A big warm welcome to fellow Brighton author, Lucy Deslandes, who has just published her debut book, Bruised Banana – a trip into a world beyond our world, full of charm and magic realism. Described as ‘fantastic, compelling and totally mind-spangling’, here she shares the first chapter and tells us what inspired her to write it. Sit back with a cuppa and enjoy the read. We’re sure to see a lot more of Lucy over the coming years. Take it away, Lucy…
Talk about the book(s) you’ve written. What was the first seed of an idea you had for your book? How did it develop?
I have written several short stories, but Bruised Banana is my first published work. The idea of the book came to me whilst I was on my writing course at Sussex University. Every week we were set a new task to interpret Greek Mythology stories into our own. It was great fun. It was around that time that I formed a character called Marah. She was very dark – a tortured soul and I felt her mourning. The physical image of her came from one of my paintings. I had previously been a foundation course at Brighton City College. The lady in the dress was a widow, she was in a collection of women I had drawn and stitched for the end of year show. My theme was about ‘Love’ and these six women were all on different journeys. I attached a piece of writing about each of them and put a belonging of theirs in a glass box. Marah the widow had a tiny wooden coffin tied up with string. It was meant to symbolize her sealed love. She was never going to love again. When the chance came up to write about her, I let go and she led me. I had no idea where it would take me and then I found Kat.
How would you describe your writing process? Do you outline? Let the muse lead you? Or something else?
My writing process is free. I can’t think ahead. I’ve been writing short stories like this for years. The ideas come to me in the process. When the characters form, they really come alive and then they start playing tricks.
How has writing this book changed you?
I feel like I lived another life writing this book. I’ve gone on the journey with these people. I can’t help but love them. Just as well because they wont leave my head. And that has changed me.
How do you handle major rewrites?
Rewrites! Ha ha… big challenge. I had a great editor and if and when she requested a rewrite – I did it. I wiped out thousands of words, pages in blocks, including the material I loved – but I trusted her. If I didn’t have the confidence in her I wouldn’t have changed anything.
What do you keep in mind as you write? An overarching question? A theme? The last line of the book?
The last line of the book – I like to add surprise. Plots unravel at the end and then I stir it all up and expose them. The lovers, the liars and the saints all have their finale.
Is there an aspect of writing that you favor over others, e.g. dialogue, exposition, description of a scene, setting, or character, etc.? Is there one that is more difficult for you?
I favor scene writes any time. I find the backdrop easy. Dialogue is fun but it can take hours just to get a few good sentences. I work hard thinking how my characters move and express their tension.
Tell us about the funniest/craziest/most interesting thing that has happened to you as a writer.
Lots of funny and weird things happy to me, I think I attract it. Once when I was sketching in a ‘life class’ my art teacher moved me to the front of the studio, thinking I would get a better view of the model. I had been at the back of the class for very good reason – the model – a man- really was quite beautiful. When I shuffled to the front all pink faced, I was squashed in a tiny space and had to perch below the model. I couldn’t look up and draw his ‘thing’ because he kept looking down and smiling at me.
What is the best piece of advice about writing that you ever got or read? What would tell aspiring writers today?
Best advise with writing: when you’ve finished some work that you think is done, leave it. Shut it in a drawer and then in a month take it out. Read it with fresh eyes. Advice to aspiring writers: write and keep going. If you believe in yourself and you have the dedication then you can do it. You might write a chapter in twenty minutes and then another in a month, but stick to it. Make the time. Have a bond with your characters and they will call you to work.
I wait for my sister to stop reading her emails from my laptop. She scans the screen as she talks to me, in short cut sentences, half listening. It begins to annoy me. I’m dying to bite in and say something like, ‘Can you stop checking your fucking Facebook?’
But instead I say, “Do you want another coffee?”
She doesn’t look up. She’s frowning at her phone, watching it pulsate in her hand. It has rung like this several times.
“Aren’t you going to answer it?” I say.
She shakes her head. “I’m not in the mood to speak to him right now.”
“Who’s him?” I ask, peering over at the photo on her phone screen.
“Tim Rogers.” She blows out a short breath. “He’s called me five times already.”
He’s wearing a polo shirt. My sister has a type. “Maybe it’s urgent?”
She looks down at his flashing picture before cutting him off.
I ask, “Is he the guy from your office party?”
She twists to look at me. “No, not Tony. He’s long gone. I met Tim at the film festival.”
I stand there thinking: Tony and Tim.
Then she taps my leg. “Are you going to make that coffee?”
