I CAN’T FORGET YOU – Fiona Compton’s first novel.

This book was Fiona Compton’s first novel. She wrote it many years ago and put it away in a drawer. Comparatively recently she took it out and revised it.  A taster from the prologue of the book appears below.

Fiona Compton's first novel
Fiona Compton’s first novel

This review was submitted by language practitioner PEARL HARRIS when the book was first published:

Aug 21, 2010

Once I started reading Fiona Compton’s romantic novel, I could not put it down. I soon became involved in the emotions and events of the main characters’ lives. Derek Bailey attracts females and trouble wherever he goes, due to his charisma and talent. How the women in his life deal with subsequent events must touch a chord in the heart of every female reader who has ever fallen prey to the charms of a philanderer. The writing style is flowing and the dialogue authentic. Place descriptions set the scene firmly in 20th-century Britain. I particularly enjoyed the Scottish dialect (the author having been born in Scotland, this too is genuine!)and the descriptions of daily life in London. This is no run-of-the-mill romantic novel. Due to the author’s musical knowledge, “I can’t forget you” has a depth and authenticity lacking in most novels of this genre. You will not want to put this book down before discovering what the final outcome of the hero’s romantic entanglements is to be.




“The guest in Musical Memories tonight is the distinguished tenor, Derek Bailey, who celebrates his seventieth birthday today. Join Michael Broadstairs in conversation with Derek Bailey at 8.30 this evening.”

The television set was the focal point of the tiny sitting room of the modest terrace house in South Lambeth. It stood at an angle in the corner of the room with the armchairs and couch of the old-fashioned maroon lounge suite facing towards it. The only other item in the room was a large veneer cocktail cabinet, which had been George Pratt’s proudest and most utilised possession when he was alive. He had died five years earlier, and the two remaining occupants of the little house had little use for it except as a handy receptacle for the odds and ends they brought into the room to keep themselves comfortable and well fed while they watched television.

Although it was springtime, the atmosphere was redolent with the mingled odours of fish and vinegar, more in keeping with a cold winter’s night than a pleasant spring evening. The elderly occupants were settled deep in their armchairs eating from TV trays.

Mrs Pratt, George’s widow, uttered an exclamation at the announcement. She turned eagerly to her younger sister, expecting her to react to the words in some way, but judging by the remote expression on Elspeth McPhail’s face, she doubted whether Elspeth had even heard the announcement. Her sister was eating her fish and chips slowly, staring at the television screen without registering any visible emotion.

“Did you hear that, El?” asked Mrs Pratt. “I thought he had died years ago. To think we’ll be seeing your old flame after all these years.”

Mary Pratt was surprised that Elspeth McPhail only smiled faintly in response. Mary thought it would be interesting to see Elspeth’s old boss again after nearly forty years, yet she doubted whether she would have the patience to listen to him blathering away about the technicalities of singing for the full half-hour. But it might cheer Elspeth up to see him and they could always switch over to the variety show if Derek Bailey’s interview proved too dull for them.

“You were a bonny girl and could have had any man you pleased, but after Derek Bailey married that singer Helen Dean, the sparkle seemed to go out of you.”

“I don’t want to talk about Derek Bailey,” Miss McPhail retorted irritably. “Let’s just enjoy the telly while we eat our tea.”

Somewhat disappointed at Elspeth’s calm demeanour in the light of the significant announcement on the TV, Mary Pratt fell silent and settled down again to watch her favourite soapie. After a bleak day doing her share of cleaning and cooking in the small house, she was only too pleased to immerse herself in Coronation Street where everybody led such eventful lives compared to their own dull lives, and even the most casual conversations proved to be of the deepest significance to the development of the plot. Periodically she glanced at Elspeth, but still her sister gave no outward hint of her feelings as she continued to stare impassively at the flickering television screen.

Mary could not help remembering that she herself had been responsible for curtailing Elspeth’s relationship with Derek Bailey. She had never told her sister that several years after his shot-gun marriage to Helen Dean, Derek Bailey had arrived at this very house in a distraught state, begging Mary to tell him how he could find Elspeth. She had sent him away, claiming that her sister was on the point of marrying someone else and refused to give Derek Bailey her address. At the time she thought she was acting in Elspeth’s best interests and that she would eventually marry Archie Taggart and forget all about Derek, but here she was, after a life time spent in domestic service, still unmarried with only distant memories of the halcyon days she had spent with Derek Bailey to sustain her.

Elspeth resented retirement. After forty years as housekeeper to a variety of employers, she found enforced inactivity dull. Her interests, once so varied, had been whittled down to occasional trips to the local library and mindless nights of fish and chips eaten on a tray in front of the telly. It was only when she was alone in her small bedroom that she was free to remember the exciting days when she had been ecstatically happy with Derek and had lived her life to the full.

Tonight, despite her outward calm in front of Mary, her long-term lethargy had indeed been dispelled. At the mention of her old employer’s name, her fingertips had tingled as long-forgotten emotions and memories, too deep-seated and intimate ever to share with her garrulous sister, resurfaced.

Derek Bailey had been Elspeth’s first employer shortly after she arrived from Scotland as a raw and ignorant young girl. He was making his name as a singer when she became his housekeeper, and after she left his employ, his glowing reference had ensured that she became housekeeper to a succession of other famous and sometimes titled people. But although the conditions of her employment and salary improved with every move she made, none of her subsequent employers ever made the profound impression on her life as Derek Bailey himself had done.

She had never stopped thinking of Derek for the rest of her life, nor had she found another man to match him, although she had received a few offers of marriage in her time. In the years of Derek Bailey’s success, she had listened to his broadcasts, collected his records and kept scrapbooks of cuttings about his performances and his colourful personal life. When she managed to save some extra money she had even attended some of his concerts and had felt proud that his performances were received with such enthusiasm. But over the last ten years, there had been fewer broadcasts, concerts, or newspaper cuttings to give her staid life the occasional frisson of excitement.

She had heard so little about him lately that she often wondered whether he was still alive and in good health. Her sister asked her why she took the Daily Telegraph. It seemed like a highfalutin newspaper for plain people like them. Elspeth justified buying the paper, citing that it was well-written with excellent political and arts coverage. She even whiled away her spare time trying her hand at the daily crossword. But she refused to admit to her sister that the real reason she took the paper was because of its extensive obituary page. If anything happened to Derek, she trusted the Daily Telegraph to let her know at once and to write a fitting tribute to him.

She would watch Musical Memories tonight. If she chose to do so, she could share with the world a number of non-musical memories concerning Derek Bailey, but so far she had never confided them to anyone, not even to her own sister. Nobody was ever likely to hear of the bond which had once existed between Elspeth McPhail, now a sixty-two year old working-class spinster, and Derek Bailey, celebrated tenor.

The intrigues of the folk in Coronation Street were lost to her that night as she thought of the intrigue of forty years before which had coloured her life for all time.


Linda Bailey regarded herself in her dressing-table mirror with well-founded satisfaction. She had been to her hairdresser that afternoon for a rinse and set. The light auburn colour of her hair suited her pale complexion and complemented her deep green eyes. She was wearing her low-cut, figure-hugging aquamarine evening dress and the ruby necklace and earrings Derek had given her as a present for a distant wedding anniversary. She anticipated the comments of the women at the party to be held in Derek’s honour after the interview.

“The old girl must be sixty if she’s a day, but doesn’t she still look marvellous?  She could easily pass for thirty-five – in the right light!”

Linda looked forward to being the centre of attraction again, fêted by eminent theatrical and musical people because she was Derek’s wife. Derek had retired from the Kings Opera company some years earlier to become a celebrated teacher of singing at one of the music colleges, but his dry academic colleagues bored her in comparison to the flamboyant theatrical and musical colleagues she had known while he was still performing. It horrified her to realise that almost two generations knew Derek only from an occasional lecture-recital, the old seventy-eights and the few long-playing records he had made towards the end of his singing career.

