On my blog I like to bring you interviews and guest posts with authors I think you will like. Today I am delighted to welcome RACHAEL FEATHERSTONE to the Coffee & Roses Author Spotlight with a brilliant guest post to celebrate her very first novel, Puzzle Girl, which publishes today! Over to you, Rachael…
I never knew if this day would actually come. If my dream that had once felt so far away would become a reality. It’s been a long road to get here and I’ve had some amazing support along the way from my agent, publisher and family and friends. So many people ask me, ‘what does it feel like to have your first novel published?’ I answer, ‘Amazing!’ ‘Incredible!’ ‘A dream come true!’ It can be hard to put into words how much goes into publishing your debut. But the closer I came to publication, the more I began to realise that publishing Puzzle Girl has felt a lot like getting married.
It all started with the proposal: Accent popped the question and I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’
We set the date for the big day – 16th March 2017 – and it felt soooo far away. 15 months to wait! But it was probably a good thing because there were so many things to organise.
What was I most excited about? The wedding dress – aka the cover of the book. I was lucky that Accent’s designer took on board my ideas and I love the finished cover!
So many of us dream about having the perfect wedding, we want everything to be just right. And it was no different with publishing Puzzle Girl. We edited with a fine-toothed comb and planned out everything from the perfect wedding invite (aka the blurb of the book) to the perfect honeymoon (my two-week blog tour).
As for the hen night? Well that was my book launch. We celebrated on 2nd March, the event hosted by my best man – my literary agent, David Headley – at Goldsboro Books. It was such a fun evening and I got to sign copies of the limited edition hardback, which is exclusive to Goldsboro.
And of course, there had to be wedding cake!
And today the big day is finally here. My husband and I (my actual husband, not the book!) are having a celebratory lunch. Then this evening we invite all of you to join in for the publication day reception party on Twitter! There will be several Puzzle Girl party bags to be won as well as an hour and a half of Twitter chatter. I hope you can join us! x
Thanks so much to Rachael for a fantastic guest post – and happy P-Day!
Rachael lives in Hampshire with her husband Tim. Puzzle Girl is out today, published by Accent Press. You can follow Rachael on Twitter, on Facebook and visit her website.
Clued-up career girl Cassy Brookes has life under control until one disastrous morning changes everything. When she finds herself stuck in a doctor’s surgery, a cryptic message left in a crossword magazine sends her on a search to find the mysterious ‘puzzle-man’ behind it. Cassy is soon torn between tracking down her elusive dream guy, and outwitting her nightmare workmate, the devious Martin. Facing a puzzling love life, will she ever be able to fit the pieces together and discover the truth behind this enigmatic man?
Well, it’s been a very strange year, with lots of ups and downs, but one silver lining(pardon the pun) has been the fantastic response from you about the return of my vlogs. For this week’s vlog, I asked for your festive questions – and you gave me some great ones!
Which location makes me think of Christmas? Am I going to write any more novels set in New York? How many notebooks do people buy me for Christmas? These questions and more feature in a very festive vlog with special guests, a #LegoElvis exclusive newsflash (so exciting!) and even a bit of singing from me! Plus, I offer my advice for creating great vlogs for anyone interested in becoming a vlogger.
(I mention Hayley’s vlog – check out her YouTube channel here…)
(Read my Elvis-impersonators-fighting-alien-killer-zombies comedy novel, Elvis vs The End of the Worldhere…)
So get ready for a bit of MirandaWrites festive fun – and thanks so much for watching! xx
Welcome to the fifth – and final – part of my #WurdyChristmas treat short story. Yesterday I asked you to make a tough decision for Lucy – so did she choose to stay in the beautiful winter world, or return home to change her own life?
Thank you for getting so involved in this story – it’s been so much fun to write! Read on to find out what happens when Lucy makes the biggest decision of her life…
You can stay here. Permanently. And you’d never want for anything, never feel lonely again. Or you can go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be. It’s your choice…
What kind of a choice was that?
Lucy looked at her grandmother – her beloved Gran who, even this evening before everything happened, she would have given anything to see again. Here Gran was, as vibrant and vivacious as she had ever been in life, dancing with Bing flippin’ Crosby for heaven’s sake – and Lucy wanted more than anything to stay by her side. Who decided Gran would be the one asking her to make an impossible choice? It seemed unnecessarily cruel. But, if it meant Lucy could see her grandmother whenever she wanted, was it worth the risk?
Who would miss me if I stayed here? Her parents, for sure. Maybe her workmates at Tony & Frank’s. Certainly not Aaron Morgan. Had he ever really cared about her, or only about what he got out of their relationship? She could be safe here in this startling winter world. She could be happy…
So, she should stay.
‘Gonna have to hurry you, kid,’ Bing said.
Lucy’s choice was easy, wasn’t it? She was surrounded by beauty – the dazzling snow sparkling like diamond dust on everything in sight; by joy – the look in Gran’s eyes when she danced with her hero; and by possibility – the village in the distance that invited her to explore and the handsome stranger in whose arms she had found such freedom. Beauty, joy, possibility – what more could anyone wish for?
Choose carefully, the note back on Sophie’s desk had said, your choice will change your life…
Tony had been right – Lucy wanted her life to change. What better than a fresh start in a beautiful place? Because what was the alternative? Return home as a dumped girlfriend, face the inevitable questions about what happened and maybe even get in trouble for spending the night in the restaurant. Not much of a choice.
‘Lucybobs, what does your heart tell you?’ Gran asked.
How can you ask me that? Lucy felt tears prickle her eyes. Her heart longed to stay where people she loved were. Given the chance to remain in contact with Gran why would she ever choose to walk away?
‘I don’t know,’ Lucy said. ‘What would you do?’
Her grandmother held up her hands. ‘I made my choices in life, dear. This has to be one of yours.’
Bing nodded. ‘It’s your gig, kid. If anyone else made this decision for you, you’d regret it.’
