‘Who says we will, ‘ I enquire calmly.
‘Oh, my lovely lovely Nymph,’ I bend forward and pinch her cheeks. ‘You really needn’t worry.’
Peirene, however, is not in a jokey mood. She ducks from underneath my hands and takes a few steps away from me. ‘Your next novel is dealing with a very sensitive issue. I don’t want to stir trouble.’
I point to the pile of A4 printed out pages on the coffee table in the office. ‘Have you read Kauthar?’ Peirene shakes her head, adding defensively, ‘but I know it’s about a woman who converts to Islam and then things go wrong.’
‘That’s a pretty rough summery ‘I reply dryly before I continue: ‘Kauthar is the Arabic word for the river of abundance in paradise. It’s also a woman’s name. The story takes as a starting point my own experience of wondering whether to convert to Islam when I studied Arabic at university. The plot then goes a step further and examines the psychological factors that lead my protagonist to distort her religious faith.’ I pause. ‘So the novel is about identity, memory and distortion of religious texts – the Bible as well as the Quran.’
Peirene starts leafing through the paper pile. ‘Wow. That is a challenge for the cover.’
‘Indeed. But I’m really lucky. The artist Whitney McVeigh has agreed to collaborate on the project. We are using one of her images – created with ink and water – and Sacha and Salt have come up with a fantastic design.’
I show the cover draft to the Nymph. She stares at it in silence.
‘You don’t like it?’ I’m suddenly worried.
‘No. no. It’s absolutely stunning. There is only one problem with it.’
‘What?’ My heart sinks again. I wonder if we have all overlooked something.
‘The novel will be a disappointment. It can never be as good as the cover,’ the Nymph gives me sparkly smile and kiss on the cheek. Then she picks up the manuscript from the table. ‘But I guess I still better read it.’