In order not to cause confusion between my non-fiction writing (published in my own name of Jean Collen, I am publishing fiction under the name of Fiona Compton. I have created a Facebook page for FIONA COMPTON – WRITER
If you are registered on Facebook, please like this page and follow it. All my novels and a collection of short stories have a musical theme. They are available at FIONA’S STORE – FICTION WITH A MUSICAL THEME
I have completed the third novel in the Malcolm Craig series and have published the book as a paperback and as an Epub E-book. Read more about the new book and the two previous books at: Fiona’s Store – fiction with a musical theme
Here is a random sample from the book:
Kate – April 1962
After I finished my secretarial course I was working in the cables department of a city bank in Simmonds Street. I was taking lessons in piano and singing and preparing for various exams so I had to get up at the crack of dawn to practise my scales in singing and piano before I went to work. I was exhausted by the end of the day! Liz was on her April school holiday but I was working a five and a half day week in the bank with no sign of any holiday in view. My father had promised that if I did well in the exams he might allow me to leave the bank and study singing and piano full time until I completed my diplomas in both subjects so I was determined to do well no matter how exhausted I was. Becoming a professional musician was far more appealing to me than spending the rest of my life typing out letters and cables in the bank, and working overtime when the Rhodesian Sweep cables arrived and had to be decoded so that the bank could notify all the lucky winners that they had won a lot of money in the sweep.
One day Liz phoned during my lunch hour. She was very excited.
“Malcolm needs a small studio audience for his Edwardian programme tomorrow night and he’s just phoned to ask if I’d like to go. I suppose he’s been in touch with you too, Kate?” she asked.
My heart sank for he hadn’t asked me. I felt a stab of pure jealousy that my friend had been asked to go to the recording and Malcolm hadn’t bothered to ask me.
“No, he hasn’t phoned me,” I replied, barely able to speak for my mouth had dried up completely. “Perhaps he’s not planning on asking me at all.”
Liz was silent for a moment. She had probably assumed that Malcolm would invite me and she must have known that I was feeling very hurt not to have been invited.
“Well, it’s still not too late. Maybe he’ll phone you once you get home,” she said brightly, and then found an excuse to ring off quickly rather than commiserate with me any further. I continued eating the sandwiches my mother had made for my lunch, although I could hardly swallow them because there was a persistent lump in my throat. I did my best to keep a brave face and not let the tears that were welling up in my eyes run down my cheeks.
Marina and I were having a snack lunch in the studio. Eunice always managed to think of something interesting to put in our lunch boxes. As far as I was concerned the lunch break was the best part of our day in the studio. I really was not cut out to teach other people how to sing. I had managed to get out of most of the morning’s lessons by spending time in the office telephoning friends to invite them to the recording the following evening.
“I think I’ve contacted enough people for the recording tomorrow,” I said to Marina.”We don’t want too many in that small studio otherwise the applause will sound like Wembley Stadium at the cup final instead of a few genteel guests in a refined Edwardian drawing room. I had to laugh at Liz. She was so terribly excited about it. She could hardly contain herself!”
“Did you manage to get through to Kate?” asked Marina. “I know it’s sometimes difficult to get through to her at the bank when it’s busy.”
“Kate? I didn’t think of phoning her at all. I stopped phoning when I reached the right number.”
“But you know she and Liz are such great friends now. She’ll be terribly disappointed if you don’t ask her and she finds out that Liz is going. I wouldn’t be surprised if Liz didn’t phone her right away to tell her the exciting news. You know how they both adore you!”
I hadn’t even thought about whether Kate would be disappointed, but I realised that Marina was quite right. Kate would be very hurt indeed if I didn’t invite her to the recording. Despite her reserve, I didn’t need Marina to tell me that she thought a lot of me. She was probably as fond of me as I was of her. Why on earth hadn’t she been the first person I phoned instead of leaving her out altogether?
I looked up her number in the studio diary and made the call. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone happier to hear my voice in years.
“Will it be you and your parents, Kate, or do you want to bring your boyfriend with you too?”
I hoped she didn’t have a boyfriend, but if she did, I’d have to put a good face on it and receive the spotty youth with good grace.
“I haven’t got a boyfriend,” she replied in a small voice. For some reason I was very pleased to hear this. “It’ll just be me and my parents. Thank you so much for asking us, Mr Craig.”
There was a pause and she added, “I thought you had forgotten me.”
“Never, darling,” I lied bluffly. “Marina and I will meet you in the foyer of Broadcast House at half past seven. You won’t be late, will you?”
“No – we’ll be sure to be there on time,” Kate assured me solemnly.
We were usually pretty casually dressed when we went to rehearsals for the choir. Sometimes Liz was still wearing her blue school uniform if she hadn’t had time to change after some activity at school in the afternoon. We had never seen any of the other broadcasters formally dressed when they arrived at Broadcast House to record their programmes or read the news, although we had heard that BBC news readers had worn evening dress to read the news in the nineteen-thirties – and possibly beyond.
