1. Sitting in a hotel room in Crewe. I was there to inspect the local hospital service and train delays meant I’d arrived too late for dinner. The wallpaper was peeling off the walls and the stink of stale cigarettes clung to the curtains. ‘What to do?’ I thought. I ate both packs of complimentary cookies and took out my laptop. ‘If I can get that short story down to a thousand words,’ I told myself, ‘I can submit it to that writing course I saw advertised.’
2. A letter in my hands. Shaking. I’ve gone part time at work and need some boost to my writing confidence. I scan it hurriedly. Many thanks. Regret. Unable. Very high standard. Offer. My heart sinks, then I read it properly. The regret was that I hadn’t been accepted for the scholarship, the very high standard included my application, the offer was mine. I just needed to find a few thousand pounds. Until this moment I hadn’t been sure what I’d been saving for, but now I knew. What else?
3. The room smelled of fresh paint. The Writers sat at one end of the boardroom table, The Students sat at the other. We outnumbered them, but were in awe. They were exotic creatures, their mind worked in ways other than ours. They were alchemists, creators of worlds, next to them we were nothing. One of The Writers smiled, and said, ‘Welcome to the course. You’re going to be working very hard, but for the next six months, at least, I give you permission to call yourself writers.’ Something changed.
4. Fear. I’ve written an opening chapter, and six other people have read it. I am related to none of them. I am married to none of them, sleeping with none of them. They have no reason not to destroy me. One of them takes a deep breath and opens his mouth to speak. He smiles as he tells me what he thinks, but I am still terrified.
5. Another hotel room. There is a silver teapot and a golf course through the window. Tomorrow I am inspecting another hospital, but tonight I am trying to write. I have invented a character whose memories disappear when she sleeps. I have chosen to write her story in the first person. The Six tell me I am brave, but I feel like a fool. How can I write her story, when she doesn’t know it herself? The laptop hums in front of me, my fantasy that I am on a book tour disappears. I begin to type, and when I look at the screen the answer is there. The Journal of Christine Lucas.
6. The boardroom. The course is finished, the book is not. The Agent has been telling us what she looks for in a manuscript. She seems even more impossibly exotic than The Writers had at the beginning of the course, but they turned out to be human, so perhaps she might too. She is standing with a glass of wine, talking to two of The Six, who are now just Amy and Antonia, my friends. If I don’t go over and talk to the three of them now, then I never will. I pick up my glass of wine. I walk towards them.
7. I sit in a coffee shop. The Agent – who is called Clare and is also human - has bought me a slice of cake. Between us there is a manuscript, bound with a red rubber band. ‘Tell me about your book,’ she says, and I say something about memory, and it being the kind of novel people might want to read more than once. I mention truth, and deception, and love. She sounds interested, but then I know that it’s what’s on the pages that counts. She slips the manuscript into her bag. ‘I can’t wait to read it,’ she says. ‘I hope you like it,’ I reply, and right now it is the only thing that matters to me. We walk to the tube station together. ‘I’ll call you in a week or so,’ she says, and I go home. I have done all I can.