before him, he was a redrawing of my first love, or crush, at least.

Pennington he was called.

I still remember him in stark detail. The way his hair curled over his collar, defying school rules, and endless and pointless detentions from masters. His hands stuck stubbornly, sulkily in his pockets. Then the way they would come to life at the piano, dancing up and down the ivory as he practised the Liszt.

He was seventeen, a dishevelled tortured soul. And I was younger: fourteen, too young, really. But old enough to know that this was true love. That I was the only person who understood him. His moods, his genius. Ruth claimed to. But I knew deep down she wasn’t the one. I was.

If only he could see that. If only he could see me. If only he were, well, real.

But then again, if he had been, would he have been as perfect? If he’d been on the bus to Peterborough Ice Disco, would he have sat next to me? Or would he have fallen for Karen: captain of the netball team, and owner of not one but three ra-ra skirts.

I’ll never forget him. The way he made me (and hundreds more) feel. The way I still feel when I flick through the pages of KM Peyton’s ‘Beethoven Medal’.

That’s what I wanted for Danny. So his hands on the piano, his hair curling long over his collar, his possibility, all belonged to Pennington first. But they fit Danny perfectly. They are his alone now. And yours.

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About Joanna Nadin

A former broadcast journalist and special adviser to the prime minister, since leaving politics I’ve written more than 80 books for children and adults, as well as speeches for politicians, and articles for newspapers and magazines like The Guardian, Red and The Amorist. I also lecture in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and hold a doctorate in young adult literature. I’m a winner of the Fantastic Book Award and the Surrey Book Award, and have been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, the Booktrust Best Book award and Queen of Teen among others, and twice nominated for the Carnegie Medal, for Everybody Hurts, and for Joe All Alone, which is now a BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated BBC TV series. I've also worked with Sir Chris Hoy on the Flying Fergus series and ghost-written Angry Birds under another name. I like London, New York, Essex, tea, cake, Marmite, mint imperials, prom dresses, pubs, that bit in the West Wing where Donna tells Josh she wouldn’t stop for a red light if he was in an accident, junk shops, crisps, Cornwall, St Custard’s, Portuguese custard tarts, political geeks, pin-up swimsuits, the Regency, high heels, horses, old songs, my Grandma’s fur coat, vinyl, liner notes, the smell of old books, the feel of a velveteen monkey, Guinness, quiffs, putting my hand in a bin of chicken feed, the 1950s, burlesque, automata, fiddles, flaneuring, gigs in fields on warm summer nights, Bath, the bath.
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