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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 29

Tracey was buzzing. As she walked out of the stage door, her body was pulsating with the adrenalin coursing through her bloodstream. Stepping out into the cold, dark night calmed her a little but she was wider awake than she had ever been. Streetlights seemed brighter, the aroma left by drunks relieving themselves in hidden corners at the back of the building, sharper, and the distant noise of cars passing down the nearby high street seemed calming.

On the far side of the car park, her Nissan glowed under the lights. She always parked where it would be properly illuminated, not for safety but because she liked the way the special yellow metallic paint made it stand out among a sea of silver Audis and mummy carriers. Pressing the button on the keyfob, it made a reassuring beep to say the doors were unlocked.

Just as she gripped the door handle, a voice said, “Hello Tracey. How did the performance go?”

Spinning around Tracey looked to see who had spoken. For a moment, no one could be seen and then a figure emerged from the shadow cast by a people carrier.

Well? Did you have a good time?”

Even in her heightened state, it took Tracey a few seconds to recognise the face. Then the penny dropped. “Julie”.

Yes, it’s me.”

But I thought you’d gone away. Sparks said, well he mentioned, I mean he…” she struggled to remember exactly how he’d described Julie’s disappearance, “There, there was a note. He said you’d just left.”

Julie smiled. “Yes, I left a note. But I don’t suppose he really understood it.”

You left us in the lurch. He was worried.”

About his career. He would be worried how it would look if the great magician couldn’t perform.”

Well, we had a show to put on.”

We? Suddenly you have joined the profession have you daaaahhling” Julie drawled mockingly.

Tracey frowned. “Well someone had to stand in. This show matters if we are going to save the theatre.”

Oh you hero. How good of you to volunteer. I mean, it’s not something you’d ever wanted to do is it? I bet they had to drag you up onto the stage. Tracey the superstar. Tracey’s name in lights.”

No, I didn’t want to do it but everyone said I was the only one.”

Really? There aren’t any proper”, Julie snarled the word, “actresses out there? People who have learnt the craft. People who are desperate to make their mark in the business? None at all? The only person they could find is the girl from the office?”

For a moment, Tracey paused. This wasn’t the first time someone had questioned her right to the job. “Maybe I haven’t spent years at bloody drama school, but I’ve done my level best. It’s been hard work, but you are right about one thing – I am enjoying it. When everything goes right, it’s brilliant. At the end of the show, when we took our bows, I felt on top of the world. And so, miss can’t be bothered to stick around, yes, I loved it.”

Really? And you think you’ll still be loving it on a wet Wednesday when you’ve got a half-empty theatre and only bored pensioners to perform to? You’ve still got to give it your all for that miserable matinee, not just the opening night.”

Another pause. Julie was right, the show was due to run for a month and so far the eight shows each week had just been a number, but as her heart rate dropped, Tracey found herself realising what it meant. Every day she was going to have to turn up and perform. No taking a day off for a hangover or just because she felt like it. There might be harder taskmasters and Kate. She wasn’t going to be beaten though. “If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do” she replied defiantly.

Are you sure? We learn a lot at drama school and one of the things is stamina. It’s the difference between professionals and am-dram.”

Am-dram?” Tracey looked confused.

Amateur dramatics dear.” Julie laughed. “The difference between people who know what they are doing and people who are just playing.”

Playing? What the bloody hell do you think you do all day missy? Flouncing around in a posh frock isn’t rocket science you know.”

Really? Remembering your lines would be a start.”

What?” Tracey was confused “You mean you…”

Watched the show. Of course. I saw everything. Your fluffed lines, your missed cues, your swim in gunge, everything.”

Again, Tracey paused. Her mind spun. The two of them stared at each other under the light and she realised that she was still gripping the car door handle. Letting go, she looked at her fingers for a second and then a thought struck her. “Hold on. The gunge. How did that get in the stupid pot? It wasn’t in the rehearsal.”

Julie threw her head back and laughed. “You think all that stuff Sparks does is real magic? Do you think he does it all by himself? Any assistant knows how all the tricks are done. We have to do at least half the work, even if Mr Big Star takes all the credit.”

You mean…”

Of course. Making things appear in boxes is something we do all the time. After all, you were bobbing up and down on that stage lift weren’t you? It didn’t take much to fill the jar before you ‘appeared’ in it for the first time.”

Oh my God! I could have drowned you bitch!”