He was right, of course. This whole experience had begun with someone else’s decision. It had to end with Lucy’s own.
And that’s when it hit her.
This is my choice. It’s all been about my choices.
Without realising it, Lucy had been slowly taking back control of her own life tonight. The choices she had made hadn’t seemed like they belonged to her – investigating a song she remembered from childhood, picking a gift, choosing a door to walk through – but with each one she had felt stronger, become braver.
They were all looking at her now, Gran, Bing and the beautiful stranger – all willing strength and courage into her with their smiles.
‘I think –’ she began…
A huge pile of snow glanced across her right shoulder, almost knocking her over.
‘He shoots! He scores!’
Lucy regained her balance and turned to see two familiar faces engaged in a snowball fight. Both were still dressed in evening suits but each had added a candy cane-striped scarf and camel-coloured overcoat to their attire.
‘Boys, boys! The lady was just making her decision,’ Bing frowned.
Tony and Frank’s gaze instantly dropped to their snow-covered feet like naughty children being reprimanded for too-rough playground games. ‘Sorry.’
‘I should think so, too. My granddaughter deserves more respect. So, Lucybobs, are you staying here?’
The snow had begun to fall again and Lucy felt the soft kiss of pristine white flakes against her skin. This world – wherever it was – was breathtaking. The prospect of staying here forever threatened to steal Lucy’s heart…
Apart from one, tiny detail.
It wasn’t real.
‘No,’ Lucy replied – noticing the sky dim a little, ‘I don’t think I can.’ The sun hid behind a vast bank of white cloud that had appeared from nowhere. ‘I love you, Gran – and it’s an honour to meet you, Mr Crosby. But this isn’t the change I want to make.’
One by one the tiny white lights on the bandstand began to extinguish. A long shadow passed from the top of the rolling, snow-covered hills to the valley far below, lights in the small village that huddled there disappearing, too. Seth gave a low bow and was lost in the encroaching dusk. Bing saluted Lucy, kissed Gran’s hand and, with a slow turn, vanished.
Lucy felt her heart swell when Gran stepped forward and took both her hands. It was bittersweet: this could only be another, more final, parting.
‘My darling girl,’ Gran said, her falling tears sparkling as if they contained glitter. ‘You did it.’
‘I love you. Don’t leave me yet!’
But Gran was shimmering now, her body becoming stardust. Lucy felt the pressure of her grandmother’s hands on hers becoming less and less – and she let out a sob as Edith Smith finally melted into the darkening snowscape.
‘I – I didn’t say enough,’ she cried, her hands still outstretched as if she could catch the last few stars where Gran had stood. ‘There was so much more I wanted to tell her.’
Tony’s almost-transparent hand rested lightly on Lucy’s shoulder. ‘You did good, Lucy Smith. We should get you home, if that’s where you want to go?’
It hurt, but it was the only choice.
Go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be.
Gran had known the best decision all along.
‘Aww, boss, just one more snowball,’ Frank pleaded, as the last of the light faded from the incredible winter world. His voice seemed to be coming from a long way away now. As Tony’s laugh rang out with a metallic, hollow echo, Lucy braced herself…
Lucy’s cheek was cold and her head hurt. An indistinct sound was playing somewhere nearby, repeating over and over. Not a song this time, but something Lucy couldn’t yet place. Slowly, she lifted her head and found herself at the red vinyl table in the first booth where she’d fled as soon as she had reopened the darkened restaurant.
Except Tony & Frank’s was dark no longer.
From every table, booth wall, serving hatch, window and stool that lined the bar, tiny sparkling white lights shone. It was almost as if the interior of Tony & Frank’s had become the bandstand in the winter world Lucy had just left. The restaurant was ablaze with light. At the far end where the serving hatch revealed the now illuminated kitchen, the Founders’ busts sparkled with scarves of looped silver tinsel Lucy couldn’t remember them wearing during her evening shift. Tony appeared to be grinning, while Frank grumpily surveyed the empty restaurant.
Had she dreamt it all?
The nondescript sound came again, this time more insistent. Bewildered, Lucy rose and moved towards the front door, her shoes leaving damp footprints across the black-and-white chequerboard floor. She couldn’t think how her feet could have become so wet. Unless…
This time when the sound repeated, Lucy immediately recognised it. The knocking continued until she found the front door key on the giant bunch of keys in her pocket.
‘Okay, okay, I’m coming.’
‘Police,’ said a gruff voice from the other side of the door.
Great. Turning the key in the lock and pulling open the heavy oak-and-glass door, Lucy dug out her brightest smile. ‘Hello, officer.’
The middle-aged police officer at the entrance didn’t smile back. Instead, he peered around Lucy to look into the restaurant. ‘Are you alone, madam?’
‘I am. I’m supposed to be finding a taxi to take me home.’
The police officer’s brown furrowed into a frown. ‘Can I ask why you were here, alone on Christmas Eve –’ He checked his watch. ‘– Ah, my mistake. Christmas Day…’
Soon it will be Christmas Day…
Not soon. Now! Lucy looked at her watch – and saw the hands had moved to read three o’clock. She had come back to change her life, just as she’d told Gran she would.
‘Well?’ The police officer’s radio crackled into life and he turned away to angrily bark a reply into it.
How Lucy was going to change her life was still an unknown. Like the song that first sounded in the kitchen, like the destination behind the impossible doors. But she had already made choices that had changed her experience tonight – and she was determined to change the rest of her life for good.
The squeak of the front door summoned her attention. Leaving the police officer to argue with the disembodied voice of his colleague back at the station, Lucy made her way to the entrance – just as another policeman entered.
Hair the colour of a clear midnight sky. Winter blue eyes that sparkled in the light of the fairy lights in the restaurant…
‘Hi,’ he said, looking over at his colleague, then around the lavishly lit restaurant. ‘Are you the only person present?’
