Hillie: small village survival expert, mum and writer and Anna, Hillie’s local best friend.
Belinda: Hillie’s younger cousin.
Jen Stratham: Literary Agent Assistant.
Felicity Burrell: Literary Agent.
So I’m going to hold my hands up and say I’ve been a complete moody cow for the last few weeks and have been all – 9 circles of Dante’s inferno – to live with! The kids had even started calling me Grummy -a mixture of grumpy and Mummy!
The reason for this self pity was of course the great Literary Agent dumpingate. I hadn’t written anything for days and days. I’d lost confidence and just couldn’t bear to carry on with the rest of my first draught of Twelve Days and the Thatcher. To make matters worse, real life Thatcher Man was back! Yes he had returned and had been spotted locally throwing his handsomeness about willy nilly – he was rethatching a large farmhouse on the edge of the village. I bumped into him in the village shop where he was buying a ‘Ginsters’ in a devastatingly good looking manner. He politely asked after my novel (whilst looming over me with his muscly attractiveness to the point where I couldn’t remember what I’d gone in for!) and I told him the bad news – that I was in fact a crap writer. Then he told me ‘to crack on and finish it’ because he wanted to read about himself (as inspiration for the lead character). Adding cheekily that he expected a thank you in the ‘thank yous’ at the front of the book when it was published…….dot dot dot.
The thing is I felt like a complete failure. Ok I had known some success with Miss Nadderbanks Investigates – the series of books that I had written before the children were born but that now felt about as abstract as a Picasso painting. I was low and miserable and Ted (supportive husband – you know – my rock cake and profiterole tower of strength when he’s not being a complete doughnut) suggested that I take a little break, maybe a couple of weeks off. I would like to report that instead of moping around feeling hideously sorry for myself that I tidied up our chaotic loft, baked fresh bread daily, and painted the spare room in Farrow and Ball’s ‘Elephants breath’….……….did I hell as like. Even Anna (local best friend) and my #cakeconsumingcomrade got sick of moping about with me (in my PJ bottoms). I expected her to be available at all times to drink sweet tea, inhale salted caramel muffins and listen to me bemoaning my inability to write a shopping list – let alone a half decent novel. Anna managed to dress properly with make-up everyday and her bloody husband had just bloody moved out! She was actually my hero.Weirdly after bumping into Thatcherman I got home to find an email (dun dun dah). It was from Jen, the long suffering assistant of my former Literary Agent. She had written to me using a new email address so it was lucky that it got through my surly night club bouncer spam filters – which were indeed shaven headed and well ‘ard. Jen had left Langbourne and Strutter (hence the new email address) due to stress. Apparently working conditions had turned Jen to drinking heavily, comfort eating and negative internal monologues (sounded a bit like parenting to me). So she had found herself a new job as assistant to Felicity Burrell at Burrell and Daw Literary Agents. The upshot was that Jen, the superstar, had shown Felicity my first four chapters and synopsis of Twelve Days and the Thatcher and strap yourselves in folks – she liked it. Could I come up to London to meet her?
Arrangements were made! Felicity was super busy and the only day she could see me for a while coincided with School Sports Day! Arse. Luckily Jen was able to schedule our meeting at 9:30 am which meant I could hotfoot it back to Devon afterwards to catch most of the sporting event. The plus side was that I would just have to go up to London the day before and so I arranged to stay with my cousin Belinda in East London. Then I went around to Anna’s house and announced, “I want you to come with me! It’s only for one night, you need the break. Ben can have the kids, we’ll have a few drinks – eat out! Go shopping?” she looked hesitant so I ploughed on, “Madame Tussauds? London Eye? Open top Bus? Burlesque lesson in Soho? Anything?”
“If I can get my hashtag arse of a husband to have the kids, too right I’m bloody coming!”
And so it came to pass that we arrived in the capital at lunchtime on the day before my appointment. Ted had taken some time off work- so everything was under control at home (?) and Anna was relaxed because Ben was looking after the twins and he had only been a bit of a hashtag arse about it. We had boarded the train at Exeter St Davids, and miraculously no old biddies, sweary yoofs or even a brace of sweaty business men were sitting in our front facing (with table) seats. Plus I had had time to nip into Starbucks and I sat down in my seat nursing a steaming hot cup of tea – so all was well in my little world. (I know one of my lovely blog followers doesn’t like the slightly hackneyed expression ‘nursing a steaming hot cup of tea’ – so that was for her! If you have any expressions that get on your nerves, get on your nerves….please share in comments).
As I relaxed into my seat I realised with glee (and fluttery excitement in my stomach) that I could read my book! Listen to music or go online on my phone! I could talk to Anna, or just stare gormlessly out of the window for the next three hours! There were no children to please, no snacks to scrabble about for in the bowels of my bag. No travel Connect 4 to play. No top trumps tournaments or lengthy eye spies and no lurching about like a drunk person in an attempt to to find a vacant toilet with a fractious tweenager.
On arriving in the ‘Big Smoke’ we spent the afternoon like a blurry photograph on Oxford Street and Regent street, remembering not to smile or speak to strangers as we were carried along on the people-tide like flotsam and jetsam. We gazed at the big shop windows like a pair of wide eyed provincials who’d been let out of a rural open prison. Instead of lunch we went for a fizzy high tea at a particularly glamorous department store (not before we had oohed and ahhhed over the fabric and homewares departments like a couple of overly enthusiastic ‘Carry On’ actors). Afterwards we had a high tea-hangover (not from the one glass of bubbles!) – it was from being so full of carbs that you feel like you’ve had a frontal lobotamy, can’t string a sentence together and all you want to do is lie down and sleep it off.
