hiding in plain sight.

darlings

we had the Most glorious conversation about Creativity yesterday.

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we drove *looksvaguelytocamera* towards the Ocean (the Pacific, we were staying on this Coast) and met-in-a-cafe (as we like to do) and talked for a nice long while about why-people-create and when and how and what-happens-if-they-do-not-create (depression ensues in our experience).

there’s something so gloriously other-worldly talking to other writers who are writing books.

one cannot share another’s imaginary world but there’s magic in knowing they live in one too. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

like Mr. Laurie Lee (how we wish we could sit in a cafe with him – but we can – because we own several of his books which is as near as one can get to sitting-with-the-actual-person).

a day unremembered is like a soul unborn, worse than if it had never been. What indeed was that summer if it is not recalled? That journey? That act of love? To whom did it happen if it has left you with nothing? Certainly not to you. So any bits of warm life preserved by the pen are trophies snatched from the dark, are branches of leaves fished out of the flood, are tiny arrests of mortality.

the urge to write may also be the fear of death – particularly with autobiography – the need to leave messages for those who come after, saying, ‘I was here; I saw it too’. Then there are the other uses of autobiography, some less poignant than these assurances – exposure, confession, apologia, revenge, or even staking one’s claim to be a godhead. In writing my first volume of autobiography, Cider with Rosie (1959), I was moved by several of these needs, but the chief one was celebration: to praise the life I’d had and so preserve it, and to live again both the good and the bad.

[P.49]

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we have other muses in silver frames. 

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can you guess who?


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we thought you might *smiles*OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and dreaming of Other Worlds sustains us. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

we’ve even started a collage wall (which is what we had back in University on our side of the room when we shared with SH who had her own original watercolo(u)rs on Her Side.

some of the pictures are ours – others bought at bookshops or newsstands – and the rest are Gifts –

can you see the one on the right of a seagull? that was sent to us from Brighton by the very talented Ailsa McWhinnie (we became friendly via the Interweb on the land-of-Instagram)

the small boy in a spanish street? that was sent from Barcelona by the glorious Miss Jules who was on holiday there a little while ago.

so we’ve procrastinated enough – here’s what we really wanted to write about……*sighs*

back to Mr. Laurie Lee for a moment in (almost) closing.

But perhaps the widest pitfall in autobiography is the writer’s censorship of self. Unconscious or deliberate, it often releases an image of one who could never have lived. Flat, shadowy, prim and bloodless, it is a leaf pressed dry on the page, the surrogate chosen for public office so that the author might survive in secret.

[P.52]

you see that’s why we’re here.

because who-we-are-in-RL is terribly conflicted about a lot of things and we Listen (a bit distractedly at times, we confess, because sometimes when she’s in-a-muddle we really just want to eat cake – one with jam filling – strawberry but only real not from a jar – and with a fine dusting of icing sugar on the top and a light sponge with a dollop of Cornish cream on the side) and try to be nice.

and we often have a Solution (apart from the cake-eating which is most definitely On Hiatus right now in favo(u)r of more healthful – as the americans call it – fare).

so today is gay pride in west hollywood which means traffic will be a Nightmare all weekend.

that’s not the (main) reason we’re skipping town and heading East.

you see who-we-are-in-RL used to go to Pride (as it was known in those days) in her much younger youth (you’ve probably guessed from our Torrid Tales that there was a deep experience in the more alt. worlds than previously written about before-we-got-a-green-card *coughs*) and in Those Days it was all Shocking (and not just the outfits) and Glam (70s style, sometimes 1920s – there was that Charleston Dress she wore in London, with gloves – long black satin ones) but now………now……..the love that dare not speak its name is now sold-to-by-credit-card-companies and well, exploited (can we be this bold?) and yet – and yet – when we drove past the Site last night we had to swallow hard and look away and admit that it’s all still behind fences with police present and cordoned off and costs money-to-enter (doesn’t everything?)

anyway – movingswiftlyon

we told who-we-are-in-RL that she Can write about that stuff when she’s ready.

but for now we have a Novel to write about goddesses in gowns from the Ancient World.

and so we begin again.

It was one of those really rainy nights in London where umbrellas are all but useless. It had been pouring down for hours and people ducked into doorways or crowded into bus shelters and generally looked damp and careworn.

Everyone that is apart from one glitteringly beautiful goddess who walked down the center of Charing Cross Road without an umbrella or a hat or even a coat. But nobody saw her because she was the leader of the Muses (and thus a real goddess).

Calliope did not feel at all goddess-like this evening. She was enraged by a headline on the evening newspaper. It said, “ARE LIFE COACHES THE NEW MUSES?”

She walked on further almost towards Trafalgar Square, which was now crammed bumper to bumper with cars, cabs and buses all stuck in the rush hour, horns blaring and took a sharp right, sweeping regally past the guards and into the National Portrait Gallery.

Rushing through the Victorian galleries (blowing a kiss to the young Queen’s portrait) she sped up to the next floor flying through the Tudors, Stuarts and through the late eighteenth century to the nineteenth galleries. She stopped as soon as she reached The Romantics room with Blake, Shelley and Keats.

“I’ve missed you,” she said, catching her breath. The portraits, of course, stayed silent. But she knew something of their spirits was contained in the paint. “Nobody believes in us anymore.” The portraits did not reply. “They have replaced us with humans they call Life Coaches.”

A young male student wandered into the gallery and sat down in front of the Keats painting. He opened up a slim volume of poetry and started to read, looking up at the portrait from time to time with tears in his eyes. Calliope watched him for a while in wonder. Then she drifted over to his chair and stood behind him, stroking his hair gently and kissing the back of his neck. The young man was astonished. He could feel something but there was no one there. Calliope put her hands on the book and turned the page out of interest, to see which poem was next. The young man dropped the book in fright and ran away.

Calliope sat on the chair and read from the book.

“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching…….”

She looked up at Keats and smiled. “Now that one was glorious, I remember it so well.” Leaving the book carefully on the chair, she raised her arms towards the tips of the gold frames and said, “Find me a so-called Life Coach who could inspire such beauty, darlings.”

And with that she laughed and ran out of the gallery and caught the next celestial transporter to somewhere called Donal Bay, just outside of Los Angeles. According to the magazine articles, that was where they trained these new Life Coaches in their bid to become Muses.

so there you have it.

by our reckoning we have another few novels and screenplays to go before we get to writing-about-the-gritty-stuff – but we’ll have a Lot of Fun doing it and then, just maybe, who knows, we’ll have Sorted Some of that Out (no pun intended, or maybe there was, darlings) and we can Switch (again, oh hell, who are we kidding…..) to a more Naturalistic style (or – *gasps*) Cinéma vérité? but only if JPG supervises Wardrobe – we have our Limits – which are probably a lot further into space and time continuum than we had ever known before you-know-what.

the best line from yesterday (and it wasn’t even ours) was this:

there’s a lot to do before you die.

so we’d better get on with it………………

do you think like that too, darlings?

or is it just us?

*worriedlooktocamera*

do. tell.

coffee with Congreve.

darlings

the latest Requested Materials from the Los Angeles County Library have arrived!

(or, more correctly, we went to Pick them Up from the shelf and ran our fingers delicately across the tomes looking for the piece of paper sticking up with our original RL surname thereupon)

and so we spent many happy hours late (a bit too late, actually, tired eyes behind reading glasses, finally forced to capitulate and set aside) and a little this morning, with our dark embrace of caffeine…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhere are just two for your delight – – – – – –

From Hymn to Aphrodite:
[Invocation]

Sing, Muse, the Force, and all-informing Fire
Of Cyprian Venus, Goddess of Desire:
Her Charms, th’Immortal Minds of Gods can move,
And tame the stubborn Race of Men to Love.
The wilder Herds and ravenous Beasts of Prey,
Her influence feel, and own her kindly Sway.
Thro’ pathless Air, and boundless Ocean’s Space,
She rules the feather’d Kind and finny Race;
Whole Nature on her sole Support depends,
And far as Life exists, her Care extends.

