In the Meantime

When I finally plucked up the courage to study for a BA Hons in English Literature, I chose a route that included two modules of Creative Writing that had me trying all sorts of things that I'd never done before – with varying degrees of success! Until then I barely knew what a Haiku was, let alone attempted to write one and as for changing a short (scurrilous) scene into a radio play, nothing could be further from my usual writing.

However, it was such huge fun to have a go and I quite surprised myself at some of the results so, for those who are interested, I’ll be posting my attempts at some of the assignments here and when I run out of those, some of the short stories and writing exercises that I doodle when the inspiration strikes.

Assignment 1: 2,200 word short story in first person from a single view point.

(This piece was started after a harrowing conversation with a friend who had just filed for divorce. Returning to it several days later, I realised that I wanted to expand it to explore a fictional woman's journey through such a situation, her coping strategies and her survival. While the events mentioned would have taken several years, the actual time-span of the piece is a single day, symbolising the build-up to her decision and the culmination - practically and mentally - in that one, final confrontation.)

Leaving him
The taxi driver closed my door with a satisfying thud, returned to his seat and started the engine, but it was only when he accelerated away from the self-storage unit where he’d just kindly helped me stack the last of my most precious belongings that I realised it was actually going to happen.
I was leaving Paul.
I was really going to leave him, today, after all these years… wasted years.
Enough! I’d promised myself that I wasn’t going to look back any more, so, now was the time to start. There was just one more stop before I could start my new life.
‘Where to, now?’ the young man asked, as if he’d heard my thoughts.
‘I need to go back home…’ I paused a moment, realising that it wouldn’t be my home any more, ‘…back to the house,’ I corrected myself and took a quick glance at the time. My heart thudded uneasily with the knowledge that Paul would be arriving in ten minutes at the end of his working day and expecting his perfectly prepared meal to be ready to serve.. You could practically set Big Ben by the man and his routines, and checking that I was where I should be when I should be seemed to be paramount.
‘Did you forget something?’ the taxi driver asked, clearly puzzled. ‘I thought that load was the last of it.’
‘There’s just a small bag in the hallway with some paperwork, but I need to be there when he arrives.’ I swallowed and forced myself to draw in a deep steadying breath while I met his eyes in the mirror and realised he probably wasn’t as young as I’d first thought. All day, while he’d been ferrying me and my belongings backwards and forwards I hadn’t noticed that he might even be the same age as me… except I felt so very much older after enduring the last few years.
‘Please, I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time today, but… would you wait for me? So that I can climb straight in the taxi, afterwards, and you can drive me away? I’ll only need a couple of minutes to tell him I’m leaving him.’
I’m sure I should have felt embarrassed that this man knew so much about my secret misery, but it had only been once I’d received that life-changing letter and the decision had been made that I’d realised how much everything had been boiling away inside me. It had been such a relief to let the whole story come pouring out at last, even though I’d been inflicting it on a complete stranger.
Paul might have been that bit older than me - a bit more than a decade, in fact - but he’d been so attractive and so attentive and had such charming manners that he’d completely swept me off my feet. I’d thought I was stepping into a fairytale future with him; one that included the shared goals of a cosy home filled with a growing family and echoing with laughter and love. What I’d got was a sterile, servile existence totally focused on his comfort, his wishes, his rules.
Oh, and he’d had so many rules about everything, from the way the towels were to be hung on the rail in the bathroom to the way the table was to be set and the time the perfectly prepared meals were to be presented on it.
I’d been almost too embarrassed to admit that it had taken a couple of years before I realised that he’d driven a wedge between me and all my former friends. His campaign had been subtle, I’d given him that. It had started with the odd criticism of one old school-friend’s bohemian style of dress or another’s stridently avowed politics until soon, whatever entertaining we did was only for his colleagues, and then only with a view to impressing his seniors that he was a man on his way up in the world.
Looking back, I’d realised that wanting to impress at those events had probably been the only reason why he’d agreed to pay for the Cordon Bleu cookery course I’d attended, but even that had come to an abrupt end when I’d made the mistake of letting him know that the classes were attended by men as well as women.
After that, even when I’d complained that I was bored, he’d absolutely refused to allow me to look for a job, pointing out with terrifyingly cold intensity that I was his wife and it was therefore his responsibility to support me, while it was my responsibility to provide him with food and comfort and my body, when required.
I’d suggested that a way to fill my empty days would be to start our family sooner rather than later and was utterly dumfounded by his trenchant refusal.
‘There will be no children,’ he’d declared grimly.
I couldn’t believe what he was saying, certain that I was somehow misunderstanding him.
‘Not now, maybe,’ I’d agreed reluctantly, suppressing a sigh for all those empty hours and days ahead. ‘But in a year or two we could-’
‘No!’ he’d interrupted swiftly. ‘There will be no children. There can be no children. Ever.’
I remember staring at him, certain I had a stupid expression on my face as I tried to work out what he meant. Was he infertile? If so, it was something he’d certainly never mentioned before the wedding. I’d always assumed that there would be babies in my future and if he’d known that there could be a problem…
‘But-’
‘Don’t argue with me!’ he’d roared, suddenly. ‘It’s none of your business, but I had a vasectomy the week after you accepted my proposal, to make absolutely certain there would be no children. I have no intention of you being distracted from your duties by squalling brats.’
It was none of my business that he’d taken himself off for a vasectomy? It was none of my business that he’d deliberately robbed me of the chance to feel a baby growing inside me and to hold a precious new life in my arms?
That was the day something inside me died and my life stretched out like an endless desert in front of me with absolutely nothing to look forward to but an interminable cycle of cleaning his picture-perfect house, cooking his picture-perfect meals and entertaining his boring colleagues.
I actually contemplated going on strike as my disappointment and anger grew, but my first tentative attempt provoked such a terrifying rage that for a few minutes I actually believed he was going to kill me.
‘The only striking that will take place in this house is if you don’t perform your duties to the standard I require,’ he’d said afterwards, sounding utterly calm, but there was something in his eyes that told me it was both a threat and a promise.
Unfortunately, striking me for the first time seemed to have unlocked the door on his cruelty and I found myself spending every waking hour trying to make certain I would give him no excuse to turn his verbal abuse into physical violence.
From then on I also began trying to find a way out of my intolerable situation without letting him know what I was doing. It was only when I overheard a fellow shopper talking about using computers and the internet to work from home that the germ of an idea took root.
It had taken more than two years for that root to grow and bear fruit - two years of racing through the housework to have the rest of the day to work on my escape plan - and today was the day my gaoler would cease to have any power over me.
Now all I had to do was face the man and tell him.

