Warning: Notwithstanding the fact that the protagonist is a woman in her late teens, this is not a young-adult novel. It contains mild violence, adult situations, language, and strong sexuality (but not in the first chapter below!).
ISBN-13: 978-0615735184 (MacRyan)
Keywords: Football (Soccer), Girls, Life
Publication date: December 29th, 2012
BISAC: Fiction / Sports
I'm working on a young-adult version of this (Seasoning YA!) which I hope to have out in March.
Janine Majeski is seventeen and has a kicking life: a job with her friends, some money to spend. And football. As in: she manages and plays in her own factory soccer team.
She couldn’t be happier, could she? She never imagined there could be more, but she did dream, and when the chance of making that dream a reality comes to her, right out of the green, she puts her best foot forward.
Barry Barnes, desperate to save his low league team from relegation and thereby save his job, was at the end of his wits; then he had the most absurd, yet the most rational idea possible.
Why shouldn’t a woman play for a professional men’s league team?
Together, the two of them set out to find an acceptable answer to that question.
Chapter 1 Janine Majeski
Saturday was the day of rest for Janine Majeski.
Paulists who’re conventionally known as modern Christians may disagree, but it wouldn’t make an ounce of difference to her. She languished in her bath, gently swabbing soap over firm flesh, nostrils placidly sucking fragrant whiffs from the scented water.
Five days shalt thou labour in the dingy confines of the factory; on the sixth shalt thou bathe thy body in warm soapy water and cheap bath salts and see that it is good. Janine believed in that commandment with all her heart, and with all her mind, and with all her dirty pores. It wasn’t that she didn’t bathe on other days, of course, but Saturday was her only self-indulgent day: a day of wallow.
So soporific was her religion that she’d been known to fall asleep in the bath, awakening only when cold water aroused her, or when her mother came knocking on the door, asking if she’d fallen asleep. Janine always denied it, of course and came up with some new explanation as to why she’d spent over two hours hogging the bathroom again.
She needed no such explanation today. She was wide awake, and the reason was the season opener. Millfield City Football Club was playing that afternoon, and David Radstock, heart-throb of the Midlands, was playing with them. Mathematics was the last subject at which Janine would excel (her sister Karen was the genius of the family), but she did know for a fact that bathtub plus Millfield raised to the power of David equals paradise.
The game was live and the commentary was squeezing through the tiny, tinny radio speaker into Janine’s newly washed ears; so far, so good.
Unfortunately, Millfield were away at Aston, and were down one to nothing after only thirty minutes.
It wasn’t a pleasant position for Janine, being their Number One Fan and all. Actually, she felt very guilty, considering that she was here, comfortable in her bath, and her hero was out there in the cold, cruel world, but Janine did not go to away games any more. It was partly because of the time and expense involved, but mostly because of the danger. Home games were bad enough, given that she had to travel over to Millfield. Berrisford (her actual home town) had a team, so-called, but they were deadbeats, a joke clinging to the bottom of league two. No heart-throbs or heart-stopping games there.
Football was too much of a blood-sport it seemed to her these days. She hardly felt at ease at ‘home’ games, but away games were just asking for trouble, especially since she mostly travelled alone.
Not that the players on the pitch were any safer, for that matter, especially the goalkeepers. Janine wished often that football (and life itself for that matter) didn’t have to be that way, but given the society we’d built for ourselves, it did, and she saw no easy way out. Her father blamed the government, which was nothing unusual, and so did she, which was unusual in that she and her father were in agreement on something.
Neither was this goal deficit offering any hope. It was not a meaningless one, considering the opposition was Aston at home, and the Millfield front line had lately (that is at the end of last season and over the summer) been among the most impotent in the premier league.
Janine’s younger (and only) sister had shared another of her immense store of jokes about it all. Unusually, this one had nothing to do with impotency, or dribbling before shooting, or even about lacking balls. It ran: How many Millfield players does it take to change a light bulb in the club bar? The answer was, “Eleven: ten to pass it back to the goalkeeper, and him to put his arm out of socket, tipping it over the bar!”
