First scene. What a difference ten months can make

I spent the weekend editing/revising His Brand Of Beautiful and the big thing that occurred to me was how far I’ve come on this journey to 84,972 words; and how very different what I read now is, compared with the original.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. Now suddenly, I’m enjoying reading what I’ve written. (Uh,oh. It sounds like a recipe for disaster doesn’t it?)

I haven’t been blogging very long and perhaps finding my voice on this blog is making me brave, others might say foolhardy. (An earlier post talked about how paranoid I am about anyone reading my writing.)

But given I’m feeling brave for a Monday morning, I thought I’d post the opening scene of HBOB as it stands now. And given I’m feeling foolhardy, I thought I’d also post the oldest original draft I could find to show the difference. Miraculously (I’m a big fan of emptying Trash) it was in the Trash Can dated August 17, 2011. You see – I call it a draft now but I actually sent this out to two agents who responded to my query – what a waste, I can hear you cringe.)

I’m not saying the current version is perfect; but please, please, don’t anyone comment they prefer the August 2011 original; it will have me reaching for the Scotch, and it isn’t yet 9am!

His Brand Of Beautiful:
Chapter 1

The balloons convinced Tate he had the right house; fat purple and gold balloons tied to a wrought iron gate, rubbing each other up and down like horny teenagers at a rave. Helium no less, he thought, with a half-snort that added to the fog on the window. After months trying to pin him down for this meeting Christina Clay must think his arrival was something to celebrate.

“Least somebody wants to celebrate,” he muttered, tapping thumbs on the steering wheel and trying to see through the rain that cried against the glass. Lucky he’d scored a car park this close.

Three bronze numbers gleamed from the red-brick post box on the opposite side of the street, the type of no-nonsense box that wouldn’t lie. Two. Two. Five. Behind the brick pillar stood an old stone cottage that could have been pulled from the pages of Australian Country Life; all it lacked was the white picket fence and the rose rambling through it.

His pocket vibrated. Tate pulled out his mobile. Jancis. Again.

“How’s the hip doing J?”

“Feels like some asshole keeps whacking it with a hammer; damn thing clicks when I fart. Don’t think I don’t know when you’re trying to change the subject.”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “If you’re calling to ask about the speech, it isn’t written yet.”

“I know you can work miracles Tate honey, but AMPRA starts Monday. You are my keynote speaker, remember?”

He heard cutlery scrape a plate.

“I’m trying to forget. If you were anyone else I’d tell you to stick your Conference.”

“I know. I know. I’m forever in your debt. Truly.

“Why you want to be Association President and dick around with all those boardroom egos is beyond me.”

“I can’t let Hank Leyland run the Association for another two-year term. If this Conference kills it like I know it will; I’ll swing the votes. And I know your speech will be brilliant.”

Jesus. Yeah, no pressure.” He slapped the gear stick, thought for a moment about spending the weekend driving over red sand and rock in the Flinders; the only human for miles. Bet the sun’s shining up there. Then a gust of wind rocked rain from a branch hanging over the roof of the Jeep like a claw and he sighed; “I’ll write it tonight. I have to go J; I’m late for a meeting.”

“On a Friday night? What blonde are you meeting?” Her laugh gurgled like a drain.

“It’s business J. Brand strategy for a wine firm.”

“That’s what they call it in Adelaide these days is it? Sure. See you Monday. Enjoy the flight Tate honey, Leyland had a coronary when I told him I was flying you business-class. I swear he turned purple. Toodle-pip.”

Toodle-pip. He stuffed the phone in his shirt pocket. Jancis Woody was the only American he’d ever heard say it.

He peered out the window, hunting a patch of clear sky but even the streetlights weren’t making much headway tonight. Rain beat across the bonnet; harder now, the wind slapping it against the Jeep like shrapnel.

There was an umbrella in the back that had been there since Lila Blu’s Christmas karaoke party—his prize for winning best song when Lila dragged him to the stage to sing Leyla—it skittered and thumped whenever he took a corner too fast, a regular reminder that not only could he not sing, he was getting too old for that shit.

No way was he knocking on Christina’s door with Lila’s Christmas umbrella shielding his head, even if the umbrella was a brilliant piece of promotional marketing: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer with a gigantic ruby stud through his famous honker, antlers loaded with bling.

He didn’t feel that cheery.

Thanks Ruth.

“It’s getting embarrassing Tate,” Ruth Landers had said, tapping her finger on his desk, leader of the front office mutiny. “All Christina wants is a half-hour brand consult. You’ve had Lisa put her off for months. Next time she rings do your own dirty work. She’s always nice about it but Lisa says it’s not hard to tell Christina’s fed-up with being given the run-around.”

And that settled it. Being nice to the person who answered the phone always earned his clients, even the prospective ones; a big fat gold star in Ruth Landers’ book.

