By Sue Beasley
Sue says: I live with my husband in Edinburgh. I’ve loved writing ever since I can remember and value the time I have now to devote to it. It’s exciting to create characters, give them a situation and see how they react.
“I reckon the one that’s given us the most trouble over the years has been young Mary Bennet.” He sat further back in his chair, brushing ineffectually at the slew of crumbs that cascaded down his ample stomach.
“Mary Bennet?” I queried. The interview was going well. JJ Kingsley-Carnaby had had an excellent lunch and was in expansive mood.
“Yes, Mary Bennet. You’d think butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth and all the time a seething mass of resentment. You know the one I’m talking about … third girl in the Bennet family and precious little going for her. If you ask me, even Miss Austen didn’t like her. Described her as plain – and conceited.”
“Why do you suppose that would be?” I was making rapid notes.
“No idea.” JJ helped himself to port and pushed the decanter in my direction. “It happens you know. Author comes up with a character, then can’t get on with them for some reason, struggles for a bit and then abandons them. That’s when the character needs an agent. That’s when they come to us. We’ve been in business over 200 years now. “
“And how do they get in touch?”
“The usual ways, messenger, letter, phone, email, text. Depends on how long they’ve been kicking round the system. Mary always does it by letter. I’d recognise that writing anywhere – heart goes into me boots when I see it.”
“Sounds like you don’t like her much yourself.”
“Oh! I don’t know.” JJ helped himself to more port. “She’s a bit like a volcano – alright until she starts playing up. We’ve had easier clients. Take young Alice March, for example. You’ll not have heard of her I imagine, but she’d a bit in common with Mary Bennet. Started out in Little Women, third daughter too if I recall, somewhere between Jo and Beth, and everything’s going well till she starts growing up and takes a shine to John Brooke. She’s a forward young lady too, Brooke’s not about to laugh a gift horse in the face, and Meg goes into a serious decline. Miss Alcott can’t handle it, so she does the only thing she can – she writes her out. Alice hangs around for a few years after that but eventually she comes to us.”
“What was she waiting for?”
“Who knows? She might have been hoping to be taken on again. Authors sometimes do that, or when they really like a character they put them in a whole new story, one that’s right for them. I don’t reckon Alice had a chance there – Miss Alcott was frightened of her.”
“What happened when she came to you?’
“It wasn’t easy. It took a few years, there were several false starts, and she had to change her name, but she never complained and once we’d put her in touch with Margaret Mitchell and she got the lead in Gone With the Wind she never looked back.”
“And you can’t do the same for Mary Bennet?”
“Can’t seem to. She’s only interested in reading. She’s never satisfied, nothing pleases her and she can afford to be choosy. She doesn’t have to leave Pride and Prejudice. Miss Austen never wrote her out.”
“No,” I protested. “But she might as well have, just gave her a minor role, made a fool of her and condemned her to the life of a poor relation. She didn’t even rate highly enough to be a contender for the odious Mr Collins, no wonder she wants out.”
“Happen you’re right.” JJ poured more port. “But she won’t be happy anywhere else. No matter where we send her, she comes back complaining. If it’s not one thing it’s another: the weather’s too hot; the food disagrees with her; the clothes are coarse, the language coarser; and heaven forfend, the author expects her to work for a living. We’ve tried everything. My grandfather even went to the lengths of smuggling her aboard the Pequod in the hope of losing her on a long sea voyage, but Melville was having none of it. I tried her on Douglas Adams at one point, The Hitchhiker’s Guide’s a bit short on females and I could just see her creating coastlines. The perfect job for a pedant I reckoned, but Adams soon lost interest, and she pronounced herself bored by the whole idea. I even thought of sending her to boarding school to smarten up her ideas, she isn’t quite 18 so it might have served, but Hogwarts wouldn’t consider someone with so little aptitude for whimsy and St Trinian’s is still out of action after the last fiasco. Probably just as well really – I doubt she’d cope with the dress code.”
“So where is she now?”
“Funny you should ask that. She hasn’t come back from her last assignment – and now I come to think of it, she’s been away for quite a time too. Hang on a minute …”
He delved into his jacket pocket and eventually produced a small leather-bound booklet. Several seconds of finger licking and page flicking later he gave a satisfied grunt. “Here we are,” he said. “24th of the 10th, Mary Bennet introduced to new author. That’s over six months ago now.”
“And she hasn’t come back?”
“No, she has not. And six months is a whole lot longer than usual.” He was beginning to sound excited. “I’m lucky if she stays away a month most times.”
“Who did you send her to?”
“A new woman my nephew recommended. You may have heard of her, writing under the name of E L James. She had a huge success with her first book – Fifty Shades of Grey, if I remember rightly – and there have been a couple of sequels, but that’s really all I know about her.”