My new novel Party Wall is already available from Ylva Publishing, and in only a few days it will go wild, wide and free everywhere else. Party Wall is my take on Ylva’s “Window Shopping” series. A bunch of authors were given the same opening paragraph. Where we took it was entirely up to us. It took me to the small Australian town of Grasstree Flat where two outwardly different women, Freya and Lily, run two very different shops side by side, separated only by the thin party wall. While Lily welcomes Freya’s new-age store next to her own sex shop, Freya has other ideas. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 1 as a little tease.
The sun reflected off the window, obscuring the view of the shop inside. Still, Freya was hyperaware of the products on display. She shuffled her feet and coughed, but didn’t move towards the door. In the window, she caught the reflection of Carly’s easy smile, as if she frequented sex toy stores all the time. Freya moved to one side. Now the sun slanted low, slicing through the glass. A mannequin wearing red-and-black, skimpy, lace underwear caught her attention. “Tasteless,” she muttered. Carly glanced sideways at her. “I’ve seen worse in the chain stores in Mackay. I think it’s sexy. I’d wear it—if I were ten years younger and ten kilos lighter.” Freya sniffed. “There is so much inherently wrong with that statement. What you wear shouldn’t be determined by an outside opinion of what looks good. Your self-worth isn’t dependent on another’s approval—” “Okay, okay.” Carly’s interruption was tempered with a smile. “I didn’t mean it quite like that.” She pointed to a discreet sign in the corner of the window. “‘A woman’s pleasure is in her own hands.’ Clever.” “Why don’t they just show a purple dildo and be done with it.” Freya took a tiny step towards the shop next door. Her shop. Carly shrugged. “No doubt there’s some law against it. When did you last see more than lingerie and posters in a sex shop window?” “I’m not in the habit of looking.” Freya’s voice was riveted steel. “I’m surprised you are.” “I don’t often.” Carly grabbed Freya’s hand and pulled her back towards the window. “After all, we don’t get much chance living here, do we? The last sex shop I saw was in Brisbane when Andy and I went down for the rugby. But that wasn’t like this—it appeared to cater mostly to men. This one seems different.” In Freya’s jaundiced opinion, that was like calling a spade a manual digging implement. “It’s all the same. Catering to the baser instincts of men. Objectifying women. Turning them into sex objects.” Carly turned to face her, and Freya caught the little wrinkle between her eyes. Good. Maybe she was getting through to her friend. This shop was everything she found repellent. Its silver-and-purple paintwork shone garishly in the sun. The wide window showed only the paltry display and a backdrop of black-and-silver cloth blocking the rest of the shop from view. Probably a good thing. Who knew what was behind those folds and artfully arranged drapes? The mannequin was on the left, and the sign Carly had noticed was propped up on the other side. The middle was empty, a blank canvas for… Freya shuddered. What would end up there? She already knew she wouldn’t like it. Her gaze moved right, to her own shop window. A Woman’s Spirit. She narrowed her eyes and saliva filled her mouth. Even the name of the next-door shop, A Woman’s Pleasure, was offensive, being so similar to her own. Her shop front was tasteful, painted the silver-green of gum leaves. Nothing stopped a passer-by seeing inside; indeed, the wide window drew the gaze inwards to the welcoming warmth of racks of books and tarot cards, to the stands of bright clothes, the shelves of crystals and pottery. “It’s great that there’s a tenant.” Carly rested her forehead on the glass and shaded her eyes, trying to peer inside. “It’s been a couple of months since Diane moved to the coast. It can’t have been good for your business, having a vacant shop next door.” Freya snorted. “Better a vacant space than this. Diane’s organic produce shop and mine complemented each other—we got a lot of cross trade. I doubt there’ll be any now.” “You might be surprised.” “Unlikely. But it doesn’t matter. This shop won’t be here long. I’m surprised the council approved the permit.” Freya’s gaze shifted to the window, where the permit was taped to the glass. “Maybe I should check that they actually did.” Carly huffed a breath. “I think you’ll be wasting your time. There’s no way the owner could get away with it in a town as small as Grasstree Flat.” Freya shrugged. “Maybe that’s what they’re relying on.” “Honestly, Freya? Drop it. I’m sure it’s fine. Try and give the owner the benefit of the doubt. They’re new in town, it’s a new business. Surely it’s better for you and your shop if they make a success of it.” Amused exasperation tinged Carly’s voice. In front of the two women, the black-and-silver backdrop twitched, saving Freya from answering. A hand appeared through the gap and placed down some stands, the sort that might support signage or photographs. The hand was tawny, with short, manicured nails. Two silver rings glinted on the fingers. Carly nudged Freya. “See? A woman owns it.” “I gathered that already.” Freya pointed to the sign that was already nagging in her head, an irritant not to be forgotten, like a mozzie bite on a hot summer day. “I doubt a man would run a store called ‘A Woman’s Pleasure’.” “Not necessarily.” The hand adjusted the position of the stands. A forearm extended through the curtain, then withdrew. “I’m going to ring the council.” “And say what?” Carly said in a neutral tone. “That you think the new owner is breaking some law you’re not aware of? The window is tasteful, Frey. I quite like it.” “It’s only remotely all right now because it’s mostly empty. You wait, that mannequin will only be the start.” Her fingers twitched with the urge to rant some more, but she controlled it. Deep breaths. A slow inhale, hold that breath, and then let the tension of the moment expel in the whoosh of air through her mouth. She would not let this shop get to her. On Freya’s third exhale, the curtain dividing the window from the rest of the shop was pulled to one side. The owner of the hand came into view. The lighting behind her was dim, only enough to show a smooth-skinned arm, a full shoulder, and the curve of neck and breast. The woman wore a yellow singlet, and a bird’s wing of smooth dark hair hung down, obscuring her face. In the dimly lit shop, she was bronze and sunshine, her top standing out brightly against her dark skin, a beacon in the shadows. The woman placed a handful of lingerie in the window. She piled it in a bunch, with no attempt at display. A froth of lace and bright colours mixed with the darker sheen of satin or silk, something smooth and luxurious. She reached behind her and brought out another sign, which she propped on the stand she’d placed earlier: Sensuous Reading for Women. “Dirty books. Porn.” Freya grasped Carly’s arm as a prelude to urging her away, into the safety of her shop. The woman in the window straightened and saw them looking. She smiled hugely, her grin spontaneous and infectious under high cheekbones. Carly grinned in response, and Freya’s own lips twitched before she schooled her features back to disapproval. The woman gestured to them with a smile that obviously meant “come inside”.