The growing pains of a virgin novelist are real. It will be six years at the end of June since I started writing my first novel. At various intervals during that time, I celebrated reaching ‘The End’ but realised, after all that deluded carousing, writing a novel is more than just telling a story.
Out of the dark, comes the light and the sounds of a commotion. I am focusing on colours, flickering and dancing behind closed eyelids. I snap my eyes open, but the light is blinding, and I close them again. My heart is fluttering, and I imagine a swallow flying in the summer sun.
To be honest, in 2019, I didn’t have a clue about about how long the editing process was going to take. I was so excited to have ‘finished’ my first novel, I believe I would have laughed out loud if someone told me I’d still be editing the same manuscript, two years on.
My mother and I were never close. There has never been an unshakable emotional bond between us. No invisible strand that binds a mother to her child, post umbilical tie. Even as a child, I felt more of an accessory than a daughter. She never tried to cultivate a rapport between us, so I never felt that ache. That overwhelming sense of dread that engulfs you when you think about losing someone you love.
I like Beryl too, she is always upbeat, and we go way back. She teaches PE at Didsbrook’s secondary school, including me for seven years. I thought she was a bit long in the tooth for the job then, but she was probably only fifty-something. She would send us out for a five-mile run up the A59 and follow us in her topless MG shouting words of encouragement. Beryl is due to retire at the end of the next term and has been working on a novel. From the rather steamy pieces she has been reading to us, she could well be Didsbrook’s answer to E. L. James. She captures everybody’s attention when she reads, especially Basil and Tom, who are as animated as we ever see them. I can’t help wondering if Beryl is drawing from her own experiences. If she is, I really do need to get a life.
A chick, in my book, is a baby chicken covered in downy, yellow feathers up until the age of 6-weeks. I’ve always bristled when the term is applied to young women, and I have always subconsciously disassociated myself from Chick lit, believing the genre to be driven by scantily clad, sex-driven female main characters. I couldn’t have been more wrong and, although I’m not a fan of categories, it’s time to reassess the genre I think I’ve been writing in.
I would like to introduce you to the gin-swilling Miss Laverty, one of the characters from my first novel, Just Say It. The year is 1963, and my main protagonist, Lisa Grant, is four-years-old. Her mother, the self-centred Elizabeth, has hatched a plan with two families living down the road to employ a governess to teach Lisa and the neighbours’ young daughters.
He stopped his tirade and got up to pour himself a stiff whiskey and, realising he was trembling, knocked it back in one.
‘Damn you, Will! If we are going to make our marriage work, the least you can do is be civil to me. You’re widely regarded as being exceedingly bright. So, you should be able to work it out.’
‘Work out what?’ He turned to glower at her, and hissed ‘insufferable as well as insane,’ before slamming his glass down on to the drinks tray and poured himself another one.
‘The dates, Will, they don’t add up. Not with Jeremy anyway, and Grandbo only wants to walk a virgin up the aisle. He told me to get out when he found out I wasn’t.’ Elizabeth started to sob. ‘He was about to put his grandmother’s engagement ring on my finger. It’s a sapphire… the size of a quail’s egg. Oh, Will, I really thought he was going to be the one. Unfortunately, he’s not interested in marrying a woman with a desecrated hymen, let alone one carrying a developing foetus. My life is ruined, and I never wanted children, and it’s all your fault!’
You’ll have written the synopsis, well, you have written hundreds of different versions of the damn thing which you don’t think does your story justice, but you pick what you think is the best one and send it off with your query letter and wait.
This is the point where you need to start managing your expectations. My carefully chosen mantra is rejection is not the end, although it might feel like it, it’s just a step on the path.
‘Of course, men always look at the mother first to see if they are ageing well. Hopefully, you will age well, Lisa, dear, but that is one reason I always spend time making myself look as good as possible. Mind you, I look so young you and I could easily be sisters. I look at myself in the mirror every morning, and I find it impossible to believe that I’m thirty-six. On a bad day, I only look twenty-five. Unfortunately, you’ve inherited more of your father’s genes on the facial front. I think it’s fair to say you look more like him than me.’ The mention of her father sparked disinterest, and Lisa turned back to look at her typewriter.
The Secret Lives of The Doyenne of Didsbrook is a murder mystery spoof. The sleepy market town of Didsbrook is thrown into turmoil after the town’s most flamboyant resident, the much-loved actress turned best-selling novelist, Jocelyn Robertshaw, is found dead.
It should have been my first summer of love with that ridiculous Atticus Ridley. Why his parents chose to call him after an ancient Greek philosopher is a mystery. Looking back, I think his Christian name affected him psychologically, especially at school, when his classmates nicknamed him Abacus. Mind you, he was brilliant with figures even as a child, which I suppose is why he became an accountant. Then, of course, there was his OCD problem – a constant obsession with cleaning. The upside of that was I never had to lift a finger in the housework department.
The first time they set foot on the parched earth of their new home and future source of income, it came as a shock. Dropped by taxi during the late afternoon, they stood like a pair of refugees, surrounded by their modest collection of baggage. They were both still under thirty, blond and, outrageously good looking. Two young men that you would expect to find on the front cover of Vogue magazine and not embarking on a seriously get-your-hands-dirty project.
The last two weeks of my life are a blur. Flickering in my mind like a black and white cine film. I am running. Travelling at night under the cloak of darkness. Slithering out of the United States, escaping from the injustice thrust upon me.
We are like family now. Bound together by an invisible thread, our stories intricately woven together, ad infinitum. I know everything about each and every one of them. I uncovered secrets from their past that I know they would have wanted to let lie. It doesn’t make them bad people. The sins of their past only make them human, fragile, vulnerable. We all make mistakes and, I believe, the truth has set them free.