On rare occasions when the BBC risked its recording equipment to play one of his records, there was usually a cautionary preface, “Now for one of our historical recordings by veteran tenor, Derek Bailey. Please excuse the scratchy surface…”

Linda tried to console herself with the fact that the veteran had worn very well and was still handsome and charming enough to turn a number of greying heads and, more worryingly for Linda, a few blonde, brunette and auburn heads also. She always made a determined effort to laugh off his flirtations with the legion of young women who were invariably flattered by the light-hearted attentions of a famous man.

She told friends airily that he had a predilection for young girls, aged eighteen to twenty-five, as though it was all a great joke, but it had amazed her that recently he had the gumption to expand one of these flirtations into a serious and long-lasting affair. It seemed she had managed to persuade Derek to end that ludicrous fiasco. He was going to see the little bitch for the last time tomorrow to let her know their affair was at an end, once and for all. At least, that is what Derek told her he would do but she was not sure whether she could believe him. But then, he had little reason to be entirely confident of her lasting fidelity and honesty either.

She turned to him. He was sitting in a fat armchair, sipping a small whisky. These days he preferred to spend the evenings at home reading an entertaining novel, rather than face the drive through busy London streets, but the invitation to appear on Musical Memories had been too intriguing to turn down.

He rose reluctantly with only the merest suggestion of creakiness, and glanced briefly at himself in his wife’s mirror. His evening suit was nearly twenty-five years old, but skilful alterations allowed it to hang as stylishly on him as it had ever done.

“Nobody will believe you’re a day over sixty, darling,” smiled Linda, reading his thoughts. “Not a bad looking pair for our ages, are we? We’ve been through some torrid times lately, but we are going to be happy now, aren’t we? Our marriage hasn’t been a complete disaster?”

Derek Bailey met his wife’s scrutinising gaze and made an effort to keep the doubt from reflecting in his sad dark eyes.

“You’re beginning to sound like a publicity handout, darling,” he said lightly. “Now then, are you ready? We’d better be off sharp otherwise there’ll be no memories, musical or otherwise tonight.”

As he put the ignition key into the Jaguar, he suddenly remembered that he had promised he would try to phone Jane before the broadcast. He had no trouble visualising her, seated on that little stool beside the telephone of the flat in Earls Court Square, eating her heart out because he had not rung her as he had promised. If he lived to be a hundred, he would never understand why Jane cared about him as she did. No matter how famous he had once been, he was only a tired old man who was finding it increasingly draining on his emotions to maintain their clandestine relationship. He was dreading tomorrow when he had promised Linda he would see Jane for the last time. Jane had asked little of him over the five years of their intense affair, but he knew she still cared for him deeply. Yet, since his return from Australia, he had sensed a subtle change in her, almost as if she were expecting their relationship to flounder but didn’t know how to rescue it.

He tried to shut thoughts of her out of his mind as he glanced at Linda. He had swept his entire life aside in his determination to marry her, caring nothing about the bad publicity he had received when he and Helen divorced shortly before the war, at a time when divorce was more difficult to obtain and caused more scandal than it would do today.

He could not even claim that Linda had been the love of his life. After Elspeth, no other woman had managed to stir the same depth of feeling in him. Certainly Linda had been a beautiful and charming young girl, but even before the divorce from Helen was final, his initial enchantment with her had already faded. He would have preferred to have held on to his hard won freedom and devote himself to his work without being tied down in another marriage, but he had felt obliged to marry Linda because of the scandal she and her family had endured during the divorce proceedings. But now the passage of time had dimmed the public’s memory of their shocking liaison, and their long marriage was generally considered to be a happy, fairy-tale confection.

Jane had never expected him to go through another publicity-laden divorce for her sake. He had made it clear from the beginning of their affair that he could never divorce Linda. He owed it to her to stay with her in their old age.

They had arrived at TV Centre. Derek braced himself for their entrance, and with a genial expression on his face he and Linda entered the foyer, arm in arm, the epitome of public happiness and graciousness. Michael Broadstairs was waiting for them. Usually he sent his assistant down to collect his guests, but Derek was one of his oldest friends from their early days in London.

“Marvellous to see you both,” he was saying, “You look younger every day, Linda, my dear.”

Linda basked in the warmth of Michael’s compliment and drew her soft wrap closer to her, flashing her charming smile at Michael, enveloping him in the glow of her outwardly warm personality. At that moment she felt confident in the lasting devotion of her husband. She had recovered from the shock of Derek’s five-year affair with a plain unassuming girl forty years his junior whom she would not have noticed at a dinner party, far less in a crowd.


Jane Walters was not really listening to what her mother was saying on the telephone. She kept glancing at her watch anxiously, wondering how she could stem the constant flow of Mrs Walters’ inconsequential chatter.

“..So Dad’s off to Kettering tomorrow to see whether Brownings will put the new clothing agency in his hands.”

Jane listened distractedly.

“It will mean the world to us if he gets this, Jane. You have no idea what a struggle it is trying to keep up appearances on Dad’s present commission. I sometimes wonder how we’ll manage to live when he retires. He hasn’t put enough away for us to be really comfortable in our old age.”

“Mum,” cried Jane desperately. “I have to go now. I’m expecting such an important call. I’ll phone you tomorrow, I promise.”

“Why is this call so important to you, Jane?” her mother asked idly, making Jane feel even more frantic as her mother launched into another trivial homily. “Has your agent another engagement for you? It amazes me how people can even afford to attend concerts at today’s prices. Dad and I can only manage to one if you are kind enough to give us complimentary tickets and, to be really honest, some of that modern music bores us stiff and Dad is inclined to nod off and snore – so embarrassing – but beggars like us can’t …”

“Yes, Mum, I know. Look after yourself and give Dad my love. Goodbye.”

Even as she replaced the telephone, she could hear her mother’s voice rambling on unabated. She would be hurt and accuse Jane of cutting her off. She knew she should have granted her mother her customary half-hour of chatter about inflation, the parlous state of the country and the St Albans social scene, but she was desperate to have the phone free in case Derek should have a spare moment by himself to phone before the television interview.

Dejectedly she slumped into her favourite easy chair in front of the television. She had turned the sound down in the vain hope that Derek might yet telephone, although she was beginning to doubt whether he would now, only half an hour before the live TV show was due to commence. Perhaps he’d been trying to call her while her mother hogged the line or perhaps Linda was all over him and he couldn’t find a moment to himself.

She could hear his voice offering the usual excuse for breaking this or that promise.

“It’s so difficult at times, darling. Linda is always with me when I’m at home.”

Jane often asked herself what on earth he and Linda found to do all the time they were together if he had really not slept with her for the last five years. She remembered an occasion when she and Derek were together in the flat after one of his prolonged holidays with Linda, nearly three years ago. She had been weeping foolishly because she saw so little of him, knowing even as she wept, that he hated tears and if she wept too often she might eventually drive him away. It was his wife’s prerogative to weep and nag. Jane, the mistress, was supposed to be cheerful, loving and light-hearted, unperturbed by broken promises, always understanding him when his wife failed to do so.

“You don’t think I actually sleep with her?” he had asked, outraged. “I haven’t been to bed with her for years. She’d wonder what the hell I was doing if I tried anything on like that! We don’t even share a bedroom.”

“But you say she loves you, that you can’t leave her…” Jane had trailed off hopelessly.