William Congreve, 1710

[Aphrodite and Anchises]

Bright as the Moon she shone, with silent Light.
And charm’d his Sense with Wonder and Delight.

William Congreve, 1710

According to our friends at the Oxford University Press*, these extracts are both from what are known as The Homeric Hymns – a collection of thirty-three poems in epic style composed between the eighth and sixth centuries BC and addressed to various divinities, falsely attributed to Homer.

*and may we say how Modern it is that the OUP (may we be so familiar?) are doing ‘Print-on-Demand’ (top right, of this catalogue page)- – gosh.

of course one does Wonder who these poets were that wrote the Original versions in the once-Ancient Greek and didn’t sign their name so they were passed over by the mists of time and Mr. Homer took the credit (or his Publishers did)?

having done a little ghost-writing-for-executives in our time *coughs* we know the feeling of our words being attributed to Others.

movingswiftlyon

and back to Classical Greece.

you see we’ve decided to put the Hollywood Novel on hold for a moment and adapt the Goddess of Donal Bay (which, strictly speaking is Set in Los Angeles, and there are definite Hollywood Moments).

we wrote it as a screenplay a few years ago and feel ready to write at length to make it (or reveal it, depending on one’s opinion of how-books-are-written) a Novel.

such fun.

we LOVED writing the classical Muses.

the gowns alone…..

CLIO, another muse ENTERS. She flies off the top of the stacks.

CALLIOPE (CONT’D) Clio!

Clio is as beautiful as Calliope. And mad as hell.

CLIO We’ve been watching you.

Calliope looks guilty. Clio grabs her arm and shows her a whole stack of self-help books.

CLIO (CONT’D) They call it self-help. Humans buy these books to make them feel better. But they don’t do the work.

CALLIOPE I was just trying to help. They invented these life coach people and said they were the new muses.

CLIO Why did you take on human form? It’s forbidden. You are confusing the human incarnations. You wrote a book with your picture on it, your image is displayed in permanent daylight on those billboards out there, you were on the machine!

CALLIOPE They call it television.

CLIO I don’t care what they call it.

CALLIOPE I’ve been kissed. Clio is stopped in her tracks. Her eyes fill with emotion.

CLIO What was it like?

CALLIOPE Like nothing I have ever experienced.

oh yes.

This is going to be a delicious distraction.

excuse us while we return to Bryon’s translation of Catullus and enjoy (is this possible?) our (small) bowl of Special K (the cereal, not the narcotic).

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Ta dah! Finished!

Darlings

Writing for HOURS today.

And it’s done.

First draft of The House On Church Row.

All 82,000 words and ideas and strange magical-goings-on-of it.

Beyond tired.

But so happy.

image

Must have been that walk in the late sunlight we took earlier and the strong cappucino at a wondrous outdoor terrace and the many-chandeliers spotted en route.

Everything helps….

But mostly it’s knowing You are there.

back to bed with Vogue and writing materials and visiting the world while lying back on clouds of pillows

darlings

it’s Saturday.

and we Do like to Lounge around on a Saturday morning.

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and read glossy magazines. a23a2f54bfdd11e2a32722000aa800c4_7

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and do a mini decoupage (with just sticky-backed-plastic).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand call people on the Princess Phone (with the 50 ft cord so we can lie back against the soft pillows) in Connecticut* and find out Their (most exciting) News.

*where we spent our Last Weekend on the East coast if you recall……. 

and now we write.

just after we listen to a little more 80s music (a free CD came in the Post with the re-issued and rather reasonable re-mastered Classic Movie-on-DVD that we’ll be watching soon’ish).

we’re having one of those days – where – you know – it’s all Unfolding as one Imagined…..

an early email from someone deeply Sophisticated in Shanghai (“hello, dumpling”), lying in bed placing a Trunk Call to Connecticut, reading Vogue, a tiny amount of decoupage (similar to Pinterest, young people reading this), accepting an Advisory Board position as who-we-are-in-RL – super secret that one – don’t tell anyone as yet, saying Yes! to writing a blurb for the Publishing site for Someone Special’s New Novel – and waiting patiently for the Manuscript to arrive – most exciting – while listening to Jazz on the Radio via the interweb and – a few hours hence – popping out to see friends-at-a-gathering-place followed by another Evening at the Movies with a Director Q&A post-film.

gosh.

yes.

That’s EXACTLY how we thought it would be.

*winktocamera*

are you having a delicious saturday?

Some of you are showing us in Real Time *shivers* what You’re getting up to……

Miss Jules is lurking in twilight Berlin

Laure is looking out of French Windows in France

Trixie is here from the Philippines and hanging out with the Twilight people

Lisa (whom we met in South Africa originally) is now in London at a gallery

D is giving advice on D. I. V. O. R. C.E from the East Coast

Kristen has gone to the dogs in Manhattan

Mamzellev is here from Germany and admiring L.A

Stacy is enjoying music al fresco in Washington Square

Heather is lost in a cloud of riotous Peonies in La Belle France

Vickie Lester is taking Mister Lester out to dine in Little Tokyo 

William is in a cemetery in England

George was in (the middle of) America and has returned to the City of Angeles

Mark is settling down with a Pipe and Wodehouse somewhere near Bath, England

and Beautycalypse is trying to get to sleep….

you see?

it’s delicious.

we are able to Visit you and not even get dressed properly.

#divine.

 

 

memories of brighton, england

gosh – darlings – we’d Completely forgotten we’d started this story – a long(ish) time ago – but something about the rain Today (RAIN?!) in los angeles and of course we are Thrown Instantly Back to Brighton (did we tell you who-we-are-in-RL was born in brighton?)

so here’s the beginning of something that we never finished – maybe we never will – but *sighs* at Some Point it might be somewhat Cathartic and possibly Lucrative.

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Back in Brighton

Maisie had not intended to go back.

But when the first year at university ended her rich friends took off for glorious adventures abroad, or headed deep into the English countryside for endless summers at their family estates. With neither option on the horizon; and the distinct lack of money in her bank account requiring actual paid work, rather urgently, she sighed and took the train back to Brighton.

She found a house that someone needed looking after for the summer by the Duke of York cinema and asked for her old waitress job back at Fitz.

It was as if she had never been away. The same lilting voices of the art students from Liverpool drifted across the wooden tables and mismatched chairs as they sat eating a fry-up before retreating to the kitchen to prep. Only the waitresses changed each season. All except Maisie who had started there when she was seventeen and, with her recent return, never really left.

A week after arriving back in Brighton and working at Fitz a familiar routine enveloped her again. She lit another cigarette and looked out at the July rain. Some kind of summer, she sighed. The restaurant was set up, the chefs busy downstairs and the other waitresses – Joan and Sue – were gossiping in the back by the coffee pots over Joan’s new conquest, Darren, the soux chef.

Then came the unmistakable sound of a screw top bottle being opened, something poured into glasses and the bottle replaced on the shelf. Maisie knew what had just taken place – the so-called Fitz Nip – a pre-shift slug of coffee liqueur emptied into a frothy milk-rich beverage. She took a drag of her cigarette, finished it and stubbed it out and went to turn the sign on the door to open.

As it was a Saturday the shift got busy really quickly and the three women were barely able to catch their breath. It was only when Sue asked her to take an order on table nine because she had to nip to the loo, that Maisie realized they were both completely drunk.

