Monday, 1 October 2007

Chapter One of 'Tug of Love' Out October 1st 2009 with Little Black Dress'

Chapter One

"Of course," I said, pouring myself another glass of San Pelligrino, "the thing to remember is that in a divorce, there are never any winners."
The woman from Marie Claire who was interviewing me leant forward over the table and nodded earnestly.
"Now that’s interesting."
"Unless of course you’re Zsa Zsa Gabor," I quipped.
My interviewer and the photographer both laughed gratifyingly.
"Seriously, though," I pulled the interview back on track, "what I cannot over-emphasise is that one of the primary duties of a legal team is to make sure cases are worked out in a friendly, conciliatory atmosphere – especially when there are children involved."
The Marie Claire lady nodded again in enthusiastic agreement.
"I’m sure our readers out there will be pleased to know that someone as influential as you holds that view."
I smiled modestly.
"And what about your views on relationships? I mean, given the job you do it must be easy to become a bit cynical."
"Well," I began carefully, "I think the thing to remember is that people change, relationships do go wrong; but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from love altogether. People need to forgive themselves and move on."
Actually, that wasn’t strictly true, but I wasn’t going to get into a discussion with the Marie Claire lady about it. I’ve always been a bit sceptical about love, commitment and that sort of thing – and with good reason. Not only did my divorced parents still fight like cat and dog, but on the one occasion that I thought I’d found the real deal I ended up getting my fingers very badly burned. The fact that I now sorted out other people’s marital differences for a living (in itself an unbelievably bad cosmic joke) had done little to help matters.
"OK," said the photographer, "let’s get a few pics for the feature."
A make-up girl leaped forward, brandishing a brush so huge that the Scottish curling team were probably out looking for it, and swiftly covered my face in some sort of expensive powder. I rearranged my features for the camera to make sure I had a serious, yet caring, expression on my face.
"Right – to me – that’s it." CLICK! "And again – super!" CLICK! "Now – looking out the window – sort of dreamy – wonderful!" CLICK! "How about one with the briefcase? – Yup! – Excellent." CLICK! "And let’s have a close up so we can make those blue eyes really stand out against that dark hair. Lovely." CLICK!
How fabulous was this?
I turned back to the Marie Claire lady.
"You see," I continued, "very often people have this idea that lawyers are just out to rack up the fees as high as they can – but when you’re dealing with people’s happiness, you can’t afford to do that."
There was a smattering of applause from the people at the next table who had been listening in on our conversation.
"Hear! Hear!" said my interviewer smiling broadly. "Exactly the sort of thing our readership will feel strongly about. Now, I think that’s just about all I wanted to cover. I’ll put in something about your Lawyer of the Year Award, of course – and the fact you’ve currently got a six month waiting list for new clients," she paused before continuing thoughtfully, "you know, that’s longer than for the new Chanel handbag."
"Got some cracking shots here," cut in the photographer. "We’ll probably put you on the cover – you won’t mind, will you?"
Mind?! Of course I won’t mind!
My interviewer switched off her tape recorder, then leant in towards me and whispered:
"Lucy, is it true you are currently advising three big-name film stars, four Premiership footballers and a member of the Royal Family?"
I met her eyes without a flicker of expression.
"I couldn’t possibly comment."
God, I was so professional!
Still, all in a day’s work for me: Head of my own chambers, big-name cases, masses of respect and recognition for my overwhelming achievements…what’s not to like? Just then, however, a phone rang.
My daydream crashed to smithereens on the perennially untidy floor of my office. I brought myself back to the real world with a shake of my head – and found myself groaning involuntarily as I picked up and a thin, weaselly voice came on the line.