Yeah, right. It wasn’t that full, just enough to give you a surprise. That and ruin the Lady Mayors’ outfit for the evening.”

But why? I mean it’s not like you wanted the job. You left remember?”

Julie’s face became serious. “Of course I wanted the job.”

So why did you leave?”

I left you little idiot, because I didn’t just want the job, I wanted the man that goes with it.”

Shocked, Tracey asked, “You. And Sparks?”

That was the idea.”

But I thought you two were just…”

Just good friends? Just working together? Just a professional couple?”

Yeah. I mean, people hinted, but I thought they were just joking.”

Maybe they think they are. Maybe even he thinks it’s a joke.” Julie snarled.

But what does he think? Didn’t you tell him?”

Oh, he thinks lots. He liked the idea in hotel rooms between shows. Yes, travelling the country with someone is a great way to get to know them and yes, I won’t be the first assistant to fall for the man with the magic wand, but I can see through all the cool bravado. Underneath, he’s a really interesting guy.”

So did you tell him?”

I tried, but he wasn’t really listening. So I left.”

Now it was Tracey’s turn to snort with laughter. “That didn’t seem to work very well did it?”

Julie looked crestfallen. “No. I didn’t realise how quickly I’d be replaced did I?”

Only on stage. I’m not filling in for you in the bedroom.”

Ha. Hasn’t he tried it on with you yet?”

No, actually he hasn’t. I think he’s too worried about the show.”

The old ‘show must go on’ bollocks. I guess his career matters more than anything. He’s got big plans you know.”

I know. And those don’t include me, or at least as far as I know they don’t.”

Julie perked up. “You’re sure?”

Oh come on. As you said, I’m not that good at all this. I mean I love the applause and it’s better than being stuck in the office, but traipsing around the country after some bloke? That’s not my style daaaahhling.”

So you don’t want to do this?”

I wouldn’t say that. I’d like to do a bit more, but you’re right, I’m not cut out for a life on the stage. Perhaps film or TV would be more my thing.”

So I could come back?”

Don’t see why not. The rest of the cast miss you. I’m sure Sparks will get over himself, especially if you tell him the truth.”

Oh”, Julie looked at her feet, “You think it would work?”

Don’t see why not. How about we talk about it tomorrow? I want to get in my car, it’s bloody freezing out here.”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 27

In the foyer, Freddie was also dealing with someone covered in goo. Stewards flew around waving paper towels to try and wipe the lady mayor down but she batted them away, grabbing the clothes and doing her best to both clean and appear regal.

My clothes are ruined! What the hell are you doing playing a trick like that?” she demanded.

I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. I mean, this isn’t part of the act. At least it wasn’t in rehearsal.”

You don’t know? What sort of place are you running here if you don’t know when you plan to drown an audience member?”

I mean I know it isn’t part of the show. We might throw a little bit of glitter around, but we don’t mess with the audience.”

Well you messed with this audience member, and when I get back to the office, I’m going to suggest that the council messes with you and this place”, she replied, waving a hand around to emphasise the point.

Freddie pleaded, “Please, this isn’t fair. Look how much fun the audience was having. I mean we’re doing so much good work here. You can’t let one little accident ruin things.”

One little accident? Look at the Mayoral chain, it’s solid gold you know. It’s going to have to be professionally cleaned up. That’s council tax payers money you know.” She held the offending item under his nose just to make clear how bad things were. Freddie did start to wonder if it was real gold, as he thought he could see parts peeling off, but thought better of saying something.

Perhaps I can get one of our tech team to have a look. They are really quite competent.”

Really? They don’t seem to be able to nail down a giant pot do they?”

Well, I mean, I’m sure we don’t know how this happened.” He paused and then said triumphantly, “There will be an investigation!”

The mayor didn’t look impressed. “Oh great, an investigation. I’ve worked in local government for 30 years. I know how much use ‘an investigation is. I don’t want things investigated. I want to know who did it and then fire them.”

Fire them, your honour? Surely we should work out what happened first.”

What happened,” the mayor replied angrily, “is that someone tried to drown me with a vat of what tastes like a mix of wallpaper paste and flour. If drowning the civic party isn’t cause for a sacking or two, then I don’t know what is. And, as for the funding for your little theatre, that now needs some serious consideration too. Now get out of my way, I’m going home. I feel a long bath is required.”

