The Hotel Lemon Squash Continental

This is the first chapter of my new novel, The Hotel Lemon Squash Continental (synopsis below). It’s the sequel to Glimpses, and continues the story of Guido Roberts, last seen involved in a murder attempt.

I’m writing it like a script in this first draft, because I like to sketch in the dialogue, and not spend time on anything else, particularly as I may discard the whole chapter later on—or even the book (?).

Dramatis Personae

Guido Roberts: Soho face, dope dealer and flat racing enthusiast.

Bert Springer: turf accountant and assistant secretary of the Fulham Rotary Club.

Pam: Guido’s partner and worker in the sex industry.

The Major: Guido’s father and market stall dealer in antique prints.

 

Scene 1: A betting shop in Dean Street, Soho. DAY, 14.30

Guido Roberts scrunches up his betting slip, tosses it towards his cowboy boot, and executes a near-perfect drop kick into the wastepaper bin. He looks around for acclaim, but not one of the other punters has noticed.

Bert Springer:  Lady Luck is not smiling on you, my old son.

We see through the open door along Dean Street. The late summer heat bounces off the pavements. A gust of hot air sends dust-devils scurrying across the soft tarmac. It hasn’t rained for weeks, and the grass in Soho Square is bleached white, like the African savannah.

Bert (CONT’D): In fact, Lady Luck has just kicked you in the bollocks. Kneed you in the family fucking jewels. Don’t forget, I’ll need you to settle up at the end of the week … (He sucks his teeth) Got your tin hat, Gweeda? Here comes your Pam. On the war path.

Guido Roberts: You’ll get your money, Bert. I always pay my debts.

Bert: Looks like she’s got her rolling pin, Gweeda.  Wanna slip out the back door?

Bert steps back to allow Pam to enter. She towers above him: Pam is six foot tall and the bookie is short, barely five foot two, a rotund, bald-headed man. She pauses in the doorway to fasten a rubber band around her ponytail, and then addresses Guido.

 

Pam: You fucking prat! You daft bugger!

Bert: Bloody hell! Are you hen-pecked, Gweeda, or what?

Pam: You shut it, Bert, or I’ll be using more than a rolling pin on you.

Bert: I don’t think so, darling. I’ll give you more than a slap in return.

Pam grabs Guido by the upper arm, as though he was a naughty child.

Pam: Outside, you idiot!

Bert: (calls after them) By Saturday, Gweeda.

SCENE 2: Exterior, Dean Street.  DAY, 14.35.

Guido is towed into the street and stands blinking in the strong light.

Pam: How much do you owe, now?

Guido: It was weird—a three horse accumulator. My horses won the first two races, at Kempton Park,  at short odds. Final race at Doncaster, and I’m ahead until the last two furlongs. I’ve got 2,200 quid riding on Laughing Boy, and he’s the favourite, and Fancy Nancy comes up on the inside—

Pam: In other words, you lost the bloody lot.

Guido: Just the way it goes, sometimes. Laughing Boy should’ve won easy, but he didn’t like the going. Ground’s hard as iron.

Guido spits into the gutter in disgust. A large semi-circle of wet has spread across Guido’s shirt, just above his waistband, and both armpits are soaking.

Pam: Just look at you. What a two and eight! You’re like Trevor Howard in one of them jungle films, where he’s driven mad by the drums. (She mimics Trevor Howard.) Those damned drums!

Guido: I can’t help it. I sweat a lot in this weather.

Pam: How much do you owe Bert Springer? Altogether?

Guido: A monkey.

Pam: You bastard!

Without warning, Pam slaps him around the back of the head three times, and he throws his arms up to protect himself.

Pam (CONT’D): Where are you going to get that from?

Guido: I thought you could loan it me?

She moves to hit him again, but he steps out of range.

Pam: I can see your training’s got a long way to go. One thing’s for certain, you’re going to find that bread before the Old Bill catch up with you.

Guido stops walking and is sweating even more profusely. He mops his brow with a brown paisley handkerchief, the kind that was once used to disguise the habit of snuff taking.

Guido: It’s nothing to do with the law. It’s between me and Bert Springer.

Pam: I’m not talking about your flaming debts. Remember that Ronnie Fizz you tried to do away with? Well, someone’s just put a bullet through his skull.

Guido: Nothing to do with me. And I didn’t try nothing. I just happened to be in the motor.

