Monday 21 November 2016

WIP Another Patch for the Quilt that is my Big Novel

Primrose’s Kingdom

                      12th  November 1942

There was no doubt that Primrose Baggot loved men. This was useful because there were many men in her life. She dealt with them in business. She dealt with them in the bar. She had a different banter for every customer. . Maggie, who admired her free and easy ways, thought that Primrose had something of the man about her. She didn’t kowtow to anyone. ‘I’d never fettle for any man,’ she once told Maggie. ‘That’s why I never married. Bed, board and body, that’s all they want. But when they’re that side of the bar they’re canny enough,’
Maggie thought there was no doubt that the men liked Primrose. Her regulars  liked her free and easy, near the knuckle banter and they laughed and joked with her as they never did with their wives, as they sat down to  their Sunday dinner on the dot at three o’clock before they went to bed for a snooze before returning to The Bell at six o’clock on the dot.
Maggie had a suspicion that one part of Primrose’s life with men had been more professional in nature. One night an old man picked up his pint from the bar and leaned forward till his face was close to Maggie’s.  ‘Like our Primrose, do you?’
Maggie smiled. ‘Doesn’t everybody?’
The old man winked, ‘Ye should’ve seen our Primrose before she had the pub. Glamorous as any film star. That Katherine Hepburn was nothing on her. A lady she was, like, but hard with it. She had them queuing up. He slurped his beer. ‘That’s how she got the pub, like.’
Maggie moved down the bar to pull a pint for another customer.
In time Maggie realised that a version of this was still going on at The Bell. In the first week she realised that she wasn’t the only one on the top floor. Her cluttered room took up only half the space. Sometimes when she was settling Alice down at eight o’clock she could hear bangs and laughter through the dividing wall. That night as they were gathering dirty glasses she asked Primrose. ‘Is someone else living in the attic Primrose?’
Primrose hefted a heavy tray onto her hip and drew on her cigarette. ‘Malisi? Well she doesn’t actually stay in the loft. She lives back of Princess street in the old court. She works here at The Bell .’ She smiled, her white teeth beaming in the smoky pub light.
‘Works?’ said Maggie.
‘Works!’ Primroses nodded. She wedged her cigarette in her mouth,  squeezed her eyes against the smoke and put the tray on the bar. See to these, will you? I’m just off to put my feet up.’
After finding out about the woman called Amisi Maggie started to notice men slipping through the door that led to the stairs. One day  as she was coming down the stairs to the bar at twelve she passed an olive skinned girl with a cloud of black hair.She nodded at Maggie. ‘Mornin!’ she said, a slight smile on her face. ‘Off to work? Me too.’ Then she went on up, her gait somehow lopsided.
Maggie nodded at her and later, as she took the tea-towels off the pumps, the image of the girl’s smooth olive face came to her mind. It had been somehow familiar. As she pulled a starter half-pint from each pump, it dawned on her just why the girl seemed familiar. She was like Amoss, Alice’s father. She looked like him. Almond skin; dense black hair, dark liquid eyes. Maggie wondered if she like him was from Egypt. She saw Amoss again, in his sailor’s coat, his sailor’s cap. She watched him again, with his rocking sailor’s gait as he departed from her, down the Quayside to his ship.
And that day in the bar that day she noticed now the men who came in, bought a pint, out it down on the bar and slipped away through the staircase door. Forty minutes later they would come bar and pick up their pint and join their table, as though they’d just been to the toilet. But Maggie knew the toilet was not upstairs. It was across the yard. Maggie looked at the other men at the man’s table. They went on playing their dominoes.
The next night she met the woman agin as she went up with the sleeping Alice in her arms. The woman flashed a smile. ‘Is she yours?’ she said.
‘Oh yes,’ Maggie smiled back. ‘She’s all mine.’ She stopped and pulled the blanket away from Alice’s sleeping face.
The woman put out a slender hand and stroked Alice’s face.  She looked up at Maggie. ‘A beautiful bairn, so peaceful.’ She paused. ‘I’m Amisi. You must be Maggie?’
‘Amisi?’ Maggie frowned over the name.
‘Egyptian,’ the girl said. ‘It means flower.’
Maggie frowned at her. ‘I met an Egyptian once. His name was Amoss. He was in the merchant navy.’
Amisi smiled. ‘That name means child of the moon.’ She glanced back at Alice. ‘You must be Maggie? Primrose told me about you. Getting out from under the bombs at Shields, like.’
Maggie nodded. ‘Seems like a world away from here. Looks like they’re still getting it in London.
‘My cousin was in Coventry,’ said Amisi. ‘They didn’t half get it.’
Maggie wondered how many babies were born in Coventry, like Alice with the bombs raining down.
‘So you’re working here now?’ said Amisi. ‘Me too.’
‘How do you like it here, then,’ Maggie instantly regretted her slipshod words.
Amisi beamed, ‘It’s all right for the time being. Pretty nice working for meself, I’ve gotta say. Primrose doesn’t even charge me for the room. Really, though, I fancy being in pictures, me. You never know. Mebbe if I were in London. I might just get into pictures.’ She paused, ‘I might just get blown to bits meself, but.’
Maggie wrapped the blanket more closely around Alice.
Watching her closely, Amisi said, ‘Do you like the pictures Maggie? ‘
‘Not since I came here,’ said Maggie,
‘You should get yourself there. There’s everything there, in a film. War, love, life death, murder, crime. They are just like real. That’s what I want to do. To be in pictures. I might just do it. This man gave me an address to send my photos too.’ She turned and made her way further up the stairs. ‘Nice to meet you Maggie.’ And then went on singing. My darling, hold me tight and whisper to me, Then soft through the starry night I hear a rhapsody.

