April 21st, 2015

Rose Mannering’s ‘That’s So Darling’ – Free Chapter!

Most writers have a few manuscripts loitering in their top drawer, gathering dust. Often they are the first draft. For me it was 'That’s So Darling' - it was a novel I wrote at the wrong time. Publishing, like any business, has ebbs and flows. Sometimes certain genres are flying off the shelves and next year/month/week, it can all be completely different.


I wrote ‘That’s So Darling’ two years ago and I loved every second of the process. Though I am known for my YA fantasy, I actually started my writing career with YA contemporary. ‘That’s So Darling’ was my fourth book and today, I thought I’d share the first chapter with you. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

‘That’s So Darling’

By Rose Mannering

 

‘Murderers!’ I scream with the crowd, pummelling my fists and jumping up and down. ‘Monsters!’

‘Shame on you,’ we chant, waving our arms. ‘Shame!’

‘Someone’s standing on my toe,’ Aggie hisses.

‘What?’ I cry over the roar of protesters.

‘Not so loud! I’m standing right next to you!’ she squeaks, putting her hands over her ears.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Everyone’s screaming and people keep treading on me.’

We’re shoved from side to side as a new gang join the crowd of angry animal-rights protesters brandishing posters outside the TV studio.

‘Where’s your banner gone?’ I ask.

‘Oh, I don’t know!’ Aggie groans. ‘Someone ripped it out of my hands ages ago and they scratched me too!’ She waggles her arm in front of my face. ‘Look at my wound,’ she says, pointing to a freckle.

‘Come on Aggie, this is an important cause!’

‘So you keep saying.’

‘It is! Animals can’t speak for themselves and that’s why it’s up to us to shout for them,’ I say, reciting the leaflet shoved in my handbag. I’d read through it on the tube this morning.

‘Would you want to be hunted down, murdered, skinned and slung over someone’s shoulder?’ I add, with dramatic hand movements for effect.

Aggie shrugs.

‘Aggie!’

‘All right, all right!’ she cries. ‘Of course I wouldn’t. I just wish these people didn’t push and smell so much!’

A chubby man reeking of BO thrusts her out of the way as he plunges through the crowd. He throws his arms in the air, intoxicating those in front, and shouts a torrent of abuse, showering us with spit.

‘You’re wearing dead things! You’re a murderer!’ he roars.

Aggie pulls a tissue out of her pocket and dabs her face.

‘I can’t see,’ I moan, trying to look past his writhing arms. ‘I wish we’d gotten here sooner. We’re way at the back and we won’t even see the models coming out at this rate.’

‘You’re the one that wanted to nip down Oxford Street.’

She looks pointedly at the shopping bags.

‘You wanted to go too!’

‘Not really. I only went ‘cause you said you really wanted to go. You wanted to see that new window display with the—’

‘It doesn’t matter!’ I interrupt. ‘Look, let’s just try and edge forwards a little bit otherwise we’ll miss everything.’

Aggie looks warily at BO Man.

‘Come on,’ I say, sticking out my elbows, ready for the fight.

Hoisting the shopping bags into one hand, Aggie holds a tissue against her nose with the other. I roll my eyes and grab her baggy jumper, dragging us through the jostling horde.

‘Excuse me… pardon me…’ I mutter as I bulldoze us through.

We eventually make it to the front, although I’m battered over the head a few times and someone rips the tissue off Aggie, making her scream.

‘Look, there’s Matilda!’ I cry, over the foot stomping and chanting.

I recognise her from her photos on the DWF website – silvery hair, friendly wrinkles and the biggest hooked nose I have ever seen. Like an eagle. Matilda is the leader of DWF (Down With Fur) and I am her most enthusiastic member. As of last week.

‘Hi Matilda!’ I yell.

Matilda organised this whole thing. Last night she sent an email around to all DWF members, rallying them up, and then she sent me another personal email to make sure I was coming. She said that she wanted her most active member there. Me. Her most active member. I almost squealed with delight. This is going to look fabulous on my extra-curricular activities school-card – not that that’s why I’m doing it. Of course not! I totally believe in the cause. Totally. But I can’t deny that it will look good, and that’s why I just knew I had to take her up on it even though it was very short notice and I had to cancel my personal trainer.

Matilda glances over her shoulder and practically beams when she sees me.

‘Darling Longford! You made it!’ she cries.

A few people around her pause in their chanting and look at me. I thought I might get some attention today, you know, for being her most active member, so I’d dressed accordingly in a sheer blouse and studded leather skirt. I was going for edgey and soulful.

‘As if I would miss this!’ I reply casually.

