The Point of it All – by Frances Usher
You see, the point of it all is ... is...
What? What’s the point?
Hang on, Adam, I’ve lost the thread. I’ve left you staring at yourself in the bathroom mirror, pondering what the point of it all is, when actually you need to be shaved, dressed and on that platform in three pages. Three pages max. It’s essential for the chapter climax. I’m really looking forward to that: Adam’s first meeting with Stefania.
My fingers hover over the keyboard.
OK, I don’t know exactly what Adam’s pondering. So? Cut it. He can ponder later if necessary. He just has to get to the station to watch Stefania coming off that train. That’s vital. Big scene. He’ll recognise her – tall, blonde, lilac trouser suit, black briefcase, I can see her clearly. He’ll follow her to the bookstall, watch her flick through a copy of ... of... yes, Wolf Hall ... put it back and leave. Adam’ll quickly buy that copy, take it away to a quiet bench, extract the folded money she put there, read the note that’s with it, and then the plot will roll on in all its splendour. Bingo.
Yes, but ...
Shouldn’t Stefania murmur something to Adam as she leaves?
Yes, but ... murmur what?
Oh, leave it. I’ll know when I get there. I’ll hear her voice: eastern European, bit throaty. I always hear voices. I told the class last week, I said, to write good dialogue you must hear voices. I’m not sure they understood. They’re young, most of them. A lot to learn.
I sigh and push my hair back. This morning’s not going well. To give myself a lift, I glance round my study. It’s immaculate; neat bookshelves, files clearly labelled: Publishers’ Letters, Agents’ Letters, Classes and so on, files of typescripts for all the books I’ve done, plus a starter file for Adam and Stefania. No title yet.
I can’t think about that now. The sun’s shining. I need fresh air.
It isn’t just fresh, it’s buffeting along the seafront, but it’s my favourite place. If I’m lucky, new ideas will bubble up. Adam and Stefania were conceived along here, just by the pier, actually, and I knew immediately: spy thriller/romance, kind of updated Bond for the Me Too generation. Would definitely make a series. Then movies? Oh, yes.
It’s too windy for the beach. Visitors mooch about, searching for things to spend their money on. There’s a little crowd round that stall over there. It’s selling everything: CDs, old tools, knitted baby clothes. I glance over the books stacked in boxes.
An arm comes past me and takes one.
‘Look, here’s a Dinah Beattie.’
‘Dinah Beattie? She’s fantastic. I love her stuff. Lend it me when you’ve finished?’
‘As long as I get it back.’
Scottish voices. Visitors.
‘How much for this?’
‘Oh... one fifty?’
‘Fine. Don’t bother with the change. Thanks.’
I catch up with the two young women by the ice creams.
They turn. ‘Yes?’
‘That book I saw you buy. I wondered if you’d like it signed.’
They stare at me.
‘Only if you’d like me to, of course.’
Their eyes widen. ’But... But, you’re not... not... Are you? ’
I smile at them, dig out my pen, take the book and turn to the title page. I write, ‘To’ and raise an eyebrow to the owner.
‘Shall I put your name?’
‘Oh, yes ... thank you.’ She’s still staring at me. ‘Zoë, please.’
‘To Zoë,’ I write and add, as I always do, ‘Live, love, laugh.’
‘Just a mantra of mine,’ I explain. I scrawl the signature: Dinah Beattie, with a flourishing capital D and B, and hand the book back.
Oh, thank you ... um ... Dinah ... thanks so much ...’ Zoë looks down at the signature and back at me. ‘I can hardly believe it.’
‘I know,’ her friend says. ‘A real live author.’
I laugh. ‘We’re like anyone else, you know. Work all day, a breath of air, back to the grindstone. That’s what keeps the books coming.’
‘Where do you get your ideas from?’
Everyone always asks that.
‘Anywhere, everywhere.’ I spread my hands. ‘For instance, meeting you two today could ...’
‘You never know.’ I pat Zoë’s arm. ’Lovely to meet you. Now...’
‘Just a minute, Dinah.’ She holds up her phone. ‘.A selfie?’
