Poor Noah Grimes! His father disappeared years ago, his mother's Beyonc tribute act is an unacceptable embarrassment, and his beloved gran is no longer herself. He only has one friend, Harry, and school is...Well, it's pure hell. Why can't Noah be normal, like everyone else at school? Maybe if he struck up a romantic relationship with someone - maybe Sophie, who is perfect and lovely - he'd be seen in a different light? But Noah's plans are derailed when Harry kisses him at a party. That's when things go from bad to utter chaos.
Extract - chapter 2
Noah sat in the furthest corner of the classroom, watching a solitary fly repeatedly hurl itself at the window, and bravely ignoring the fact everyone was still looking at him like he’d accidentally come to school completely naked.
Seven years! He had kept this quiet for seven years! And then the stupid cow decided to “up the ante” (his mother’s words) and get some flyers made. He had binned the ones he’d found in the house last week, but she must have made more. And now everyone knew; she might as well have just printed some little cards advertising escort services and Blu-Tacked them up in the phone box.
Officially his mum was on the dole. Unofficially, she toured pubs and clubs with her blisteringly shite act “Ruby Devine – A Tribute to Beyoncé”. She wasn’t actually called Ruby Devine. That was a stage name to “enhance the magic and glamour” (his mother’s words), but also to put any investigators from the jobcentre off the scent. To date, her act had only been performed in larger nearby towns and a few coastal holiday camps, meaning the true horror of what she did remained a secret to the locals. But in a misguided attempt to break into the Little Fobbing market, she’d had ten thousand A5 flyers produced, and, for reasons known only to her idiotic self, had clearly left a bunch of them on reception at the front of the sports hall, most of which had now been stuck up all over the school. His mother, in a catastrophic Primark leotard, pouting at the camera like she actually thought she was an internationally acclaimed superstar. He might have got away with it, badly disguised as she was in false eyelashes and a wig, had it not been for the details in the bottom right:
“For bookings contact Lisa Grimes.”
And the small personal biography she had added in an attempt to big herself up:
“Lisa has performed at many of the top and most glamorous establishments for over two decades. Proud mum of Noah, she splits her time between New York, LA and Little Fobbing.”
None of this was remotely true. She’d never even been to LA or New York, plus proud mum?! Was she having a laugh? Noah clenched his fists, fingernails digging into his palms. Why did she have a complete inability to be a normal mum? Why couldn’t she be a top lawyer or businesswoman or even just quietly accept dole money and lie low? At the very least, why couldn’t she try, just once, not to totally embarrass him and ruin his already appalling life?
And the piss-taking at school had been on the level of:
“All right, Noah? How much would your mum charge for a private dance?”
And: “Hey, Noah? Say my name! Go on, say my name!”
And even: “Oi, Noah?! You got any lemonade? Yeah, I bet you do. I bet there’s a lot of lemonade at your house!”
It had been the most humiliating day ever. Worse than the time his mum loudly accused him of “playing with himself” as they queued for chicken in a packed KFC, and he wasn’t even— SOMETIMES THINGS JUST NEED READJUSTING, OK?! Things being as they were, Noah decided he was now ninety-eight per cent certain God didn’t exist. God was supposed to reward the good and punish the bad; that’s how Noah’d always understood it to work. But he hadn’t been bad. Not bad in the sense of being an evil despot doing war crimes, anyway. The list of bad things he’d done was decidedly lame. In fact, the top three entries would be:
1) Pocketing a spare condom from a PSHE class, just in case he got lucky (obviously now well past its expiry date).
2) Sabotaging Penelope Carter’s apple crumble in Food Technology by moving her oven dial when she wasn’t looking, causing her crumble topping to burn and thereby securing his success in the Best Apple Crumble Contest in Year Eight.
3) Forging several excuse notes from his mum during football in the cold months (which was totally fair to do when the teacher was wearing ten layers of weatherproof, fur-lined survival kit you could climb Everest in, and you only had on thin nylon shorts and a threadbare T-shirt. It was a matter of human rights, right?!).
So not really all that bad in the scheme of things. Surely an all-powerful being would cut you a bit of slack at some point? But apparently not.
“How ya’ doin’, No-ah?” came the mock-sultry voice.
