Challenge: Invent a protagonist and write a character sketch of them including their motivation – what do they want? what are their goals? – followed by a couple of paragraphs setting out the outline of how they are going to get there. No need for ancillary characters or details of a setting at this stage.
Closing date: January 27th
Finding My Mother.
Karen glanced at her reflection in the hall mirror. She straightened her new pink floral dress. The dress fitted her slim frame perfectly. She began to brush her long thick blonde hair and swept it back off her pale face. Her bright, hazel-coloured eyes shone. She wondered if her mother had the same hazel eyes, freckled arms, and size seven shoes.
Five years ago, she had accidentally found her birth certificate, hidden in a bedside table drawer. She had stared at her Mother’s name; it was her secret. She thought about her birth mother every single day. Who was she? Where was she? What did she look like?
Today, she was going to confront her adoptive parents. Why hadn’t they told her, she was adopted? She was determined to find her Mother, Joan White. She counted, she was twenty, so Joan would now be thirty-seven years old. Maybe, she even had brothers or sisters. It was time to begin her search. Tomorrow she would take the first step and register herself on the UK Adoption Contact Register. She had waited long enough. She shuddered with excitement; it was time to buy a train ticket to her hometown Leeds.
‘Love Me Do’ (working title).
The novel begins in the Autumn of 1963. It takes place in a girls’ boarding school in a British seaside town.
The central character is a twenty-six-year-old PE/geography teacher, Jennifer Williams. She comes from a lower, middle-class background. Although intelligent, her parents did not approve of her going to University as they felt she would not meet the ‘right’ young men; universities being a hotbed of free-thinking. Anyway, Jennifer’s interest in sport ensured that a teacher training college was more suitable. Jennifer is looking to find a husband, so that she can have stability, a home, and children. Unfortunately, in her mid-twenties, Jennifer could already be classed as being ‘on the shelf’. These are the days before women’s liberation, but they coincide with the rise of The Beatles and popular culture’s view of ‘love’ or, as the ‘Fab Four’ put it, ‘Love Me Do.’
Jennifer has just joined the staff of St. Barbara’s School for the Daughters of Clergy; this is her second position as a teacher. Previously, she worked for four years at a grammar school in her hometown whilst living with her parents. She left that job under a cloud although Jennifer is reluctant to talk about it; even her parents cannot pin her down to a reason for her resignation. Her new school is ten miles away and, as she has no car, in fact she cannot even yet drive, she now has a temporary room in the school’s main building and shares a bathroom with two other members of staff. The only attractive male at the school is its chaplain; a handsome bachelor who invariably leads services in the school’s chapel and supports the teaching of religious education. All other male teachers are old and married; anyway, there are only two of them. With her bright smile, athletic figure, and strong personality she is not short of admirers but living in a boarding school where weekend and evening duties are compulsory, it is difficult to socialise. This was one of her main reasons for accepting the post originally as she wished to retreat from the outside world. Now that she has been there a few weeks, she is beginning to regret her somewhat rash decision. Being a fit, captivating, and attractive woman, she is also the centre of attention of the girls. Living without male company for weeks at a time, there is a harmless culture of being attracted to older pupils and young female members of staff. However, Jennifer becomes the victim of an unhealthy interest in her.
The novel looks at the undercurrents and passions that run rampant in a boarding school; how love can be damaging as well as uplifting, and how Jennifer copes with the noxious undercurrents of school life. The story is told through the point-of-view of Jennifer, a fellow member of staff, and the diary of a fifteen-year-old girl.
(I would like to point out although this is based in a world of which I am familiar, Jennifer Williams is not me! Helen)
WALK ON THE WILDSIDE
Frankie Volutatis had always been an unorthodox and unconventional character. Whilst most of us are comfortable and happy with a fairly routine role involving family, work and homelife he preferred the risky, uncertain elements of life. He was happiest alone on the top of a mountain or swimming in the sea on Christmas Day. As a young boy he had told his parents of his ambitions and they were happy to support and encourage him.
As soon as he was old enough he would take himself off for long walks and this progressed to him heading into the Peak District and following ten mile routes, including winding river valleys and snow-capped peaks, armed with rucksack full of “goodies”, an Ordinace Survey map and a compass. This progressed to weekly holidays taking in as many Wainwright walks as possible in Scotland and the Lake District. Before too long he and other members of his walking group were planning an expedition to the Himalayas with the twenty six thousand feet of Mount Everest being there ambitious target. Some goal!