You don’t want to stay for the second half?” Freddie found himself saying weakly as the party stormed out of the front doors.

Watching them go, he didn’t notice Gareth appear beside him.

Good news old chap. I’ve managed to sweet talk Tracey into carrying on.”

Still starting at the now closing doors, Freddie replied, “Going on. What do you mean?”

Well, she was pretty shaken up the poor thing.”

Freddie turned around, “Shaken up? She’s shaken up? I’ve just been told we’re all for the sack and I’m supposed to worry about your office girl getting a bit mucky?”

Steady on Freddie. I mean Tracey has pulled a blinder to get the show on the road. Without her, we’d not even have a show to open. I know this is a bit of a shaker, but I’m sure things will be fine. You know what ladies are like, they will calm down again I’m sure.”

You don’t understand. This is bad. Really bad, but what’s worse is that the ticket sales aren’t as good as they usually are. I don’t think Sparks is as big a draw as we hoped he would be.”

Gareth looked at the busy bar. “Surely not. I mean this place is packed. You must have flogged loads of tickets”.

Hardly any. For the first couple of shows, we give freebies to the council staff and local schools. None of this lot has paid a penny.”

Oh. Why do you do that?”

Well, we like to get a good crowd in for the first shows so there’s some word of mouth. It gives the cast a chance to get used to a full house and when the critics come in, it all looks better. The whole thing’s a sham though. In two nights’ time, we’ll be lucky to have a hundred in.”

Gareth looked shocked. “You didn’t say. I mean that’s terrible.”

That’s showbiz. All smoke and mirrors. Never let them see you cry.” Freddie tried to laugh and then just put his head in his hands.

In the distance, a bell went to announce the second half would be starting.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 23

An e-mail was Karen McDaniel wasn’t something Kate had expected to see when she fired up her computer. Still fuming from the previous evening, her finger hovered over the delete key but something made her open it.

Kate

I’m sorry about last night. Shelia was out of order. I’m afraid it happens at some events – the organisers get a bit protective about me. I can assure you I’m perfectly capable to fighting my own battles, as are you.

I think I can see where you are coming from. We make light of the challenges running a business and family, but it isn’t easy. In that respect, I hate to admit it, you do have a bit of a point, even if it didn’t come over very well.

I’m staying in Solihull for a couple of nights to attend a conference at the NEC. Do you fancy catching up for a coffee later? Don’t worry, I’m not going to lecture you about the joys of children, I looked you up on-line and just fancy a chat. We have more in common than you might think.

Karen McDaniel

Kate re-read the message a couple of times. What did she mean by “more in common than you think”? OK, they were both in business, but surely that was as far as it went. A little Googling had brought up an interview where Karen and her apparently perfect family were photographed in a smiling group. Her husband did something in publishing and they lived in a nice house in Lewesham.

On the other hand, a coffee wouldn’t hurt she decided. Kate prided herself in not walking away from a fight, although there seemed to be an olive branch being offered. There was something about Karen that intrigued Kate, and anyway, she told herself, making contacts was her job and you never turn down opportunities when they arise.

*

Karen was already in the coffee shop when Kate arrived. Sitting in a booth with a latte and a laptop, she was obviously perfectly comfortable with working wherever she found herself. Carefully arranged on the table were a slightly chewed Biro, a Moleskin notepad and a mobile phone. She looked up from her keyboard when Kate arrived and declined the offer of an extra drink, but added that she could murder a small muffin as she’d had to skip lunch.

Ordering herself a drink and a couple of muffins, it seemed to politic to join in the eating and a little more time on the cross-trainer would take care of the extra calories, Kate wondered how the conversation was likely to go. She’d considered several different openings, from a matey “How ya doing” to another apology. None seemed to hit the spot so she hoped inspiration would strike when the time came.

As it happened, she needn’t have worried. Karen smiled and opened with, “Kate, thanks for coming along. I wasn’t sure if you’d want to see me after yesterday evening.”

Taken aback, Kate replied, “Oh. I wasn’t sure you’d want to see me again either.  Sometimes my mouth overtakes my brain!”

“Forget it. I know what you were trying to say, even if some of the audience didn’t get it.”

“You can say that again. I’m still waiting for an e-mail from Shelia banning me from the group.”