Lucy managed a nod, instantly feeling dumb.
‘We were patrolling the retail park and we saw the lights come on.’
‘I’m sorry, that was me.’
‘And how did you get in?’ He had taken a notebook from his pocket and was now awaiting her story. He lifted his pen to the pad and Lucy remembered how strong the stranger’s arms had been as they had held her. What would it be like to be cradled in them in real life…?
What am I thinking? This isn’t the same man…
‘I let myself in,’ she rushed, hoping her answer would mask the growing flush creeping up her neck. ‘I’m assistant manager at Tony & Frank’s.’
The PC looked at his watch. ‘So it is. Merry Christmas.’
Lucy was about to reply when the older police officer returned. ‘Have you taken her statement?’
‘I’m doing it now, Sarge.’ The young PC turned back to Lucy. ‘So, you let yourself in – because…?’
Lucy sighed. ‘Because my boyfriend dumped me this evening after work and I didn’t bring my car, so I let myself back in with my keys.’
‘For what purpose?’
‘To call a taxi… Probably to wait it out until daylight. Then I’ll walk home.’
‘Have you seen the weather outside? You won’t be walking very far.’
Lucy peered through the window and gasped. Every inch of the car park where Aaron had trashed her heart was now covered in glittering, shimmering snow. ‘Oh – wow…’
‘Not to worry, Miss…?’
‘Smith. Lucy Smith.’
The midnight blue eyes seemed to sparkle. ‘We can give you a lift home, Miss Smith – can’t we, Sarge?’
The older police officer looked less than impressed. ‘Well…’
‘Aw, come on. It’s Christmas. And we can hardly leave Miss Smith here.’
‘I suppose so…’
Lucy, weary from the rollercoaster she had been on, smiled at the thought of reaching her own bed before daybreak. ‘That would be wonderful, thank you.’
‘Right. I’ll radio in. Miss Smith, could you turn off all these lights and secure the premises?’
Lucy was aware of the young PC’s eyes on her as she closed down Tony & Frank’s for the Christmas break. When the last set of lights had been turned off, she offered him a shy smile. ‘All done.’
‘Great. Our car’s out here.’ Together, they began walking across the newly fallen snow to the police car parked in splendid isolation on the deserted car park.
‘I’ll be glad to get home,’ Lucy admitted.
‘I’ll bet. So, your fella dumped you?’
‘On Christmas Eve? That’s harsh.’
‘It is. It was. But – I think I’m better off without him.’ As Lucy said it, she understood. The first way she could change her life was to make sure she didn’t let anyone else treat her as second best. She wouldn’t waste any more tears over Aaron Morgan. Tonight had taught her that she deserved more. She had left so much behind in order to return here – she had to make her decisions count.
‘Guy sounds like an idiot to me,’ the police officer said.
‘Maybe he was.’
‘Trust me, I see a lot of idiots in my job.’ He gave a self-conscious smile and offered Lucy his hand. ‘PC Seth Bell. At your service.’
When Lucy took his hand it felt warm and familiar…
* * * *
In the darkened restaurant, silence returned. Above the open serving hatch to the kitchen, two plaster busts kept watch over Tony & Frank’s. A length of silver tinsel shuddered to the black-and-white chequerboard-tiled floor, where it sparkled in a pool of pale blue emergency light.
And in the middle of the table in the first booth, a small silver box dotted with diamond-hearted stars began to glow…
Welcome to the fourth part of my exclusive #WurdyChristmas treat short story. Yesterday, I asked you to choose which door Lucy should walk through – gold-trimmed or green-trimmed. The lead swung between the two for a while, but you made a good choice!
Do the doors lead anywhere? Are Tony & Frank real or figments of Lucy’s imagination? And does she trust them enough to put her life in their slightly transparent hands? Find out below – and don’t forget to vote in the poll at the bottom to decide what I’ll write for the last part of the story tomorrow! Happy reading, lovelies!
Lucy stared at the two red doors that had materialised on the back wall of her manager’s office.
‘Time’s marching on, kid,’ Tony said, appearing by her side. ‘What’s it gonna be?’
Lucy glanced at the clock above the jumble of shelves, boxes and not-so-mythical Founders. It still read one minute to midnight. If time was marching on, it was doing it at a glacial pace.
Tony sighed. ‘Don’t think. Act. Follow your heart.’
Lucy turned from the doors to stare at him. ‘Why? Why is it so important that I choose?’
‘Because you want something to change.’
‘So tell me what’s behind each door so I can see if it’s the change I’m looking for.’
‘Nuh-uh. Can’t do. This has to be your decision. Ask your heart…’
‘Logic works better for me.’
Tony’s surprise registered immediately. ‘It does? That’s not the Lucy Smith I know.’
This was way past a joke now. ‘You don’t know me! I’m stuck in my workplace because my stupid boyfriend – ex-boyfriend – dumped me instead of proposing. I have no transport. I haven’t a hope of a taxi because it’s Christmas Eve. I’m hearing that song over and over again, I’m being asked to make decisions when I don’t even trust my own mind any more because I’m talking to someone who doesn’t exist and… and…’
‘…And you want something to change?’
‘So pick a door.’
It was impossible. Everything that had happened since she’d returned to Tony & Frank’s was impossible. And now she couldn’t even win an argument with a figment of her imagination.
But he was right, wasn’t he? Ever since Aaron had driven away instead of asking her to marry him, the only thing Lucy Smith had wanted was for things to be different. She might be staring at two doors that couldn’t possibly be there, invited to do so by a suave Italian-American restaurant owner who absolutely couldn’t be there either, but she did have a choice.
Gold. Or green.
‘How do I choose?’ She whispered, tears stealing her voice.
‘Just go through the one that feels right, kid. There’s no wrong answer.’
‘There aren’t any –’ Lucy could hardly believe she was about to ask this, ‘– monsters through there, are there?’