Karen had said that she found the joke so funny the first time she’d heard it that she’d almost sneezed pop, and of course she’d had to change out the team name, making it about Millfield, and retell it to big sis.
Janine didn’t see anything funny at all; it was just stupid, and not even truthful. It did highlight the sad reality that Karen’s own team was faring far better than Millfield, and had flown first class in the league last year; on the other hand, so had Janine’s own personal team: the femmes of Bailey’s (Yarns) Ltd, a football team of which Janine was effectively the founder, actually the captain, and most decidedly the leading goal scorer.
Admittedly they were playing on a slightly lower plane, but they won the league championship last season, scoring far more goals than both Millfield and Manchester put together! They scored significantly more even than Bailey’s men’s team, and had almost held them to a draw at a Christmas charity game which Janine had organised for the local children’s ward. The fact that the men had eventually won 2-1 was due to a huge cold Janine had, an unfair penalty, and a fluke own-goal over which Janine was still carrying a grudge. It was really a drawn game.
She took it so personally because she was the manager, leader, coach, and living embodiment of The Dogs. This was a name they’d adopted as an antidote to a Coventry team who called themselves the Bitches and were the dirtiest team The Dogs had ever beaten, which explained why that team had been unceremoniously pitched out of the league that same season.
The Dogs very much believed they could beat the men, but so far, the pea-shooters had declined a return match, so her heart-felt conviction could not be tested. She resolved this impasse by claiming the return match as a win by default, and since it was a rout, the situation was really that The Dogs were the clear winners overall.
Janine had actually finished bathing, and she now reclined idly in the thinning suds. Her eyes were closed, the better to concentrate on the filtered but excited voice of the match commentator drifting from the solar radio, which sat on a small table by her ear. A second later, there was a loud roar, and she sat up with such a start that she knocked the bath tray over, spilling sponge, soap, wash-cloth, back-scrubber, and shampoo into the water along with her watch and an apple core which had long-since turned brown.
“They scored!” she exclaimed loudly, almost disbelieving, and immediately initiated a hasty search for the shampoo bottle which had no top on it, and for her watch, which was not waterproof. It wasn’t shampoo-proof either, for that matter.
Millfield had scored! It was David Radstock who had headed in the equaliser from the six-yard box. Who else? He was the only one in Millfield’s entire forward line who really understood what a goal-mouth looked like and what it was for. Janine was thrilled, especially since she’d retrieved both shampoo and watch by that point. She searched for the rest of the things with her ear cocked intently toward the radio commentary.
“...and certainly Radstock will be pleased to get his name on the score-sheet so early in the season. He put away eighteen goals for The Millers last season, and I’m sure he’s aiming to beat that this year. Craig Gladwin, Millfield’s manager must be happy that Radstock isn’t wasting any of the twenty seven million he cost two seasons ago. Well, Aston has now kicked off for the second time this half....”
Janine replaced the sponge and the wash-cloth, and began feeling around the bottom of the tub. She recovered the back-scrubber and a soggy apple core, but couldn’t find the soap. She blew a sud from her nose, enjoying the sweet scent, but not wanting to breathe it quite that closely. Millfield had scored! Her favourite fella had saved them again! Why was this no surprise?
After a few seconds she found the soap and chased it until she lost it behind her. Lifting up her rather meagre (she felt), but solid bulk, she probed all around the bath, but could not put her hand on the soap bar. She sat down again and immediately found it with a quick gasp. Smiling, she picked it up carefully and replaced it, admonishing seriously, “You wicked soap!” In response, the evil bar slipped through the tray again, but she caught it skillfully before it could run amok.
Laying back once more in the now seriously cooling water, she examined her watch closely. Her parents had bought it for her sixteenth birthday; it was the only one she had. She loved that little watch, with its gold-plate bracelet and starlight dial, and she was relieved to see that no water appeared to have penetrated.