When Maggie got there the bar was full, but the noise was down to a murmur. There was no loud, deep chatter, no clink of glasses. Primrose’s corsets creaked as she stretched up to turn on the beautiful polished radio lodged safely behind the bar. A few squeaks and whines exploded from the wireless and the bar fell silent. Then a voice boomed out. This is the BBC news and this is Alvar Liddell reading it… They listened to the routine, unvarnished news of the war and then a cheer went up as they heard of General Montgomery’s successes at El Alamein. There was another cheer for snippet of news a about a British soldier captured in Dunkirk who had escaped from a prison castle in Germany. The news ended and the hubbub rose again in the bar. At one corner table two old men, who had fought in the trenches on the Somme, raised their pint glasses to the General for sorting out those Huns in the desert,

Alice was whimpering when Maggie got back up to their room after her shift.  She picked Alice up, undid her blouse and held her close to feed her, relaxing now after a hard day.
She was aroused from her own drowsy state by a knock on her door. Still holding Alice, she went to open it but it wasn’t Primrose, as Maggie had expected. It was the girl Amisi, looking tousled but still glamorous in a fine red blouse and a narrow black skirt with a slit above the right knee. ‘Is the bairn all right?’ she said. ‘I heard her crying.’
‘Come in.’ Maggie opened the door wider, ‘She’s fine.’ She sat down on the bed. ‘It’ll take her a little time to settle down again, but she will.’
Amisi sat down on the only chair, an ancient thing with brown velvet cushions and a seat that slid forward and backwards. She pulled off a high-heeled shoe and rubbed the arch of her foot. ‘I was wondering if you’d like to go to the pictures on Saturday afternoon? There’s this American film, Citizen Kane. A customer told me it was the best film ever. He says go and find out a bit about America that’s not about the war.’ She pulled a packet of Players from her sequinned bag and offered Maggie a cigarette,
Maggie shook her head. Soothed by Alice’s contented sucking, she was feeling sleepy. ‘About the pictures, I don’t know if Primrose…’
‘Go on! Primrose is a good sort! She telt me you don’t get out enough. You’ve worked here day and night since you ducked the bombs. I know that.’
Maggie unhooked Alice and wrapped her snugly in her blanket and placed her in her cot.
Amisi stood up and pushed her hands down her thighs to straighten her skirt. ‘Well, better get off home.’
‘Do you live near here?’
Amisi drew on her cigarette and spoke to Maggie through trailing smoke. ‘Yeah, with my old mam and dad. Ancient they are. Me grandparents really.’
‘Don’t they mind that you …’
‘Do what I do? Nah. They don’t know. They think I’m an usherette at the  Tivoli.’ She laughed. ‘They’re very old, like. Mam does know the time of day, but not him. Born underground, worked underground, lived underground. A bit like a little old mole putting out his snout now and then. The money suits them, like. I give them the usherette’s wage and keep the rest.’
‘You keep the money?’
Amisi flashed a smile. ‘Yeah. I’m saving it for when I go to London. That’s where things will happen.’
As she closed the door behind her Maggie wondered how an exotic creature like Amisi was related to Mr and Mrs Mole. It might just be that Amisi had something in common with Alice. And, she thought,  with Maggie herself.

