Writer’s block when you’re on a deadline is one of the suckiest things to ever suck. I had until the end of tomorrow to get at least a draft for the end of the book and here I was staring at a page while my brain made a hollow buzzing sound normally associated with the rotation of a microwave oven. An empty microwave oven.
Right on cue, my phone rang and I barely resisted the urge to hurl it out of the window when the caller ID confirmed it was Rod. A better agent a gal couldn’t ask for but he wasn’t going to be impressed when I admitted that I was – once again – nowhere near wrapping it up.
‘Hey, Rod, now’s not really-‘
‘Oh my god Tess, are you STILL staring at that page? I swear to god woman-‘
‘I know, I know! And for the record, calling me at ten past midnight to bitch me out some more isn’t exactly helping my creative process.’
‘You’ve got less than a day left to finish and you haven’t written another word yet?’
‘I’ve got, like…half a new sentence.’
A weary sigh was the understandable response to that.
‘Did you lose your muse, or something? Because birthing this book seems to be a hell of a-‘
I didn’t actually hear whatever he was ranting about for the next few minutes because it was like something went click in my head and finally stopped that damned microwave. Muse. Yes.
‘Rod, get me another week.’
‘I know what I need to do. One more week. I’ll finish it.’
‘What am I supposed to say to the god damned publisher?’
‘One week!’ Then I hung up on him. He’d get it done somehow. Now to hope against hope that said muse, the woman whose unusual and exceptional lifestyle had inspired the whole character of Rebecca Silver in the first place, would answer at least one of the phone numbers I had for her.
I was on number four of five when, thank god, it picked up and a familiar – and, I knew, fake – Yankee southern belle accent murmured a greeting.
‘Tess, what in the world has you calling me at such an ungodly hour?’
‘Are you on?’ I asked, just in case she was running a job. No knowing where in the world she was or what time of the day or night it might be there.
‘Not a bit.’ The accent dropped and I could almost hear the grin. ‘You sound terribly serious. Something wrong?’
‘I’m about to get set on fire by my agent and my publisher because I was supposed to have another book finished six months ago and I – ah – I’m still working on it.’
‘I need you, Sophie. A cuppa, a coffee, a snifter – whatever’s going, wherever you are right now – just some kind of story, something you’ve been up to, something-‘
‘Something to get the ol’ juices flowing again?’ she finished impishly. ‘A cuppa should be doable. I’m in Boston, but where are you?’
‘London, and catching the first flight to Boston I can get my arse on.’ I jammed my phone between my ear and my shoulder so I could work my laptop faster. ‘Where can I find you?’
In between laughing she gave me an address and told me to text her when I landed. I got a ticket booked, in between squeaks of thanks, and once she hung up I went through the flat in a whirlwind to throw essentials into a carry-on.
Rod rang me back two hours later when I arrived at Gatwick, advising that he’d been able to wrangle until the end of the following week, but only under the promise of dismemberment from Doug at the publisher. I praised him effusively for being the world’s best and most accommodating agent as I parked myself in the lounge, cracking open my laptop to find a hotel as close to spitting distance as possible to the address Sophie had given me.
I didn’t even bother trying to write on the seven hour flight, partially from exhaustion and partially because now I’d decided on an approach to break down this block I didn’t want to risk digging myself into a deeper hole than I was already in. As a result I arrived in Boston – after getting recognised by name at passport control, which was rather gratifying – more chipper and less reliant on caffeine than I’d expected given that it was nearly seven in the evening, local time.
Grabbing a cab to drop my bag at the Samuel Sewall Inn, which was apparently just around the corner, I texted Sophie that I was in theory in walking distance provided I didn’t get lost within six hundred yards, which just got a return text of table at the back ;) so with a shrug I grabbed my satchel bag and threw a notepad into it before heading out.
The sign for John McRory’s Place was a little ye olde Oirish twee, and not really the sort of place I would have expected to find someone like Sophie. This, naturally, meant I was in the right location, so I ducked in and was rather pleased to find a reasonably modern Boston bar-cum-pub that had not, contrary to the sign above the door, gone overboard attempting to replicate something from the depths of County Cork. It was bustling but not excessively so, and the TV in the corner was on a non-obnoxious volume so the ambient noise of conversation and clinking glasses never rose much above a background hum.
I elbowed my way gently to the barfront to secure a bottle of decent wine white and a pair of glasses, and was trying to be at least a little discreet with my glancing around when a long arm waved a clutch at me, and there she was tucked into a booth next to a man I didn’t even remotely recognise. Weird, I’d never seen her with a bloke unless she was running something on him.
‘You weren’t kidding when you said the first plane you could find,’ she said with a laugh, getting up for a quick hug of greeting once I’d unloaded the wine. ‘Don’t even look that jet-lagged…did you just teleport over here in sheer literary frustration?’
‘I wish,’ I shot back with a grin, then indicated her companion. ‘Shall I grab a third glass?’