When surrounded by others getting quietly hammered during Saturday afternoon shifts, it was best to follow suit, so she quickly took the order on number nine and helped herself to the bottle of liqueur on the dresser. It did not matter, after all. Fitz was hardly an upscale restaurant, it was a place you sunk into, gratefully, to escape the rain or to while away the afternoon with one cup of coffee during a quiet afternoon writing your novel.

Fitz was named after Mrs Fitzherbert, the mistress of the Prince Regent, who later became George IV, and there had been a cafe called Fitz on the premises since between the wars. A gay man from Chicago had bought the resturant on a whim from bankruptcy court in the mid 80s and, just as quickly, sold it on to two brothers from Leeds.

You never saw the owners who were savvy enough to install a bona fide restaurant manager, Mike. Mike was a thin man who dressed in ill-fitting grey suits, losing the jacket to help out during Saturdays in his shirtsleeves.

During her first winter working at Fitz, Mike had suddenly appeared before the evening shift, on a quiet Wednesday, wearing tight jeans and a black leather bomber jacket, on his way to hear a big punk band play down in one of the clubs under the arches by the beach. It had seemed so unlikely. Especially since the ill-fitting suits returned the very next day and the leather jacket was not seen again. But Maisie knew Mike had another side. Everyone at Fitz had another side.

She had been left on her own that night. Not many customers, a few tourists in need of a reasonable, dubiously English-style meal or one of the slightly risqué-named hamburgers. Like the “magic mushroom burger” (the only magic was a lethal garlic mayonnaise – she watched Darren make it fresh once a week) or the “Saturday night burger”: was the pineapple on melted cheddar meant to be an extra special – only-once-a-week treat? Or was there something suggestive in the pineapple ring almost penetrated by the strips of bacon lying across it?  That was Darren’s theory. But, that first winter, she had been a seventeen-year old virgin so just blushed.

A  full two years later she did not blush when the boarding school boys came in with their local girl dates and ordered the burgers by name; the blood rushing up the backs of their necks as the sassy Brighton girls sucked on a cherry on the top of their Diet Coke swizzle sticks.

Maisie clocked off at four and headed for her locker downstairs by the kitchen. She opened the door and saw Darren smoking on the iron steps that led to the patch of concrete where the kitchen put the rubbish out each night. He turned around as he heard Maisie flip open her Zippo lighter.

“I didn’t think you’d come back,” he said, looking directly at her in that art student way of his, as if appraising her face for the way the light fell before he drew her. “Not once you’d been to London.”

He said London as if it did not impress him at all. The inverted snobbery of the Northerners was not lost on Maisie. The way they left Liverpool and Manchester to come to the art college in Brighton, by-passing London entirely and yet, if they had any hope of a commercial career in art, the very city they would have to settle in.

She wanted to answer Darren in a way that would make him realize she was no longer Mousey Maisie, the teenage waitress. Not that she had any interest in Darren but his opinion set the tone at Fitz so she needed to make sure this summer got off on the right foot. While she was still thinking of an answer the kitchen bell rang and Darren got up, handed her a beer from the ice bucket on the steps and disappeared.

Maisie almost dropped it but Darren didn’t notice. He had gone. It was not that she did not want it. But it was only four o’clock. And if this summer was about drinking at four o’clock there would not be an adventure. And she really needed an adventure this summer.

and from a little bit further on…….

The corrugated iron door was ajar and she could hear a track of music blending into another as a line of melody clashed with  dark drumbeats and then, finally, silence. Constance, dressed in boy’s jeans and a stringy tank top waved from the DJ booth. Maisie waved back and took a warm beer bottle from the crate in front of the booth. She watched Constance for a while and tried to see if she had changed at all since last summer when they all celebrated the end of school and the beginning of what was next. Constance had stayed behind in Brighton to continue DJ-ing at the Zap. Her parents were both in the music industry so rarely around and certainly not worried that she did not want to go to university.

Maisie had learned how to blow smoke rings in Constance’s bedsit opposite the Palace Pier. A one room disaster zone in a crumbling Regency house. The orange swirly carpet studded with cigarette burns from the mid-70s, a kitchenette, never used, a bed, always unmade, and a nubbly brown sofa rescued from the street. Constance and Jolyon, her sometime lover/sometime dealer lived on pizza, beer and cigarettes, projecting John Wayne movies and stolen porn onto the blank wall from an old projector.

Finally Constance wrapped up her mix session in the booth and came down to look at Maisie who, unlike Constance, had changed radically in the course of a year. Her old schoolfriend took in the black bob that replaced the long blonde hair, the thin layer of black liquid eyeliner on her eyelids and the distinct dark circles underneath. Maisie shivered. She felt strange being back here at the Zap, especially under Constance’s scrutiny.

The Zap had been the pinnacle of Brighton nightlife their entire teenage years. A place she despaired of ever being old enough to get into. A place of many drunken, wonderful, Bacchanalian confusions but now, with the fading shaft of cold daylight from the rainy beachfront piercing the shabby interior, it looked drab. Constance took the points of Maisie’s new black bob and pulled them towards her cheekbones. “Very Louise Brooks,” she said. Maisie felt foolish. Of course it was exactly why she had a black bob cut in the first place. But it was embarrassing to have someone know that about you.

and the last bit before we Dash out of the door to do-some-work-in-the-Valley.

The sweet shops selling rock and toffees and ice-cream under the arches were closing for the night and the pubs were opening on every corner as Maisie made her way up the hill, past the railway station, and into the house she was looking after for the summer. It was completely silent. A really ordered house. There was no clutter or eccentricities or junk flowing down the stairs. There was even a coat stand by the door and a little shelf where you could hang your keys. Maisie still thought that was so grown-up, so strange, but she carefully hung up the still unfamiliar key ring and checked her appearance in the hall mirror. She smiled sadly at herself, thinking of Constance’s non-committal reaction.

“Doesn’t look as if anyone is going to throw me a welcome home and coming out party then.” She went upstairs and crawled into bed and try to fall asleep but she was hungry.

The best thing about working in restaurants is they feed you. The worst thing about working in restaurants is you never buy food to keep in the house. Maisie decided she could not stay in so she got up, pulled on her clothes again. A bag of peanuts in the front balcony seats for the late showing at the art-house cinema next door would do for supper again.

Summer passed quickly as the restaurant got busier and Maisie fell back into the routine of working, watching endless old movies and going clubbing at the Zap at the weekend. Then Constance moved to Glasgow at the end of the summer to DJ but did not leave a forwarding number. Maisie only found out when she wondered why someone else was in the DJ booth that night.

After her shift the next day she went round to Constance’s bedsit and found Jolyon sitting on the steps smoking a joint and reading Camus. Or rather not reading Camus but the note stuck inside a copy of Camus, left by Constance. They talked for a while. Jolyon did not appear to be upset. But there again Maisie could not remember Jolyon ever actually having any sort of emotion for as long as she had known him. They walked to the train station together. Jolyon had decided to move to London, now Constance had left Brighton; as if her exit gave him permission to leave too. He told Maisie he was moving to Blackheath.

“Do you know why it is called Blackheath?” asked Maisie, who was full of odd bits of knowledge. Jolyon did not look as if he cared. But he did perk up slightly when Maisie explained it was because of the Black Plague. She explained nothing could ever be built on the heath itself for fear of releasing the plague once more. Jolyon barely registered what Maisie was saying. So she asked him why, exactly, Blackheath?