On the radio, the half-time whistle blew. Janine looked at her watch again. The dial read 3:50. She quickly rinsed herself off and pulled the plug. Comfortably muscled arms lifted her slim form easily and she stretched her long legs out onto the fluffy yellow bath mat, which matched not only the toilet seat cover and mat, but also the curtains and the bathroom paint job in general; visiting the Majeski bathroom was like entering a daffodil.
Janine grabbed a bright yellow towel from the warming cupboard, wrapping its cosy fluff around her chilling skin. Picking up the SolarTran from the stool, she sped into the bedroom she shared with Karen.
Her sister was in Manchester, bedecked in red and white. Their difference in favored team provided for a good deal of rivalry and a lot of ribbing. Janine had come off by far the worst last season, and she still smarted from it. She hoped above all to see her team beat them, both at home and away, this year. Yeah, it was a tall order, but hey, it was conceivable!
Switching channels for ten minutes of music before the second half took off, she began listening to some Duffy and M-Tina, singing along loudly and almost in tune as she towelled herself dry. She loved the radio - it was so much livelier and less predictable than her lowly iPod clone for which she found little use at home.
A few minutes of vigorous rubbing brought her youthfully soft skin to a warm glow. She completed the drying job with baby powder. Now she felt surgically clean, fresh, and wholesome, and she savoured the sensation luxuriously before attacking her mop of hair with the towel and subsequently with the dryer.
The tape which held the old plastic dryer handle together was dry and peeling, but the dryer still did its job satisfactorily. She directed the breeze through the stringy, damp strands, and had soon recovered her Tina Turner tussock. Actually the general appearance was more like a feisty Suzi Quatro if you ignored the height difference. Janine hadn’t cultivated it to be that way; it just was. Not that she really had any kind of a handle on those people from yester year, but various adults who did had actually made these comparisons for her.
Fortunately, with a good cut, it wasn’t quite as outrageously spiky as her hirsute doppelgangers (except during a match!), and it was very acceptable to Janine. She had no time for the short, artificial styles, no matter how fashionable they were. The bouncy, natural look was much more her, but she was going out later, so she took a bit more time with it than she would usually expend.
She dropped the dryer onto the bed and looked at herself in the mirror. Her body was lean, but not mean. OK, it was too lean for her liking. She weighed 60 kg (give or take – give if she had her way), which at her (so she was often told) ridiculous height (only 2m) made her rather slim. The muscles were still in evidence from school, but though they were there, they weren’t quite where Janine would have ideally liked them. She was continually working to improve on this because of football.
She had never actually played football at school, not if you ignored the practice kick-arounds she had shared with the boys who appreciated her skill and advice.
Once, when she’d asked the phys. ed. instructor, he had quietly turned her down, telling her that there wasn’t enough interest and certainly nothing in the budget for it. She always did have a passion for football for as long as she could remember, so she was frustrated, but she hadn’t become righteously annoyed until she learned that two other girls were refused for the same reasons.
She’d decided on the next best thing: athletics. Every event she trained for, she reminded herself of that instructor’s subtly sneering sotto voce, “Female physiology isn’t really designed for that kind of sport, you know; they don’t have the temperament or the physique. That’s why you don’t see them in the football league,” and she had worked ever harder at everything she could get into.
In her final year there, at sixteen, she’d walked by that same teacher’s face (completely sneer-less, she noted), at Berrisford School (BS for short!), with the majority of the athletics prizes. She had won the 100, 400, 800, and 1500 metres (the latter by a large margin) and the first and last in record time. She was still the only female competitor ever to beat the male records in the 100 and 1500. She was fourth in the javelin, second in long jump, first in high jump, and fifth in shot-put.
Discus, she was not prepared to discuss, because she bottled it badly. Not surprisingly, despite her other triumphs, the boys always had wanted to rag on her about that one, but she wisely and maturely ignored all that, choosing instead, to let her record speak for itself.
She had also proved herself to be one of the top seven fastest swimmers (in a school of eight hundred) even including the boys. In fact, in all her assessments, she included the boys. Why wouldn’t she?