(c) Wendy Robertson 2016

Friday 18 November 2016

WIP Alice in the First Class

My New Big Novel is growing in colourful patches, like raw material for a patchwork quilt. 

Loving the writing. Here is an early 'patch'.

Alice in the First Class


At first Alice had been shocked by all the movement and smells that pervaded the school. But she got used to it and the colour and the shouting and the pulling and pushing. She began to think school might be all right. She liked the pictures on the wall which showed children playing among trees and at the seaside. She liked the globe of the world on the teacher’s desk which had red patches all over. Miss Wilson, her teacher, said  they were Our Empire and the reason why Britain was Great and why we won the war       Alice liked the little books and soon got to read them from cover to cover. And she liked the exercise book which came to her with her name written on it,. Every day she    copied  a page of words written on the board by her Miss Wilson who wrote like an angel..
       Miss Wilson  was a giant: a big rangy woman with large hands and feet. But Alice liked her low musical voice, especially when - if the class had been good all week - she read out stories to the class on Fridays. Alice could have listened to her forever.Miss Wilson liked her children to be good and ‘get on’. This was no problem for Alice who liked to be good and ‘get on. After all she lived in a pub and was used to being good and ‘getting on’.       Alice stopped liking Miss Wilson the day her teacher  was called out of the classroom Miss Wilson told the class they must ‘be good and get on’ while she was out of the classroom.  Her eye flicked around the classroom. ‘Patricia Thorn,  stand out!’ she said.
      Patricia 'stood out, very tall', in front of the class. Miss Wilson gave Patricia a long stick of white chalk.  ‘Now Patricia if anyone speaks or does not get on, write their name on the blackboard.         The door clashed behind her and there was a ripple of whispers and giggles around the class. Alice got on with the picture she was drawing of a big house with three trees. She would, she thought, put a dog in front of the door. After twenty five minutes the white chalk screeched  on the blackboard as Patricia Thorn  wrote ALICE on the blackboard in big letters.      After thirty minutes Miss Wilson returned and Patricia sat down. The teacher surveyed the classroom. ‘Alice Cross,’ she said. ‘Stand out!’
       Alice crept out and stood before Miss Wilson, who said, ‘Hold out your hand, Alice Cross!’
       Alice held out her hand and watched as Miss Wilson selected a wooden ruler from her desk, weighed it in her hand, and then brought it down four times: twice on each hand. ‘Now go and sit down, Alice Cross,’ she said in her soft clear voice. ‘And get on with your work.’        Alice's  palm stung and tears welled up in her eyes. Her hand felt sore but she got on with her picture.. She decided not to draw the dog because the tears had clotted in her head and she couldn’t remember what a dog looked like.
       After that day Alice didn’t like Miss Wilson. Not at all. But she had learned now that schools were places where the truth did not necessarily count.

