25 January 2014 I have just published the second novel in my trilogy! Faint Harmony by Jean Collen
The second novel in a Roman a Clef trilogy.
Ships in 3–5 business days
Faint Harmony is the second novel in a Roman a clef trilogy about Malcolm Craig, a great British tenor. This book covers his life from the outbreak of World War Two until 1956 when he was at the zenith of his singing career. His rise to fame as a singer is smooth, but his private life is increasingly turbulent.
Here is a short extract from Chapter 1 of the novel:
MALCOLM CRAIG – September 1939
On the 20
September 1939 I entered Broadcast House in Whiteladies Road, Bristol.
It was a lovely late summer’s day without a trace of autumn chill in the
air, so it would have been very pleasant to spend the day outdoors
rather than in a sterile broadcasting studio which remained chilly no
matter what the weather was like outside. I was all set to sing in
several broadcasts that day, as had been my routine since the outbreak
of the war a few weeks earlier. Sometimes I gave a solo recital; at
other times I sang duets or in ensembles with other singers. Today would
be a mixture of all three.
Rather absentmindedly I collected my
letters from the receptionist and gave them a perfunctory glance as I
made my way towards the studio. I recognised Marina’s distinctive bold
handwriting on the fattest envelope in the pile and looked forward to
reading her latest voluble screed when I had a moment to myself during
the course of my busy day. There were a few typed business letters but
they could wait until I returned to my digs at the end of the day,
although I did pause for a moment to thank heaven that I was now in a
position to pay any outstanding bills. I wasn’t exactly a world-beater
yet, but I was an established and respected singer, never without work,
and most of that work had been far better paid than the work I was doing
right now on the staff of the BBC.
I noticed yet another
envelope written in a hand I recognised, but, just for a moment, I could
not place who had written it. The postmark was smudged so I looked at
the back of the envelope for a return address. As far as I could recall,
I knew nobody in Wigton. I had been to most places in the country
during the course of my work and knew the town was in the north of
England quite near the Scottish borders, but I certainly had never been
to the town. Surely it wasn’t a fan letter? I had told our agent to hold
all my fan letters until I returned to London. Perhaps this was one
that had slipped through the net. Then I saw the name, “Mrs F. Davey”.
Even then, for a few moments I couldn’t place that name, but it didn’t
take me too long to figure it all out. Trevor Davey had been the
co-respondent named by my solicitors in my divorce from Felicity in
It had taken me years to recover from Felicity’s desertion
and I had spent a great deal of my spare time searching for her in
every town I went to sing in on the remote off-chance that she might be
living there. If she had contacted me in the years immediately after she
deserted me without even as much as a goodbye letter, I would probably
have been only too relieved to find her again and perfectly prepared to
forgive her. Had I known she was in Wigton I would have taken the first
opportunity to go there and bring her straight back home where she
belonged. I wouldn’t even have asked her to explain what she had been
doing during her absence. It was ironical that she was writing to me
after all this time, when I had reached the stage when I hardly ever
thought of her at all. So instead of feeling relieved and happy to see
her familiar hand-writing once again as I would have felt years ago, I
was apprehensive, fearing that she might be about to disrupt the even
flow of my life.
I had looked on Felicity as my soul mate. If she
had stayed with me I would never have looked at another woman. Her
unexplained disappearance had turned me into a cynical womaniser. Nearly
all the women I met afterwards were only too willing to go to bed with
me and I often wondered whether I responded to them with equal
willingness because I was trying to prove to myself over and over again
that there was nothing wrong with me, and that Felicity was the one who
had made a big mistake by deserting me. Even when I married Sally who
truly loved me, I had betrayed her trust and hurt her immeasurably with
my affair with Marina. I thought that I might at last be happy when
Marina and I were finally married, but I couldn’t even manage to remain
faithful to her for very long either.
“Why, there you are, Malcolm.”
though from a great distance, I heard the producer call my name. I was
always punctual for my professional engagements, so it was no wonder
that he was surprised that I wasn’t already in the studio with the
others, ready to begin our day’s work.
“We’re all waiting in Studio 1 ready for the run-through – when you’re quite ready.”
“I won’t be a moment,” I replied, hastily stuffing all my letters into my music case.
was late, knowing full well that my colleagues were waiting for me. I
was wasting their precious rehearsal time, but somehow I still couldn’t
face going in right away. I didn’t dare open Felicity’s letter in case
it upset me and spoilt my performance, but I needed a few moments on my
own before I could even begin to think of singing and putting on a
facade of bonhomie in front of my colleagues. I went into the cloakroom
and splashed my face vigorously with cold water, trying to bring some
colour back into my cold and pallid cheeks. Then I braced my shoulders
and marched resolutely towards the studio to begin the run-through
before the broadcast.
