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Saturday 14 November 2015

Step one on two-year road

Possible central character for new (fifth) novel. No plot as yet.

Seen in Brasshouse pub, Birmingham. Pair late twenties, early evening meal.  He faintly resembling Ewan McGregor, lightish beard moustache/chin, leaning low towards her across table, quiet voice.

SHE. Hair imperfectly dyed blonde (irregular dark streaks) swept up from neck with largish bun on top, loose strands of hair, petite face with pink/white makeup, black mascara, prominent convex cheeks, glasses with slot-like lenses and black and white sidebars (wider near lens, tapering to ear), white tight-fitting knitted pullover/blouse buttoned up to scalloped collar detailed in red, thin upper body with prominent, seemingly spherical breasts, hands with coloured nails regularly in motion.

Speaks conversationally yet assertively, even shrilly but – strangely - not unpleasantly. Not in charge but talking/acting with conviction. Ate salad.

GUESSES. Working class/LMC aspirant. Education; probably not uni.

Employment: Not professional. Say: supermarket supervisor, admin at car main dealership, sales with car, managing show house/new estate. Not receptionist, not shop sales assistant.

Assets: Confidence, appealing not tarty, persuasive, energetic, resourceful (needed for plot). Glasses dominate face; ostentatious style deliberate, proving she can look “straight through” them.

Debits: No advanced education, non-reader, mistakenly seen as serious, bossy.

Conflicts: Frustrated by limited employment, tendency to discourage dull football-loving males (Intentionally? Accidentally?), satisfied/dissatisfied with marital status.

Holidays: Not on beach; activity. Leisure: Nothing literary or arty. Friend: An “opposite” who lacks her debits. Living with parents? – probably not, given her age. Outgrown parents? – yes.

Threats: Force drawing her back to her roots; mindless discrimination by male bosses based on lack of conventional prettiness; male belief that glasses make her sexually desperate.

Popular names 1985: Jessica, Ashley, Jennifer, Amanda. Stephanie, Nicole, Amber.



  1. I’ve often wondered about non-standard occupations. How does one end up being, for example, a holiday camp manager, an entrepreneur running music festivals, heading a business renting out marquees? These are never stated ambitions when leaving school.

    Often the answer lies in working one’s way up from a menial position. To do that you need an enquiring mind. You must take the trouble to familiarise yourself with all aspects of the business even though they are not within the remit of your menial position - make yourself useful, volunteer, all this until you become indispensable - be a bit pushy - make things happen. BUT, what happens when you get there?

    Just imagine being elected PM. On the first morning you are briefed by a high up from MI5/MI6 who tells you what is REALLY happening and what you need to know - things you never wanted to hear, and you wonder if your ambition has really got you to a place you wanted to be. Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility…

  2. She's fallen for a guitarist in a punk band. She can lead them to stardom.

  3. You rather denigrated John Betjeman recently in a reply to me (see - I do read 'em!)however I immediately thought of his "In a Bath Tea Shop". Five lines succintly written - but, yes, there would have been a novel in there.

    "Let us not speak, for the love we bear one another—
    Let us hold hands and look."
    She such a very ordinary little woman;
    He such a thumping crook;
    But both, for a moment, little lower than the angels
    In the teashop's ingle-nook."

  4. What if any accent does she speak with?

  5. Sir Hugh: I was very lucky; I said I wanted to be a journalist when asked at age 11 by Father; and lo, it happened. Very few people get the job they want, the main reason being very few have any idea what job they want. Some say they want to be a rock-star but when asked in detail it turns out all they want is the celebrity (and earnings) of being a rock-star. Learn music? You're kidding.

    I would question your sentence: To do that you need an enquiring mind. More often the process is much more passive and is combined with "Buggins' turn".

    Being PM. It's simpler than you think: you're surrounded by self-described experts whose intent is to baffle and confuse you in order to protect their own position. Never mind about MI5, etc. Just imagine being head of DEFRA and having to grapple with a 15-minute historical survey of why horse manure matters. Followed by half an hour on the politics of milk prices. Ministers, including prime ministers, simply give in and learn a few plausible phrases.

    MikeM: You can't parody that which is unparodiable.