He was more forthcoming about that. He told her about his brother who was a fight instructor at The National Theatre and lived with a crowd of dancers and actors who passed through each other’s bedrooms and lives under the watchful gaze of the mural of Salvador Dali painted on the kitchen wall, his mustache flicked over the peeling paint on the window frames. “You should come over some time” said Jolyon, leaning into Maisie’s breasts as he tried to steady himself and buy a train ticket from the machine.

hmmmm, it’s Definitely bringing back memories…….maybe we’ll leave this one for Another Time and finish The House on Church Row before writing a 2nd Emerald novel ;-)

or not.

maybe this one is Next.

sometimes stories just get Insistent to be told.

or   r  e  l  e  a  s  e  d.

back to Church Row – and a drag night at the Black Cap, Camden.

darlings

we’ve been writing FURIOUSLY for a few days now and we’re up to 55,500 words of The House on Church Row and Ever such a Lot has Happened (much of which surprised us, in fact, but we’re just the one that “sees” the movie unfolding in front of our mind’s eye and get to transcribe it, with a modicum, one hopes, of skill).

firstly a photograph from England to put us all in the right aesthetic frame:

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anyway – we’re a little Beyond this bit (below) but wanted to share it with you and sort of it send-it-out-into-the-world.

such fun.

isn’t being creative just the most joyful experience ever?

With great reluctance, Kelly got into the cab too and scooted over to the middle of the back seat. Marion got in and told the driver to get going. She looked down at her beautifully cut Donna Karan pants and silk blouse and knew instinctively that she wasn’t dressed properly for a drag night in some bar. And then she looked over at Annabelle who was pulling her cashmere mix threadbare cardigan from Jigsaw around her shoulders over her summery dress. They were going to be quite a threesome down the Black Cap.

Simon could not believe what he was seeing. His wife had just got into a taxi with that American woman and the younger one with the leather trousers and driven off. “Oh, mother, now look what you’ve done!” he said, exasperated, storming back into his house. Charlotte pulled out her mobile phone and clicked a few buttons. She was tracking the cab.

“Get your jacket, Simon,” she said, “We’re going out.”

********************************************************

The line stretched around the block as the cab pulled up. Clearly Dorian had quite a following in Camden Town. Marion looked at the faces of the people waiting. They all looked so young and fresh – despite the general state of disorderly drunkenness most were in already. What must it have been like to grow up here?

Marion had grown up in Manhattan. It was all she’d ever known. It had been an orderly childhood, mostly spent at boarding schools in Vermont, shivering under not-warm-enough coats and playing sports to get rid of the rage. What would she have been like if she’d gone to school here? Would she be one of those hanging out in the line at the Black Cap on a school night, heavy with mascara and full of pints of beer, smoking a Camel cigarette?

She looked across at Annabelle who was staring at the crowd as if she had never seen anything like this. Maybe she hadn’t. It was becoming clearer and clearer that Annabelle had been so sheltered and overlooked, in her family (Marion had heard about Elyse, but not quite the details of how she died), at school (a prefect, but not anything important, barely scraping by and then working at the last minute to get decent A’ Levels and off to University) and now her marriage. Annabelle had never just been Annabelle – she had always been the support, eternally connected, with someone stronger with a larger personality.

Kelly jumped out of the taxi, expecting Marion to pay, which she did. She rushed to the head of the queue and talked to Danny on the door. He nodded and then raised an eyebrow when he saw the silk shirt and trousers from Manhattan and the threadbare cardigan from Hampstead over a cotton dress. Kelly just shrugged. She wanted them in the pub as soon as possible so she could find her mates and lose the lovebirds.

Unfortunately Danny had other ideas. He stopped Annabelle at the door and looked her up and down with a not-so-kind appraising glare.

“What on earth are you wearing, love?” he said.

Annabelle looked to Marion for help. Marion took the elastic band off Annabelle’s ponytail, grabbed her cardigan and tied it around her waist and slapped her on the ass. Danny was so taken aback (Annabelle swooned inside a mixture of fright and fascination at what-just-happened). Then Marion reached for her own silk shirt, undid the top two buttons, reached over to Danny and kissed him lightly on both cheeks, slipping him a twenty pound note without anyone noticing.

They were in.

A few moments later another taxi pulled up and Charlotte emerged, regal in her Dior, with Simon in a sad old leather jacket he had found in the back of the cupboard from his university days. Charlotte dispatched Danny at the door with a crisp fifty and they headed to the bar. Danny looked astonished at Charlotte and slowly but surely took in all the details. She was his new inspiration. Danny was the headliner at the Black Cap on a Wednesday night. He had a wicked idea for a new regal female persona.

Inside the pub, Annabelle stared up at the gorgeously camp chandeliers and the red-flocked wallpaper and mock leather padded seats. She perched awkwardly at the bar and sipped a white wine while Kelly did shots of tequila off a woman’s stomach on the tables at the back. Marion was in heaven. This was London, at last. A seething Bacchanalian mass of wildly dressed highly individual characters, singing along to all the words of Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera, with her Creative Director, Dorian, up there on the tiny stage, directing the crowd.

She heard that New York had parties like this but she was always working and there were no clients to be found at bars with drag acts, so she never went to one. In fact, towards the end, she just went to conferences and mixers and award shows and got take-out from the gluten-free Asian emporium in SoHo.

She had sat in there one time and had chicken soup with rice noodles but it was so depressing eating alone, and she was terrified someone would see her – and pity her – that she always got two days worth of take-out as if she was having people round. She wasn’t. Dinner parties were not a feature of her life downtown. She heard people did that on the Upper East Side or took over restaurant back rooms on the other side of the park, but downtown was different.

Downtown was away from the families and weekend celebrations and bar mitzvahs and engagement parties and the Looking for Mr. Goodbar single women perched prettily and desperately on barstools. Single straight women were not seen much downtown. Because there was not much point looking for a rich man downtown. If they were male, and rich, downtown, they were gay.

Talking of gay men, Marion smiled and looked around. This was a very mixed crowd, very young, no one apart from herself – and Annabelle – was over thirty.

Where was Annabelle?

And then Marion saw that Annabelle needed rescuing. Charlotte Jones had just sailed into the Black Cap, followed sheepishly by Simon, wearing a not-old-enough-to-be-retro leather jacket. Kelly was nowhere to be found. Marion guessed that the night was over. Or that she had found someone else to play with. Dorian’s act had finished and he/she stumbled off-stage, pulled off the white blonde wig and disappeared into the crowd.

“Can I buy you a drink, Charlotte?” said Marion.

Charlotte swirled around to see who had touched her arm, but not quickly enough to hide the device blinking red from Marion. So she was being tracked. How disappointing. But by Charlotte Jones – or, Deneueve – her codename – why?

Suddenly Marion was tired of the game. If in fact it had ever been a game. She knew the Agency had done a background check on her. Of course they heard about the other campaigns at the smaller places she had worked before. Of how they became a giant success overnight and how everyone said it was the “numbers” or the “strategy” but nobody really knew. They just knew that Marion knew.

She got Charlotte a Jack Daniels and handed it over with an approving nod; impressed that she was drinking Bourbon and not something sparkling. Of course she wouldn’t be drinking any cheap sparkling wine that much Marion knew, it would be some grand cuvee, no doubt. But even Charlotte Jones would be hard pressed to find a decent bubbly at a dive like the Black Cap.

Would she let Charlotte knew that she knew about her being Deneueve? Hell, no. Let them chase her for a while. She had great plans for the Harden brother’s car campaign. She wanted to have some fun. Especially if this was to be her last gig. Who knew that the last job would have been in England, though?

Oh to be in England, now that spring is here. Was that the line? She remembered reading it at grad school. But who was the poet? She turned to Charlotte and said the line out loud. Charlotte knocked back her Jack Daniels, put the glass on the bar and opened up her arms wide, declaiming:

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England–now!!