‘No, no-‘ he stood and actually attempted an exit before Sophie grabbed his arm ‘-I was just going-‘
‘Not on your life.’ She slapped at his shoulder and he sat down again with the weary sigh of someone who was rather used to Sophie’s high-handedness. ‘Tess, this is Nate. Nate, Tess Fisher.’
‘Oh, well, nice to meet-‘ then he actually paused mid-handshake and narrowed one eye ‘-Tess Fisher of the New York Times Best Seller list? The Rebecca Silver books?’
‘Guilty,’ I admitted with a grin, trying to project blasé to hide the surge of curiosity. The guy didn’t have any of the signs of being one of Sophie’s marks – he wasn’t giving her moon-eyes constantly, for one thing – but I couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot was going on under that vaguely genial everyone’s-favourite-uncle expression.
‘Well then, it’s very nice to meet you.’ He mimicked the grin, all friendliness and affability. ‘I’ve always been a sucker for a good thriller.’
‘Always nice to meet a fan,’ I allowed graciously, and sat down opposite them in the booth. Sophie opened the wine and poured for us both while Nate resumed nursing what appeared to be a rather cold black coffee.
‘So, I’d say it’s lovely to see you,’ she said airily, ‘And it is, really, but I rather get the impression you’re in a smidge of a crisis?’
‘It’s the latest book.’ I took a swig – not bad, for a random bar in Boston – and sighed. ‘I’ve hit a wall I just can’t shift, and-‘ then I stopped, discretion sense pinging, and looked at Nate.
‘Don’t worry love. Nate is in a…similar line of work.’
‘Oh. Oh!’ I blinked. ‘Crikey. Didn’t know you were working with a – uh – a partner, these days.’
‘Oh it’s not really-‘ she began, just as Nate began to similarly protest, and I had to bite my lip to prevent myself making a rather wiseass and inappropriate remark.
‘Colleague, then. Okay. The point is I thought maybe if I had a little fresh juice from the source…’
‘The source?’ Nate blinked, then looked at Sophie with a mildly aghast expression. ‘You mean-‘
‘Oh, pfft.’ She waved him off. ‘There may be some very slight likenesses.’
‘You’re Rebecca Silver?’
‘The inspiration for Rebecca Silver,’ I felt obliged to correct, still trying not to laugh. ‘We met in London a decade ago when I was just another try-hard penniless writer waitressing to make ends meet.’
‘I was working a mark in the café, things got a little…’ Sophie smirked ‘…complicated, Tess sort of helped me make a discreet exit and we got talking and…well. Next thing I know, I’m a muse.’
‘Huh.’ Nate scratched the side of his nose thoughtfully. ‘Isn’t that kind of…uh…risky? I mean given the nature of – well, of what we do-‘
‘Oh no, Tess is very careful,’ she assured him breezily, dismissing that consideration with a flick of her wrist. ‘It really is inspired by and not in any way biographical. I mean, I may have helped her out a little bit with some of the lingo, you know, but nothing that would be trackable. Come on, Nate, I know you’ve read those bloody books and you had no idea I was anything to do with it!’
‘Fair, fair.’ He held his hands up in surrender. ‘It’s your business, after all…’
‘So what do you need?’ Sophie asked me, pouring some more wine. ‘Not like I haven’t been busy the last few years but where are you stuck, exactly? A decision, or a twist, or something to do with a grift?’
‘More a what next,’ I admitted. ‘I won’t bore you with the details, but-‘ getting out my notepad ‘-maybe just talk around what you’ve been up to, you know, very generally, and I’ll see if anything bites?’
‘All righty then…’
So I sat there and listened to a highly potted version of Sophie’s various con jobs over the last three years, pencil going like mad to see if anything set off sparks in my brain. Nate occasionally pitched in with a wry comment or observation, and after about an hour I abruptly realised that the bits of tales being spun had some significantly missing components.
‘You’ve got a bloody crew, haven’t you!’ I could have smacked her one. ‘What happened to I work better alone or the payoff’s sweeter solo?’
Nate looked like he was trying very hard not to guffaw as Sophie’s eyes almost crossed.
‘Well – stop glaring at me like that – it just sort of happened, to be honest, and-‘
‘How can that just happen?’
She told me.
By the time she was done the bar was closing up, but I absolutely knew what I needed to break the block.
‘I want to meet them.’
‘What?’ Sophie exclaimed.
‘The rest of your crew.’ I tapped the notepad. ‘An external perspective but not an outsider’s one. Interested third parties with comparable skillsets. When can I get you one on one?’ I asked Nate, pointing the pencil at him. ‘Brunch, lunch, dinner? Tomorrow? I want your input too. And the rest of them. This is exactly what I need.’ Then, before anyone could object, which was my main method of persuasion for most things, I stood up and gave Sophie a big, grateful hug. ‘Thank you so much! Call me with a time and place!’
She was still laughing as I fled the building, despite Nate’s slightly spluttering protests, and I raced back to the hotel to get my as-yet nebulous ideas onto paper before they floated away. In fact I’d just finished a very late room-service dinner when I got a text.
Tomorrow 11am. I’ll meet you outside the pub.