It had been some two years since she’d left school, but she kept herself trim, regularly swimming and running, and had not given in to any of the vices to which people in her situation all-too-often yield. She didn’t smoke; she didn’t drink a lot (not often, anyway), and had never come into contact with anything her doctor hadn’t prescribed.
It amused Janine that she was the only woman she knew who was actively trying to gain weight! She’d put on more since her schooldays, making doubly sure that it was all in the right places. Unlike too many of her peers, her heroes in physique were not models in fashion magazines, or fluffy divas strutting overly exposed body parts, but football stars; she had modelled herself after them and she had never regretted that decision because it was hers and right for her.
She sighed as she examined her thighs and calves, lifting each leg in turn to see its reflection in her dressing table mirror. She needed more muscle. Her legs were good (indeed excellent), but they paled into insignificance in her eyes when she compared them with David’s.
She looked at his picture on her wall. It was one of a score vying for prominence against the growing onslaught of the red hoard from Karen’s side of the room. Of course, she could never hope to have a body like his (how nice that would be, she thought ambiguously). Ultimately women hadn’t evolved in quite that way; they’d evolved for something much more useful than beef cake, but (with that phys. ed. instructor’s delusion firmly in mind) she could sure as hell go for her personal best and refuse to be blinkered by mindless genderism.
David’s physique was something to emulate as well as adore. She looked at her left leg again and back at the poster. It was an action shot of a moment from Millfield vs. Bolton last season. Janine could remember it in almost exact detail: it was just before he scored the winner in a mid-season game, and the muscles on his thigh were bunched tensely as he snatched the ball from a slow defender prior to slamming it away. Janine looked at it for a long time, and let slip an envious sigh.
“I’ll be with you next week, my love,” she said, and planted a finger kiss on his lips. “You should avert your eyes when I’m naked!” she chided him as an after-thought. “I only let you look because we’re betrothed!”
Remembering the game, she tuned back to it, and found the teams in the second minute of the second half, the score still at one each. She smiled and held high hopes of Millfield coming home with three points from this one. Maybe this season it would be her turn to crow over Karen.
She had no idea know just how right she was.
With part of her mind still at the match, she resumed her self-examination in the mirror. Normally, she didn’t bother with this and would have been dressed already, but once in a while, her imagination got hold of the strings to her attention, and she had no choice but to hang with it.
The only aspect of her body about which she was really self-conscious was that she seemed so thin in her thoracic region. She was tall, she kept telling herself; besides, she didn’t want as much extra weight on her frame as it would take to re-proportion it - that would slow her down on the field. Not in the field; on the field! She wasn’t racy anywhere else.
Beware, my Lady, of jealousy, the green ey’d monster which mocks the meat, she thought, plagiarising Othello. She cupped her right breast, feeling its shape and weight. She had improved her form by working her chest muscles, but cup size was a fact of life. Implants were a sick joke; and getting herself pregnant just to improve her breasts was simply out of the question! Even if she were guaranteed a permanent increase, what on Earth would she do with a child? Her father would have a cow. Live with it, Jan! she told herself, work with what you have.
The game whistle blew hard and Janine was harshly returned to reality by the discovery that David - her David - had been fouled three yards outside the penalty box, thereby just missing a penalty in his favour. Janine almost screamed, as she rushed to the SolarTran and turned up the volume.
“Come on, come on,” she urged the commentator. “Tell me he’s not injured!”
“...and the trainer has been called on. He’s running over there from the far side, and it looks like Craig Gladwin is going to have a word with Millfield’s captain, Colin Chantry. Obviously he’s going to want him to tighten up the defence, where Millfield have looked a little suspect this half, and go for that second goal quickly, to get this match safely in the Miller’s bag....”
“Never mind that guff!” Janine said, “What about David?” She turned the volume up more, as though the increase would reveal further details regarding the injury to her beloved.
“...Bob Stevens, having a holiday from the substitute’s bench today with Raynham out of the side, is helping him up. Well, it looks like Radstock is all right, though he’s limping. The ref is placing the ball for a free kick, but Aston’s captain is arguing with him about that foul, and if he doesn’t stop soon, he’s going to get a close-up view of that little yellow warning card.”