‘It was getting late,’ says Matilda, ushering me over. ‘I almost thought you weren’t coming.’

‘We erm… we were held up by the… trains.’

Aggie dumps the shopping bags on the floor and stretches her arms. ‘Darling wanted to go and see—’

I nudge her in the ribs and she shuts up.

‘That’s all right,’ says Matilda brightly. Her smile is so large I have a dazzling view of her gums. ‘As long as you’re here now.’

‘So do you know when the models are coming out?’ I ask, peering at the locked back doors of the TV studio. Now that we’ve pushed our way to the front, we have a great view.

Beside me, Aggie is muttering something about needing another tissue, but I ignore her.

‘It’s soon,’ replies Matilda, clapping her hands together with glee. ‘The police will be on their way in a minute too.’

‘The police?’ I squeak.

Aggie whimpers.

‘Of course, have you seen the numbers I’ve rallied up?’ Matilda nods at the bellowing crowd behind us, jabbing their banners in the air.

‘I just didn’t think that there would be… police.’

I can imagine Daddy’s face if I rock up to our house tonight in a police car. The colour is somewhere between plum and fire-engine red, which is ironically what we would need when his head exploded in a ball of flames.

‘We wouldn’t get very far if we turned up in flower headbands and politely queued up outside now would we!’ cries Matilda. ‘None of that hippie stuff works anymore, it’s all about aggression.’

I blink.

‘The police won’t like… hit us or anything, will they?’ I ask.

Matilda shrugs nonchalantly. ‘Depends whether things get out of hand.’

My eyes almost pop out of my head.

‘But don’t worry, I have a special job for you,’ she says quickly, noticing that I am close to hyperventilating. ‘I thought you could stand at the side with your friend. I wouldn’t want my most active member getting trampled.’

That’s more like it.

I smile graciously. ‘I just want to do my bit,’ I say.

‘Of course you do. Now, I want you to stand over here.’ She grabs my shoulders and frog-marches me around the corner, away from the crowd and the studio doors, to a row of over-flowing, rotten bins. I wrinkle my nose. Perhaps this isn’t so good after all.

Aggie comes puffing behind us, the shopping bags in tow.

I make frantic head movements at her to squirrel them away, but she’s too preoccupied with her mousey, fluffy hair which has escaped its ponytail. Aggie’s hair has to be wrestled into submission every morning with dollops of moose and piping hot ghds.

Luckily, Matilda hasn’t noticed the evidence of my morning shopping spree since she is too busy rummaging behind a bin. I try not to grimace. She does look like the sort of person who finds their clothes rather than buys them. All the photos on the DWF website show her sporting a dog-eared, mottled rain mac and shapeless, corduroy trousers. Today we are spared the mac, but in its place is a holey, baggy jumper that looks like its been pulled out of the cat basket. Matilda needs help. Perhaps one day after another successful protest, I could take her shopping.

Matilda drags two tins full of red paint from behind the bin with a triumphant smile. ‘I hid these yesterday,’ she says smugly. ‘I knew the security guards would try and confiscate them. They came before you arrived and took away Drew’s paint.’ She points to a weedy man nearby who is forlornly clutching a paintbrush.

‘Do you want us to paint something?’ asks Aggie.

Matilda laughs. ‘Quite the comedian,’ she says.

We both look back at her blankly.

‘Oh… you were serious… no, I don’t want you to paint something. When the models come out wrapped up in the poor, defenceless skins of beautiful creatures, I want you to chuck this paint over them.’

I falter. I’m not sure I want such a crucial role.

‘So…who’s actually in there wearing the fur?’ I ask, buying for time.

Matilda looks a little shifty. ‘What do you mean? I explained it all in the email I sent you.’

‘Oh yes, of course.’

Hmm. I may have skim-read the email. I mean, I only needed to read the first few lines to get the general gist of it and Matilda had written me a fricking essay. Aggie and I were right in the middle of trying out some new nail polish and we were about to start watching a movie, I just didn’t have time. When you’re as busy as I am then you need to prioritise.

‘I read it last night,’ I say. ‘But I’ve forgotten some of it.’

Matilda looks even shiftier. ‘Well, it’s just some young models – no one important – who are being interviewed. It’s a tiny, daytime show that no one’s ever heard of, but I suppose if you’re going to refuse to do it…’

She gives us a painful, disappointed look.

‘I was counting on you, Darling,’ she adds. ‘I didn’t want to give the job to just anyone. I thought you could become co-manager of DWF.’

