20,000 leagues under a Melvyn Bragg

I bring you today the first extract from the new sex 'n' shipping novel `Woman Overboard' by Elsie Fairfax, soon to be a major paperback.

Part One: A Stranger Comes To Call.

Polly had now been at sea for 67 days and was beginning to get tired of baked beans. She had also begun to get tired of the endless sunshine of the Pacific Ocean, of the endless hissing of her radio, of endless grappling with sheets and sails, and of the novels of Melvyn Bragg.

"If only I had brought a book by some other author," she often thought, but she had really had no choice. When you get sponsorship from the Cumbrian Book Authority, you are contractually obliged to take only Melvyn Bragg's novels on board, and nobody else's, and each Melvyn Bragg book on loan has a built-in microchip so that they can monitor your progress by satellite from Carlisle Library and spot immediately if you have skipped a few pages or even thrown one overboard.

But what she missed more than anything else was a man. Not a special man, just ... a man. She had been 67 days at sea without seeing a man and she had got tired of Melvyn Bragg's photo on the back of his last novel round about day 14.

"Of course," she said out loud in a rather poor Afrikaans accent, "it's also 67 days since I last saw a woman, apart from my own reflection, so why don't I feel bad about being without a woman to talk to? Why do I miss men more?"

One of the few advantages of being alone at sea is that you can talk out loud as much as you want to. You can shout and rant or sing Gershwin or even practise accents that are notoriously hard to imitate, such as South African and Geordie, all without anyone listening or telling you to pipe down.

"What makes it so hard to take," she said, in a wavering Newcastle accent, "is round about sunset, when you want a man to come along and offer you a little aperitif to kick off the evening ..."

"Well," said a voice right behind her, "how about a gin and tonic or a small spritzer?"

Polly wheeled round in utter astonishment. There, not 10 feet away, was a large motor yacht which must have stolen up on her unawares, and standing in the stern quite the most handsome man she had ever seen.

"Were you listening to what I was saying just now?" said Polly.

"Couldn't help it," said the man, smiling a big, handsome smile that filled the horizon and her heart.

"Name's Jack Lancegood. Out for a cruise from Hobart way. Now, how's about that drink?"

Polly was just about to reply in the affirmative when there was an interruption. A woman appeared on the deck of the motor yacht holding a gun. She looked at the man. She looked at Polly. She looked pretty mad.

"So, Jack Lancegood, there is another woman, is there?" she said.

Then she levelled the gun at the man. "I told you what would happen if I ever caught you at it again!"

"Honest, sweetheart," said Jack, "I just happened to spot this lone mariner passing by and thought it was only polite to offer her a little something."

"Excuses, excuses, excuses!" said the woman. "You always have a good story and I always swallow it. Well, not this time!"

And to Polly's amazement she shot her companion, who fell groaning in the scuppers.

The woman then turned the gun on Polly.

"Look," said Polly," Don't shoot ... I really must be ... I have to ... there's a Melvyn Bragg novel I've got to ..."

To her great surprise and relief the woman lowered the gun and smiled.

"Men!" she said. "Aren't they the pits?

"Now let's tip him overboard and get on with that drink he promised you. I'm dying for one myself!"

Coming soon: Is Jack Lancegood really dead? What does this strange woman really want? Will Polly break the rules of the single-handed, round-the- world race if she leaves her own craft to cross to another boat for a quick drink and a passionate lesbian affair?

And what will the folk in Carlisle do when they realise that Polly hasn't turned a page of her current Melvyn Bragg novel in days?

Don't miss the next instalment of `Woman Overboard'!