“Great, he can keep it in our freaking bathroom!” Janine commented on the commentary.
“It looks like he’s claiming Radstock took a dive....”
“Of course he didn’t take a dive, you daft prat, he was hacked down!” Janine said excitedly. Obviously it had to be that way even though she’d seen nothing. “Now let’s have that goal!”
“...the referee is playing by the book today. He’s moved the ball back two yards from where O’Gallagher had placed it. Now there are three people on the ball, with Radstock and Prisé having come up to join O’Gallagher, and Dai Williams has gone to make up a fifth in Aston’s four-man wall. Obviously Millfield are planning something; it looks like Radstock is going to take the kick...”
“Come on, David, wham the bitch!”
“...but no, he ran over the ball, and O’Gallagher has kicked it straight at goal...it’s headed clear...and it’s coming right out to Radstock; the man who always seems to be in the right place at the right time,”
“Let’s consider that, shall we?” Janine smirked.
“...and he’s volleyed the ball with that injured foot - What-A-Goal! WHAT A GOAL!”
“Yes! Yes! Yes! I am multiply orgasmic!” Janine squealed, leaping face down onto the bed and beating her hips against it; she jumped around into a sitting position and began bouncing on the bed, chanting all the Millfield slogans she knew and taking this opportunity to hurl some much-needed abuse at the other team.
“...biting the dust, and making a sizable dint in the back of the net. It’s a solid gold goal, and Millfield are in front for the first time this season.”
“For God sakes, it’s the first game, you dunce nuts!”
“Radstock is being mobbed by his team-mates, and there are some fans who’ve somehow got onto the pitch, which the police are removing....”
Janine was thrilled, and began to wish she were there, in the Park, singing, chanting, and tossing insults at the other end. She contented herself with the knowledge that she would be at Quarry Field next week, when she just knew that Millfield would trash Chelsea at home. She began to speculate about other games. If Millfield were up to beating Aston on its own pitch, what could she expect at home this season?
After a minute or so of this fantasy, she decided she ought to put on some clothes, so she could go and watch the results as they came in on TV. She dressed quickly, and finished drying before carrying the SolarTran downstairs. She went into the front room where the telly sat. It was relaying wrestling in flat monotones.
“What’s for tea, Mum?” she asked.
Her mother, a forty-three-year-old version of Janine, but shorter and heavier, sat by the open coal fire, knitting something for her grandson, which Janine had so far been unable to identify despite her best efforts. Her father watched the wrestling intently. He had the same pale hair and green eyes as Janine, but there, the resemblance ended. He was a giant of a man, over six and a half feet and weighing almost twice what Janine did. It was a standing joke with his work-mates at Fairhurst Haulage that he could carry his deliveries, and only needed his flat-bed 16-wheel lorry for taking a nap.
Despite the fact that George Majeski all but dwarfed his family (her elder brother John was hardly taller than Janine for goodness sakes), he had never made any attempt to control them by force. Even when he had a drink or two on board, there had only been an occasional slap now and again when they were kids.
Janine, who was aware of so much family violence during her school years, had always loved and respected him for that. She was grateful that she never had ‘love-bumps’ to hide or explain.
He complained about his off-spring’s behaviour frequently, of course, and was often insanely strict, but she could put up with that. He was complaining right then, in fact, as she entered the room, but it was at the wrestling, which was nothing uncommon.
“Get hold of him properly, man. He’ll get away. Look! I told you!”
“You ought to get a bigger telly so you can see the blood better,” Janine suggested.
“This one was good enough for your uncle Henry and it’s good enough for us,” her mother corrected her. “There’s nothing we can’t see on here that you can on those cinema screens in a box.”
Janine didn’t argue. She’d been along that route several times and got nowhere. Everything mum didn’t like was an expensive box, and there was no way around it. Instead, Janine pursued her original enquiry, which was significantly more important, and had been either unheard or ignored. “So what’s for tea?”
“Tea?” her mother asked, as if she’d never heard the word. “It’s not half-past four yet. It’s not time for tea.”
