Edited on 29/11/13 to add: Obviously I wrote this first blog post a while ago, but if you notice oddities in the actual dates of the Jade Yeo entries, don’t worry about it — it’s because I didn’t want people clicking on the tag to spoiler themselves inadvertently (since if I’d left the posts in original date order, the last post would have appeared first). Also, the ebook is no longer US$0.99 — it is the princely price of US$2.99. If you would still like to buy it, here it is on Smashwords, Amazon and Amazon UK. Otherwise, just scroll down and read it for free!
There’s no better way to inaugurate a new website than with free stories, so here is one. It’s not really super new — I wrote it a couple of years ago and it’s been rejected by a couple of romance e-publishers since then. I’m going to post a section every other day, but you can also or alternatively download an ebook for US$0.99 at Smashwords: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. (If you can’t use Smashwords for whatever reason but want to buy an ebook, let me know.)
I wrote a couple of absurd romance novel-y synopses for the ebook distributors, but if you want to know what it’s about: it’s a novella written in diary entries about books and smooches. It has an Adult Content rating for a single explicit sex scene, but if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, I’m gonna be straight with you — you’d have better luck flipping through the Bible.
Thanks to those of you who helped me choose a title! If you previously knew the story as Bloomsbury Girl, you should tune out, but come back in a few days because I added a couple of new entries. One of them has smooching! \o/
Saturday, 7th August 1920
I had tea with the intolerable aunt today. Aunt Iris, the one who is so rich she has a new fur every year, and so mean she has installed a tip box by the door of every WC in her house, so you have to pay a charge every time you need to go. And so sinfully vainglorious I remember she came to visit us at home once and wore a wonderful glossy black mink fur. She sat on the sofa with a fixed grin on her face, sweating gallons in the heat. Ma had to send Koko out to get the doctor. It was just before New Year and Ma was terrified Aunt Iris would go into an apoplexy in our drawing room–which would have been such bad luck.
I had my angle of attack all planned out today, though. On Wednesday I’d found out how much a piece of chocolate cake cost at the restaurant, and I went in with the exact change in my purse. When the waiter asked me what I wanted, I said: “Chocolate cake, please”, and I counted out my coins and paid him right then and there.
“I haven’t got any more money than that,” I explained.
Aunt Iris was furious: she looked like an aunt and she was wearing her furs, of course. Even the English must have thought it peculiar. But even so she didn’t offer to pay. She ordered two different kinds of cake and a pot of their most expensive tea, just to show me. But I profited in the end because she couldn’t finish even half of one of her slices of cake. I whipped out my notebook and tore out a page and wrapped the other slice in that.
“I’ll save you the hassle of eating it, auntie,” I said. “You must be so full now! I don’t know how you stay so slim at your age.”
I hadn’t meant the reference to her age as a jibe. My mother is a very modern woman in most ways, but she would still be offended to be accounted any younger than she is. Her opinion is that she did not struggle her way to the august age of forty-three only to have the dignity accorded to her years snatched away from her.
But Aunt Iris has become quite Western from living here so long. She has a passionate hunger for youth. It is especially hard on her to be thwarted in it because the British can never tell an Oriental’s age, so she’s been accustomed to being told she looks ten years younger than she is.
“My dear Jade,” she said in her plushest voice–her voice gets the more velvety the crosser she is–“I know you don’t mean to be impolite. Not that I’m saying anything against your dear mother at all–your grandmother wouldn’t have known to teach her these things, of course, considering her circumstances. But as an aunt I do feel I have the right to give you–oh, not a scolding, dearest, but advice, meant in the most affectionate way, you know–given for your sake.”
The swipe at my grandmother’s “circumstances” made me unwise. Aunt Iris is not really an aunt, but a cousin of Ma’s. Her mother was rich and Ma’s mother was poor. But my grandmother was as sharp as a tack even if she couldn’t read and Aunt Iris’s mother never had two thoughts to rub together, even though she had three servants just to look after her house.
“You should call me Geok Huay, Auntie, please,” I said. “With family, there’s no need for all this ‘Jade’.”
I spoke in an especially Chinese accent just to annoy her. Aunt Iris’s face went prune-like.