He had not answered. He didn’t want to get involved in a discussion about whether or not he could leave Linda. Instead, he drew Jane into his arms and made love to her for the second time that day with all the energy of a younger man and the deference and gentleness of an older one, willing her to forget her desolation at his departures and the futile existence she led without him as she lived in anticipation for the few stolen moments they could spend together.

While everyone insisted nowadays that marriage was not important, that girls could do as they pleased, Jane was beginning to feel she was missing out on one of life’s major experiences. All her friends were married with young children now, and although they thought she remained single because of her successful musical career as an accompanist, they persisted in arranging meetings with ghastly men who had nothing to recommend them except their bachelor status. Derek, on the other hand, was perfect in every way, but attached and therefore ultimately unattainable. Derek had driven the need for secrecy at her from all sides.

“Don’t trust anyone but yourself, darling,” he would say. “You only have to tell one person and before you know where you are everyone will hear about it, and if word gets back to Linda she would kill us both.”

She wished she could be honest with her friends, even if they thought it peculiar, even disgusting, for her to be involved with a married man older than her own father. She had not dared to tell Derek that she had confided in her closest friend, Louisa. Jane looked forward to visiting Louisa, knowing she could trust her not to gossip about the affair, or condemn her as a two-timing slag. Jane knew that it was Derek who had everything on his side: a pretty, discreet young woman, who adored him, was available at the shortest notice, and made no demands on him to leave his wife. She had entered the relationship knowing that he would never break up his marriage. In the heady days of their blossoming love, it had been enough just to be with him when he had the time to spare. She worshipped the ground he walked on, but as she grew older she wanted something more lasting than an affair, which, in the end, would have no meaning in the grand scheme of things. With a start she saw Derek appear on the television screen and jumped up from her chair to turn the volume up once again. She could not bear to miss a moment of the programme. “I have pleasure in introducing the celebrated tenor, Derek Bailey in our series Musical Memories, Michael Broadstairs was saying. “Hello, Michael,” Derek replied, “How very kind of you to invite me on to your programme tonight. It has been such ages since last we met…”

She heard his first few words in that beautifully modulated voice she knew so intimately. She reflected on the five years she had spent with him, and marvelled, with just a tinge of bitterness, at how much futile joy she had crammed into her life in that time.

The three women of the past and present who had shared various parts of Derek Bailey’s life and moulded in different ways, felt quickening heartbeats at the sound of his voice which had altered little with the passing years. His recording of Questa e Quella from Rigoletto in English was playing in the background:

Though with one girl I was happy this morning,

Yet tomorrow, yet tomorrow, another I’ll find.


This book is available as a paperback and as  an epub epub. Look at Fiona’s Store for more information.




MALCOLM CRAIG SERIES – volumes 1 and 2 in one book; volumes 3 and 4 in one book.

I have decided to publish volumes 1 and 2 in one book. The book is available as a paper back print and epub. The whole thing could be read as a novel complete in itself. Both novels concern the life and career of famous British tenor. Malcolm Craig, his successful career in Britain, and his three marriages. Read more about all my books at: Fiona Compton’s books.

Just the Echo of a Sigh and Faint Harmony - 2 novels in one volume

Dec 22, 2015
I was glad to see these two volumes combined in one book as they could be read as a complete book without reading volumes 3 and 4. Fiona Compton has made no secret of the fact that all 4 volumes in the Malcolm Craig series are combinations of Roman a clef and biographical/autobiographical novels. The first two novels are based on her own research about Malcolm Craig and Marina Dunbar in the years of their illustrious lives and theatrical careers until 1956 before she met them, although parts of these books are pure fiction, while other parts are largely true.
She has succeeded in creating the atmosphere of the early part of the twentieth century, World War Two and the immediate post war years as they relate to Malcolm and Marina’s lives and careers. I recommend this interesting double novel featuring the lively lives and careers of Fiona Compton’s fictional heroes – Malcolm and Marina.
Jean Collen

The last two novels in the Malcolm Craig series combined in one book:

The last two novels in the Malcolm Craig series combined in one book.
The last two novels in the Malcolm Craig series combined in one book.
Combined last print


Once again, volumes 3 and 4 of the Malcolm Craig series could be read as one novel. Most of it is set in South Africa to where Malcolm Craig and Marina Dunbar move in 1956 after problems with the British Inland Revenue. Their lives have taken a new direction in a new country. Their marriage is no happier than it was for many years in the UK, and Kate Kyle (the fictional name for Fiona Compton herself) now writes her Roman a Clef/autobiographical novel largely from her own experience, although there are still many fictional elements in the story. In many ways, the idea of Kate and Malcolm having an affair when she is in her late teens, and Malcolm is married, and 42 years older than her, might seem like a shocking state of affairs. The story held my interest and the conclusion to the saga is satisfactory (depending on your point of view) although it is possible that Fiona Compton used her imagination rather than fact to reach this conclusion.

I found Love Set to Music most interesting. Neither Kate Kyle nor Malcolm Craig are covered in glory and some might consider their spring/winter relationship unseemly even over fifty years later. They obviously felt deeply for one another and Malcolm Craig’s wife, Marina Dunbar, was not without blame. I sincerely hope that the final novel will reach a satisfactory conclusion otherwise the emotion generated by the affair which changed the life of Kate Kyle/Fiona Compton radically without bringing her lasting happiness would have been a meaningless waste of time.

The final novel in the Malcolm Craig series, A Song for You and Me, held my interest even more than the three earlier books as this final novel reaches a conclusion to the tale.

Like the Christmas Special which concluded the long-running Downton Abbey, the end of Fiona Compton’s novel reaches a satisfactory resolution although the finale of the Malcolm Craig series is merely implied, rather than described in graphic detail. One is left to imagine what happens to Malcolm, Kate, and Marina in the years that follow.

Somehow I doubt whether the conclusion of this series of novels is the way the tale ended in reality, but perhaps that is why Fiona Compton chose to present it as a work of fiction rather than fact.

Jean Collen

Both books are available as paperbacks and as epubs. Have a look at Fiona’s Store – Fiction with a musical theme

All the cover photos in the series are by Errol Collen.

Fiona Compton.

The MALCOLM CRAIG series – Roman à clef, biographical-autobiographical novel

The Malcolm Craig Series – Roman à clef, biographical-autobiographical novel

 5 December 2015 at 14:10

The Malcolm Craig series of 4 novels is a mixture of a Roman à clef, and a biographical-autobiographical novel.

Such a novel is described as a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction.

A few examples of such novels include:

  • Glenarvon (1816) by Lady Caroline Lamb chronicles her affair with Lord Byron (thinly disguised as the title character).

  • Queenie (1985) by Michael Korda, nephew of Alexander Korda and the actress Merle Oberon. In the novel, Queenie Kelley, a girl of Indian and Irish descent, is based on Oberon, who went to great lengths to disguise her mixed-race background.

  Ann Veronica (1909) by H. G. Wells is based in the real relationship between H. G. Wells and Amber Reeves

  • The Moon and Sixpence (1919) by W. Somerset Maugham follows the life of Paul Gauguin, especially his time in Tahiti

Sons and Lovers (1911) by D.H Lawrence must surely be considered a novel in this form.


Writers have chosen to write this form of novel or play for various reasons including satire, controversial topics, turning the tale the way the author would have liked it to have gone, or writing about oneself or others without disclosing the names of the real people involved. As a novel is supposed to be fiction rather than fact, elements of fiction and fact can intermingle in a way that would be unacceptable in a work of non-fiction where the reader assumes that the writer has done proper research into the subject of the biography and that facts could be substantiated.

The four novels in the Malcolm Craig series are broadly based on fact, but many incidents are purely products of my imagination and do not pretend to be the truth. The last two books, in particular, are largely based on my own private experiences which I have recreated as fiction thanks to my memory, contemporary diaries, and a fair share of imagination.

