I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere recently. I have found that single-minded focus is required to finish a book and my latest, My Grape Year, is proving no different. A little Spring Vacay in the hospital thanks to my sick liver set me back several weeks, so I am now channelling all my available energy towards editing, getting the right photo, designing the cover, and publication.
My goal is to publish this prequel to My Grape Escape, and the third book in my "Grape" series this June. To thank you for your patience, here is the first chapter as it stands right now. This still has to pass through the hands of 3-4 more editors and a copy-editor before it is published, but it gives you an idea of where I'm going with my story! P.S. I chose to go with American spellings, as usual, despite the fact it grates my Canuck soul! ;)
Enjoy and merci as always for your overwhelming love and support. Gros Bisous!
My Grape Year
The men’s polyester pants were off-gassing in the stuffy hotel room. The scorched smell of synthetic fabric tickled my nostrils. March was generally a cool month in Victoria, so the hotel hosting the annual Ursus District Convention hadn’t anticipated the heat wave.
A makeshift fan had been unearthed and stuck in the corner of the room, but sweat trickled inside my navy wool blazer that was festooned with at least forty pins already. Pins were the currency of the incoming and outgoing exchange students and traded with the fervor of stocks on Wall Street.
The interview was almost over, thank god. If they liked me, I would get the final confirmation that I would be spending next year as an exchange student in hopefully my first choice of host country, Switzerland. There was only one available spot in Switzerland and it was hotly contested every year. Belgium, my second choice was better than nothing. Germany was my third choice but I knew I definitely didn’t want to end up in Germany. I had never found blond men attractive and I vastly preferred wine to beer. It was a crime that Italy, France, and Spain weren’t options. I could completely envision myself at some Spanish or Italian bar dancing on the tables after a night fuelled by Sangria or Prosecco.
“I see Switzerland was your first choice Laura,” the head of the table observed. Was? Not is? Every one of the ten or so men around the table had a copy of my application in front of them. “Can you explain your reasons for that?”
I had answered this question so many times in previous interviews that I could do it in my sleep. “One of my main motivations for going on a year abroad is to learn a foreign language,” I said. “Switzerland has not one but three official languages – French, German, and Italian. I would love to be exposed to more than one language during my year as a Ursus Youth Ambassador.”
The lead Ursunian cleared his throat. “That is an excellent answer Miss Bradbury. However, we just received the news that the Switzerland spot was nabbed by another district.” The men exchanged shocked looks at this breach of fair play between Ursus districts.
What? What about my fantasies of racing up and down the Swiss hills like Maria from Sound of Music and warming myself up with some lovely cheese fondue and wine in a wooden chalet afterwards, preferably with an entourage of handsome Swiss men? I would have to deal with my disappointment later. I dug my nails into my palms and smiled brightly. “I’ll go to Belgium then.”
“We do have several spots there. I just feel we should let you know though that more than half of them are in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium.”
Flemish? I had been so sure I was going to Switzerland that I hadn’t even considered the possibility of being sent to Flemish-speaking purgatory.
I flashed another smile. “Of course I would make the most out of any placement,” I said. “However, French is Canada’s second official language and growing up here on the West Coast I have always regretted the fact that I have never learned to speak it fluently. I hope to go to McGill University in Montreal so obviously French would be a huge advantage for me in Québec. If I could be placed in a French speaking area of Belgium that would be ideal.”
There was no need to mention that French had actually been my worst mark all through high school, and that I had to drop it after Grade Eleven because it was torpedoing my GPA. Or that I ran out to the quad after my Grade Eleven Provincial French exam and yelled “Thank God! I will never have to speak French again in my life!”
A slighter, balder man piped up. “You may not be aware of this Miss Bradbury, but there is no way for us to guarantee where you will be placed in Belgium. We send over the files for the incoming students and it is up to our Belgian brothers to allocate them as they see fit.”
I wasn’t aware of that, as it happened. I struggled to maintain my bright eyed demeanor.
“There’s always France, I suppose,” mused the head man, as though thinking aloud.
My head snapped over to him. “I understood there were no exchange spots available in France.”
He cleared his throat. “That was the case but there has been a…ah…development.”
A tall man at the opposite end of the table who had been picking something fascinating out from under his thumbnail jerked his head up. “With good reason!” he said, paying attention now. “Every exchange we arranged In France in the past has ended in disaster. The families didn’t even bother to come pick up our students from the airport, or suddenly decided that they were sick of hosting and locked the child out of the house or left on vacation without them. We couldn’t possibly jettison another student into-“
The head man cleared his throat meaningfully. “I have a letter here from the Ursus Club in Beaune, France." He waved the letter, which from what I could see was written in elaborate cursive with a fountain pen. I longed to get a closer look – it possessed a tantalizing whiff of the exotic. “They say that one of their students is being welcomed this year by our district so they would welcome one of our students in exchange. Just one student you see. It would be on a trial basis. They sound sincere.”
“Don’t believe them,” snarled the tall man. “I was President of our club that year our poor student was abandoned at the airport in Paris. He had to take a plane back to Seattle the next day. Try explaining that to his parents!”
“We must believe them,” the head man said. “Ursus spirit demands we must have good faith in our French brothers. Besides, Miss Bradbury here strikes me as a competent sort of person who can deal with extreme situations. I wouldn’t even mention the possibility of France to most of our outgoing students.”
“I…I,” I stuttered, wondering how I was going to disabuse him of this notion. I couldn’t imagine any horror worse than leaving for a year abroad only to have to return to Canada the next day with my tail between my legs.
“George.” The tall man’s voice was stiff with displeasure. “Throwing this nice young lady here to the French would be like throwing a lamb to the wolves and I for one-“
“Neil,” the head man said in quelling tones. “There is an open space for France and it needs to be filled. Miss Bradbury has explained how urgently she must learn French. She is mature and full of positive energy. I have complete confidence in her.”
What was the word for ‘shit’ in French? Merde? My mind whirred as I tried to find a way to extract myself from this fix.
But then I thought about the Eiffel Tower. Paris. Red wine. Little cafés. Baguettes. French men were supposed to be very charming, weren’t they? In any case, they had to be an improvement on Canadian boys. It could be a disaster or it could be even better than Switzerland. It was definitely better than spending a year learning Flemish. Screw it.
“I’d be delighted to take that spot in France.” I straightened my shoulders. “That way, at least, I would be sure to learn French.”
All the men except Neil nodded approvingly at me, as though I had just performed a heroic act. Darn. Had I?
The head man erased Switzerland and Belgium from my application and wrote “FRANCE” in large capital letters. He scrawled something down in his notes.
“That settles it then! You’ll be heading to France in August Miss Bradbury. I hope you have an excellent year, or shall I say, a bon voyage?” He chuckled at his own joke.
“Thank you,” I said. “Or shall I say merci?” This got a laugh out of all the men and they stood up and stretched their polyester clad legs to indicate that I was dismissed.
I must have missed the sound over the whirr of the fan and the muffled scrape of chairs against the carpet, but when I think back to it now I am convinced there must have been a mighty creak. There had to be, because at that precise moment my entire life shifted on its axis.
I'd love to hear what you think and if you would be inspired to keep turning the pages!
During this intense writing period for me the best way to keep up with what I am doing is to go to my Facebook page , my Instagram feed , or attend the fantastic day-long workshop I am hosting with my talented friend (and amazing painter) Laura Harris all about how to "Unlock Your Creativity." Go here to the moonrisecreative.ca website to learn more and sign up.
As soon as I have a firm publication date in June for My Grape Year you'll be the first to know!