Picture this: an attractive and rather vulnerable young woman has left her selfish husband, turned her back on her cruel and unhappy marriage and embarked on a long and solitary journey across part of Europe to return to her family home. That's a home to which she has no idea whether or not she will be welcome, incidentally, but that's an ordeal for the future.
Instead of hopping on a plane and getting the ordeal over with in three or four hours, Lyssa has boldly chosen to drive herself from Greece via Italy, Switzerland, France and across TheChannel into England. The first leg of her journey entails a slow ferry crossing from Patras in Greece to Ancona in Italy. These two day ferry crossings are only made tolerable if one travels first class and Lyssa feels she owes herself that little luxury.
On the ferry boat she meets a good-looking stranger, an English surgeon, who is very plainly attracted to her. He makes an easy and pleasant travelling companion - a great listener - and Lyssa finds herself pouring out her sad history to his interested ears. When he hears she will need to find work back in London, he offers her a job as his secretary - an impulsive act of kindness but not taken very seriously by either of them. Nevertheless, there is definite chemistry between them and David makes the inevitable move on her. He offers her a fling, therapeutic sex if you wish, and could anyone really blame Lyssa if she accepted? She doesn't, of course, because David is married and makes no attempt to hide that fact (when he could very easily do so). Here's a snippet of the conversation between them the following day before they part and go their separate ways:
“Meet me in Milan,” he said suddenly.
She looked into his face quickly. “You do believe in living dangerously, don’t you?” She remembered he would be meeting his wife in Milan.
“For lunch,” he argued. “To discuss the job.”
“And then what?”
He gave her a mischievous grin. “References, perhaps?”
Lyssa’s gaze wandered abstractedly around the lounge where small groups of people gathered together, anxiously checking passports and hand-luggage as the boat lumbered inexorably northward.
“How many times have you cheated on your wife?” Try as she might, she could not expel the natural tremor from her voice.
“Thirty six,” he answered immediately, looking pained. “Give or take a few dozen. I can assure you I don’t make a habit of this. I’m not exactly collecting material for a clinical trial.”
Now it was never my intention to suggest that David had seriously had thirty six affairs! His immediate answer and pained expression should have indicated that his answer was ironic. He's impatient at her question and is beginning to feel a sense of urgency about whether he'll see her again. The almost unreal two-day interlude on the boat has led them to forge a bond that neither of them quite understands, and which both feel a certain reluctance to end completely.
However, several readers so far have failed to understand the joke and were shocked by David's flippant answer, not realising he had simply plucked a number from the top of his head as a sarcastic response to a silly question. The disservice to my character was my fault, not his. I didn't intend to suggest that David was an outrageous womaniser!
Of course he shouldn't be contemplating cheating on his wife in the first place, but no man is perfect when faced with a pretty and available woman and, if the opportunity arises, what red-blooded man won't attempt to seize it? Come to that, what red-blooded woman might not also at least consider it?
What does concern me, however, is that British humour doesn't always translate well and that my characters suffer bad press as a result. We Brits so often base our humour on irony or sarcasm that it's second nature to us. It's all too easy to forget that the rest of the world may take our words literally and naturally misinterpret our intention.