All Up Hill From Here

On the weekend I wrote about the love-hate relationship we have our words. This afternoon I sat down to sift through all my feedback from my beta readers on “Sun Kissed”. Only one word can describe it adequately… “overwhelming.”And thus begins the third draft where the real work begins on any piece of creative writing.

Today represents days all across the year… when the verdict is in and where I want to walk away from the story. The  investment of four wonderful writers in this story via their feedback keeps me at the page though (another reason to get beta readers involved… it keeps you honest!)

It isn’t because the verdict is the story is terrible and I want to put as much distance between me and the awful piece of literature I’ve penned. No… it’s because it’s a good story, but it needs to be better.

The story is now more complicated because I’m privy to various different perspectives of it – not just my own. I take the views of my beta readers seriously and I work hard to address all the issues they flag, suggestions they make.

I have a great story, with a unique twist on the vampire trope. I have some wonderful characters. I have set the story in a very Australia space and cultural atmosphere, but the story needs some key ingredients to lock it all together in a cohesive fashion.

What I don’t have is a clean narrative line from start to finish. My POV jumps around as does my time line. So whose POV do I choose? There is an obvious choice… but I’m not one to go with obvious. I fear I’m not in love enough with any of my characters to give them the POV and perhaps the one who comes closest won’t provide a continuous POV. Death sucks (no pun intended!)

The there’s the timing. How do I resolve the jumps between the different time periods without ’10 years earlier’ tag. There are a couple of small solutions growing, but nothing screaming pick me.

Ahead of me is a lot of thinking time, as much as writing time. I wish I had another week, but I have another 2 days. Lucky for me… I have a road map in the print outs scattered around my desk.

What are you your third draft experiences?

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I love you. I love you not

This is not a post about NaNoWriMo, though from the title it could very well be. This is a post about the love hate relationship we have with our words. Especially during the redrafting process.

I have just sent a second draft out for beta reading. It will be my submission to Ticonderoga’s Dead Red Heart anthology. Yes… I’ve written a vampire story complete with references to amphetamine chicks in Fortitude Valley, schoolies on the Gold Coast and World Expo 88 on Southbank Brisbane. Thumbs up to local anthologies is all I can say.

I occured to me as I was tidying it up ready to be sent out – how much it is a process of… I love you/I love you not. Just like pulling petals on a daisy.

In the first draft I love everything. In the second draft I love everything still, but know better… a bit of once bitten twice shy, everything on the page isn’t pure gold and some of it does have to go (I employ Stephen King’s -10% rule where I can). In the third draft (especially after I’ve had beta reader input) I have a fair idea of what is  crap, what is OK and what shines. Then there’s the fourth and subsequent drafts.

As we were walking up the beach on Tuesday, Jason asked me what to do about advice to ditch something from your writing you really love. (He has a lovely habit of stock-piling questions for me, until we meet up in person to debate them at length and the beach was a particularly lovely setting for a discussion)

How do you know it its good advice or bad advice? How do you decide what to ditch… especially in light of the drafting process and the need to feel precious about our work at some point in the process and to completely let go as well.

My answer was… if it doesn’t further the story or add something to the story/enhance it, it’s not something the story is in love with… it is something you are in love with. And it can go… as hard as it may be.

I used the example of Rob Diaz’s suggestion to me last year, during the rewrite of Bondi,  to discard the references to Pearl Jam. It’s an outrage I cried inside, in my best Tony Robinson voice. This story must absolutely have a reference to Pearl Jam’s ‘Alive’... abashed he would suggest getting rid of them. I can still feel the physical reaction I had to his few lines in an email telling me to ditch them.

A day later I came back and looked at Rob’s critique with impassionate eyes. I was in love with the Pearl Jam references. It was all about me. Not about the story. So Pearl Jam went (and now when I hear ‘Alive’ I think about how it almost made it into one of my stories) The story didn’t suffer… if anything, it helped to pick up and maintain the pace.

