Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Nina and JBH

As promised. This is extract #2 from future untitled novel, LesMisBook. For #1, click here. Otherwise, a brief summary: 

It is Monday. 
MC Nina Seth discovered yesterday that she will play Éponine in the school show, Les Mis.
The roles of Marius and Cosette will be filled by nemesises (nemesi?) Jonathan Holcroft and Verity Locke.
In the play, Marius and Cosette are in love. Éponine is in love with Marius.
Nina is not impressed about this.

An even briefer summary:


Monday morning was precisely as bad as expected. 

Drama first thing was a “research period”, which meant messing around in the library, pretending to read Wikipedia articles about Stanislavski. Jonathan bloody Holcroft wasn’t there. Our teacher, Mrs Mosely, has mostly given up lamenting his absences. She tries to pretend not to love him, but he is her secret darling, her golden boy. Jonathan bloody Holcroft, always late, never does homework, flirts with teachers and blags his way through exams; arrogant, rude and everybody’s favourite. People like him make me sick. By the end of class I was in a terrible mood. My mind was strained, after all, by my ongoing self-deception: that I wasn’t disappointed not to see him. Anger at him, at myself, at everyone. Verity Locke is in my Drama class too. She looked like a Barbie in uniform, hair ridiculously blonde and disgustingly shiny. Everything about her – her gum, her nails, the way she wears her school shirts – is infuriating. “You look angry,” she told me. “Careful, or you’ll get frown lines.” I hoped my expression, a subtle balance between icy disdain and I want to snap you in half, would scare her off. But she didn’t look exactly terrified.

Next was double History. Communist Russia. It was the kind of two hours that made me feel I, too, had suffered torture in a Gulag north of Vladivostok. The phrase bored to tears has always seemed an odd one, but in that class it very nearly reached fruition.

I stalked through the lunchroom in what I hoped was a predatory yet haughty fashion. It was one day and eleven hours since I’d left Katie’s party alone in a taxi. One day, eleven hours and thirty minutes since I’d seen my best friend kissing a boy I couldn’t admit I liked.

I hadn’t seen Beth that morning. Normally I had a plan for everything, but I’d no idea how I was going to handle her. I was furious with her, but I had no right to be, and so I was furious with myself. The thought of continuing as if nothing had happened was unpalatable, but how could I do anything else? Unconsciously I was frowning. If it weren’t for Jonathan bloody Holcroft, this whole mess would never have happened. I looked up and there he was, straight from my head and sitting at a lunch table.

I’d been glaring at the thought of him, and the reality was no better, tinged as it was by a ridiculous lurching feeling that made my mouth twinge with annoyance. I looked away, clutching at my dignity, but I had to do a double take, because he was eating a massive pile of broccoli. 

Too late. He’d seen me. He said, “All right, Éponine?”

There were plenty of things that would’ve been true if I’d said them. You kissed my best friend and I despise you. Or, I absolutely hate the fact I’m Éponine to your Marius. Or I really do fancy you a ridiculous amount. 

Instead I said: “Why do you have so much broccoli?”

He shrugged and grinned. “It’s good for you.”

I had my arms crossed, partly to create a veneer of dismissive superiority, partly because my heart was throwing itself against my chest like a cartoon. I was not going to sit down. He remained below me – intellectually, morally, and in the physical space of the lunchroom. He said, “Sit down.”

I ignored him. “You weren’t in Drama.”

He shrugged again. “Man’s gotta live his life.”

“Is that what you were doing yesterday morning?”

“Instead of rehearsals, you mean?” He grinned, infuriatingly. “What, did I miss a scintillating session? I bet Mrs Mosely flapped about and then you sang some crap song and went home. I’m right, aren’t I?”

“The songs are not crap! They are wonders of twentieth century music!”

“Nina Seth, are you a Les Mis geek?”

I drew myself up. “Victor Hugo would’ve been proud to see that musical.”

His face contorted in horror. “Wait, don’t tell me you’ve read the book! That is literally the worst thing I’ve ever heard. How are you even still alive?”

“It’s a marvellous book,” I said, feet firmly on the literary high ground. “Though I imagine Nancy Drew is more your style?”

He winced, and grinned. He really does have an excellent mouth. I clenched a fist behind my back. Kill the thought.

“Aren’t you going to sit down?”

I hate to admit that I’d almost capitulated when Beth appeared.

She swished over. She was wearing lip gloss. “Hi, Jonathan,” she said.

Did I imagine the way his face changed? A softening of the mouth, a crinkling at the corners of the blue eyes? It was not the way he looked when he talked to me. When he said her name, his voice sounded different.

They talked and she flicked her hair and I tried not to grind my jaw. Sometimes Beth’s eyes would snap to me, though only for seconds. Was she analysing me? Stop overthinking it, I told myself. She doesn’t know you like him. You don’t like him. My mind wrapped itself in knots. Tangled string and wire. But I did not imagine the curl of her mouth when she said, “Did you have a good time on Saturday, Nina?”

