A good day for hanging out the washing. I love days like this when I can get the washing dried outdoors. It always smells so nice and I like that it’s more eco-friendly than using my tumble drier. Plus, I just love to see clean laundry on the line. Well, it would be a bit weird if I hung out the laundry without washing it, wouldn’t it?
Mind you, I’ve seen it done. Have you ever noticed that in films or television dramas, even the soaps, when someone has to hang out a washing, it’s rarely actually wet? That annoys me no end. If you’re gonna have that scene in, then go for authenticity. Do it right. Give the character a basket of wet washing. It can’t be that hard to organise, can it?
When enjoying my thankfulness walk round the garden today, I found myself smiling at the laundry being gently blown dry by the light breeze as well as the warmth of the sun.
And I got to thinking about writing …
When we write about our characters we do the opposite of what I was talking about just now, we hang out their dirty laundry.
We expose their faults and flaws, their bad decisions, their mistakes.
Of course we do. That’s what makes them and their story interesting. Why? Because life’s like that. Things happen. We don’t always make the wise decision, the right decision, or the caring decision. We make mistakes. All of us. Nobody is perfect.
Why would we want to pretend our characters are? Why would we have them always get things right? That would make for a very dull story. It’s the fight against their flaws, the attempts they make to put right their mistakes that give us their story.
Then, when outside calamities and misfortunes hit them, we can see they are made of stern stuff. If they can battle against their inner demons and come out victorious, they are far more likely to prevail when things get tough.
Just look at those plants growing through the slats of the bridge in our garden. When the bridge was built, it would be easy to assume that any plants underneath it would wilt and wither. After all, they were now deprived of direct sunlight and water. They have to survive in difficult, dark conditions.
But guess what! The hardy ones prevail. They fight their way up through every obstacle. Not enough sunlight? Who cares? They take the little they get and aim for where they know there’s more. Not enough water? They take what runs their way, soak it up and lift their heads and stretch out their roots to where they know they’ll find refreshment.
If we build good, strong characters, characters who are real, authentic, with their faults and flaws to battle with, then they’ll be the same. They’ll find their inner strengths when they need to, they’ll overcome the obstacles. They’ll prevail.
But we, the authors have to give them a bit of backbone.
Today, I thought I’d share with you the beginning of Searching for Summer. This is where it all started to go wrong for Mirabelle, when her bad habits began to catch up with her. This is when her struggle with her inner demons starts.
Searching for Summer
The letter had finally come and Mirabelle suggested they should go out for a meal and to the cinema to celebrate.
She gave Summer a quick one-armed hug while shoving her bare feet into floppy sheepskin boots and preparing to rush out the door to work. “After all, not every day a girl gets accepted into uni,” she said, giving her daughter a kiss. “Imagine! A lawyer in the family.”
“Yeah, well, don’t count your chickens and all that. I might never graduate.”
“You will, chicken. I know you will. You always finish what you start. Not like me,” Mirabelle laughed. “Scatty as they come.”
“And proud of it,” Summer muttered. “That would really stick it to Aunt Hannah, though, wouldn’t it?” It was said with a sneer. “Snotty besom!”
“Summer! That is my sister you’re talking about.”
“No worse than you think about her. And don’t think I haven’t heard you and Yvonne say more or less the same thing.”
“What was wrong with your mother anyway? Three sisters, three dads. And you bang on to me about morals.”
“I said, that’s enough! I will not have you talking like this about my mother or my sisters. Right?” She chose to ignore the sulky look she got in reply. Gathering herself and her bits and pieces together, she took a count of five and composed her face. “Anyway, honey, don’t let’s spoil the day.” She gave her daughter a smile. “Celebrations are in order.”
Summer scowled. “Yeah. Big deal.”
“Now, you know I’ve never been much for throwing a party. Love them. Think it’s the Jamaican in me. Always up for a bit of carnival.” Hands in the air, bracelets scurrying down plump brown arms into the folds of loose sleeves, Mirabelle gyrated her large hips to an internal rhythm of the Caribbean. “Love, love, love a party.” The rows of beads trailing from her neck bobbed and swung, a colourful waterfall of sound. “Just no use at organising them.” One last shimmy in defiance of the look of disgust directed at her wobbling boobs, and she handed Summer her schoolbag and urged her towards the door. “But we absolutely have to celebrate somehow.”