Co-manager of DWF? How many extra brownie points on my university application would I get then?! I can see it now: In my spare time I manage a volunteer organisation recently featured in ELLE, allowing me to develop my leadership skills. Fabulous! And, of course, I can raise awareness and save animal’s lives. That is obviously way more important.

‘We’ll do it!’ I say. ‘Down with fur!’ I add for impact.

Matilda beams again. ‘I knew I could count on you,’ she says. Then she glances at her watch. ‘Great, so they’ll be out in the next few minutes, I expect. I’m going to join the others by the doors, but you two lay low here and as soon as they come around that corner, get them! They’ll have bodyguards, but by the time they see you, it’ll be too late.’

I nod, already mentally picturing my own headshot on the DWF website. I’d get one of Daddy’s photographers to do a shoot for me and pose in the orchard beside our house with a gentle smile (stylish yet approachable) and I’d have to wear one of my own designs of course, but I’d add my new pair of Kurt Geiger heeled boots for sophistication.

‘Darling?’ says Aggie.

‘Hmm?’

I shake myself out of my daydream. Matilda has disappeared back around the corner and into the crowd who are now chanting, ‘Shame on you! Shame on you!’

‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’ asks Aggie.

‘It’s totally fine,’ I reply. ‘And did you hear what she said? About me becoming co-manager? Maybe I could make you like, our events co-ordinator and we could host something like Live Aid but for animals! How great would that be?’

‘Mm yes. I just don’t want to get into trouble.’

‘We won’t! This is a tiny daytime show like Matilda said and our parents think we’re on a shopping trip. There’s nothing to worry about.’

‘We kind of were on a shopping trip,’ says Aggie, glancing at the bags.

‘No, that was all part of my plan. It would have been very suspicious if we’d arrived home tonight with nothing.’

‘I thought it was because you wanted those Kurt Geiger boots.’

Thankfully I’m spared replying by a thunderous burst of boos, screams and sneers.

‘Here they come!’ I hiss.

We hear a loud bang as the studio doors swing open and the shrill cry of a police siren in the distance.

‘Darling!’ cries Aggie, grabbing hold of my sleeve.

‘It’s fine. It’s fine,’ I say, but my knees are trembling and I’m really starting to think that this isn’t such a great idea.

‘They’re coming out,’ I say, as the shrieks and roar of the crowd grow louder.

‘Get back! Get back!’ gruff male voices boom, which must be the security guards.

I tell myself to think of how great becoming co-manager of DWF will be. I’d finally have something to show Daddy that I was serious about all this. Not to mention how impressed Gareth would look when I casually dropped it into our next conversation.

‘Get back or get hit!’ someone bawls.

Aggie and I exchange anxious glances.

‘Sounds like they’re coming closer,’ I hiss. ‘I’ve got an idea.’

I grab our shopping bags and arrange them in front of the buckets of paint so that they’re hidden from view.

Genius.

Around the corner comes a security guard dressed all in black, shouting into his earpiece. He glances in our direction, his eyes searching our faces, but all he sees are two teenage girls with a mountain of shopping bags. He probably thinks we’re celebrity-seekers desperate for autographs.

My heart drums against my ribcage. I keep telling myself to stay calm, but my stomach is performing double flips.

For a second, as the beautiful, long-limbed models come around the corner, I don’t think I am going to have the guts to do this. But then I see the flash of a white, sleek fur sleeve and I imagine a dead baby fox cub. Hot anger surges through my body. How dare they! How dare they wear a defenceless animal! Every heart-wrenching photograph I have ever seen on my animal rights websites whizzes through my mind and my jaw tightens with determination.

The security men are fending off the crowd and shielding the three models from a bloody battering. I see one guard push Matilda back as she shouts abuse and tries to kick him in the legs. That woman’s got fight. Beside the security guards, the models are huddled together, hiding their faces with cupped hands.

‘Now!’ I cry.

I dive into the shopping bags and pull out a bucket of red paint. The security guards are so preoccupied with the crowd behind them that they don’t see me as I lunge forward shouting, ‘SHAME ON YOU!’

The paint flies through the air in a scarlet ribbon and splatters the nearest model, slapping her across the face and drenching her from head to foot.

She screams.

I drop the bucket and it clatters to the floor.

All I can think is, why didn’t Aggie throw the paint too? The traitor!

One of the security guards yells and makes a grab at me.

The model wipes the paint from her eyes, still screaming. She looks at me and recognition ripples across her face.

Oh no. Not her.

The security guard wrenches my arm behind my back, shouting something in my ear, but I’m not listening.

Darling Longford?’ cries the model.

[End]

To learn more about Rose Mannering and her books. Go to: www.rosemannering.com

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