But I’m thinking. “Hang on. Didn’t you go to Cannes with an old film director?” I snap my fingers, trying to remember. “With the Greek one. Bald headed…”
“Yes. Stavros. Tubby. You called him cuddly.” I refill the kettle with water and click it on. “Didn’t he have a problem? Couldn’t get it up or something?”
“God, did I tell you that?”
“But I didn’t tell you about my Timmy adventures?”
“No,” I breathe and feel the knots start in my stomach.
“We met in the elevator.” She looks at me with her cat-green eyes. “We went up and down the lift for twenty minutes.”
I have visions of the door opening and closing and my sister’s short dress hitched up over her thighs.
Freda’s neck starts to break out in red patches. “But Mr Timmy didn’t tell me he was married.”
“Oh!” I say, dropping the lid off the coffee.
She sighs. “My luck to meet another bored, married man.”
I cut in. “Another?”
“But I do feel quite sorry for him. His wife… she’s a bit weird – she doesn’t like sex and she collects weird dolls. I’ve seen them all in their packets. It’s like a creepy girls bedroom. Tim said it’s getting too much now, she’s taking over the house. Oh that reminds me–”
“Do you still see that therapist?”
“I was thinking I could give Tim the number number.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“No, for her. His wife?”
“Bloody hell, Freda, why do you think she needs a therapist?”
“Oh come on. Do you think it’s normal, a grown woman collecting dolls?”
My sister frowns.
I ask, “How old is she?”
“Same age as him… thirty four, I think.”
I say, “Maybe she wants a baby.”
“Well I can tell you, he doesn’t.” Freda rolls her eyes at me. “Where’s this coffee?”
“I’m on it,” I say. “So what are you and Mr Timmy going to do?” My voice sounds deliberately patronising.
Freda opens her make-up bag and takes out a mirror, she checks her lashes. “Oh God… well I don’t have visions of a future with him. I’m certainly not folding his pants away.”
I had folded Eddy’s pants away this morning. I came across a new pair. They were red. Expensive. Support your crotch type. I pause for a moment, thinking about them. I drop two heaped spoons of coffee in each cup, add the water, and put the mugs on the tray with the biscuits.
I bring them over and sit back down. Freda takes her mug and picks out a chunky biscuit from the tin. “Have you been baking?”
“No, your lovely daughters made these.”
She tests the edge of the biscuit with her tongue.
“Ginger, treacle, marmalade, mint and chocolate chips.” I inform her.
She pulls a face. “Is that why you saved them for me?”
“They’re actually quite nice.”
She bites in reluctantly. “My girls are weird.”
I look at her mouth plunge round the biscuit and I ask: “Where do you do it? You and Tim?”
She stops the biscuit from flying out her mouth. “Seriously, Kat?”
I shuffle on my chair. “Yeah?”
“Well…” She takes another bite. “His place, my place. It depends on how randy we’re feeling, sometimes we have to stop in the car.” The thrill in her voice stops. “He wants to tell his wife about me.”
I look at her stricken face. “Okay…and that’s not good?”
“No, not at all. Have you got a cigarette?”
I shake my head. But I know I have.
Freda digs her hand inside her bag. Her pretty freckled face is smoothed over by her foundation, but she has missed a bit around her neck. She sighs, “I thought I had a packet on me.”
“Okay,” I say, standing up. “I have some in my emergency pack.”
I walk to the drinks cabinet and reach my hand behind the door, locating the packet. There are three cigarettes tucked inside, along with my pink neon lighter.
“I knew not to throw them away.” I hold them up triumphantly and open the French doors to waft out our smoke. I see the birdhouse has fallen down, spilling all the seed. Brown birds are pecking on the grass.
I light two cigarettes, sit down and hand one to Freda.
“You’re good at these things,” she says, as she exhales a puff of smoke. “What should I do?”
“Well, do you like him enough to break up a marriage?”
“You have to walk away then.”
Freda sits up. “But it’s not just him.”
I wave my smoke away. “What do you mean?”
She takes a deep drag on her cigarette. “I’ve been naughty.”
I stretch the saucer to her as an ashtray.
She takes it. “I have to stop.” She flicks her ash. “I’m not nice.” She looks out the window. “I need to tidy up my life.”
“So, it’s not just Tim?”
“Tim’s one of the easier ones.”
When her phone vibrates on the counter, we both look at the flashing photo. She cuts him off.
She takes another drag on her cigarette and then puts it out.
I squash mine out too, into the ash.
Freda sighs. She gets up and washes her hands at the sink, running the water from the purifier tap. She looks at me – changing the subject now. “Are you getting out of your bed clothes today?” She wipes her hands on the back of a towel. “You need to get out of that manky tracksuit, and get your hair sorted. Even Eddy said it’s a mess.”