Karen laughed, “Don’t worry about that. I calmed her down after you left. There’s no point in running the groups if we can’t deal with a few disagreements. This IS business after all, not a bloody knitting circle.” She paused and looked at Kate, “Not that there is anything wrong with knitting you understand…”

It was Kate’s turn to laugh, “I don’t know about that. Not my thing at all, isn’t it something you take up when you abandon any interest in fashion?”

“No! It’s quite trendy apparently. I was reading that Julia Roberts does it on set between takes, and Ryan Gosling.”

“Ryan Gosling? I’d happily help him with his needles!” Kate blushed

“Kate Smith! You little minx. I thought you were all about business.”

“Well, a girl has to have some outside interests I suppose. I think I’ll give it a miss though and stick to the gym. That and Olly and Horatio of course. They probably would like some balls of wool around the place.”

Karen cocked her head to one side, “Olly and Horatio?”

“My cats. I’ve had Olly for years, but Horatio kind of adopted me after our last job.”

“I didn’t think they were children. That would have been very weird.”

“I’d certainly have been drummed out of the Brownies if they found out I had kids after last night. What about yours though, Iona and Hamish isn’t it?” Kate sipped her latte and looked at the screen of Karen’s phone. Staring out were two faces she recognised from the interview.

“Well researched”, Karen smiled, Yes, my pair give me plenty of trouble, but I wouldn’t be without them. Iona is just starting secondary school.” Kate did some mental arithmetic. Secondary school started at 12, which would mean Karen was,  “Twenty five.”, she answered to Kate’s unsaid question. “Yes, I was a junior marketing executive for an oil company at the time. Andrew and I had been married for a couple of years and she just appeared. I mean, kids had always been part of the plan, but we hadn’t decided quite when. Then fate, or at least a faulty contraceptive, took a hand.  Once we’d had one, well a second a couple of years later seemed to make sense.”

Kate leaned back, “But what happened to your job?”

“Oh, they were very good about it. I took my maternity leave of course but when I came back I was a bit shocked to discover life had gone on without me. Everyone had a years worth more gossip and another years worth of projects under their belts. I’d stayed in touch by e-mail and Facebook, and dropped into the office a couple of times with the baby, but you miss the day-to-day chat.” She bit into a chunk of muffin. “Mmmm, this is good. Do they make them in-house?”

Kate looked at the counter. She normally grabbed a drink from one of the big chains. This local coffee house wasn’t normally on her radar. Biting into her own muffin, she had to agree that it was rather good. “So you came back to work, and then left again? Weren’t they a bit annoyed by that?”

Karen wiped her mouth. “They couldn’t say anything, but I got the feeling that my boss wasn’t too impressed when I told her I was pregnant again.”

“Her?”

“Yup. Female boss. Alison. Nice enough, but she didn’t really approve of women, or at least I always got the feeling that she preferred working with men.”

Kate realised that Karen was staring directly at her. “Hmmm. Sometimes I think she might have a point. Not sure how keen I’d be about one of my staff nipping off all the time.”

“Hey, I wasn’t nipping off, I was having a baby!” Karen chided.

“Yes, but it means the business has to cover the work, and keep the job open for when they decide to return. And you get the rest of them going all gooey when the kid gets brought it.”

“But there is more to life than business Kate. Don’t you ever feel the need for a break?

Kate stared into the dregs of her drink. “I don’t know. My business means so much to me. No-one cares about it as much as I do.”

“That’s what I thought. But then I had kids and they gave me a bit of perspective. You find that you have to think of other things than work.”

“That’s the problem”, Kate protested, “Someone has to keep the place going or they will all be out of a job.”

“And are you the only person who can do this?”, Karen paused and finished her muffin. “I mean, the people who work for you can’t all be useless. I don’t see you as the sort of boss who employs idiots.”

Gareth’s face crossed Kate’s mind. “No. OK, my partner…”

“Partner?” Karen interrupted

Kate smiled. This wasn’t the first time someone had added one and one to get five. “Business partner. He’s good at having contacts I suppose, but you wouldn’t want to leave him in charge of anything important. Gareth’s a nice guy, but it’s a bit like dealing with an overgrown schoolboy sometimes.

“OK, but you’ve got other people working for you.”, Karen finished her drink, “You’re not the only one who can do some research you know.”

“Yeah. Most of them are OK. One or two are picking up the business really well and I’m hoping we can hang on to them.”

“Right them. You need to get your head around letting them get on with it. The secret of running a business is not trying to do everything yourself. Let others share the load a bit.”