Swimming in the sea on Christmas Day is some challenge, especially when you live in Nottingham, but Frankie was very determined and took himself off to the local swimming baths every week and gradually introduced himself to regular cold showers. As a special treat one Christmas he and his family rented a cottage for a few days on the Norfolk coast and the best Christmas Dinner ever was preceded by a full scale attack on those boisterous breaking waves. No half measures, a sprint across the deserted beach and straight in. Some achievement! XmasDinner was superb.
The story is set in the 17th century and is told in the first person. The narrator is Nathaniel, a puritan preacher who has a flock of devoted followers. His wife died in childbirth and he has raised his only daughter Rebecca alone. She is now adolescent, headstrong and used to getting her own way.
Nathaniel feels he is not allowed to worship in the way he wants and persuades his flock they should emigrate to escape persecution and start a new life, in the new world. His goal is to build a new community. His motivation is religious freedom. His character is morally strict and inflexible.
One of the young men, Adam, opposes his plan but Rebecca persuades him to join them. They cross the Atlantic in squalid conditions and many die during the voyage. They reach land much further north than intended and have to survive a harsh winter, which confines them to their houses. Rebecca is bored and Adam offers to help her study the scriptures. They begin to meet regularly.
One of the women accuses Rebecca of fornication. She denies it and Nathaniel forces her to confirm, in front of the whole community, that she is a virgin. Later, he is shocked to discover she is pregnant. He is furious and banishes Adam from the settlement. He wakes next morning to find Adam has already left and Rebecca has gone with him. Nathaniel sends men to search for them but without result.
In the spring, Adam and Rebecca return with their child. They were taken in by Indians, who gave them food and shelter and cared for them until the birth. Rebecca tells him she was a virgin when she made her statement but was so incensed by her father’s behaviour, she then slept with Adam. Nathaniel apologises to them both and welcomes them back into the community.
Lou and the hand of fate
Lou met Mark at a London Uni. They were both studying Law. He was attracted to her willowy blonde looks, crystal blue eyes and her quirky sense of fashion. She just fell headlong for his winsome smile, and in fact all 6 feet of him.
Mark was from Nottingham and Lou from Plymouth but when they applied for jobs after qualifying it was Mark who received the first offer from a firm in his home county, albeit a small town in a former mining area. Lou knew she had to follow him if their relationship was going to succeed but she had already been having misgivings about her career path.
Having succeeded in obtaining a job with a firm a few miles from Mark’s, Lou found that after a year she still felt like a square peg in a round hole. Legal documents now bored her to tears but hunting out bargains in posh boutiques gave her a thrill.
Fate was shortly to take a hand. Mark was a go getter and always on the look out for promotion. He applied for a post with a prestigious firm in Lincoln’s Inn and within a few months the couple were living in London.
Lou hadn’t been able to find anything requiring her qualifications and was half hearted anyway. Mark was on a good salary so when she saw an ad for sales assistants in Fenwick’s she applied and got the job, just a stop gap.
Initially she was a salesgirl on a cosmetics counter but when the floor manager saw how she dealt with customers and increased sales she recommended Lou for promotion to assistant floor manager.
It wasn’t very long before Lou began to look at other departments within the store and when an opportunity arose for the head of a new ladies’ fashion department she was the first to apply.
Lou didn’t get that job but applied to Selfridges for a similar post and was successful. When a buyer’s job eventually became vacant Lou applied for that and soon was travelling the world for the store.
Over the next ten years Lou was head hunted by Harrods, Aspreys and other top notch establishments because of her reputation for shrewd buying and an acute sense of what the customer wanted, or could be persuaded to want.
No longer the disgruntled law graduate but now one of the leading career women in her field.
A Contented life
Kate thought that she led a fulfilled life. Coming from a large family living in an idyllic part of Derbyshire ,she anticipated that her life would carry on according to plan
She remained in contact with all her school friends and met her future husband at university.
They settled in a small country village at the edge of a town where her husband was a solicitor in the family firm.
Kate was very satisfied with the large house they’d bought. She was living not far away from her parents and siblings so considered herself very fortunate to have such a well-ordered life. She was determined to have the house, garden and surroundings under control before she had a baby.
Kate embraced motherhood enthusiastically. The first of her 4 Autumnal babies arrived promptly in September. Kate was an efficient loving mother who definitely was of the opinion that ‘mother knows best’. down it’s like and then it birth of her 4 th child her husband was sent off for a Vasectomy .