‘What do you mean, you’re leaving me?’ Paul roared, the veins bulging at his temples. ‘You can’t leave me. You’ve got nowhere to go… no friends to help you and no money to pay for anything.’
‘Actually, that’s where you’re wrong,’ I said, hoping I sounded calmer than I felt with my heart beating so fast it felt as if it might explode. ‘You might have forced me to break off contact with my friends, but they were very forgiving when I got in touch with them again. As for not having any money… you couldn’t be more wrong.’ I held up the thicker of the two envelopes that I took out of the bag I’d placed ready on the hall table. ‘This is a contract for my first manuscript and the next two books after it. The advance money is already in my account - my new account, of course - and it really is an amazingly large amount of money.’
‘Manuscript?’ he scoffed dismissively. ‘What manuscript? You can’t write, and you certainly haven’t written any books. You haven’t even got a typewriter, for heaven’s sake, let alone a computer.’
How strange that his scorn now went sailing harmlessly over my head; how empowering. ‘After I leave, perhaps you should go up to the back bedroom - the little nursery that you graciously permitted me to have converted into a dressing room, since we weren’t going to be having any babies. You’ll find that the dressing table makes an ideal desk, and there’s a false floor in the bottom of the underwear drawer with a space just deep enough for my laptop.’
I tightened my grip on the bag at my side before drawing out the smaller envelope, knowing my final announcement was going to send him ballistic. I’d known for a long time that Paul saw me as nothing more than a possession - one that his colleagues envied for its beauty and the way I seemed to want nothing more than to make his life perfect.
‘By the way, this envelope’s for you,’ I said, dropping it on the side table with the perfectly polished and totally dust-free, pie-crust frill around its edge. ‘That is your copy of the divorce papers and an injunction preventing you from contacting me or coming anywhere near me. Everything is spelled out, but be warned that if you break the injunction you will be arrested and you will go to prison. I will never allow you to have the chance to abuse me again - and before you try to deny it,’ I continued, leaving him with his mouth hanging open, ‘my GP has a record of each incidence in my medical notes and so has the hospital. Both of them were only too helpful in copying that information for my solicitor.
‘Anyway, that’s all in the past, now,’ I said firmly, relishing his shock that I’d actually told people about his abuse. Had he believed that he had me so cowed that I’d keep his cruelty a secret? ‘Who knows, once the divorce is through I might even meet someone I’d like to marry - someone who’s man enough to want to give me children.’
I turned away to open the door then turned back just long enough to take my set of keys out of my pocket and drop them on top of the divorce papers. I’d never need them again.
The taxi driver was standing just outside the door, so he’d probably heard every word, but somehow it didn’t matter. The warm concern in his eyes outweighed any embarrassment.
‘Ready to go?’ he asked. He walked beside me all the way to the taxi without once touching me, but somehow just the fact he was there made me feel protected.
‘I’ve been ready for a long time,’ I said with far too much feeling, and when I heard him stifle a chuckle I suddenly found myself fighting laughter, too.
‘Where did you want to go, now?’ he asked when he was once more behind the wheel, and I was surprised to recognise that his eyes were still filled with concern when they met mine in the mirror. ‘You have got somewhere to stay tonight, haven’t you?’
‘Oh, yes,’ I reassured him, knowing I sounded a little smug but hoping I could be forgiven. ‘I’ll be staying in a hotel tonight - under my pseudonym, so he can’t find me even if he tries - and tomorrow I’ve got an appointment with an estate agent for a second viewing on a little flat.’
‘So, where do you want me to take you? Straight to your hotel?’
I thought for a moment, the realisation sweeping over me that everything had changed. For the first time in far too long I had choices; I could do what I wanted, where I wanted, when I wanted and that feeling was more powerful than I could have imagined.
In the mirror beside his reflection I saw the smile appear on my own face. ‘You know, I have absolutely no idea where I want to go, except I’m suddenly hungry. Have you got any suggestions for a really good restaurant because I think I’m in the mood to celebrate. After all, today is the start of the rest of my life.’
                                                             (2,200 words)                                                                                       

Assignment 2: Fiction. Short story. 2,000 words.

(Because I like balance, I thought I ought to write a ‘divorce’ story from the other direction - in basic terms, guilty female, innocent male - but far from being harrowing, I quite enjoyed this one!)