Kate pondered for a moment, “Is that what you’ve done? I don’t see anyone else listed on the website for the network.”

Karen smiled, “No, the Empowerment Forums are all my work. However, I do have help – Andrew has always been happy to share the work with the kids. After Hamish was born, my firm offered me the chance to take a longer break.”

You mean they chucked you out?”, Kate looked shocked.

“Sort of. There was a bit of a re-organisation and a streamlining. They needed less staff and strangely, mine was one of the positions that were no longer required.”

“Can they do that?”

“Their lawyers kept them just on the right side of legal. I’d half expected it. Much as I loved my job in some ways, I wasn’t as disappointed as I’d thought I would be. Part of me felt it was time for a change.”

“So that’s when you started up the forums?”

“Not quite. I got myself a part-time job first. Partly for the money, but also because I needed to get out of the house. That’s where Andrew came in. He wanted time with the kids, so we downsized a bit and both cut our hours. Things weren’t easy, but it was the right thing to do.”

“Andrew sounds like a great guy.”

Karen smiled. “He is. We’re a proper team. I can’t tell it’s been an easy few years.  Parenting and working full-time is not as easy as some of the articles you will read.  We don’t have a nanny and if one of the kids is ill everything goes out the window.  I have to tell you settling Iona into school was one of the hardest three months I’ve ever worked.  Tears every day while I’m trying to run off to meetings. You get good at working on three hours sleep!”

Kate sipped her coffee and nodded.

“But I’m getting into mummy territory.  I love my kids, but I was also a person first, and was for many years before they came along, and I wanted to keep that part of my personality. Andrew understands and between the two of us we have come up with a way of balancing our lives and the kids so there aren’t any compromises, or as little as possible.  We get our ‘me’ time and kid time too.”

“So where did the forums come from?”

“I’d had this idea in the back of my mind for a few years. Once you’ve been to a couple of mother and toddler groups, you find that the mums can be split into three groups: Earth mothers who basically want to sit in child sick all day and wear something easy clean. All they care about is their little darling. Sadly, they are probably raising kids who will turn into serial killers when they hit adolescence.”

They both laughed. Karen continued, “Then there are the yummy mummies. Hubby earns enough to keep them in Boden and the kids in Tootsa MacGinty jumpers while they sit around drinking coffee in freshly laundered gym clothes passively-aggressively competing with all the other mummies.” she looked at the empty cups, “Talking of which, I need a refill. Same again?”

Watching Karen join the queue for drinks, Kate pondered the conversation. It wasn’t going the way she had expected, but oddly, this didn’t seem to matter. Karen’s life seemed really chilled, there might have been lots of plates spinning but it all worked because of her relationship with her husband. Surely it couldn’t be that simple?

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Kate vs Showbix – Chapter 22

Sitting in the car, Tracey fired up the engine.

Feeling OK?”, asked Sparks.

Yeah. It was a bit of a shock speaking to the lads again. I must have been pretty drunk when I met them, but I’m pretty sure we just had a dance.”

That’s footballers for you. Always got to big themselves up.”

Tracey laughed, “Yeah. I don’t suppose their striking is as impressive as they like to make out.”

Probably not. I bet the listeners will still be talking about this show for a while though, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

One thing bothers me though.”

Sparks looked curious. “Really?”

Yeah. How did that woman know I was a redhead?

*

As the event started to wind down, Kate decided to face her daemon, or at least try to apologise to Karen. Part of her wanted to slink away quietly and hide, but for the moment, a couple of glasses of wine kept that little voice under control. Several people who had asked questions used them to make points about running businesses and families. By the end, her ego was feeling battered and bruised. No one seemed to be offering any pleasant goodbyes in her direction but quite a few sharp looks were aimed toward her.

Waiting patiently as the last few women shook Karen’s hand and told her how pleased they had been to hear her speak. Shelia hung around as though protecting her star turn and gently ushered them out of the door.

Eventually, Kate was alone with the two of them. The venue staff busied themselves clearing up around the trio.

Rough evening, Kate, isn’t it?” Karen asked, “You put your foot in it a bit earlier.”

