So I’m Hillie Richens and earlier this morning I spoke to my Literary Agent – Rebecca, who as it turns out was seriously exasperated with me!
“You need to come up with something new!” she said in a slightly sinister and weary whisper. She was speaking from her plush office in North London, no doubt sipping a skinny soya spirulina or whatever latte and gesticulating wildly at her young and yet long suffering assistant Jen.
“I’ve humoured you long enough with your pitifully unsuccessful children’s picture books – you aren’t breastfeeding now for god’s sake! Its high time you came up with something good again for the women’s market.”
By good again Rebecca was referring to the success of my Miss Nadderbanks Investigates series which I had written in the halcyon days of my late twenties – pre children. Six books about the mousey and unremarkable Miss Nadderbanks, a primary school teacher from the Cotswolds, who leads a double life sleuthing and apprehending crooks with the help of her hapless brood of school children. The books were set in the 1960s and all crime-stopping was fitted nicely around learning the three ‘Rs’ of course.
“And for god’s sake don’t even think about reviving Miss Nadderbanks Investigates – the market has moved on. As you well know sales have stalled completely and people are bored to tears with her. We need something new. Something fresh….something…oh god just something that I can pitch with confidence!” Rebecca sounded beyond exhausted. “You’re the writer…..I want a rough outline in a month, focus yourself Hillie and email Jen as soon as you have something,” Rebecca rang off unceremoniously.
Yes well – it was alright for her and her oh so bloody glamorous Londony/booky lifestyle- attending launch parties and award ceremonies willy nilly and quaffing grey goose cocktails. I used to drink those in London myself about a hundred years ago, now the closest I get to a grey goose is one of the shabby looking fowls on the village pond. And anyway Miss Nadderbanks Investigates were still selling in Australasia! Actually just parts of New Zealand……
For five years Miss Nadderbanks Investigates had been my life. I went on book tours, attended signings at book shops and I too drank ridiculously glamorous cocktails at launch parties and spoke at literary festivals. There was even talk of a TV series at one point! I was on a career high. My literary agent actually made contact with me regularly of her own free will (and not via her assistant) and she sent me the odd present from time to time – that’s how much she valued me and my writing abilities. Nowadays it was as much as she could do to email me. She was right, my picture books had been completely lame and indeed financial flops. Once friendly publishing houses, gee-ed up on my Miss Nadderbanks Investigates success then dropped me like a warm turd. But at the time I had small children – I was in that picture book zone, shame I was quite crap at writing them.
The children are older now and it was time for me to come up with some new writing – time to move on. I needed to revamp some of the writing success of the Miss Nadderbanks Investigates era without actually involving Miss Nadderbanks herself. Perhaps I should have killed her off and let her go out in a blaze of glory rather than fizzle out like an indoor sparkler. Which reminds me, I saw the last book I wrote in the series – Miss Nadderbanks Investigates: The Mystery of the Pink Silk Thief at the City Library a few weeks ago, it was in the foyer on the for sale for 10p (next week it’ll be pulversied) shelf next to the slightly better crap old Library books which were being sold off for a lofty 50p. That was a career low for me and afterwards I found myself crying at the supermarket check out when I realised I’d forgotten all my bags for life. So, anyway, it was alright. I was given a heap of cardboard boxes by the nice man at Sainsburys. I cracked on with my shopping and was just staggering in with my overloaded boxes when my Mother rang. Her advice for my writing career was – and wait for it – it’s ground breaking – write about what you know. Well, let’s think, what the hell do I know about these days…..living in a small village….trying to write from home……the kids….the school…. Bless my (annoyingly glamorous but lives too far away to be of any use) Mother for trying to be helpful. Yes, we have been mistaken for sisters – three times! But I maintain we were both wearing sunglasses on each occasion!