‘Not unless you want them to be. So go already.’
Lucy Smith closed her eyes and wished with all her heart. Then she walked towards the back wall of the office and pushed open the red door with the gold metal trim…
* * * *
Intense, blinding white light immediately burst into her vision and Lucy had to shield her eyes against it. She was also aware of an intensely cold air – as if she had stepped into a refrigerator. A flurry of soft, cold pinpricks batted against her face. It felt like – no, that was impossible. There was no way she could believe it was snowing inside Tony & Frank’s… Pulling her coat tightly around her body she blinked until faint outlines began to appear through the all-white light. What met her eyes stole her breath faster than the freezing atmosphere.
A vast, gently undulating snowscape stretched out before her. Rolling hills dotted with wind-bent trees and hardy dry-stone walls were visible from the left, while to the right snow-covered cliffs fell dramatically to a midnight blue, half-frozen sea. Between hills and ocean a tiny village huddled, its lights studding the view like a host of sparkling stars. And not very far from the natural snowdrift that now half-claimed her shoes stood a bandstand.
It was beautiful – like a perfect scene from a Christmas card – and Lucy turned back to look at Tony and Frank. But the Founders were nowhere to be seen, along with the red and gold door that had brought her here.
And just like that, Lucy Smith was alone.
She tried to rationalise it but could find no explanation that worked. This couldn’t be the car park on the out-of-town retail park where Tony & Frank’s stood alongside a cinema and other chain restaurants. There it was midnight, or thereabouts; here the midday sun reflected by the snow was dazzling. So where was she? And how on earth could she get back?
Silver Bells, Silver Bells…
That song again! But this time it sounded incredibly close and was playing at the right speed. As Lucy looked a couple appeared on the wooden platform of the bandstand, dancing together to the music. They looked happy and in love. Lucy was instantly drawn to them. She began to walk towards the bandstand, her shoes crunching and squeaking in the freshly fallen snow. Tiny lights began to appear along the white-painted cast iron sides of the bandstand, one at a time, like stars bursting into life in a marshmallow-white sky, until the whole structure was ablaze with twinkling light.
The song swelled and changed as Lucy neared the bandstand’s steps. It was no longer the familiar recording she had fallen in love with. It was now a tender, intimate duet between two people in love – the couple on the bandstand who hadn’t even noticed they were being watched. The man twirled his partner, momentarily breaking hold to perform a solo spin – and Lucy gasped as she recognised him.
The man stopped dancing and gave Lucy a little half-salute. ‘Hey there. Pleased to meet you, Miss–’
‘Lucy,’ said his partner. ‘Miss Lucy May Smith.’
Lucy knew that voice. It was unmistakable – a much-missed sound she still longed to hear three years since it disappeared from her life… ‘Gran?’
Gran gave a grin that was uniquely hers. ‘Hello poppet.’
‘What are doing here? You’re –’
Gran held up a hand. ‘Ooh, shh-shh, we don’t like to use the D-word around here. People get proper uppity. I had to be here, Lucybobs. I had to see you.’
‘But – what are you doing with Bing Crosby?’
Gran’s cheeks reddened like they always used to when she’d been found out. ‘Well, I assumed it was the foxtrot but it could have been the quickstep…’
‘He’s a friend,’ she beamed, mouthing, From the other side. ‘Lovely, isn’t he? We clicked right away. I think he might like me for more than my fancy footwork.’
For the last three years Lucy had dreamed of one more chance to see her grandmother. It made no sense whatsoever. So why try? ‘Oh Gran, I’ve missed you so much. I didn’t get chance to say goodbye before you…’ Lucy stopped as a horrible thought occurred. ‘Wait a minute – am I dead?’
‘Of course not, dear. But I am glad you chose our door.’
‘Me, too. So, where are we?’
‘I haven’t the foggiest, dearie. But it’s rather lovely, eh?’
‘Then why am I here?’
‘Didn’t Tony and Frank tell you?’ She rolled her eyes. ‘They really are forgetful, those two. You’re here because you want something to change. And I want that for you, too. So much.’
‘Hey, Edith, this your grandkid?’ Bing was leaning against one of the bandstand’s barriers, puffing on a tobacco-stuffed pipe.
‘It is, Bing. Isn’t she pretty?’
‘Beautiful,’ Bing replied, flashing a huge smile at Lucy. ‘So, you ready?’
Another choice? Lucy’s head hurt. How was any of this helping her, other than granting one secret wish to see her Gran again? ‘I don’t know.’
‘Edith, the kid needs some help,’ Bing said.
When Lucy looked up at him she saw a younger man standing beside the famous crooner. He had hair the colour of a clear midnight sky and winter-blue eyes that twinkled in the light from the bandstand. He smiled at her and the silver and diamond-star box she still held glowed again.
‘Lucy, this is Seth. Dance with him.’ Gran’s cheeks bloomed like roses. ‘He’s rather lovely. And he dances like a dream.’
Seth smiled – and Lucy felt the world spin a little. ‘Would you like to dance with me?’
‘Is this the choice?’ Lucy asked, thinking that it might just be the easiest one she’d faced lately. Could she dance? She’d never tried before. But even if it was her first and only attempt, dancing with the handsome stranger seemed the most perfect idea.
Seth shook his head. ‘No. But dancing helps to focus your mind.’ He held out his hand and it was warm and familiar when Lucy took it.
Soon it will be Christmas Day…
For the first time in her life, Lucy felt free. In Seth’s arms she moved effortlessly around the magically lit bandstand, the fairy lights blurring into twirling, swirling arcs of spun gold. She felt no fear, no pain from her newly broken heart. Just joy.
I could stay here forever, she thought, just as the music came to an abrupt halt. Seth gave a small bow and stepped away.
‘Time to choose, Lucybobs,’ Gran smiled, a wash of wistfulness passing across her face.
