By mjpotenza 2011 Any fan of short stories will enjoy this selection of entertaining tales by Fiona Compton. The
author presents women’s viewpoints, emotions, and experiences accurately and
uniquely. The women characters are interesting, complex, and sympathetic (the
men are mostly cads). One wonders how much is autobiographical. The writing is
descriptive and precise. The style flows nicely, making for easy and pleasant
reading. The Wedding Singer,Miss Stratton Disappears, and The
Sunset Gleams, to name a few, all have the right combination of humour and
sadness. In short, these well written stories are very enjoyable.
By Pearl Harris (language practitioner) 10-Sep-2011
Each short story in this collection is refreshingly different and will touch
a chord in the heart of most female readers. All the characters are masterfully
and realistically portrayed. Many of the incidents depicted are those which
affect all women at various times in their lives and with which the reader can
readily empathise. Some bring a chuckle and a feeling of optimism, others a
feeling of sadness. All left a lasting impression on me. Fiona Compton’s voice is
a charming mix, evidence of her Scottish, South African and musical roots.
These stories particularly appeal to me as an expatriate South African, as many
of them richly evoke the South African lifestyle. However, all are timeless in
their own right and certainly worth reading by both women and men, whatever
TASTER – A few pages of The Song is Ended
It was a beautiful spring day in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Heather Munroe felt happier than she had done for a very long time. Ian, her husband of thirty years, had woken in a cheerful mood and taken their two little dogs for a walk at nearby Zoo Lake before lunch.
“It’s a wonderful day, isn’t it, darling?” he said as he negotiated the exuberant Buster and Benny into the back of the car. “Thank goodness we don’t have to be in the studio until later. Why don’t we have a picnic lunch in the garden for a change and make the most of this gorgeous weather?”
He kissed her lightly on the forehead and drove off on the short trip to Zoo Lake where the dogs could romp free round the water.
Although Ian’s dark hair was receding and tinged with grey, and his expressive face slightly haggard, he remained a commanding figure despite his genial personality. He had accepted his gift of an outstanding voice, which had given him a successful career, without assuming it made him superior in any other way.
After he left, Heather went to her bedroom to tie back her thick auburn hair with an aquamarine ribbon, which perfectly matched her eyes, and returned to the kitchen to prepare the picnic lunch, humming softly.
Heather and Ian spent most of their time together in their Sandton studio, where she taught piano, and accompanied Ian’s singing pupils, just as she had accompanied Ian himself, when he was singing professionally here and in Europe.
Heather had recently been to the Grahamstown Arts Festival to accompany another singer. Their student, Janet Tabraham, had played for Ian in the studio, as she had done a number of times before. She was a hard-working, serious girl in her late teens, preparing for her piano and singing diplomas, hoping to make a career in music. They had been delighted when they discovered how well she could play. Heather
had no qualms about asking her to play for Ian when she was away.
“It will boost her confidence and be a wonderful opportunity for her to learn how to teach singing,” Heather told Mrs Tabraham. “Don’t worry about her, Margaret. Ian will look after her.”
Janet had started singing and piano lessons with them as a guileless sixteen-year-old, still at school. The only child of elderly parents, she had led a protected innocent life. The nearest thing to the high life for Janet was the Young People’s Guild at the Church hall on a Friday night, and singing alto in the school choir.
Heather doubted if Janet had ever had a serious boyfriend, although she was an attractive, dark-eyed girl, quiet and unassuming. They had given her a spare key to their studio so she could go in and practise in peace when they were not working there.
Heather chopped up the salad ingredients, thinking about her husband. For a while he had been restless, grumpy and out of sorts, but unwilling to offer any explanation for his misery. He would often fall into bed in the middle of the night, after consuming half a bottle of whatever had taken his fancy in their cocktail cabinet the night before.
She wondered if he was having another of his little flings and feeling guilty about it, despite the novelty of a fresh liaison. After the last one he had sworn he would behave in future, but she hadn’t taken him seriously. She had heard the same contrite promises before. He was sixty now: surely pretty girls in the eighteen to twenty-five age group, for whom he had a weakness, would look on him as a father figure rather than a lover. “Dirty old man”, might spring to their lips if he tried it on with one of them these days. She knew that the long line of girls, with whom he had amused himself over the years, were his little flaw, like gambling, or drinking, which might soon become his second little flaw if he were not very careful.
After his grumpy spell and over-indulgence in spirits, Heather had been surprised, relieved, and even rather thrilled, when last night he made do with two gins and made love to her almost like he used to do in the early heady days of their long relationship. Despite his perennial unfaithfulness, she knew he had no inclination to end his marriage for he always returned to her after a meaningless affair.
Despite Heather’s annoyance at his numerous flings, she did not want to end their marriage either. They had a successful and lucrative concert career, and now that Ian was nearing the end of his singing days, they were running a flourishing music studio together. Their musical partnership was as perfect as it had been the day she had first played for him at a concert in London over thirty years earlier. She still loved him, regardless of his foolhardiness with young girls. Each one had faded away, suffering the ignominy of being unceremoniously dropped, but she, Heather, remained a constant in his life. She knew he would never leave her.
Ian let the dogs off their leads to run free round the lake. He followed them at a slower pace. Zoo Lake was quiet this morning, although there were remnants of the revelry that had taken place at the weekend. Beer cans, empty chip and sweet packets, some floating in the lake, spoilt the illusion of being in the country rather than in the middle of a big city. Ian could see the white clad figures of the bowlers at the nearby bowling club. He could even hear the applause and the exclamations of pleasure when someone placed their bowl in a good position.
He thought about last night with Heather and felt rather ashamed of himself. He had been having a few drinks and thinking about his relationship with Janet – he could hardly call it an affair – yet. Unlike the young women and girls with whom he had previous affairs, this one was an innocent, a virgin. At sixty years of age he would be wicked to take away her innocence, although she was now at the stage where she
really wanted him to do so. She was so entirely devoted to him that he was frightened where it would all end. As end it eventually must…
The book is available as a paperback and as an ebook (epub) at: Fiona’s Store
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.
Thanks to Pearl Harris for writing a review of this book:
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.