Ice and Lemon

Ice and Lemon

I recently finished reading a novel called Ice & Lemon, which was given to me by my mother for Christmas (my reading list is quite long at the moment; I’m only just getting close to catching up!). I could tell you about what I liked about the book – and I will, in a moment – but before that I’d like to mention what makes this book personally so spooky to me, as a reader.

Ice and Lemon, by Pete Hartley

Ice and Lemon, by Pete Hartley

My mother got it for me because the coincidences apparent on the front and back cover appealed to her:

  1. The author’s name, Pete Hartley, is remarkably similar to my father’s name, Peter Huntley.
  2. The strapline contains a date, and that date is my mother’s birthday.
  3. The protagonist of the story is called Daniel, which is – prior to that point in the late 1990s when I started going by Dan among virtually everybody – my name.
  4. The front cover shows a picture of a baby’s hand, and Ruth‘s expected delivery date of New Year’s Eve was thus a hot discussion topic for us all around Christmas-time.

Okay, so – that’s a handful of quirky coincidences, certainly, but I’m sure if you looked at every volume in a bookshop – in the right frame of mind – you’d find a dozen other novels that seemed similarly fortuitous. But as I began to read the story, I discovered that I shared a lot more in common with the story’s Daniel than I could have possibly predicted. It was almost as if I were reading an alternate-history version of my own life – it’s incredibly easy to see how believable choices made in the early 2000s could have lead to a reality that even-more closely paralleled with my own:

Dan with a golden banana nailed to a stick.

In 2006, I won an award of dubious value for my stand-up act: a gold-plated banana nailed to a plank of wood hewn from the funniest tree in town.

  • Daniel’s partner is called Claire. In 2005, when the story is set, I too had a partner called Claire.
  • Daniel grew up in, and lives in, Preston, near to the football stadium and his local supermarket, the Deepdale Road/Sir Tom Finney Way Sainsburys. I grew up in Preston, and my parents houses are both within sight of the football stadium. My father used to, and my mother still does, do their shopping at the Deepdale Road/Sir Tom Finney Way Sainsburys.
  • The story begins with Daniel travelling back from a trip to Spain. I too spent time in Spain in 2005.
  • Daniel is a stand-up comedian and a veteran of the Edinburgh Fringe. I had an incredibly-short career as a stand-up comedian, and of course I too have a history with the Fringe.
  • Some time after an apocalyptic event takes place, Daniel joins a group of survivors who call themselves “Camp Q” (no explanation is given for the choice of name). Some time after the date of the event as it appears in the story, I changed my surname to Q.
The Sainsburys on Deepdale Road/Sir Tom Finney Way, in Preston.

Before the apocalypse, Daniel did his shopping here. Before I moved to Aberystwyth, so did I.

There are about a hundred smaller coincidences in Daniel’s story, too, but after a few of them you stop looking objectively and you can’t help but see them, so I’ll spare you the list. If I wanted to, I’m sure I could find plenty of things that definitely didn’t fit me: for example, Daniel’s significantly older than me. That sort of blows the alternate history idea out of the water. But nonetheless, it was a disturbing and eerie experience to be reading about a protagonist so much like myself, travelling around a post-disaster area that I personally know so very well. I feel like I ought to reach out to the author and check that he’s not just pranking me, somehow. His son features in the book, but somehow the coincidences that naturally occur as a result of this are less-impressive because they’re pre-informed.

The book itself is pretty good: a soft science fiction story full of a thorougly-explored post-apocalyptic grief. Very human, and very British, it exemplifies that curious sense of humour that we as a nation exhibit in the face of a disaster, while still being emotionally-scarring in the sheer scope of the tragedy it depicts. The science of the science-fiction is… questionable, but it’s not explored in detail (and it’s only treated as being speculative by the characters discussing it anyway, who aren’t scientists): this is a story about people, suffering, and survival, not about technology nor futurism. There are a handful of points at which it feels like it could have done with an additional pass by a proofreader; while occasionally distracting, these typos are not problematic. Plus: the book contains the most literal deus ex machina I’ve ever encountered (and thankfully, it doesn’t come across as lazy writing so much as general wasteland craziness).

It’sunder £3 in ebook format, and if I didn’t already own a paperback copy, I’d be happy to pay that for it. Even if it didn’t make me feel like I was looking at an alternate version of myself.

Dan Q is a software engineer, a director of a voluntary organisation, a trainee counsellor, a keen geocacher, and an amateur magician. He lives with his partner and her husband in a polyamorous triad, and occasionally finds time to blog.

4 Comments

  1. Pete Hartley 3 years ago

    Hi Dan,
    It gave me great joy to read your comments above. I can absolutely assure you that the coincidences are precisely that and no more. I too grew up in Deepdale. If ever you are in Preston again some time I’d be happy to explain the gestation of the novel a little more for you, but the idea came when returning from a family holiday in Seville and the basic premise was created to pass the time as we flew, and was pretty much in line with what happens in the first chapter. I chose the name Dan because a former student of mine is a stand up and that’s his first name and also because it makes a terrible pun with his surname, which was intended as a clue to his level of patter when on stage. Camp Q was chosen because it is the site of a B & Q store. Claire is just a name I like.
    Anyway I’m glad if you mostly enjoyed the ride. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. And thanks to your mum for buying the book.

    I’m working on a very different novel at the moment. If that has any resonances with you, I may have to change my religion, again.

    Best regards,

    Pete Hartley.

    • Scatman Dan 3 years ago

      Thanks, Pete. I’m in Preston a couple of times a year (my mother lives in Holme Slack, and – since I’ve texted her a series of “oh my god this man’s a prophet” messages to her – has been asking what she’s supposed to do to survive the apocalypse), so I might take you up on that next time I’m around. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I’ll be recommending it to folks with a taste for this kind of fiction: I was particularly impressed with the level of thought that went into the effects of the Event – at first, reading it, I was incredulous (e.g. “why are the plants fine, then?”, “why AREN’T the birds?”) but then slowly it dawned on me, just as it dawned on the members of The Age of Reason.

      Looking forward to hearing about your next novel! Though I’d also be interested to read about the ongoing challenges of the survivors of Ice & Lemon, too, as civilization begins to come back together in the brave new world at the end of the book, if you were ever inclined to revisit them.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. David Hartley 3 years ago

    I love, love, love this. The coincidences are bonkers but, in a curious way, chime with the aura and tone of the book itself; full of the uncanny, the unsettlingly familiar, the discomfortingly strange. But also somehow warm and reassuring at the same time. Of course the early chapters in particular had a profound impact upon me – particularly the descriptions of the house I grew up in and the garden I spent most of my time in. I remember the bird feeder sending a chill up my spine, for some reason. The tiny details, that’s what makes it.

    Obviously, very glad to hear you enjoyed the book as well Dan – I think its a real wonderful piece of work – but then again I am somewhat biased. And, on a wider note, its great to see that a self-published endeavour has grown legs and is reaching people unconnected to family and friends – even it if its finding its weird and spooky connections of its very own…

    • Scatman Dan 3 years ago

      Thanks, David. Want to know something else spooky? David Hartley has for about 20 years now been one of my go-to aliases when I need a fake name to give to somebody (which happens… more than you might think – I adapted it from the name of one of my uncles, which is similar). I have a handful of others (some with a reasonable amount of evidence for their existence, should anybody look for them! – some even have phone numbers, club memberships, PayPal accounts etc.!), but your name was for a long while my basic “need a fake name for myself: I’ll use that” one.