Authors: Gillian White
In fact the law are no more helpful. Trevor gives them his name and address, describes the children, gives their ages, but when he is asked for his doctor’s name his patience snaps. ‘What the bleeding hell d’you want with him?’
‘If your wife is mentally ill we need to know more about her condition and only her doctor can tell us that.’
‘She never went to the bleeding doctor.’
The policeman’s hand pauses a while over the form on the desk. ‘So your wife never had treatment for this condition of hers?’
‘She wouldn’t go for sodding treatment, would she, she was too daft to know she was mad.’
The policeman’s voice is polite and considerate. It is hard to know which way his mind is going. ‘And you never insisted, for the sake of the children?’
‘You didn’t know Kirsty,’ Trevor says darkly, running an angry hand over his close-cropped, fuzzy, action-man hair. ‘What I had to put up with no bugger knows. And my bleeding kids are in danger.’
‘I will discuss this with my superior,’ says the gormless copper, ‘make some further enquiries and let you know what we decide.’
Now the very same morning as Candice Love snails her way through the slush pile, the selfsame morning as Trevor Hoskins visits his local cop shop, Kirsty, on her second day off, sets out to visit the caravan site, Happy Stay. There is no transport so she walks.
Kirsty is not used to the country, to the narrow lanes without pavements, the badly positioned signposts that look like pictures out of Dick Whittington, the delicious smells of wild flowers occasionally interrupted by little puffs of death from the hedgerows where some small creature, seeping and putrid, is hidden away in the thorns.
She has never been deceitful before, save in defence against Trevor, so this exercise with
has come as a great surprise. But the determination and strength to use another author’s book had swamped her so utterly and with such mighty, obsessive force that there was none of the usual weighing up of problems, absolutely no conscience probings or concerns about being caught.
It was like being hit by a stone on the temple.
So what if she is exposed as a fraud?
As Bernie says, if they prosecute her she has no money, no home, nothing to give up save her children and surely this is the kind of crime that doesn’t merit time behind bars? The author, Ellen Kirkwood, is probably long dead, and the book itself must be years out of print. She is doing no harm to anyone, if anything she is awakening people, because if
brings to others a fraction of the shocked understanding it gave her and Avril, where is the wrong in that?
And anyway, no-one will know.
Not that Kirsty honestly believes the enterprise will get very far in spite of Avril’s enthusiasm. She doesn’t tend to have that sort of luck, and her Mills and Boon experience does little for her understanding of all things literary. Kirsty’s education may have been mediocre, but she is far from stupid. She knows all this very well. Publishing a book never crossed her mind until her hypnotism by
. Since then the book has changed her life, the rewriting process is so intense and intriguing it has turned into a sacred mission.
Magdalene was, of course, very much interested
’ had to turn into ‘Magdalene listened hard’.
He expressed the greatest satisfaction
’ was simply changed to, ‘He was thrilled’.
But though not a motive to action, the thoughts in which this dream is shrined bid fair to make action sweet
’ was translated to say, ‘It seemed like a good idea’.
It was that sort of thing, simplifying the wordy style into ordinary everyday language. Most of the text, luckily, was able to stand as it was.
But as the days roll by and Kirsty hears nothing, she and Avril—who has bravely ignored Mr Derek’s unkindness and works until nine o’clock every night—are nearing the end; they finished the last batch on page 704.
‘It’s a blockbuster,’ said Avril, trying, once again, to count the words without the aid of a calculator. ‘The longest book I’ve ever read was
and I had to hide it because Mother disapproved—I put a Maeve Binchy cover on it and it must be as long as that.’
The Happy Stay caravan park is one enormous grey campus of concrete with square patches of dry grass in between. It stretches way back from the cliff top to adjoin the coast road half a mile back, from one promontory to the other. You can tell which vans are permanent homes because they have picket fences and flower beds, but all have names, some yearning names like Seawinds, Osprey and The Nook, and some romantic like Joyvern and Glendoris.
‘I’ll show you the sort of thing,’ offers Mrs Gilcrest, the owner, closing down the shop with a stained yellow placard in order to take Kirsty to one of the larger ‘bungalow homes’. ‘This one’s empty, but only until tonight. We don’t normally let from Sundays but they agreed to pay for the extra day and that’s up to them.’
