we woke up Before dawn to write……….
we wanted an English visual so here’s a Haberdashers shop in London to set-the-mood.
“Brash, I believe, is the word you Brits use,” said Marion, and took the keys out of Diana’s hands and opened the door. Diana seemed distracted. Marion turned back to see a vision in flowing purple ceremonial robes approaching the front gate.
“Oh hello, Lydia. This is Marion O’Neal, the new tenant.”
Marion was not sure what to make of the medieval priestess garment-wearing woman who was now bearing down upon the house. Marion looked at Diana, and back to the woman approaching. Diana beamed, “Lydia is a local celebrity,” she said, “She writes romance novels.”
“Set in the middle ages, I’m hazarding a wild guess.”
By this point, Lydia reached the garden gate and swung through without pausing. “I do! I do!” she boomed, “Clever Girl! Yes! Welcome to our happy corner of the world, Marion!”
Marion wrinkled her brow and didn’t respond.
“I feel sure you’ll have an adventure. This is a mysterious place,” said Lydia. Marion looked doubtfully at the house and backed away from Lydia’s overpowering patchouli and musk oil fragrance.
“Is that so?”
Lydia was not deterred in the slightest. “Oh! Do I detect an AMERICAN accent?” she beamed, “What fun!”
Diana could see that Marion was irritated. “Lydia,” she said, “Marion has just flown all the way in from New York so I think we’d better let her go inside and have a cup of tea.” Marion raised an eyebrow. “Or a large scotch?” said, Diana, with what she hoped was a winning smile. “I hope you’ll be very happy here,” she said, and pressed a welcome packet from the agency into Marion’s hand as the door started to close on her. “If you need anything our office is at the top of Church Row, on the High Street!” she said as the door shut.
“The neighbors are heavenly,” Lydia boomed as she swayed her way regally back down the garden path, closely followed by Diana, a little shaken. Behind the closed door, Marion could still hear Lydia’s voice echoing down Church Row.
“Arabella and Simon Jones! HEAVENLY!”
Marion leaned back against the door and looked around, suddenly exhausted from her trip. “I’m not looking for Heavenly,” she said to the hallway – something caught her eye to the left of the door – good god – an actual umbrella stand, she’d never seen one outside of shelter-porn magazines before.
The house was certainly grand. Eighteenth century, according to Diana’s welcome pack, which she read while gulping down a large scotch. Luckily she had bought duty-free at the airport, as there was nothing wicked in the house whatsoever. She had opened every cupboard door – just vast packets of tea and some uninteresting cookies in a Tupperware container with a sticker that said digestive biscuits in girlish handwriting. By the kettle was an envelope with her name on it. Marion walked over to the sink and rinsed out her glass and picked up the envelope, expertly slitting it open with her pinky finger in one motion like a mobster cutting someone’s throat.
Welcome to Church Row! We’re sure you’ll be very happy here. Do pop next door if you need to borrow some sugar or just want to say “Hi”.
Warmest wishes from Simon, Arabella, Libby, Mark and Sally-the-dog Jones
Marion crumpled up the note, threw it in the wastepaper basket and dragged her luggage upstairs. That was all she needed – heavenly neighbors with dogs and children. She shuddered and kept opening doors until she found what must be the master bedroom. It was actually beautiful – a bit Laura Ashley circa 1988 for her taste – but she could see that whoever owned the joint had done a good job.
There was a large bed with a sprigged roses comforter and four pillows. Two were very firm – reading pillows, she decided, knowing that the English were forever reading Jane Austen in those PBS specials. The other two were soft and yielding and had double pillowcases in the nicest thick worn cotton. Marion was very tired. She took one of the pillows and pulled it to her chest and buried her head in it for a moment. Then she started to laugh. Lavender scented cotton pillows. Of course an English house from the eighteenth century would have lavender scented pillowcases. And then she saw the worn copies of Jane Austen’s entire output on the small bookcase next to the bed and narrowed her eyes. This was an English Set, not a house. Did they put all this stuff in just because she was an American?
She knelt down by the bookcase. The Jane Austen books were not a branded set; but individually bought editions, some clearly from university years – cheap paperbacks with pages turned down – and then a sumptuous cloth-bound book from Penguin. Someone had written inside the front leaf. Marion realized it was a quote from the book itself.