Usually singing invigorated me, but that
day I found the work exhausting, and knew my singing wasn’t up to the
usual standard I set for myself. I was distracted. All I could think
about was Felicity’s letter lying unopened in my music case. I went
through all my broadcasts like an automaton. The last one was a
programme of romantic duets with Margaret Finnemore, a popular soprano,
often heard over the airwaves in those days. She was a short plump
brunette. That particular evening she was encased in a tight purple
dress with a low-cut neckline which displayed a great deal of her
voluptuous bosom. Her almost naked breasts quivered tremulously every
time she drew breath. As we sang together I forgot my worry and
distraction for the first time that day. I had sung with Margaret many
times before and had never thought of her as anything more than a
colleague, but suddenly all I could think about was what it would be
like to bury my head in those breasts and have her comfort and soothe me
until I forget all about that unopened letter. We finished our recital
with The Indian Love Call. I was usually very disciplined in my singing,
but I was so out of sorts that I took an unwritten high note at the end
of the song. I had sung the same note in my recording a few years
earlier and the critic in Gramophone had described the ending as “an
astonishing piece of white singing”. At the time I had not been able to
work out whether this comment was intended to be praise or blame!
did that note come from? You completely drowned me out with it,”
laughed Margaret as soon as we were off air. “I don’t think you knew you
had a note like that in your range!”
“I was carried away singing
with you, Margaret, dear,” I smiled. “Despite that phantom note, I
think we did all right, tonight, don’t you?”
engaged to a dance band clarinettist who had recently joined the army.
Like me, she had been hastily billeted in digs the BBC had found for
her. We were allowed only a pound a week to cover the expense of our
digs so none of us could live anywhere in Bristol in unfettered luxury
on that small amount.
“My digs are just round the corner. Would
you like to come back with me for a night-cap?” she asked. “It’s rather
lonely being on our own here, isn’t it?” she added plaintively.
sensed that Margaret might have far more than coffee in mind to round
off our evening. For a moment I managed to forget all about that letter
as I concentrated my mind on the supreme satisfaction I would have if
Margaret allowed me to unzip her tight dress, letting it fall to her
feet, revealing her plump little figure. The idea of the possible
encounter made me light-headed with desire, but, regretfully, I managed
to pull myself together in time.
“I’d love to, darling,” I
replied, “But we have an early start in the morning and I really must
write a few letters before I go to bed.”
I could see that
Margaret was hurt and disappointed by my refusal, but she was not a
pushy woman so did not insist, as many other more determined young women
had done in the past, and usually succeeded in breaking down my
defences. I kissed her briefly on her soft cheek, amazed at the unusual
restraint I had displayed.
It was late when I reached the home
where I had been billeted. I don’t think Mr and Mrs Broadbent, the
elderly couple who owned the large house, had expected to have a guest
who kept such irregular hours living in their spare room, but they
probably looked on my presence in their home as their contribution to
the war effort. They hardly ever seemed to sit down to eat a proper meal
at their imboua dining room table, although, in those early days of the
war before food rationing was strictly enforced, there was always a
good supply of food of all sorts in their cool pantry. They had given me
free rein to prepare my own meals because my hours were so
unpredictable. Mrs Broadbent was not the keenest cook and was lost
without her staff. They had recently left her “in the lurch” to enlist
in the various armed forces. Thank goodness I had always enjoyed cooking
and was perfectly able to cook food for myself.
particularly hungry that night but I forced myself to make an omelette
before I went to bed. As I sat in the large old-fashioned kitchen in the
basement of the Broadbent household, forcing myself to eat, I looked at
the two letters which I knew I had to read before I slept that night.
Marina’s letter was definitely the more welcome of the two, but I
dreaded having to open the letter from Felicity, fearing what I might
find in it. I had reached the conclusion that her letter could only mean
that there would be some unwanted disruption to my relatively tranquil
life, if you could call living in a country at war a tranquil existence.
Certainly I was having a much easier time than men younger than
me, who were signing up in vast numbers and leaving their families to
go off for rigorous basic training in preparation for the active and
dangerous part they would play during the course of the war.
might have been at war, but so far we had not needed to wear the gas
masks we were obliged to carry about with us everywhere, or to make use
of the air raid shelters which had been erected long before war had even
been declared, or for the protection of the sandbags stacked up high
outside every important building in the city centres. The Germans had
not dropped a bomb so far. The fact that we were now at war had not yet
brought about any great change in our circumstances.
I decided to
read Marina’s letter first and leave Felicity’s letter unopened for as
long as possible. Marina’s frothy letter was full of what she had been
doing with her parents, telling me how impatient she was to start
working again at a time when there was no theatrical entertainment
taking place in the country, except for all the ENSA concert parties
busy rehearsing their acts to entertain troops abroad, and the wounded
soldiers who might soon be flooding hospitals in the UK when the war got
going in earnest. In fact, only that day we had heard that a list of
the first British casualties of the war had been published on the
Marina mentioned that her older sister and her
husband had asked her to dinner at their palatial home and were inviting
some of her old friends to meet her again. She had promised to sing for
them after the meal, so at least she would be keeping her voice in trim
during her enforced break from the stage.