(c) Wendy Robertson 2016

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Work in Progress: The Door

The desk in the window was making a difference. This was, she thought, down to the light streaming in and the grass and the trees. It was easy to sit there for three or four hours and concentrate on a book or a blank, naked page. It was not so intimidating as the other place.

The other space which was the back room with its big dark door. She had wanted this to be the perfect workroom with a living fire, space for shelves and tables for papers.  And, of course,  a desk for the big computer.

But there came a day when she could not pass the door without a shudder or enter that room and had to move into this room with the sunny window.

She began to think that her revulsion the back room had something to do with essence, spirit. In her life she had glimpsed and heard things that she knew where not there. She’d learned not to speak of this because of the knowing looks, the half-smiles. As a child she’d been accused more than once of being away with the gypsies.

Now she thought about this essence, spirit, Perhaps the feeling of dread came from the spirit of some eighteenth century maid or wife for whom the room was a much feared place. Or perhaps it was world flooding in through the firecracker gateway of the computer: a world which was too vast, packed with too many people, too many things, too much pain, staining the screen with cruelty,

Then she thought, perhaps this revulsion was to do with her own guilt about work undone, tasks untackled. Or perhaps it was the timid soul which knew was at her core.

The morning in the sunny window space she decided to pull herself together, to get out of the house and away from its essence, its spirit. It would be too easy, she thought, to  stay locked in and fall asleep yet again,

So she had fled the house and driven out through  trees to find a calm. strange space where she could attend  to her life, manufacturing order out of chaos and make decisions to move forward.

She thought this new strength was all about being away from the house, freeing her from the inner strings that pulled her away from herself. Away from the dull routine which made her dislike the person she had become. She knew she was not that person. She had manufactured that person to meet the low expectations of her partner. She knew she loved him in her own way, She knew they were woven into each other after so many years, love or no love. Caring for him was no different to caring for herself, Revolting against him was revolting against herself.

It was complicated.

And it was truly best to get away often from the house and its threatening back room with its dark door.  Then the rest could fall into place.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Creative Process and Planning in the Writing of a Novel

After thirty years of writing novels -  now embarking on a big project – my unique writing process is very much on my mind.

Writing is about the process – the organic growth over time of a whole new world. It is equally about the prose – the right illuminating word in the right place.

And writing is about creative planning. This is not planning that chokes the life out of the idea to make you, the writer, feel safe. Creative planning is a tough demanding process which involves making human insightful decisions and logical connections to create an original compelling narrative.

Inevitably in my case this has meant that each story is very different to the others. The only things my novels have in common is – I hope – the quality of the writing and the human values at its heart. I am so happy that clever readers recognise this and come back for more.

My three latest novels might illustrate this for you.

On Amazon
The Bad Child focuses on the life of Dee, an urban middle class child who is seen as disturbed but who is the architect of her own recovery as she swims lakes and travels through England. We see her story and the o0ther characters  through Dee's eyes.

On Amazon
Writing at the Maison Bleue  is about the unravelling lives of a group of very different and variously successful writers who meet and write in a house in the Languedoc. Their stories weave together to make an historic story of murder and betrayal.

On Amazon
The Pathfinder, set as the Roman occupation of Britain crumbles, when the original people of the island – the makers of the old tracks and paths – emerge to take back their own. At the centre are the true figures of a Cambrian tribal princess and the last military leader of Britain, later a ‘usurper’ of the title of Roman Emperor.

On Amazon
A Woman Scorned. Based on the true story of so called (not by me…) ‘serial killer’ Mary Ann Cotton, this story – see through the eyes of London outsider, based on all available evidence – comes to a very different conclusion that those who condemned her  in a curiously modern chorus of gossip, stereotype, envy, primitive forensics and press sensationalism.

As you will see, these stories are very different to each other. Each evolved its own unique identity through time in the process of creative planning. And each novel, I hope, shares with the others some great, unique characters, the values of historic insight, a feeling for justice and an abhorrence of the cruelty of stereotyping which exists in our own present day.


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