The brilliant thing about reading a good book is that the characters will appear in your head as if they were real people, and if you gave the same book to another person they would visualise those characters in a completely different way.
However, as a writer there is a knack to developing a well-rounded character, something which doesn’t necessarily come easily. Having said that, very occasionally a character will arrive fully formed and refuse to leave. ‘Yes, you, Konrad Neale! (The Camera Lies,Stench,Death by Indulgence, and The Bloodline Will) You are getting on my nerves right now.’ Always a selfish bugger that one. He’s a Marmite character. I love him and hate him – the arrogant tosser. One day soon he’s going to push me too far. ‘Do you hear me, Kon? Your days are numbered, pal.’
Tip one: Imagine the ‘whole’ person. Your character will have a personality type, a background story, relationships, likes and dislikes, a way of dressing, and you need to ‘see’ them for who they are, not just what they are. If they are a heroic figure, then a writer must understand what has made them the sort of person to court danger. If the character you require in your story is vindictive and underhand, then why do they behave that way? The reader doesn’t always need to know this in great detail but, in order to make realistic characters, the writer does.
Tip Two: Avoid in-depth descriptions. Unless it is vital information, leave plenty to the imagination of the reader. I don’t necessarily want to know the type of wallpaper in the lounge, what clothes a character is wearing each day, how tall they are, and whether they buy their underwear from Marks and Spencer – I want to know what type of person they are, why they did it, how they managed to bury their husband under the patio and whether or not they will get caught. (My husband is fine, by the way)
Tip Three: Build the character through action. A reader can be ‘drip fed’ information about a character which builds throughout the story, in the way they act, how they speak, and interact with others. Body language is a good tool. For Example: A person who reacts to a personal threat with physical violence, is very different to one who remains calm, maintains eye contact, opens their palms and enters into considered negotiation. A child who scowls, folds their arms, narrows their eyes and slumps back into a chair has given a big hint as to their state of mind and level of intransigence. The reader sees the action in their head and has an emotional response as a result.
Tip Four: Give them a good name. Charles Dickens was excellent at choosing names for characters that reflected their nature: ‘Wackford Squeers’ appears as a headmaster in Nicholas Nickleby and his name is perfect for a man so free with corporal punishment and cruelty. And then there’s the malevolent ‘Uriah Heep’ from David Copperfield; the word obsequious has been used to sum him up. Not to forget the delightful ‘Volumina Dedlock’, ‘Anne Chickenstalker’ or ‘Jeremiah Flintwich’. But be mindful of the type of book you are writing, the era, and the age of the person you are naming. How does the name sound? ‘James Bond’ sounds solid and rounded, whereas ‘Timmy Pittle’ (made that one up) sounds weedy and ineffectual to me – I wouldn’t give him a license to kill.
Tip Five: Dialogue. How someone speaks, the rate, the intonation, the volume, and the vocabulary employed can inform much more than describing a person’s hairstyle. ‘Oi mate!’ will draw a picture, as will… ‘I say, would you mind awfully?’ We human beings have speech mannerisms, these may be phrases, sayings, favourite swear words, use of pauses or inflections – so give some to your characters, and remember there are many ways to say something: whisper, shout, sneer, bellow, blurt, gabble, or mumble. If you are struggling with how to write dialogue, stop for a while and listen to a conversation, in real life, on the radio or on TV. Analyse it.
I hope these little tips have been helpful to any budding fiction writers out there and that you invent some great characters in your heads. Be warned though, if you do, you are never alone.
Must go, Konrad bloody Neale is about to drop himself in the hot and smelly stuff again. ‘What is it now, Kon? Who have you pissed off this time…?’
A friend of mine, who has the brain the size of Kilmanjaro, has spent some years extolling the benefits of Myers-Briggs as a way of understanding ourselves and others. He insists this is of great use in the workplace and in relationships with others.
I was not convinced, and indeed some argue that use of Myers-Briggs by HR departments is totally meaningless. But when I explored a little deeper into Myers-Briggs, I began to see an alternative use for this ‘structured personality-type indicator’.