Cappuccino. Large.
He pulled the car to the kerb and craned to look up at the glass-fronted monolith that was Kavanaugh’s. His wife had been working there for the last year and a half and had quickly risen to become PA to the Big Boss, no less. And hadn’t she enjoyed telling him that, contrasting the older man’s overt wealth with his own fledgling company.
Why hadn’t he seen the signs earlier? Perhaps because she’d always said she had faith in him; that she never doubted that he would eventually succeed. Hah! The last few hours had shown him beyond doubt that she wasn’t waiting for that to happen.
‘And I refuse to be a cuckold,’ he muttered, his face burning anew with the embarrassment of that phone call last night. Until then, he’d actually believed that his wife had gone away for a spa break with a group of friends, but to have the rather drunken voice of one of those friends ringing to speak to her, then giggling crazily when she realised her mistake, had been the final straw.
He flicked on his warning lights and got out, opening the rear door to look at the small mountain of bulging black plastic bags he’d come to deliver. It had taken him several hours during a sleepless night to cram her belongings into them and stuff them in the car, and would probably take nearly as long to unload them unless-
‘Excuse me,’ he called across at the androgynous person sitting on the pavement. Even with dread-locked hair, multiple piercings to ears, nose and lip and scruffy layers of clothes, there was no disguising the fact that they looked relatively strong and healthy. ‘Could you help me to shift this lot? I’ll be happy to pay you for your time.’
‘What’s it worth?’ came the challenge, and for the first time he realised that he was speaking to a young woman. ‘How far do they need shifting?’
‘Just into that building, there,’ he jerked his chin towards the architectural monstrosity beside him.
Her eyes were an unusual mixture of green and blue and their expression was far sharper than he was expecting… until she blinked and they went strangely blank.
‘You’re on,’ she agreed and unfolded surprisingly long legs to join him at the open car door.
‘Making a delivery?’ she asked as she wrapped the top of a black bag around each hand then waited for him to do the same before walking beside him to the double-height glass doors of the entrance.
‘You could say that,’ he said noncommittally, grateful that the doors opened automatically at their approach so he didn’t have to work out how to play the gentleman and open them for her.
‘Can I help you, sir?’ called the pretty receptionist from behind her ultra-modern desk when he deposited his load against the wall beside the bank of lifts.
‘No, thank you. We can manage,’ he said as he and his companion set off for a second load.
‘Sir!’ The receptionist had come out from behind the bulwark of her desk and was hovering just inside the doors when they returned. ‘You shouldn’t be making deliveries without some sort of paperwork. Which company do you work for? What are you delivering?’
‘It’s a delivery for Mr Kavanaugh and his PA,’ he said cryptically, guessing that she would contact her boss as soon he was out of earshot. ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got the paperwork to go with it. I’ll let them have it when I’ve finished unloading.’
He was almost certain he heard a stifled snort of laughter from his temporary companion, and the thought gave his spirits an unexpected lift, but by the time they reached the car for their third load her face was completely passive again.
When they entered the reception area with their final load, it was obvious that his evasiveness had worked because the lift was just disgorging two people from the top floor.
‘Kyle!’ gasped his wife, fruitlessly scrabbling to control the long expensively-streaked locks she usually wore in a sophisticated twist when she left for work. ‘What’s going on? What are you doing here? What’s all this stuff?’ The miss-buttoned blouse wasn’t something he’d seen before, either.
‘Back from your holiday so soon, Cherry?’ he said evenly, surprised that the blatant confirmation of her adultery didn’t hurt more when he’d once believed the two of them would be together for the rest of their lives. Strangely enough, in the space of time it had taken to unload the car of her possessions he’d come to realise that he didn’t even like the woman very much any more.
‘And you are…?’ her rather portly companion prompted, self-importantly.
‘Her husband,’ he supplied, then corrected himself as he drew an envelope out of an inside pocket and held it out for her to take in her perfectly-manicured hand. ‘At least, I will be until those divorce papers become absolute in six weeks and one day.’ He began to turn away, glad this was over.
‘But… What about my things? My clothes? My jewellery? My car?’ He turned back and recognised the fury building behind those calculating eyes.
‘Those are your belongings,’ he said with a gesture towards the untidy pile, ‘and you’re wearing the only jewellery you’re ever getting from me. My grandmother’s pearls and the diamonds my father bought for my mother are back in the bank vault where they’ll be staying. As for the car - the dealership collected it at nine o’clock this morning at the same time the locks were being changed at the house.’
He turned towards the man who’d been watching the exchange in horrified fascination, as had the receptionist and a growing number of visitors arriving by both the front door and the rest of the bank of lifts. ‘You wanted her, Kavanaugh; you’ve got her, and for your sake I hope your pockets are deep.’
Once outside, he drew in a deep breath and held it for a couple of seconds before blowing it out in a steady stream, feeling as if a huge load had just been removed from his shoulders. ‘Right,’ he said briskly, suddenly eager to get on with the rest of his life. ‘Did we come to an agreement about how much I was going to pay you for your help?’ He reached for his wallet, oddly reluctant to bid farewell to his helper.
‘Will you buy me breakfast?’ she countered, with a grimace towards the building beside them, ‘I bet you could do with a cup of coffee after that.’
His life was falling apart but he couldn’t resist the thought of spending a little more time with her. ‘Can you suggest somewhere that does a proper fry-up?’
She had an attractive chuckle, slightly husky, and her amusement made her eyes gleam briefly. ‘I know just the place. You can see it from here, not far from the traffic lights, and if you hurry, it looks as if there’s a parking space right in front of it.’
‘Hop in and I’ll give you a lift,’ he offered with a glance towards the sky. ‘It’s just about to pour.’
‘A bit of rain won’t spoil what I’m wearing, but what I’m wearing could spoil your car,’ she said wryly.
He stopped beside the driver’s door and looked at her across the roof of the car. ‘You trust me not to drive away without paying up?’
‘Oh, I think you’ve got an honest face,’ she said. ‘Besides, I could always go back in there and ask your wife for your address.’
He’d barely had time to park the car and find a table before she arrived, but when he stood to welcome her to the table she waved him off.
‘Order me a full English and the largest cappuccino they do,’ she said briskly. ‘I’m just going for a quick wash up in the Ladies.’
The waitress had just delivered two laden plates and two coffees the size of small buckets when a slim woman with short dark hair put her hand on the back of the chair opposite him.
‘Is this seat taken?’ she asked and he stared up into the face of a complete stranger.
‘Actually, it is,’ he said apologetically. ‘My companion should be here any minute.’
‘Is she carrying a bag like this?’ the young woman said. ‘And does she have eyes that can’t make up their mind whether they’re blue or green?’
‘I don’t know about the eyes,’ he lied, unwilling to admit that he’d taken that much notice of her, and almost rendered speechless by the change in her appearance, ‘but that bag definitely looks like hers.’
She chuckled as she set the disreputable bag under the table and he instantly recognised the husky note.
‘Perhaps we should introduce ourselves,’ she suggested as she cradled her outsized coffee between her palms. ‘You’re Kyle Forrester, soon-to-be-ex-husband of Cherry Forrester and I’m Lauren Neel… Detective Inspector Neel.’
‘Detect-’. He had to swallow hastily before he choked on his first mouthful.
‘Sorry to spring it on you like that, but this time I’m the one asking for your assistance.’
‘My assistance with what?’ he gave up on the food and mirrored the way she was cradling her coffee, suddenly needing the warmth. ‘Am I under investigation for something? Is that why you were in disguise?’
‘Not you,’ she clarified swiftly. ‘It’s Kavanaugh we’re looking at, but I can’t tell you why without permission from my superiors.’
‘So, if you can’t tell me why, how can I help you?’ he challenged, still distracted by the change in her appearance. Obviously, the dread-locks had been a wig, but he hadn’t realised that piercings could be faked until he looked closely at her face and saw no sign of any holes.
‘I’m hoping you’re going to tell me that your wife used a computer at home and you haven’t just handed it over to her in one of those bags.’ She smacked her forehead with one hand. ‘My Super will kill me if I carried it into Kavanaugh’s.’
He was tempted to tease her to hear that chuckle again, but her expression was all business. ‘She used the spare computer in my office at home, but… what are you expecting to find?’ He put his hand up and shook his head. ‘Ok, I know you can’t tell me, but… as soon as you can?’
‘Of course,’ she said firmly. ‘Now let’s finish this meal and get to that computer.’

‘Do you need to get that?’ she asked, pointing to the blinking message light on the phone when he led the way into his office, but he could tell what she wanted his answer to be.
‘The only thing I need to do is see what’s on this computer before the curiosity kills me,’ he said, booting the elderly system up as he spoke.
‘Have you any idea of her password? Will she have written it down somewhere or will we have to get the IT techs to run it through our system to crack it?’ she asked and he laughed.
‘Cherry’s idea of security is to use a password she can remember. Try marmalade.’
She chuckled and he realised that the husky sound was rapidly becoming addictive. ‘Why marmalade?’
‘Because she can’t spell mayonnaise,’ he said on an answering laugh that was quickly cut short by the incriminating file she had just opened on the screen.

His involvement in the investigation had ended, then. He’d only learned of the arrest of his wife and Kavanaugh and their eventual conviction for fraud from the press, so the last thing he was expecting late one evening was to find a certain husky-voiced Detective Inspector on his doorstep.
‘Is this a bad time?’ she asked. ‘I came to return your wife’s computer.’
‘Ex-wife,’ he corrected, stepping aside to invite her in with a sudden lift to his spirits. ‘Can I get you a coffee? Cappuccino? Large?’               (2,000 words)

Assignment 3: A poem about an overheard confession. 40 lines.