And this is what it’s like in the second draft… what am I in love with? What do I have to choose not to be in love with?

In terms of ‘Sun Kissed’ I jettisoned close to 3000 words in total. The first two installments I wrote didn’t zing… they started the story too far away from where it had to start – it was a no brainer to give them notice. Then in the middle two scenes (with great dialogue) didn’t add anything to the story over all… so they went too.

It hurts to highlight and delete (even when those words are entombed in an earlier draft so never entirely deleted.)

When it comes to your second draft, let yourself be in love, and then let yourself fall out of love. Your story will be thankful for it. After all, what you’re often enamoured with is actually superfilious to the good functioning of the story. And if it’s in regards to a critique you’ve got, and you still don’t feel right about it – get a second opinion from some you trust.

Image via A bit of this and that

[fiction] Friday: Reset

This story is especially for my dear friend Chris Chartrand who celebrated his birthday this week. Happy birth-day, Chris. You are living proof of the power of ‘one’. And it’s OK – no one goes ‘splat’ in this story…

Adalita stopped at the top of the stairwell huddled between two non-descript buildings and looked up at the words superimposed black against the pink sky.

Hades All Night Dry Cleaning

For the third night this week, the sign greeted her unlit.

“Oh great!” she sighed.

She rummaged in her back pack for the secrutiy card and descended into the gloom, feeling her way along the corridor at the bottom, the last of the light disappearing when she came around the bend her fingers tracing joins in the concrete blocks until the she came to the door.

On the third go the system acknowledged her and the over head light blinked on. She pressed the code into the pad and scanned her thumb. The door clicked open.

The lights came on in the narrow customer area, illuminating the automated rack of clothes.

“Raz.”

She flicked the switch for the back area lights and pushed her way through the heavy grey dividing curtain.

“Raz?”

The smell of burnt material hit her and Adalita raced through the work area looking for the fire, tripping over her boss as she goose-stepped her way between the pressing machines and racks of clothing.

She picked herself up and looked at him, prone, eyes open, staring unblinking up at the flickering fluoro tube above his head.

“Not again.” She heaved him over into the recovery position. “You owe me a raise for this, dude.”

Behind the high shirt collar a small door hid. After the first call out, three days ago, Raz decided it easier and cheaper for Adalita to know how to reset his system. After three years of almost loyal service, he trusted her.

Adalita flicked opened the door in his neck with her fingernail, pushed the reset button and reading from a note saved in her phone, punched in the correct sequence of ones and zeroes. After closing the door, she rolled him onto his back and busied herself with the opening procedures for the shop while his system rebooted. The creepy tones of Placebo drifted down through the speakers and the neon flickering to life at the street level as Adalita turned the sign on the door to open and flicked the lock.

“What’s this crap? Raz yelled.

“Break up music?”

“You broke up, why?”

“He was keeping secrets.”

“Isn’t that why you broke up before.”

Adalita stuck her head between the curtain and the partition wall. “No…first time I’ve broken up with Fabian.”

“Really? I can’t keep up. Especially since the emotional upgrade for break ups doesn’t seem compatible with my system and now these power problems…”

“How do you feel?” Adalita yanked him to his feet.

“Feel?”

His cybernetic brain stared out through human eyes. At first the look gave Adalita the heebies but three years on, the machine meets human thing, didn’t bother her.

“Or whatever you dudes say.”

“… my diagnostic reports a power spike.”

Adalita unwrapped a piece of bubble gum and shoved it into her mouth. “Again. What were you doing? Trying another illegal upgrade?”

“No. I–”

“Aren’t they the clothes you were wearing yesterday?”

“I don’t know, are they? The power spike’s deleted everything from my memory bank for the last 24 hours.”

“Don’t you, like, have a back up or something?”

“I back up after closing.”

“So the power spike was before then.”

“Was I OK when you left?”