Well, it’s your own fault.” Shelia scolded, “You know most of the women here have children but they are all successful entrepreneurs. Of course, you can have a family and a business…”

Kate spluttered, “What I meant was…”

I’m perfectly aware of what you meant young lady”, Shelia interrupted, “You meant that those of us with families were somehow second class citizens. Well, we might not have appeared on daytime television, but maybe that’s because we’re too busy getting on with our jobs. All of them.”

I’m sorry, I was just trying to…”

What you were trying to belittle us. Perhaps our group isn’t big enough for you. I expect I’ll have a few e-mails waiting for me when I get back home suggesting that you not be invited again.”

Kate gave up. With one last defiant look at the organiser, she turned on her heels and started towards the door.

Hold on Kate”, Karen called, but the door was already closing.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 14

Dave relaxed with a beer and took in the view.  He’d decided to rent an apartment for his time back in America.  He couldn’t stay with Alicia, that would be too strange after all this time, and he didn’t want to stay in a hotel as there’d be no room for Junior to crash over.

The apartment was over the road from the Pentagon.  Sitting in the lounge area he had a great view of the Capitol building, lit against the night sky, and could look down at a highway snaking its way across a bridge towards the main centre.  It was a short stop on the metro into town but close to open space in case he wanted to take his son out to play.

Ah, Jnr.  Having a son made things so much better but so much worse in his current situation.  He still couldn’t believe how being a father made him feel. He’d fallen in love with this crying bundle when it had arrived seven years ago.  Jnr was a lot different now, still fun but had an answer for things and didn’t always want to do what his Dad wanted.  He missed the days when the two of them had been able to go out and throw a ball around and Jnr enjoyed every moment with his Dad.  Now he had to fight to prise him away from his iPad.  He’d also been surprised how the boy had changed.  He had grown into a strapping young lad already, tall and muscled with blonde hair and blue eyes.  He wouldn’t change it for the world though and wondered, with his separation from Alicia becoming permanent, how they would make the distance work.  He didn’t want to become the absent father, resented by his son, though he knew it couldn’t be perfect unless one or the other of them decided to stay in the same country. 

Taking another slug of his beer he thought about his other quandary.  Kate, beautiful, confusing Kate. He’d fallen for her as soon as she’d arrived, late, to his second-year lecture. She’d slammed through the door of the theatre, stomped down the stairs and fallen in to an end pew.  Even the lecturer had paused, about to give her a mouth full, but her stunning smile had put him right off.  The flash of leg had probably helped too.

All he had seen was dark hair, a slash of red lipstick, tight skirt and heels. But she had captured his attention, particularly when she then started firing questions at the lecturer. By the end of the lesson, he was hooked and wanted to know more.

She marched out the same way she came in, like she owned the room.  He was impressed by her ability to get up the many steps in heels, when most students wore doc martins.  Turning to his friend he whispered, “Who’s the stunner?” “Dunno, mate.” Came the response.

After doing some fishing he found out she’d changed her major after the first year, moving from English to Politics so hadn’t been in any of his first-year classes.

Three weeks later and she rushed into another class, late again.  This time there was only one seat left in the room, next to him.  ‘Bingo’ thought Dave, ‘time to turn on the charm.’  All his bluff and bluster didn’t work though as she cut him down at every point, poo-pooing his ideas.  He liked her even more for that.

Their friendship blossomed as they argued more, debating alternative ideas. Dave could tell that Kate loved the cut and thrust of a good discussion.   As the end of term ball came around he set his sights on taking their relationship to the next level.  Turning up in his best tux he scanned the room for her, finding her striking in a short red dress, glass in hand as she held court with some guys.  Wandering over to see what the discussion was, he was surprised to hear introduce someone as ‘my boyfriend, Felix’.  She’d never mentioned a boyfriend before so he was convinced that it was only a matter of time before he could win her round.  Joining the group, he met his competition, a bearded art student who seemed to be mainly off his head, but doting on her every word.  Later on, he queried their relationship with another member of the group to be informed they’d been together since the first term, with Felix following her like a puppy.

Dave was a bit put out and proceed to snog the face off one of the random sloan girls that always seemed to be around at University, just to make himself feel better.  Returning in January he and Kate were set the challenge of debating against each other, but each arguing for something they would not normally support.  This led to many hours in the library together, helping to research each other’s arguments. Dave probed more about her relationship, finding out they had met in the first week and Felix was a fine art student.  She seemed more dismissive than besotted, but as the months wore on Felix was still around.