(I found this the most difficult part of the course as it was my first foray into poetry since I last wrote a poem… badly (McGonagall lives!). The prompt ‘an overheard confession’ had me thinking about an elderly neighbour who talks at me, rather than to me, frequently losing the thread of conversations about things that happened long ago, some of them secrets she’d held for many years. Then I spoke with a rather shaken nurse whose patient had just told her something totally shocking.)

Never let a baby cry

‘Hello, Jean. A cup of tea?’ One sugar, stirred. Two biscuits.
The low hubbub of visiting time broken by the cry
Of someone’s grandson brought to visit granny in the home.
‘Hush, now, my sweetheart,’ croons his mother, but to no avail.
Another breath and then the wail
Is loud enough to make Jean pale.
The cup and saucer rattle in her liver-spotted hands.
‘I never let a baby cry,’ she said.

‘My Maurice couldn’t stand the noise, when he came home from war.’
The pale grey eyes unfocused while she looked into the past.
‘He’d seen too much and heard too much. He couldn’t help himself.’
War can do something ugly to the souls of gentle men.
She blinked away a tear and then
Her gaze went back to baby Ben.
She pressed her lips together and with anguish in her eyes
Said, ‘I could never let my baby cry.’

‘Girl or boy?’ Tea gone cold, a lap now full of biscuit crumbs.
A loving smile curved wrinkled lips but grey eyes filled with pain.
‘A little girl. So beautiful.’ But Maurice wasn’t pleased.
He didn't want a daughter, nor a wife; he made that clear.
'I trained to be a midwife, dear,’
Taught other mothers not to fear,
Made certain that they all would know to put their babies first.
‘But I could never let their babies cry.’

‘They’ve never been to visit you?’ There’s no-one left to come.
‘He wasn’t working, couldn’t sleep and when she cried he cracked.’
He snatched her up and shook her hard and shouted in her face.
I grabbed her from him, terror gripped, to silence every cry.
I held her close, a final sigh,
I felt my precious baby die.
‘We said she’d gone to stay with cousins living far away.
He’d never have to hear my baby cry.’

I dug the hole to plant the cherry tree that marks the spot.
And every spring it blossomed pink as precious baby cheeks.
But even though the fruit grew plump and plentiful each year
I never once could bring myself to pick a single one.
I’ll blame myself till Kingdom come
She never played out in the sun,
And yearn to find some way to change the dreadful thing I did.
‘I’ll always hear the echoes of her cry.’

Assignment 4: Life writing in first person. 1,500 words.

(Not every family wedding is a happy occasion and the myriad decisions necessary in the preparation can sometimes leave lasting scars.)

Bittersweet
 ‘We’ve chosen the place for our reception,’ an abrupt voice said on the other end of the phone, and I remember that it was only the topic that made me realise it was my future son-in-law speaking. There had certainly been no attempt at a greeting or pleasantries before he got down to the reason for the call.
It took me a second or two to get over the rudeness of it so I nearly missed the next sentence but I could hardly miss hearing the eye-watering total they expected the affair to cost.
‘They need the deposit in the next seven days to secure that date,’ he informed me, almost as though I was one of his parents, and far too willing to give him everything he’d ever wanted. ‘You need to send a cheque for a quarter of that amount to-’
‘Is my daughter there?’ I interrupted, hoping that my voice wasn’t shaking as much as I was. What an arrogant pratt my precious first-born had chosen to marry. She was far too good for the likes of him.
‘Yes. She’s here, but first I need to give you the address to send-’
‘May I speak to her?’ I interrupted firmly, rising anger lending force to my tone.
‘But I need to tell you-’
‘My daughter, please.’ I hadn’t realised that I still knew how to use my ‘teacher’s voice’ to subdue annoying children. I hadn’t needed to use it on my own for many years - at least since they’d left junior school and became human beings.
‘Mother?’ I clenched my teeth at the affectation she’d picked up once she started going out with the man, mourning the cheerful ‘Mum’ she used to call me. ‘What’s the problem?’
‘Oh, there’s no problem, dear,’ I said brightly. ‘I haven’t spoken to you for a while and just wanted to know… Have you made any decisions about your dress and the cake? You remember that I always promised you I’d make them for you… and the bridesmaids’ dresses, too.’
It was only a delaying tactic, with the far bigger problem hanging darkly over the arrangements for sending a picture of the dress she wanted, her measurements and a sample of the fabric.
‘I’ll send you a picture of the bouquet, too, so you can decorate the cake to match it,’ she said. ‘We decided we want three tiers but on one of those stands rather than on pillars, then we can save the top tier for a christening if we want to.’
I winced at the thought of just how much the ingredients for that quantity of cake was going to cost, but I had promised…
‘Have you got a pencil there so I can give you the address for the cheque?’ she asked with an abrupt change of topic. ‘They have to have it by the end of the week or we’ll lose the date we want.’
‘But, I haven’t even seen the place… not even a photo of it,’ I stalled, really unhappy that I was being backed into a corner like this.
‘We’ve seen it and his parents love it and it’s what we want,’ she said stubbornly.
‘That’s all very well, except that it’s traditionally the bride’s family who’re supposed to be in charge of the reception - choosing the venue and suchlike - especially as they’re going to be the ones paying for it.’
‘But this is my wedding,’ she countered and I could see in my mind’s eye the way her little chin used to stick out when she argued with her siblings. Was she really reverting to her pre-school persona at this late stage?
‘Yes, dear,’ I agreed mock-calmly. ‘And you get to choose the groom and the ring and your dress with as little input as you wish, but I simply can’t afford that sort of money for a buffet reception that I could make myself for a tenth of the price. And anyway, I certainly couldn’t come up with that much with just a few days’ notice.’

The mixture of anger and tears that had poured out at me before she’d slammed the phone down was still replaying interminably inside my head three months later when the parcel of ivory and French navy silk arrived.
Like the envelope in which she’d sent the pictures of the bouquet she’d chosen and the style of the dress she wanted, there was no letter; just a note of the bridesmaids’ measurements to add to her own.
I sighed, unhappiness at the whole situation weighing me down for a moment before I gave myself a shake and prepared for a marathon dressmaking session. At least I could console myself that she would have to visit me to have the dress fitted. Perhaps I could persuade her to stay for a whole weekend. Surely, spending enough time surrounded by the memories of her happy childhood would give us enough time to mend bridges. And when she saw how beautiful the dress was going to be, and all the delicate flowers I’d started making for her cake…