‘What’s my choice?’
‘You can stay here. Permanently. And you’d never want for anything, never feel lonely again.’ Gran looked up at the softly falling snowflakes. ‘Or you can go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be. It’s your choice.’
‘Would I see you? If I stay here?’
‘Maybe. Sometimes. Possibly more.’
‘And if I go home?’
Gran smiled, her eyes glistening. ‘I will always be with you.’
‘You have a beautiful heart,’ Seth said, stepping forward. Lucy felt her heart lurch. ‘I think wherever you are you’ll find happiness.’
‘Time to choose, kiddo,’ said Bing. ‘What’ll it be?’
Lucy took a breath of icy winter air and closed her eyes. It was time to ask herself the question she’d been too scared to consider.
Lucy’s fingers hovered over the silver box and the velvet bag.
Which one should she choose?
The purple-inked note addressed to her said whatever she chose would change her life.
Change my life?How?
Both gifts were beautiful, both would be wonderful to own, but who had left them here? And who knew she would be alone in her manager’s office tonight? Was someone watching her? Was she really alone here?
What if I make the wrong decision?
Her mum always said decisions should come from the heart. ‘You deliberate and agonise, but I think you always know the right choice, deep down. Your heart decides long before your head.’
Lucy didn’t trust her heart tonight. Not after being so wrong about Aaron. Her heart had assured her Aaron was The One – a phrase she’d laughed at when others had used it, before he arrived in her life. How could she have been so blinkered about him? Her heart had soothed her fears that he was too good to be true, that she was falling dangerously hard for someone who wouldn’t even hold her hand in public…
A fresh wave of injustice hit her as she sat in Sophie’s chair in the cramped office. The signs had been there all along, hadn’t they? His insistence that displays of affection were confined to when they were alone. His unwillingness to introduce her to his parents, or hang out with his friends. As she began to unpick the relationship she’d believed to be perfect, it all became suddenly, horribly clear.
I made excuses for him all the time. I never asked why.
How had she become such a doormat? She was a bright, intelligent woman with ambition and dreams and an intrinsic belief in better times and silver linings. Wasn’t she? Given the almighty mess she now found herself in, maybe the biggest injustice had been that she had allowed someone else to dictate her happiness.
Silver Bells, Silver Bells…
She was suddenly aware of the song again, although she was pretty certain it had been playing all the time since she entered Sophie’s office. It was the same song, Bing Crosby’s familiar croon and Carol Richard’s bright replies. But this time, it was different.
It was almost as if someone were whispering the words close to her ear…
She stood, grabbing the engraved silver box with its tiny diamond-hearted stars – reassured by its considerable weight in her hand – ready to defend herself. Was there an intruder? Had someone followed her inside? She couldn’t remember whether she had locked the front door behind her when she’d come back to Tony & Frank’s. What if someone had been watching her and saw an opportunity?
‘Who’s there?’ she called, every nerve in her body on high alert.
Is that what you did in a situation like this? She didn’t know – but in every thriller she’d ever watched it was the first thing people said. Too late, she remembered that most characters in films who did this usually lived (or didn’t live) to regret it…
The whisper came again, this time by her right ear. She spun around, holding the box aloft, ready to throw it or strike out in the darkness. Could she get away if she hit her invisible assailant? Would there be time to escape?
And then, the silver box in her hand began to glow…
For a moment, Lucy forgot her fear. The sight transfixed her. All over the box, the tiny diamond stars dazzled as if dancing in sunbeams. The silver itself emitted an ice-blue glow that bathed Lucy’s hand in light. And the strangest part was that where the glow rested felt warm against her skin…
‘Good choice, kid,’ said a voice.
‘See, I knew she’d go for that one,’ said another. ‘I mean, the bag’s a beaut but check the sparklers on that box!’
Shaking, Lucy looked up – and saw two men leaning against the steel shelving unit where Sophie kept boxes of menus, kids’ activity packs and the staff manuals. Except that when she dared look closer, the shorter of the two appeared to be sitting on the middle shelf.
Hang on – how was that even possible?
‘Who are you? How did you get in here?’
The taller man smiled. He was dressed in an evening suit, black tie hanging loose from the open collar of his dress shirt. In better light, he might have had more than a passing resemblance to Dean Martin in his Rat Pack years. ‘Kid, relax. We didn’t get in here. We are this place.’
‘Look at her, boss. The poor thing’s scared to death.’ The shorter man waved from his impossible perch. He too was dressed in evening attire, but the open black jacket and blue silk cummerbund across his ample waist looked as if they had seen better days. His balding brow wrinkled into a frown as he sent Lucy a tentative wave. ‘Hey, lady. Don’t worry. We ain’t stealin’.’
Lucy increased her grip on the silver box, even though its warmth was comforting, inviting her to forget everything and cradle it. ‘Get out! Both of you. Or I’ll…’
The tall man shrugged. ‘Or you’ll what? Throw that gift at us that we picked out for you?’
‘I think she might. She looks mad, Frankie.’
Lucy blinked. ‘Frankie?’
‘Sure. You mean to tell me you don’t know who we are?’
Since their sudden arrival in the office, Lucy had battled the strangest feeling that she somehow knew the intruders – but until the tall man uttered his companion’s name she hadn’t been able to place them.
‘I think she’s gettin’ it, Tony.’
‘You don’t exist! You’re the made up founders of a chain restaurant – there are busts of you over the kitchen hatch…’
‘Babblin’. She’s babblin’, Tony.’
‘I know, Frankie. Give the kid some air.’
‘You are kidding me…’ Lucy felt the room undulate around her. What on earth was happening? She couldn’t – absolutely couldn’t be – talking to Tony & Frank. They didn’t exist. The whole thing was a story created to sell the theme – two brothers from Napoli who arrived in 1920s New York on a boat of immigrants and set up a restaurant in the back streets of Brooklyn. Except that it never happened. The restaurant chain wasn’t even American. The headquarters were in Slough, for crying out loud!