Traits are divided into blocks, as shown below. What best describes you?
Now, this is not an exact science, but it could be a useful baseline framework from which a writer can mould a character. For example, I can be difficult to live with because I’m pretty much an ESTJ and like to ‘run the show’, so I’m bossy because I like things done properly (in other words ‘my way’ – and therefore I’m a control freak). However, in general, I am organised and dependable. If you take those traits to the extreme you could have an interesting fictional character in the making; an SIO in a murder investigation perhaps.
If you want to irritate a character with those personality traits: turn up late, be unprepared, and waffle on… Or be, a careless rule-breaker, and rude.
The question to ask yourself as a writer is, what do I want this person to do? What is their role in the story I wish to tell?
Let’s take someone we know in the world of fiction and see if we can view them in terms of Myers-Briggs: Would Sherlock Holmes be an INTP?
Fair enough, we can’t fit everyone, real or imagined, into these boxes and that’s not the intention with such tools, but if you need to get into the head of a character it is somewhere to start. Then think body language, speech and language, principles and beliefs, and eventually your character becomes more rounded. Provide a backstory and you build further to develop behavioural patterns both good and bad. Before you know it, you’ve created a person in your head that won’t go away…
Publication day is officially April 14th , but to cheer you all up in these peculiar times of viruses and negative news, I thought I’d let you know you can pre-order on kindle at https://mybook.to/TheBloodlineWill
What’s it about then?
There is a clue in the title. ‘The Bloodline Will‘ is a follow-up to ‘Death by Indulgence’ (previously published as ‘Fat Chance’) but can be read as a standalone story. It sees the return of Konrad Neale – (The Camera Lies, Stench and Death by Indulgence)… here’s the blurb:
He made a mistake, and for the sake of his future career, investigative reporter Konrad Neale must apologise in person to Ella Fitzwilliam.
Detained under section in a secure forensic unit, she doesn’t foresee a bright future. And she despises Konrad for exploiting her and exaggerating the truth about what she really did.
All in the name of journalism
However, when he spots famous recluse Abigail Nithercott in the same facility, he cannot resist the chance to scoop the next big story.
But must use Ella to uncover the dark Nithercott family secret.
Blood. Thicker than water, it spills…
Some family trees have to die.
What are the central themes?
Oh, juicy ones as usual: Manipulative control, erotomania, recovery from mental illness, deep dark family secrets and knitting…
What the heck is erotomania?
Allow me to enlighten you. Erotomania or De Clerambault Syndrome is a subtype of a Delusional Disorder in which an individual holds a persistent and fixed belief that another person is infatuated with them. It is a rare delusional disorder, usually experienced by women, and can result in stalking behaviours. The male subject of the delusion is usually unattainable because of high status, celebrity, marriage and/or disinterest. And may never have met the person holding these delusions.
At the sight of him, Ali pressed her hands to her cheeks. ‘Good grief. You can’t go out wearing that.’
The above is exactly what happened a few months ago when my husband ‘The Bearded Wonder’, dressed himself in a pair of floral patterned shorts and a clashing floral shirt. By writing the body language there’s no need to qualify my words because the emotion is clear. The gesture does all the hard work. (And yes, he changed his shirt!) Including body language is the ‘show-not-tell’ approach to writing which gives physical depth to any character and interaction.
For example, without speaking, humans have a number of ways to say yes or no: A nod of the head or a shake, a thumbs up or down, a waggle of the forefinger.
The face is where we often look first for non-verbal clues, but our hands and arms also convey an enormous amount of information: pointing the way, beckoning, indicating numbers, insulting others, calming a situation, emphasising emotions and enhancing our spoken word.
But writing those gestures can be difficult. The picture above is an ‘air precision grip’ but when writing fiction, use of that official classification would be clumsy and uninformative. The gesture usually indicates that the person making it is seeking accuracy or precision and they would wave the arm back and forth in time with their words. Would we need to know that in a story? Possibly not.
