It’s less than a week until my very first Christmas novella, Christmas in St Ives, is published – eek! So in this week’s vlog, I’m going to tell you what you can expect from the story…
I’m so proud of this novella and I had an absolute blast writing it. I like to think you can tell as a reader when the author has enjoyed writing a story, so I hope you get that sense with Christmas in St Ives. It was also lovely to write a prequel to my next full-length novel, Somewhere Beyond the Sea, to be able to extend that world and really bring the characters alive. Both my novella and the novel are available for preorder now – Christmas in St Ives is published on 19th October, Somewhere Beyond the Seawill be published on 14th June 2018 (and we’ve included the first chapter of it in the back of the novella, so you’ll get a sneak-peek eight months early!)
Enjoy this week’s vlog – and ask me a question for next week by leaving a comment below!
I don’t know about you, but the constant lurching between confidence and doubt is exhausting. I think I’ve conquered it and then, right in the middle of writing a new book – when I’m mired in first draft sludge around about 59k words, or going through a line edit where I’m losing sight of the story, it hits me:
Kaablaamo! Dastardly Doubt muscles in and ruins everything.
It’s worse when you hear people dismissing books with well-worn terms: ‘an easy read‘, ‘a holiday book‘, someone read it ‘in one sitting‘, a ‘guilty pleasure‘.
Shudders. Screaming at reviews. Dreading book discussions on social media. Feeling dismissed, undervalued and possibly in the wrong profession. It’s not pretty. Or even remotely fun.
But I’ve been thinking. What if there were a way to flip these terms to see a more positive version?
Let’s take them one at a time. (Brace yourself…)
AN EASY READ
Ugh. The ultimate dismissive term for the book you have invested a year of your life (or longer) lovingly crafting.
Or is it?
I used to work as a copywriter and there was a phrase we used in the design department: when you’ve done your job properly, nobody notices. I think that’s true of writing books, too. An ‘easy read’ seems like a criticism, but look at it this way: an easy read means the story flowed, the pace was good, dialogue felt natural and the reader easily entered into the world the book created.
When something is written well, you don’t notice the workings of it. You just enter in. And trust me, if the book was badly written, it wouldn’t be easy to read. It would be clunky, annoying, a book to be flung across the room rather than raced through.
To write something that flows and compels readers to keep turning the page is a hugely difficult thing to get right. The best comedy is effortless to watch but hides hours of work to perfect the timing, the rhythm, the punch line. It’s hard to write well. It takes skill and perseverance. But when you’ve done it right, nobody notices the effort. They just see the story.
If readers call your book an easy read, it means your pace, flow, characters, world-building and structure worked. That’s a world away from a dismissive term, don’t you think?
A HOLIDAY BOOK
A ‘beach read’. A ‘poolside book’.
It conjures up images of cheap, trashy pulp fiction bought at the airport and hastily stashed in hand luggage. Something you wouldn’t dream of reading in your everyday life but, like Sambuca shots and stuffed donkeys, is somehow permissible on your week away in the sun.
Hang on, though.
Holidays are precious. We save hard for them and count down the days to them each year. Our one week away from work, from the concerns of our normal life, is hard-won and much longed for. So the books we choose to take with us have to be good. People agonise over which books to take: the right book can be a memorable part of your time away; the wrong book feels so much more of a let-down.
So, if someone has chosen to take your book on holiday – and invested time in their already precious time away to spend with your characters and your story – isn’t that the greatest compliment? They chose your book. And it was perfect for that moment. Whenever they see your book on their shelf at home, they’ll remember the beach they read it on, the pool your words kept them company by, and exactly where they were when they read your story.
That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
I READ IT IN ONE SITTING
You spend countless hours – years, even – perfecting your book. The unseen months of heartache, doubt and sheer hard graft are hidden within the pages of your novel. And then, eight hours after it’s published, someone tweets you to say they read it in an afternoon.
I understand the shudder of loathing that follows a review where the reader says they read your book in one sitting. It feels dismissive. It cheapens your effort. And it makes you wonder if they noticed all the brilliant, hard-fought paragraphs you sweated buckets over.
Or how about this..?