“You’ll definitely be home from work in time?” Summer asked with a sigh.
“Of course I will.”
Summer stood her ground, blocking the doorway. “There’s no of course about it, Mum. You’re never home before eight o’clock. The film starts at seven-thirty. If we’re to get something to eat, you need to be home six at the latest.”
“Okay. Okay. I can do it. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.”
Summer gave her a scathing look. “Ugh! That’s so yesterday.”
“Well, I’m a yesterday girl. Could’ve been a great flower person in the sixties.” Mirabelle held out her long, multi-coloured skirt and spun around on the spot. Her many rings and bangles sparkled in the light cast by the ornate, crystal-encrusted chandelier in the tiny, over-bright hallway. “Being a teenager in the nineties just didn’t have the same cachet.”
“You didn’t need the sixties.” Summer scowled.
“True. Oooh,” she cooed, stroking her daughter’s cheek. “Look at your pretty wee freckled nose all scrunched up there.” She tapped it gently. “Do I embarrass you, my petal?”
“All the time, Mother.”
Mirabelle shrugged. “Well, get used to it, kiddo. I’m unlikely to change.” Words tossed behind her with the kiss she blew as she grabbed a shawl from the back of the door. Draping the material round her shoulders, she picked up her big floppy bag and danced past Summer, out the door and down the communal stairs.
‘Unlikely to change.’
Words she’d later long to take back.
To rewind that day, push herself away from her desk, away from the stack of papers. Step crazily backwards, her shawl flying from the back of her chair into her hand, draping itself round her shoulders. Retreat through the office door, pulling it closed in front of her, her feet faultlessly finding the flight of stairs behind. She’d back down them, seeming to sink into each step, her knees straightening and flexing, straightening and flexing. Then walking backwards out into the street, her head bobbing as she took back morning greetings from colleagues and strangers.
Press rewind again to speed it up. The bus rushing in reverse, passengers seeming to get on, flying effortlessly up the step, their backs to the open door, ignoring the ticket machine, ringing the bell as they sat in their seats. Passengers seeming to get off, seeing only what they were leaving, strange knee-bent drops from the opened doors, taking their money from the ticket machine, catching it as it was spewed up from the top of columns of coins to jump into their palms. Mirabelle herself taking the leap behind her, leaving go of the handrail as her feet found the pavement.
Back, back. A reverse salsa at the bus stop, taking back the sharing of her joy at the good news of her daughter’s acceptance at Edinburgh University, smiles disappearing into closed, reserved strangers’ faces.
Backwards, backwards. Dancing down the street and up the stairs, rushing, rushing, unusual lightness in the ascent. Up the stairs and through the door and, there and then, standing beside her daughter, “I’ll change,” she’d say. “If you want me to, I’ll change.”
But, with no rewind facility available, no benefit of hindsight in play, Mirabelle neglected to change old habits. She came back from the office, late as usual, with the customary flustered apology ready on her lips and a placatory tub of ice cream in her hands as she laboriously climbed the stairs to their flat. She had got lost in the clutter that was her desk at work, writing reports about the safety or otherwise of other people’s children.
“Sorry, pal,” she said as she pushed through the door. “Not too late, are we?” She didn’t shrug out of her thick woollen shawl, though it was damp from the drizzle she’d hurried through. “Ready to go?” She pushed open the living-room door. “Summer? You there?” she said to the empty room.
Still holding the ice cream, a possible cause of the shivering tinkle her bangles made, she stuck her head round the door of her daughter’s bedroom. “Summer?”
Expecting to find her lolling across the bed or sitting at her desk tapping away on her computer, Mirabelle walked in, the ice cream held out before her as a peace offering. But the bed, duvet neatly pulled up as Summer left it every morning, was untouched, the computer unopened. Summer wasn’t home.
Will Mirabelle prove strong enough to cope with losing her daughter? Will she be strong enough to do something about finding her?
Well, you’d have to start reading the Reluctant Detective Series to find that out.
The Reluctant Detective Series
Searching for Summer
Traces of Red
Searching for Summer ~ Traces of Red ~ Rusty Gold, coming soon
All available on Amazon in paperback and as ebooks, along with the rest of my novels.