Most readers understand ‘flicking the V sign’ or ‘giving a thumbs up,’ and we would write something along the lines of ‘jabbing a forefinger skyward’ rather than stating that a character ‘raised a vertical forefinger baton gesture’, so it’s not necessary to know the official names for gestures, but it is important to understand when, why and how they are used.
How we place our hands and arms is a vital part of body language, so writers need to find ways of conveying body language to inform readers, make characters realistic and emphasise the meaning of dialogue – a tricky thing to get right.
When speaking, women tend to use more hand gestures than men and I’m one for waving my arms and hands around like a maniac when I talk. But it would be confusing for the reader and a barrier to the flow of a story if all gestures were described in endless detail. Very off-putting – so be choosy about what to convey as far as non-verbal clues.
Here are a few classic hand gestures which can easily be described and used when writing;
The nose tap – to indicate conspiracy or secrecy
The temple tap/circle – stupidity, difficulty thinking, or ‘it’s all in here’
The forehead swipe – ‘phew’ (followed by a hand flick)
The brow scratch – puzzlement
The earlobe tug – a thinking gesture, uncertainty, or ‘listen up’
The ear cup – ‘I can’t hear what you’re saying’
The fingertip kiss – to blow a kiss, pleasure, tasty
The hand chop – used rhythmically to emphasise speech, assertive
The fist – arrives withrising anger, used in anger
The palms together praying gesture – can mean ‘God willing’, relief, – or, when touched to lips, a thinking gesture.
The palm-down-calm-down – to de-escalate tension.
The arms wide palms up – to demonstrate peaceful intent or as a goading action
The upturned claw – frustration
Rubbing palms together back and forth – anticipation of success
Dusting the palms – ‘done and dusted’, finished, done
Jerking a thumb – ‘get lost’or indicating a direction
And the list goes on and on:
Arms give away obvious clues such as the defensive crossing of them, rubbing a forearm to self-sooth when nervous, or their wide open use to give or accept an embrace.
I hope these have been helpful reminders as to the vital use of hand (and arm) body-language in creative writing, but try not to over-do it. So, I’ll take my own advice and wave goodbye. Writing to do…
Sitting in a public place watching the world go by, many of us take a casual interest in our fellow human beings as a pastime. Glancing at a man in a suit, taking in his demeanour and facial expression, we may hazard a guess at his ‘type’ or perhaps what he may do for a living, but in general we take no further interest unless we perceive a threat of some sort, or discern distress, then we pay more attention.
This is an example watching people, but not of people-watching.
As opposed to the watcher of people, the people-watcher is a different breed. Train-spotters, birdwatchers, storm-chasers, and people-watchers take an in-depth interest in their subjects. Desmond Morris in his book ‘Peoplewatching’, describes people-watchers as ‘students of human behaviour’ and as ‘field observers’ who want to learn the intricacies of behaviour. They study body language, gestures, speech patterns, and in the same way birdwatchers do, they may categorise the person being watched, perhaps by their plumage, by patterns of behaviour and use of certain gestures.
Spending a weekend at a Classic Motorcycle show twice a year, (my husband, ‘The Bearded Wonder’ has a lot to answer for), I have a splendid time dividing the huge crowds of bikers into several distinct groups, based on external factors such as style of dress, attitude, bearing, and cleanliness. Very arbitrary, I know.
Here’s what I have come up with over the past few years: There are ‘The Gnomers’: so-called because they looked like my mother’s least favourite garden ornament. Woolly hat with point, scruffy beard, baggy clothing. More often than not, they mooch around in male pairs.
‘The TT-ers’: altogether smarter, dressed in Gortex-type jackets bearing the fluorescent name of their chosen bike manufacturer, baseball caps, and sensible footwear. On the whole they are clean -shaven and often have wife and family in tow.
‘The Shiners’: simply ooze money. Expensive all-in-one leathers, squeaking and creaking as they stride past, rucksacks on, boots clean, chins and heads shaved, confident as they forge through the crowds in the direction of Bonham’s auctions with their monied counterparts, ‘The Tweedy-Belstaff Brigade’. They too wear their wealth in obvious ways. Moleskin trousers or expensive jeans, tweed or Belstaff jackets that cost a small fortune. Most of them arrive by car and go home with ‘investments’ to add to their motorcycle collections. Often accompanied by wife or floozy in matching tweed and expensive leather boots.
