I’m thrilled to take part in the tour for Louise Beech’s latest book, The Lion Tamer Who Lost. Thanks to Orenda Books and Anne Cater for asking me. My blog buddy today is the lovely Karen Cole over at Hair Past A Freckle. Feel free to check out her post. I have an extract for you to whet your appetite but first the blurb.
Be careful what you wish for…
Long ago, Andrew made a childhood wish, and kept it in a silver box. When it finally comes true, he wishes he hadn’t…
Long ago, Ben made a promise and he had a dream: to travel to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. When he finally makes it, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…
Ben and Andrew keep meeting in unexpected places, and the intense relationship that develops seem to be guided by fate. Or is it?
What if the very thing that draws them together is tainted by past secrets that threaten everything?
A dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart…
I’m Going To Lie Here
Ben slept, knowing the lions would wake.
Andrew Fitzgerald, The Lion Tamer Who Lost
For the next five days Ben concentrates mostly on Lucy. He is grateful for the challenge Stig has set him; glad to have something to occupy so much of his time.
Each morning – after his solitary sunrise, the usual banter with Simon, and a muesli breakfast – Ben and Esther head to The Nursery. Calling hello to Lois, a volunteer who seems to spend time with the newborns around the clock, they collect their bottles of milk and then part ways, each with their own ward to tend.
As soon as Ben enters the dimly lit room, Lucy is up on her feet, snarling savagely. He stoops low on the straw-covered cement floor, about six feet away, and talks to her in an even tone, ignoring her teeth baring and swinging paw.
‘Look, milk,’ he says the first time. ‘You know you want some of this lovely stuff. You must be bloody ravenous, girl.’
Most cubs her age would have already begun the process of being weaned off their milk, but Stig insists Lucy should have three bottles a day for now. She should also be winded like a human baby so she doesn’t get tummy ache, but Ben can’t get close enough to do that.
The first bottle ends up being hurled against the wall by her left paw. Thankfully, it’s plastic so it bounces, and Ben retrieves it and tries again. Lions have a special organ on the roof of their mouths that picks up odours, so he unscrews the teat to let her smell the creamy contents more strongly, and holds the open bottle as near to her as he dares.
‘Come on, you stubborn little madam. I reckon you want this more than you don’t want me.’
She sniffs it. Growls softly. He screws the teat back on and holds it out, a little closer still, shaking it so that some drops spill on the floor to tease her. He has seen how most of the newborns are fed here. Volunteers cradle them closely, stroke their fur, whisper words of encouragement – giving them that feeling of being with a mother. The real mothers of these cubs are either dead or have abandoned them, so without the care at the project the babies would perish. Ben doesn’t think Lucy will let him stroke her while she drinks, but for now he doesn’t mind, if she will only take it.
In the end, he ignores her.
After a while, she approaches the bottle. Making no eye contact with Ben, she latches onto the teat. The noisy slurping as she drains the milk in minutes shows just how hungry she really is. Ben doesn’t speak, not wanting to disturb her. He doesn’t reach out to touch her, even though he longs to.
The hair on her back looks the coarsest, with dark little tufts dotted here and there like the bushes on the surrounding landscape. It appears softer at the sides, and particularly behind her ears, where it is most glossy and golden. Perhaps one day Ben will get to feel it under his fingers.
For now, he is just pleased Lucy has drained her first bottle.
‘Good girl,’ he coos. She snarls and returns to the far corner of the room.
His heart sinks.
After this, however, she takes her bottle at least. Each time Ben enters the room with one, she sits and allows him to feed her, the only sound her slurpy guzzles. Once done, she retreats. Ignores him. For hours in between these feeds, Ben sits about six feet away from her, talking gently, and crawling a little closer when she seems to calm. For this he receives just a clawy little scratch on his cheek as payment.
‘Well, cheers for that, Lucy.’
Ben wipes the blood from his face and looks at the crimson streak on his palm. Flashbacks engulf him. The circus. Blood streaming from a fingertip. A bathroom. A new baby. Blood staining every surface. A hospital ward. A streak of red near a radiator.
The clanking chain dispels the memories. Lucy is getting comfortable for a snooze. Ben can try as hard as he likes to bury them – he can devote his energy to making the most of his time here – but he is powerless when some random sound or sight or smell evokes them. Maybe if he looked back on the happier moments before he came here then the past would not haunt him so much.
But he knows what those good days will lead to.
Like the sound of that? Then click here to buy the e-copy or pre order the paperback which is due to be published on the 20th September.
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. Her next book, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Maria in the Moon was compared to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and widely reviewed. All three books have been number one on Kindle, Audible and Kobo in USA/UK/AU. She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.