‘Kid, put that box down. We aren’t here to terrorise you.’ Tony held his hands out and Lucy felt her knees buckle as she saw the faint outline of the office through them…
‘Uh boss, I think we’re losing her…’ Frank’s voice began to drift away as Lucy closed her eyes and gave in to the ice-blue, soothing warmth of the glowing silver box.
‘Lucy, Lucy Smith, come back.’ From far away, almost as far as the song had sounded, Lucy was aware of Tony’s voice.
‘Go… away…’ she heard herself murmur.
‘You chose the box, kid. That means you chose us.’
‘I didn’t… I didn’t…’ Words danced around Lucy’s head like the white diamond stars dancing across the silver box lid.
‘You called us here, Lucy Smith. Because you wanted something better. Because you wanted a miracle.’
‘Lucy, come back.’
This time, Lucy felt the pull of reality gently bringing her back to the darkened office. When she dared to open her eyes, Tony and Frank were still there – both standing now, closer to her than they had been before.
‘Look over there,’ Tony said, pointing a semi-transparent finger to the back wall of the office, where two doors had appeared. Each was painted red, its edges decked out in metallic trim – one gold, one green. ‘We’re here to help you, Lucy Smith. But you have decide what happens here. So pick a door.’
‘Trust us, kid. Pick a door. The rest will become clear. So, what’ll it be?’
Lucy stared at the doors. Apart from the trim they seemed identical. And what remained of her logic told her that there couldn’t be anything behind either door, apart from a small gap to the back wall. But so much had happened already that defied reason. And she wanted things to change in her life.
Welcome to the second part of my exclusive #WurdyChristmas treat short story, Silver Bells at Tony & Frank’s. Yesterday, I asked you whether Lucy Smith should open the door or walk away…
Overwhelmingly, you voted for her to open it!
What happens when she steps into the darkened restaurant kitchen, following the strange, echoey Christmas song? Find out below – and then vote in the poll at the end to choose what happens next. Happy reading, lovelies!
Lucy stared at the double doors for just a moment, then pushed them open. In the course of her average day as assistant manager at Tony & Franks she would pass through these doors maybe a hundred times and never even think about it. But this entry into the darkened kitchen felt different – as if by choosing to walk in she could alter the course of her life.
What am I thinking?
As the doors swung shut behind her, Lucy stopped in the middle of the black-and-white chequerboard tiled floor and laughed. The events of the night were obviously taking their toll. She wasn’t on the verge of a life-changing adventure – she was recently dumped, exhausted and stuck in a closed restaurant until she could work out a way to get home for Christmas.
‘Get over yourself, Lucy Smith,’ she said out loud.
Almost in reply, the song swelled in volume.
Silver Bells, Silver Bells…
Lucy’s breath caught in her throat.
It was still slower than the song she and Gran had giggled their way through Christmas Eve waltzes to. And it still sounded far away, even though its volume suggested it was nearer…
But that was impossible. Wasn’t it?
Lucy gazed around the familiar space that in this almost-light now appeared alien. The stainless steel worktables, large flat-top grills imported from New York by the 1950s-diner-inspired restaurant chain and banks of industrial-sized refrigerators formed an unfamiliar landscape, washed in pale blue light. She wondered if any of her workmates had seen the kitchen like this. Maybe Sophie, her manager, possibly Dragan and Malik, the head chefs… Seeing it like this, without its frenzy and noise, felt like a privilege.
Hear them ring… Soon it will be Christmas Day…
Lucy glanced at the clock above the grill. One minute to midnight. But that wasn’t right, was it? It had been past midnight when she’d found herself abandoned in the car park by Aaron. The batteries must need changing. She’d make it her first job on Boxing Day when she returned to work after her too-short Christmas break.
Christmas. She’d only ever envisaged it with Aaron for the last three years but tomorrow – today – or whenever it was – was going to be different. What was she going to do? She’d planned to spend Christmas Day snuggled up with the man she thought she’d be engaged to. It was far too late to make other plans, and her own home was woefully unprepared. Working long shifts at Tony & Frank’s in the run-up to Christmas meant she’d only just bought and decorated the small, slightly wonky tree she’d picked up for half price from the large B&Q across the car park from the restaurant. It reminded her of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree from the cartoon she’d watched over and over on video as a kid with her cousin Kerry, until the ancient VHS tape snapped. ‘More twig than tree,’ Dad would call it.
Mum and Dad would always make room for her at their Christmas table. They never had just family on Christmas Day. Dad said it was Mum’s Italian heritage that dictated every meal should be able to stretch to however many waifs and strays deigned to drop in. Lucy usually loved being part of the eclectic mix of neighbours, friends and virtual strangers her mum invited for Christmas dinner, but now the thought made her shudder. Too many questions. None of which she could answer.
The song had reached an end and for a moment there was silence. Lucy waited. Sure enough, it began again, noticeably louder than before. It echoed around the empty kitchen, calling her closer…
To her surprise, Lucy wasn’t scared, more intrigued to find the source of the music. It definitely wasn’t the sound system – there were no speakers in the kitchen and all the controls were behind the front of house desk by the restaurant’s main entrance. And the music seemed to come from the furthest corner, where Sophie had small office. Tony & Frank’s called it a ‘Team Leader Epicentre’. Most of the staff called it ‘Sophie’s Cardboard Box’. Four wobbly fibreboard walls boxed the tiny space from the main kitchen area. In the summer it was so stifling that Sophie often abandoned it altogether, choosing a booth in the restaurant as her workspace instead.
That’s where the song is coming from!