Into the mix go ‘The Rockabilly Throwbacks’ and the boiler-suited ‘Oil Rag Old Timers’ and the weekends can make for a most interesting way to spend my time.
People-watching is a fascinating subject and key for fiction writers seeking to develop well-rounded and believable characters. Writers are told to make sure we read widely and study human nature. We can’t all be psychologists, but we can make the everyday world a classroom in which to study human behaviour.
As human beings, we are designed to take an interest in our fellow man and many of our actions and behaviours are learnt. Therefore they can change over time – consider the toddler tantrums, the teenage sulks, the happy couple, the grumpy old curmudgeon … I rest my case. But how do people-watchers begin their studies?
Usually the face is where we start our analysis, more specifically the eyes.
What do eyes tell us and are they really the window to the soul as we have been led to believe?
Looking at someone’s eyes, sadness and happiness are relatively easy to perceive; tears can indicate both extremes. In my experience, ‘crocodile tears’ are relatively easy to spot because of the lack of other facial and postural clues. They give the pretender away as being untrustworthy.
Arched eyebrows and a wide smile are sure signs of happiness and the eyes themselves may have enlarged pupils, showing interest or love.
But watch out for those pupils decreasing in size, you may be boring the person you are talking to…
Our eyes can also reveal if we are lying. When asked a question we often move our eyes, processing information, thinking. If a person moves their eyes up and to the left as they answer, they are more than likely telling the truth. If the eyes move up and right… a lie could be the reason why.
It’s natural to give intermittent eye contact, and an unwavering stare is seen as either intimidating or intimate, depending on who you happen to be with at the time. An unblinking stare is downright disconcerting.
Conversely, a rapid blink rate can indicate stress (aside from eye health problems). And a wink is seen as a cheeky form of flirting or a conspiratorial gesture – although not in all cultures.
Wide eyes and an ‘O’ shaped mouth indicates fear, whereas a narrowing of the eyes is a negative response such as disbelief, disgust or distaste often accompanied by the narrowing of the lips as anger rises.
Actions to disguise our true feelings often involve ‘blocking’ the eyes by lowering the gaze, covering the eyes with a hand, or turning away. This could be through shame and embarrassment or telling a ‘white’ lie, or when trying not to laugh.
Suspicion can be seen in a frown, a shift in focus, a narrowing of the eyes.
And so on…
It has to be acknowledged that these subconscious ways in which our eyes express our feelings don’t occur in isolation. Indeed, with an arch of an eyebrow, a tilt of the head, a thrust of the chin, we convey many more emotions and they in turn form part of the wider language we use, both verbal and behavioural.
When I look at the faces of the bikers as they shuffle past the stalls and displays at the Motorcycle Show, I’m not simply categorising people, in fact I’m carrying out more in-depth studies. And don’t get me started on speech and language … goodness me.
It’s a good job nobody can read my mind… or can they? Perhaps my body language gives me away.
Next time: Hands and Arms; common gestures and interesting stories behind some of them.
This is a picture of my #writing shack. When I’m in full-on writing mode it is littered with scraps of paper, water bottles, half-eaten packets of biscuits and other detritus. This tidy(ish) scene, therefore, can mean one of two things.
Either the germs I’ve had since before Christmas have finally finished me off, or I’ve completed the next book. But as I’m still here…
This is Sadie. She’s giving me one of her ‘looks’ for being obscure.
So, I should explain and apologise. I’ve been quiet on the communication front lately because I made a promise to myself last year. Not a New Year’s resolution as such, just a decision to think about my writing in a different way. To be better. In the last year I completed another book but haven’t sought to publish it. I didn’t think it was good enough. I parked it.
‘Oh no! Then what did you do?’
Wrote a better one, that’s what I did. A great idea fell into my lap, courtesy of my lovely daughter who happens to work as a funeral arranger. It took some doing to make the plot work but I did it. Dead Fred (pictured above) was most encouraging.
