The universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand.
Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and — most of all — himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.
Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.
But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?
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By Alexis Hall, Sarah Frantz
Riptide PublishingCopyright © 2013 Alexis Hall
All rights reserved.
My heart is beating so fast it's going to trip over itself and stop. Everything is hot and dark. I've been buried alive. I'm already dead.
I have just enough grip on reality to discard these notions, but it doesn't quell my horror. My mouth is dry, strange and sour, my tongue thick as carpet. Alcohol-heavy breath drags itself out of my throat, the scent of it churning my stomach. I'm pickled in sweat. And there's an arm across my chest, a leg across my legs. I am manacled in flesh.
god, god, fuck, god, fuck
My body is far too loud. Blood roaring, heart thundering, breath screaming, stomach raging, head pounding.
I'm going to have a full-blown panic attack.
The first in a long time. Not much consolation.
Where am I? What have I ...
out, fuck, have to get out
I twist away from the arm and the leg, rolling off a bare mattress onto the bare floorboards. Maybe my first instinct was right. I am dead and this is hell. The darkness scrapes against my eyes. Where are the rest of my clothes?
And breathe, I need to breathe more. Or breathe less. Stop the light show in my head. My vision sheets red and black, like a roulette wheel spinning too fast, never stopping.
god, fuck, clothes
Scattered somewhere in the void. Trousers, shirt, waistcoat, jacket, a single sock. My fingers close over my phone. A cool, calming talisman.
Half-dressed, everything else bundled in my arms, I ease open the door, dark spilling into dark and, like Orpheus, I'm looking back. The shadows move across his face, but he doesn't stir. He sleeps the perfect, heedless sleep of children, drunkards, and fools.
My footsteps creak along a narrow hallway of peeling paintwork and I let myself out onto a wholly unfamiliar street.
Breathe, just keep breathing. Keep breathing, and get away.
I stumbled down the pavement, the awfulness of this—this and everything—hanging off my shoulders like a rucksack full of rocks.
Still no idea where I was. Suburbia spiralling away in all directions. And, at the horizon, a haze of pale light where the distant sea met the distant sky. I fumbled for my phone. 3:41.
god, fuck, god
There was a single blip of battery left. I called Niall. He didn't answer. So I called again. And this time he did. I didn't wait for him to speak.
"I don't know where I am." My voice rang too high even in my own ears.
"Ash?" Niall sounded strange. "What do you mean? Where are you?"
"I just said. I don't know. I ... I've been stupid. I need to get home."
My breathing was going wrong again.
"Can't you call a cab?"
"Yes ... no ... I don't know. I don't know. I don't know the number. What if it doesn't come? I don't know." Anxieties were swimming around inside me like jellyfish, but I was usually better at not confessing them aloud.
It hadn't occurred to me to get a taxi, but even the idea of it seemed overwhelming in its magnitude. A quagmire of potential disaster that was utterly terrifying.
"Can you come and get me?" I asked.
Later I would see how pathetic it was, my desperate pleading, the weasel thread of manipulative weakness running through my words. Later, I would remember that calling for a taxi was an everyday event, not an ordeal beyond reckoning. Later, yes, later I would drown in shame and hate myself.
A hollow sigh gusted over the line. "Oh God, Ash, can't you —"
"No, no, I can't. Please, I need to go home."
"Okay, okay, I'm coming. Can you at least find a street sign? Give me some idea where you are?"
Phone clutched in my sweat-slick hand, I ran haphazard along the houses. The curtains were shut as tight as eyes.
"Marlborough Street," I said. "Marlborough Street."
"All right. I'll be there. Just ... I'll be there."
I sat down on a wall to wait, irrational panic eventually giving way to a dull pounding weariness. There was a packet of cigarettes in my jacket pocket. I wasn't supposed to have cigarettes, but I was already so fucked that I lit one, grey smoke curling lazily into the grey night.
Don't drink, don't smoke, don't forget to take your medication, don't break your routine. Nobody had ever explicitly said, "Don't have casual sex with strange men in unfamiliar cities," but it was probably covered in the "Don't have any fun ever" clause. The truth was, casual sex was about the only sex I could stand these days. On my own terms, when I could control everything. And myself.
But tonight I'd broken all the rules and I was going to pay the price. I could feel it, the slow beat of water against the crumbling cliffs of my sanity. I was going to crash. I was going to crash so hard and deep it would feel as though there was nothing inside me but despair. The cigarette, at least, might hold it off until I got home.
