NaNoWriMo 2014 is now well underway. There was a good turnout for my talk on Wednesday at Milk Wood (as usual, I forgot to take a photo until a few minutes after the event had ended and half the attendees had left; never mind). My own novel today passed the 20,000 word mark and now has a working title – ‘AFK and Avengement’.
I’m pretty pleased with the book so far, though initial feelings about one’s writing being good should rarely be trusted. As an appetiser, here’s a short excerpt from the chapter I wrote today.
She left the house at about noon, climbing into her red Volkswagen Polo and driving off in the direction of town. We followed from a distance. She was a dark-haired woman; she wore it straight and shoulder-length. She had on skinny jeans, tall boots, and a green and purple Orla Kiely raincoat.
“What if it was her?” Spence asked. “What would you do?”
“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it,” I told him.
She drove into town and parked in a pay and display. We stood behind her at the machine, where she purchased two hours. Then we followed her to a coffee shop, where she met up with a woman who was sitting at a table with a toddler beside her asleep in a pushchair. They kissed each other on both cheeks. Mrs Herriot took off her raincoat and put it round the back of the facing chair. Spence and I took a nearby table and sat side-by-side on the sofa; he took out his laptop and put it on the table in front of us so it wouldn’t look odd that we weren’t facing each other. Then he went to get us coffee.
It wasn’t noisy in the coffee shop; all the same, it was difficult to make out individual words any distance away. The woman with the toddler stood and said something, to which Mrs Herriot nodded vigorously and said, “Of course!” Will you watch him for me a moment whilst I join the queue? Whilst I make a call? Whilst I use the loo? She headed for the toilets. The latter, then.
Spence came back with a latte for him and a skinny cappuccino for me. “Look at her, how blank her expression is now,” I said to him, “compared to how it was when she was talking to that woman.”
“How do you want her to look when she’s not interacting with anyone?” he replied. “Should she have a book of poetry open in front of her and a thoughtful, reflective expression on her face?”
“Look at her eyes,” I said. “They’re anywhere but here.”
“So she’s thinking about other things,” he said. “That’s hardly a crime.”
“Any individual behaviour can have a thousand explanations,” I said. “Our job is to join up the dots.”
“No picture forms from a single dot,” he said.
The friend returned. She sat, opened her handbag, took out cream and rubbed some into her hands. Mrs Herriot smiled in the direction of the toddler and said something that made the other roll her eyes and reply with a sentence that contained the word ‘now’ emphasised in it. They both laughed. The friend bent over the buggy to check on something. The smile slid from Mrs Herriot’s face.
“See?” I said.
“And again I say, so what? Maybe she doesn’t like this person. Maybe it’s an old friend she feels obliged to keep up with, a passive aggressive acquaintance who counts the number of texts she gets in a month and then halves it when she tells everyone how little she matters. Maybe – just maybe – Mrs Herriot had to cancel a meeting with her lover to be here.” I looked at him. “Why not? Why are we assuming this to be a simple matter of a good person and a bad person – why shouldn’t it be mixed up a little?”
“This is pointless,” I said. “Why are we here?”
“Why indeed?” he replied. “You wanted to see her. But I get it now. I get why it was different for JP.”
“I was in love then,” I said. “I didn’t see anything clearly.”
“But he fit, didn’t he? Just like this woman of quickly fading smiles fits the general picture you’re looking for. When you saw him for the first time, he was everything you wanted him to be: old and overweight and worn out. How dare such a man assume a character of vitality in the metaverse? How dare he pretend to be not old, not fat, not a person who got out of breath climbing the stairs to his apartment? The very sight of him made you sick. The very sight of him made you furious. This was the flesh behind the pretend man that Inch had chosen over you? If only she knew. If only she knew!”
“Please stop talking about this,” I said.
“Look at that fat woman over there by the window and tell me what you see,” he demanded. “Don’t stop to compose your words. Tell me what her story is and why she’s here by herself. I want to know.”
“How the hell would I know?” I said, the words catching in my throat.”
“Don’t edit!” he barked. A couple of heads turned in our direction. “What about the youth with the hoodie looking in through the door right now? You just know he’s wondering if they keep cash on the premises overnight, don’t you? What about the guy taking orders at the till – is it me or did he have a touch of yellow to his skin? You know, it’s his kind that are turning this glorious country into a state of woman-stoning, halal-slaughtering, tower-block-destroying jihadists and if he was actually opposed to any of that he’d be sticking his head above the fucking parapet instead of hiding away from his kind in here, serving overpriced coffees – which, by the way, is a job that a proper English person could be doing.”
I got up, shaking. I picked up my coat and bag. He rose too, knocking the table and sending his latte to the floor. “And just look at that guy in the corner!” he shouted, pointing. “I do believe I just saw him twirling his fucking moustache!”
“Leave me alone!” I shrieked, backing – stumbling – away. Customers were gasping. Men were standing. The guy at the till came across and put himself between us, his arms stretched out, his palms open. “Calm down, alright, mate?” he said. “Just calm down. Just calm down.”
“Fuck this!” Spence spat. He slammed shut his laptop, picked it up and took a direct line to the main doors. He didn’t look back.
A hand touched gently my shoulder from behind. “Are you ok? Did he hurt you?” Mrs Herriot handed me a tissue and stroked my hair back out of my face. “It’s okay – he’s gone now. Come and sit down,” she said. Then she put her arms around me and held me whilst I sobbed.
“Is he alright?” the till guy said, presently. “Is he likely to come back? Should I call the police?”
“He won’t come back,” I said, hoarsely. “He made his point.”
He was waiting for me when I got back to the car. “So, did you get to speak with her?” he asked.
“I did,” I said, coldly.
“And? Theory supported? Hypothesis rejected?”
“She was lovely. It tells me nothing.”
“Of course it tells you nothing.” His voice went suddenly gentle. “Of course it tells you nothing.”