Pam:  Do you see any green in there?

(Pam pulls down the lower lash of her left eye for Guido’s inspection.)

Pam (CONT’D): Anyway, it turns out that Ronnie Fizz’s dad was a cop—

Guido: I knew he was a fucking grass—

Pam: See—you was in it up to your bloody neck!

Guido: No way. I was just there to ID him.

Pam: The Old Bill are going mental. They’re pulling everyone in. They know you was in that car when Tommy Bolt got killed. I heard from Miss Demeaner. She said you was working for the Maltese?

Guido: Course I wasn’t. She’s all mouth, that Demeaner.

Pam:  They’ll be fitting you up if you stay round here. That new drug squad’s going on the rampage. The Rolling Stones have been busted for something silly, like a Mars Bar.

Guido: It was a roach. And some speed.

Pam: Why don’t you go down to Brighton for a while, till it all quietens down?

Guido: No, I’ll go over Notting Hill and see the Major.

Pam: For fuck’s sake! Why do you have to bring him into it? Stand on your own two feet. And why do you always call your Daddy by his sodding army title? The war’s been over twenty years.

Guido: He’s not a real major, it’s just a nickname. He used to be a bit of a con artist after the war, and he always wore an officer’s uniform.

Pam: So he’s always been bad news.

Guido: No, this is serious, Pam. Let me sort it. The Major will help me out. He’s always got his ear to the ground. Best connected man in West London, my father.

SCENE 3: PUBLIC HOUSE, PORTOBELLO ROAD. EVENING, 18.00.

A crowd is drinking on the pavement outside the pub. Guido has to push his way through, to get in the door. The Major spots Guido before his son reaches the saloon bar.

Major: (Announces, to no one in particular) The Prodigal Son!

Guido: What you having, Dad?

Major: Have you remembered your ruddy wallet? That must be a first.

Guido: Look, do you want a drink or not? I’m not going to twist your arm.

Major: (Backslang) Tenip Reeb! Touts: Guinness. With a Whisky chaser.

(Guido waits while the barmaid sculpts a shamrock motif into the head of each pint, before joining the old man at his corner table)

Major: (Speaking slowly, with authority and precision, as if addressing someone profoundly deaf) The beach at Anzio!

Guido: Do what?

Major: Fucking Anzio. The soft underbelly of Europe, Churchill called it. Sodding underbelly! We faced three Panzer divisions.

Guido: Dad, that was twenty bloody years ago. Time to forget it.

Major: Still, I met your mother, God rest her soul. Your mother was an Eyetie.

(Jumps to his feet. Shuffles around the table with arms akimbo. Sings:)

Eye tiddily-Eyetie,
Hurry me home to Blighty,
Take me back to dear old Blighty …

Major(CONT’D): Come on! Sing-song! (He waves to the other drinkers to join him, but they avoid his gaze)

Guido: Dad, please. Sit down, there’s something I want to ask you.

Major: (Raises his pint glass to the young barmaid) All right Betty, my love?

Guido: You see, I’m in a spot of bother.

Major: One hundred Hail Marys. I converted to Catholic for your mother, but I never kept it up after she died. You was baptised, but I never had you confirmed.

(Drains his glass, sucks his white moustache clean)

Guido: Would you like another, Dad? I need to talk.

Major: I don’t mind if I do! (Laughs) Colonel Chinstrap, Betty! I don’t mind if I do! Remember that one? The radio show?

Guido: (Waves to the barmaid for another two pints) Dad, I’m in a spot of bother.

Major: So you keep saying.

Guido: Pam reckons the Old Bill might fit me up, over this Ronnie Fizz business I told you about. They know I was in the motor. Apparently someone’s gone and done him in. The Old Bill are desperate for a result.

Major: I know, I’ve heard all about it. It’s that Commander Jarvis. He was the boy’s father. Used to be a DI in West End Central. Evil bastard. He was the one who nicked me for kiting cheques during the Festival of Britain. He was always ready to take a bung, but since this murder he’s gone like Billy sodding Graham. On a crusade to wipe out drug-taking and avenge his son’s death.

Guido: Look, I want to keep my head down for a while. Do you know anyone who might have a gaff round here?  Somewhere me and Pam could kip for a couple of months?

Major: You’re in luck. (Produces a key ring with a flourish and selects one key) There’s a room in my house. Chepstow Villas. I’m the landlord’s agent, so I can put it your way. Fiver a week.