‘I have two children,’ Kirsty explains immediately.
‘No problem. There’s several kiddies live here.’
‘How about school?’
‘There’s a bus,’ says Mrs Gilcrest, puffing, keys round her waist like a gaoler. ‘The council have to run it by law because the school’s five miles away and they reckon kiddies can’t walk that far. It was quite different in my day, of course.’
The wind gets up as they near the cliff top and windbreaks have been erected round some of the little green squares. Behind these squares sun-bathers shiver in the draughts coming from under the vast caravans; those who prefer to remain near home rather than take the torturous track down to the beach with all their belongings.
‘Here we are, four-oh-nine.’ Mrs Gilcrest climbs the three small steps and unlocks the dented cream door.
‘It’s much bigger than I thought,’ says Kirsty, imagining how the children would cope in such a confined space in the winter. They would play out a lot, she supposes, something they rarely did when they lived at 24 Barkers Terrace because Trevor couldn’t stand it. The noise of the neighbouring kids drove him barmy and, as the small gardens were open-plan, to confine them to their own was impossible.
It is almost too far-fetched to hope for, but if, by some miracle,
is accepted, she might just make enough money to be able to buy an old banger that would make living here bearable. The poor wages paid by the Burleston mean she will qualify for family credit, but if life becomes too hard she’ll just go on the dole until she can find a job that pays better.
‘There’s more than fifty bungalows permanently occupied,’ Mrs Gilcrest explains in between pointing out the charms of the well-designed, practical caravan. ‘But it can feel lonely here in the winter. And the weather does tend to be wet most of the time.’
I can tolerate this, thinks Kirsty. I can tolerate anything so long as I’m not constantly on edge, trying to please and failing, steeling myself for the next blow, the next humiliation, the next shock.
So long as I’ve got
‘This is all very nice. It’s fine.’
‘I will give you first option then,’ says Mrs Gilcrest, swinging her keys in a businesslike manner, ‘but I hope you understand that these homes are at a premium round here, being as cheap as they are. And I’ll need a month’s rent in full before you get the keys.’
Back in the bustling capital city, stuck like a battery hen high up in her air-conditioned cubicle at the offices of Coburn and Watts, Candice Love’s coffee cup pauses at her lips. What’s this?
She re-reads page one of the well-presented manuscript and moves on to page two quickly. This author has been lucky, her padded envelope, which arrived last week, has made its way to the top of the pile because of a slip of fate, or, more correctly, a slip made by Linda, Candice’s secretary, when she was heaving the pile from the main office to Candice’s room and one high heel gave way, badly twisting her ankle.
Damn. And she’s got a date for lunch. An author she doesn’t much care for has come up to London for a free spaghetti and an opportunity to nag Candice about the miserable offer for her latest effort.
Damn. And yet she’s got to read on. This one is looking astonishingly promising and she certainly doesn’t want anyone else picking up the manuscript while she’s gone. There is only one thing for it. She will have to take it with her and read it this afternoon.
All through lunch with her distressed author it’s murder for Candice to concentrate and she finds herself touching her briefcase as if to reassure herself that her ‘find’ is still close.
‘The thing is,’ she says abstractedly over the checked cloth, ‘there is less and less of a market these days for your kind of historical romance.’
‘It might have been helpful if you’d warned me of that before I started on another,’ grumbles her author over the stench of Parmesan cheese.
‘All advances are down these days,’ Candice continues, not hungry and picking at old candle-wax, ‘it’s not just you. Nearly all my authors have been forced to accept considerably less than they did before.’
‘But they promised me my next book would be the one that made me!’
Candice shakes her well-groomed head. Why oh why do authors continue to believe in publishers’ hype? Are they too blinded by their own importance, too mentally frail, to accept that publishers rarely say what they mean?
‘“This is your year,” they keep telling me; they say it on every Christmas card.’
‘Well, I know and I’m sorry,’ comforts Candice. What is she expected to say? Perhaps she should make no bones about it, maybe she should come straight out with the truth, that it had taken all Candice’s skills to persuade a reluctant editor to accept her client’s book at all.
Dammit, the woman insists on a pudding, and cappuccino afterwards three cups. She has finished her morning’s shopping and is obviously filling in time until her train is due in this afternoon.