Raz chewed at the gum and blew a bubble, thinking. “Nothing that springs to mind, but… hey! You’d better take your shirt off and I’ll iron it, while you sort out the till. They’ll be swarming down the stairwell to pick up their stuff. And I know how weird you get about creases and stuff in front of customers.”

Raz stripped the shirt from his lithe body and Adalita marvelled at how human he looked, right down to the simulated carotid artery in his neck and the spattering of chest hair. She imagined him out the front, shirtless counting coins and bills into the till. With a make over of his tragic fashion sense he might even be her type.

She canned the thought. There were two rules in her life –business separate from pleasure; no droids.

The industrial press slammed down on Raz’s shirt, one side and then the other, a sigh of steam in between. Hanging the warm shirt over the swivel chair in the office the music shifted from Placebo to The Doors.

“Hey!” Adalita called out from the office. “You said you didn’t have a preference for music.”

“I do tonight. No more break up music.” Raz stood in the door way, the look in his eyes giving Adalita a new type of heebies.

“Whatever.”

“And you’re working the presses tonight.”

“Like I come to work dressed like this to iron and clean clothes.” Dropping her hands to her hips, and tilting them slightly, lifted one side of the short ruffled skirt an inch higher. Raz could see the darker top of the fishnet stockings. He looked away quickly.

“Don’t argue.”

“Jeez Raz, what got into your circuits tonight.” She shifted the weight from one foot to another, exposing the top of her other thigh. “I’m just saying right from the top, it’s got nothing to do with me if we get raided and you lose your license for exposing me to inorganic poisons.”

“That’s the least of my worries.”

“Whatever!” Adalita shrugged her shoulders.

“Hey Adalita,” Raz said, stopping at the curtain. “Why’d you break up with Fabian again.”

“Who?”

Raz turned without a word, leaving Adalita to fume over the stink of chemical and her own sweat and him to search his memory banks for the piece of data which eluded him.

* * *

Five minutes before closing, the door chimed. Raz, old school, loved dumb stuff like the bell above the door. Adalita stood on the other side of the curtain hearing the tap-tap-tap of the cardboard pick-up docket on the counter top. She peeked out the curtain. A tall man in a well cut suit, and fedora pulled low, so the rim obscured his forehead and eyes stood on the other side of the bench. Just another dude picking up his clothes from the black market dry cleaner. It was like they all shared their best disguises out there in the corridor. Didn’t they realise they just looked… obvious?

It took thirty seconds for Raz to glare at her from his place by a circuit board of the cleaning booth, motioning her to shift her arse out the front. Adalita shrugged. She was glad it wasn’t her shop. The whole place seemed riddled with machines suffering energy issues. She was glad she was human.

She walked behind the counter and with a bored sigh, stuck out her hand to take the docket. The tapping stopped but he made no effort to pass it over.

“You’re not playing Placebo.” The voice, familiar, ran like warm honey through her body, coupled with the shrill warning of bees.

“It shits the boss.” An exploding gum bubble punctuated the sentence, pushing the odd feeling aside. She’d been sacked from her last job for speaking about the boss that way, that’s why she liked Raz so much. Droid didn’t get so hung up on stuff like humans did.

“I left something in the pocket of my jacket when I dropped it off earlier in the week.”

“That’s unfortunate, isn’t it?” She raised an eyebrow, but he kept his bowed. The tapping started again.

“I’ll need the docket, and a description of the missing item. And there’s a twenty dollar non-refundable surcharge.”

He handed over the docket, slid his hand into the breast pocket and produced a neat fold of bills, peeling a twenty off and handing it to her. Adalita stared at the hands, a memory clawing at the back of her head.

“Just a minute.”

She pushed through the curtain, looking at the number on the docket.

“Some dude’s lost his fish shaped key ring.”

“Fish shaped keyring?”

The Doors cut to Placebo.

Adalita looked confused, he’d never said he was looking for a fish shaped keyring. She flipped the docket. A biro drawing of a fish shaped keyring.

A key ring just like…

“Adalita!” yelled Raz springing to his feet.

