Turn to page 69

With the American edition of Twenty Questions for Gloria being published earlier this month, I’ve been busy touring the U.S. to promote it . . . virtually, of course. In real life, I’ve been sitting at my computer screen in the north of England, dropping in on book blogs and websites as a guest poster.

Gloria new US coverOne of the more unusual invitations came from Marshal Zeringue of the most excellent site, Campaign for the American Reader – an independent initiative to encourage more readers to read more books. Among their regular features is The Page 69 Test, in which authors are asked to post the text from p69 of their latest novel along with a commentary to explain how it fits into the rest of the story. The founder of the idea was Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian academic who proposed the theory that, when deciding whether to buy a book, you should test the water by reading p69. If you like that page, chances are you’ll like the whole book.

So below is the p69 post I wrote for Campaign for the American Reader – and here’s a link to the site if you’d like to check it out.

Page 69 Test: Twenty Questions for Gloria

My heart sank when I flipped to page 69 of the American edition of Twenty Questions for Gloria and discovered that it falls at the end of a chapter and contains less than half a page of text. Was there a rule about this – like a minimum-height limit for kids standing in line for a rollercoaster ride? Had my page 69 failed the test already, not on grounds of quality but because it just wasn’t tall enough?

Then I read what was there and my heart rose again. If I’d been allowed to choose any extract to encapsulate what the novel is about, I couldn’t have picked a better one. So, here it is:

D.I. Ryan:
Then he disappears for three days. And, when he returns, he backs off, gives you space. Lets you make all the running. Then he’s flirting with you again. Being interested in you, hanging out with you – reeling you back in. Only, he’s so good at it you don’t even realise.

Gloria:
I don’t care what you think, he didn’t trick me or manipulate me. It just wasn’t like that.

D.I. Ryan:
Okay, Gloria – tell me. What was it like?

As you’ll see, this scene is laid out like a script. That’s because this is a transcript of a police interview, in which Detective Inspector Katharine Ryan is questioning the heroine – Gloria Jade Ellis – about the fifteen days when she was on the run with the mysterious new boy at her school. Gloria has turned up but the boy, Uman Padeem, is still missing and the police have to find out what happened.

Gloria new US coverI should say that only a handful of chapters are in script form, as the interview unfolds. In between, we have the back story of how Gloria and Uman became such close friends, why they disappeared together without telling anyone, and what took place during the time they were missing.

The police, and Gloria’s parents, are convinced that she was, if not abducted by Uman, then lured away under a spell of infatuation … and that something bad happened to her while she was with him. In the scene which ends on page 69, D.I. Ryan is asking about the early days of their friendship, when Uman initially came on strong to Gloria, only to back away before being friendly again. Gloria was being groomed, the police believe.

She insists she wasn’t – they’ve got Uman all wrong, they’ve got the relationship wrong, too. According to Gloria, she chose to run off with him because he offered her the recklessness and adventure she craved in her life. She wasn’t his victim, she was his partner in crime. The question for the police, and the reader, to figure out is whether Gloria’s telling the truth. And why only one of them made it back.

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