Following the music, Lucy crossed the kitchen and pulled the bunch of keys from her pocket to find Sophie’s office key. But when she reached the door, it was already ajar. That was odd. Sophie was a stickler for routine – to leave her office unlocked was most unlike her. Of course she may have been distracted tonight. She’d been keen to get back to her new kittens, the thought of her partner Eric cat-sitting them all night apparently terrifying. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ she’d told Lucy, ‘Eric is a total sweetheart but my kittens miss me when I’m not there. If they start to play up, I don’t think he’ll cope. They’re like gremlins who still have fur…’
When she stepped inside, the song seemed to suddenly surround her, the volume rising as if in celebration of her arrival. Surprised, Lucy took a step back and yelped as her shin banged into the leg of Sophie’s desk. Her hand shot to the edge of it to steady herself and her fingers brushed against something cold…
Lucy looked down. By her hand was a small silver box. Over its lid a burst of stars had been engraved, the centre of each one sparkling with a tiny diamond. It looked as if it had been carved from ice and sprinkled with starlight. Beside it lay a velvet drawstring bag. The beautiful midnight blue velvet had been printed with a shower of gold stars, tied with a delicate cord that could have been made of spun sugar. Lucy bent to get a closer look – and noticed the note.
Beside the box was a gold-edged sheet of notepaper, a message written in looping script across its surface in bright purple ink:
Hello Lucy Smith.
Tonight, Christmas magic is yours to choose.
But which gift shall it be?
Silver or velvet? Box or bag?
Choose carefully – your choice will change your life…
Lucy stared at the gorgeous gifts. Both were stunning – she had never seen anything so beautiful in her life. Could one of these really be for her? She could hardly believe it. But then, nothing since the end of her shift at Tony & Frank’s had made sense tonight.
HERE IT IS! Welcome to my 2016 #WurdyChristmas treat! Over the next five days, I will be telling you a story. But at the end of each episode, YOU will decide what I write next… Anything could happen between now and Friday. Are you ready for a Christmas adventure?
Without further ado, it is my pleasure to present PART ONE of my story. Happy reading – and don’t forget to vote in the poll at the end to decide what happens tomorrow!
That’s what Lucy Smith wanted for Christmas. The timing couldn’t be more perfect: three years to the day since her first tentative kiss with Aaron Morgan at a friend’s Christmas Eve party. And he’d insisted on meeting her tonight after her long shift at Tony & Frank’s 1950s-themed American diner restaurant. There could only be one reason why.
Her workmates had given her good luck hugs as they’d hurried out into the frozen winter night – it had been all anyone had talked about this evening. And for once, Lucy had enjoyed being the centre of attention. Tonight was her night – and even though the customers were rowdier than usual and the backs of her legs ached from running between kitchen and tables, she couldn’t stop smiling.
Will you marry me?
Of course he’d want to ask her alone, in the warmth of his new car. Aaron preferred to keep his public displays of affection private and personal. It meant more that way, Lucy told her friends: a secret world just for the two of them. So much of life and love was played out in public these days. Lucy and Aaron didn’t need to follow the crowd.
Will you marry me?
Four little words with the potential to change everything.
Well, she’d been right about that, at least.
Aaron had been waiting in his new car, like Lucy expected. She’d waved off her friends and walked alone across the frosted car park, excited puffs of silver-white breath floating across her shoulder. The glow of his car headlights made the ground sparkle like gold dust as Lucy approached. He’d looked nervous, as Lucy had expected. Both hands on the steering wheel, dark eyes trained on the darkened restaurant building. Lucy instinctively went to the driver’s side, as she always did. It was their thing. No matter who picked up who, the passenger always offered the driver a kiss through the opened window before getting into the car. He’d done it on their second date when Lucy picked him up from the office complex across town and it had been so lovely they’d adopted it as tradition.
She’d expected this, had thought of little else all day. What she hadn’t expected was that Aaron’s four little words would be the first thing he’d say.
‘I don’t love you.’
Four little wordsthat could change everything.
Only not the change Lucy Smith was expecting.
After that it had been a blur – her stumbling replies and his mumbled apologies as little by little her world began to shatter. And then he’d closed the window and driven away, leaving her mid-sentence:
‘But – but you were supposed to drive me home…’
She had no car here. His insistence on meeting her tonight and the promised end-of-shift drinks with her colleagues had persuaded her to leave her car at home. Fifteen miles and a broken heart now stood between her front door and this freezing car park. It was past midnight – no hope of a taxi for hours. She could call her parents but they might be in bed already. And what would she say? They’d been as convinced as she was that tonight Aaron would propose.
Utterly defeated, embarrassed and cold, Lucy turned back to the familiar shape of Tony & Frank’s. The bulk of keys rested comfortably in her pocket. And in the raw ache of her shattered heart, an idea began to glow.
The restaurant was still, faint blue pools of light from emergency bulbs cutting through the gloom. At the far end the two plaster busts of the mythical Founders presided in darkness over the kitchen hatch, the white pom-poms on their Christmas hats just visible. As soon as Lucy entered, her tears fell. With loud, ugly sobs she reached out for the first booth and slid onto the padded seat.
How could she have been such an idiot? Aaron wasn’t distant because he was rehearsing his proposal speech; he was working out how to leave. There was nobody else, he’d said, but his eyes had told a different story. Why else would he want to end their relationship before Christmas? And what was worse – worst than anything – was that Lucy had allowed herself to focus only on him, on their future. As if all she wanted in life was a ring on her finger. When had she become that girl?
Grabbing the nearest napkin she blew her nose loudly. She should try to find a taxi – at least put some lights on and make some calls. Or she could make herself a drink in the kitchen and wait it out until daylight. She was cold, and angry and heartbroken, without transport or any idea of what to do next. Deciding a hot drink was a good idea, she left the booth and made her way through the darkness towards the kitchen.
And then, she heard it.