Using this form gave me the opportunity  to write about people I knew very well indeed and who had a profound and lasting influence on my life. The first two novels are based on my knowledge and research into their lives before I met them; the last two novels are based on my relationship with them. Needless to say, the character of Kate Kyle is based on me in the final two books.

While I treasure my association with Malcolm Craig and Marina Dunbar, telling the story truthfully in its entirety would be a mere recitation of events as they occurred.  Because this series is fiction overlaid with fact, the very last part of the last volume is pure fiction –  the way I would have liked the story to end, rather than the way it did.

 The four volumes in The Malcolm Craig series are available in print and as  epub ebooks at:  Fiona’s Store – Fiction with a Musical Theme


Fiona Compton


I completed writing A Song For You and Me during the NaNoWriMo month of November 2015.This is the final novel in the Malcolm Craig series. It is available as a paperback print and an Epub.

Paperback: A Song for You and Me


Epub: A Song for You and Me


I have finished reading the final novel in the Malcolm Craig series and it held my interest as much as the three earlier books, perhaps even a little more than the previous books as the final novel reaches a conclusion to the tale.

Like the Christmas Special which concluded the long-running Downton Abbey, the end of Fiona Compton’s novel reaches a satisfactory resolution.The finale of the series is merely implied, rather than described in graphic detail and one is left to imagine what happens to Malcolm, Kate, and Marina in the years that follow.

Somehow I doubt whether the end of the series is the way the tale ended in reality, but perhaps that is why Fiona Compton chose to present it as a work of fiction rather than fact.

Jean Collen – 14 January 2016.


Pearl Harris's review
Pearl Harris is a highly-respected freelance writer, editor, proofreader and translator who lives and works in the Czech Republic. Her website is: Pearl Harris



A random sample from the book:


I was rather surprised when Steve Baxter phoned to ask me if I would
be a guest on his radio programme in a few day’s time. Considering how devoted he was to Helen and how studiously he had avoided me since our affair and our ill-fated holiday together the year before, I was amazed that Helen had allowed him to ask me to do such an interview.
 “Do you think that is a good idea, considering our history, Steve?” I asked.
 “I know it might be rather uncomfortable for us, Marina, but this isn’t my idea. My boss was quite insistent about it and I could hardly refuse without causing unpleasantness. Please, Marina – we’re both professionals. I’m sure we can handle this without any discomfort, can’t we? You might bring in one of Malcolm’s recordings to play on the programme. There wouldn’t be any doubt that you are both committed
to your marriage, just as I am committed to my marriage with Helen. After all, the programme only lasts for fifteen minutes.”
“I had better ask Malcolm first, Steve. He might not approve. I’ll
phone you tonight after I’ve spoken to him.”
As I expected, Malcolm didn’t care one way or the other whether I
did the interview or not.
 “It’s entirely up to you, Marina,” he said coldly. “I still think it’s a shame that you didn’t run off with Steve Baxter when you had the chance. We might all be feeling much happier by now if you had.”
 “By all, I suppose you are including Katie,” I replied. “Why do you have to be so mean to me all the time, Malcolm?”
“I’m not being mean, just stating the exact truth. Go and do the
interview with him. You don’t need my permission to do that or any other damned thing you please.”
“So you wouldn’t care if I decided to have an affair with someone
else?” I asked.
“Why should I? Have you someone else in mind?”
“You might be surprised to hear that I do have someone in mind,
someone who treats me far better than you do.”
“Well go ahead and enjoy yourself. See if I care.”
He marched out of the room leaving me feeling quite miserable, but
angry at the same time. I picked up the telephone. It was Helen who answered in obsequious tones, “The Baxter residence,” she simpered.
“Is Steve there?” I asked without any preliminary greeting.
“Who shall I say is calling?” she asked – as though she didn’t know!
“Marina Dunbar,” I replied coldly. “I would have thought you might
have recognised my voice, Helen.”
She didn’t answer but I heard her calling Steve in thin tones.
“Phone for you, darling…”
 “Malcolm has agreed that I can do the interview,” I told him. “What time do you want me at the studios?”
Surprisingly the interview went better than I expected it to. We
chatted about this and that and ended the interview with Malcolm’s recording of One Day When We were Young. “Thank you, darling,” I said in sugary tones when it finished. I was surprised at how I could put on such an act when I was feeling entirely fed up with my unsatisfactory life.
The only person who was cheering me up these days was our singing
pupil, Brandon Black, who thought the world of me and was willing to do
anything possible to please me. In a way he reminded me of Harry, although there was no question of going to bed with him at this stage. I was twelve years older than him, and although I knew he thought the world of me for the moment it was better to be good friends without the complications a sexual relationship usually brings.
I returned to the studio immediately after the broadcast. Malcolm
was having a rest before the next pupil arrived. There was a faint smell of
perfume in the air over-riding the usual smell of his stale cigarette tobacco.
“Did you listen to my broadcast?” I asked.
“Yes! Very well done,” he said absently.
“Who was in the studio while I was away?” I asked sharply.
“Nobody. What makes you think there was someone here? I had a sandwich and then I had a bit of a rest and listened to your interview.”
I couldn’t be bothered to argue with him. The next pupil was due any
moment and I didn’t want to upset myself by asking if Kate had been in to see him because she knew I would be at the radio studios and had taken any
opportunity to be with him. I let it go, but my suspicions remained.

Fiona Compton 
28 November 2015

LOVE SET TO MUSIC (Taster) – the third novel in the MALCOLM CRAIG series

I have completed the third novel in the Malcolm Craig series and have published the book as a paperback and as an Epub E-book. Read more at: Fiona’s Store – fiction with a musical theme

This is the third novel in the Malcolm Craig series. Because of tax problems with the United Kingdom Inland Revenue, famous tenor, Malcolm Craig and his wife, Marina Dunbar decide to emigrate to South Africa in 1956. This novel covers the first seven years of their lives in South Africa. Although they are still performing they find that they have to teach singing to make ends meet. Their marriage is still as tempestuous as ever and they are on the brink of divorcing one another. Marina has an affair with a popular radio announcer and Malcolm feels genuinely drawn to his young studio accompanist, Kate Kyle. Kate, in turn, thinks the world of Malcolm despite a huge difference in their ages.

Love Set to Music, third novel in the Malcolm Craig series, by Fiona Compton
Love Set to Music, third novel in the Malcolm Craig series, by Fiona Compton

Thanks to Pearl Harris for writing a review of this book:

Review by Pearl Harris, writer, proofreader and editor. http://www.freewebs.com/pearlharris/
Review by Pearl Harris, writer, proofreader, translator and editor. Her website is: Pearl Harris 

Review by Jean Collen:

Jan 13, 2016

Fiona Compton has pointed out that the novels in the Malcolm Craig series are partly novels with a key and partly biographical/autobiographical novels. She has written these books under a pen name, presumably because she did not want to write the story as rather sensational fact, but preferred to write it as a mixture of fact interspersed with fiction. Possibly she wrote the Malcolm Craig series in this way so that she would not hurt or embarrass family and friends of the protagonists. I found Love Set to Music most interesting. I imagine that the character of Kate Kyle is Fiona Compton herself, thinly disguised. Neither Kate Kyle nor Malcolm Craig are covered in glory and some might consider their spring/winter relationship unseemly even over fifty years later. They obviously felt deeply for one another and Malcolm Craig’s wife, Marina Dunbar, was not without blame. I look forward to reading the final book in the series and sincerely hope that it will reach a satisfactory conclusion otherwise the emotion generated by the affair which changed the life of Kate Kyle/Fiona Compton radically without bringing her lasting happiness would have been a meaningless waste of time.