Imagine they became so caught up in the story you created that nothing else mattered. The piles of crockery remained dirty in the sink. The television was dark and silent. They never made it further than their car in the car park outside the book shop because they couldn’t bear to leave your beautiful book world for even a minute. They held their breath. Pages turned at speed as they rooted for your characters, rode the emotional roller-coaster of your story and raced towards the end because they had to know what happens…
You’ve read books like that. I have, too. And just because you were gripped by the story and dashed through it, I’ll bet you’re still thinking about it now. Imagine if someone said that about your book…
Go ahead. Race through my book in one sitting, please!
A GUILTY PLEASURE
Okay, I’ll give you this one. It’s a horrible term. Feel free to kick it to the kerb, strap a jet-pack to its sorry back and blast it away from earth into the endless beyond. Nobody should ever feel guilty about reading. Ever.
…Although, if someone does say that about your book, there are two positives to take away from it. Firstly, it says more about their fear of literary snobs than the merit of your book. Secondly, they secretly loved it.
I would far rather someone termed my book a ‘pleasure’ than a chore. And if they are worried so much about what a snobbish lit-splainer might say, they wouldn’t feel guilty about finding a book hard to read. (Because literary snobs believe ‘difficult’ books are the only ones that matter.) The fact is, they loved your book. And they will probably buy your next one to snuggle up in secret with, too…
Being a writer is tough. We pour our hearts into what we do, but that means we wear our hearts on our sleeve, so it’s easy to get hurt. I hope these flipped book terms help you see them differently next time they are used to describe your books.
Keep doing what you do, lovely author. Keep caring. Because it matters.
As many of you know, I adore Cornwall and St Ives in particular. I’ve wanted to set a novel there for many years but I finally found the perfect story to tell. And I’m incredibly proud of the result. It’s a properly romantic story, told from two perspectives, and I think you’re going to fall in love with Seren and Jack.
Here’s the blurb:
Can you fall in love with someone before you’ve even met?
Seren MacArthur is living a life she never intended. Trying to save the Cornish seaside business her late father built – while grieving for his loss – she has put her own dreams on hold and is struggling. Until she discovers a half-finished seaglass star on her favourite beach during an early morning walk. When she completes the star, she sets into motion a chain of events that will steal her heart and challenge everything she believes.
Jack Dixon is trying to secure a better life for daughter Nessie and himself. Left a widower and homeless when his wife died, he’s just about keeping their heads above water. Finding seaglass stars completed on Gwithian beach is a bright spark that slowly rekindles his hope.
Seren and Jack are searching for their missing pieces. But when they meet in real life, it’s on the opposing sides of a battle. Jack is managing the redevelopment of a local landmark, and Seren is leading the community campaign to save it.
Both have reason to fight – Seren for the cause her father believed in, Jack for his livelihood. But only one can win. With so much at stake, will they ever find what they are really looking for?
I adored writing this story, and I can’t wait till you can read it. I know May 2018 is a while to wait, but don’t worry, there might be something else I’ll be revealing for you before then…
The cover of Somewhere Beyond the Seais being designed at the moment – I’ve seen the first design and it’s my most gorgeous cover for years. I’ll be sharing that with you very soon!
Till then, watch my vlogs, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook page for exclusive snippets, details, behind-the-scenes treats and competitions. It may be eleven months before the book publishes, but I’m going to be packing so many goodies into those months for you. Fancy joining me on the Somewhere Beyond the Seajourney? It’s going to be BRILLIANT fun!
Just a quick post to let you know that I’ve FINISHED writing the first draft of my new book! Woo-hoo!
(In case the word count is confusing, I have a scene after THE END in this document that I’ve now snuggled into the middle of the book where it belongs…)
It’s taken lots of late nights (including five all-nighters, which I don’t recommend!), countless cups of tea and coffee, at least three different notebooks on the go at once and not an awful lot of sleep, but my ninth novel is finally written and I’m chuffed to bits with it.
