Our Book of the Month for July is Mitch Benn’s debut Terra, and we’re particularly excitable this week because it’s out this Thursday. It has already received a fantastic review from one of our Geeks, is being read by celebrities all over the place, and was hailed as ‘wonderfully human and close to home, with a warmth that glows like ET’s heart’ by Matt Haig in The Times at the weekend.
The first chapter is shared with you below. Enjoy!
Mr and Mrs Bradbury had been married for six years, and neither of them could remember why.
Some married couples are lucky. They agree about every thing. They like to do the same things and go to the same places. They have the same opinions and ideas. Their lives are peaceful and harmonious and they bring happiness to each other and all around them.
Mr and Mrs Bradbury were not one of these couples. Many married couples disagree about lots of things.
Sometimes these disagreements turn into arguments, and on occasion these arguments can become quite heated. But underneath it all, they love and care about each other enough to overlook the things they disagree about, or at least to find a compromise they can both be happy with.
Mr and Mrs Bradbury were not one of these couples either.
The Bradburys argued. All the time. About EVERY THING.
They would argue about what to do, where to go, what to eat, what to wear, what to watch on TV, what words to use, what books to read, what to think about the books they read, whether to read books or watch TV, whether the TV was too loud or too quiet, the weather, whether or not the weather was what they wanted the weather to be, what they should want the weather to be whether or not the weather was whatever they’d wanted before . . . Anything you could possibly argue about, they argued about. Even some things you couldn’t argue about, or at least things that nobody had ever thought of arguing about. Once they had an argument over whether fullfat mayonnaise was better than ‘light’ mayonnaise which ended with Mr Bradbury slamming the fridge door right off its hinges and Mrs Bradbury chasing him into the street throwing eggs at him.
That’s the kind of couple the Bradburys were.
You may know a couple like this. You probably spend a lot of time wondering: Why do they stay together if they’re always arguing? The Bradburys’ friends – a small and diminishing group, as you can imagine – used to ask themselves this question a lot. Some of them came to the conclusion that the Bradburys must like it that way; arguing all the time was the thing that made them happy. But it didn’t seem to make them happy at all, and it certainly didn’t make anyone else happy. So their friends abandoned this theory, and one by one they abandoned the Bradburys as well.
Then one of the Bradburys’ few remaining friends gave Mrs Bradbury an idea. They’d met one afternoon in the supermarket – quite by chance; people didn’t tend to choose to spend time with the Bradburys. ‘Have you ever thought about a baby?’ Mrs Bradbury’s friend asked her. ‘Babies bring love and harmony to a family. Trust me, if you have a baby all your arguments will seem so unimportant. Having a baby will bring you closer together.’
Mrs Bradbury mentioned this conversation to her husband in a rare moment of domestic truce, and they considered the idea. They had always thought it might be nice to have a baby (this was one of the few things they’d ever agreed on) and the more they thought about it, the more it did seem that having a baby would indeed help them to stop arguing.
It gave them a whole new fascinating range of things to argue about.
When the baby was growing inside Mrs Bradbury they would argue about whether they wanted a boy or a girl. They argued about which doctor to visit for advice, and when they’d decided upon one, they argued about whether his advice was any good. They argued about which room of the house should become the nursery, and about what sort
of cot to buy. As the baby took up more and more space inside Mrs Bradbury she would complain to Mr Bradbury about how tired she was and how he wasn’t helping enough, and Mr Bradbury would retort that he was sorry he was at work all the time but SOMEBODY had to go and make some money, and so on and so on.
When it was time for the baby to be born, they argued about whether to have the baby at home or in a hospital, and even after their baby arrived – a beautiful baby girl, by the way – they argued over whether Mr Bradbury was holding her the right way, or if Mrs Bradbury was feeding her enough, or feeding her the right things, or enough of the right things, or feeding her the right things the wrong way, or whether Mr Bradbury was burping her properly, or hard enough, or too hard, or often enough, or too hard too often.
Their bitterest arguments were over what to call the baby. Mr Bradbury wanted to call her Jasmine – he’d had a cat called Jasmine when he was a little boy and he’d always liked the name – but Mrs Bradbury said that was disgust ing, you couldn’t name a baby after a cat, and anyway she wanted to name the baby Agatha after her grandmother, and Mr Bradbury said that was a ridiculous name for a baby, you couldn’t be called Agatha unless you were at least sixty years old with white hair, pointy glasses and a fierce little dog. So it was that three weeks after their little girl was born, she still had no name.
What a sweetnatured little baby girl she was. While her parents frothed and fumed at each other high above her, this tiny girl with no name would lie back in her little bouncy chair gazing up at them with huge blinking blue eyes and a look of quiet wonder on her face, then she would smack her tiny lips, close her eyes and go back to sleep. She was indeed bringing love and harmony to her family, but her parents were too busy arguing to notice.
One evening Mrs Bradbury was having difficulty getting the baby to sleep. She was trying to remember a lullaby to sing, but all the ones she could think of began with some thing like ‘Hush little . . .’ followed by the baby’s name, and Mrs Bradbury’s baby didn’t yet have a name. Mrs Bradbury could, of course, have just sung ‘hush little baby’ but the fact that she and her husband couldn’t even agree on their child’s name made her feel silly and embarrassed, and she didn’t enjoy being reminded of it. So the poor baby cried on until suddenly, to her own surprise, Mrs Bradbury began to sing a song neither she – nor anyone else – had ever heard:
‘Do not cry
Do not weep
Floating gently off to sleep
You are loved and safe from harm
Sleeping sound in Mummy’s arms.’
Mrs Bradbury was so taken aback by the simple beauty of the song – and by how well she’d sung it (she’d never sung like that before) – that it took her a moment to notice that her baby was now sound asleep. Perhaps, she thought, as she placed the quietly snoring baby back in the basket beside her own bed (she was still too tiny to sleep in the cot they’d bought), she was going to be quite a good mother after all. From the next room, Mr Bradbury shouted to keep that noise down because he couldn’t hear the TV.
Then came the night the Bradburys stopped arguing for ever.
They had spent the day at Mrs Bradbury’s mother’s house. The visit had started awkwardly with Mrs Bradbury’s announcement that the baby would not now be named Agatha after Grandma after all, which she had said while casting a fierce look at Mr Bradbury, and things only got worse from there. By the time they said a terse goodbye to Mrs Bradbury’s mother, strapped their nameless baby girl into her very expensive car seat (oh, the arguments they’d had over buying that) and set off for home, both Mr and Mrs Bradbury were vibrating with bottledup rage. Mr Bradbury started things off by accusing Mrs Bradbury of ruining everything before they’d even sat down by drop ping the whole notnamingthebabyAgatha bombshell, whereupon Mrs Bradbury countered that it wasn’t her fault that her mother was disappointed, and Mr Bradbury said that Mrs Bradbury’s mother was always disappointed, mainly with him, he knew she’d never liked him, and Mrs Bradbury told Mr Bradbury that her mother didn’t dislike him, he just never gave her a chance, and Mr Bradbury said that was a bit rich coming from her, she never gave anybody a chance, it was no wonder they had hardly any friends, and now look you’ve made the baby cry with all your shouting, and Mrs Bradbury said that no, it was Mr Bradbury who’d made the baby cry by driving too fast . . .
At that moment, everything changed.