It was Hugo. Yuk.
"I need the latest Family Law Notes for court on Monday, Looby-Lou, and I think you’re hiding them in that pit you call an office." His voice became even oilier. "Oh, and I could hear you talking to yourself again. You need to be careful about that – or Guy will start thinking you’re a couple of papers short of a brief!" And he rang off, sniggering.
Damn. That was what not to like.
The fact was that, in real life, rather than schmoozing my way through a glittering existence, I spent my days in a cramped, dingy basement with the cretinous Hugo Spade on the other side of a thin partition wall. Don’t get me wrong – I loved my job. I was – am – a barrister, good with my clients and hard working. But my fantasy of legal fame and fortune was light-years away from reality.
Unenthusiastically, I fished the journal he had requested off the floor (where I tended to keep most of my important documents in little piles) and sloped off next door to deliver it. I paused for a few seconds before turning the handle in order to prepare myself for the challenge that was Dealing with Hugo: he was unbelievably hard work. A couple of weeks ago, after he had spent a full two hours telling me how much money he had and how he didn’t actually need to work at all, Henrietta (‘Hez’), my best friend and flat-mate, offered to hire someone to put him out of my misery. I’d told her that being sent down as an accomplice in a contract killing might not be the best way to enhance my legal career. Although, when I came to think about it now, bumping off Hugo might just get me into Marie Claire, so perhaps I shouldn’t have dismissed it out of hand...
"Well then, Looby-Lou," Hugo slimed as I handed over Family Law Notes, "got any big plans for the weekend?"
"Don’t call me that," I muttered, "and, yes, actually, I do. I’m going to a party tomorrow night."
"Gosh, that’ll be exciting for you," said Hugo as patronisingly as possible. "And which one of your legion of admirers will be chosen to accompany you?"
"The one who reminds me least of you," I smiled sweetly whilst suppressing the urge to deck him. He’d guessed correctly that I was dateless.
"Well, I’d have to decline anyway. You know how it is – dinner at The Ivy, a couple of drinks with the boys before winding the evening up at Annabel’s. Unless of course that Henrietta friend of yours is free. I could always manage to squeeze her in. Or even just squeeze her." He snorted unpleasantly through his nose.
I chose not to tell him that Hez would rather munch her way through a kitten kebab at an animal rights meeting than spend time alone with him, and went to leave the room.
"No, seriously, Lou, I hope you have a really good time."
I almost tugged my ears to make sure they were still in place. Surely Hugo hadn’t managed to utter an entire sentence that was not rude or condescending in any way? Surely he wasn’t being nice?
I needn’t have worried.
"The last thing I would want is for you to spend any time fretting over this e-mail from Guy" he drawled.
I froze. Guy Horatio Jennings QC was our Head of Chambers. To describe him as ‘well known and well liked’ would have been the understatement of the century as he engendered the sort of acclaim that a minor deity would have been pleased to receive. He could barely move for the hordes of grateful clients swooning at his feet and his spare time was spent parading his stunning wife and two apple-cheeked children at public events and charming the pants off the media. The one thing he didn’t do, though, was waste time on anybody who wasn’t important.
Like me.
I was right at the bottom of the chambers’ food-chain and, on the one occasion he had deigned to speak to me, he’d mistaken me for the cleaner and told me to give the loos another going–over.
So, basically, an e-mail from Guy wasn’t going to be good news…unless it was all a hoax and Hugo was just trying to frighten me.
"This isn’t some kind of wind-up, is it Spade?" I asked, putting on my scariest courtroom voice. Sadly, Hugo was not intimidated.
"See for yourself," he said and, with a ‘ping,’ the e-mail in question sprang onto the screen of his lap-top.