Here is a random sample from the book:

Kate – April 1962

After I finished my secretarial course I was working in the cables department of a city bank in Simmonds Street. I was taking lessons in piano and singing and preparing for various exams so I had to get up at the crack of dawn to practise my scales in singing and piano before I went to work. I was exhausted by the end of the day! Liz was on her April school holiday but I was working a five and a half day week in the bank with no sign of any holiday in view. My father had promised that if I did well in the exams he might allow me to leave the bank and study singing and piano full time until I completed my diplomas in both subjects so I was determined to do well no matter how exhausted I was. Becoming a professional musician was far more appealing to me than spending the rest of my life typing out letters and cables in the bank, and working overtime when the Rhodesian Sweep cables arrived and had to be decoded so that the bank could notify all the lucky winners that they had won a lot of money in the sweep.

One day Liz phoned during my lunch hour. She was very excited.

“Malcolm needs a small studio audience for his Edwardian programme tomorrow night and he’s just phoned to ask if I’d like to go. I suppose he’s been in touch with you too, Kate?” she asked.

My heart sank for he hadn’t asked me. I felt a stab of pure jealousy that my friend had been asked to go to the recording and Malcolm hadn’t bothered to ask me.

“No, he hasn’t phoned me,” I replied, barely able to speak for my mouth had dried up completely. “Perhaps he’s not planning on asking me at all.”

Liz was silent for a moment. She had probably assumed that Malcolm would invite me and she must have known that I was feeling very hurt not to have been invited.

“Well, it’s still not too late. Maybe he’ll phone you once you get home,” she said brightly, and then found an excuse to ring off quickly rather than commiserate with me any further. I continued eating the sandwiches my mother had made for my lunch, although I could hardly swallow them because there was a persistent lump in my throat. I did my best to keep a brave face and not let the tears that were welling up in my eyes run down my cheeks.


Marina and I were having a snack lunch in the studio. Eunice always managed to think of something interesting to put in our lunch boxes. As far as I was concerned the lunch break was the best part of our day in the studio. I really was not cut out to teach other people how to sing. I had managed to get out of most of the morning’s lessons by spending time in the office telephoning friends to invite them to the recording the following evening.

“I think I’ve contacted enough people for the recording tomorrow,” I said to Marina.”We don’t want too many in that small studio otherwise the applause will sound like Wembley Stadium at the cup final instead of a few genteel guests in a refined Edwardian drawing room. I had to laugh at Liz. She was so terribly excited about it. She could hardly contain herself!”

“Did you manage to get through to Kate?” asked Marina. “I know it’s sometimes difficult to get through to her at the bank when it’s busy.”

“Kate? I didn’t think of phoning her at all. I stopped phoning when I reached the right number.”

“But you know she and Liz are such great friends now. She’ll be terribly disappointed if you don’t ask her and she finds out that Liz is going. I wouldn’t be surprised if Liz didn’t phone her right away to tell her the exciting news. You know how they both adore you!”

I hadn’t even thought about whether Kate would be disappointed, but I realised that Marina was quite right. Kate would be very hurt indeed if I didn’t invite her to the recording. Despite her reserve, I didn’t need Marina to tell me that she thought a lot of me. She was probably as fond of me as I was of her. Why on earth hadn’t she been the first person I phoned instead of leaving her out altogether?

I looked up her number in the studio diary and made the call. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone happier to hear my voice in years.

“Will it be you and your parents, Kate, or do you want to bring your boyfriend with you too?”

I hoped she didn’t have a boyfriend, but if she did, I’d have to put a good face on it and receive the spotty youth with good grace.

“I haven’t got a boyfriend,” she replied in a small voice. For some reason I was very pleased to hear this. “It’ll just be me and my parents. Thank you so much for asking us, Mr Craig.”

There was a pause and she added, “I thought you had forgotten me.”

“Never, darling,” I lied bluffly. “Marina and I will meet you in the foyer of Broadcast House at half past seven. You won’t be late, will you?”

“No – we’ll be sure to be there on time,” Kate assured me solemnly.


We were usually pretty casually dressed when we went to rehearsals for the choir. Sometimes Liz was still wearing her blue school uniform if she hadn’t had time to change after some activity at school in the afternoon. We had never seen any of the other broadcasters formally dressed when they arrived at Broadcast House to record their programmes or read the news, although we had heard that BBC news readers had worn evening dress to read the news in the nineteen-thirties – and possibly beyond.

I was glad that Liz and I had dressed smartly for this particular trip to Broadcast House. When we arrived in the brightly lit foyer, there was Malcolm Craig clad in evening dress with a flower in his lapel, while Marina Dunbar wore a low-cut red evening dress, with a mink stole around her shoulders. Their great friend, widower Steve Baxter, a well-known broadcaster on Springbok radio, was obviously going to attend the recording too for he was also formally clad for the occasion although his usual attire for his own broadcasts was a sports jacket and open-necked shirt.

Although she was not taking part in the broadcast Marina was playing hostess to the people Malcolm had assembled for the recording. She ushered us all into the small studio where the recording was to take place and urged everyone to take their seats.

“Keep a seat for me in the front row, won’t you darlings,” she said to Liz and me.

Our parents sat together further back while Liz and I took our seats in the front row on either side of the coveted seat we were saving for Marina, or Miss Dunbar as I still called her. We were beside ourselves with excitement. Malcolm seated himself at a small table to the right of us, ready to begin the recording when he received the nod from the controllers who were seated in the enclosed glass booth at the back of the studio. He took a sip from the glass in front of him and glanced around at the audience.

Liz’s father asked in joking tones, “What’s that you’re drinking, Malcolm?”

“Water,” he replied dryly!

There was no further repartee between them after that exchange. Malcolm told us to clap politely after the items and talk in undertones to each other to create the atmosphere of a refined Edwardian drawing room. Although most of the audience applauded after the violinist and soprano had finished performing, it was only Marina who chatted to us brightly about the performers, and Liz and I did our best to respond with the necessary degree of ladylike decorum. For some reason everyone else seemed overwhelmed by the occasion and uttered not a word.

Malcolm got up from his chair in the corner and walked over to a spot directly in front of us to sing two ballads. Of course I had heard some of his recordings on the radio and I had heard his voice in the studio when he was showing me or one of the other pupils how to sing something properly. I had even heard him singing the Messiah when I was 13, but to experience him singing right in front of me was something I would never forget. Oh, Dry Those Tears and Parted – both sad Edwardian ballads, which he sang in his beautiful voice with all the feeling he could muster. I was completely mesmerised! I almost forgot that I had to chat politely with Marina and Liz after he stopped singing.

At the end of the recording everyone surged around him, congratulating him on his performance. Liz and I were the last in a long line of his admirers.

Malcolm asked us jokingly, “Well, was I all right?”

“All right? You were brilliant, Malcolm!” said Liz with all the confidence of youth.

“I’m glad you approve,” smiled Malcolm. “Perhaps you’ll come to some of the other recordings if you enjoyed this one.”

We nodded eagerly. I certainly couldn’t wait for the next time!

As we left the studio, I caught sight of Marina chatting to Steve Baxter while Malcolm was having a serious discussion with the accompanist. I thought I should say goodbye to her before we left, but I had the impression that she was not pleased that I had interrupted her intimate conversation with Steve Baxter.

“I’m so glad I was able to attend the recording,” I said. “Mr Craig was wonderful.”

“Yes, darling. We’re both very proud of him, aren’t we?” she replied in mocking tones, patting me on my arm. My face grew hot with embarrassment. and I suddenly felt deflated and childish. I realised then that I would be well advised not to offer such fulsome praise in future! Marina and Steve must have thought me very young and gauche.