Guido: (Reaches for key) Fantastic! I can let you have the cash next week.

Major: You must think I’m barmy. It’ll go on a nag. Rent is two weeks in advance. Put a tenner on the table and you can move in tonight. Otherwise, you can fuck off.

Guido: Jesus wept. And they say blood’s thicker than water? I don’t know what you’ve got running in your bloody veins. (Opens wallet and slowly counts out ten one-pound notes)

Synopsis: Harassed by bookies over gambling debts, and by police investigating the murder of Ronnie Fizz, Guido Roberts seeks the help of his father, a petty criminal known as the Major.  The Major, who has an antique print stall on Portobello Road, finds Guido and Pam a bed-sitter in a Notting Hill house, where most of the other tenants are members of the local witches’ coven. Pam becomes fascinated by witchcraft, but Guido remains to be convinced, and their relationship comes under increasing strain when he refuses to remove his underpants at a public celebration of Samhain.

Guido is tracked down by both the Soho bookies and the killer of Ronnie Fizz, who needs Guido’s help with a cover-up.  He decides to do a runner.  He joins an ex-British Museum security guard, Kamal Pasha, known as the “Afghan Hound”, on a trip to Kabul, aimed at importing sheepskin coats and hashish.  En route, in the holy city of Meshad, Guido discovers that the Hound has double-crossed him.  Kamal has hidden priceless Afghan miniatures, stolen from the British Museum, in Guido’s luggage, and, when the Iranian police bust Guido for smoking dope in front of the shrine of Imam Reza, he avoids arrest by giving them one of the miniatures as baksheesh.  His deportation to Afghanistan leads to the Hound pursuing him across the subcontinent, a deadly chase which only one of the two adventurers will survive.

(The Hotel Lemon Squash Continental is the name of a hostelry near the bus station in Herat, which features in the story.)

~ by yearzerowriters on January 18, 2010.

13 Responses to “The Hotel Lemon Squash Continental”

  1. This is a fascinating insight into how you work, Larry! It’s also a great lesson for us all in how little we need other than spanking good dialogue in order to make characters and story come alive.
    “Take me back to dear Old Blighty” makes me think of the Smiths song The Queen is Dead :)
    I like the structure of this – what’s very clear laying it out like this is how well you’ve constructed the opening, introducing characters to us one at a time, whilst always moving the plot on. You seem to strike just about the right balance between keeping new readers informed and not letting those familiar with Glimpses get bored of the rehash – something to remember when it comes to the fleshing out – you don’t need any more back story – keep the crackling pace you’ve got going here!
    Dan

  2. Dan’s right, the dialogue is gold in this. As with Glimpses.

    There were a few bits where i thought the characters said a little too much in one go, but not often. Can’t remember them exactly…can go back and read again later…

    The conversation with Pam and Guido drifted into info-dump territory a little…the Ronnie Fizz recap…i guess that’s a hard one to figure…but maybe less is more in that regard?

    Guido is very different from Ronnie in ‘Glimpses’ – they’re both as British as British gets, but you’ve delineated him well…he does seem less confident, more subdued, but still interesting…the last line sounded a bit like Ronnie though ha…

    The synopsis is quality. Absolute quality. I can’t wait to see this guy fucking around in Afghanistan.

    Oli

    • It’s a tricky one with a sequel – walking the line between enough back story for the newbie readers and too much for those who’ve read the first book. My feeling is that the opening chapter of a book always gets rewritten beyond recognition after the book’s finished so it probably doesn’t matter, but I think it’s already done with a lot lighter touch than I’ve seen used in many places.
      Dan

  3. I remember you said one time that you liked conversations where two characters are ostensibly talking to each other, but not responding to each other’s questions…

    The scene between Guido and his Dad is bang on with that style. His Dad is half there, and you nail it.

    The other conversation between Guido and Pam is a bit more regular. That’s why i said info dump. It didn’t seem like they had talked in a long time…i mean, they were familiar and you know they’re close, but the part about Ronnie is a bit Q&A..that’s on my first reading of it anyway.

    But overall, good work, man. You bring me back to the world of ‘Glimpses’ within a few lines, and it’s a world i like a lot.

    Oli

  4. Thanks guys, that’s helpful. I started working like this towards the end of Glimpses and the pace seemed to pick up as a result. Glimpses suffers from too much back-story and flashback, although a restructure would’ve lost other things that I was attached to. But hopefully this book will have minimal back story – as Dan suggests.