The faintest sound, at first so quiet it was barely decipherable. But then notes began to form, a melody emerging that seemed oddly familiar. Tony & Frank’s was known for its vintage soundtrack – a key selling point of the restaurant chain. Had someone left the music system on by mistake? Lucy felt certain she would have heard it as she’d locked up if that were true. And then, she recognised it: Bing Crosby and Carol Richards singing Silver Bells. It had been Lucy’s late grandmother’s favourite Christmas song – she remembered as a little girl being waltzed around the tufted Wilton carpet in Gran’s living room to it.
But it sounded – strange. Where was it coming from? Lucy moved towards the kitchen doors and felt her heart contract as the song grew louder.
It’s coming from in there…
The song was slower than she remembered, a heavy echo attached to each note, as if it were being played in a steel-lined room a long way away. Reaching the kitchen doors, Lucy rested her hand against the cool metal – and stopped.
After the success of #LoveThisBook on Twitter, I asked twitterers which books they are most excited to read in 2017. Again, the response was huge – with more conversations, delighted authors and general book excitement…
I’ve really loved talking about books on Twitter this weekend! As with #LoveThisBook, #WouldLoveThisBook brought a wealth of book recommendations, with people tweeting their own wishlists and others discovering titles to add to theirs.
One of the things I love most about social media, when it works positively – particularly on Twitter – is that it gives us infinite scope for spontaneous fun. This weekend, annoyed by list after snobby list of ‘2016 Best Books’ in the literary media (blatantly ignoring anything daring to be ‘popular’), I asked people on Twitter to tell me which books they loved reading this year. Any genre, any age, any book.
What followed was a whole day of bookish loveliness.
Using the #LoveThisBook hashtag, people tweeted their favourite books – a really varied mix of well-known and not-so-well-known titles, across the genres from popular fiction to YA, childrens to non-fiction, series to literary, self-published to traditionally published. Famous authors, debut authors, new authors, established authors – all were represented. I was blown away by the response and had so much fun co-ordinating the discussions.
And then, something really lovely happened. Delighted authors began to reply, leading to heartfelt exchanges and thanks flying back and forth. As an author I know how impossibly wonderful it is to hear that someone loved my books – so to see authors meeting their readers in the #LoveThisBook chat was such a treat. Added to this, tweeters began to chat with other readers, discussing books they’d read and recommending others. After so much darkness and anger on Twitter in recent months, it was fantastic to see people united by a love of books, sharing something positive.
I’ve Storified the discussion HERE – so if you’re looking for your next read you might just find it there! You can still join the fun by tweeting your favourites. Just use the hashtag #LoveThisBook and tweet me @wurdsmyth. Happy reading!
Next Thursday, my eighth novel, SEARCHING FOR A SILVER LINING is published. It’s the book I am most proud of, not least because I worked so hard to make it a truly memorable book. It is also personally special to me because of the happy hours I spent talking to my Dad about his memories of being a teenager in the 1950s while I was writing it. But I never thought during the many months spent writing my book that it would be published without Dad seeing it.
But that’s what is happening. A week ago today, I lost my lovely Dad.
Still, as I write that sentence, I can’t quite believe it. Life without him is going on – because life does – but the world is a little dimmer and quieter without his presence and infectious sense of humour. The bottom line is that I write what I write because I inherited Dad’s love of comedy and his natural storytelling skill. My earliest memories are of Dad making me laugh. He would make my toys move and talk with funny voices, and tell me stories that made me giggle. He made books come alive for me and my sister and often recited favourite tales verbatim on our walks. So much of what I now do for a living can be traced back to those special times.
When he died, I didn’t want to think about my writing, my stories. They suddenly seemed trivial. All I could think of were his stories – the ones he’d tell over and over again, the ones we had now lost. How do you carry on promoting a new book when life floors you like this?
I’m not sure I know the answer.
But here’s what I do know. My amazing, talented, hilarious Dad had one solution whenever life chucked a spanner in his path: create something to redress the balance. When he was unexpectedly made redundant at the age of 56, Dad sought something creative in response: he joined a TV and Film Extras agency.
Over the years he had a ball, acting alongside famous people from Scarlett Johansson, Johnny Depp and Michael Sheen, to Catherine Tate, Patrick Stewart and Philip Glenister. And from each new job came new stories – hilarious, stitch-inducing tales of the crazy things he was asked to do. Such as posing with a bolshy duck in The Village, or running up a hill with a Zimmer frame in Hustle. Or the time while filming The Libertine when he asked Johnny Depp what his previous acting job was (Dad’s had been Emmerdale, of which he was mighty proud) to be told ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and Dad replied, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that. Were you in it?’
Dad understood that, when something bad happens, creating something new and hopeful in its place is the best response.
I can’t bring my Dad back. I wish I could – I would swap every printed copy of my books from here to eternity for one more day with him. But what I do have is the book he was so involved in the writing of. So many of Dad’s memories are woven into the story – in Reenie’s tales of her band The Silver Five’s exploits and in Grandpa Joe’s diary entries that Mattie Bell discovers as she embarks on a road trip like no other. Even the songs that form the chapter headings in Searching for a Silver Lining are my Dad’s favourites from the 1950s. It’s as if the things I loved most about being Brian Harvey Dickinson’s daughter have been infused into the story.
Dad was SO proud of my writing. Every week he would call me with shelf updates from my local Waterstones and WHSmith stores – the booksellers knew he was my Dad and would show him the latest sales figures for my books. He would frequently rearrange shelves so that my books were more visible – several times I was congratulated for being a Richard and Judy pick because a certain sparkly-eyed septuagenarian had been working his magic on the shelves… I know he was proud of this book and loved chatting with me about it.
Those are the things I’m hanging on to as I prepare to do all the book promotion in the coming weeks. So if you see me on Twitter and FB and appearing on lovely book bloggers’ sites talking about my book, please know I’m doing it hoping my lovely Dad is looking on approvingly from the major stage (with the enormous audience) he’s just been called to. And thank you for all your love and support – it’s helping me so much to carry on doing what Dad was so proud of.
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