After that magical evening it was difficult to settle down to sleep and it was a particularly dull thud that I had to force myself awake early in the morning to be in time to catch my regular bus with the other workers on their way to spend all day in shops and offices in the city.

Several months later, I did my music exams in piano and singing. Liz and an Afrikaans girl called Sonette du Preez, another pupil of Malcolm and Marina’s did their exams at the same time and Marina accompanied us all. Liz and I were suitably impressed by Sonette’s beautiful soprano voice when we heard her singing through the door of the the exam room. We decided that she had a much better voice than either of us and would probably do brilliantly in the exam

On Friday I went up to the studio apprehensively, wondering whether the exam results might have arrived. Malcolm answered the door and said heartily:

“I believe you sang very well on Tuesday, my gel!”

I looked at him intensely and said, “No, I was absolutely awful.”

“How do you think you did?”

“I’ve probably failed,” I replied with conviction.

He gave a little chuckle and marched back into the studio, leaving me to wait in the kitchen till Sonette finished her lesson. He called me in excitedly and handed me my card. I had obtained honours for Grade 8. I always expected the worst so I was always surprised if I did well. When I heard that Sonette with her brilliant voice had only managed 72 per cent for Grade 5, a mere pass, I felt disproportionately pleased, while congratulating her. Liz had passed Grade 6 with 72 per cent also. Marina and Malcolm seemed delighted with my results, and for most of that lesson, we drank tea and made firm plans for my diploma. Marina was wearing a black derby style hat and looked particularly striking in it. We all got on so well together that day.

I got honours for the piano exam too. My father was suitably impressed and agreed that I could stop working in the bank soon and study music on a full time basis.

Fiona Compton


26 August 2015.

FAINT HARMONY (Taster) Second novel in Malcolm Craig series.

Read more about this book and others at: Fiona’s Store –  Fiction with a Musical Theme.

Faint Harmony, second novel in Malcolm Craig series, by FIONA COMPTON
Faint Harmony, second novel in Malcolm Craig series, by FIONA COMPTON

Thanks to Pearl Harris for her review of this book:

Review of Faint Harmony by Pearl Harris, writer, proofreader and editor.http://www.freewebs.com/pearlharris/
Review of Faint Harmony by Pearl Harris, writer, proofreader and editor.http://www.freewebs.com/pearlharris/

Here is a random chapter from Faint Harmony:


Here we were in the middle of 1943, still living in the Muswell Hill flat which had survived the blitz despite the devastation of so many other properties in nearby streets. Vera and I had expected to have travelled to all the war zones in the world with ENSA by this time, but most of our concerts had been held in various parts of Britain, more often than not at military hospitals, village halls and munitions factories. Our particular party was made up of women of all ages, but most of the men were over the age of call up for it was a very rare occurrence that younger men could get exemption from military service to become entertainers with ENSA unless they had some medical problem which had prevented them from playing an active part in armed combat.

The munitions workers usually worked night shift as their factories were disguised as something more innocuous, so we often did one show at midnight and another in the early hours of the morning as a bit of respite for the next shift of tired workers.

I could never get used to seeing the wounded soldiers in hospitals, many of them probably wondering how they would manage to face civilian life after the war, some blinded, some burnt, some without legs or arms. Many would be confined to wheel chairs for the rest of their lives. We were all gratified to see their anxiety dissolve during the hour or two we managed to entertain them, making them laugh, and forget their pain and anxiety for the short time we spent with them.

At the rate we were going, we would need to be inoculated all over again if we were eventually called on to travel to war zones abroad, for the original jabs that were done at Drury Lane at the beginning of the war would have expired by that time!

During the worst of the blitz Vera and I had makeshift beds made up on mattresses inside the Morrison shelter installed in our Muswell Hill flat. This shelter doubled up as our dining room table during the day. When the air raid warning sounded we would stagger from our warm beds and make our way to this cramped shelter in our small dining room. Vera was petrified at the noise and chaos of the falling  bombs, the anti-aircraft guns, the aeroplanes overhead and the searchlights on the ground trying to locate them. She was far more afraid than me that our building might receive a direct hit, so we often clung together for warmth and comfort, covering our heads under our blankets in a vain attempt to deaden the abrupt sound of bombs hissing and exploding around us, sometimes at a distance, sometimes very close to home, until the all clear sounded – more often than not only in the early hours of the morning. Just like everyone else who had survived yet another sleepless and terrified night, we still had to rise, face the new day and get on with our work, no matter how little sleep we had the night before.

And what of Malcolm in the midst of all the carnage? I was so busy performing and preparing new routines for future concerts that I had little chance to think clearly about how much I still missed him, but no matter what I was doing, there was always a nagging ache in my heart which made life far less palatable than it had been when we were happily married and I had been under the illusion that our marriage would last forever. I had always known the worth of his beautiful voice and would never forget. the happy times when we had appeared together at joint engagements, particularly that shining summer season when we had worked together with the Starlight Concert Party in Margate. All these years later, it was still very difficult for me to accept that those days were gone forever.

Of course I didn’t begrudge him becoming a top oratorio soloist and taking his rightful place at so many performances at the Royal Albert Hall and with the Hallé orchestra in Manchester. He had been singing at the Queens Hall shortly before it was destroyed by a Nazi incendiary bomb. He had always considered that hall to be his favourite, so I knew he must have been very sad to see it brought to ruin in a matter of minutes.

In the dark, uncertain days of the early forties I was upset that Malcolm was now so busy with the lighter side of entertainment with Marina that he was probably unable to accept many serious engagements.

Malcolm and Marina Dunbar were doing well in their joint career on the variety circuit where they had become popular and well-paid star variety artistes in a very short time. They were soon making records together, appearing in musicals together, singing on the radio together, and making films together.

They had received very bad publicity in newspapers and magazines about our divorce and all our old friends had felt sorry for me having to go through the whole thing on my own, but of course people have remarkably short memories.

Once Malcolm and Marina started performing together, audiences had taken to them in a big way and our old friends who had supported me staunchly during the divorce, were inclined to distance themselves from me and renew their friendship with the more successful Malcolm and Marina, leaving me to get on with my life as best I could.

They were all over the place. It was very difficult to avoid them. If there wasn’t an article about them and their ideal marriage in the illustrated papers, they were on the radio, and singing in variety theatres all over the country playing to crowded houses, the majority of the audience being women snatching a night of relaxation and enjoyment as a break from their strenuous wartime lives so filled with anxiety.

These women, clad in their drab pre-war wardrobes, unable to buy anything new because of the stringent limitations of clothing rationing, were suitably amazed at Marina, bedecked in jewels, and wearing a series of glamorous gowns as though there was no such thing as wartime rationing and austerity. They all wondered how she managed to appear so sumptuously clad when they were all making do and mending their old clothes furiously, but still fighting a losing battle to look attractive and feminine. Most of these young women’s husbands were absent,. serving in the war in some capacity or other. Even though they were tired after doing war work, often spending sleepless nights in air raid shelters, and caring for their children, they were also sex-starved and all too ready to be enthralled by Malcolm’s beautiful voice, immaculate appearance and handsome looks. Their husbands might be absent, but by the way Malcolm treated his wife on stage, they could all imagine only too well how he would treat her in the bedroom.

They probably went home after the show to dream of him as they settled down to sleep in lonely double beds which they had once shared with absent husbands who had made love to them regularly and vigorously several times a week or more if they were lucky. If the women in their audience had such dreams about Malcolm, they were not mistaken in them. The ethereal Marina would be enjoying what I had once enjoyed, nearly every single night when he and Marina arrived home, elated and excited after another triumphant performance. Like all the women out there with absent husbands who would return to them when the war was over, I could only dream about Malcolm, who would never return to me.