“Eddy…when did he say that?”
“I saw him yesterday.”
“Did you? Where?”
“Outside my hairdressers. Didn’t he tell you?”
I shake my head.
“It was brief, darling. He beeped me. We only had a quick chat.”
“Was he in Putney then?”
“That’s strange. He said he was in the office all day.”
Freda flicks her nails testing their strength. “He probably had a quick meeting.” Her eyes spy on a biscuit crumb on my top. She takes the tea towel and flicks it off. “Look why don’t you make yourself look nice. Get out of this house. Put some heels on?”
I look at her in her killer heels. “Your skirt’s a bit short.”
She glances down at her bare brown legs. “I’m just showing off my best features.”
I fold my arms.
“Oh, stop it, just because you dress like a bag lady. You never used to be like this.”
“But that skirts not even meant to be high wasted.”
She laughs. Then edging closer to me, she points her finger under my nose. “You’ve grown a tash.”
I tap my finger over my lip. “Have I?”
“Hon, don’t give me that. You’ve tried to bleach it.”
I feel the soft downy hairs. “Is it obvious?”
“Yes. Bloody wax it off. ” She looks me up and down – I know it’s coming. “Kat, when was the last time, you went out? And had some fun?”
I look at her blankly.
“You’ll lose him… if you don’t do something about it.” The red rash appears around her collar. I know what she’s going to say and l watch the birds fly away outside. I hear her velvety soothing voice. It starts with my name. There’s a pattern to it, like Morse code, where her words tap and pause with her breath, and then there’s a raise in her voice. It pitches to a higher frequency when she mentions words like hospital, baby, and death. I feel the cold and oily memories. I blink back the tears.
Freda places her hand on mine. “You have to stop punishing yourself and start to live your life.”
My voice cracks. “I try.”
I look at her lips move. “Don’t you think shutting yourself away, makes things worse? I stare at her. Even her freckles look beautiful. “You, are blessed Kat. You don’t need to worry about money and you have a beautiful house, and a man that supports you. And you still look gorgeous in a manky tracksuit.”
I well up even more. “And I can fold pants.”
“And you’re good at folding pants.” Freda’s teeth look so white.
I wipe my sleeve across my face. Hot tears sting up my nose. More tears come.
Freda fetches some kitchen roll. She tears off a big sheet for me to wipe my eyes.
I dab my face. “It’s alright for you,” I muffle under my tissue. “You have a different life. You have your kids and your career and you travel. I feel like I have no focus.”
She steps back. “Darling, I have debts. I owe so much money. I work my arse off, to pay for my kids to go to a decent school. And the little fuckers don’t even like me.”
“Is that why you’re a sex addict?”
Her face crumples. “I was married to a man for fourteen years who didn’t even touch me, because he liked other men.”
“Sorry…” I sniff
She tidies a strand of blonde hair off her shoulder. “He sent us a postcard yesterday! He sends them to the girls, not me. He’s in Italy now. Rome. Can you believe it? He’s supposed to be broke… stupid arsehole.”
I sigh. “But you’re so strong?”
“I have to be.” She levels her eyes at me. “Now, are you going to be alright?”
I try to smile. “Yes.”
Then she clocks the time. “Shit!” She reaches for her bag and jacket off the chair.
I decide to share my news: “I’m off the medication.”
She mutters to herself. “What? Really…? Are you sure you should be off it?”
I nod. “I think it’s time too.”
She wipes her fringe back. “Okay, but if you start feeling funny or anything you will speak to me this time?”
“Yes, Yes.” I say, looking away, avoiding her penetrating stare.
Then she checks in her bag, but she has her car key in her hand already. It amuses me.
I ask, “Where are you going?”
“I’m meeting Mum, ” she says it quickly. “Do you want to come?”
She tilts her head. “Dad’s coming.”
“Dad? How awkward is that going to be?” I know I sound bitter.
Freda’s, eyes narrow. “You know Mummy is desperate to see you, she only has another few days before she flies back. You’re just bloody attention seeking now.”
“Attention seeking… Really?”
She snaps at me now. “Pull yourself together.”
I follow her out into the hallway. Freda puts her hand on the latch and opens the door into the morning light. I watch her get into her silver sports car. She pulls her seat back and adjusts the mirror. The radio starts and she clicks on her belt. As she reverses out of the drive- way, I wave pointlessly from the doorstep, until she is out of sight. Then I close the door. The house feels quiet now. I climb up the stairs with my hand on the banister – the wood feels smooth. I need to have a shower to wash her off me.
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