I lost track of time, my nerves deadened with nicotine and my skin shivering with cold. But, eventually, Niall pulled up, and leaned across the seats to thrust open the passenger door.
"Come on," he said.
He was shirtless and tousled, a pattern of dark red bruise-kisses running from elbow to shoulder.
"I'm sorry." I stamped out my cigarette (how many had I smoked?) and climbed in.
He didn't reply, just shifted gears abruptly and drove off. I rested my head against the window, watching the streets of Brighton blurring at the corners of my eyes. The motorway, when we came to it, was nothing but a streak of moving darkness.
Niall's fingers were tapping a tense rhythm against the steering wheel. He'd known me since university, back when I was different. We'd been friends, lovers, partners, and now this.
Pilgrim and burden.
"I'm sorry," I tried again.
Silence filled up the car, mingling with the darkness.
"You can't keep doing this to me," Niall said, finally.
"You're ... it's ... ruining my life."
"You seem to be doing a pretty good job of ruining your own." I turned away from the window. Touched a piece of shadow on his upper arm that might have been a mark. "I suppose you were with Max."
I'd never meant to hurt to Niall, but it had been inevitable that I would. In some ways, that only made it worse, as though I'd been careless with something precious. The truth was, sometimes I found it hard to even like him anymore. He'd seen me at my worst, but that only made me feel resentful and ashamed, as if the memories of a thousand mortifications were lurking behind his eyes like a swarm of silver fish.
"So what if I was?" he said.
"He's going to be married."
It had made a certain amount of sense that Niall and I would get together when they let me out of hospital after my first manic episode. He had made me feel something close to human again, and it had been easy enough for me to confuse gratitude with love. I didn't know what Niall had been looking for. Absolution, perhaps. Of course, he was still in love with Max. He always had been. I was supposed to have been his consolation prize, but I turned out to be a poor bargain.
"He can still change his mind." There was an ironic twist to Niall's mouth as he spoke, but I could tell he half believed it was a possibility.
"He's not going to change his mind. He wants to be with Amy."
"Filthy bisexuals," he muttered. Like all our jokes, it was an old one, and it had stopped being funny a long time ago.
I tried to smile, but it felt like too much effort and my mouth refused to cooperate. Niall and Max had slept with each other intermittently at university as part of a general culture of everyone sleeping with everyone, but Max's liberality with his cock protected a heart that loved only cautiously.
"You need to stop waiting for him," I said.
There didn't seem much else I could say to that.
"If you love someone, then you fight for them." Niall's eyes were locked on the road.
"Or you let them go before you fuck up their life."
Niall laughed, sharp as knives. "That's fucking hilarious coming from you."
I closed my eyes for a moment, searching for the peace of a private darkness.
"You can't get through a night out without phoning me," he said.
I couldn't do this now, but a sour sense of injustice filled the back of my throat like vomit. "I didn't want to come."
"Can't you think about somebody else for half a fucking second? Max wanted you here."
"Ah, yes, Max. Always back to Max." I had no idea why I said that.
The needle on the speedometer was trembling. Eighty. Ninety. I didn't think Niall had even noticed. The engine thrummed heavy through the fresh silence.
"So when you went completely batshit," Niall said, conversationally. "And I visited you in the fucking loony bin nearly every day. That was about Max, was it? And when I found you in the hallway unconscious and covered in blood. That was about Max? And all the times you've been too depressed to eat or leave the fucking house and I've come to take care of you. That was about Max? Every time I've stopped you hurting yourself. Max. Making sure you didn't get institutionalised again. Max. Picking up your medication for you when you can't. Max. Getting you to counselling. Max."
"God," I said, petulant as a child, "if I'm such a horrendous waste of your time, why do you bother?"
Once upon a time he might have said: Because I love you.
Once upon a time he might have said: Because I care about you.
"Because I feel guilty all the fucking time," he snapped. "And because the last time I didn't bother, you tried to kill yourself."
The words echoed through my head. I tugged at my cuffs, pulling them down until they hung over the heels of my hand. One of the unadvertised advantages of bespoke tailoring. All my shirts were cut this way.
"That had nothing to do with you," I said quietly.
He didn't answer.
And now there really was nothing left to say.
The night ebbed slowly away, fading into a silver-grey London dawn. The rising sun gleamed dully from behind a sheet of heavy cloud, casting vague-shaped shadows across the sky like images from a magic lantern.
