19 year old Sean hasn’t seen his father since he was twelve. His mother has never really explained why. An argument with her leads to his moving to the other side of the country.
Martin, his father, has his life thrown into turmoil when the son he hasn’t seen in nearly eight years strolls back into his life immediately killing his dog and hospitalising his step-daughter.
The one thing they have in common is the friendship of a girl called Rhiannon.
Over the course of one summer Sean experiences sexual awakenings from all angles, discovers the fleeting nature of friendship and learns to cope with rejection.
Martin, meanwhile, struggles to reconnect with Sean while trying to delicately turn down the increasingly inappropriate advances of a girl he sees as a surrogate daughter and keep a struggling marriage alive.
Gap Years is an exploration of what it means to be a man in the 21st Century seen from two very different perspectives – neatly hidden inside a funny story about bicycles, guitars and unrequited love.
In this extract, Martin thinks he is at home alone listening to the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, as his wife, Alison, is working late. He has forgotten that Rhiannon, a girl he is friendly with from work, is staying at with them while she is between homes.
‘Nice.’ Rhiannon appears at the door in a dressing gown, grinning from ear to ear.
I stop singing immediately, frozen mid-Jagger.
‘Didn’t know you were home,’ I say, sheepishly, face matching the wine in my glass.
‘Evidently. Show me your moves then.’ She sashays on to the rug and strikes a pose as the opening riff of ‘Happy’ kicks in – because this is the 21st century and we don’t have to go and fumble about in the sleeve for disc two.
‘Well alright,’ I say in my best Mick voice, and we launch into an impromptu dance off. We circle each other like Sumos before breaking off. Me high stepping, and head bopping, and her doing some kind of spinning kick-boxing moves unlike anything I have seen before, her dressing gown whirls inappropriately as I try not to look – I don’t think she’s got anything on underneath.
By the time the awkward opening rhythms of ‘Ventilator Blues’ render us out of our depth, I am too tired to carry on and we sit down.
‘Drink?’ I offer the wine.
‘Yes, thanks.’ I fill the lonely glass I had put out for Alison. ‘Needed some fun, thanks for that,’ she laughs, a bead of sweat making its way slowly down her forehead, ‘Clearly that shower was just another massive waste of my time.’
‘What do you mean?’ I ask.
‘Oh nothing, I’m just feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment Martin, don’t worry about it.’
‘No really.’ Someone needs to look out for this girl. ‘What is it? You can talk to me you know.’
‘Well, if you’re sure you don’t mind?’
‘It’s everything; having to sort my whole life out already. I don’t know what I want to do yet, and I should by now. I’m only at Uni because I don’t know what to do next, Sean’s right, it’s just putting off the inevitable. An avoidance strategy for real life. What the fuck can I do with a degree in English Literature anyway? It’s not even a career, I am good at reading books and telling other people what to think about them. Like a million other geeky girls in the world – all fighting over an ever-decreasing pool of jobs in an increasingly unprofitable publishing industry. What am I doing Martin?’
‘It’s not so bad, nobody really has it together you know?’ I try to let her in on the one thing you never suspect when you’re a kid – that adults are just as clueless as you. ‘I’ve been working in the same shitty place for thirty years because I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.’
‘Stop it. You’re not funny,’ she laughs.
‘It’s true, I hope I work it out before I retire.’
It really isn’t a joke. This is all true.
‘You seem so together though, so sorted?’ She looks amazed that a middle-aged family man could be anything other than completely ok.
‘I’m really not, I’ve been having a mid-life crisis since I turned 21. Nobody was more surprised than me on my 42nd birthday.’ She giggles again.
‘So I might have to endure another… thirty?’ She arches an eyebrow, I point upwards, nod and sigh. ‘Crikey, more than thirty years of indecision, misery and confusion?’
‘I’m afraid you might well do, but, and I can’t stress this enough love. You are already doing better than I did, you have the good sense to get an education, which gives you options.’ I know this is true, my sister’s degree has led to four different unrelated careers (all of which paid a lot more than double what I make). I’m not jealous, but even I can see it’s a good thing.
‘It’s not like that anymore Martin,’ she says, ‘not with arts degrees. Every barmaid you’ve ever winked at probably has one. No offence but it’s changed since your day.’
‘Lucky you’re doing English then isn’t it?’ I grin.
She gives me an exasperated look.
‘I know, I know, just a joke. No offence taken, but you’re wrong. You’re set for life, you can do anything you want. It doesn’t even have to be related to that English degree you’re doing – trust me, we hire people at work all the time just because they’ve got letters after their name. Half the time nobody even checks what the degree was in, it’s just enough to know they’ve got the staying power to get through, and the brains it entails. Stop fretting, you’ve got choices. I don’t. Pretty young thing like you with a brain as well? You can walk into any job you want.’
‘Pretty?’ She stands up and shakes her head. ‘Now I know you’re lying, I think you need your eyes tested old man.’ She starts to swing her hips in time as Keith Richards launches into the infectious intro of ‘Stop Breaking Down’. ‘Now get back up, you’ve had a long enough rest.’
It’s probably the wine that makes me get back up and start to chicken walk across the room. That and the fact I haven’t been dancing in a long time. Al’s rarely in the mood these days. As the rhythm picks up we begin to dance together, rather then in competition. Rhiannon warms up and experiments with a few spins, pulling against my arm on the off beats. Some confusion occurs as to who is leading and we hit the now-thoroughly-cut Persian rug in a tangle of poorly co-ordinated limbs.
‘Ow, shit, that hurts,’ I say, trying to disentangle myself from underneath her.
Dave Holwill was born in Guildford in 1977 and quickly decided that he preferred the Westcountry – moving to Devon in 1983 (with some input from his parents).
After an expensive (and possibly wasted) education there, he has worked variously as a postman, a framer, and a print department manager (though if you are the only person in the department then can you really be called a manager?) all whilst continuing to play in every kind of band imaginable on most instruments you can think of.
Gap Years is his third novel – following on the heels of Weekend Rockstars and The Craft Room, and he is currently working on the fourth (a folk horror set in his native mid-Devon) and a sequel to Weekend Rockstars.
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