I was glad that Liz and I had dressed smartly for this particular trip to Broadcast House. When we arrived in the brightly lit foyer, there was Malcolm Craig clad in evening dress with a flower in his lapel, while Marina Dunbar wore a low-cut red evening dress, with a mink stole around her shoulders. Their great friend, widower Steve Baxter, a well-known broadcaster on Springbok radio, was obviously going to attend the recording too for he was also formally clad for the occasion although his usual attire for his own broadcasts was a sports jacket and open-necked shirt.
Although she was not taking part in the broadcast Marina was playing hostess to the people Malcolm had assembled for the recording. She ushered us all into the small studio where the recording was to take place and urged everyone to take their seats.
“Keep a seat for me in the front row, won’t you darlings,” she said to Liz and me.
Our parents sat together further back while Liz and I took our seats in the front row on either side of the coveted seat we were saving for Marina, or Miss Dunbar as I still called her. We were beside ourselves with excitement. Malcolm seated himself at a small table to the right of us, ready to begin the recording when he received the nod from the controllers who were seated in the enclosed glass booth at the back of the studio. He took a sip from the glass in front of him and glanced around at the audience.
Liz’s father asked in joking tones, “What’s that you’re drinking, Malcolm?”
“Water,” he replied dryly!
There was no further repartee between them after that exchange. Malcolm told us to clap politely after the items and talk in undertones to each other to create the atmosphere of a refined Edwardian drawing room. Although most of the audience applauded after the violinist and soprano had finished performing, it was only Marina who chatted to us brightly about the performers, and Liz and I did our best to respond with the necessary degree of ladylike decorum. For some reason everyone else seemed overwhelmed by the occasion and uttered not a word.
Malcolm got up from his chair in the corner and walked over to a spot directly in front of us to sing two ballads. Of course I had heard some of his recordings on the radio and I had heard his voice in the studio when he was showing me or one of the other pupils how to sing something properly. I had even heard him singing the Messiah when I was 13, but to experience him singing right in front of me was something I would never forget. Oh, Dry Those Tears and Parted – both sad Edwardian ballads, which he sang in his beautiful voice with all the feeling he could muster. I was completely mesmerised! I almost forgot that I had to chat politely with Marina and Liz after he stopped singing.
At the end of the recording everyone surged around him, congratulating him on his performance. Liz and I were the last in a long line of his admirers.
Malcolm asked us jokingly, “Well, was I all right?”
“All right? You were brilliant, Malcolm!” said Liz with all the confidence of youth.
“I’m glad you approve,” smiled Malcolm. “Perhaps you’ll come to some of the other recordings if you enjoyed this one.”
We nodded eagerly. I certainly couldn’t wait for the next time!
As we left the studio, I caught sight of Marina chatting to Steve Baxter while Malcolm was having a serious discussion with the accompanist. I thought I should say goodbye to her before we left, but I had the impression that she was not pleased that I had interrupted her intimate conversation with Steve Baxter.
“I’m so glad I was able to attend the recording,” I said. “Mr Craig was wonderful.”
“Yes, darling. We’re both very proud of him, aren’t we?” she replied in mocking tones, patting me on my arm. My face grew hot with embarrassment. and I suddenly felt deflated and childish. I realised then that I would be well advised not to offer such fulsome praise in future! Marina and Steve must have thought me very young and gauche.
After that magical evening it was difficult to settle down to sleep and it was a particularly dull thud that I had to force myself awake early in the morning to be in time to catch my regular bus with the other workers on their way to spend all day in shops and offices in the city.
Several months later, I did my music exams in piano and singing. Liz and an Afrikaans girl called Sonette du Preez, another pupil of Malcolm and Marina’s did their exams at the same time and Marina accompanied us all. Liz and I were suitably impressed by Sonette’s beautiful soprano voice when we heard her singing through the door of the the exam room. We decided that she had a much better voice than either of us and would probably do brilliantly in the exam
On Friday I went up to the studio apprehensively, wondering whether the exam results might have arrived. Malcolm answered the door and said heartily:
“I believe you sang very well on Tuesday, my gel!”
I looked at him intensely and said, “No, I was absolutely awful.”
“How do you think you did?”
“I’ve probably failed,” I replied with conviction.
He gave a little chuckle and marched back into the studio, leaving me to wait in the kitchen till Sonette finished her lesson. He called me in excitedly and handed me my card. I had obtained honours for Grade 8. I always expected the worst so I was always surprised if I did well. When I heard that Sonette with her brilliant voice had only managed 72 per cent for Grade 5, a mere pass, I felt disproportionately pleased, while congratulating her. Liz had passed Grade 6 with 72 per cent also. Marina and Malcolm seemed delighted with my results, and for most of that lesson, we drank tea and made firm plans for my diploma. Marina was wearing a black derby style hat and looked particularly striking in it. We all got on so well together that day.
I got honours for the piano exam too. My father was suitably impressed and agreed that I could stop working in the bank soon and study music on a full time basis.
The first and second books in this series, Just the Echo of a Sigh
The second novel in the series is Faint Harmony
Other fiction books by Fiona Compton are: I Can’t Forget You:
The Song is Ended and other stories:
26 August 2015.