Niall dropped me off outside my flat and drove away like a man determined not to look back. I let myself inside and climbed the stairs. I'd always found something comforting in repetitive physical action. It provided an anchor point when all other certainties were uncertain. I felt sodden with exhaustion, weighed down by my own flesh and at the same time insubstantial, as though my fingers would unravel into mist if I stopped concentrating on being alive.
I carefully fit my key to the lock, turned it, heard it click. Pushed open the door. Stepped inside. Let the door swing closed behind me. The familiarity of walls.
Normal people didn't sit in their hallways. But I couldn't find the energy to go further. I lay down on the floor, stretched my fingers over the stripped wooden floorboards, rough and smooth, knots and whorls, the occasional deep gash like a scar. I was terrified of thinking. Terrified of memory. I wanted to cry, but I had long ago run out of tears.
In the past, we are drinking tea in my oak-panelled rooms, where the wisteria creeps beneath the arched windows, filling the air with scent.
In the past, Max and Niall are dancing at the centre of a sea of flesh beneath multicoloured lights.
In the past, I walk between green lawns, surrounded by golden stone.
In the past, I am brilliant and I am happy and my every tomorrow is madness.
In the past, words shimmer around me on silver threads and I pluck them like summer peaches.
In the past, the universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand. I am the axis of the world.
In the past, I am soaring, and falling, and breaking, and lost.
Then there are grey walls all around, a sullen haze of medication where minutes and months lose all their meaning.
Afterwards, I performed the halting ceremony of betterness in a crawl of grey days. Somehow, I started writing again, laying words out like cutlery. Niall moved in. And then out again.
And now there was this. And yesterday.CHAPTER 2
It was Max's stag night, and I'd failed to get out of it. I'd had a lot of practice in letting my friends down, but unfortunately, Niall knew all my stratagems. My usual technique involved accepting invitations with a convincing display of pleasure and gratitude, then demonstrating my commitment to attend by buying tickets, confirming bookings, and pretending to read all the emails (I didn't see this as a waste of time and money, so much as an investment in my future comfort), and finally pulling out—with great regret—at the very last minute. Everyone always understood. They had no other choice.
I left Niall a message about half an hour after I should have departed for Brighton, explaining that I didn't feel up to going out tonight. It wasn't even a lie. The only thing I'd misrepresented was the likelihood of me ever feeling up to going out.
But then Niall turned up at the flat, let himself in with the key I still hadn't taken back, and wouldn't take no for an answer. He called it a last hurrah. For who, or what, I wasn't sure. The people we used to be, perhaps.
And that was how, against my wishes and my better judgement, I ended up in Brighton. In a gay bar. At a stag party. Arranged for the groom by his best friend. Who was in love with him. And I thought I knew hell.
It was a Friday night, so the whole place was packed. Dancers had over-spilled the dance floor, their pressed-together bodies pulsating into all the empty spaces of the club, and the LEDs on the ceiling streamed overhead like a million multicoloured stars, falling and dying and shattering in fleeting, stained glass fragments on the bodies below. A twist of electric blue glinted on an upraised wrist. A smear of wild green across a throat. Cracks of pink and purple spilled with a glitter of perspiration down someone's bare chest. Synaesthetic chiaroscuro. An impossible entangling of space and skin, light and shadow.
They were playing the sort of deep, delirious electro-house I hadn't sought out in years. A thumping heartbeat of sex and sound, the drug to unite all drugs, the music of my mania. Even now, watching the grace of strangers from an endless distance, I felt a faint and faraway echo of something like pleasure, as though some long-lost, once-loved visitor was knocking on a door that no longer opened.
"Do I know you?" A voice from beside me broke through the music.
I didn't even turn. "No, I don't think so."
We had the VIP area upstairs, away from the crush, and in easy reach of the cocktail bar. Niall had assembled us all here for drinks and drunken jokes, but by now, most of the party had dispersed into the crowd like waves lost in the sea. I was standing half in the shadows, my elbows folded on the railing, watching without interest what was happening below. I could just about make out Max and Niall dancing together and, in another corner, a couple of Max's merchant banker friends enthusiastically getting off.
"Are you sure? You look familiar. How do you know Max?"
Hints, it seemed, were not going to be taken any time soon. I cast a quick, grudging glance at my relentless interlocutor. Brown hair, brown eyes, a whimsical bracket to his wide mouth. Good arms. My type, once upon a time. And now? Nothing.