‘Where is the manuscript now?’
The exact location is a secret, but I can tell you I was asked to send the full manuscript to an agent a few days ago. Hopefully, as I type this, she’s reading it. Hence the tidy desk. And if she rejects it, I’ll try again, and again, and again.
Why an agent? Well, without one authors can’t submit to the larger publishers.
It’s worth a shot.
‘And in the meantime?’
I’ll be busy in 2020: Next week I’m back on the public speaking rounds. ‘How to Plot a Murder’ is the subject and very apt for some who may have struggled over the festive season with tiresome relatives – Not me, I hasten to add. I have bookings for talks and workshops throughout 2020. I’ll keep you posted.
And I thought I’d run a series of articles on ‘Characterisation’ blending it with my knowledge from years spent as a mental health nurse. ‘The Fine Art of People Watching’ will begin later this month. Sign up to this blog if you want to dive in.
Untidy desk, here we go again.
I was going to take break from writing and ease up on myself for a week or so, but I had a brilliant idea last night. Before I get cracking on the plot, it remains for me to wish you all a happy and healthy 2020 and thank you for your continued patience.
I confess, my festive season is already complete. Done.
I occasionally review books or audiobooks, but today here is my Christmas review:
Grown-up child number two, treated me and my dear old mum to tickets for this year’s pantomime at Milton Keynes. We trotted along to the matinee performance of Aladdin in the company of hundreds and hundreds of little school children on their annual pilgrimage to ‘pantoland’.
Why am I telling you this? Because to witness so many joyful children, howling with delight for well over two hours, was tough on the ears but a complete tonic for the soul. It was magical. I wish we could bottle it and give it away; it would save thousands on antidepressants every year.
As live entertainment goes, the British panto has everything: A story with a happy ending, drama and danger, hugely energetic comedy, cheesy jokes, and ribald adult humour. Each year, millions of us fill theatre seats to chuckle and guffaw, boo and hiss with gusto. And because of the timeless nature of the performance and outrageous slapstick, we always go back for more. This run of Aladdin was no exception. I would gladly go again tomorrow. For a large part of the show I was crying with laughter, and by the end my ribs were aching.
The children in the audience were in the same state, as were their parents and teachers. The kids hooted with giggles at any mention of bums, willies, bananas or bodily functions. They almost hovered above their seats with the hilariousness of the physical comedy in the show. And my daughter honestly thought Joe Pasquale (Wishy Washy) had drilled a new orifice in his down-belows … her face was a picture!
The baddie was brilliantly bad – ‘boo’. The princess was sickly sweet – ‘aaaah’. Aladdin was heroic – ‘hurrah’, and the pantomime dame, Widow Twanky, was a drag delight – ‘Oooo!’ But a special mention has to be made of Joe Pasquale as Wishy Washy. He was astounding, and the children loved him. With double entendre running into triple ones and some unscheduled moments of ad-lib, wig disasters and unscripted tomfoolery, I was in danger of needing incontinence pads. To the whole cast and crew – I salute you. Absolutely bloody marvellous.
Fed up with an overly commercialised festive slog? – Forget expensive presents, get tickets for a pantomine, treat someone, go as a family. You’ll never forget it.
English is full of idioms, but where do they all come from?
I’m British, I write crime fiction, and when creating dialogue I’m always struck by how many peculiar sayings we have in the English language – by that I mean British English.
‘What’s his beef?’
At times we Brits must be incomprehensible to anyone for whom English is not a first language. Thinking about it, our daft idioms must be a mystery to almost anyone from the US, from Canada, and even our cousins ‘down under’.
‘It’s brass monkeys out there’
Let’s not ‘beat about the bush’, ‘by and large’ most of what we Brits say sounds like a ‘load of old codswallop’. But if, like me you spend a lot of time searching out the origins of such sayings, then this book is for you.