 

And then from nowhere Dorian was suddenly standing on stage with the microphone, beckoning at Charlotte to join him, which she did, and they finished the poem with a rousing finish, joined by a surprising number of the punters at the Black Cap.

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops–at the bent spray’s edge–
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
–Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

The last three lines were punctuated with excited shouts at the words “gay” and “gaudy”, being both particular favorites at the pub, especially with those who had a decent education before turning to drugs, drag and despair, like Dorian.

“We adore Robert Browning,” said Charlotte, quite out of breath, her arm interlinked with Dorian’s, as they approached the bar.

“Another glass of Jack for my friend,” said Marion, laughing, and whatever Dorian is drinking.” Dorian gave her daggers. He was still in a lemon yellow housecoat and court shoes with matching handbag. “Sorry,” nodded Marion to his outfit, “Whatever Doris is drinking tonight.”

“I’ll have a BabySham, Mike,” said Dorian, cocking his head to one side with a 1950s housewife benign smile.

happy monday!

629072109ae811e2987422000a9e08f2_7

checking in at The House on Church Row with Simon and Cake.

good morning darlings – 07:49AM on a beautiful tuesday gosh Wednesday! in sunny southern california.

we’re already writing – a large mug of finest french beans ground into a sumptuous dark roast with 1 per-cent milk from trader joes – and thought we’d open the door to Annabelle and Simon’s house on Church Row (metaphorically, of course) and peek inside……we’ve jumped ahead several thousand words so just a snapshot to keep up our momentum While We Continue On.

firstly a picture – now several of you will know that this is Not London (in fact, it’s Norwich) – but we always need to set the scene, visually, for ourselves before we write and we thought our American friends might appreciate a contextual image (and those, increasingly it seems from the “stats” from the middle east – good morning, chaps).

norwich

Simon felt cornered by his teenage mutant daughter. He had come home to catch up on some work and maybe read the paper from cover to cover in the kitchen. But Libby was sprawled out on the sofa, still in her sports kit, watching endless mindless television on a loop. He stood in the doorway and coughed, politely. Her head swung round like an alien in a horror movie. She stared him down. He moved back slightly into the hallway.

“Why aren’t you at work?” she said, exasperated.

He wished he had spoken first. “Why aren’t you at school?”

“I’m on home study.”

He had no idea what that meant so tried another tack. “Where’s Mum?”

“How should I know?” Libby looked sideways at the television, silently begging her father to leave.

“Did she say she was busy today?”

Libby looks at him astonished. “Busy doing what?”

Simon decided to leave it and avoid all confrontation until she left for university. When was that? He mentally calculated. It felt like years, because it was.

He walked into the kitchen and looked around for something to eat. He fancied cake. Did they have cake anywhere? It seemed not. He wanted to ask Libby if she knew where Annabelle kept the cake but he was too scared. His son would know. His son was still young, still liked cake, wasn’t on a diet or hated him. That time would come he was sure. Perhaps not the dieting bit. But maybe – young men appeared to be trying hard to impress these days.

Sighing, he sat down at the kitchen table and opened up his laptop and started to work. He would have an apple instead. Had life come to this? He could hear sounds of very loud music coming from the television next door. Then the door opened and Libby stormed in, grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and tossed her hair sullenly. Simon decided to chance it.

“Do we have any cake in the house?”

Libby turned on him. “What?”

“Cake – do we have any cake in the house?”

“How would I know?”

Suddenly Simon remembered his wife was baking a few nights ago. He got up and looked hopefully in the fridge. Not much there. He tried the bread bin. There was something that looked like a rock cake and not appealing at all. Libby was still standing there.

“Are you eating on your feelings?” she said, glaring.

“Am I what?”

“We learned that in Psych.”

“Since when are you doing psychology?”

“I want to be a therapist.”

Simon stared at his daughter. He had not met anyone so lacking in compassion for years. Why on earth would she want to be a therapist? Libby crunched into the apple and narrowed her eyes at her father. “I’m going to work in the criminal justice system rehabilitating prisoners.”

The front door opened and his son swung in through the doors, throwing his schoolbag on the floor and kicking off his shoes. He stopped suddenly seeing his father and his sister doing a stand-off in the kitchen. Libby tossed her hair again and went back into the living room to watch television. Matt took out half a sandwich from the fridge and sat on the floor to eat it. Simon passed him a napkin so he didn’t drop food everywhere.

“Did you know your sister wants to work with criminals?”

Matt looked at him pityingly. “Libby wants to do whatever she sees on the television this week. She’s been watching those American shows again.”

“So I don’t need to worry?”

Matt finished his cheese sandwich and threw the paper napkin into the bin. “I’m not worried,” he said.

Simon felt better for a moment. Thank goodness they had two children.

“Where’s mum?” said Matt, grabbing his schoolbag to go upstairs and do homework.

“I don’t know.”

Matt shrugged. “I’m not worried,” he said, again.

Suddenly Simon was worried. Where was his wife? And would she bring some cake home from wherever she was?

********************************************************

Annabelle was standing outside Louis Patisserie on Hampstead High Street, her nose pressed up against the clotted cream pastries in the window. It all looked delicious and forbidden and wrong. Lydia opened the door and the little bell at the top of the lintel tinkled merrily. It was all so inviting, thought Annabelle. Lydia’s robes were more voluminous and darkest purple than usual and there was even a hint of gold thread throughout the bodice. She smiled encouragingly at Annabelle.

“They look lovely,” sighed Annabelle, nodding to the cakes.

“They look even lovelier inside on a plate with a pot of tea,” said Lydia, gently.

“I can’t eat them. They will go straight to my thighs.”

“I’m sure you have perfectly lovely thighs.”

Annabelle blushed.

“My tea is getting cold. Are you coming in?”

Annabelle hesitated, looked up and down the street, and then walked purposefully into the tearooms.

An hour later, Annabelle hurried down the street, fishing in her bag for her keys. Lydia was rushing behind.

“Don’t forget!”

Annabelle turned around, quickly.

“I can’t.”

“You can if you want to. These opportunities come along so rarely. Seize the day! Carpe Diem as the Romans said!” Lydia rushed on down Church Row towards the graveyard and turned left. Annabelle paused on her front doorstep. The door opened from the inside. Simon was standing there.

“I was worried.”

He looked down the street and saw the departing figure of Lydia floating past the church in her long skirts and flowing scarves. Annabelle silently handed him a box of cakes from Louis Patisserie and hurried inside. Gingerly he opened the box and sighed happily. Then he looked worriedly into the house. Why was she bringing cake home?

 

marion takes the Tube from Hampstead.

darlings

another thousand words into the Novel……and then out into the beautiful Los Angeles day.

It was barely dawn. The street lamps were still lit, not by gas these days, all re-worked to fit electric bulbs, but still within the original early 1800s encasements, black and forbidding, standing proudly to light the way home. A morning bird sang out in the trees at the end of Church Row. Apart from that, a car or two, heading into the center of the city, whooshed past, its headlights beaming quickly into the darkened streets, and then silence again.

Marion walked out of her house in full corporate drag – a tan Macintosh coat, navy Donna Karan shift dress and beautifully tailored jacket and expensive retro T-bar Cuban-heeled black patent leather shoes, the sort usually worn by dancers on a hot night in Havana. Marion had a thing about slightly inappropriate shoes. It always amused her to see how it threw people off when they checked out her outfit from suitably chic corporate attire to – huh? When they got to the shoes.