“But I’m hungry,” Janine pleaded, as though that in itself were sufficient reason for food to be available.
“Turn that bloody radio down,” her father said. “I can’t hear the wrestling!”
Janine’s expression was of annoyance, but she complied, even though she knew football to be infinitely more important than childish tussles between flabby morons, which she considered particularly uninspiring, and which were probably fixed anyway. She turned her attention to her younger brother, Paul.
“What are you painting, Little Dipper?” she asked, employing her favorite name for him. She’d coined it in response to Paul’s habit, when younger, of getting his little fingers into everything, particularly things of hers. She’d been unconsciously working on a nick-name for him when she had learned that Americans use that name for a stellar constellation which was actually properly known as Ursa Minor, and it was perfect.
Paul was sitting at the table with his old paint-box, daubing dull colours into some sort of kid-sense arrangement. His face was set in concentration, and the tip of his tongue protruded from the left side of his mouth a fraction, in just the same way her older brother had held his when younger. It was incredible that two children, separated by sixteen years and two other children, could be so much alike in their looks, temperament, and habit, but they were. Hopefully Paul would turn out to be significantly different to John in the ‘female gender appreciation department’.
“I’m doing a ship,” Paul said in answer to Janine’s question, and he certainly was. He was only seven, and his idea of a ship was somewhat adrift from standard naval architecture.
She looked for a long minute at the smudgy grey and black sausage bristling with mismatched guns, and said, in her mischievous-Janine tone, “Let me paint another ship like yours, and we’ll have a battle!”
Paul sensed some fun in the atmosphere, and very generously gave up his paints on the condition that Janine not copy his ship. His sister spent five minutes making a reasonable copy of what Paul had created while trying not to make it a copy. “What do you think of my fine ship?” she asked at length.
“It’s not as good as this,” he proudly replied, holding his picture high.
“Well, naturally it’s not as good as yours! You’re the great artist in the family. Anyway, I don’t go to school anymore, so I stopped learning.”
“If you went to school, would you be able to paint like me?” Paul asked, a little insecurely.
“Who the heck knows?” Janine said.
“Well why don’t you go, just to see?” came the inevitable reply.
Janine smiled. “I’m too old,” she said.
“You’re not too old for college,” old rabbit ears with the knitting commented. “With your education, you should be at college. You’d be better off than at that factory!”
“She would that,” her father added, obviously not as deeply engaged in the wrestling as he would have onlookers think.
“I’m not clever enough for college. Besides, they don’t pay you anything. Where would I get my nice clothes from and everything, if I wasn’t paid? Where would you get the money I contribute to the house from?”
“They give you a grant to go to college, and we’re not so short that we’re desperate for your money, Missy!”
The Majeski ancestry was that of World War Two refugees from southern Poland, but that was a long time ago, which was why she was Janine Majeski, and not Janine Majeska.
Even though George himself had never been east of Scarborough, Janine had learned to recognize the East European when it showed. She toned her voice down. Dad didn’t categorize her as a ‘Missy’ unless he was getting ready to verbally slap her down.
Softly, she said, “Dad, a grant doesn’t pay what Bailey’s does, and I’ve got a responsible job there. It has potential to get me into management. If I went to college I’d have to give up my seniority and move away from here. It would cost me even more to live. As it is, I’m happy, I’m earning, I’m saving, and I’m with my family.”
She wished her parents wouldn’t keep making her go through all this. She knew it was important for them to have a child in college, but it wasn’t her. She and John had been the physical ones, the younger two would be the college graduates. Besides, why would she want to stay at that gender-challenged BS school?
Janine had planted the word ‘family’ very astutely in her reply, in the hope that it would head them off. Just as she feared the matter had not lain down to die, she was saved by Paul.
“Are we playing, or what?” he asked, and her parents were deflected.
“Of course we are, Cap’n Paul” Janine told him reassuringly, and began to prepare the battleground by standing the two pictures up against the wall at one end of the table, and preparing ‘bombs’ from balled-up scraps of paper dipped in red paint.
“I’ll go first,” she said, picking up a plastic ruler.
“Why do you go first?” Paul asked, looking like he was going to open up one of his never-ending ‘why’ fronts.
“Because I’m a girl,” Janine replied, hating herself for it, but knowing it would cut him short. John had fed Paul so much ‘Me Tarzan, You Jane’ rubbish about women that Paul could be manipulated even more easily than could John himself. She vowed to make up later for her all-too-convenient denigration of her gender on this occasion. She had no inkling whatsoever, at the time, how powerful a restitution she would provide.
She placed the blob she’d made on the end of the ruler and flicked it at Paul’s picture, hitting just in front of the forward funnel, or mast, or whatever it was. Paul’s eyes lit up and he demanded his turn at once.
Janine showed him how to flick, and loaded him. He fired wildly, hitting the wall above his own picture. He laughed, and Janine had to laugh, even though she also had to quickly wipe the paint from the wallpaper before her parents saw it.
Fortunately, even though true water color art is far harder to learn than acrylic, her kid bro’ had been started on it, which made for an easy clean-up. The job was rendered easier still by the fact that the wallpaper was old and already had a lot of pink in it, intentional or not.
“Let me put up some newspaper to stop you killing the wall. You’d better have two shots. You’re not as good as me, Little Dipper!” she said, and Paul smiled secretly at the name. It was special because Janine had given it to him and she was the only one who used it except for Karen, and Karen didn’t use it that much. Paul loved and admired Janine very much.
When she had erected the barricades, Janine loaded Paul up again. This time he hit Janine’s ship square in the middle and shrieked with laughter as she pretended to strangle him.
“Pipe down a bit, for goodness sake,” Dad said, and they both shushed each other and began to laugh more.
“It’s your turn now,” Paul said, when calm returned.
“You’ve sunk me. How can I fight back?”
Magnanimous in victory, Paul explained how one of her guns was still above water, and told her to use that, so she picked up the soggy wad and fired it at her brother’s ship, having dipped it into the red paint again for greater effect. She placed her shot more carefully this time, and hit the target amidships. The wad splashed broken lines of paint all over and Paul loved it, laughing outrageously.
Janine shushed him again, but he just copied her, laughing all the more. “It’s your turn,” she said, handing him the ruler. Paul took it, and taking a big new ball of paper, he covered it in paint and flicked it away. It all but obliterated Janine’s ship, and before Paul could make any more noise, Janine snatched the ruler from him, recovered the ball, and fired it at his ship with the same result.
“Sunk you!” she announced, “Laugh that off, Rag Bag!”
Paul stood on his chair and saluted. “I’m going down with my ship,” he said bravely.
“You’ll be going down with a bump if you don’t get your feet off that chair,” his mother advised judiciously, and Janine laughed.
“Best take to the lifeboat,” she offered, and held her arms for Paul to jump into. He made a huge flying leap, and they both toppled clumsily to the floor. Paul sat on top of Janine, claiming he held her trapped, but he soon dissolved into a writhing ball as she began to tickle him mercilessly.
“Football results are coming on,” their father informed them superfluously, since they all recognised the familiar opening score. Janine got up quickly, realising that she hadn’t listened to a thing on the radio since she started playing with Paul. She switched it off and sat in an armchair to watch TV. Paul sat close by her.
When the Aston-Millfield result came on, she was hugely disappointed. Aston had scored again, making the final result a 2-2 draw. “The fluky sods!” Janine said dejectedly when she saw it.
“I could have told you Millfield wouldn’t beat them. Not at home,” her dad said, “Not with a sub in goal!”
“Then why didn’t you?” Janine asked enigmatically, and disappeared into the kitchen to start on the tea.
Unfortunately, she could not absent herself quickly enough to avoid her father having the last word. “I promised I’d keep it a secret,” he said.
I have no idea where I first came up with this idea. I think it had to be rooted in the astonishingly genderist world of professional football (which is what the rest of the world outside the USA calls soccer) and of what kind of story would come out of an ostensibly 'young, weak and fragile' teenage girl entering this hitherto exclusively 'manly' profession.
Yes, of course there are professional women in sports, so that isn't anything new, but they really don't get much of a decent look-in at the professional level in football or soccer (and in too many other venues as well).
Perhaps Janine's journey is the ultimate coming-of-age story. I wanted her to be a perfectly ordinary teen girl (not that I know what one is, since I've never been one!) with one major exception: she excelled at football. Setting obstacles in her course was easy given that women routinely have obstacles set in their courses; the story came from the nature and size of Janine's particular obstacles, and how she dealt with them.
I love Janine, and perhaps Karen even more. Despite having an oppressive father, they do have their heads screwed on right (mostly!), but they get no credit for this. Their circumstances and common interests have bonded them. They're very close until Janine's rise to success, and this strains their relationship.
Janine has always had issues with boyfriends because of her height and physicality and because she didn't look like the kind of stereotype which the majority of teen boys normally favor. In addition to this, and partly because of her father's overbearing presence, she had an aversion to physical intimacy and a close relationship with her girlfriends which led to her being tarnished with labels both accurate and inaccurate.
So when fame comes to knock at her door, she's rather shy and innocent, and can't fully grasp what's really happening for too long, but despite her physical reticence, she's a very physical person who loves sport and dance and who loves to move, so she can't keep herself from answering that knock and thereby inviting more knocks on the way to her destination.
Some years ago when I was reworking this novel I interviewed a few teen girl soccer players via email and got some useful feedback. None of those personal stories found their way into the novel itself, but the information was useful in keeping me from getting too far offside on this pitch.
But in the end, fiction isn't fact, so you can pretty much tell whatever story you want! I wanted Janine's story to be stellar. I don't see much point in telling an ordinary story. People don't read novels or go to movies for the ordinary. At least I don't! I'm not interested in anyone's existential angst, or in petty family squabbles, or everyday issues; everyone has those every day!
What about the language and sex? Girls swear and have sex just like boys. I had no interest in disguising who these people are (except in the young adult edition which I'm working on - that's for all intents and purposes the same novel but scrubbed a lot cleaner. I'm aiming for a mature PG-13 kind of audience with that one. I hope I succeed!). I didn't want little angels, I wanted ordinary girls, perhaps a bit rough around the edges, but essentially just like anyone you might know.
There's nothing worse than a scene in a movie where a couple are supposedly being intimate, and they're alone, yet the girl holds the sheet up to cover her chest! I know there are some shy girls, but when I see that in a movie, it immediately reminds me that I'm watching a movie and they're playing to the censors instead of telling the story. And there goes my suspension of disbelief to the floor, unlike that sheet! I don't care if the movie shows naked females or not (and the same goes for naked males) as long as it's true to the heart of the story, but let's not force prudery into it for no reason at all!
And it's really just with the visual stuff, isn't it? You don't get ratings with the written word! A young teen can buy a novel and read the most graphic depictions of sex, and they can go see the most violent of movies (pretty much) yet god forbid they should see a naked person! Let them see two people fighting or killing each other with blood spurting all over, but for heaven's sake protect their delicate childhood from two people expessing love and physical intimacy! Stupid, stupid, stupid!
It's been so long since I lived in England that it's like a foreign country to me now, so I don't know what's trending and what's going on there other than what I learn from the news or from the media. I do know that it's different today from what it was when I first wrote Seasoning, but it isn't that far removed.
I looked up some references to modern English idom, but in the end, rather than try to use something and end-up misusing it, I simply went with what I know and tried not to let it get too far from reality that it stuck out. I don't know where I came up with the use of the word 'bottle' as a general insult and a description of women. 'Bottle' in England used to mean the same as moxie used to mean in the USA, but that's not how I use it. Clearly it comes from mammaries and milk bottles, but why I initially put that in there is a mystery. After I'd done that, it amused me on the re-reads, so those references spread themselves quite a bit!
Anyway, I think that's about it for observations on this novel except to say that, along with Saurus and Wedlock!, it's my favorite, perhaps my favorite of all. I hope you'll enjoy it.