An everyday tale of sex in Bucks and rock 'n' roll

Vanessa Thorpe meets the woman who has exposed the dark, seedy underbelly of, er, Aylesbury

THERE are pastel-coloured geese, not ducks, on the cover of the book, although they really should be ducks. After all, this is Aylesbury.

But then Animals, a new novel by first-time writer Tabitha Troughton, does not set out to present the Aylesbury of the common imagination.

Her tale of casual drug-taking, drinking, and deviant behaviour amid the respectable gabled shops of the market town has infuriated many residents.

The book, launched this week, has provoked a series of disgruntled phone calls and letters to her publishers Simon and Schuster.

Even the display copies in the local bookshop bear a stern warning to customers. "Some readers may be offended," it concludes, accompanied by five exclamation marks.

"We put the warning on because a lot of old ladies might be a bit surprised," said a sales assistant. "But it is going like a rocket."

The district council, too, has been moved to put forward an official response to the book.

"Aylesbury is a thriving, prosperous town and we're not sure many people would recognise Tabitha's depiction of it," claims Teresa Lane, head of marketing and information.

"Animals is very clearly her own personal recollection of Aylesbury. It is, however, a novel, and I'm sure if you ask a dozen people about their experiences of Aylesbury at that time they would all be very different."

Tabitha Troughton herself is happy to stand by her comic portrayal of the town's stultifying snobbery and of the boozy, druggy, sexually liberated antics of its teenagers.

"OK, of course it is fiction. But it is not wrong," she says. "I lived near Aylesbury in my formative years and I still have a love-hate relationship with the place."

The gamine 31-year-old writer argues that she suffered throughout her teens from "a certain in-bred, middle-class intolerance" that dominated the county town.

"And nobody ever smiles. Like many affluent market towns a kind of social morality restricts everything, an idea of morality which no one has ever actually agreed upon."

For the teenage Troughton, Aylesbury was a place where the boring orthodoxies of the Rotary Club and the church were to be overturned as often as possible. So she dyed her hair blue and tried hard to be bad.

In the light of this, the adult decision to go back and people the place with fictional drug dealers, flashers, and trans-sexuals - not to mention the charismatic Chiltern Goose Strangler - does look a little like sweet revenge.

And respectable Aylesbury is gratifyingly outraged.

"It sounds like the kind of book that would make me explode," commented one retired Aylesbury lawyer. "I think it would be unfair for any writer to pick on just Aylesbury."

Actually, the author agrees with this. Readers are welcome, she said, to substitute any other well-to-do market town for Aylesbury. "As someone said to me when they had read the book, everyone has their Aylesbury."

After studying English at Cambridge, Troughton was quite taken aback to find herself writing about the place where she had grown up. Her work as a TV researcher and a freelance journalist had, after all, taken her to plenty of far-flung alternative locations, including Afghanistan and the inside of a Peshawar jail.

"But in the end I realised the most interesting place to write about, the place that still made me angry, was Aylesbury."

Ms Troughton has had to defend herself on local radio and has now been invited down to face an inflamed public later this month.

She has accepted the invitation gamely and believes the people of Aylesbury should learn to be a little more broadminded.

After all, Roald Dahl concocted his lurid Tales of the Unexpected nearby.

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