He tugged at his tie; Ruth’s other stipulation. “And no jeans! At least try to look like you want her business. It’s professional courtesy Tate. The Clays have clout,” and her strawberry curls quivered the way they did when she had something to say that was important.

Tate checked the luminous dial of the Jeep’s interior clock; found it three minutes slower than his wrist-watch that now clicked to five-thirty-two.

“Fuck it.” He reached for the leather briefcase on the passenger seat. Even a meeting with the Clay woman was better than spending extra time at his house. He’d go in. Come out. Job done. Then he’d find himself a pub with a widescreen tuned to Friday night football; get a schooner of Pale Ale, something to eat. Think about that damn AMPRA speech.

He wrenched the keys from the Jeep’s ignition.

****

Anyone who likes getting out the red pen will have a field day, but seriously, I’m not saying the above version is perfect, but please don’t read on if you have a sensitive stomach, this is really really bad!

 

Chapter 1 (The 17/8/2011 original, original version)

He looked exactly like she’d expected he would look, and somehow, exactly how he shouldn’t. She hadn’t expected the suit and briefcase, for one; but she had expected the body and the biceps. Christina opened the door wider, the man, and the smell of rain and wet bitumen, slipped in.

“Sorry, I got caught up in the traffic, a crash on Glen Osmond,” he explained, glancing at the leather watch strap that wrapped his strong, sinewy wrist. His voice was deep, polite and oddly formal for a stripper, she thought.

Behind Christina, a high-pitched giggle echoed off the cool tile floor and pale green walls and bounced down the corridor. Then came the unmistakeable pop of a champagne cork. Tate Newell took a step and breathed perfume and hairspray. Behind the whiff of hair-salon femininity came the scent of food. Things just out of the oven, piping hot, like sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto on bruschetta; olive oil dribbled over balsamic glaze, hot bread, dips, cheese, crackers. His stomach growled, he felt like he’d just walked into an Italian pizzeria. This was his last appointment of the day and in the chaos of the Friday afternoon, he’d missed lunch.

“Hi Nate, I’m Christina and you’re right on time so don’t worry. You didn’t bring your own music?” asked the cute little package looking up at him with green kitten eyes, standing with one hand on the doorknob and the other arm bare and loose by her side. She was all sleek and shiny chestnut hair fired with specks of gold from the hallway light, and incredibly long lashes framing green eyes that peeked from behind luscious chunks of chestnut fringe. They really were the most amazing green colour he’d ever seen. If he’d ever read one of those women’s fashion magazines, he suspected they might label it jade. It made him think of the clear waters in the Roper River, up in the Northern Territory, where he took fishing holidays with his brother when the Barramundi were biting. Where it was warm, not like almost winter in Adelaide. He shrugged beneath the damp jacket. She held out her hand and he took it, nodded a greeting; felt the slip of her skin in his palm.

Even as his brain queried her mistake on his name, it occurred to him her question didn’t compute. But he’d spent such a long few seconds just drowning in those eyes, maybe he hadn’t heard her correctly. Perhaps she’d repeat herself. But Christina Clay didn’t think the query was worth repeating, and she was clearly impatient.

“It doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve got lots of tunes to choose from,” she smiled at him, showing even white teeth behind a berry-brown lipstick, and swapped her weight to the other leg. “It’s up to you, however you want to work it — you’re the expert. We’re through there,” Christina waved her arm down the corridor in a way that managed to look imperious. A set of thin silver bracelets chimed at her wrist.  “You’ll recognise Lacy, she’s wearing red,” she turned back to Tate and added “she’s the one with the incredible legs. You can’t miss her.”

He doesn’t say much, Christina thought, without surprise. Strippers weren’t supposed to have much in the way of eloquence and brains. As long as he had a bit more in some other departments. Her ovaries cheered at the thought and she felt twin spots of heat rush to her cheeks that made her glad the hall lights were dimmed. She was also glad no other person could ever hear a word her fickle ovaries said. Lately they’d been getting louder.

Tick. Tock.

“You can get changed in there,” she pointed towards a closed white-painted door, first left off the hall. “That’s my bedroom so excuse the lady mess. When you’re ready, go back outside and follow the verandah around to the right, I’ve left the double doors unlocked in the living room. I’ve set-up everything the agency sent me. Give me a sign to let me know when you’re good to go and don’t be too long or I can’t guarantee they’ll still be able to hold their brushes.” She chuckled, the sound pitched low in her throat. Tate watched her mane of chestnut hair tickle the saucy mound of bottom that wiggled against the thick felt of her green skirt as she walked away. The skirt was the fresh lime colour of spring grass and it didn’t quite reach her knees. She wore it over black pants with the slightest flare and black heels that must have added at least three inches to her height. Pretty ankles, he noticed, slim but well-shaped and strong.

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