Odette, as a swan, flies into a gale that blows her across the North Sea from Russia to the university town of Cygnford, eastern England. Exhausted, she crashes through Mary Fairweather’s front window. The shocked Mary takes the injured bird to the vet and is advised to keep her overnight to make sure she recovers. At sundown, though, Odette’s spell transforms her back into human form…
Mary, a young freelance journalist, is battling bereavement, a failed relationship and a bullying boss. She also has to keep an eye on her bright yet feckless younger brother, Patrick, a would-be actor. Torn between disbelief and the wish to help her bizarre visitor, she is soon enchanted by Odette’s charm, innocence and passion for life – to say nothing of her extraordinary musical talent, which Odette insists was nurtured by Franz Liszt himself. But Odette is a swan by day and a woman by night, and to break the spell a man must swear to love her forever. Moreover, the evil baron who bewitched her is out to get her back.
As Mary and Odette try to hide the improbable truth, the web of deception grows ever more tangled. Mary finds herself attracted to an expert on the meaning of fairy-tales, while Odette pins hope on the all-too-human Patrick, who has no idea she is anything other than his sister’s lodger. Meanwhile Cyngford’s welcome to Odette – seemingly a stranger from the east, seeking refuge – is not always friendly. Cared for and encouraged by some, exploited and seduced by others, attacked by her own kind for her difference and excluded from human pursuits by her spell, Odette finds her quest to free herself has never seemed more difficult. Yet the process of transformation is not hers alone.
What happens when a sliver of fairy-tale beauty collides with the shattered muddle of real life? What does it take to become fully human?
The wind began to rise in the night. By four the rain had started; by six the storm had worked itself into a frenzy that shook the house. Mary, awaking to unearthly rattles and shudders, opened the curtains to gaze, disbelieving, at tobacco-coloured clouds scudding by, twigs and litter bowling down the pavements and the chestnut tree bending as if under a dead weight, its branches reaching out for help.
The radio news admitted that the weathermen had underestimated the gale, while the editor of Nature Now, when Mary phoned, was late for work and breathless after cycling against the wind.
Mary had one day to finish her articles. The first needed little research beyond the Internet; at least she didn’t have to venture outside. At two, the raindrops hitting her window like paint flung by a furious artist, she prepared to make her calls for the corporate journal. She had to talk to the managing directors of Cygnford’s top three accountancy firms about their favourite holiday destinations – just a ploy for advertising revenue for the magazine, of course, but it would pay for her groceries for a month.
“Farmers, White and George, how can I help you?” The receptionist sounded bored.
“This is Mary Fairweather, from the Jones Brothers house chronicle. Could I speak to the managing director please? He’s had a message from my editor to expect a call.”
“I’ll see if he’s free. Please hold the line.”
“And could you tell me his name, please?”
“It’s Peter Haddon.”
Mary nearly dropped the phone. She knew exactly where Peter Haddon liked to go on holiday.
Together, once, they’d enjoyed four days in Rome, tripping over history on street corners, wandering in the shade of ancient archways in the Forum, savouring the evening air by the fountain in the Piazza Navona with a bottle of Chianti and two plastic mugs; then five days in Florence soaking up pictures, statues and churches; finally Venice, with long days of walking, eating and sightseeing, and nights in which sleep wasn’t a priority.
Paralysed, while the phone piped Tchaikovsky into her left ear, she wondered whether to ring off. Before she could, he was there. “Mary – !”
“Sorry, Peter. I didn’t know it was you. I’m doing an article and, believe it or not, I need to ask accountancy MDs where they go on holiday.” She forced laughter.
“Good heavens. Mary Fairweather. Well, well, well.” Peter was chuckling. “How on earth are you?”
“Fine. Chugging along. And you?”
“Well, thanks. A little hectic, but very well indeed. Good to hear your voice! How’s life? Got a nice bloke?” He’d have heard on the grapevine within hours if she’d found another relationship.
“You’re married, aren’t you?” she said, instead of answering.
One month in and Meeting Odette is one third funded, which is brilliant news. Huge thanks to my 61 supporters who have stepped forward to pledge so far! Now we just need twice as many again to do likewise, preferably within the next few weeks... so please can I ask you all to share the link with any literarily, balletically, musically or fantastically inclined friends who might enjoy a feathery tale…
[I feel a bit like this today...hiding head in despair]
...but what? You wait 25 years and suddenly someone else picks your topic too? For a Hollywood blockbuster? Oh. Flippin'. Heck.
I just stumbled across a piece of news on Twitter: Felicity Jones is to star in a movie based on the story of Swan Lake, without any ballet. No kidding. Read all about it here.
What are the chances…
The wonderful oboist Nicholas Daniel alerts us to this report from BBC News Scotland from 2005, when the then-Master of the Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, found himself being cautioned over the death of a swan near his Orkney home. The unfortunate bird had struck a power line. ("Max" himself died last year and is much missed for his mercurial and outspoken personality as well as his…
I did something utterly terrible when I chose the pledge rewards to offer you. I forgot all about the party.
How could I? I mean, what is a book without its launch party? What is the point of a book if you can't celebrate its existence with wine and friends and good cheer? In this neck of the woods, the book is not an excuse for a party; the prospect of a party is the excuse…
It's not that Jonas Kaufmann's voice was absolutely essential to the first update on the Meeting Odette page. You never need any excuse to listen to him (at least, I don't). But the German tenor's Lohengrin is legendary and, let's face it, Swan Lake would be nowhere without Wagner's swanny opera. Stories often sprout on the backs of older stories, and that ballet is no exception.
Here's a video…
I used to have a recurring dream. I was in the library, looking for a book. I knew I'd seen it once before. I couldn't find it. It was a book of Swan Lake. I would always wake up knowing there was something inside it that I wanted, or needed, but I could never remember what it was.
(Pictured above: Natalia Osipova as Odette, photo by Gene Schiavone, Royal Opera House)
I had this dream…
These people are helping to fund Meeting Odette.