Marina’s letter ended on a sentimental note.
really miss you, darling, and long to join you in Bristol. Even if I’m
not allowed to broadcast with the BBC, I know I should be entertaining
in some way or other. I’m pestering Bernard to find me something to do
as soon as possible. Of course Mummy and Daddy are very kind to me, but I
feel like an innocent little girl again, living at home with them. Do
you know what the worst part is? It’s going to bed at night all by
myself. I know then that I am very far from the innocent little girl my
parents think me for I can only get to sleep if I imagine you in bed
with me, holding me in your arms, making love to me, touching me in
those secret places, until I cry out.”
For a moment I forgot I
still had Felicity’s letter to read. I tried to put the vision of
Marina, lying in bed all by herself in her parent’s spare bedroom and
imagining I was with her there, out of my mind.
I opened Felicity’s letter at last. It read as follows:
husband, Trevor Davey died suddenly last week leaving me a widow with
two young sons, Graham and Edgar. Edgar, the younger boy, is Trevor’s
son, but almost from the time Graham was born, I knew that he was your
son, and although Trevor never mentioned it, I think he knew this too. I
would never have dreamed of contacting you while Trevor was alive, but
now that he is gone, I feel it is only fair to tell you about Graham so
that you have a chance to get to know him before it is too late. He is
musical and sings in the local choir. He is nearly thirteen years of
If I had known that he was your son I would never have run
away with Trevor in the first place, and perhaps we might have had a
chance to sort everything out that was wrong in our marriage, but Trevor
was very good to me and after you divorced me, we got married and were
happy together until his death although I never stopped loving you, but I
grew to love him too and miss him terribly now that he has gone.
have no right to put any pressure on you as I know I was entirely to
blame for the break up of our marriage, but if ever you are singing
anywhere in the Wigton area, I would like you to meet our son. He loved
Trevor and regarded him as his father, so I wouldn’t want him to know
about your true relationship with him until he is much older – if at
all. I enclose a recent photo of Trevor, Graham, Edgar and myself. It
was taken three months before Trevor’s death. I am sure you will see a
close likeness to yourself in Graham.
I’m very sorry I hurt you
all those years ago, but a lot of time has passed since last we met. I
hope you can forgive me and that you will choose to meet your son one
day soon even if you want nothing more to do with me.
With all good wishes,
can’t explain how peculiar I felt after I read that letter. At first I
wondered how I could possibly know that Graham was really my son.
Perhaps she was just trying to get money out of me by telling me a pack
of lies. But if the boy really was my son, I needed to meet him,
although I wished I could do this without ever having to set eyes on
Eventually I cast my eyes on the photograph
Felicity had sent along with the letter. It was a snap of a happy family
group. Felicity looked much as I remembered her although she had filled
out somewhat through the passing years, and somehow had managed to tame
her unruly curly red hair into a smooth, fashionable style. I studied
Graham carefully, half-hoping that he bore a strong resemblance to the
elderly Trevor Davey rather than myself. But no matter how much I wished
to deny that this unknown child was my son so that I could carry on
with my pleasant life and forget Felicity forever, I might have been
looking at a photo of myself just at the time my voice broke and I had
to leave the Cathedral and return home. Marina was still adamant about
not wanting children, preferring to pursue her career, so Graham might
be the only son I would ever have. No matter how Graham might change the
course of my life, I had to see him.
I went to bed at last but
found it very difficult to sleep. As I lay awake in my cold and rather
lumpy bed, I wished with all my heart that I had gone home with Margaret
after all. I could have spent the night with her, curled up in her
arms, my head resting on her generous bosom, feeling warm and sated from
making love to her, still completely ignorant of the disturbing, yet
exciting contents of Felicity’s letter
I knew I would have to
reply to the letter tomorrow and that I needed to meet my son at the
first opportunity, but I wondered what it would mean to Marina? I could
not decide whether to tell her about Graham while we were still apart,
or wait until we were together again, or, better still, take the line of
least resistance, and never tell her anything about him at all. While I
was eager to meet my son, the thought of any kind of renewed
relationship with Felicity was difficult. By running away with Trevor
Davey without any explanation she had changed the way I felt about
myself, and about the way I had responded to other women after her
Eventually I fell asleep, and as I woke the next
morning, just for a moment I felt cheerful, looking forward to the day
ahead at Broadcast House as though I hadn’t a care in the world. Then my
heart sank as I remembered the quandary Felicity had presented to me.
My first broadcast was scheduled for 10 am that morning so I had no
alternative but to rise from my bed, bathe, and dress, make a sketchy
breakfast, where I had the ordeal of having to pull myself together and
make meaningless small talk with my hosts, who happened to be eating
breakfast at the same time. Eventually I headed for Broadcast House. As a
professional singer I was expected to give a good performance
regardless of what might be weighing on my mind...
The first book of the series is entitled Just the Echo of a Sigh and covers his early life to 1939. This is Jean Collen's third novel.
She has also written a volume of short stories and several non-fiction books about the lives and careers of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler. All her books have a musical theme as she is a classical pianist and singer, and taught singing and piano until her retirement at the end of 2010.
Click to join booth-ziegler
See all books by Jean Collen at: DUETTIST'S BOOKSTORE