The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself….
Then underneath there was a smiley – an old-fashioned Eighties smiley not a modern tech-savvy using the keyboard effect one.
So watch out!
Best of luck with Finals
All my love, Elyse
And there, at the top, in loopy handwriting was the name “Arabella Montfort”. Was this the same Arabella that now lived next door? How many Arabellas did one street in Hampstead contain? And where was Elyse now?
Marion took the book back to the bed and pulled off her suit, leaving it on the chair, and slipped under the covers just wearing her underwear and a Donna Karan silk t-shirt. She shrugged out of her bra and tossed it on top of her suit where it lay, a slip of palest pink satin, just catching the light from the lamp. Marion slid down further under the comforter and arranged the pillows behind her head and started to read. It was almost heavenly. She swiftly banished that thought from her head and suddenly threw the book across the room. It hit the wall and made a dull sound. Marion snarled a little at the lamp trimmed with a blue cornflower shade and quickly snapped off the light. She lay there in the darkness for a long time, the jet lag descending like a bad case of the blues.
Next door at number 29 Church Row, Arabella Jones was lying in bed, unable to sleep. Her husband Simon was away on business and his side of the bed loomed large in the darkness. She wriggled over and pulled his pillow into her chest to hug it. The smell of Penhaligon’s Quercus was softly comforting. But she still could not sleep. Suddenly there was a dull thud against the wall. What was that?
She sat up in bed and looked at the wall. It was the shared wall between their house and the empty one next door, which used to be one whole house when her grandfather was alive. Property taxes and death duties and, she swallowed hard, certain family troubles, had meant it got divided in the late Seventies. She was still small when it happened, but she remembered feeling devastated that they moved into this side and lost the lookout tower. That now belonged to the house next door.
When she was very small, her grandmother would allow her to climb up the tall back stairs, to what were the servant’s quarters at the very top. Arabella would read up there for hours, curled up on the linen covered window seat, looking up from her Beatrix Potter book across the tops of the houses all the way to the church at the end of the road and as far down into London as the Post Office Tower.
She looked back at the adjoining wall between her house and next door and thought again about the thud. Was someone there? And then she remembered. The new tenant had arrived. Marion O’Neal – an advertising executive from New York – according to Lydia. Lydia worried Arabella – she was so indiscreet.
Arabella knew that anything she told her about her marriage to Simon would end up in one of those romantic fiction novels. It did not take long to work out that Tabitha Thomas in her latest oeuvre was a badly disguised composite of Arabella and her sister Elyse. Her late sister, thought Arabella, lying back against the pillows and sighing. She still missed her.
After lying awake for several more moments, Arabella decided to go downstairs and make some hot milk. Sally, the golden retriever, looked up questioningly from her dog basket in the corner of the room and got up to follow her downstairs.
darlings – even though we’ve already written this Tale (as a movie screenplay) – and so we Thought we knew what happens (and we do hope the basic plot stays the same as it contains Magic and car convoys-to-Brighton and all sorts of glorious Twists), the thud on the wall and the Jane Austen detail and even the ghostly appearance of Elyse are New – they just happened. We were writing along merrily, watching the sun come up over the powerlines outside the window here in Los Angeles and we knew it was 07.15 because that’s when the sun hits the right pillow and we have to squidge over to the other and turn our head just slightly to avoid direct sunlight (not complaining – very happy with the Southern California climate) and There it was – the THUD.
you see we write what we see in front of our mind’s eye – sort of a projection (in a non-scary way – *doubtfullonginglooktocamera*) – as we nestle back against the reading pillows (good for the back, Laura Ashley-bought) and pause occasionally to take a little sip of Cafe du Monde chicory-laced-New-Orleans dark embrace of caffeine.
sometimes we get surprised at the Plot twists or level-of-detail that we start to Imagine and then we look vaguely in the direction of the Hollywood Hills and wonder if Other Writers have this experience too – although we’re sure This One has a Lot of vast satin throw pillows and a Butler to bring in her coffee (black, no sugar, just a couple of Hermasetas and a swedish cracker, no doubt.)
we can’t decide whether to go too.
it’s so sunny here.