‘Is the dress ready for me to try?’ she demanded as soon as I opened the door, already shrugging out of her jacket. ‘I left the others keeping each other company over a cup of coffee in the square… so none of them will see my dress before the day. When I’m finished, I’ll send the girls along for you to do their fittings. That way we won’t waste too much time and we can probably be back in the city before dark.’
I was so tempted to hand her jacket back to her and tell her to forget the whole thing. How dare she treat me like this! For every minute of her life I had been doing my best for her, but ever since she’d met that egotistical twerp it seemed that even my best was never going to be good enough.
Still, the instinctive love that had filled me the second I knew I was pregnant with her was strong enough to make me count to ten and offer to put the kettle on rather than tell her exactly what I thought of her abysmal manners. There was obviously no point in mourning the healing weekend that should have been. All I could hope was that when she saw how beautiful her dress was looking, she’d realise just how much love was being put into it with every stitch.
‘I’ve been putting some money aside towards the reception,’ I started uncertainly, knowing it wasn’t ever going to be enough to pay for the venue they’d chosen. Perhaps they didn’t realise just how impossible such a sum was to find when there was a mortgage to pay and three other children to consider. With the two of them already earning decent salaries, surely they should be footing part of the-
‘We decided that if you weren’t willing to give us the venue we wanted, then we didn’t want you involved in the reception at all… and I don’t want to talk about it any further,’ she said stonily.
The injustice of it took my breath away. It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing. It was simply that I didn’t have the money, but she obviously didn’t want to hear that. Hopefully, that meant a little part of her had realised she was being unfair and she didn’t want to be made to admit it, hence the end to the discussion.
Well, as my grandmother used to say, What can’t be cured must be endured. All I could do was bite my tongue, hoping my sunny-natured daughter would re-surface sometime soon. In the meantime, I had three dresses to fit.

Their second-choice reception venue reeked of Brown Windsor soup, the carpet was tired and stained, the food was over-cooked and tasteless and the wine would probably have been very effective as a toilet cleaner, but the cake looked wonderful; worth every fiddly moment I’d spent making those delicate freesias and roses. Several times already I’d seen people reach out to touch them, then finding that they were made of sugar.
As for the dresses… the bridesmaids had looked so slim and graceful in their French navy, and the classic style was so timeless that they’d easily be able to wear them again as evening dresses.
But my daughter - my precious first-born daughter with her creamy skin and russet hair and her father’s dark chocolate eyes - had looked like a mediæval princess in a dress with slender pointed sleeves and a bodice that fitted her to perfection before draping back into an elegant short train.
My eyes had burned with the threat of tears that she should look so beautiful, that day, and that I had done my part to make it so. How many more tears would I have shed if I’d known, then, that twenty years on she would still be refusing to speak to me.                                                      
                                                                                                 (1,500 words)

Assignment 5: Short story 1,500 words, suitable to be rewritten as a radio play.

(I’ve been lucky that the writing classes I’ve attended have been very different to what follows. However, there have sometimes been moments…)

The Writing Class

The door opened again and Marc nearly groaned aloud at the interruption. He was already relieved beyond measure that he’d only agreed to cover this class for one session, as a favour to an old friend.

The flustered woman dropped a large file right in the doorway, spewing dozens of closely-typed pages across the floor. ‘Drat! I’m so sorry I’m late,’ she said, scrabbling the papers into an untidy heap. ‘The baby was sick on the cat and then I couldn’t find the jump leads to get the car going. I swear, one of these days I’m going to arrive on time, but… Oh! Who are you?’

‘He’s the new tutor, Yvonne… remember?’ said the bossy, over-upholstered one before Marc had a chance to open his mouth. She had hair like a Brillo pad and had self-importantly introduced herself as Margot Something-Hyphenated as soon as he’d walked into the room. He’d been given a list of their names but had hardly thought it worth learning them, especially when it didn’t look as if they were ever going to get any work done. This was their third interruption, already.

‘Oh? What happened to Owen? He only started two weeks ago, but I wasn’t here last week - the baby-sitter ran off to Thailand with her boyfriend.’

‘It was dreadful,’ said Margot’s companion in a shrill, whiney voice. ‘Last week was quite, quite dreadful. It was my turn to be first in the hot seat - you know, to read some of my work-in-progress.’

‘Perhaps that would be a good idea, now that we’re all here,’ Marc interrupted, trying to take charge, but Margot had taken up her friend’s tale, fixing him with a baleful glare for having the temerity to interrupt.

‘He was so unhelpful… so cutting, that Sylvia couldn’t go on, so when it was my turn I refused to read. Well, I mean, surely it’s a basic part of his job to be encouraging, not to demolish us.’

A tall thin woman, with immaculate clothes and make-up and not a single apricot-coloured hair out of place chipped in, almost tearfully. ‘He made my William cry when he criticised his work, and the poor boy had sat up night after night pouring all his agony into it after his… ah, his partner went off with the barista at the coffee shop - the one with all the muscles who looked like a much younger David Hasselhoff. He won’t be coming back here, again.’

‘And what about the Lieutenant Colonel and his memoirs of growing up on tea plantations in India, Burma and Assam?’ That was Sylvia taking up the story again. ‘He was so proud of having served under that Orde Wingate when he first went into uniform. He can’t help it that his memory’s not so good any more. It was just cruel to point out in front of all of us that the poor man was repeating the same half-dozen stories over and over again.’

‘Well, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind,’ Marc said, desperate to find a way to take control. At least if he murdered the lot of them you wouldn’t see the evidence among all this depressing treacly brown woodwork. It looked as if the room was the last resting place of all the superannuated bookshelves from the library on the other side of the wall. ‘After all, each of you has come to the class to learn how to write, and it’s a basic part of writing to have to re-write, edit, cut-’

‘Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the bit about murdering your darlings, but… but not whole chapters!’ Margot said, quivering with righteous indignation. ‘After I’d got the members of the Gardening Club to do all that research for me, he told me I had to prune all my descriptions of the plants in my heroine’s garden - and he did it in such a sarcastic way.’

‘Margot stood up to him,’ Sylvia said loyally. ‘She told him-’

‘I told him he was being totally unrealistic,’ Margot said, apparently unaware how rudely she’d butted in while her friend was speaking. ‘I told him we were all busy people with far too many other things going on in our lives - coffee mornings to put on as well as volunteering at the Cancer Research shop and Oxfam. Yvonne’s got her children and the PTA, and Liam’s organising his alternative music festival. We don’t have time to waste on all that re-writing.’

‘So, why are you here, then?’ Marc asked, trying not to let them see how frustrated he was growing. He certainly didn’t want to be rude - after all, he was only going to be with them for a couple of hours and then he’d never have to see them again, thank goodness. But it was a couple of hours, and time was precious. ‘What do you hope to get out of these classes?’

‘Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it - we want to learn how to get our work published,’ said Margot.

‘We want to know how to find the best literary agent to sign up with - someone to deal with the fiddly stuff, like contracts and film rights and so on,’ said the young man in the corner, speaking for the first time. Was he the Liam who was so busy organising the music festival? Under his wild array of dreadlocks it had been hard to see if he was awake, but his eyes were definitely gleaming as he continued. ‘It’s important to get a good agent so the publishers don’t rook you out of every penny. Do you know, some of the writers who do that category fiction only get three per cent of the money their books make? Three per cent! It’s criminal!’