“Fabian?” Her eyes flew open.

“You got it in one babe. Gosh we cut it fine this time,” he said, nonchalantly leaning against the partition wall.

Words flowed into her brain,  downloading as though she had a hole at the top of her head for them to feed into.

Placebo

Her mouth twitched.

Fish key ring.

Her eye lids twitched

Start

“You-” she tried to say

End

“You…”

Delete

Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she crumpled to the floor.

“Stop it.”

“I only reset her.”

“You can’t keep erasing her memory and jump starting your relationship.” Raz stood brandishing an electric screw driver. ” She’ll always find out you’re a droid.”

“So you know.”

“I suspected so I ran a deeper search tonight. Cross matched your name against my databases. You were here Monday night and Wednesday night. Three times this week. And I can’t hear a heart beat.”

“So what.”

“Stop messing with her head. Just let her break up with you for Ford’s sake. She doesn’t date droids.”

“Jealous, huh?” Fabian grunted. “I can see how you’re really her type.”

“Just leave her be. Or else.”

“Or what.”

“I’ll report you for human violations.”

“I’m quakin’”

Raz launched himself across the room, connecting with the single stream of pure electricity of Fabian’s taser. The cybernetic-man convulsed in midair, smashing to the floor… eyes staring out at the flickering warning light on the side of the cleaning booth.

The taser singed the pocket lining of Fabian’s jacket as he moved quickly about the shop, switching lights and music off, setting the security system for a two minute grace period. before kneeling down and picking Adalita up. In the dark, with the door clicking shut behind them, he whispered, his lips brushing her warm ear, “Let’s go home and make up, babe.”

This week’s story is inspired by the [Fiction] Friday Challenge #183 for November 26th, 2010: Set your story in a dry cleaners.

50 Copies

Last week my first five copies of 50 Stories for Pakistan arrived. I say first, because as soon as I held the book in my hand, and shared it with my friends at Mr D’s school, I knew I had to order more.

Over the weekend I decided to pledge to sell 50 copies. I posted a few small status updates and photographs late last week and got some nibbles. Tonight, feeling crap about floundering at NaNo and not being as far ahead on an editing project as I wanted to be, I sat down and emailed all my Austalian contacts via Facebook.

It’s not a simple matter of hitting… send to all. Unless I’m doing it wrong – you can only email 20 folk at a time… so it took me almost two hours to email all the Aussies on my list. But it paid off. In a little under three hours 24 copies were gone… almost half of what I set out to sell.

Here’s the letter I sent out. If you are an Aussie reader, and you’d like to support a great cause (and get your hands on a fantastic read) leave a comment below.

* * *

In August this year, Greg McQueen (an ex-pat English writer living in Denmark), decided he couldn’t sit back and do nothing again. Earlier in the year he’d created 100 Stories for Haiti going from an idea to a book with 100 flash fiction pieces in six week. This time his focus was on the victims of the Pakistan floods.

He again invited writers the world over to donate a story. Again he was joined by a dedicated group of volunteer editors. The front cover image from Getty Images was donated. And six weeks later, on the 28th October 50 Stories for Pakistan rolled off the presses at Blurb.com.

In the anthology, my flash fiction “The Man Who Would” (it is the final story of the anthology). Joining me, six other Chinese Whisperings writers – including my two Australian friends Benjamin Solah and Annie Evett, and my London-based business partner Paul Anderson.

Now it’s time to share it with the world.

I’m committed to buying a bulk consignment of 50 books and want to find homes for them all before Christmas. This is where you come in. It is coming up to Christmas, so if you don’t already need a reason to purchase a copy – here’s one. Buy a copy, buy multiple copies, to share with loved ones and friends alike. Doing so not only shares the Christmas spirit but doubles the impact of your dollar, as all profits go directly to the British Red Cross to help with the ongoing efforts in Pakistan.

Interested? Willing to support me, support an awesome anthology full of excellent (and thought provoking stories in many cases) and support the victims of Pakistan floods.