Albert Jack is a writer and researcher, he’s done all the hard work. I found this gem of a book in a charity shop. It now has a permanent home in my writing shack. Packed with wonderful stories from all over the world which explain how these bonkers phrases came into everyday use, it is captivating. For example to ‘pay through the nose’ means we’ve been charged an exorbitant price for an item or a service. ‘Strike a bloody light, you paid through the nose for that, Billy’…
Pay through the nose – what an odd phrase to use. These days you’d be forgiven for thinking it had something to do with notes and cocaine sniffing.
But its origin is Viking and it’s a bloody one. After they invaded the British Isles, any citizen failing to pay the required tax imposed by the Danes had their nose slit or cut off. Luckily order was restored when Viking leader Eric Bloodaxe (what a great name) was killed by King Edred at the Battle of Stainmore in 954. Now I bet you did know that…
And my favourite: ‘Not a sausage,’ meaning either free of charge, or being penniless is derived from Cockney rhyming slang.
Sausage and mash = Cash.
Wonderful stuff, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It was first published in hardback in 2004, but you can get it in kindle and paperback versions too. Stand by family members this may be what you get for Christmas this year!
William Shakespeare wrote, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’
Really? May be so, but if a rose was called a snotwort or a stink-daisy, would we been so keen to take a sniff?
How does this relate to book titles, you may well ask.
Bear with me on this….
On October 1st‘Death by Indulgence’ is being published: but it was first released eight months ago as ‘Fat Chance’. IT’S A RE-LAUNCH
‘Death by Indulgence’ is the same great story as ‘Fat Chance’, but with a new title and a new cover. Available to pre-order on Amazon https://geni.us/sYeRow8
Because the title was hindering sales. The title ‘Fat Chance’ was a snotwort or a stink-daisy, and it wasn’t coming up roses.
The title of a book is the first thing we read, enhanced by the cover design then boosted by the blurb, so after writing five novels how could I get it so wrong?
Here’s the story of what happened:
The original working title for the book was ‘The Enormity of Table Number 88’. This, I felt, captured the essence of the story, it was a catchy title and I was happy with it.
But then during a book signing event I was told in good faith by a librarian that the number 88 should be avoided in a book title because of the Neo-Nazi connotations attached to it.
Sure enough, I researched this improbable fact only to find that it’s true. Among a few other numbers, 88 is code, used by Neo-Nazi groups, to show their far right allegiances, replacing the swastika. H is the eight letter of the alphabet. HH is short for ‘Heil Hitler’ apparently. Who knew? Not me, obviously. I was using 88 in terms of bingo calls ‘Two fat ladies, eighty-eight.’
So it was back to the drawing board, and this is where I made mistakes.
Rushing, I didn’t take time to consider enough alternative titles.
I didn’t test options with readers, no straw poll, and no gathering of views from trusted fellow writers.
Checking there weren’t any other crime novels with the same title is something I normally do, But I failed to check elsewhere thoroughly enough.
I didn’t listen to my own niggling self-doubt about the title.
Using the word ‘fat’ was ill advised. Did this title appeal to the target market? No.
In crime novels emotive words such as death, killing, murder, slaughter, slash, burn and scream can all be used without fear of misleading the readership, but ‘fat’? No. Bad idea.
Fat Chance. Chance, meaning risk or the likelihood of something happening, was a reasonable word to choose but I teamed it with fat, and the only other books with that title were about diets or dieting.
After a conflab with my publishers, we agreed that sales were below what they should have been especially as the endorsements from reviewers were shining
‘What I really love is that with each book she publishes Alison Morgan’s writing goes from strength to strength and she has once again delivered a first class read.’ Susan Corcoran.
‘An unusual story with a delicious dark side, very different to the norm, in a brilliant way. I would love second helpings of this!’ Susan Hampson.
‘If you like a book that stands out from the crowd, then this brilliant piece of psychological suspense could be for you.’ Mark Tilbury.
‘I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys complex and compelling crime stories’.L J Cassidy.
Time for a radical decision; Start again.
Re-launch. New title.
So to all of you who read and enjoyed ‘Fat Chance’, and to those of you who will read ‘Death by Indulgence’, I thank you for understanding.
‘Death by Indulgence’ is officially born on 1stOctober.