‘We want to earn some real money,’ said another voice, ‘not just crumbs thrown us to keep us quiet while they promise that our book’s going to make it big soon, if we’ll just be patient.’

‘We want to become millionaires, overnight, like the woman who wrote that mucky book that everyone’s been reading… you know, the one with the man’s tie on the cover. If she can do it-’

‘We want you to tell us the secret,’ Margot demanded and an expectant silence fell, all eyes fixed on him avidly, unblinkingly.

‘Um.’ He cleared his throat, suddenly uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the room. ‘What secret?’

‘You can’t fool us,’ Sylvia said, almost baring her teeth at him. ‘We know there’s a secret formula that you published authors keep to yourselves, so we won’t be in competition with you.’

‘…and we’ve paid to come to these classes-’

‘…paid good money for you to tell us all the magic tips so we can be published, too.’

He laughed in disbelief. ‘You’re joking… aren’t you?’

‘Of course we’re not joking!’ said Liam with a fierce glare. ‘We’re deadly serious.’

‘We’ve been working on these books for weeks,’ Yvonne said, speaking to him as sternly as if he was a naughty child. ‘We just need you to tell us what to do next to get them published and make lots of money - preferably in time to get the baby’s name down to go to a decent school.’

‘But you’re beginners!’ he exclaimed in disbelief. ‘It’s unlikely that any of you has written anything worth publication, yet.’

‘Well, of course not, because you haven’t given us the crib sheet for the formula, yet,’ snapped Margot. ‘Once we’ve got that, our books will be ready in no time and we’ll be on our way.’

‘On our way to fame and fortune as soon as you give us the magic tips.’

‘Forget about magic tips!’ he exclaimed, eyeing the distance to the door and wondering if he stood a chance of hurdling over the rather rickety old table without having it collapse under him and cripple him for life. ‘Forget about formulas! There is no formula. There’s no quick and easy way to write a book. It’s hard. It’s lonely. It’s repetitive and grinding, writing and re-writing over and over until you think you’ve got it right only to come back the next day and realise it’s drivel and have to start all over again.’

‘Rubbish! You’re only saying that because you want to keep it to yourself.’

‘Yes! That’s it!’ They were all shouting at once, now.

‘Or else you’ve never had anything published, either.’

‘…probably never even written anything.’

‘That’s why you won’t give us the formula - because you haven’t got it, either.’

‘You’re no use to us,’ Margot declared, suddenly. ‘In fact these classes are a complete waste of time and money,’ and she stormed out with her belongings clutched against her bosom.

Minutes later they were all gone.

‘At least they didn’t lynch you,’ my friend… my ex-friend chuckled wryly, stepping into view. ‘Now, cross your fingers they don’t recognise you from the photos on those thrillers on the shelves next door.’                          (1,500 words)

Assignment 6: Re-write the last assignment as a play for radio.

(Writing within the constraints of the assignment, I probably concentrated too much on the ‘duds’ in the class when there are usually far more people seriously interested in learning their craft. However, I wasn’t convinced that a class full of earnest ‘swots’ would have made for a more interesting conflict.
Unfortunately, loading this on to the website automatically destroys the official set-up necessary for a script, so, apologies.)

The Writing Class
– a play for radio.
CAST
Alan: course organiser; old school friend of Marc’s
Marc: mid-thirties; co-opted into taking the writing class
Leah: yummy-mummy; trying to do too much in a day
Margo: 40s; plum-in-mouth queen bee; very opinionated
Sylvia: 50s; Margo’s acolyte; no confidence in herself
Anna: 20s; unemployed university graduate; wants to write
Several other, more serious class members

FADE UP INDOORS, TWO PAIRS OF FEET WALKING ALONG A SLIGHTLY ECHOING CORRIDOR. MUFFLED VOICES NEARBY

ALAN:    Listen, mate, thanks for doing this.
MARC: Remind me not to phone you next time I’m in the area. I only wanted some R and R and a bit of a catch up over a pint.
ALAN: I’ll definitely owe you one after this.
MARC: Well, the last thing I was expecting was to be coerced into taking a creative writing class. I haven’t been in this library since I came to use the computers… and that’s before I got broadband.
ALAN:  Sorry to spoil your R and R, but I was in a real bind when the tutor cancelled. And then you phoned…
MARC: And I haven’t a clue why I agreed to this stupid idea. What do I know about teaching writing?
ALAN: You’ll be fine. Anyway, it’s only for a couple of hours and most of them seem really keen. This is the room. Good luck… and thanks. I really appreciate it.

FEET RECEDE ALONG CORRIDOR. SHARP SQUEAK AS DOOR OPENS. VOICES GET LOUDER.

MARC: Good afternoon, everyone. (VOICES FADE) Hello, I’m Marc–

DOOR SUDDENLY SQUEAKS OPEN AGAIN.  SOUND OF BOOKS DROPPING.

LEAH:    Drat. I’m so sorry I’m late. (SOUND OF PAPERS BEING SCRABBLED TOGETHER) The baby was sick on the cat and then I couldn’t find the jump leads to get the car going. I swear, one of these days I’m going to arrive on time, but… Oh! Who are you?
MARC: Hello, I’m the tutor for–
MARGO:   (BUTTING IN) He’s the new tutor, Leah.
LEAH:    Oh? What happened to Owen? (SOUND OF CHAIR SCRAPING, THEN BELONGINGS TAKEN FROM BAG) He only started two weeks ago, but then I wasn’t here last week – the baby-sitter ran off to Thailand with her boyfriend.