Dave finally realised that this was a dead duck.  His casual friendship with Kate had grown into something more concrete but it had also made him realise she was a fragile soul.  Felix was her comfort blanket, someone to keep her safe in the strange surroundings of university.  Through all bluff and bluster on top, she was shy underneath and needed his constant reassurance to help her. Dave couldn’t break that bond without ruining their friendship. He resigned himself to them being great friends.

Looking back he wished he hadn’t backed down so easily.  If he had told her how he felt then, perhaps it would have come to nothing, but perhaps he wouldn’t be sitting on his own in an apartment in DC trying to sort out a broken marriage while she was in the UK wondering what was going on.

He knew what the real barrier had been then, and it was still there now.  Kate didn’t want children.  She’d commented over and over again while they were at university how children just got in the way and she didn’t want to put her body through all that.  Every time they saw a baby she would go ‘yuck’.   But Dave had always wanted kids.  Dave Jnr was the hope that his and Alicia’s relationship, already rocky then, would calm down and he could grow up being a Dad to a little brood.  Now it would seem that wouldn’t be the case as his son would be 1000s of miles away and the woman he thought he loved didn’t want to add to the family.  In fact, he wasn’t sure she would want a stepson.  It was a real sticking point, Dave wasn’t sure he was ready to give up on being a dad just yet.

Finishing his beer he walked back to the kitchen and put the empty bottle in the bin.  He contemplated getting another but instead stood leaning against the breakfast bar separating the kitchen from the lounge.  He was tired and all this thinking was just making him feel worse.  Taking one last look at the view he walked into the bedroom and tried to switch off for the night.

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Tea, cake and plotting

Teaandcake

Phil: Here’s a photo we haven’t shown you for a while – the essentials of a NolanParker planning session.

Sat in the sunshine, we discussed Book 3, and how we will manage to finish it. Discussions that were powered by tea and cookies produced by the Nolan’s fair hand. She is so multi-talented!

After a long break, the first job was to read everything and work out where we are. The good news is that the book is a lot further on than I remember it. And, more importantly, it’s pretty good. Loads of funny stuff balanced with some serious plot lines too.

Pondering on how we take things forward, we’ve decided to work on the endings – ‘dings because there are two strands to this novel and we need to wrap them both up. One in particular required much chat at at least 3 cookies each to plan out – but that’s the bit we really enjoy and something I’ve missed while we have been away from writing book stuff.

Now the hard work starts – turning those ideas into words on a page. Watch this space.

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Looking for the happy ending

Phil: Does anyone else feel like they are being blown along by events at the moment?

We seem to be inching along to some sort of normality, but with very little idea what the new version of “normal” is, or whether it will be as nice as the old version. Everything is up in the air, except those hoping to go on holiday, who suddenly find themselves grounded.

Maybe this is why books are such a comfort. Even in the grimmest of “misery memoirs”, the ones that start with rape and get progressively worse, you have the expectation that by the end, everyone will be happy again with the worst of the problems behind them.

In our genre of humourous chick-lit, the girl will get her boy and be heading off to happily ever after land. I don’t think that I’m giving away a massive spoiler if I say that we expect Kate and Dave together by the end of our series. Anything else would upset the readers.

For most of us, Covid is the first time we have been in the middle of a massive event over which we have little control. We don’t generally, live in a war zone or a famine thank goodness. Now though, we look at the news and wonder what new plot twist is about to come our way. I’m hoping that whoever is writing this story and think that they have thrown quite enough at us. It’s making me have sympathy for our fictional characters and the wringer we have to put them through!

Let’s just hope that we’re a long way through the story and can soon close the cover with the satisfaction of a happy ending.

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Evil word counting

Phil: Imagine a world very like the one we live in, but where women have no passports, money of their own, jobs – and are limited to speaking 100 words a day.

That’s how America looks in Christina Dalcher’s novel Vox.

The word limit is enforced by a wristband every female is fitted with at three months of age. Each word spoken is counted and when you reach 101, you receive an electric shock. Keep talking and the shocks become stronger until you “learn your lesson”.

All of this is enforced because of a new brand of “Pure” Christianity that has taken hold. Spreading from the bible-belt, it’s now controlling the White House and everyone else.

As you read, it becomes obvious that people are adjusting to the new normal. Jean McClellan is the main character and we see through her eyes as her sons tell her that according to their lessons at school, a woman’s place is in the home. Chillingly, her daughter wins a prize for not speaking at all. Women haven’t just lost their place in society, they have literally lost their voice.