This was a family where things went on. Weekends were busy. Friends and relatives were invited all of whom had several children. Kate became an important person in the neighbourhood; a point of contact for local information. New neighbours were welcomed and invited for tea, maybe dinner or maybe not.
She was a cheerful person who loved entertaining. Children’s birthday parties were celebrated with military precision and parents who arrived to collect their offspring were expected to stay for drinks and a chat.
Sometimes Kate wished she had married a farmer; a large farmhouse with plenty of food, people around and useful jobs for the children .However, life was good and everyone was busy and tried to be cheerful
The children grew to Kate’s satisfaction. They did well at school and met appropriate partners . Kate became a family wedding organiser.
One of the boys married a girl from an Indian background. Kate was initially startled but was pleased to have an extra dimension to her family and very happy when all the family were invited to wedding celebrations in India. Many family members went to the exotic and extravagant parties in New Delhi.
Kate and her husband decided to explore the top 5 destinations in Northern India so went on An Indian Experience.
Kate had heard her children talking about wanting to find themselves in India. She wasn’t sure what that meant. She did find wonderful sights, sounds, smells good and bad, and her experiences amazed but perplexed her. Now she realised what people meant by being changed by India.
Kate had always been surrounded by happy healthy children and the poor, thin, grubby children living on the streets and on the stations astounded her.
She returned to her home with some with relief but with a new plan.
Jake Marsden is in his early twenties, stocky with unruly brown hair nearly to his shoulders. He has his own small flat in the northern city (Leeds?) where he grew up, and where his parents, Jean and Bob, still live. Despite his best endeavours his life is still entwined with theirs. When he calls in, he is quick to examine their household rubbish, pulling out the plastic bottles and yoghurt cartons they have neglected to recycle, and unplugging appliances that have been left on standby. It’s become an obsession and a bone of contention with his father. Good job, Bob doesn’t know about the rallies Jake has started attending. He takes Climate Change with more than a pinch of salt. The insurance firm, where Jake has sometimes stretched his flexi -hours for the cause, disapproves too but that won’t stop Jake. And at the last outing to Extinction Rebellion he met a girl, the first one with whom he’s ever felt a connection.
Now they are in this together. Jake is determined to prove his commitment both to the cause and to Janine. He’s never know self assurance like hers. It’s time for him to step up. The London demo will be his chance. The demo organisers are looking out for enthusiasts like him, risk takers. He and Janine will go by train and stay over before meeting the other demonstrators at Hyde park the next morning. What could possibly go wrong?
CADMAN’S BEST SELLER (working title)
The sun was setting over the Armstrong-Dacinson’s Country Estate bringing a most satisfying day to its end. The future for heir apparent, Cadman Armstrong-Dacinson, was looking very rosy indeed!
From the french windows of the snooker room, he looked across the lawns and past the ha-ha into the distance and smiled, and he took a pleasurable puff of his Havana cigar and finished his five star brandy.
‘Yes, today has been most satisfactory!’ he thought to himself, and he could not resist a sly, smug grin.
He had just been celebrating his 53rd birthday with a meal of jugged pheasant, preceded by caviar canapés and succeeded by bread and butter pudding, one of his favourite desserts.
He was tall and portly, large in all directions one might say, and his ruddy features and strawberry nose confirmed just how he liked to live.
He was playing after dinner snooker for money in the snooker room, as he often did when he needed a top up the ‘meagre’ annual allowance he’d been given by his aged mother and father. His snooker was good. He regularly won decent sums off his victims, and tonight was no exception.
Cadman had not always been so well upholstered. In his salad days he had been a tall, dashing, elegant and handsome young man, who was always needing funds for his good life, and he usually secured these by getting his friends to pay the bills, or by scrounging from his male or female conquests, and occasionally from a decent sized win at the gaming tables, or at the racetrack. Easy come easy go was his attitude, often quoting Mr Micawber saying ‘Something is bound to turn up!’ and for him it often did, much to the astonishment of his friends and the relief and delight of his family.
But over time this lifestyle had progressively turned him into the Falsataffian lookalike we see today, corpulent and vain. Like Falstaff, he often spent hours gambling in the company of reprobates whom he thought might have money, but Cadman was no buffoon and he was quite capable of handling himself in any skirmish or fight, and no-one could ever remember him coming out second best!
He schemed well, and was manipulative and evil, yet these traits were masked at will by his charms, as he stalked potential victims. Those who’d suffered at this hands and who had ‘tried to get out of their debt’ soon found out how frighteningly evil he could be, and Cadman knew that they would never tell on him, because after experiencing what he could do to them they were always consumed with mortal dread if he was anywhere near at hand.