At last Candice can wave goodbye to her grumbling author, who goes off promising that her next book will be fast and lusty. ‘If it’s sex they want, then they’ll get it, I’ll shock ’em all,’ mutters the elderly woman with the powdered face and the newly replaced hip. Candice hopes it will take some time. She’s not looking forward to reading it.
Candice is a fast reader. Back in the office and it doesn’t take her long to reach the end of a chapter. Bloody hell! Good God, if the rest of the stuff is anything like this she has something huge on her hands. Staggering. Phenomenal. Something bigger than she, and possibly her boss, Rory Coburn, have ever handled before. Could she possibly be mistaken? Should she ask for a second opinion before taking action? She could go to her boss right now, but she is tempted to act on her own initiative. She will never be forgiven, of course, but that won’t matter if
is as big as Candice thinks it is likely to be.
She reads the introductory letter again. It gives little away. She reads the short synopsis. It’s good. What an amazing first this would be…
On impulse she dials the number on the letter head and waits for a worrying length of time. Finally the phone is picked up.
‘Yes?’ Spoken crossly.
‘Is that Kirsty Hoskins?’
‘No, this is Mrs Moira Stokes.’
‘Well, Mz Stokes, would it be possible for me to speak to Kirsty Hoskins, please?’
‘No, it certainly would not. It is not my job to go chasing round after all and sundry. This is a large building, and if you must make telephone calls to the staff it would be more considerate if you would arrange to ring at a mutually agreed time in future.’
Candice Love is not used to this kind of rude reaction. Her business might well be cut-throat, but no matter how nasty the meaning, the words are always coated in saccharine.
‘Um, Mz Stokes, I can see that I have disturbed you—’
‘Yes, you have.’
‘Only this is an important matter. I am phoning from London—’
‘Well that doesn’t impress me one jot.’
‘And it really is essential that I speak with Kirsty Hoskins.’
‘Is it a matter of life and death? Has there been some tragedy in the family?’
‘Well, no, of course not.’ And Candice is tempted to add, Don’t be an arsehole. But she tries to persuade the woman instead: ‘Please take a note of my name and address.’
‘If I must,’ says Mrs Stokes, pausing to do so. ‘But in future please ring at a more convenient time.’
And then, to Candice’s enormous surprise, the phone goes dead in her hand.
IVE YEARS OLDER THAN
Avril, so that his sister hardly knew him, Graham Stott heaves his army and navy rucksack over his bomber-jacketed shoulder, gobs twice on the pavement and leaves the prison gates behind him.
Graham Timothy Stott is a thoroughly bad apple and a nasty piece of work, although social workers consoled Mrs Stott by agreeing with her, superficially, that she could not have been a better mother and that the lad had been given everything he had ever wanted.
‘I never worked,’ sobbed Avril’s mother in her cosy, germ-free lounge apart from Fluffy the cat’s chair with scarlet tissue paper stuffed in the fireplace because it was summer. ‘Everyone else in the terrace did, of course,’ she sniffed, ‘and that has been the problem. Kids with no-one at home messing about in the street after school. Of course Graham was tempted out there; how could we keep him indoors after he reached the age of eight?’
‘It has been very hard for you, I know, Mrs Stott,’ was the typical professional response.
Mrs Stott removed one of Fluffy’s hairs from an otherwise immaculate pair of nylon navy slacks. ‘And now you come here doing reports, asking us all sorts of personal questions, as if we are somehow to blame. Poor Richard,’ she wept for her humble, hard-working husband, ‘he always did his best. Never a day off work. He tried his hardest with Graham; he was always in the shed with him playing with tools and wood. Sometimes he even took him fishing. But where is the gratitude now, I ask you?’
‘It has been very hard for you, I know, Mrs Stott.’ Fluffy farted and filled the room with the rancid smell of fish-in-the-bowel. The poor, almost hairless creature had been ill for the last five years and yet she lives on defiantly. ‘And, if we’re not careful, Avril here is going to go the same way as Graham. They say it’s in the genes, but there’s nothing wrong with Richard’s genes; there was never the slightest whiff of scandal in the Stott side of the family, and as for my own parents, they are being made ill by all the worry.’