The cost is $10 and postage on a bulk consignment around $3 per book (possibly less). I will personally deliver all purchases within an hour from my home in Brisbane (which includes the Gold Coast) For those outside of Brisbane – I will check postage, but the book is small and light and I imagine it to only be a few dollars extra for postage within Australia.

Please share this with friends and family, so they can inturn spread and share the word.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and thanks in anticipation of your support.

~ Jodi

You can find more info about 50 Stories for Pakistan here at Big Bad Media

Chapter 3.2

On the Wednesday before Eliza’s first show, Jeremiah arrived at lunch time smelling strongly of brandy. His pale blue eyes were red and his thin hair messier than due a man who seemed to be constantly in his hat, even indoors when it should have been hung on the stand by the door.

Ryan ignored Jeremiah. In his mind the senior Hutchinson was his boss and Jeremiah just a poor substitute, who was either drunk or absent. Jeremiah swore off his lacsidaisical approach to running the shop, insisting he was away at business meetings or at important social events. But Ryan knew better. The smell of brandy, like this morning, was always on his breath and you didn’t have to poke too far into local gossip to hear of Jeremiah’s increasingly desperate attempts to pay his gambling debts.

Jeremiah only seemed to make an appearance at the shop when he was looking for money. There had been no precedent established for Ryan to accept payments or to bank money, so when Mr Higgins insisted Ryan take the money for his son’s coffin and “Keep it from Jeremiah” he added, keeping his voice low, “George must know what he’s doing leaving Jeremiah up here by himself, but…” he left the sentence unfinished, pressing the bills into Ryan’s hand. “You’ll know how to keep it safe.”

Ryan found the receipt book and wrote a receipt and shook Mr Higgins hand, then closing the shop, took the money directly to their timber supplier, who Ryan knew had not been paid for two months.

Jeremiah went straight into the tiny, airless office and Ryan could hear him pulling the drawers open, the key to the strong box rattling and then swearing. Moments later Jeremiah appeared his normally thin, pale face bloated with rage.

“When was the Higgin’s account paid.” Jeremiah waved the receipt book in front of his face, fanning the heat in it.

“Mr Higgins stopped by Monday and insisted he make payment. I tried to explain to him I was not authorised to accept payments and suggested he return when you would be in the office to settle the account, but he refused.”

“So you took the payment. Where is it now. The strong box is empty – yet there is a receipt in your appalling handwriting for having accepted the money.”

Ryan put down his hammer and walked over to Jeremiah.

“I took the money and paid for the lumber. You don’t seem to understand Jeremiah that if you do not pay the people who supply you they will stop. And if we cannot source timber we cannot build coffins. And if we don’t build coffins there is nothing to se –”

“I am not an imbecile, Anderson. Now where is the money.”

“I just explained to you, sir,” with Ryan adding additional emphasis to the final word to mock Jeremiah. “I took Mr Higgin’s final payment on his son’s coffin and took the money to Mr Jarrod. When I returned I folded the receipt and placed it inside our receipt book.”

“Where is it now?”

“I have no idea, as you’re shaking the receipt book all over the place. Perhaps you dropped it on the way out of the office.”

Jeremiah advanced on Ryan stopping an inch shy of his curved, capillary pocked beak crashing into Ryan’s nose.

“The receipt is not in there. In its absence I come to the conclusion you stole the money.”

Ryan’s fingers curled into fists, but he kept his face blank as he struggled against the urge to plough his fist into Jeremiah’s face.

“It is the conclusion you may jump to Jeremiah, but the conclusion your father would come to is that you were not present to take the money from Mr Higgins as you were meant to and as such, you are responsible for the missing money. Which I might add, is not missing, but in the accounts of Mr Jarrod.”

“You will leave my father out of this.”

“If we close the shop for a few minutes we can walk down to Mr Jarrod’s office and clear this up. He will have a copy of the receipt given.”

“How about you and I take a walk to the police station.”