“Oh, but Jade is such a pretty name,” she said. “And ‘Geok Huay’, you know!” She looked as if my name were a toad that had dropped into her cup of tea. “‘Geok Huay’ in the most glamorous city in the world, in the twentieth century! It has rather an absurd sound to it, doesn’t it?”
“No more absurd than Bee Hoon,” I said. “I’ve always wished I could name a daughter of mine Bee Hoon.”
A vein in Aunt Iris’s temples twitched.
“It means ‘beautiful cloud’,” I said dreamily. “Why doesn’t Uncle Gerald ever call you Bee Hoon, Auntie?”
Aunt Iris said hastily:
“Well, never mind–you’d best take the cake, my dear. Are you sure you don’t want sandwiches as well?”
I was not at all sure I did not want sandwiches. I said I would order some just in case, and ordered a whole stack of them: ham and salmon and cheese and cucumber. Aunt Iris watched me deplete the stack in smiling discontent.
“Greedy little creature!” she tittered. “I would rap your knuckles for stuffing yourself, but you rather need feeding. You are a starveling little slip of a thing, aren’t you? Rose and Clarissa, now, have lovely figures. They are just what real women should look like, don’t you think?”
“You mean they have bosoms and I don’t,” I thought, but did not say. It didn’t seem worth trying to enunciate through a mouthful of sandwich.
She had lots more little compliments like that.
“You would be so pretty if not for your eyes, dear.”
“It’s such a pity you inherited your mother’s nose. Don’t take this the wrong way, dear, but your mother’s face has always had such a squashed look. A good nose does so much for a woman’s profile, doesn’t it? Rose has an exquisite profile. I think she is prettier from the side than from the front. That’s from Gerald. His mother was known for having a beautiful nose.”
“What a strange country this is,” I said, “where a woman can have a famous nose. Did they write about it in the newspaper?”
Well, I didn’t say that last sentence. The first was quite enough. I am sufficiently Confucian not to want to alienate even the intolerable aunt. After all she is the only aunt I have here.
It did sting, though. I know–at least, my mind knows–that she thinks Rose and Clarissa are beautiful because they look English, and anything that is English is good to Aunt Iris. My heart is rather less sensible, and vulnerable to jabs about eyes. When I got home I crept down to the landlady’s drawing room and stared at myself in her full-length mirror to remind myself of how pretty I am.
You can’t ever tell people you think you are pretty. Even if you are pretty you have to flutter and be modest. Fortunately here nobody thinks I am pretty, so my thinking I am pretty is almost an act of defiance; it makes me feel quite noble. I have that slim bending willowy figure that looks so good in a robe, and smooth shining black hair like a lacquered helmet, and a narrow face with a pointy chin and black slashes of eyebrows.
It took me a long time to realise I was pretty, because Ma and Pa never thought so. Even the fair skin they didn’t like–I’m not the right kind of fair. The Shanghainese girls on cigarette cards are like downy white peaches. I am like a dead person. This was disturbing on a child. Now I am an adult, I am like an interesting modern painting, but my parents are keen on moon-faces and perms.
They are the nicest parents, though. They always told me I was clever.
But the eyes are small, there’s no getting away from that. Poor phoenix eyes! Here you might as well be sparrows.
What a disgusting entry! I must improve my character. The reason why I started this diary was to become a better writer, to develop a purer voice, and to practise cursive handwriting. And here I am raving about looking like a willow when I don’t in the least, not being anywhere near as leafy–and all in handwriting that would be enough to make the sisters at my old school cry. (Or more likely, move those tough old biddies to make me cry.)
Enough! I must work on my review. I am reading a terrible sententious book called The Wedding of Herbert Mimnaugh. Firstly, what sort of a name is Herbert and why would a parent with any trace of natural affection wish to afflict their child with such a name? Herbert’s parents do not feature prominently in the book when this choice alone makes it obvious that they are the most interesting people in it.
Secondly and cetera, it is awful–hollow intellectual grandstanding that always stays five steps away from any true feeling even while it professes to plumb the depths of human experience. And no sense of humour. I cannot forgive a book that has no sense of humour.
I shall write a review tearing it apart and ask Ravi to look at it. He might give me enough for it that I could buy myself a new dress.