    The difficulty with going for dialogue first is that bum lines stand out like a sore thumb – but then you get to weed them out, so it’s not a bad thing. I’ll look at that Pam-Guido interchange again, Oli. Every scene has to earn its keep by accomplishing several objectives – like the scene with the father showed his habit of inebriation, through the problem of getting him to focus, his living in the past, and the way they both talk past each other – non-communication being one of my preoccupations as Oli says. So the Pam scene may need to show more about her relationship with Guido?

    I’m hoping that as well as drama this will be funny – though being funny on paper is one of the hardest things, and I might not be up to it, in which case it will all fall flat. Subjects like addiction (and witchcraft) suffer from our tendency to take ourselves too seriously, so the aim is to remember the absurdity of much human behaviour. (Both Waugh and Greene were masters at combining humour and tragedy.)

    Posting here is a great way to make yourself think about what you’re trying to do, and to really push yourself!

  5. Larry, I probably don’t say this enough, because I’m a forgetful wretch, but I love your writing. Honestly.

    • Thanks Daisy. It’s great when writers I like read and comment!

      I think this book could work, even if some of it is recycled traveller’s tales. An event which happened to Mary and I in 1973, when we came under fire in a hotel in Peshawar – our hotel and the one opposite having been taken over by feuding Pathans – is going to overtake Guido here. In terms of themes I haven’t a clue where it’s going and need to uncover them as I go along – except betrayal seems to feature. Guido’s father is behind the double-cross, because of his involvement in dodgy antique prints and paintings.

  6. This is soooo popping hot! I would read this, Larry. I would buy it and read it!
    Anne LG

  7. Definitely!
    Anne

  8. Larry, I haven’t read the prequel so I’m approaching this as an uninitiate. Donning my ex-playwright’s hat, I think you have nailed character through speech and dialogue, though without the benefit of the actor’s inflection and gesture in a novel, I always favour the odd bit of reference to what either the speaker or the non-speaker is maybe doing with their hands, or their feet or some other non-verbal clue as to their emotional state of mind at certain points in the exchange. I do agree with Oli that there is too much exposition crowbarred in the dialogue between father & son, especially towards the end. Also Guido is a bit touchy-feely late 20thCentury man in his pleas to his dad, rather than 1960′s? I need to talk? I dunno, I need a word?

    I also think with the 60′s setting, although you provide clues such as £5 rent, 20 years on from Anzio, the odd bit of physical scene setting, kept to a minimum, wouldn’t go amiss, just to root the reader in the world of your book. The Major is a Portobello stallholder – maybe you could describe that at some point. What was a bookie’s like in the 60′s? Certainly very different from now. Same thing pubs, with their men only bars, spit & sawdust? I appreciate that this is not the draft for that sort of detail, I merely offer it as a newbie to your work.

    The other thing that struck me, that although this is mainly dialogue, there were huge bits of subtext coming through – for example in the exchange with Pam, “Guido: I thought you could loan it me?” given what I’d read in the synopsis, this really resonated for me as she would have to go and earn it doing what she does. it’s stuff like that that almost slips through the broad comedy that makes this piece for me. When the bookie says about him being kneed in the family crown jewels, I hadn’t got who was who quite sorted in my head and I thought that was his father talking to him and so family crown jewels = pain, really resonated. I guess what I’m saying is that for all the slightly knocakabout element of this (rolling pin), there is potential for great emotional daggers to the heart which is what I responded to most of all.

    Hope this is of some use.

    marc

  9. By the way, is this the way you always write, from the dialogue outwards? That fascinates me as it is diametrically opposite to me.

    You did go and drop in a film reference thought, a propos my article from saturday!

    Marc

    • Tremendously helpful, Marc. The period details come in the next draft – as you suggest – left out here because I probably overdid them in the first book, and what I’m trying to do is move the story forward. Great that you picked up on the subtext – some readers want to stick this in a box called comedy – or miss the jokes and call it a thriller.

      It’s not how I always write, but I’m doing it to kickstart the book and get to the heart of things. The danger is I might end up with something rather superficial or complacent. I worried about posting it, in the wake of some of the great literature we’ve had recently – but I’m copying Dan, who posted first drafts in Agnieszka to great effect.

      Thanks again!

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