“Great,” I said.

“Give us the dirt, then,” she said. “Did you get with anyone?”

She knew that I didn’t, and when Jonathan laughed and said, “Yeah, tell us!”, he knew too.

Beth sat down opposite him, and suddenly I no longer felt the superior force. Now I was the outsider, the giantess excluded as the villagers cosy together in their picturesque lives. I gripped the edge of the table. My pulse was thudding. Their voices came over me in waves – Beth’s, arch, annoying, stupidly coquettish, and his, self-satisfied, flirtatious, with a sparkling quality that made me want to follow its sound for miles. Anger was rising in me, because I hate feeling like that. I am Nina Seth, actress, singer, historian, reader of highbrow Victorian novels; Nina Seth, feminist, politically conscious, she who speaks her mind; sarcasm wielder, joke-maker, professional misanthrope, comfortable and proud in my own skin. There are galaxies inside me, and yet I couldn’t stop myself staring at the line of the jaw of a boy who does not deserve my affection. An obnoxious, loud, over-confident boy, and yet he makes my stomach lurch whenever I see him. An aggravating, speck-of-dirt player of a boy, and still I was imagining running my fingers through his hair.

“You OK?” he said to me.

I flinched, even this two-word question running up and down my skin, and grunted a yes. Beth was looking at me, derision in her face.

The bell rang. Jonathan said, “Biology. Nice talking to you, ladies,” and loped off. 

I huffed. “Ladies?” I said, half to myself. Still, I couldn’t keep from watching the shape of his shoulderblades as he walked away.

I was very conscious of the awkward, ill-fitting air between Beth and me. I avoided looking at her. When am I ever like this, not knowing how to behave, what to say? Jonathan bloody Holcroft’s fault, again.

“What’ve you got?” I said, for something to say. I knew full well she had Geography.

“Geography.” She hefted her backpack, which was stupid in its tiny size and sugary pinkness. “You?”


Beth gave half a nod. She already knew. Did she even care?

I let out a shuddery breath. This was Beth, Beth, my best friend of three years, and I hated myself for my animosity. I hated my bitchy inner monologue against her hair, her lip gloss, her backpack; hated how I hated her flirting with Jonathan. She was only doing what I’d do if I had the first clue how. And hadn’t I said I didn’t like him? I wanted, more than anything, for things to be right between us. Jonathan bloody Holcroft had nothing to do with it.

“Beth—” I began, but she cut me off.



She flipped her hair over her shoulder and looked me in the eye. “I saw you flirting with Jonathan, but as your friend I think I should tell you …”


“I heard he only likes white girls.”

And she turned and walked away, leaving me in the stream of bodies and noise in the ill-smelling lunchroom, shock and outrage roaring inside me.


Identity is a big theme of LesMisBook. If you are interested, Nina's dad is British Indian and her mum is Irish. She feels herself a part of both of those cultures, and yet English, too, because that's where she's lived all her life; divided, split, confused. Her mum's side of the family have not recovered from the shock of their daughter marrying a Hindu. Nina's Irish grandmother is constantly telling her things like, “you could be so pretty -- it's a pity about your coarse Indian hair!" Or there's her Indian grandmother: “such a shame about your European bone structure!"

Nina is not impressed.

The themes of this book are burgeoning out and out: first it was just a fun thing about Les Mis, friendships and annoyingly attractive boys, but it has evolved to include family, racism and national identity. National identity. What does that even mean? Am I English? Am I Scottish? When I go to England they tell me I have a Scottish accent. When I walk through Glasgow I feel wholly at one with the city. But my Scottish friends make fun of me for being English, being posh; when I say I'm Glaswegian, people laugh at me. Am I from Burton, the town in the Midlands of England where I was born? I barely remember that place.

I know it's different for me, because I am unequivocally British, whereas Nina is split across two whole continents. But the feeling is one I know.

[source] // yeah it is, Nina.


  1. This growing story is amazing!

    I love how Nina is forced to look because of that pile of broccoli. (but really now, JBH, shouldn't you be just as concerned for your intellectual and cultural health? How dare you snub Les Miserables?)

    I also like the idea of the National Identity theme. This is something I've wrestled with.

    1. Thanks, Blue! I love broccoli, personally. JBH probably loves Les Mis a lot more than he admits. But I doubt he'll ever read the book, sadly.

      Me too. In what capacity, for you?

    2. Well, broccoli's delicious... but so is Les Miserables.

      I'm not quite sure how to put it. But I was thinking about it today, and putting my thoughts to the tune of "who am I".

    3. Both rank among my very favourite things in life.

      Wow! I hope your songwriting is going well. I love it :)

  2. LesMisBook! JBH! I love what this is becoming, Emily. The national identity theme is certainly an interesting addition. If it's ever published, I would totally buy LesMisBook in a heartbeat!


