I am excited to welcome Vivienne Tuffnell who is here to talk about a scene from The Bet, a book of ‘family secrets and wounded souls’ – as quoted by a five star Amazon reviewer.
My Twitter bio said writer, poet, explorer and mystic and that probably says it all quite neatly. I’ve written stories my whole life, even before I could actually read. My father mistakenly allowed me to use his typewriter from an early age and I was hooked. I’m not sure the typewriter survived very long having me bash out strings of letters in the belief that what I had in my head would magically transform into words others can read. I’ve got better at that. I write novels, short stories and poetry, and I also blog at http://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com
It’s very difficult to pinpoint favourite scenes but having narrowed it down, this scene from The Bet stands out as it comes at a crucial point in the narrative. The whole novel is written in two narrative strands, one labelled Then, one labelled Now.
This scene, from chapter six is from the Then strand. The driving force of the novel is the bet from the title: one woman challenges another to track down and seduce “the one that got away”. The fact that the male in question had been only fourteen at the time of the first attempted seduction isn’t something that bothers either woman; he becomes prey, not a person. This scene delineates the level of obsession that Jenny is already subject to by the time she finally meets the object of her hunt, Antony Ashurst. Set in a wing of a museum closed for refurbishment, this meeting might be seen by Jenny as serendipity as her attempts to find Ashurst have so far failed; she knows him instantaneously, as she was told she would. Ashurst, however, is at this stage oblivious of her and her quest.
It’s this that made the scene so powerful to write; it’s one of those meetings where one party knows how significant it is, yet the other remains innocent of the whole matter. There’s a hint of coming tragedy in this innocence; all the stuffed and posed animals in glass cases, like hunting trophies, looking on, all glassy-eyed, immobile, and helpless.
Greville Thornicroft was about sixty and tweedy, very like a caricature of the eccentric archaeologist, but his grey eyes seemed kind behind a gruff manner.
“Do come upstairs to my office,” he said. “We can discuss the visit in more detail there.”
More detail possibly, but certainly not more comfort. His office was packed with shelves crammed full of neatly labelled boxes and cartons. A stuffed owl sat on the shelf behind his desk, looking down on her with shiny glass eyes that looked scarily real, and the only spare chair was occupied by a stuffed badger.
“Just put it on the floor,” he said vaguely when she held it up. “I did say work was still very much in progress. The powers that be want a more up-to-date museum, more hands-on stuff,” he used the phrase with evident distaste, “more accessible, whatever they mean by that. Living history; that sort of thing. No more Victorian cases of dead things. Yes well, that’s all fine and good, but the money only goes so far, and then what are we meant to do with all the dead things in glass cases?”
“I really don’t have any idea, Dr Thornicroft,” Jenny said politely.
“Well, nor do I, but apparently we aren’t allowed to just chuck them away or have a big bonfire. The more modern wing has been revamped by professional exhibition designers, all clever people certainly, but we’re left in the original wing with rooms full of big Victorian cases and lots of,” he gestured at the owl and badger, “dead things, and we have to try with the tiny budget we have left to make the dead things in cases somehow fresh and new and interesting.” He sighed. “Oh and shards of pottery and Roman glass and stone arrowheads and the like to make it even more interesting. However,” he managed a smile, “I have been fortunate in acquiring an assistant who has some excellent ideas as well as a physique considerably more suited than my own to clambering inside these Victorian cases to rearrange and revamp exhibits. I have also found him excellent working with just the sort of school visit you are proposing. May I suggest we include him in our discussions, and our tour of the museum?”
“Certainly,” said Jenny, amenably, but slightly bored.
“Do follow me; I shall endeavour to try and track him down quickly.”
The old man took her out of his office and up to a second floor gallery with a sign declaring it to be closed for renovations. The long darkened room was filled with rows of huge display cases, many of them empty, their contents laid out on the floor in boxes and bags, some of the larger items uncovered. It felt quite eerie as the eyes of some of the stuffed animals seemed to gleam in the subdued light and to follow her as she followed Dr Thornicroft.
“Ah, there he is,” said the old man, striding across the room with greater speed than Jenny expected.
At the far end, there was someone inside a display case: stretched out, back arched slightly, slender body poised over a display of small brownish grey animals. Their arrival had caught his attention: a dark head turned slightly towards them, then back to what he was doing.
“Just a minute,” he said. “This rat has been giving me trouble.”
As she got closer, she could see that the inside of the case had been redone to show a mock-up of a storm drain or sewer; the brown animals were rats. When she looked more closely Jenny could see he was carefully fixing a stuffed rat to a brick jutting out from high up the sewer wall.
“Done it,” came the voice, and the figure wriggled carefully backwards out of the case, which was open at one end. Thornicroft’s assistant stretched his arms above his head, getting the knots out of muscles cramped from an hour or so inside the confines of the case, pushed his hair out of his eyes and looked at them.
“This is Miss Graham,” said Thornicroft, “who is hoping to bring a class to see our humble establishment. Miss Graham, the young man so artistically directing rats is not as you may think the Pied Piper of Hamlin, though he may be just as good with children-”
“I don’t usually use tacks and wire to keep them in place, though,” interrupted the young man with the most devastating grin.
“Indeed. I should hope not. Nor yet with an enchanted flute. No, as I was saying, Miss Graham, this is my assistant, Antony Ashurst.”
But Jenny already knew that.
Thank you Vivienne for visiting my blog today. Good luck with The Bet, a book which has already garnered many five star reviews on Amazon.
For more of Vivienne’s books, why not visit her at the links below: