Today we're super excited to present a sneak peek from James Rice's ALICE AND THE FLY, releasing May 3, 2016. Below, you can read the sneak peek and enter the fabulous giveaway!
ALICE AND THE FLY
But interspersed between Greg's journal entries is a police transcript of interviews with Greg's family and friends, and the reader nervously wonders: Why are they asking about Greg and his behaviors? Has something terrible happened to him, or perhaps because of him?
Alice and the Fly is a spellbinding first novel that manages to be funny, mysterious, and profoundly heartfelt all in one stroke. Rice's skilful storytelling explores how obsession and phobias can upend a life, writing with empathy for the outsiders but also anyone struggling with the universal, anxiety-ridden need for social acceptance.
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New York • London
Copyright © 2015 by James Rice
First published in the United States by Quercus in 2016
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by reviewers, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of the same without the permission of the publisher is prohibited.
Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016933364
Distributed in the United States and Canada by
Hachette Book Group
1290 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10104
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Manufactured in the United States
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For my parents (who are not the parents in this book):
you are amazing and you raised me well. Also for Nat, who is my favorite human being.
The bus was late tonight. It was raining—that icy winter rain—the kind that stings. Even under the shelter on Green Avenue I got soaked, because the wind kept lifting the rain onto me. By the time the bus arrived I was dripping, so numb I couldn’t feel myself climbing on board.
It was the older driver again, the one with the mustache. He gave me that smile of his. A hint of a frown. An I-know- all-about-you nod. I dropped the fare into the bowl and he told me I’d be better off buying a weekly pass, cheaper that way. I just tore off my ticket, kept my head down.
The bus was full of the usual uniforms. Yellow visibility jackets, Waitrose name badges. A custodian slept with her yellow rubber cleaning gloves on. No one who works in Skip- dale actually lives here, they all get the bus back to the Pitt. I hurried up the aisle to my usual seat, a couple of rows from the back. For a few minutes we waited, listening to the click- clack of the indicator. I watched the wet blur of rain on the window—the reflection of the lights flashing in the puddles on the pavement. Then the engine trembled back to life and the bus pulled off through Skipdale.
I got a little shivery today, between those first couple of stops. Thinking now about all those passengers on the bus, it
makes me wonder how I do it every night. It’s not people so much that bother me. It’s Them. I heard once that a person is never more than three yards away from one of Them at any time, and since then I can’t help feeling that the more people there are around, the more there’s a chance that one of Them will be around too. I know that’s stupid.
We soon reached the Prancing Horse. Even through the rain I could make out the small crowd huddled under the shel- ter. The doors hissed open and Man with Ear Hair stumbled through, shaking his umbrella, handing over his change. He took the disabled seat at the front and made full use of its legroom. Woman Who Sneezes was next, squeezing beside a Waitrose employee, her bulk spilling over into the aisle. A couple of old ladies showed their passes, riding back from their day out in the crime-free capital of England. “It’s such a nice town,” they told the driver. “It’s such a nice pub, it was such nice fish.” Their sagging faces were so expressionless I could have reached out and given them a wobble.
And then there was you, all red curls and smiles, stepping up to buy your ticket, and the warmth rose through me like helium to my brain.
You were wet today. Shivering. You smelled of disinfec- tant, stronger than any other work smell on the bus. Is it legal for you to work there? The pub’s owner probably doesn’t realize how young you are. You look older. You’re not the prettiest girl in school, conventionally speaking. There’s a gap in your teeth and your hair’s kind of a mess with your roots coming through, and you always wear those thick black sun- glasses, which is kind of weird. You have an amazing smile,
though. Once I walked right past you and you smiled, right at me, as if we knew each other. It was only a slight smile, your cheeks bunching at the corners just the right amount, but it made me want to reach out and stroke them, brush them with the backs of my knuckles, like Nan used to with mine. I know that’s sad, but it’s true.
You took your seat, in the front row. Working after school must tire you out, because you always drift off as soon as you sit, sunglasses clinking the window with each back-and-forth roll of your head. We pulled off through the square, past Hampton’s Butcher’s. I couldn’t help thinking of your dad and the others, shivering with all that slippery meat while I was on the bus with you.
Then we turned onto the divided highway and sped out to the Pitt.
I wonder what it’s like, living in the Pitt. Do you tell any- one? I can’t think of a single kid who’d admit to living in the Pitt. It’s odd you have Skipdale friends, very few Pitt kids get into Skipdale High and even then they tend to stick to their own. Their families are always trying to set up in Skipdale, but it does its best to keep them out. We have a Pitt neighbor: Artie Sampson. I’ve lost count of the number of times Mom’s peered out of the dining room window and complained about him. She tells Sarah and me to keep away. “He’s trying to climb too high in the property market. He’ll fall and he’ll break his neck.”
There’s a physical descent into the Pitt, ear-popping and stomach-churning at the speeds the bus reaches, which might be why you choose to sleep through it. My father calls it the
“Social Decline.” I remember when I was little I’d play a game along the Social Decline where I’d try to count how many houses were boarded up, how many were burned out. Some- times I’d find a house that was boarded up and burned out. It was hard, because Mom always drove the Social Decline so fast, even faster than the bus does. It was as if the very air could rust the BMW.
Of course, you slept right through. Every pothole, every bend, every sudden break at traffic lights that threw us from our seats. The bus jerked and rattled so much it felt as if it might come apart, but you just slumped there, face pressed to the window. We stopped by the mall and Old Man BO got on and sat right beside you but even then you didn’t wake up, didn’t even squirm from the stink of him. You stayed slumped, lolling like a rag doll, completely at the mercy of the rhythm of the bus. I watched you in the mirror for as long as I could, only looking away when the driver caught my eye.
We turned at the lights, past Ahmed’s Boutique. As always you woke the moment we passed the church, Nan’s church, just in time to miss the large black letters spanned over its sign:
LIFE: THE TIME GOD GIVES YOU
TO DECIDE HOW TO SPEND ETERNITY
You rang the bell. The bus pulled up at the council houses behind the Rat and Dog. You stood and thanked the driver, hurried down the steps with your coat over your head. I wiped the mist from the window and watched you blur into
the rain. I felt that pull in my stomach, like someone clutch- ing my guts. I wished you had an umbrella.
The trip back was even harder. I got shivery again, goose- pimpled. There were a lot of gangs out tonight, mount- ing bikes on street corners, cigarettes curling smoke from under their hoods. I nearly fell out of my seat when one of them threw a bottle up at the window. I wasn’t too bothered about people anymore, though—all I could think about was Them. I lifted my feet up onto the seat. I knew they were everywhere I wasn’t looking. I had to keep turning my head, brushing any tickles of web on my neck, checking the ceiling and floor. They’re sneaky.
We ascended the Social Incline. The houses grew and separated. Potted plants congregated in front yards. The rain eased. Eventually we came back through the square and the bus hissed to a stop at Green Avenue. As I stepped down the driver gave me that smile again. The smile he always gives me when I get off at Green Avenue. The smile that knows it’s the same stop I got on at just half an hour ago.
Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition is caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep- rooted in my mind. As soon as I come clean I’ll flood out all these tears and it’ll all be OK and I won’t be scared of Them anymore. I’ll be able to do PE and won’t have any more epi- sodes. Maybe I’ll even talk—and talk properly, with proper s’s. The truth is I can’t think of any single traumatic child- hood incident to tell her about. I mean, there are plenty of bad memories—Herb’s death, or the time I bit the hole in my tongue, or Finners Island, out on the boat with Sarah—but none of these caused the phobia. I’ve always had it. It’s Them. I’m just scared of Them. It’s that simple.
I thought I was in trouble the first time Miss Hayes told me to stay after class. She’d asked a question about An Inspector Calls and the representation of the lower classes and nobody had answered and so she’d asked me because she’d known I knew the answer because I’d just written an essay all about An Inspector Calls and the representation of the lower classes and I’d wanted to tell her the answer, but the rest of the class had hung their heads over their shoulders and set their frowning eyes upon me so I’d had to just sit there with my head down, not saying anything.
Some of them started to giggle, which is a thing they like to do when I’m expected to speak and don’t. Some of them whis- pered. Carly Meadows said the word psycho, which is a word they like to use. Then the bell rang and everyone grabbed their things and ran for the door and Miss Hayes asked me to stay behind and I just sat there, waiting for a telling-off.
Miss Hayes perched on the edge of my desk (which wor- ried me at the time, it still being wobbly after Ian and Goose’s wrestling). She crossed one leg over the other and then crossed one arm over the other and said she’d given me an A- for that An Inspector Calls essay. She said I was a natural at English. I wish I’d said something clever like, “Well, I’ve lived in England all my life,” but I can never think of these things at the time, so I just nodded. She said she’d spoken to the school nurse about me and about Them and about my condition, and she wanted to know if I’d come with her to her office for a little chat. I didn’t know what to say to that either. I just nodded again.
Since then I’ve been waiting behind every Tuesday for a little chat in Miss Hayes’s office. We never chat, though. We tend to just sit in silence. I pick the dry skin from my hands while she twists that ring on her finger, like I’m an old-fashioned TV set and she’s trying to turn up the volume knob. It doesn’t bother me, silence. People talk too much. They make awkward talk every five minutes about school or my parents or how my sister’s dancing is going. It’s nice to sit in silence for an hour in the same room as Miss Hayes, just knowing we’re both there experiencing that silence together. It gives me a bit of warmth.
10 James R ice
Miss Hayes doesn’t think silence is very progressive. A couple of weeks ago she gave me this little leather book and said writing stuff down might help me express myself. I asked her what I should write. She said, “This isn’t an assignment, just write down your thoughts. Your feelings.”
Tonight she asked if I’d written down any of my thoughts or feelings and I said I’d written one thing, last week, but it wasn’t much, only a few pages. I didn’t know what to write so I ended up writing about a bus ride I took.
“It’s OK to write about a bus ride,” she said. “You can write about anything.”
I told her it’s hard writing to myself, because I already know everything I have to say. I said that last time I pre- tended to be writing to someone else and that helped. She said that’s OK too. I don’t have to write to myself. Her diary’s called Deirdre and she finds Deirdre very easy to write to. I asked her who Deirdre was and she just swallowed and said, “Nobody.”
Well, Miss Hayes may write to nobody, but I think writ- ing to nobody’s pretty stupid. That’s why I’ve decided to keep writing to you. I hope you don’t mind. You just seem like a good way of getting the words on the page. I know you don’t know me, but nobody knows me, and by knowing that you now kind of know me better than anyone.
My name’s Greg, by the way.
About the Author
James Rice lives in Liverpool. In 2011 he completed an MA in Writing at Liverpool John Moores University and has since finished his debut novel, Alice and the Fly-- the first chapter of which won the Writing On The Wall Festival's novel-writing competition Pulp Idol. He also writes short stories, several of which have been published, and writes songs with his friend Josh, which he sings in a very high-pitched voice people have charitably referred to as "unique." He is currently working on his second novel.
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