Read an exclusive extract from Lifesaving for Beginners

Lifesaving for Beginners is the heart-warming and hopeful new novel all about the joys of female friendship and cold-water swimming in the sea from Josie Lloyd, the acclaimed author of The Cancer Ladies’ Running Club. Read an exclusive early extract now!

Christmas Day Morning 

It’s only cold water. That’s all. After the shitshow of this year, cold water is nothing. Nothing, Dominica tells herself, as she peels the Velcro closed on her neoprene gloves and strides off towards the sea, her size ten boots making a loud trudging sound over the pebbles. She’s glad she’s made it here and forced her sorry carcass out of bed, although it was a close-run thing. But, as usual, Helga’s message on the Sea-Gals WhatsApp chat had persuaded her. It’s tradition, Helga had written. No excuses.

She knows she owes Helga and Tor an appearance this morning. They’re the ones who’ve looked out for her this year. Separately, they’ve both asked her to spend today with them, knowing it’s her first Christmas without Chris, but she’s politely declined their kind offers. She wants to be alone to wallow in her grief, although she vows now that she’s going to tidy up the tissue-strewn pit of their bedroom. Chris would have a fit if he could see it.

Along the beach there are little groups dotted as far as the eye can see in both directions, most people dressed for the cold, but many of them stripping off. With the drop in church attendance, maybe the sea is the new religion. It’s certainly a draw. Everyone is facing the water and the mood of celebration is palpable. She can hear the pop of a champagne cork (ten a.m. is a little early, but it’s Christmas Day, after all), whilst a young guy contemplatively skins up on the top of the largest concrete groyne. There’s a bagpiper in a kilt walking on the next beach and the reedy sound wafts over to where Dominica stands along with a tang of spliff smoke.

It used to make the national news: the nutters taking the plunge in the sea on Christmas morning, but cold water swimming has become all the rage and now the world and his wife have taken it up.

But who can blame them? Dominica thinks. There’s been bugger all else to do.

There are plenty of little flocks of swimmers already in the water, lots of them in woolly hats. A couple of show-offs are front-crawling further out, dragging their red tow floats behind them. She’d love to be able to swim like those Amazons out there in these winter months, but if she goes too far out of her depth, she gets a bit panicky. She knows that the sea is not to be taken for granted – even on a calm day like today. And, besides, she’s not fit enough to swim like that. Not any more. Not after a year of sitting on her arse eating biscuits.

Until the pandemic hit, Dominica had never been idle – not once during her fifty-six years. That’s probably because her parents had instilled a rock-solid work ethic in her and a belief that the colour of her skin meant she needed to prove herself twice as much. As an operations manager for a large travel company, she’s been the consummate multi-tasker, but with the skies emptied and holidays cancelled, her whole department has been put on furlough. At least, in some ways, it’s a blessing. She could never have coped with a job and losing Chris at the same time.

She’s dreading going back and knows that, any day now, there’ll be an email from the management with the phased return-to-work plan. Her team – once thirty strong – was cut down in lockdown and she knows that a lot of her colleagues will have had a tough time too, but she dreads their reunion. She already knows that she won’t be able to stand the questions . . . the pity, how at least one of them will almost certainly dredge up a competing story of someone they know who died of Covid too. That’s the thing that gets her the most. That her Chris, with his bright eyes, booming laugh and bear hugs, has been reduced to a grim statistic for other people to comment on and chew over.

Over by the other groyne, some teens scamper across the stones in bright bikinis, squealing. Everyone is supposed to be socially distancing, but somehow the government’s rules don’t seem so pressing here at the water’s edge. She used to get angry about joggers breathing and shoppers crowding the pavements with their masks on their chins, but after what happened to Chris, she doesn’t waste her energy any more. The world is already full of judgers and snitchers without her joining their ranks. What’s the point when the worst has already happened? Besides, it’s natural for people to interpret the rules and bend them to their own making. As Chris always used to say: People are like water . . . they’ll always find a way.

Dominica arrives next to Tor, who is ahead of her at the water’s edge; Helga is coming now too from where she’s slung her things on the pile of their stuff by the groyne and Dominica waves to her. As usual, Helga’s dressed in her baggy blue swimming costume and retro swimming cap with a chin strap. She doesn’t give a monkeys about her saggy wrinkly thighs being on show, unlike Dominica, who is body-conscious even now.

They make an odd tribe, Dominica thinks, feeling a surge of affection for these unlikely friends. There are other swimming gangs she could have joined. The women from her old yoga class swim regularly, but Dominica wanted to swim without their concerned expressions. She’d happened to arrive at the beach at the same time as Helga and Tor a few times, and, before she knew it, they’d formed a flockette of their own.

Lifesaving for Beginners is out 21st July!

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