Later, we met Belinda- my cousin, back at her flat on Brick Lane. She was ten years younger than me and a fashion stylist. A stylishly stylish stylist to boot. She was wearing ripped skinny jeans with Dunlop Green Flash trainers (remember those girls?) and a silk kimono under a cream tux jacket- she looked effortlessly cool. Anna and I were hoping for a curry and a few drinks locally but Belinda had a different plan. An hour later we found ourselves at the private view for a new art exhibition near Hoxton Square. Belinda knew the artist personally, she assured us that there would be free booze, canapes and famous people! This was very exciting because I never see famous people out and about apart from the time I saw ‘Lofty’ from Eastenders in (my not at all local) Ikea. We were welcomed in by the artist himself, a scruffy looking bloke called Reginald who was wearing ripped blue denim dungarees!! Dungarees on an adult male, really?
His exhibition was was actually full of denim. He had covered household objects and chairs and even a car entirely in big and little patches of the indigo fabric. I overheard him discussing loudly with other arty types about the ‘dialogue between denim and domestic consumerism’??!!?? Anna was having none of it, “This is utter muppetry, pass me another one of those blue denim cocktails,” she added, downing her last one and swapping it for a fresh vessel of lurid aquamarine liquid. It looked like swimming pool water. It was all a bit lost on me too. I was starting to wish we were back at Belinda’s flat sporting face packs (who actually does that apart from on hen weekends) and sipping cold Pinot Grigio. I felt very out of place, London didn’t fit like it used to before. Was I a Devonian now? Was I getting old? Or was it that I just too knackered to appreciate a load of old denim stuck on toasters?
Of course we didn’t get a lie-in because we had to be at Baker Street by 9:30am but it was refreshing to have a break from scraping welded weetabix off breakfast bowls. And not having to ask my eight year old to put his school shoes on 6 times in a row and then shriek “Just doooo it” and not in a Nike way. However I was actually missing the children – big time. Here I was with my smug adult headspace and my exciting meeting with Felicity Burrell but who was I kidding? My head was filled with my kids because ultimately they are every thing, right? and I actually couldn’t wait to get home to them. On exiting the tube station we found a Costa. We bought double shot cappucinos and I took a few moments to compose myself. I admitted to Anna I was nervous.
“Remember, you were published before – so stop feeling like such a dufus and bloody show her how fab you are……er…could be again!” she urged “I’ll be here mainlining muffins”.
Jen was very welcoming, we exchanged a hug and pleasantries. She had a new boyfriend as well as a new job and things were looking up for her. Jen guided me down a corridor, lined with hundreds of glossy looking books to her new boss’ office. Felicity was about my age (ok so she was probably a couple of years younger – no more alright!) and was tapping away at her keyboard when I walked in. She jumped up and strode towards me with a huge grin and an outstretched hand to shake. She had long dark hair and amazing eyes, like someone had photoshopped them bigger.
“So pleased to meet you Hillie,” she said excitedly, pumping my hand and taking me in with her uber eyes, “Lets go out and have a coffee”. She grabbed her bag and propelled us out of the door. Crap, I was already highly caffeinated, I was going to have to order decaf like a sad sack.
Felicity steered me right back to the Costa I’d just been in. Anna was still in the same postion and indeed mainlining muffins. We clocked each other and she looked away silently and tele-pathetically – I knew she saying ‘sock it to her”. We ordered coffee, I had to go decaff or I would have been a jibbering baffoon. We took a table and Felicity began fishing about in her large handbag for something. It seemed to take ages for her to locate what she was looking for. Meanwhile I grappled for some more small talk to fill the awks silence – when finally she pulled out a book and slapped it down on the table. It was my Miss Nadderbanks Investigates – The Mystery of the Pink Silk Thief! It looked pleasingly well thumbed and slightly tatty around the edges. “I’d love you to sign it, “ she said almost gleefully. I was slightly curve-balled by her keeness and enthusiasm and the fact that she’d heard of Miss Nadderbanks and clearly owned a mothballed copy. In the corner of my eye I saw Anna walking towards us and then she spoke.
“Oh my god, are you Hillie? Hillie Richens – author of the Miss Nadderbanks books?”
“Yee-ees,” I stuttered. WTF was she doing?
“I loooove your books, I’ve read them all,” she said, flashing a toothy smile before walking out of the coffee shop convincingly.
Felicity beamed at me, “hey, nice to get recognised huh?” she remarked looking vaguely impressed. Inwardly I was pissing myself but I had to hold it together.
Anyway, two lame ass decaffs later and to cut a long conversation short. Did I want her to be my agent? Yes! Could I keep writing Twelve Days and the Thatcher? Yes! She gave me her thoughts and some direction on my synopsis and suggested that I might like to sex it up a bit more (steady love!) and then she asked – did I also fancy reinventing Miss Nadderbanks Investigates! She was thinking – Miss Nadderbanks had got married, she was older, wiser but still very much the super sleuth, a sort of 30 something housewife-with kids in tow – detective hero? Yes I could have a go at that too! I’d have said yes to anything, precis-ing War and Peace?
I was buzzing! Her big eyed enthusiasm and ideas were infectious! Apparently I had a new agent (who was like -nice!) I was going to be writing again! Thatcher Man might actually get his moment of glory! I could have snogged Jen (but she mightn’t have liked it what with my coffee breath and her new boyfriend and all). YAY! All I needed to do now was locate my biggest fan Anna and get home in time for Sports Day……….
More ‘Sports Dayness’ in the next post.
As you were!
PS Note to myself. The one about going up to London to meet Felicity Burrell.