PENS, PAPERS AND BOOKS DROPPED, SHUFFLED AND MOVED ON TABLE AT INTERVALS THROUGHOUT

SYLVIA:  It was dreadful. Last week was quite, quite dreadful. It was my turn to be first in the hot seat – you know, to read some of my work-in-progress – and–
MARC:     Perhaps that would be a good place to start, now that we’re all here… so I can get an idea what sort of things you’re all–
MARGO:    (TALKING OVER MARC) The man was so unhelpful… so cutting, that Sylvia couldn’t go on, so when it was my turn I refused to read. Well, I mean, surely it’s a basic part of his job to be encouraging, not to demolish us.
ANNA: Well, I’m sorry, Margo, but he was certainly on the right track with William, even if he did make him cry when he criticised his work. (RAUCOUS SOUND OF MOBILE RINGTONE, QUICKLY SILENCED) I mean, who wants to listen to him read endless pages drivelling on about his agonies after his partner went off with the barista at the coffee shop–
LEAH: (WHISPERS) Oops. Sorry. It’s the babysitter.
ANNA: … even if the man is the one with all the muscles who looks like a much younger David Hasselhoff.
SYLVIA: Anna! That’s really mean. He sat up every night for weeks writing that. (MUTTERS OF AGREEMENT)
ANNA: No, it’s not mean. It’s truthful. He was only here to have a whole roomful of us sympathise with his misery… to feel sorry for him.
LEAH: But, Anna–
ANNA: No, Leah, I haven’t got time for that. I’ve come to a writing class to learn how to do it right.
SYLVIA:     But what about what happened with the Lieutenant Colonel and his memoirs of growing up on a tea plantation in Burma?
MARGO: Oh, that was grim. (TUTS) The poor man was so apoplectic I thought he was going to have a stroke.
SYLVIA:  Well, he was so proud of having served under that Orde Wingate chap when he first went into uniform. He can’t help it that his memory’s going.
MARGO: It was rather cruel for Owen to point out – in front of all of us – that the poor man was repeating the same half-dozen stories over and over again.
MARC:  Well, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, especially in the publishing world. After all, the whole point of this class is for you to learn how to write to a publishable standard. The fact is, it’s a basic part of writing to have to re-write, edit, cut–
MARGO: Yes, yes, we’ve all heard the bit about ‘murdering your darlings’, but… but not whole chapters. (HUFFS INDIGNANTLY) After I’d gone to all the trouble of getting the members of the Gardening Club to do all that research for me, the horrible little man told me I had to prune all my descriptions of the plants in my heroine’s garden – and he did it in such a sarcastic way.
SYLVIA: Margo stood up to him. She told him–
MARGO:    I told him he was being totally unrealistic. I told him we’re all busy people with far too many other things going on in our lives. I have coffee mornings to put on as well as volunteering at the Cancer Research shop and Sylvia does it at Oxfam.
SYLVIA: That’s right–
MARGO: (TALKING OVER SYLVIA) Leah’s got her children and the PTA, and even Anna’s probably got something going on when she’s not here… weren’t you helping to organise an alternative music festival, or something?
ANNA: Yes, but that’s got nothing–
MARGO: (TALKING OVER ANNA) None of us have time to waste on all that re-writing nonsense.
MARC:    We’ll discuss that later, perhaps. In the meantime, let’s go around the table one at a time and you can tell me who you are, what genre you’re writing and how far you’ve got with it.
MARGO: Is that really necessary? We’ve already done all the introductions stuff, weeks ago.
MARC: Not with me, you haven’t. So, who’s going to go first?
ANNA: I will, if you like. I’m Anna and I’ve been unemployed ever since I left Uni – apart from doing some voluntary work and helping-out mates. I’m trying to write a woman-in-jeopardy but I need some advice about planning the thing so I don’t end up a blind alley with no way out.
MARC: How far have you got?
ANNA: About twenty thousand words, give or take, but I keep having to go back to fill in bits that I’ve forgotten I’m going to need later.
MARC: Sounds as if it’s definitely time to call a halt while you construct the skeleton of the rest of the plot. Then you’ll be able to sort out where to start weaving in all the threads to make it pull together at the end.
 ANNA: If you could help me with how to do that I’d be very grateful. I really want to learn to write well enough to be published because I’d love to make it my career. (LEAH’S PHONE RINGS AGAIN. BEGINS MUTTERED CONVERSATION) What I probably need is a series of master-classes in the various aspects of fiction writing – dialogue, characterisation and so on, but mostly plotting.
MARC: That’s a good idea, Anna. We could do something with that once we’ve finished going round the table. What do the rest of you think? Would you be interested in doing that?

GENERAL SOUNDS OF AGREEMENT FROM THE GROUP, FROM GRUDGING TO ENTHUSIASTIC.

MARC: Great. That’s what we’ll do, then. Now, what about you, Leah? What are you writing and how far have you got?
LEAH: I’ve written an Aga-saga but I’m afraid it’s turned out a bit more Aga than saga… but that seems more true to life, to me, if people are talking about cupcake recipes and things like that because that’s what I talk about with my friends when we get together.
MARC: Perhaps you need to concentrate more on the plot of the story and treat the recipes like the seasoning in a dish – too much and the dish is overwhelmed.
LEAH: I hadn’t thought of it like that. I suppose that might–
MARGO: (BUTTING IN) I’m Margo, of course, and mine is an Historical novel, set in Dickensian times, and I’ve written the whole thing. (THUD OF WEIGHTY STACK OF PAPERS ON TABLE) It’s finished and ready for publication.
MARC: Well done. You must have spent a lot of time doing your research.
MARGO:  Well, I already had a complete leather-bound set of Dickens that I inherited from my mother-in-law, so I started at one end and read through them till I found a story I liked, then I wrote my own version of it… without all the misery and stupid names, of course.
MARC: (PAUSE) Have you ever heard of plagiarism, Margo?
MARGO: Of course I have, but no-one will ever know where I got the ideas from because I’ve changed all the names. Anyway, who reads Dickens, these days? Far too depressing with all the workhouses and suchlike.
MARC: Quite. (SIGHS) And you are?
SYLVIA: I’m Sylvia and I’ve written a book full of emotional angst about an Edwardian governess finally finding romance – with the son of the wealthy family she’s working for – just before her beau is killed in… in whatever war was going on at the time. But even though I cry every time I read the last chapter I realise there might be one or two things that need tweaking so that a publisher will be happy with it… but that’s why I signed up for this class.
MARC: Who’s next? What’s your name and what are you writing?

FADE OUT TO AN INDISTINCT BABBLE OF VOICES THEN FADE IN TO MARC’S VOICE AGAIN.

MARC: Well, it seems as if every one of you is writing a different genre, from historical romance to steam punk and dystopia, police procedural to vampires and Gothic romance, but even though they all have the same basic building-blocks of literature at their heart… a plot, characters, dialogue… every author has their own method of getting from Chapter One, page one to The End.
LEAH: How can we all have different methods? Surely, you start at page one and keep writing till you get to the end of the story.
MARC:  If only it were that easy. (BRIEF LAUGH) As I said, each of you will have your own ways. Some will write the whole thing flying by the seat of their pants… as it sounds as if you and Anna have been doing – hence her need to keep going back and add bits in.
ANNA: (GROANS) Don’t remind me…
MARC: Others will plot the whole novel out in advance so they know exactly what’s happening in each chapter, right from the beginning. Most people do a mixture of the two, so they have the bones of the story laid out and all they have to do when they start writing it is put the flesh and clothing on the bones to bring them to life.
 ANNA: How much detail is enough? I’m afraid that if I write too much in the planning stage, it’ll be stale by the time I come to write the rest of the story and I’ll be too bored to do anything more with it.
MARC: How much is enough? Hah. Unfortunately, that’s something you’ll only learn by experience – unless you’re one of the lucky ones who stumbles on what works for them right from the beginning. For the majority it’s more a case of trial and error, and I doubt there are any authors who haven’t got a drawer full of partial manuscripts that never got further than chapter four. Some even get all the way to the end of the manuscript before they realise it just isn’t good enough for publication.
LEAH: You’re not telling us we should write all those thousands of words and then just shove it in a drawer? That’s just plain stupid.

SEVERAL EXCLAMATIONS OF DISAPPOINTMENT AND DISBELIEF AGREEING WITH HER.