Subject: Tenancy
Hi, chaps!
Just a quickie to let you know that I have arranged for a meeting to be held on the 3rd of next month to settle which one of you should be given a permanent place in chambers. I’m afraid that the provisional view of Tenancy Committee is that only one of you can be taken on, although who that will be is undecided at present. I wish you both good luck – and may the best man win.
Yours, Guy
P.S. If either of you happened to record my performance on ‘Question Time’ last Thursday, I’d be interested in a copy. Cheers.

"Is this for real?" I asked.
"Go and look on your own machine if you don’t believe me," replied Spade, "Or ask the clerks."
Now, here’s the thing: even though Hugo and I had both qualified eons ago, neither of us had been formally taken on by chambers. We were what is known, in elegant legal parlance, as ‘squatters’. But in five weeks’ time, that was all going to change. One of us would get the glittering prize of a tenancy at 3 Temple Buildings – name on the board outside, the works – whilst the other was going to be booted out. It felt like being a contestant on Big Brother but without the hot tub or the trendy furniture.
Or the on-screen snogging, thank goodness.
I shot a look at Hugo. He had pressed a couple of keys on his computer and pulled up some sort of game that seemed to consist entirely of drive-by shootings. This was vintage Spade. He was actually quite bright, but his idea of work revolved around playing on his lap-top, reading Loaded, and chatting to his mates on the phone. It niggled me that there had to be any sort of competition for the stupid tenancy – under all normal rules of the universe, I should have walked it. However, in addition to a trust fund the size of Jupiter, Hugo’s father was a judge in the Court of Appeal, and no doubt every conceivable string was being pulled vigorously on his behalf.
Still, there was a month to go before eviction day and anything could happen in a month. Maybe I’d get some amazing case and become the toast of legal London; maybe I’d win the lottery and never need to work again; or maybe Spade would trip over his own ego and fall under a tube train.
Hope, as they say, springs eternal.
"Thanks for letting me know, Hugo," I called over my shoulder as I left. "And whatever you get up to this weekend, make sure you have a horrible time."
"And you," he replied cheerfully.
I stomped back into my own room, filed the brief I’d spent the afternoon reading on the floor, and shoved my lap-top in its bag prior to heading off home for the weekend. Then I noticed a memo-sheet on my desk. One of the clerks must have dropped it in whilst I was closeted with Hugo.
Was it good news? Was it a big-name case with a wealthy client? My ticket to gainful employment at the Family Law Bar? I snatched it up and pulled a face. Sadly neither of the above: my Dad had rung. Tell your Mother, the note said, that if she doesn’t agree to a reduction in her maintenance payments I’ll take the whole thing back to court. I dropped it in the bin and made a mental note not to mention anything of the sort to my mother. I was sick of this. Whenever they fell out (which was pretty much all the time) they would try to rope me in to take sides and it drove me nuts. Why couldn’t they just keep their disagreements to themselves?
As I put my coat on, I did a quick inventory of Things Not Going My Way and it was quite impressive: my Mum and Dad were gearing it up for another bout of fisticuffs; I was facing a fight to the death over my job; and, to cap it all, it sounded as if Hugo, a.k.a. the Weasel in Armani, had a better social life than me.
But life, as always, had a few little surprises up its sleeve…like the fact that Mark was about to turn up.
Or, to be accurate, Mark was about to turn up and Jonathan was about to reappear.
Or, to be even more accurate, Mark was about to turn up, Jonathan about to reappear and the Prime Minister was going to get divorced.
And it all started at the party I’d mentioned to Hugo.
This is Chapter One of my second book, the one that did well in the RNA New Writers' Scheme. I got the idea for the relationship between my heroine Lucy and my hero Mark whilst waiting outside court during my old life as a lawyer. This was a few years ago when the main London divorce court (the District Registry) wasn't in the plush building up on High Holborn that it now occupies but in rather cramped quarters deep within Somerset House. The corridors were narrow, there were never enough chairs for everyone to sit on and you were cheek by jowl with everyone else waiting to go in - not a good situation for a client to be in as it shoved them into unwanted proximity with their ex. Anyway, me, client, other side, and half the lawyers in London were squashed into the end of a corridor which was acting as a waiting room when the case before us finished. The court door opened and the poor people inside had to jostle their way out past the waiting masses. I suddenly had this idea about how awful it would be for that door to open and for your other half to appear in the doorway when unbeknownst to you, they had some divorce-come-relationship-type drama going on that they hadn't told you about. Then I thought, actually, it would be ten times worse if your other half turned out to be your client, and you had no idea they had ongoing legal business before they turned up at court expecting you to represent them. Unlikely, perhaps, but certainly not impossible.

Book Lunch

Had lunch today with my local Chapter (group) of the Romantic Novelists Association. For anyone who has never heard of them but is interested in romantic fiction in any one of its many subsections (historical, sagas, contemporary, chick-lit, comedy, Mills and Boon etc) they are, most definately a Very Good Thing.

Apart from the fact that they are all exceptionally nice people, it is really fantastic to be able to meet up with other writers - it makes me feel as if I'm not the only person scribbling away in a lonley garret (or, indeed spare bedroom). The RNA also runs the New Writers' Scheme, whereby unpublished authors can submit the manuscript of their novel and receive a Readers' Report of quite detailed feedback. If the first reader likes it and thinks it of a suitable standard for publication it will go on for a second read and if that reader concurs with the first it will go on to the third stage when it is submitted to an agent or publisher. It is a brilliant scheme - even if you do not get to go through to the second or third rounds, you will still have a good and detailed critique from a professional in the business that you can use to improve your book. this year, my second novel A Good Call went through the first two rounds with flying colours; however, I was taken on by my agent at the time the novel would have gone on to the third round and for it to go to another agent or a publisher without her say-so would, in my view, have been unethical, so I withdrew from the competition. The comments from both my readers were tremendously helpful and encouraging and I'll be incorporating them into my next round of revisions!

The New Writers' Scheme, in my opinion, is worth every penny of the membership fee. It gives a new author a helpful, honest appraisal of their work which is truly worth its weight in gold. Long may it continue and long live the RNA - hoorah!