Certainly people in the profession wondered why they hadn’t joined ENSA like the rest of us. We heard a rumour that Malcolm was unable to travel to the tropics because he suffered from a chronic illness and therefore could not be inoculated against certain tropical diseases. As long as I had been married to him I had known nothing about this mysterious disease. He had always seemed perfectly healthy and vigorous to me. Even after our divorce, I still wanted to believe the best of Malcolm, but even I could not help thinking that the chronic disease had raised its head quite opportunely as far as performing in tropical climes for ENSA was concerned.

I had also heard about the son he had discovered a year or two earlier. Apparently the boy and his younger brother often spent their school holidays with him and Marina, and Malcolm was paying their school fees at a good private school near Wigton where they lived.

In the meantime I had been absolutely shocked when I was notified by Malcolm’s lawyer that he wanted to stop paying alimony to me because he had taken responsibility for the education of his son and his brother, and therefore couldn’t afford to pay my alimony any longer! After the shoddy way in which I had been treated, I had never had any qualms about accepting the alimony payments. I had certainly suffered great emotional pain when Malcolm had discarded me in favour of Marina Dunbar.

I was earning about £10 a week from going on numerous rigorous ENSA tours. We would do two or three performances a day often after travelling vast distances in an uncomfortable charabanc, while he and Marina probably received more than ten times that amount for one concert in a comfortable warm theatre or concert hall. I had every right to insist that he should go on paying me the alimony to which I was entitled. But, for some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to challenge him about it. The thought of fighting the shameful case in the courts was too much for me. It would be as unpleasant an experience as standing by myself in that unfriendly divorce court. I was the wronged party, but I was the one who had to appear in court and go into the most intimate details of the breakdown of our marriage. If he didn’t want to pay the alimony rightfully due to me, I wasn’t going to beg for it and set myself up as a helpless victim, even though I would be begging for something that was rightfully mine. I might not have been in Malcolm’s class in the profession, but I had been earning my own living on the stage from the age of eighteen.


Vera and I were still active members of the CAA. I was alarmed to discover that I had been booked as the hostess at a Monday night concert when Malcolm and Marina were due to sing after we had watched the acts of those who were hoping to be accepted as members of the CAA by showing us that they were good enough to join the ranks of the pros.

“You’ll have to find a substitute,” I told Ernie, who had organised that particular concert. “I can never have anything to do with the Craigs now that I’m divorced from Malcolm. Surely you should have had the common sense to realise that, Ernie.”

“I’d forgotten that you had ever been married to the man! It’s far too late to find someone else now, Sally,” he said. “You’re a pro. I know you’ll be able to handle it without breaking down or causing any embarrassment to the Craigs. We’re extremely lucky that they have a gap in their diary and are free to sing for us. I wouldn’t want anything to go wrong.”

There was nothing much I could do on this particular occasion but I made up my mind to stipulate that I would never accept work on the same bill as my ex-husband or his present wife in future. But what difference would that clause make? I would be the loser in the long run. They were the stars. Who would care whether I was on the bill or not? Ernie could easily find someone else who would be only too glad to act as hostess at any concert featuring this scintillating couple.

The first half of the concert went according to plan. I did my best to put all the young hopefuls at ease. None of them were shrinking violets but they probably found their appearance before fellow performers far more nerve-wracking than anything they had done before. To be accepted into the CAA because fellow artistes had approved of them was one of the most satisfying achievements of their lives. I remembered how I had been accepted into the CAA at the tender age of eighteen after presenting my own act to this same critical, but encouraging, audience.

Malcolm and Marina arrived during the interval. They gave me a very frosty greeting when they met me in the Concert Hall. They certainly didn’t appear at all put out that I was to be the hostess that night. I, on the other hand, was trembling and near to tears after they swept past me to greet some of their friends most effusively. I didn’t much care whether Marina acknowledged me or not, but to have Malcolm treat me like a distant stranger was more than I could bear. I had no idea how I was going to get through that night.

Consequently, introducing them to the audience in that intimate concert hall of the CAA, was a far more harrowing experience than I had imagined. I really don’t know how I managed it, but I introduced their act with a light and cheerful touch, as though I was delighted that they were there and couldn’t give a damn that I was introducing the ex-husband I still loved and the woman who had usurped me.

But after that introduction which had taken every ounce of my professional experience to accomplish, I had to rush to the cloakroom and retch my guts out in the nearest toilet. By the time I had stopped shivering and retching, and had managed to rinse out my mouth, wash my pallid face, and reapply my streaked makeup, I had missed half of their sugary performance – just as well, as far as I was concerned! I slipped back to my place in the hall, still shivering. I don’t think anyone noticed that I had been away. The audience was far too engrossed in listening to the star performers.

As usual, they were beautifully groomed and dressed, as though they were appearing at the Palladium rather than in the more intimate and informal concert hall of the CAA. I wondered by what means Marina had acquired her exquisite midnight blue gown in the middle of the war. He wore a gardenia in the buttonhole of his finely tailored dress suit. The suit was a cut above the one he had worn for concert performances when he was married to me. No doubt he had a smart and expensive tailor in Saville Row these days, not to mention having his shoes hand made from a last! by someone equally fashionable and expensive.

Their whole act pivoted on their apparent adoration of one for the other. They made sickly, arch remarks, calling each other intimate pet names, gazing into each other’s eyes with unrestrained adoration. Despite my discomfort, I felt sad to see Malcolm singing trite romantic duets with Marina, taking care to tone down his wonderful voice to blend it considerately with her thin, scooping, sugary soprano. I thought the rest of the pro audience would see through all that excess of synthetic honey, but, no! They applauded loudly and were as delighted with their performance as any less sophisticated audience in a provincial variety hall.

I felt sad that Malcolm had put on a performance like that in front of me and that he hardly acknowledged my presence at all. I hoped I could leave when everyone was having drinks afterwards, but I was still the hostess of the evening, for my sins. I was supposed to make everyone feel comfortable while all I wanted to do was to curl up in a dark corner and die. I need not have worried. Nobody paid any attention to me. Even my close friends at the CAA had forgotten quickly enough that Malcolm and I had once been man and wife. They flocked round Marina and Malcolm, congratulating them on their performance. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Marina head for the cloakroom by herself. Perhaps she felt as sick at the insincerity of the evening as much as I had done. I wondered if Malcolm might at least greet me properly now that she was out of the room. So much for our years of marriage.

I tried to make light-hearted conversation with some of my friends, but I was a poor companion that night. My usual vivacity and sparkle had deserted me.

I was suddenly aware of a tall figure looming over me. He spoke to me in bracing tones as though he was addressing a casual acquaintance and not the woman with whom he had once shared every possible intimacy.

“Sally, my dear. How are you? We didn’t realise you were to be the hostess tonight until the very last minute. I don’t suppose you wanted to introduce us any more than we wanted you to do so. We could all have ended up feeling very awkward, but you made it easy for us. You’re a real pro, as always.”

I turned to look at Malcolm. I knew then that I would never “get over” him as long as I lived. It didn’t matter what he had done to hurt me in the past, I was silly, deluded, and weak enough to forgive him anything.

“Malcolm,” I breathed. “I wanted someone else to take over from me when I heard you were going to sing here tonight too, but apparently it was too late for Ernie to find someone else at short notice.”

“I’ve often wondered how you were getting on, Sally and I’m so sorry about the alimony. I hope you don’t mind about it, but I’ve had a lot of extra expenses lately paying for my son and his brother’s education. I could hardly send Graham to a private school and leave Edgar to make do with the local county school, could I?”

I could hardly believe what he was saying. How dared he plead poverty to me when we were poles apart in what we earned? Yet he looked at me with those sad brown eyes so that I almost felt sorry for him, although I was the one who was being done out of what was rightfully mine. It took all the self-control I could muster not to lose my temper and shout at him, or burst into floods of tears. Vera and I were really struggling to pay the rent on the Muswell Hill flat now that the alimony payments had ceased.

“Of course I mind,” I replied coldly, “How could you possibly think that I don’t mind? I’m going to have to move somewhere cheaper soon for we can’t really afford the flat any more. I didn’t take any action because I just couldn’t face going to court again to challenge you about it, so it looks like you’ve got your own way again. You and your new wife are doing very well for yourselves in comparison to me. I would have thought you could very well afford to go on paying me. I just can’t believe that it was you who decided not to pay my alimony any more. Have you forgotten what we once meant to one another?”

He had the grace to look embarrassed and he was probably very relieved to see Marina walking purposefully towards us before he could answer me. She had been charming everyone in the room, but she certainly did not look her usual smiling and charming self as she approached us. She glanced at me suspiciously. The way she was behaving you would have thought that I had done something wrong instead of them. She ignored me completely and spoke directly to Malcolm.

“I think it’s time to be going now, darling,” she murmured, putting her hand on his shoulder possessively. “We have a table booked at that sweet little restaurant. Have you forgotten?”

Malcolm mumbled a shame-faced goodnight to me under his breath as Marina put her arm through his, as though warning me to leave her husband alone and not dare do anything further about the alimony he had stopped paying me. I watched their somber mood change swiftly as they left me standing all by myself feeling completely drained by the taxing evening.

They were saying light and frothy goodbyes to everyone. Even those who had despised Marina and supported me when I was divorcing Malcolm, were fawning on them now. My knees were trembling and I thought I was going to be sick again. I forgot my duties as a hostess. I went to the cloakroom, found my raincoat and umbrella and left the warmth of the club without anyone noticing that I was leaving. As I walked through the damp and darkened streets all by myself, I glimpsed Marina and Malcolm’s imposing car passing me by. To make matters worse, at just that moment, the air raid warning siren sounded. Somehow, I didn’t much care if I was annihilated by a bomb that night. All I could think about was how Malcolm and Marina had managed to build such happy and successful lives and careers on the back of my misery, without giving me a second thought.

I was sick again when I eventually arrived home. I shivered under the blankets and wept miserably the whole night through, hardly sleeping at all. Between them, they had hurt me and ruined my life. I had always made excuses for Malcolm, but now I was inclined to think that he was just as cold and unfeeling as Marina.

The following day Vera and I received letters from ENSA. With the rest of our party we were to embark on a ship sailing for the Middle East in a week’s time.

Fiona Compton


26 August 2015




Just the Echo of a Sigh, the first novel in the Malcolm Craig series by Fiona Compton.
Just the Echo of a Sigh, the first novel in the Malcolm Craig series by Fiona Compton.

Book available as a paperback and epub digital book at: Fiona’s Store – Fiction with a Musical Theme




“Your tiny hand is frozen; let me warm it into mine…”

Malcolm Craig cast his eyes over the first few rows of the audience in St Mary’s Church Hall.  There were few signs of the latest liberated fashions of the twenties amongst the women in this staid, largely middle-aged crowd. Even most of the young women there were clad in the fashions and sombre colours of the previous decade. Not many flappers, with bobbed hair and close-fitting cloche hats were to be found in this conservative crowd. Many of those in the audience were still mourning the loss of their loved ones who had died in the Great War or had come home physically or mentally maimed. Others had succumbed to the Spanish ‘flu pandemic at the end of the decade. The only vanity the women displayed were cumbersome ornate hats which blocked the view of the stage to those seated behind them.

He was reaching the climax of the aria from La Bohème where his full attention should have been on the delicate high note at the end of the aria, when he caught sight of Felicity at last. She was further back than he had expected, seated demurely between her stern father and her scrawny twittery mother. Her two younger brothers completed the Gregory family party who were present at St Mary’s especially to hear Felicity’s young man singing.

Malcolm was going to London the following week to begin rehearsals for the new season of the touring Kings Opera Company. Despite his outstanding voice, his singing would be confined to the chorus, with only the occasional small role to fulfil, and although he would be given leading parts to understudy it was unlikely that many of the principals would be absent and give him a chance to stand in for them.

He took the last note of the aria in a delicate falsetto, and the audience erupted into cheers for Mr and Mrs Craig’s’ gifted son. He acknowledged the applause gracefully and drew his accompanist, the old Church organist and choirmaster, who had known Malcolm since his early days as a mellifluous boy alto, forward to receive his share of appreciation for the performance. He looked directly at Felicity and was gratified to see that she was applauding wildly. With the lights up, he saw that her face was flushed and her eyes were shining. She was aglow with the unaccustomed excitement of the occasion. All this applause was for her boyfriend who had acquitted himself beyond everyone’s expectations in his first solo recital.

Tea would be served to the audience after the concert, as it was on every occasion. The vicar believed that half the people present came to enjoy the liberal tea rather than because they were really interested in the event itself. Already stalwarts of the Mothers’ Union were gathering in the hall kitchen, competing with the applause as they clattered cups and saucers into position on the long trestle tables. The last thing Malcolm wanted to do after his recital was to make polite conversation with his large family and Felicity and her parents over a cup of weak lukewarm tea and a slice of seed cake. He wanted Felicity all to himself, to hold her tightly in his arms and see her rejoice in his good fortune. But he knew he would have to break the news of his change of career to them before he could relax and enjoy the success of the evening. He joined his parents and his older brothers and sisters, as they waited for tea to be served. Already he was feeling far more nervous about the ordeal to follow than he had been about giving the recital.

“That was wonderful, Malcolm,” said his mother proudly. ‘You’re as good as a real professional singer now. It was so good of you to sing for your old friends at St Mary’s and help the vicar to raise money for the Organ Fund.”

His father growled in agreement and his older sisters and brothers crowded round him, eager to be associated with their talented and attractive young brother, who, at the age of twenty, towered above his parents and siblings.

“Glad you all enjoyed it,” he replied nonchalantly. “But I could certainly do with more than a cup of tea after that lot! I’m exhausted!”

The vicar creaked up the stairs to the hall stage during the tea. He called authoritatively for silence so that he might give his prepared vote of thanks to Malcolm. He announced triumphantly that the Church had raised a considerable amount towards the Organ Fund from the proceeds of the concert. Gloved hands applauded warmly, if mutely, and Malcolm smiled modestly, silently acknowledging the gratitude of the congregation.

Some of Malcolm’s old school mates approached him diffidently. When they were younger they had been his boon companions, cheering themselves hoarse in support of the local football team, but now Malcolm’s burgeoning gift set him apart from them, although he himself had not changed for he had always been able to sing. Since he had begun serving articles in a Birmingham firm of accountants, studying singing in his spare time and singing tenor solos for various choral societies, he had not had time to go to football matches any more. He had also been advised that he could ruin his voice if he cheered on his team with abandon every week.

He reached Felicity at last, relieved to see that her parents were momentarily away from her, doing their duty by mingling with their middle-aged, middle class companions.

“That was beautiful, Malcolm,” Felicity whispered, as he reached for her hand, warm through her glove, quite unlike the tiny hand of his recent aria. “My stomach was turning over with excitement when I listened to you. Were you singing just for me?”

“Always for you, darling,” he replied hoarsely.

Her red hair shone like a bright cap on her well-shaped head. She looked pretty, pert and modern with her new hairstyle, but Malcolm regretted the loss of her unruly curls which she used to pin up with pretty tortoiseshell clasps. On the few occasions they had managed to be alone together he had delighted in freeing her hair from the clasps and running his hands through her shining luxuriant curls as he held her close…

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