Its the characters innit? Sometimes a person or group of people come to life from the keyboard and demand more. Sometimes a set of characters can demand another book as in ‘Assured Attention’ the follow up to best selling ‘Our Best Attention’. Murrays, department store of distinction, simply couldn’t be shut down. Luckily, the books’ format of linked short stories meant that they could be read in any order. Basically, they consist of what amounts to 33 short stories some longer than others. Some characters run throughout the series of stories some don’t.
Writing short stories is an art. Its a discipline. They have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. There has to be internal coherence. Additionally, there has to be something else. Something intangible called satisfaction. The reader has to think ‘ah yes’ at the end.
Short stories are often a useful lead in to writing longer books but are valuable in themselves. Feedback from readers of my books so far often includes how much people like the format: they can read a chapter on the bus, or at night and don’t have to worry about ‘losing the thread’ of a longer narrative. They can be addictive too. One reader told me that she stayed awake all night just reading one more then another and by 6 am the book was finished- and so was she!
Magazines like the People’s Friend know the value of short stories and publish many of them every week as well as three weekly ‘specials’ and pocket novels. 200,000+ weekly readers around the world can’t be wrong! Luckily, I enjoy writing short stories for them and mine have included topics as disparate as call centres, grumpy policemen and gallus grans among many others. As ever, its the characters innit!
Well, book two in the Murrays series is written and is currently going through the publication process. So far so good, but we’re having a slight problem deciding on a title. Best selling book one, ‘Our Best Attention’, was called that as it alluded to the old fashioned way letters were signed off at Murrays department store of distinction which is the setting for the book-
“Assuring you of our best attention at all times, Yours faithfully for Murrays, etc etc”
The dilemma is whether to call the next book in the trilogy “Still Assuring You” OR “Attention Assured.” At the suggestion of Emma Baird, the creative director at Comely Bank Publishing, I’ve been taking soundings at my various authors events over the past month. Votes are heavily in favour of “Attention Assured”. However, have we missed something? Are there any alternative suggestions out there? Your attention to this matter would be much appreciated!
Fashion was always a priority for ladies at Murrays of Edinburgh, department store of distinction. Various departments catered for different aspects of this from Lingerie and Corsetry to that holy of holies -Model Gowns with all varieties in between from Swimwear to Outdoor Clothing and even, for an unfortunate time, Furs.
In my best selling book , ‘Our Best Attention’, Mr Da Costa, the straight talking star of Model Gowns, dresses down Edinburgh ladies before dressing them up again in outfits that do them more justice than those they might have chosen for themselves. In the end the ladies actually revel in his rudeness and vie to be most insulted by him.
Of course this is just a story but reality can be surprising too. In the course of my author events I’ve enjoyed hearing ladies’ experiences of their time working or as customers in the old department stores. One lady told us all about how her grandmother was a model. This meant something different in those days: ladies didn’t try on clothes themselves, they would sit and watch as models paraded the clothes for them and those they chose would be made up for them in their sizes. No changing rooms for the ladies of old! In that particular store, the sewing rooms were located as far as possible from the kitchens to prevent contamination of the precious garments by cooking smells even those from the chocolate kitchen (yes there was one!) Those were the days!
Life for staff in department stores of the past was very different from now. At the time of the 1892 fire in Jenners store in Edinburgh, Scotland (one of the stores which were the inspiration for the setting of ‘Our Best Attention’ my bestselling novel), 120 staff lived on the premises. On the third and fourth floors were the bedrooms for lady assistants along with Reading and Drawing Rooms. The young men had rooms on the fifth and sixth floors with a spacious Reading Room and a splendid Smoking Room en suite. There was a manager for this accommodation who occupied a suite of apartments on the third floor. As time moved on, and space was required for expansion of the business, any staff requiring accommodation were moved to a spacious hostel purchased by the company until only a handful remained and other accommodation was found for them.
As late as the 1930s there were clear standards for staff to maintain. Dress was a matter for female staff to provide for themselves but this had to adhere to a set style and hem length. Male staff were issued with a box of 12 starched collars: six to last the week and six to be sent to the laundry. They were expected to work long hours-almost a 12 hour day in some cases but there was fun too.
Despite the hard work, staff could join a wide variety of leisure activities. There was a golf club, a tennis club and a dramatic club. Shakespearean plays were performed in the gardens of Charles Jenners’ house at Duddingston.
It’s hard to imagine the all-encompassing nature of employment in such a department store in these days of self service and automatic checkout systems and, of course, internet shopping. For staff in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, our modern way of shopping life would have been every bit as unimaginable!
(Information from ‘Jenners: A Short History 1838-1988 and from ladies attending author events)
It is absolutely incredible to me that my little book, ‘Our Best Attention,’ about the people who work and shop in an old fashioned Edinburgh department store in the 1970s should be a Scottish bestseller! Yet it is. It still is now three months after its launch. We’re just about to go into its third reprint. A big thanks to all the readers who have made this possible and whose continuing interest spurs me on to complete Book 2.
Anyone wanting a copy is particularly advised to buy it from Blackwells Bookshop whose interest and support has been much appreciated. ‘Our Best Attention’ can, of course, be obtained via any good bookshop, directly from the wonderful Comely Bank Publishing or from Amazon.