Love, Allie

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Extract from Chapter One of 'A Novel Affair'

Chapter One

If you met her, you would never suspect Katie Sharp of being a heroine.
No, really.
For one, she did not exhibit any sort of psychological neurosis. She wasn’t obsessed with her weight (fine for her build), her appearance (rather pretty in a short-ish, blonde-ish sort of a way) or cigarettes (only at parties, after maximum alcohol intake). She didn’t have a chocolate addiction, a shopping addiction or even a sex addiction. She wasn’t a woman who loved too much, too little or not at all. She didn’t keep up a diary, or even a dazzlingly witty internal monologue. Neither was she secretly in love with her male best friend or have an alcoholic, wife-beating father.
Actually, her parents had been particularly lax in that respect. Completely ignoring their daughter’s future as a heroine, they had selfishly refused to provide her with anything other than a stable, happy upbringing. Of course, when she was a teenager that hadn’t stopped her from dyeing her hair, wearing only black and dragging herself round the house in a reassuringly depressing manner yelling: "I hate you! You’re not my real parents!" at her Mum and Dad. But she grew out of that and went to college, got drunk, got laid and, finally, got a job.
And you want to know the worst bit of all?
She wasn’t even smug about it.
In fact, if you met her, you’d probably really like her . You’d have a few drinks and she’d make you laugh. If you had more than a few drinks, she might try to blag a cigarette off you – but that’s not the sort of thing that starts wars and brings down empires.
Anyway, at twenty six years old with a job, her own flat, a car, and even a reasonably sexy boyfriend to her name, Katie Sharp believed her life was jogging along quite comfortably and, ergo, away from any possibility of becoming a heroine.
It was true that the job was a bit of an undemanding dead-ender, the flat rented, the car a beaten up old Mini and the boyfriend only reasonably sexy, but these registered as little more than minor niggles in Katie’s brain. And, rather than exercise herself over whether or not Sam was Mr Right or if she should be getting her Russell and Bromleys (and heroines, as we all know, wear Jimmy Choos) on the property ladder she instead chose to escape the real world whenever she could by plunging into a big, fat novel – preferably one involving the scandalous goings-on in a large country house.
Again, this is not the sort of reading matter we would expect from a heroine but she couldn’t stand self-help books and the classics left her cold. She didn’t even fancy Mr Darcy.
No, really.
Or rather she didn’t fancy a soggy Colin Firth, which is more or less the same thing.
However, a heroine she was and into each heroine’s life a little rain must fall, otherwise there would be very little to read about. And for Katie it all began one Friday evening...

I had enormous fun writing this book. One of the reasons for its coming into being in the first place was to cheer me up, so I invented a believable but gutsy heroine, the sort of hero I might go for myself (was I not happily married, of course!) and a dastardly villain; gave them a gothic stately home as a backdrop and packed the book with fun things like priceless missing manuscripts, a wedding that almost goes horribly wrong and a man-eating anti-heroine who is hell-bent on getting her claws into my poor hero.

On a more serious, writerly note, I'd had an idea that I wanted to use some of the themes from Northanger Abbey to see how they would play out in a modern-day romantic comedy, but the characters soon staged a coup and I ended up with a completely different book to the one I had been intending to write; although the themes of fantasy v. reality and the effect that books and literature can have on our understanding of the world is still very much there.

Love, Allie

The Story So Far...

Hi, I'm Allie. I'm a thirty-something mother of two, I live on a pretty standard housing estate in the South of England and my burning, consuming, all-I've-ever-wanted-to-do ambition, is to be a writer.
Ah, the soothing sound of nib on paper...the hours spent idly gazing out of the window thinking up fiendishly ingenious plot twists...the rapturous applause as you step up to receive the Booker Prize for your first novel...
Not a bit of it!
Rather, it's the furious sound of fingers on key-board as I try to get 1000 words written while Jamie (2) has his lunchtime nap; working out a way in which to keep my hero and heroine at loggerheads but still madly in love with each other as I whizz round Waitrose because we've run out of milk (again); and waiting with baited breath and sweaty palms to see what an agent/publisher/competition judge makes of my books.

This is a blog about life at the typeface. It's a tale that I hope will end happily ever after (but no guarantees - this is real life after all!) and that I hope might give some ideas or inspiration to anyone else out there in the same boat (and visa versa - all top tips very gratefully received).

Where I'm At And How I Got Here
I gave up my job as a lawyer specializing in family and divorce work in 2002 when my eldest son (Matt) was born and got a few gigs writing scripts for historical audio tours. I'd had this idea for a novel batting roud my head for ages but I never seemed to have the time to put anything down on paper. Then, in very quick succession, I lost three of my four grandparents and ran smack! into the realization that life was too short and I needed to stop putting the book off and write it NOW.
So I did.
And then I wrote another one.
And I sent them out to agents, went to writers' conferences (highly recommended), joined the Romantic Novelists Association (even more highly recommended) and entered competitions until, in August this year, I was signed up by an agent. I can still hardly believe it. It took me three years, two books and a lot of slog to get this far but it was worth it. The next step is for my agent to place the book (my first, A Novel Affair) with a publisher and I can quite honestly say that this is the most nerve-racking thing I have ever done after:
1. Taking my driving test (3 times)
2. My first day in court as a pupil barrister
Only this time it's taking weeks rather than days. Arggh.
I'll let you know how it goes...
Lots of love