“It would be my pleasure Jeremiah, if it would show you up for the incapable and erratic businessman you are.”

Jeremiah’s face fell in on itself, though his blood shot eyes never left Ryan’s.

“This isn’t over, Anderson.”

“I don’t imagine it ever will be with you, Jeremiah.”

“You will call me Mr Hutchinson.”

Ryan bit his lower lip.

“You will call me Mr Hutchinson or I will sack you.”

Ryan wrestled with himself, his fist clenching and unclenching.

“If this is a bad time, I can come back,” a voice called from the sales vestibule.

“Just a moment,” Jeremiah called back, struggling to put a pleasant tone into the flat words. “And just so you are aware, Sunday you are expected at church, as is fitting of a man of your, expanding station in the community.”

“What!”

“It seems my father’s expectations for you outstrip your own. If we are to continue to attract the right type of clientele here you must be seen in the right places. Service begins at 9am. Ensure you’re not in your work clothes. You do own a proper suit, don’t you Anderson?”

Chapter 3.1

Ryan kept an eye out for the rest of the afternoon waiting for the boy with the posters to walk past.

“Eh, any chance of a poster lad?” Ryan asked. The boy stopped, closed one eye and scrutinised Ryan with the intensity and curiosity of youth. “What’s your boss paying you to put up all these here posters?”

“A penny a day, sir.”

“What if I were to pay you a penny for just one of those posters.”

The boy looked around to see if anyone was watching. Ryan got the feeling it wasn’t the first time the boy had been accosted for a poster by one of Eliza’s fans.

“If anyone asks, you can say I took it to put it up in the shop. Can’t be getting you into trouble with your boss.”

“In there?” the boy asked, wide-eyed. “Is that right, sir? I mean…”

“We only build coffins here lad, there be no dead people in here. And Mr Jeremiah is a big fan of Miss Eliza’s.”

“True?”

“Yes. And as for us keeping bodies out the back here… you can come in here and see if you want. It’s just piles of wood, tools and what not. But the place I worked in, back in Scotland… they had dead people there. They were undertakers and coffinbuilders.”

“Really?” the boy’s eyes widened. “So you’ve seen a dead person.”

Ryan nodded solemnly. “I’ve seen lots of them. We call them bodies when the person isn’t living any more.”

“What’s it like. I mean – what are they like. The dead… I mean, the bodies. All scary and disgusting looking. My friend Kevin says they’re really bad, they smell worst than anything. And their arms fall off.”

“They can smell bad sometimes. But not all the time. They look just like they are sleeping and they’re arms don’t fall off.”

The boy looked unimpressed. “That’s it.”

“There’s really nothing terribly interesting or digusting about death lad. It comes to all of us, we just hope our time is longer than we expect it to be.”

“Can I really come in? Kevin’s never been inside a shop like this.”

“Sure,” Ryan said, leaving the workshop to open the front door for the boy, leading him through to show him the skeleton of the coffin he was currently working on and even opened the lid of one of them he’d finished.

“Wanna climb in? I bet Kevin’s never been in a coffin.”

The boy shook his head, then after more consideration said, “OK. Just a short while though. You’re not  going to nail me in.”

“No,” Ryan laughed and held the lid off and put it on for just a few seconds before opening it again to see the white-faced boy more wide-eyed than before.

The boy got out and looked around, still buzzing from his trip inside the coffin.

“You could be building barrels, or wheels, or anything in here.”

“Indeed. I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

“Doesn’t matter,” the lad said, pulling free a poster and handing it to Ryan with a cheeky grin. “It’s only been me that’s in here. Seen it. And I’ve been in a coffin.”

And Ryan knew that within hours there would be fanciful tales about dead people in the back of George Hutchinson’s and Son, and how this very lad had seen them all, even laid in a coffin with one.

Ryan clapped the boy on the back and set him on his way.

“And not too fanciful.. those tales.”

The boy turned with a surprised look.

“I was once a lad too, with a quick and rich imagination.”