"We were at university together," I said.
"So was I!" He sounded genuinely thrilled about it. "Oh, I'm Hugh, by the way, Hugh Hastings."
I performed a sort of half-arsed wave to discourage any handshaking and volunteered nothing further. Conversations are like fires; they tend to sputter out if you deprive them of air.
"Sorry, I didn't catch your name," he said.
"Wait," he cried, "I do remember! I read your book. What was it called? The smoke and the something?"
He gazed at me expectantly.
"The Smoke Is Briars."
"Yes! It was wonderful. I loved it. It was quite weird though, no offence. Is that what they call magic realism? Like that Spanish bloke."
Columbian. "Yes," I said. "Just like that."
I felt unspeakably tired, but he was still talking, his interest flattening me like a cartoon steamroller.
Excerpted from Glitterland by Alexis Hall, Sarah Frantz. Copyright © 2013 Alexis Hall. Excerpted by permission of Riptide Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am in love with this book. I've been seeing it around for awhile, but I just never took the time to check it out for myself. I'm beyond thankful that I finally did. I didn't realize that it would be so funny. I laughed a lot. Ash's dry since of humor is in sync with mine. He's like my book character soul mate. He and a friend are having a moment. He says, "Look, I need to stop having this heart-to-heart before I throw up. My heart gets claustrophobic." That's so perfect that I'm going to have to borrow it, haha. There's a serious side to the story as well. I had a bit of teariness. Ash is dealing with mental health issues. It's a constant struggle. Darian handles him so well. He hops right through those defenses. They're total opposites and absolutely the one for each other. Darian is such a sweetie and easily works his way into your heart. I read so much that I don't often take the time to return to a story, but I'm certain I will with this one.
I was given this book and found it absolutely wonderful. The dialogue was perfect and the prose was very, very well done. Everything worked in this book. I'm so glad I took the time to read it!
Suzanne Brockmann recommended this book on her site so I bought it. It's m/m romance but not just that the writing is so good it's lyrical and transcends genre classification while writing in a very topical way about life, love, and madness. A great debut novel.
Ash and Darian have annoying aspects but you fall in love with them the more you get to know them. This is life and I love how the author let's you slowly fall in love with the not perfect characters. This is my second book (For Real was my first book and highly recommend it).
I could not get into this book only because of Ash.
This unique and refreshing romance is the story of Ash and Darian. Ash is a clinically depressed, bipolar writer working through his neuroses one day at a time. When he has a one night stand with flamboyantly gay model Darian it pushes all his buttons at once, leaving him panic stricken yet still undeniably drawn to this man completely out of his normal realm. They say opposites attract - but can two people so different find common ground? Well, one thing is for sure - this was definitely one of the strangest but most compelling romances I've ever read. It's told entirely from the point of the view of the mentally ill Ash (a feat in itself really) so you get the perspective of a man who is weaving his way through life one day at a time, hoping to someday find his footing again, but still experiencing bouts of utter despair and loneliness. Darian by contrast is this bright, glittery, presence - someone who shines light in Ash's darkest corners and is willing to take Ash any way he can get him. All he wants in return is the acknowledgment that he is a person worth loving, something difficult for a man who doesn't love himself to contemplate never mind give in return. When Ash turns off his mind, his body reacts to Darian in the most basic of ways and the sex scenes between them are emotional and well written. Throughout the story are some deviously humourous lines that had me bursting out with laughter. From beginning to end I found it a captivating tale of desire, love and the meaning of true friendship. 5 stars!