Of course, there are edits to come – a structural edit, line edit, copyedit and final proof edit – but for now my book is out of my head and onto the page. All the locations are there, the cast and supporting cast (always important in my books) and a central town setting that is as much a character as the protagonists themselves. I hope you’ll be able to not just imagine yourself there but also experience the sights, sounds, scents and tastes of this story.
It’s my most romantic story to date, I think, written from the dual perspectives of Seren MacArthur and Jack Dixon. I’ve adored writing both their worlds and their voices came to me really quickly, which isn’t always the case. I think you’re going to love them, along with their friends and families. And a dog. There might be a dog…
I’m doing a final read-through today and then sending it to my editor at PanMacmillan tomorrow. It feels like the end of a mammoth journey, which has included moving house, being without internet for a month, things breaking and scary bills (who said being a full-time author was glamorous?!). In reality it’s only the first stage in a journey, but I think this is the most important – not to mention the most fun – where I get to tell myself the story first, before anyone else sees it. From the moment I hit send on the email taking it to my editor tomorrow, this story stops being just mine. And that’s okay because it’s one of the beautiful things about writing novels – your first draft is a single splash in a pool that then sends ripples out further than you can ever see.
But I might just hug my manuscript a little tonight, while it’s still just me and the story…
It’s been quiet on here lately and that has been due to a couple of factors. Firstly, we finally moved house after lots of hard work, decorating, unpacking and late nights. But it’s fabulous to be in at last and my new office is wonderful to write in!
The light in my lovely new office is so inspiring – I love writing here already!
We’ve built bookshelves so I’m now surrounded by lovely book friends, which always makes a house feel like a home to me. I even managed a small book rainbow on one shelf – something I’ve wanted to do for ages…
A book rainbow – I need more yellow and green books…
The second reason for my web silence has been that I’ve been frantically writing Book 9, which at last has a title. I’m just waiting for the official okay from PanMacmillan and I’ll let you know as soon as I can. What I will say is that the title is absolutely perfect for the story and will also plant a song in your head that you’ll be humming for weeks!
I don’t know why I thought moving house during writing a novel would be a good idea, but oh my life it’s been a challenge. Packing and house stress aside, we also have no internet until almost the end of April, which is the deadline for the book. Lack of internet is good for writing (because no temptation to check Twitter, or Instagram, or Facebook), but quite scarily bad for backing up files, so I have been enjoying the complimentary WiFi of coffee shops, friends and parents wherever I can. My office has been mostly on the road in my car, in cafes and grabbing bits of writing time whenever and wherever possible…
My mini writing mentors LegoElvis and LegoDollyP have been on hand to help…
When I can tell you the title, I’ll tell you where I’ve set my novel and what the story is about. I’m so excited about this one! What I can tell you for now is that it’s a properly romantic story, told from two people’s perspectives: Seren MacArthur and Jack Dixon. Writing in their voices, in present tense (which I haven’t used since Welcome to My World, so a bit of a departure for me) has been wonderful and it’s safe to say that I’ve fallen in love with them as I’ve been writing. I haven’t felt so invested in a pair of characters for a while and I think you’re going to love their story.
As I’m writing the book, I have a stack of Post-Its with reminders to keep me on track.
For now, here’s a sneaky-peek at a line from the book, which I shared for #onelinewednesday last week (I think it sums up the feeling of the whole book):
EEK! I have tingles!
It’s hard work and there’s a lot to write, but my family have been amazing. It’s true that they are a huge part of my writing career – without their support I simply couldn’t do this for a job. But it does mean writing as much as I can, every day. No Easter holidays for me! I’m writing early in the morning, bits throughout the day and through the night into the early hours of the next morning to get the book written. Yesterday (Easter Sunday), I was able to write for most of the day, thanks to my wonderful in-laws looking after Bob and Flo…
As always, I’ve created a playlist to give a sense of the atmosphere I want for the book.
As soon as I have internet, my vlogs will be back, too. I’ll post one each week to keep you updated on Book 9. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more sneaky-peeks and exclusives, too. There’ll also be news of an extra project I’ve just had the green-light on, so I’ll tell you all about that as soon as I can. All in all, it’s an exciting – if tiring and slightly nerve-wracking – time and I can’t wait to share all the juicy details with you very soon.
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…
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.
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