Are there any more satisfying words for a novelist to write than ‘The End’? Er, actually, yes. Finishing a book, for me, is an anxious, unsettling time.
Why? For two reasons. One, because the end is never really the end. I’ve yet to meet or read about an author who sits back, after typing those two words, and is totally and utterly satisfied with what they’ve written and wouldn’t want to change – or chop – a single word. It’s a condition of the job, I fear.
And secondly, because it means the words you’ve created in the privacy of your workroom, cleaving them possessively to your chest, will have to start making their way out, blinking shyly, into the big, wide world.
What will the world – that is literary agents, publishers and early readers – make of what you’ve laboured months over? Will they be kind and welcoming?
Be that as it may, I can put it off no longer. I am at that stage with my latest work when I can rightly claim it’s ‘finished’ – for now. And so, dear readers, here’s a brief extract from … let’s call it Novel Number Two.
The title is another thing I’m not yet sure of!
This is how it starts.
I had no business being on a bike really. Not with all the Bordeaux I’d been putting away. I was trying to do the right thing, you see, by leaving the Mini on the drive. This was before I twigged that trying to do the right thing was exactly where I’d been going wrong.
Not hungover. Not really. Just a bit fuzzy-headed. And I had to go shopping or face yet another banquet of peanut butter from the spoon. My shopping list wasn’t long. White bread and cheap, day-glo lemon curd – in tribute to remembered Sunday teatimes round the fire – seven ready meals, seven family-size packets of posh crisps, and a double pack of cream crackers. As an afterthought, I added a bag of oranges. No sense, I thought, in going down with scurvy on top of everything else.
Shopping done and scary robot voice on the check-out braved, I set off for home, carrier bags swinging merrily on the handlebars. Don’t remember hitting the pothole but do remember flying through space and seconds later looking up at two strangers, a salty liquid dribbling from my mouth.
In A&E, it wasn’t exactly Code red. Adult female, like it is on the telly. More like, Sit by the broken drinks machine for a few hours, luvvie, until someone shouts a name that approximates to yours.
So I waited, blotting my mouth with toilet paper, until they sent me to X-ray. Then I waited some more, now promoted to a cubicle, until a cheerful Ozzie doctor, who couldn’t have been more of a cliché if he’d had a didgeridoo under one arm and a wallaby under the other, whooshed back the curtain.
‘G’day,’ he said, voice too loud, teeth too white. ‘Had a shufti at your piccies, Pat –’
‘Trith,’ I lisped.
‘Come again? Whatever – upshot is, looks a lot worse than it is. No fractures. Cuts and bruises only. You’ve got off lightly. Except for this,’ he said, digging into the pocket of his scrubs. ‘Pressie for you.’ He dropped something into my palm. ‘Got loosened when you face-planted the old tarmac, I reckon. Don’t thank me. Thank Sally in the Rad Lab. She found it kicking about on the floor. You’re lucky.’
I looked at the little yellow dental crown. It was tiny. Yet, as I poked around in my mouth with my tongue, the gap felt enormous.
‘Thankth,’ I said, feeling the blood trickling down my chin.