Tell Me Lies

"Tell Me Lies" is the book that says everything I wanted to say about anything. It's a sort of sequel to "I is Someone Else", set at the very end of the 1960s as the hippy dream begins to turn sour. But it has a different, darker flavour, as Stephen experiences the passions and betrayals of falling in love, and gets involved with extreme left-wing politics and then a cool but possibly dodgy guru. It remains ambiguous to the end, and I feel it's the truest book I've written: an intense search for meaning in a confusing world, where good and bad, true and false, keep switching over, and the greatest enemy is other people's certainty. A book that catches the flavour of a unique time.

Here's an excerpt:

It wasn't what I'd expected, to be standing outside a shop with some hippie name like "Granny Takes a Trip", dressed up in my new gear and watching Astrid weave her way towards me. I wasn't sure if it was what I wanted, either. Astrid belonged in a half forgotten past of glittering seas and vast mountains, precious but hidden, so that I could often believe it hadn't happened at all. I had a sense that if she reappeared in my life it could only mean trouble. Yet I had a choice. I could have turned my back and walked away, pretended not to know her. But I didn't. Destiny called, and I accepted.
"Stevie!"
She was in front of me, pushed close by the crowd, smiling.
"I knew I'd see you again one day. I knew it!"
I couldn't think of anything to say, but I smiled back. My heart was still pounding.
"Hey, you look real good!"
"I just bought some new clothes," I said awkwardly.
"You are taller," she said. "But I would have known you anywhere!"
She put her hand on my arm.
"Hey, we must talk. Let's go somewhere we can sit down."
She led me into a basement cafe where they played Grateful Dead records. Three long-haired guys with round pink sunglasses sat blankly in one corner - grannies taking trips I supposed - but otherwise it was empty.
We bought cups of peppermint tea and sat down opposite each other. And suddenly we were both awkward, lost for words. Astrid looked down at her hands, and I felt a shiver up my spine as I remembered how I had last seen her, - the beauty of her body, the gentleness of her touch.
It was half thrilling, half embarrassing. But it was over, past, forgotten, another time, another world. We were different people now. I hoped she wouldn't mention it.
"Are you still with Jerry?" I asked, to break the silence. Jerry was her boyfriend when I'd known her before.
She looked up.
"Jerry? Oh, no. No, I haven't seen him since.... Well we never did get on too well really, did we? Remember when I walked out in Istanbul?" She laughed nervously. "No, Jerry's all past. All over. I have a new life now."
"Yeah. Me too," I said.
"What is your life? Tell me."
I wished I hadn't said anything because it was all meaningless, but I did my best to make something out of living with my parents and doing my A-levels. It was surprisingly easy to talk to her. She listened and smiled and nodded, and felt like an old friend, which I suppose she was.
"And the old life?" she asked. "Don't you remember it sometimes? Don't you think about Afghanistan? Don't you sometimes wish you could be there again?"
"Not very often. Nobody's interested here anyway. It's all like a dream."
"Dreams are real too." Astrid smiled mysteriously. "You know what I do? I have a little book of dreams. I keep it beside my bed, and when I wake in the morning, the first thing I do is write down what I have lived through in the night. Do you remember your dreams, Stevie?"
I shook my head.
"I don't think I want to."
She reached out and touched my arm with those long fingers.
"Oh, you should, Stevie. You must remember your dreams."
I moved my arm back. Her touch was waking something in me, something I'd rather stayed asleep. My own dreams were full of violence and fear and I didn't want them, any more than I wanted my past. It was too dangerous - too much feeling. I needed to keep a lid on things, like everyone else.
"I'd better get on. I've got a train to catch."
It was a lie, and I blushed.
"Sorry!" said Astrid.
I had no idea why she'd said that, and it flustered me. I knew what I ought to do. I ought to finish my tea, say "It’s been really nice to see you again, Astrid", give her a peck on the cheek and cut her out of my life forever. But I didn't. I just sat there with my mouth half open and my gaze shifting round the Moroccan hangings, the bored girl at the counter, the three stoned guys, the sign saying "Capitalism is a Carnivorous Flower."
Astrid leant forwards, her eyes seeking mine.
"Listen!" she said intensely. "The past is gone, I know. I've changed, and I guess you have too. We were both very young then. We don't have to talk about that. But when I saw you in the street just now I was so happy, because I knew we have more to give each other, you and I. I want you to meet somebody, Stevie. He is very special to me. He has changed my life. He is waiting for me in the park right now. Will you come?"
She was gazing at me and she was so beautiful - why was she talking like this to me? I looked back into her grey eyes and saw nothing but friendliness, softness, warmth. And a promise: the granting of secret wishes, wishes I hardly even knew I had.
"Well, okay then, I guess I could take a later train..."

Never trust a Squirrel O'Driscoll's Treasure wings to fly I is someone else Tell me Lies