For those who missed the original incarnation, here’s little taster of ‘Death by Indulgence’:
In this excerpt Ella Fitzwilliam has landed her first proper assignment as a private investigator, despite having little aptitude for the job. Her new boss, an old acquaintance, is expecting an update.
Val was waiting for Ella in the café around the corner from Lensham Station. Lack of creative inventiveness had resulted in it being known simply as The Old Station Café. She repeatedly picked up her mobile phone, checking for messages, each time replacing it on the table next to her coffee cup. The endless Christmas carols, blaring out from a radio in the kitchen, increased in volume every time a member of staff launched themselves through the swing door carrying a tray. A brief smile changed the general direction of the wrinkles on Val’s face as Ella bounced through the café entrance sending a brass bell jingling above the closing door.
‘You could have called to put me out of my misery. Well? What happened? Are we on?’
Unwrapping her coat and shuffling herself free, Ella was beaming. ‘We are on. I got the senior hostess job, live in, plus a wage. I can take Gordon the goldfish with me and I recommended Ada for the job as a waitress. If she gets it, I’ll have her there to keep an eye on me. Oh, and there’s an extremely useful three-month probationary period. I’m hoping that will be long enough.’
‘I hear a ‘but’ coming.’
‘But… I need to pay rent on my bedsit if I take the live-in job, and it’s too far for me to travel if I don’t.’
‘I’ll cover that cost as your payment. Will that do you?’
With relief Ella sat back. ‘Yes. That’s great. I’ve told them I can start next week, but they suggested I might like to bring a friend for dinner this evening to get the feel of the place. Fancy a slap-up meal? You look like you could use it and it could be handy, being a Wednesday. There’s a fair probability our targets will show up.’
Val hesitated. ‘I’m not sure if that’s a wise move for either of us. You are already buzzing, which is a bad sign, and I don’t want to be seen by either of those conniving bastards. On the other hand… Give me the insider’s gen on the place. What are we dealing with?’
She waved to the waitress who took their order without cracking her make-up or achieving any degree of eye contact.
Ella found the scene amusing. ‘Enjoy your job, do you?’ she asked, dipping her head in an effort to force the waitress to meet her gaze.
The girl of indeterminate age, dark-rooted straggly platinum-coloured hair tied back in a loose bun, shrugged as she cleared away Val’s empties. ‘It’s aw’right. Want anyfing t’w’eat?’
‘No, thank you. We’re eating out later at Buxham’s. Do you know it?’
Finally, the waitress crossed the line from ignorance to vaguely sociable. She raised one heavily sculpted eyebrow and reluctantly looked at the faces of the two ladies sitting at the corner table. ‘I know of it. Private place for posh twats who can afford it.’ She scoured Val with her panda-black eyeliner eyes and gave a derisory snarl. ‘They won’t let you in looking like that.’
Ella swallowed hard and waited for the riposte from Val that arrived right on cue. ‘Is that right Miss Queen of the Undead? And since when did you become the judge and jury on dress etiquette for private clubs?’
The girl was unfazed. ‘I’m just sayin’ you should neaten up a bit, even diesel dykes should ’ave standards.’
As Val’s lower jaw headed for the table, the girl sauntered off in the direction of the service area where she slapped the paper order on the counter.
Ella, with eyes wide and an impish grin, held back, stifling the belly laugh that threatened to escape. She bit her lips together.
Val blinked, leant forward and whispered, ‘That cheeky fuckin’ little madam thinks I’m scruffy.’
‘Well she does have a point, Val. A dear friend you may be, but if we’re heading out for dinner with the well-to-do, you’ll have to snazz up. Emo-waitress got the diesel dyke bit bang on.’
‘I don’t know what you’re laughing at; diesel dykes are usually fat so that counts me out these days. She obviously assumed we are a couple, just like they all do. Such a soddin’ shame you never fancied me.’
Ella reached across the table and patted her friend’s hand. ‘You’re my boss, a friend and that is all. Anything else would completely ruin our working relationship. Let’s have this and go shopping for a frilly frock… just kidding. Trouser suit?’