Cadman was married. He’d wed his wife, Celia, purely for financial gain and had agreed with her family to sire an heir in order to guarantee the lineage. Persuading Cadman had cost Celia’s parents a tidy sum.
Celia was aware of all this, but she regarded this marriage of convenience as simply doing her duty to her family.
Once their son, Malcolm, had been conceived, she hardly saw Cadman unless he was in trouble, and then she would always bail him out for the ‘honour of the family and its good name’.
Duty done the two parents went on to lead separate lives, Celia settling down on the family estate, and Cadman spending his life roaming the rim of the Mediterranean with his group of ne’er do well friends, who were mostly members of the English and Continental aristocracies.
He would have affairs with anyone, of any gender or social class, who would show the slightest interest in him, often using the trappings of his charlatan lifestyle to initially woo and impress, but always with the long term aim of getting money out of them in some way or another. It didn’t really matter how; threat, blackmail, violence, or any other way which would solicit the funds he needed for his lifestyle, and he had plenty of persuasive methods to ensure that victims’ mouths remained firmly shut.
However, these days he was finding it much harder to attract lovers with his good looks on the wane. He retained his charm but not his physical attraction.
His gambling increased, and he started losing more money.
Years ago, at public school he’d acquired ha nickname ‘Cad’ not so much because of his given name and his initials, but for his general demeanour, attitudes, despotic actions and barbarous behaviours. Despite these traits he always managed to gather an entourage of like minded chums around him and it was always Cad who commanded the group.
Curiously though Cad did have an aspiration which went beyond his ineffectual lifestyle.
He’d always wanted to write a book which would become a global sensation when it was published, and which would earn him masses of money, and which would be read for as long as mankind existed – and beyond that, if such a thing were possible.
And this idea became more and more attractive as his need for gambling funds grew.
‘Well,’ he thought, ‘the best way to achieve such a sensational best seller would probably be to write about my own misdemeanours and how I got away with them, including ‘the big one’!
He paused, more or less in shock. He’d almost forgotten about ‘the big one’!
‘Yes!’, ‘The big one!’ he said stroking his chin and feeling so pleased with himself for remembering it.
‘That’s it!’ he said triumphantly to himself, and poured himself a triple scotch and lit another cigar.
But he had a problem. How could he disguise the fact that it was his crime that he was writing about and avoid any suspicion, no matter how small, that he was involved?
He dwelt on this aspect for a long time before he concluded that all he really needed to do was change some genders, locations and times, and introduce some characters and elements which would get rid of any connection with himself, whilst maintaining the fundamental truth of his story.
‘Yes, I can make this work!’ he said to himself with absolute conviction.
He resolved that tomorrow he would telephone Porky Peters, an old chum from school who had set up Perky and Pinky, the well known publishers of crime novels, and see if they could provide a ghost writer for this ingenious story, which of course, he’d dreamt up in his head, and which he was longing to tell.
THE STORY’S EVOLUTION
Cad gets his ghost writer – but is it a man or a woman? The chosen gender will introduce a possible side story;
e.g. female ghost writer = conquest = letting down his guard = revealing his involvement = putting himself in an invidious position = solution needed (elimination?) = he poisons her with herbal drugs and she loses her mind which appears to be a natural event.
e.g. male ghost writer = homosexual relationship = blackmail from the ghost writer who realises this is a true story = solution needed to get rid of this man.
Whichever option is chosen Cadman will eventually need a second ghost writer, who is forthcoming and this time Cadman is more mindful about what he reveals, and how and when, and the story is told in the manner that he wanted, and the book is published and becomes the global sensation he’d always hoped for – it even wins a literary award.
At the award ceremony a figure moves across the room towards Cadman’s table and as he passes Cadman’s chair he stops.
‘Hello Cad,’ says the figure, ‘see you left me out of the book then?’
Cadman goes cold. He recognises this voice. It is the voice of a key player in Cadman’s ‘real’ big one story. Cadman suddenly realises that he’d forgotten about this chap as he was messing around introducing and eliminating some characters, genders, locations and times, but this is someone who ought to have been included in his book. It is Cadman’s worst nightmare, the voice of a person who can expose his involvement in the ‘big one’ crime.
THINGS TO RESOLVE
- what is the ‘big one’ crime?
- how does this voice fit in with the story?
- why should ‘the voice’ be included in Cadman’s book?
- can Cecilia play a bigger part in the story – a surprise role perhaps?