So anyway after talking to my literary agent (she’s not getting capital letters after this morning’s phone call – petulance through grammar I call it), I texted my local-best-friend Anna. Local-best-friends are people you probably see most in your life, maybe on a daily basis. You might have picked up all manner of other best friends at School/Uni/Inter railing/Work but they aren’t local are they? They may well be on the end of a text, floating about in social media, or live in Ayrshire but in day to day life that is no use at all unless of course you live in Ayrshire. I knew Anna and I would be friends because she never referred to my house as the Skinners’ house though she did describe it as that “damp cob sh*thole the Skinners’ couldn’t wait to move out of.”
Her reply text was: GET HERE NOW! No emoji. This was unlike her because she always emoji-ed. Something was obviously up. So I grabbed my coat and made haste to her house. I figured we had a good 25 minutes before school pick up fo me to have a whinge about my cadaver of a writing career and for her to tell me why I needed to GET HERE NOW! No emoji. As I rounded the bend in the main street that runs through our village I noticed the scaffolding had gone up on Anna’s house. She was having her cottage re-thatched so I bypassed the obstructions and went around the back and let myself into her kitchen. This is something I’ve had to acclimatise myself to slowly because in London I never let myself into friends kitchens. Anna’s Labrastaffie (from local rescue centre) barked loudly at me by way of a greeting. “Shuddup Binky, it’s only Hillie!” Anna chided, she was decorating some cupcakes with buttercream icing and glittery sprinkles.
“Thank god you’re here,” she said dramatically.
“Why?” I asked, immediately alarmed at her tone, perhaps there was more trouble with her roof than first suspected. Were the supporting timbers as rotten as feared? No, it was far more serious than that.
“The thatcher,” hissed Anna, “is only seriously flaming gorgeous! go…go and see for yourself,” she commanded shoving me towards her dining room window. So I did as I was instructed and took a good gawk at him. Luckily Anna’s windows were so grimy he had no idea I was unashamedly peeping at him. I had never really truly peeped before, it was strangely liberating. Anna, for once had underestimated the situation, this guy was smokin’ hot. Flaming gorgeous was by no means a fair or adequate description for a man of his calibre. He was standing on the patio looking at his mobile phone – smack bang in front of me so I had a fantastic vantage point. He was tall, but not gawky tall, with a deep tan from working outside all year. He had a strong jaw but his eyes were slightly crinkled and mesmerising. His hair was a sandy blonde which was long enough to flop about and definitely long enough to ahem – run your hands through. He was wearing a a tight enough white t-shirt which accentuated his wide sculpted chest beautifully. I pitched him as in his early thirties and the only thing I wasn’t happy with was the folded red bandana tied around his right wrist. No need.
“He’s a stunner,” I agreed, turning to Anna and fanning myself hammily like a Jane Austen heroine! (hammily – probably not a word alert).
Anna’s house was on the road to school and we couldn’t help noticing the trail of mothers slowing down as they passed the house. I’m talking about the quarter past three-ers, the ones who love to stand around for ages and chat by the school gates until 3:30pm and beyond. The straggle of Mums were having a right old gander at the thatcher who was by now up on the roof working. Quick quarter past three-ers if you don’t hurry along and stop eyeballing the thatcher there’ll be no time for chatting about swimming lessons, nits, spellings lists and any manner of other enthralling school related subjects. When Anna and I left to collect the children, the thatcher was pulling away great swathes of the old thatched reeds in a sort of unnecessarily sexy manner – he was awfully diet coke advert about it.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Unfortunate. Let’s just go with thatcher man!”
Most of the children had streamed out of school and were walking home by the time we arrived.
“Oh arse,” whispered Anna, “there’s Clare and she’s got the clipboard.”
“It can’t be today, it’s a Tuesday?” I questioned.
“Ahh, there you are ladies,” said Clare approaching with a practised full watt smile in clippy cloppy mid heels, “I’m sure you haven’t forgotten today’s rescheduled PFA meeting, have you! There’s tea and coffee! Oh and biscuits for the children, see you in Sycamore Classroom in five!”
More next week.
As you were.
Note to myself: The one where I get a slating from my agent, talk about my has-been writing career. Get to ogle Anna’s unfeasibly good looking thatcher who is working on her house and when we get dragged into a PFA Meeting.