    So just in case you haven't noticed (ha), I adore this. Although I know next to nothing about Les Mis (please don't murder me) so I'm confused in that department, so yeah. But this is basically amazing and I love it. (I have nothing else to say on the matter.)


      You should uh watch Les Mis just saying just saying.

      THANKS THOUGH. <33333

  4. ALFGA;DFKJ! I adore this! So, so much. Love that little picture at the beginning too. XD

    I do so love snide characters. Especially when their snide-ness shows no favoritism. They are equally snide to those around them, those they know, and themselves. I love, love Nina! I liked her little dialogue with Jonathan bloody Holcroft. His reaction when she said she read the book. XD

    "How are you even still alive?"

    Jonathan bloody Holcroft, how are you still alive? Reading is like breathing. Oh, wait. . . maybe he substitutes with broccoli. Eeew. Yeah, I'll take books, thank you.

    JBH was excellently done. I mean, what kind of anti-saint grins at a pile of broccoli?! I will admit he is annoyingly, mildly cute. But cruel for saying what he'd said when Beth asked Nina if she went with anyone or whatever. Really? Badly done, JBH. Don't be a mean gossip.

    Beth totally knows. Nina needs to stop kidding herself. I can't believe Beth, who is supposedly her best friend of three years, is playing the passive aggressive I-hate-you game. SERIOUSLY!? Grrr. I cannot stand people like that. And they're supposed to be best friends. How can Beth just turn on Nina like that?! Nina was going to try to keep their friendship together. You don't toss a friendship in the dirt because of some dude. And Nina was NOT flirting! If there was any flirting done it was by Beth's precious JBH. Or I don't think Nina was flirting. . . Uh, was she flirting? (Maybe I know nothing about flirting, IDK anymore!)

    And Beth's last comment? I am really steamed right now!

    Aka: This is like the best of the best! Loved this piece so much!

    That's really sad though that Nina's own grandparents say that to her. I *might* understand the grandparents being upset with her parents, but gosh, don't drag the grandkids into the feud too! Besides Indian girls have beautiful hair! Or so I think. . . I do like the themes that are popping up in your Les Mis retelling! It sounds amazing! And Nina is definitely a new favorite of mine. Although, I'm going to start TCATT tonight, soooo Nina's place as my favorite might get booted down to second. ;) I wanted to start TCATT sooner, but I had to download Word first, which happened this weekend, so I'M SUPER EXCITED NOW!

    1. THANK YOU! I love snide characters whose snideness shows no favoritism, that's a great way of putting it! XD

      I love broccoli though. I really really do.

      I'm glad you like him! Yes, he was mean at that point. But ... <333

      BETH TOTALLY DOES KNOW AND I WAS NODDING THAT WHOLE PARAGRAPH. GEE I REALLY DO NOT LIKE BETH. I don't think Nina was exactly flirting. But then, it is hard to talk to someone you like without flirting unintentionally.

      I'm so glad you liked it! Thank you <333

      I think her grandmothers are both more comedy figures than real sticking points, but yeah, it is a shame. Her hair ... is ... strong-willed. It has nothing to do with ethnicity, though. She actually inherits its coarseness from her mother. But yeah.

      I'M SO EXCITED YOU'RE READING IT! I'm going to reply to your email forthwith. (I have sooo much admin and stuff to do. Go away for two weeks and what happens!) I feel you ab favourites being bumped down. Just last week I was so buzzing about Nina and JBH but now I'm back to JEM JEM JEM XD

    2. At least, she does not take her grandmothers seriously. They are kind of funny.

    3. I'm looking forward to meeting them both!

  5. I have those little inner monologues when I try to remind myself who I am in face of an embarrassing situation.

    JBH and his broccoli and snubbing of classics.


    1. YUP.

      What's he like?! I'm so glad you liked it. Thank you <3

  6. "How are you even still alive?" JBH, I have to side with you on that. XD (Not that I don't respect a classic like Les Mis, it's just that the book is daunting to think about.) And I agree with Ashley: he is annoyingly cute. I feel a bit like Nina, liking him but being annoyed with myself for it.

    BETH. GRRR. Her last comment--ugh, I don't like her one bit. Which is unfortunate, because I love the name Beth.

    And Nina is just precious. I would very much enjoy this book. It's awesome how it's growing and taking shape! Just you wait, one day I'll be at Chapters, sliding your book across the counter and telling the clerk, "I read the beginnings of this back when the author had barely begun writing it. I followed her blog." ^_^

    1. IT'S SUCH A GOOD BOOK THO. You and JBH must learn XD Ha, I'm glad I am getting you onside with Nina's feelings! ~uproarious laughter~

      I KNOW. It is quite a nice name. Shame.

      I'm so glad you are enjoying! I hope that does in fact happen <3333


Thanks for commenting! :)