She shivered a little inside the coat. This place was constantly damp, she realized. A heavier coat was needed. Probably from that place the English called Peter – Peter – what was it called again, she wondered? Ah, yes, Peter Jones. Why was it called that? Was there a Peter Jones who had set up the business back in the day? And didn’t everyone know it was never a good idea to name the business after yourself if you wanted to sell it some day, because, in effect, you would be selling your name. As an advertising executive she had created many a new campaign to cover up the fact that there was no founder in place anymore. Who has the advertising contract for Peter Jones, she wondered, looking up and down the street, trying to remember where there might be a cab rank.

The street was silent. All the drapes in the windows of the houses were drawn. Not a soul stirred. She looked at the flower baskets hanging on the lampposts. There was actual dew on the blooms. Marion raised her eyebrows to the sky and shook her head. This place was beyond cute.

“It kills me,” she said out loud. Her voice, an American voice, here, in the midst of such almost-pastoral splendor, broke the spell. Suddenly a door to the left opened and Annabelle, in a very sweet dressing gown, came out of her house to pick up the bottles of milk on her doorstep. She noticed Marion, and stopped dead, pulling her dressing gown around her more tightly. They stared at each other for a second.

Annabelle’s breeding rose to the occasion. “You must be Marion,” she said, softly, aware that the street was still full of sleeping neighbors.

“Good news travels fast.” Marion did not want to be charmed, but the whole effect of sleepy-head-blonde (probably natural) hair and a pale blue toweling robe while picking up actual milk bottles from a step was adorable. She smoothed down her expensive Donna Karan tailoring and looked down the street again, wishing a New York taxi cab would just pull up outside the house, like now.

“Oh yes,” smiled Annabelle, “You’re an American, I forgot. Lydia did say.”

“Don’t know why you need the newspaper around here, with Lydia on call.”

“She is a terrible gossip,” giggled Annabelle, marveling at Marion’s outfit. She looked like a fashion spread from ELLE magazine. One of those shoots where bold women in brightly-colored skirt suits were always sticking out their hands to get a cab on Madison Avenue. Suddenly the Church at the end chimed six o’clock. Marion rolled her eyes at the cuteness of this place again. She found Annabelle’s presence slightly un-nerving. She was so innocent looking. She just wanted to get out of there. Get to the office. To a place that she understood: numbers, research, campaigns, order and lots of caffeine.

“Well. I must run.”

Annabelle looked down the road to the Church clock to check the time. “Good lord, it’s only six o’clock!”

“I like to start work early.”

“I almost miss it,” sighed Annabelle.

Marion just wanted a cab. She did not want to hear about the travails of the lonely housewife. Not unless she was working on a campaign that aimed to improve the lot of a lonely housewife through some new miracle product. But Annabelle did not need a cue to start talking.

“Somewhere to go everyday. Must be nice.”

“Couldn’t you get yourself a job?”

Annabelle bristled, slightly. Marion was not yet attuned to the cues and missed it. “I have a job.”

“But you just said,” Marion looked helplessly up and down the street. Not a cab in sight. Annabelle pursed her lip and was silent. Marion looked at her, quickly, realizing her mistake. “Right. Sorry. My mistake.”

“Diana said you’re living here alone. You don’t have a family do you?”

Marion never enjoyed this particular conversation. “Why do I feel judged?” she said, seemingly amused.

“I didn’t mean,”

“Yes you did.”

Annabelle was taken aback. She was not used to being challenged. Marion hoisted her expensive Hermes bag onto her shoulder and smiled brightly, but dismissively. “Now where do I get a cab around here?”

“Most people get the Tube.”

“The What?”

Annabelle pointed to the High Street and then motioned taking a left turn. Marion nodded her head and started to walk briskly. A man appeared as if from nowhere walking in front of her, a furled up newspaper under his arm, carrying an umbrella. He walked purposefully towards a building with a sign that said “Hampstead Station” in white lettering on a blue background and a red, white and blue circular motif with the words Underground. She followed closely behind him, watching as he bought a ticket at the machine and swiped it through the electronic gates.

It was nothing like the New York subway system, for a start, there was no one around; the platform was deserted, apart from the man with the newspaper. Marion started to make notes in her small black moleskine journal about the man’s clothing, the Edwardian tile work in the station and the advertisements pasted on the opposite wall.

She did not notice the man was doing the same thing, while glancing covertly at her from time to time.

BrightestLondon_web

a morning in bed, writing a novel, thinking of london.

darlings

happy friday!

we don’t have anywhere particular to be until Later so we decided to stay in bed and write (what a lovely sentence to be able to say) as we are writing a minimum (on most days) of 1000 words into (not of, but into) the new novel.

may we share a bit more with you?

firstly a few photographs we took before – on a trip to London – just to add Context – and get you in the right Feeling or mood.

oriel sloane square 20th Century Fox London BBC london ready? do you have a snack and some caffeinated beverage? it’s a longish read today (and may we say thank you for reading – we truly Appreciate it, darlings).

There is something quite lovely about an English early spring morning. True – there was still rain on a daily basis. But in between there were glossy bursts of sunshine, which brought out birds and children and dogs in a fit of activity. Annabelle stood at her kitchen window and watched the sparrows tussle with each other in the guttering. A door banged and shook the windowpanes slightly and the birds scattered up and away, onto the back garden shed and over the rooftops. Annabelle looked in the direction of next door. That must have been Marion leaving for her new job.

Annabelle took down a tea towel and started to dry the dishes, in something of a dream. Secretly she wished she had a job. It must be nice to have somewhere to go. She finished drying the plates and put the kettle on to make a pot of tea. A note from her son’s school was lying on the table. She picked it up and frowned. Mark was not doing well and she had no idea how to help him. Her daughter, Libby, was the smart one and, to make it worse, somewhat athletic too. But Mark was different: lost in thought most of the time, in his own world.

She picked up Mark’s textbooks and started to read about the Tudors and the Stuarts. It engrossed her so much she did not notice the kettle whistling furiously on the stove. Annabelle stopped reading and turned off the kettle then, without knowing why, she walked quickly into the garden and threw some seeds out for the birds. It was a few moments before she realized she could hear voices in the next garden.

“But why ENGLAND?” said a woman’s voice – an American voice.

Annabelle crept closer to the fence that divided the two parts of the house and sat down under the apple tree on a low bench.

“Why not PARIS?” said the voice.

There was a pause.

“They speak English, don’t they? Well, I’d pick it up.”

Another pause.

“You’re killing me. This is like something out of a PBS Masterpiece special with Dame Maggie Smith and her cohorts of strange village women in tie-dye robes and I just don’t see why I got punished. The numbers were great. You know they were great. They were off the chart great!”

Annabelle was fascinated by the woman’s voice. She realized it must be Marion. She sounded so brave, so present and so gloriously angry and defiant. It was exhilarating. Annabelle felt desperate to see what she looked like. She decided to risk peeking through a hole in the fence.

At first she could not see anything. Just a mass of newspapers strewn across the picnic table, which she knew was a bit wobbly because it used to live in their garden. There was a large coffee container from the American chain on the corner – that must have been why she heard a bang this morning – Marion leaving to go up into the high street.

And then she saw her. A woman with sleek blonde hair but not brassy blonde, expensive, high-end salon Hollywood movie star blonde – and she was running her fingers through it in frustration. The cellphone was clamped to her ear and she was wearing dark glasses. Annabelle was impressed. She had never seen anyone wearing Jackie Onassis large dark glasses in Hampstead, especially not in their own back garden, before nine AM.

But her clothes! Annabelle got as close to the fence as she dared to take a better look. Marion appeared to be wearing pajamas under a Macintosh raincoat. But not the sort of pajamas one found in John Lewis – those sensible ones in flannel with unflattering drawstring waist and saggy bottom.