Despite how well Ella described the luxurious interior of Buxham’s restaurant and encouraged her friend to join her there for dinner, Val would not even consider a change of style. It would take more than that to ever persuade her from being seen in her usual black jeans, Doc Marten boots, roll-neck sweater and leather jacket.
‘Gender or sexuality are pretty much irrelevant from what I’ve gathered, but smart dress isrequired.’ Ella tapped her fingers on a large manila envelope placed carefully on the table. She frowned. ‘I really should have done my bloody homework before agreeing to this. The general manager, Carla Lewis, was a funny sort, attractive but not. One of those people that, no matter how hard they try, they never look sexy. Do you ever watch re-runs of the Carry On films?’
Val nodded. ‘Yeah, ’course I do. Doesn’t everyone?’
‘Well Carla Lewis reminded me of Hattie Jacques. Welcoming, courteous and highly informative: the polar opposite to Emo-girl over there. She was easy enough to cope with, but the clientele have very particular requirements and I’m not confident I can manage to pull off what you’re asking me to do. Do you recall the sign outside the front of the club? “For the larger life…”, well that is what the club specialises in. Some parts of the country boast a local naturist club, some clubs are men only, and some are for liberated sexual beings. This one is for individuals who love big food and big flesh, if you get my drift. Carla used words like – gastronomic glorification, foodies, Rubenesque beauties, lovers of curves—’ Ella stopped.
Guilt waved hello to her from Val’s every pore.
‘You knew! That’s why you sent me. You used my big fat arse to—’
The volume and extent of Ella’s accusations were tempered by the return of the waitress who materialised carrying their drinks on a tray. On this occasion there was an exchange of glances between Emo-girl and Val who produced one of her infrequent grins. This blossomed into a wide stained-teeth leer when the waitress winked at her.
Ella was dumbfounded. Folding her arms, she sat silently back in her seat until the girl moved away to deal with a stroppy man at a table nearby who was demanding a refill of coffee.
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’ve been so stupid. You’ve used me to get what you want, and now you’re hitting on Emo-girl. What do you want her for?’ Ella asked, then without pausing answered her own question. ‘Have you just pulled? No, no, no… you’ve been coming here for quite a while now, so it’s been planned. Working your way into her knickers. What an unscrupulous cow you are, Valerie Royal! Isn’t she too young for you?’
‘Take a closer look. She’s older than you think.’ The hunger on her companion’s face was not for want of food and Ella surrendered to the inevitable truth. Val was not going to be swayed from the chase, although when she did finally drag her eyes away from the wretched joyless waitress she answered Ella’s query. ‘And no I didn’t know exactly what or who Buxham’s caters for, but I did have a pretty good idea. It doesn’t take a genius.’ She paused, craning to catch a glimpse of Emo-girl’s backside. ‘I think I’ll give dinner a miss.’
‘Great. Who am I supposed to go to Buxham’s with if you don’t come with me? Ada’s already covering my old art class so that I can help you instead. That’s another forty quid you owe me, by the way.’
Val picked up her phone and, after a short delay, snapped her orders. ‘Mal. Get your glad rags on and use one of those flashy cars of yours, you’re taking Ella out to dinner. I’ll text you the details. Yes, tonight. Naturally it’s work, you moron. I’d hardly ask you to do this if it wasn’t. No, you’re not a babysitter; she needs your experience and advice. You can pretend to be Ella’s brother. Adopted brother. You’ll think of something.’
Ella was thankful. Having Malik with her would be so much more comforting than coping with Val. He would fit in, be well dressed enough to be unobtrusive, be observant and with his cocky attitude, invaluable.
‘Is he picking me up from home? Tell him seven o’clock. I don’t want to miss too much. Evidently, they hold a gourmet pudding club on a Wednesday once a month. It could be that our two men are regular attenders. I didn’t have a chance to see the table bookings for tonight.’
Val coughed, crackling catarrh making an abrasive sound. ‘Don’t be too nosy too soon. Enjoy the evening; absorb what you can. Let Mal seek out the CCTV and security issues. You behave like a nervous new staff member.’