Jess Jackson flicked back her dyed-blonde hair, smiled maliciously and eased herself into the empty seat next to him. Noah froze in horror. She was so close he could smell her fake tan and Justin Bieber perfume. All the lads fancied Jess. Every inch of her was manicured, primped and preened, with dark, heavy eye make-up and scary, severe eyebrows. The other boys seemed to like that, but Noah just thought she looked like a demented clown from a horror film. With her above-the-knee skirt she also blatantly flouted the uniform rules in a completely unacceptable way. Jess was trouble. In Year Five she took the class hamster home for Easter – and it came back dead. In Year Seven she threw a KitKat at a swan on a geography field trip – provoking it to attack a nearby toddler. In Year Eight she clearly faked a seizure after an assembly about epilepsy but somehow managed to get off school anyway; Year Nine, stole a horse; Year Ten, threw a drumstick at Mrs Butcher and the police were called. And this was just the stuff Noah knew about.
“What do you want, Jess?” He stared down at his desk, doing his best to sound strong and in control.
“I was wondering, does your mum do other acts as well as Beyoncé?”
“Does she do Miley Cyrus?”
“Does she twerk, Noah? Does she twerk it all night long?”
“No, she does not.” Straight answers. Direct. Give her nothing.
“You’ve gone bright red. Is it because you’re getting turned on, thinking about your twerking mum?”
He swallowed hard. Ignore her. Don’t rise to it.
“Is everyone getting on with their work?” Miss Palmer said, looking over. “Jess?”
“I’m just liaising with Noah, miss, about one of the questions, but he doesn’t know the answer! Are you sure he should be top set for everything?”
“Piss off!” Noah hissed. How dare this utter clod question his hard-won academic success! “Ooh, Noah, look how mad you getting!”
He flinched. “It’s you’re. Look how mad you’re getting!”
There was nothing more irritating to him than incorrect grammar, but Jess either didn’t understand or was deliberately winding him up more. “Not me who is angry, Noah! You crazy man!”
“You so vexed!”
“You bitter! You salty! You—”
“Shut up, just SHUT UP!” he shouted. Silence.
The entire class stopped what they were doing and looked at him. Miss Palmer crossed her arms and gave him a disapproving stare.
He felt the blood drain from his cheeks. He’d let Jess get to him. You didn’t answer back to people like her. Better just to take it and not give them bait. When would he learn? “Wanker,” Jess said, getting up abruptly so the chair fell backwards. “Nice boner.”
On the bright side, having to see your own mum in a leotard did at least put a stop to any boy-type issues. “I haven’t got. . .”
“You so have. Everyone! Noah’s got a boner ’cause he’s thinking about his pop star mum!” she shouted, to cheers from the rest of the class.
“Jess! Enough!” shouted Miss Palmer.
Jess sauntered off in the direction of her desk as the noise subsided. He clenched his jaw and seriously considered throwing his pencil down really hard, or maybe snapping it in half or something. Only it was a freshly sharpened Paper Mate Mirado Black Warrior with classic medium-firm lead and pressure-bonded cedar wood that encased the ultrasmooth core. He wasn’t prepared to sacrifice premium stationery for her.
He sighed. He’d never done anything to Jess. Why couldn’t she just get on with her own pointless life and he would get on with his? Why did the day have to get worse and worse? He snuck a look across the room to see if Sophie was also joining in the fun at his expense. No.
Of course she wasn’t. Because Sophie was lovely and allround A-star fantastic and wouldn’t do something like that. She was just quietly finishing her worksheet – with all the correct answers and with perfect handwriting, Noah guessed.
Perfect Sophie. Perfect, intelligent, hard-working-but-stillpopular-not-that-she-cared-about-popularity Sophie.
Simon James Green grew up in a small town in Lincolnshire that definitely wasn’t the inspiration for Little Fobbing – so no-one from there can be mad with him, OK? He enjoyed a classic British education of assorted humiliations and barbaric PE lessons before reading Law at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he further embarrassed himself by accidentally joining the rowing team despite having no upper body strength and not being able swim. When it turned out that being a lawyer was nothing like how it looks in Suits or The Good Wife, and buoyed by the success of his late night comedy show that involved an inflatable sheep, he travelled to London to pursue a glamorous career in show business. Within weeks he was working in a call centre, had been mugged, and had racked up thousands of pounds worth of debt. Finding strength and inspiration in the lyrics of Tubthumping by Chumbawumba, he eventually ended up working on a range of West End shows and UK tours, co-wrote a feature-length rom-com for the BBC and directed Hollyoaks for C4 / Lime Pictures. After trying really, really hard, he also managed to write Noah Can’t Even. If you are interested in stalking him, he still lives in London, where he spends a lot of time telling people that Noah Can’t Even is only partly autobiographical, and his mum has definitely never done a Beyoncé tribute act.