MARGO: You must be crazy if you think we wouldn’t go ahead and get our books published once we’ve finished writing them. All that effort and then not do anything with it? That’s nonsense.
MARC:  You’re presuming that the manuscript you’ve completed is up to publication standard without having any outside help from an editor or an agent or even from classes like this?
MARGO: Of course it’s up to standard. We’re not stupid people, here. We know how to string words together.
MARC: So, why are you bothering to come to the classes? What do you hope to get out of them? What do you see them doing for you?
MARGO:    Oh, for heaven’s sake, I would have thought it was obvious why we’re here… what we want from the classes. We want to know how to get our work published.
MARC: But, I’ve just–
LEAH:    We might not know anything about the everyday nuts and bolts of publishing, but we know what we need to know.
MARGO: And the first thing we need to know is how to find the best literary agent to sign up with.
SYLVIA: We need someone to deal with the fiddly stuff, like contracts and translations and film rights and so on.
MARGO: That’s the first essential, finding a good agent. From what you see in the news we know how important it is to get a really good agent – one with good contacts with the biggest publishing houses.
MARC: On the other hand, is signing on with an agent necessarily the best way to go? There are those who resent the fact that an agent can take a sizeable percentage of everything you get paid.
MARGO: But if you don’t have an agent, the publishers could rook you out of every penny. Do you know, some of the writers who do that category fiction get less than five per cent of the money their books make? It’s downright criminal.
MARC: Well, it’s always a good idea to keep your eyes and ears open so you can make informed choices. Anyway, there are just so many more options, these days, than there were when I started– ah, when I first looked at the situation. It wasn’t so long ago that the whole idea of e-books was something you’d only see in science-fiction. Now they’ve even reached the stage where they’re selling as many copies as printed books.
ANNA: E-publishing my book entirely by myself is something I’m really interested in, but it seems as if there’s still the taint about it of ‘Oh, your book wasn’t good enough to interest a real publisher so you had to do it yourself’.
MARC: That’s what they used to say about vanity publishing, and there’s still an element of that attitude surrounding e-publishing but that’s mostly because there’s a huge volume of self-published e-books on the internet that is, quite honestly, complete rubbish… put up by the author without even having the spelling and punctuation checked, never mind having an editor cast a critical eye over it.
LEAH: But wouldn’t e-publishing it ourselves be the best way to earn a far bigger percentage of every sale?
SYLVIA: We want to earn some real money, not just crumbs thrown us to keep us quiet while the publishers promise that our book’s going to make it big soon, if we’ll just be patient… and all the while they’re raking it in.
LEAH: We want to become millionaires, overnight, like the woman who wrote that mucky book that everyone was reading a while ago… you know, the one with the man’s tie on the cover. If she can do it–
MARGO: We want you to tell us the secret.
SYLVIA: Yes. That’s why we’re really here. For the secret.
MARC:   Um. (CLEARS THROAT) What secret?
MARGO: You can’t fool us. We know there’s a secret formula that published authors keep to themselves, so the rest of us won’t be in competition with them.
LEAH: That’s why we’ve paid to come to these classes–

SUDDEN GROWING HUBBUB OF OVERLAPPING VOICES.

VOICE 1:   …paid good money…
VOICE 2:   …tell us all the magic tips…
VOICE 3: …give us the secrets…
VOICE 4: …so we can be published, too.
MARC:    You’re joking… aren’t you?
MARGO: Of course we’re not joking! (HUBBUB DIES DOWN) We’re deadly serious.
LEAH:    We’ve been working on these books for weeks. We just need you to tell us what to do next to get them published and make lots of money – preferably in time to get the baby’s name down to go to a decent school.
MARC:  But you’re just beginners. All of you are just starting out as authors. It’s unlikely that any of you has written anything worth publication, yet.
MARGO: Well, of course not, because you haven’t given us the crib sheet for the formula, yet. Once we’ve got that, our books will be ready in no time and we’ll be on our way.
SYLVIA: On our way to fame and fortune as soon as you give us the magic tips.
MARC: (GROANS ALOUD) Forget about magic tips. Forget about formulas. There is no formula. There’s no quick and easy way to write a book. It’s hard. It’s lonely. It’s repetitive and grinding, writing and re-writing over and over until you think you’ve got it right, only to come back the next day and realise it’s drivel and have to start all over again.
MARGO: Rubbish. You’re only saying that because you want to keep it to yourself.
SYLVIA: Yes. That’s it. You’re just being selfish.
LEAH: Greedy.
ANNA: Hang on, Margo. And the rest of you, don’t you think you’re being–
MARGO: Or else you’ve never had anything published, either.
SYLVIA: Probably never even written anything.
ANNA: Please, everyone, he’s been doing his best to help us–
LEAH: If he was a successful writer he wouldn’t be here, would he? If he was successful, he’d be living it up on some tropical island, not here in the back room of the local library.
SYLVIA: That’s why you won’t give us the formula, isn’t it – because you haven’t got it, either.
MARGO:  You’re no use to us at all. In fact these classes are a complete waste of time and money. Come on, everyone, it’s time to go home…

SOUND OF CHAIRS SCRAPING AND BELONGINGS BEING GATHERED. HUBBUB OF DISGRUNTLED VOICES, DOOR SQUEAKS OPEN, SHUFFLING FEET.

MARGO: And we’ll be asking for our money back, too.

 SHUFFLE OF FEET

ANNA: Marc, I… Look, I’m sorry, right?

FOOTSTEPS RECEDE. FADE TO SILENCE.

MARC: Oh, man… (SIGHS) That went really well.

SINGLE SET OF FEET APPROACH.

ALAN: Are you ok, mate? What on earth happened in here? I just saw your class leaving, trailing after a lady who looked like a galleon in full sail and with a face that could sour milk at fifty paces.
MARC: What a shambles… what an absolute nightmare. I’m so sorry, Alan. I obviously made a complete hash of that… but I did tell you I hadn’t a clue how to teach.
ALAN: At least they didn’t lynch you.
MARC: It felt as if it came pretty close at one point. They were convinced I had a magic formula that guaranteed they’d be published. When I tried to tell them it didn’t exist…
ALAN: A magic formula? Really? (LAUGHS) And I thought they were reasonably intelligent. Look, are you sure you’re all right? Come to the staffroom and have a coffee. I haven’t got anything stronger.
MARC: Perhaps I should just go home with my tail tucked between my legs.
ALAN: It might be better if you didn’t leave quite yet, mate… at least until your pupils have disappeared.
MARC: What? You think they’re waiting outside to clobber me for the magic formula?
ALAN: They might if any of them have gone from here into the library itself, in which case you need to cross your fingers that they don’t see that row of thrillers on the shelves next door. They might recognise you from the photos on the back covers.

TWO SETS OF FEET RECEDE. DOOR SQUEAKS AS IT CLOSES