    Avus: Did I really denigrate Betjeman? I'm astonished. There may be a novel based on a tea-shop but it will stay unwritten as far as I'm concerned. There are others better equipped to handle the necessary gentility.

    Ellena: Accent? A good question, thanks. It will have to be Brum (which I fear you'll have to look up.)

  6. I didn't know you were leaning toward parody. Thought you might try to bluff your way through a shorty using less of your auto-bio database. Surely the punk scene and your working class sympathies have some overlap... the guy's got a day job as a rubbish collector (he has use of a compactor truck!!) but she's taken with his musician aspect. She WANTS him to succeed, wants THEM to succeed,they explore his giftedness....and hers, but they are NOT YOU. The banter and dialog would be different, the accents and colloquialisms spelled out. You succeeded with a character in the short about basic training....I wonder if you could do a story with ONLY such characters...leaving yourself out.

  7. What. Brummie accent, nasal and very difficult to listen to?

  8. MikeM: Unparodiable. This was a rather loose reference about attempting a theme based on rock music. Everything about rock seems so extreme that it's difficult to see where reality ends and parody sets in in. I seem to be the only person in the world (along with VR) who doesn't find This Is Spinal Tap funny, for exactly this reason.

    I should say I only included two or three details about the fella just to set this scene. I have no interest in him although your extrapolation (especially: he has use of the compactor truck!!) is quite seductive. What's more this comment of yours is remarkably prescient. In putting together these notes I did include some speculation about the nature of a possible plot, cut out subsequently because I'd bust my 300-word limit and in any case I wanted to focus on just her.

    Here's the bit I cut out: Plot. Birmingham. Big change. PA to fraudster, admin companion to sportsman, foreign male lacking UK prejudice. Army???

    Your final sentence also has resonances. I am presently undergoing the depressing experience of reading agents' emailed rejections of my other novel Second Hand. I tell myself commercial acceptance would be nice, but it's more important to write what I want to write. That said I've been glancing at novels that have been published and noting where I fall short. A novel written on the basis you put forward is one considered option.

    Ellena: Spot on! But then I expect no less from you. Again, let me repeat, your suggestion about an accent was important and I will take it to heart.

  9. Ok, so you've had a few ideas thrown at you, but if it was me I would feel honour bound (to myself) not use them because I would like to think that whatever I had created was all from me, nor would i like to be accused of plagiarism. You could argue against my stance by saying that an acclaimed result of your efforts stemmed 99% from your writing skills, rather than receiving a gift of the idea.

  10. Sir Hugh: Writing might seem like an ego-trip but not at this point in the proceedings. Pragmatism counts. Note Ellena's suggestion and my reaction.

  11. Jessica, I think although Fiona would have been nice. You are going to have to give the poor bloke a bit more umph though. An important question for me would be what she would order at a restaurant; nothing too stodgy I imagine, but not salad either (she is more interesting than that) maybe ham, egg and chips.

    Can breasts actually be 'spherical'? Just wondering.

  12. Blonde Two: The first half of this post describes reality; I included the bloke just to set the scene as I remembered it. Now I have a physical template (of Jessica) to move across imaginary scenes as they are created. And she actually ate salad although this can change.

    As to the guesses, they are just that: situations that may or may not be adopted. Alas, given your admirable insistence that my novels should give fellas a greater crack of the whip, I have taken a further step that greatly attracts me but won't win your approval. Jessica's life undergoes a huge change when she becomes associated with a prominent male figure (PA to a financial fraudster or, possibly, a sportsman) who fails in the big way. Am I being too cruel to my own gender? Perhaps, but you must remember that in this particular universe I am God.

    Hemi-spherical if you like, to conform with what's possible. But I must confess that as I glanced at her (I didn't get much time; they were off long before we'd finished our food) the impression I got was of shapes whose contours went all the way round. Fanciful of course but also split-second true.

    There was a denouement. While Jessica was still there I urged VR, through whispers, to gather up her own impressions so that I could collect these later. As Jessica got up to go, she smiled at me ironically, knowingly. Had she heard? We weren't all that close.

    Another possibility arises. That I may play myself in this novel: the silent observer who doesn't affect events, merely watches things