Reviewed by Christina Marie at The Morning After Romance: Beautifully written, amazing story! I love so many many things about the writing in Glitterland. I'll elaborate on those things in a bit. First, I just want you to know that the words had me connecting on such a deep level that they basically melded with my brain and made me feel complete. That's right Alexis Hall, you complete me. Stop me when I cross the line into melodrama. I'm not sure why, but I loathe the cover. It doesn't matter though, because this book is AH-MAZING. I intended on summarizing the plot here, but instead I've decided to summarize my reading experience: I fired up my creaky old kindle, read one page, and then had to pause for a moment of reflection upon the fact that I had just experienced the book nerd's equivalent of insta-love. I read a teensy bit more, and decided I needed to take some time to stalk the author on all forms of social media in order to ensure that I would be immediately updated about any upcoming releases, book signings, and profound pearls of wisdom in 40 characters or less. I returned to reading, and did not stop to blink in the hours that followed. Now, it is a possibility that the writing may not be for everyone. A possibility that is hard to imagine since I love it so hard. But, I will note that Darian's accent may prove problematic for some readers, and there is the slight tinge of purple in the prose (it is gorgeous prose and I love it). However, I thought it was masterfully done and would not want anything to change. I love Glitterland down to its sentences. In the end, my eyes may have been a tad gritty, but I was left feeling supremely satisfied. In short, you should probably stop reading this rather lengthy review and go read Glitterland. It's worth the eye grit. Ash Winters, clinically depressed and critically pretentious, meets Darian Taylor, a glittering ball of awesome. Despite his intentions, Ash finds himself fascinated by Darian. The book is told from Ash's POV. I loved him. I hated him. Really, it's all ups and downs where Ash is concerned. Mostly, I understood and related to him. Ash is pretentious, but I appreciated his humor. He is self-deprecating (and everyone-else-deprecating), sometimes cheeky, but mostly dark and morose. Ash struggles with his depression throughout the book, as it is a major source of conflict. The descriptions of his depression are incredible. I could feel everything spiraling away from Ash during his panics. I could feel his lack of control over his illness, his sense of helplessness. It was overwhelming. It was fascinating. Even in those moments I loathed him, I still understood and was rooting for him. Again, the writing is great, brilliant really. I loved it all...until the accent. Which brings me to Darian. I almost took a star off due to how irritating Darian's accent is to read. The way some of the words are spelled requires serious contemplation to figure out. I'm convinced that a few have no origin in the English language. That being said, it all grew on me. I think this is due to Darian himself. It's impossible not to love him. I really fell in love with his character, despite the fact that I couldn't stand his accent at the start and thought he was a bit superficial. Here's the thing though. Darian may have some physical aspects that are artificial (from his fake eyelashes to his fake tan), but nothing about him as a person is artificial. His personality shines through it all. Naturally, since he is a shiny glitterball. He is just such a sweetheart. Darian is honest, kind, maybe even a little naïve. He is one of those rarities, an all around good person. Darian Taylor, without a doubt, is top 5 on my favorite characters list. So, my irritation with the accent dwindled the longer I read, and I like to think that was the point. Ash thinks Darian's accent is difficult to understand, and exasperating. Despite his attraction, Ash finds Darian's entire person annoying (albeit fascinating) in the beginning of the book. That annoyance grows into something completely different over time. It's all a lesson in looking beneath the surface, and not judging people superficially. If Alexis Hall meant for readers to find the accent irritating, but love Darian despite this as we got to know him. Mirroring Ash's own experience with Darian. Then that is some serious writing ninja skills, and the reason I left the star. If it was unintentional, I don't care because it's unintentionally genius. I particularly love the dynamic between Ash and Darian. Their interactions are perfection. They are both very different, so it makes for these little hilarious nuggets of miscommunication, which made the dialogue realistic. I also thought it was great how Ash doesn't completely like Darian from the start. Darian creeps under his defenses, and Ash falls for him. Ash simply likes the way he feels around Darian. I love that it isn't a case of Ash liking Darian despite all his quirks; he just likes him, quirks and all. There is a lot of character growth. While the book has typical elements one would expect in a romance, it doesn't stop there. It is very much about Ash, his struggles with depression and anxiety, learning to cope, and developing to the point where he can sustain a relationship with another person. I feel like Glitterland is equal parts about the romance between him and Darian, and Ash growing as a person. It is super sweet, at times amusing, with a heavy dose of melancholy. But, it still manages to be grounded in reality. Overall, I think the writing is beautiful. The characters are amazing, flaws and all. I didn't always like Ash, but I loved being in his POV. I shared his pain due to the descriptive capability of the author. I fell in love with Darian and his accent. I greatly enjoyed getting to know the both of them. I beyond loved this book, and I highly recommend it! One more thing, I never read the end stuff. But I did not want to stop reading when I reached the last page. So I went on to read the author bio because I just wanted all Alexis Halls words. I'm glad I did though, as there is a recipe at the end written by Darian. I love it. I decided to try it out, and it was delicious! Basically, this book is good it got me to cook. That almost never happens. *ARC courtesy of Riptide Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 5 Stars.
I really enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down. I really enjoyed Darrian's character. Very sweet.