Marion’s pajamas were white satin with a thin navy blue piping down the front and a monogram on the pocket from some fancy store in New York probably, thought Annabelle. And the way the trousers flowed was so elegant, just skimming Marion’s long legs at the top and occasionally touching her ankles gently as she stormed around the garden. She must be wearing some sort of silk tank top under the button-down jacket as the thin material glowed gently in the spring sunshine. She was a vision, thought Annabelle, quietly hugging herself on the other side of the garden fence.

The phonecall ended abruptly. Marion threw the phone onto the picnic table where it skimmed off the newspapers and fell onto the grass. She left it there and stormed inside, banging the back door loudly. Annabelle leaned back against the tree and tried to breathe evenly. She could not remember the last time she had been so exhilarated by someone.

The rest of the day passed in a slow rhythmic haze of tasks and chores and rather too much sitting down reading about the bloody battles of England in Mark’s textbook. Annabelle knew she should feel guilty for not really enjoying her life, but nobody knew she didn’t. The house was sort of tidy. There were meals and outings and she always showed up at parent’s evening at her children’s schools. She loved her husband. It was impossible not to. The whole of Hampstead appeared to love Simon Jones. And it was not as if there was something necessarily missing.

But ever since her family divided the house and rented out the other half and Elyse’s accident – she shook her head – the therapist had told her not to dwell on either matter so she would not.

******************************************************

Marion slammed the back door hard. She was furious. The office in New York was adamant. She had to stay here in England, at least for a year. She would much prefer Paris. It’s true, she did not speak French, but she would learn. Americans did so much better in Paris, everyone knew that. Why England? She fumed and stormed up and down the hallway, making the umbrella stand rattle and the rugs bunch up as her slippers scuffed on the tasseled hems.

Had someone been watching her from next door? She heard a sound when she threw the phone on that wobbly picnic table, a giggle and a shuffling from behind the fence. Where was her phone? She looked around. Still outside. She walked out into the garden again and grabbed the phone. Then she stopped and listened. Perhaps that person had gone back inside. Marion walked up to the fence and peeked through the slats, which were coming apart. Their garden was actually lovely. An apple tree, not yet in blossom, a small garden seat encircling the tree, a sturdy long table set with two benches and a stone flagged pathway leading up to the back door.

Marion wondered what their lives were like next door.

Her white pajamas had green grass stains on the bottom and her slippers were soaked from the morning dew where the sun – what sun there was – had not dried out the lawn. She turned around and leaned back against the fence, getting the back of her pajamas jacket stained from the mud-spattered wood slats. She closed her eyes and sighed. She must make the best of it here. They were not going to let her go back to New York for a long time after…………but best not to think about that now. Maybe if she did well they would let her go to Paris in a year. Was there even a Paris office? If not, she would open it.

Slightly less angry for a moment, Marion considered the damage to her pajamas. From what she knew about England, there probably wasn’t a twenty-four hour dry cleaning pick-up service. She turned back to look over at the eaves of the house next door, just where the apple tree curved over the roof. Maybe her next-door neighbor would know about the local cleaning services. What was her name again? Arabella? Isabelle? Annabelle. Yes, that was it. She would ask Annabelle about the area. It would be good for her to have an English person for research purposes. After all, if she was going to have to sell products to the English that they didn’t know they needed, she was going to have to tap into their psyche.

For a start, she needed to know what did people who lived in houses like this and had benches round an apple tree feel?

Pleased by her strategy, Marion decided to get dressed. Tomorrow was her first day in the office. Later on today, she would meet Annabelle from next-door. Excellent.

Her mobile was ringing. An American number but she did not recognize it. Not New York. Not a 212-area code. Where was a 310 number? Oh, right – Los Angeles.

“Hello?” she said.

There was a click on the other end.

Marion dialed the number back. It was engaged. She tried again. Still engaged. Odd. Then her phone rang. An English number this time. She picked up.

“Hello?”

“Marion?” said an English voice.

“Yeah.”

“It’s Diana Knoll-West – just checking up on you!”

“Everything’s great, thanks.”

“Oh, good. Well, if you need anything just ring.”

“Actually, there is something,” said Marion, looking down at her pajamas. “Is there a dry cleaning pick-up service?”

“A pick-up? Sorry, don’t quite see what you mean there.”

“A dry cleaning service that will come and take away my clothes to be cleaned.”

There was a pause.

“I do believe that Mr. Brown on the High Street is open tomorrow, you could ask him if he could dry clean your clothes for next week.”

“Next week? Wait. He’s not open today?”

“Gosh, no, I think he only works Wednesdays.”

“Let me get this straight – a dry cleaning service that doesn’t pick up and is only open once a week and takes a week to dry clean?”

Diana took a deep breath, she was equal to this; of course she had read all those articles about New York and its 24-hour delivery culture but, really, imagine. “Marion, this is England, remember, not New York!” she tried a gentle laugh on the other end but there was silence from number 28 Church Row.

Finally Marion spoke. “Where do you English people buy pajamas then?” she said. Only dry-cleaners in New York could probably remove grass stains from satin piping.

Diana was thrilled to help. “Oh, we always buy PJs at Peter Jones,” she said, “Do you have a pen? I’ll give you the address in Sloane Square.”

“You mean you people still go to an actual store?” said Marion, in disbelief, “Don’t they do online same day delivery?”

“Gosh. I have no idea. We’ve always gone to Peter Jones and had lunch at Oriel after, such a treat, delicious scones. Yummy Eton Mess and Pimms.”

Marion had no idea what Diana was talking about but it sounded like major carbohydrates. So this was England – no 24-hour dry cleaning pick-up service or online same-day delivery from whatever Peter Jones was. She wondered how long it would take Brooks Brothers to deliver from Manhattan.

“OK, thanks, Diana. I’ll ask my assistant at the office tomorrow to get me orientated.”

“An assistant? What fun!” trilled Diana, but Marion had already rung off and walked into the kitchen to find something to eat.

She opened all the cupboards but apart from some tins of treacle pudding – whatever that was – and the cookies in a plastic Tupperware – and some (she blanched) full-fat milk – that had to go – she poured it down the sink – and (white) pasta – there was nothing she could eat. She looked in the freezer. Several packets of frozen peas, some cheese topping pizzas and, she noted, no ice-cube tray. In a drawer by the stove she found some delivery menus for Chinese and Indian food. She put them back. Could not risk getting fat this year. Not if she was going to run the Paris office at some point.

There was nothing else for it – she would have to get dressed and head back up to the High Street to find a salad or something light. Marion would not admit it, but she was almost excited to explore the new area, but just until she could go back to New York or move on to Paris, and only in the name of research to study these British people without 24 hour dry cleaning services and a desire to still go to actual stores and buy things and then carry them home. Marion shook her head in disbelief and went upstairs to get dressed.

********************************************************

Annabelle was baking. She kept consulting the Nigella Lawson cookbook but was utterly convinced that whatever she was making would never look like the photographs in Nigella’s book. She was so absorbed by the food porn photography that she did not notice her daughter, Libby, poke her head around the door.

“Homework!” said Libby, quickly, and then clattered up the stairs, banging her schoolbag behind her.

Annabelle rushed to the hallway. “Not so fast, young lady!” she said. But there was silence from upstairs behind closed doors. Sally padded into the hallway to help Annabelle and looked up at her with her huge brown eyes. Annabelle crouched down to bury her face in Sally’s fur and stroke her. Sally started to lick her with some ferocity and clearly deep pleasure and Annabelle realized she was covered in cake mixture. Was that dangerous for dogs, she thought? Sally did not think so and Annabelle wondered again at her lack of natural ability at this housekeeping-children-and-animals activity. Looking up at the stairs again she decided to take charge and headed for Libby’s room.