I found this a scary read. OK, it turns into a thriller towards the end, but the scene-setting is very, very effective.

What makes it especially uncomfortable is that you can see how this sort of thing could happen for real. Vice President of the USA, Mike Pence, won’t eat alone with a woman and has been applauded for this by the religious right. His boss isn’t exactly known for his consideration towards women either.

Don’t think women would all stand up and fight – the rise of the #tradwife movement is sending women back to the 1950s and while they might not be queueing up to wear an electric word-counter, they love the idea that women should stay at home doing what their husband tells them they are allowed to do.

Like all good sci-fi, Vox is a commentary on the present day. It holds up a slightly distorted mirror to our lives and the reflection acts as a warning to things that could happen if we don’t pay attention.

Mind you, I think the Nolan acts as a perfectly effective word counter when we meet, there is a look far more potent than any electric shock that says, “Shut up Phil, and do some work!”

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Killer blurb

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other..

Phil: When I read this on the back of My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite while browsing the new books shelf of my local library, it did its job, grabbing me enough I wanted to read the story. With three books in my hand, I left it but came back a couple of weeks later and searched for it on the shelves.

Set in Lagos, it tells the story of Korede who keeps having the clean up when her sister murders her latest boyfriend.

As a nurse with a cleaning compulsion, she’s ideally placed to help, but when the sister hooks up with a doctor Korede facies herself, things get complicated. She can’t tell anyone about this except a patient in a coma.

Through the story, we learn some backs-story about the girls’ abusive father and his death (not their fault, but they were present) and this might give an insight into Ayoola’s behaviour. That, and she’s a little princess who’s never heard the word “no”.

The book has won awards, but I wonder if this is down to a metropolitan art crowd being excited by a book set firmly in Nigeria and making good use of the rules and traditions of that country. You are immersed in a way no non-native could ever do and some of the characters’ behaviours are appalling by Western standards. If you think the British class system is bad, the Nigerian one is far worse. It troubled me that the “house girl” never seems to warrant a name, nor any consideration for her constant servitude by the main characters for example.

I’m not sure the story every really gets going despite two deaths and a third close-call. The coma patient wakes up and remembers some of the stuff he has been told, but nothing happens with this.

The premise is really strong, possibly stronger than the book itself. Having said that, the setting fascinated me and I’m tempted to look up many of the foods mentioned. Maybe this is the best part – I was really taken to a new world, and that’s what reading should be about.

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The worst Deus ex machina ever?

Deus ex machina: A plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived.

Phil: I like nerdy reading. I like sci-fi. I like space ships and I love the TV show Thunderbirds. Not for the plots, which are mostly rubbish, but for the models and whizz-bang stuff. The twenty-first century doesn’t look as good as it did when Gerry Anderson designed it!

Anyway, I was browsing in an especially nerdy (even for me) shop and spotted book for a couple of quid.

Thunderbirds Lost World isn’t a novelisation of one of the TV shows. No, it’s a brand new (for 1966 when it was published) novel offering a thrilling tale.

Investing the disappearance of two airliners over New Guinea, Thunderbird One and pilot Scott Tracey find themselves crash landing after his craft is hit by a mysterious invisible force. After some escapades that would be impossible to film with puppets, he is rescued by Thunderbird Two.

Separately, a boffin is planning an expedition to the island. He disappears and Scott heads off to find him. They suspect International Rescue’s arch-enemy, The Hood, might have something to do with it all.

Spoiler Alert.

Anyway, it turns out there is a race of being hidden on the island who are using alien technology to do bad things and are planning to take over the world.

Things look sticky for our heroes – they are trapped in jail with no hope of escape or rescue.

Then there is an earthquake, the jail doors fly open, the baddies disappear and everyone gets away to live happily ever after.

Seriously?

Pretty much an entire novel-worth of buildup, the ground shakes and everything is OK?

How on earth did author John W Jennison get away with this?

I had wondered as the bookmark was nearly at the back and we seemed a long way off a plot resolution, but I didn’t see this coming. Can anyone name a more blatant ending thrown in because the author wanted to go down the pub or was just close to their deadline?

(Nerd note: If you have a copy with a dust jacket, it shows Thunderbird One flying over a dinosaur. There are no dinosaurs in the story.)

 

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