Chapter 3.0

Mid-afternoon, in the first week of October Ryan looked up from the coffin he was nailing and towards the hide covering, which kept the dust from the street and any breeze which blew in, but allowed the voices of those who passed by. It was unseasonably hot for Spring, so he’d heard from the voices of those passing in by the window. It just felt plan hot and horrible to the young man from Aberdeen and he longed to open the window.

The only thing stopping him was Jeremiah Hutchinson’s strict rule about opening the window … dust would blow in and defile the work in progress… stick to the varnishes, build up on the shelves and encourage the rusting of the tools. Plus it wasn’t seemly for plebs on the street (this is what Jeremiah had the gaul to call his potential customers) to look in. Jeremiah believed in his own version of the business of coffin making and as the elder Hutchinson spent less and less time in Ballarat, Jeremiah grew bolder in his management of the shop.

Jeremiah believed an allure of mystery should surround coffin making and the process of death. In this way Jeremiah had the audacity to lord over the process of death in the rapidly expanding town, in a way which unsettled Ryan and many of the local people who felt Jeremiah was half the man his father was.

Many times Ryan found himself wondering, did Jeremiah actually believe he was as important as, or more important than the priests and ministers? He contrasted the humble quiet of the older Mr MacDonald with the brash pompousness of Jeremiah. It made Ryan cringe.

Knowing Jeremiah would not be back for the day, he had ‘business meetings elsewhere’, Ryan unrolled the hide covering and opened the workshop to the world beyond. It would get back to Jeremiah but Ryan didn’t care. As recognition for his skills as a craftsman and businessman grew (he’d overheard two men talking about who really ran George Hutchinson and Sons.) and he listened to gossip about Jeremiah (he had a gambling problem and had been sent to London and Paris twice to avoid trouble he’d entangled himself in, first in Sydney and then Melbourne) Ryan’s boldness in the workshop and in his dealings with customers. This vexed Jeremiah who countered by making Ryan work harder, especially when a customer came in an asked expressedly to speak with “Mr Anderson.”

“Afternoon Mr Anderson,” a middle-aged man said, tipping his hat.

“Afternoon,” Ryan replied. He was used to everyone seeming to know him and him inturn knowing very few.

He was about to turn around when he saw the young lad slapping glue onto the back of a poster and Eliza’s face appearing on the wall of the Argent’s General Store opposite. Ryan took off out of the workshop, through the small receiving area at the front and out from under the narrow verandah and across the street to the porch of the General Store.

Eliza was coming back. His heart hammered inside of his chest, the insistent knocking of a visitor desperate for admittance.

“They be making us pay now,”came a voice behind him and he saw Harry Thorough late of Shepherd’s Mallet and the stables of the Royal Hotel. He smelt of horse shit, as he did every day and Ryan took a step towards the poster to put more breathing space between the two of them. “Something not right about that.”

“Well she will be here next week.”

“So they say.”

“Miss Eliza is nothing but scrupulous,” Ryan said, using the newest word he’d learnt (he’d heard someone speak of him as such, comparing him to Jeremiah who was claimed to be anything but!)

“What about her management though. I heard that Lucien Farrow has criminal convictions in America. He looks all wrong too.”

Ryan had heard that as justification for harassing the Chinese… they looked all wrong.

“What’s he been convicted with?”

“I dunno,” Harry said. “Doesn’t really matter does it. I’d be watching my money around him though. I want to know she’s in town and on stage before I part with my money.”

“But the money’s not going to him. It says here – to pay at The Imperial Theatre. If Lucien Farrow’s going to get his hands on your money – he’s going to have to come here for it. And I trust the Barnsleys. Old Arthur Barnsley would never hand over money without a show.”

“You’re too trusting Ryan,” Harry said.

“Perhaps.”

“I’ll be waiting for my ticket. Buy it on the night I will.”

“Good luck with that then,” Ryan said, nodding his head in Harry’s direction and walking back across the road to the shop.