Their smiling faces lean towards me. I back away.
‘But we wouldn’t...’
‘It’s my publishers.’ I smile regretfully. ‘Some copyright thing. Now I must be off.’
We part in a tangle of apologies and good wishes. I hear them chattering into the distance as I turn towards the shops. I need some more printer ink and a pack of paper. Oh, and some apples and pears if I can carry them. Maybe just the paper and ink. I know my limits.
It’s becoming a remarkable day. On the way home I pop into a couple of charity shops just to look round, and guess what? Only another Dinah Beattie being bought! Yes, two in a day. This purchaser’s really thrilled when I sign for her. She says she’ll read it tomorrow on her train home, and then give it to her mother on her eightieth birthday. Wonderful.
But that’s not all. Outside the last shop of all, I meet a German couple who’ve just bought a shabby copy of Blue Phantom Skier. Oh, must be thirty years old.
‘Signing? That is very kind,’ the man says in his careful English. ‘But excuse me. This author, N.S. Berger, I thought was a man, no? But now I see ...’
‘You see me,’ I laugh. ‘When I did this one, there was so much sexism ...’
The woman nods. ‘Ya, ya.’
‘I preferred to hide behind initials.’
‘Perhaps like J.K. Rowling? Our children, they loved all ...’.
‘Now, shall I sign?’
N.S. Berger, I write carefully, add my mantra and Alles Gute to round it off. I could see they were impressed. Little touches make a big difference. I wave them off amid lots of international goodwill.
Despite the heavy shopping, walking home I find myself glowing. It’s that real writerly feeling. We’re down in the dumps then, unexpectedly, something happens and up again, ready for anything. Lunch first, I think, then back to the keyboard and Adam, Stefania and what she’s going to murmur....
Someone’s waving to me across the street. I push my glasses up and peer. He’s coming across.
Ray. In that awful old brown anorak.
‘Hi, Pam. Too busy to see an old mate, were you?’
‘As a matter of fact, Ray,’ I say, ‘I was working something out.’
‘Aha, next piece of dialogue, was it? Hearing voices.’
‘Voices. Like you said in the class last week.’ He nudges me and I nearly drop the shopping.
‘To write good dialogue...’ He’s put on a silly, high-pitched voice ‘...you must hear voices.’
’I was sharing my experience with the rest of you,’ I say stiffly. ‘Like Antonia tells us at the beginning every year, at her classes we pool our knowledge and...’
Ray shrugs. ‘Even Antonia had to smile when you started.’
I turn away.
He looks at me, pats my arm.
‘One day it’ll happen, Pam. Contract through the door and ...’ he snaps his fingers. ‘Dee-dah,
you’re a published author at last, like we’re all trying to ...’
But I’m too far away to hear now, plodding home up the hill.
Don’t look at me like that.
I’m sitting in the kitchen. I can’t quite focus on Adam and Stefania. I will in a minute.
Look. I’m a writer. A proper writer. Every day I’m at that laptop, producing my fifteen hundred words. I do everything Antonia says. I double-space, I check spelling, punctuation (look at my apostrophes.) When I finally send it off, it’s perfect. Perfect.
But it always comes back. Once it was thick parcels through the post, my whole, bulky, beautiful typescripts. Those files are full of them. I never bin anything, because their day will come. It will.
I keep everything from publishers, agents ‘We regret...’ or ‘...Our lists are full...’ or ‘We no longer... blah, blah.’ Now it’s an email, a text. Rather bleak.
The ideas never dry up, never will. Whenever I start, there’s this buzz of excitement, certainty. This is the one. Yes, at last. Like Adam and Stefania.
Until I can show that contract to Antonia and ghastly Ray, I’ll keep writing.
OK, occasionally I think: what’s the point of it all?
So then ...
I – occasionally – go out and sign.
A few. Never for anyone local. Too risky. Nor if there’s an author photo on the jacket.
It makes people happy.
Then I’m an author. As that girl said, a real ..live...author.
So, back to the chalk face. Stefania’s murmuring. Right, I’m coming.