She knocked tentatively at first and then more firmly until Libby answered, her face visible but the rest of her body covered behind the door. Annabelle had an inward panic. Full body tattoos? Piercing? Was her fifteen-year-old daughter wearing a slut-walk-outfit of something feminist yet ironically streetwalker-esque?

Annabelle and Libby did a stand-off from either side of the door. Ever since Libby had turned a teenager there had been little communication. Libby looked furious and with a pent-up anger that Annabelle remembered well from her own teen years. At least she had shared a room with her sister who got to hear all her angst. Libby just had a younger brother and he refused to do anything but lark around which drove Libby mad.

“I’m doing my homework, what do you want?” Annabelle could not remember why she had come upstairs. Libby narrowed her eyes. “Where’s my hockey kit?” she demanded.

Suddenly Annabelle also felt angry, but she did not know why. “Are the workings of the washing machine completely unknown to you?” she spat. Libby shrunk back, suddenly scared.

“You’re the mother.”

“Mother, yes. Slave, no.” There was nothing else to say.

Mark Jones, thankfully, chose that moment to come home from day school. He stood in the hallway and looked into the kitchen – nobody there – and heard voices. He knew his mother and sister would be arguing so he threw his dirty boots into the hallway cupboard and called to Sally, who came rushing down the stairs, thrilled at his arrival. They ran around the garden and waited for the storm upstairs to subside.

“The prodigal son returns!” called Annabelle from the top of the stairs. Libby closed her door firmly and Annabelle made her way back to the kitchen. Mark came in from the garden all scabbed knees and sweaty and seemingly taller than he was when he left that morning.

“What’s for supper, mum?”

“The cry of the disaffected youth returning from a hard day in the salt mines of education.”

Sally and Mark exchange glances and the dog slumped down onto the kitchen rug, looking hopefully at the cake mixture on the counter.

“My own expensive education is utterly wasted on you children. I thought we could converse about Keats and Milton.”

Mark was used to his mother’s plaintive wailing. He patted her arm and walked to the freezer. “Shall I put in a frozen pizza?” he said, realizing that there was nothing but cake mixture on offer right now.

“Do we possess such a product in our humble pantry of organic delicacies?”

Mark grabbed two boxes from the freezer, opened the Aga’s top oven expertly and popped two pizzas in. Annabelle looked suitably abashed, but grateful, and went back to staring at the photography in Nigella’s book and back at her cake mixture. There was the sound of the front door opening and closing and a cheery voice talking to someone on his cellphone. Simon Jones entered the kitchen and surveyed the scene, proudly. His pretty wife was baking, his son was suitably covered in mud from some sporting activity, there was a dog and – he checked the room covertly – the scary teenage daughter was safely ensconced in her bedroom and not snarling at him for once.

“Darling.” He kissed his wife

“Mark is rustling up a couple of frozen pizzas,” said Annabelle, nuzzling into her husband’s neck with happiness at his return from a business trip.

Simon looked at his son with pride. “We are sending him into the world fully equipped,” he said. He ruffled his son’s messy hair.

“You two are so weird,” said Mark, and took an apple from the bowl on the table.

“He even makes balanced nutritional choices,” smiled Simon as Mark started to bite into the apple, pause, and then offered him some.  Simon took the newspaper from his briefcase and headed to the table, grabbing a bottle of scotch from the sideboard. “Snifter, darling?”

“Not until I’ve finished baking,” said Annabelle.

He poured himself a generous measure of Scotch into a thick crystal glass that was part of their wedding anniversary set from his parents. All felt right with the world. “Baking? Haven’t done that for a while, darling?

Annabelle paused. “I’m turning over a new leaf.”

Simon didn’t really hear her. He read the paper. “Sorry, darling – leaf?”

“I’m re-embracing the female arts.”

Mark put his head in the fridge. He emerged with a stick of cheese. “What, mum?”

“The female arts,” said Annabelle.

“Mum’s acting weird again,” said Mark to his father. “Maybe it’s the Change, we learned about that in biology.”

Simon looked up from his newspaper, suddenly worried. His wife was not yet forty. “Good lord, where are we schooling our children? They only did rugby and Latin in my day.”

Annabelle wiped her hand on a tea towel and comes over to the table. “It’s got nothing to do with hormones. I just wanted to see if I could really do this.”

Simon put down his paper, walked over to her and looked into her eyes carefully. He really loved her. But sometimes she got the oddest notions in her head. “We are very happy with the creative chaos around here.”

Annabelle blushed. She really loved him too. “I met someone at the shops today.”

Mark puts his head into his hand. “You’re getting a divorce!” he cried. Annabelle laughed. Simon looks a bit shocked at his son, why would he think that so quickly?

“No – a woman,” laughed, Annabelle.

Mark looked interested. “You’re a lesbian!” Simon looked worriedly at his son. He was only eleven. How did he know about divorce and homosexuality already? Perhaps the day school was more liberal than it appeared.

He turned back to his wife. “Are you, darling? You can tell me,” he smiled, indulgently.

“You know her – Lydia James. She lives in the big house on the High Street.”

“The one with the flowing robes?” said Simon, absentmindedly, half-watching the clock. Mark saw him look and suddenly jumped up.

“The match!” Mark ran out of the room and Annabelle heard the television go on. Simon wrung his hands and looked guiltily in the direction of the television room. She laughed and waved him out with her tea towel.

Annabelle looked down at Sally on the kitchen rug and confided in her. “Apparently Lydia is the leader of a goddess cult,” she said. Sally raised an eye to the other room and wondered whether to watch the football match with the boys. “She told me that I’m about to have a big awakening.” Annabelle leaned in to look at the author photograph of Nigella Lawson and wondered if Nigella had had a big awakening at some point. Of course she had, she smiled to herself, she’s Nigella Lawson. And she finished the baking, put the scones into trays bought from Peter Jones in Sloane Square and slid them into the bottom over of the Aga. Then she poured herself a Scotch and walked into the garden, pulling a soft cashmere cardigan from Jigsaw, that she’d had since university, around her shoulders and looking at the house next door for a long while.

Jeannette Winterson's shop

yes.

well-spotted!

that *is* Jeannette Winterson’s shop, in Spitalfields, London.

(we thought the muses would approve and it’s ever such a nice shop too).

btw (as the young people say) we are Not comparing ourselves to the Terribly Smart Ms. Winterson (although we do admire her greatly) – we’re sort of aiming for the Genre of the Domestic Drama (isn’t that what Publishers call such things?) so well-explored by Shirley Conran and Jilly Cooper/slash/E.M.Delafield (helpfully there’s an article by Jilly – can we call her Jilly? on E. M here) – but with a twist (quite a few twists, actually – we Do like to slip magic into the Plot).

did you like it?

*nervouslooktocamera*

meet Marion’s neighbo(u)rs.

darlings

*excitedlooktocamera*

we woke up Before dawn to write……….

would you like to meet Marion’s neighbo(u)rs?

we wanted an English visual so here’s a Haberdashers shop in London to set-the-mood.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(continued from before) The House On Church Row

“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.

“Diana!”

“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.

Dear Neighbour!

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.)

and now who-we-are-in-real-life has to get showered and hair-brushed and mascara-ed for the day ahead to be all digital-media-consulting-ness and a Lunch on a studio Lot and quite a lot of driving.

we can’t decide whether to go too.

it’s so sunny here.

we Might just watch the television-DVD-box-Set we brought back from the Library yesterday and dance to the opening credits.