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The Protagonist

By: Bella Bryce
Published By: Blushing Press
Copyright: �2015 by Blushing Books� and Bella Bryce
12 Chapters / 28,800 Words
Heat Level:
4.1 Out Of 5 (4.1 on 14)   |  Write a review
Price:
$3.99

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Daisy Abbott is an author as eccentric as she is successful. She's also used to a certain rhythm when it comes to her writing: she sits at her desk, the hero speaks, she writes. Book done. After all, that's how she wrote thirty titles and she doesn't expect anything to be different during the working of her thirty-first manuscript. Daisy is convinced the protagonist of her newest book isn't speaking to her and when he appears in the flesh to challenge her, she is transported to his time and place to better understand things from his perspective. The question is, whose story is it?

Chapter One

“I’m not blocked.” The sound of an igniting lighter followed, providing subtle closure to the statement.

“Daisy.”

She blew the smoke abruptly from her mouth as she repositioned the phone. “What?”

“It’s been six months. You’re not married, you don’t have children, and you’re not dying. Where’s the manuscript?”

“I’m working on it.” Daisy inhaled again and then blew the smoke out slowly this time. She closed her eyes as she did it. She hated smoking cigarettes. Cigars were her thing, but for some reason the cigarette tasted really good right now.

“I’ve been very lenient with you.”

“Stop letting me into your personal life and you won’t have to be, because then I’ll have nothing on you.” Her sarcasm wasn’t threatening; it was just very factual.

The sound of an exasperated exhale came through the earpiece. Daisy knew that exhale. That was her publisher trying to be polite by exchanging any irritated rebuttal for dramatic breathing. After a period of silence between them, Fran adjusted the phone on her shoulder. Daisy saw it in her mind’s eye, the way her publisher repositioned herself when confrontation was close by.

“If you aren’t blocked then can you tell me what’s going on? Give me something.”

“It’s not like I’m withholding anything, Fran. I don’t have a secret arsenal of finished bestsellers just waiting to be emailed to you.” Daisy chuckled at her own cynicism.�

“We can’t keep paying you. That’s the be-all and end-all of it.” The tension thickened a lot more than any of Daisy’s plots had been as of late. “If you won’t help me out or give me any kind of explanation then this arrangement will stop.”

Daisy forced the new smoke out of her mouth and sat up straight. “Thirty titles, half of those are bestsellers and you’re going to stop paying me for being - ”

“Blocked?” Fran insisted.

“I told you, I’m not blocked.”

“Then what is it? For pity’s bloody sake! How does an author just suddenly drop off the grid?”

“I’m very much on the grid.”

“You haven’t replied to any of my emails. Your editor, Rory, remember her?”

“Vaguely.”

Fran exhaled again. “It’s never bothered me that you’re strange. I can even take your cynicism, but don’t make me guess here.”

Daisy sat back as the smoke came out of her nose this time. This sounded serious, now. She exhaled and tried to put on her responsible adult hat. She wasn’t sure she found the right one. “My characters stopped speaking to me. There’s a difference between not being able write one bloody word because I don’t know what they’re saying, and not writing because I can’t think of anything to write.”

“What is the difference, exactly?”

“You wouldn’t understand. You’ve never written a book.”

�“No, and I only run a publishing house.” There was a pause and then, “how many words have you written?”

“Nine.”

“Nine!”

“Nine.”

“I heard you.”

“Did you? Because you questioned me.”

“I wasn’t questioning, I was exclaiming.”

“Say that ten times fast.” Daisy’s nonchalance dripped through her words. “My characters stopped speaking to me after the first sentence.” Her publisher’s chuckle was a sharp cross between incredulous and aggravated.

“Look, I know you’re a bit eccentric and you have your own way of working; the not showering, or eating, the endless walks around your flat in that figure eight shape you love so much. But this isn’t going to work. We have a production meeting first thing Monday morning and I cannot go in there for the sixth month in a row and buy you more time. Nine words doesn’t cut it. Another month doesn’t cut it. You are one of few authors who has the deal you have, but it requires you to produce the work to back it up.”

Daisy stabbed out the cigarette until the bud was satisfyingly crushed. “I know what the deal is, but I’m not a performing monkey. Authors are not computers that spit out information when you type in the master password. It doesn’t work like that,” she defended.

The line went quiet for another brief moment. “Daiz, it isn’t just your contract on the line. Whether we are friends outside of deals or not, you have to turn this book in and it needs to be like yesterday. I can’t cover for you anymore.”

“I didn’t know that’s what you were doing.”

“I didn’t either, but it’s quickly become that.”

The screech of the chair against the wood flooring and Daisy’s bare feet in succession was like the inner-workings of her thought process, which was suddenly very deliberate and concentrated. Well, this was certainly a pickle. She’d heard nothing of a panic vis-a-vis manuscript until that moment. The sound of her feet slapping the floor provided background noise to what was really going on her mind as she considered the situation and possible outcomes. Her words cut her thoughts short. “Are you dropping me?”

“Not if you submit 50,000 words by Monday morning at seven.”

“I’m putting the phone down. You sound drunk.”

“I’m not drunk, Daisy, I’m serious. Strangle your characters if you have to.”

“Strangulation doesn’t usually help with talking.”

“Now I’m putting the phone down,” Fran insisted.

“Are we still on for drinks tomorrow?”

There was a pause. “I think it’s best we don’t see each other until you’ve handed in your manuscript.”

Daisy’s chuckle wasn’t one of amusement � it was more of incredulity. There was a satisfying prick of delight as her pointer finger touched the big red ‘end’ button. “Good. I haven’t showered anyway.”

 

Chapter Two

Daisy wasn’t sorry. How could she be? It wasn’t her fault. This wasn’t her story. It was their story. If the characters didn’t want to tell it, then they could just float around their fictitious world frustrated with the lack of movement. That was their problem, not hers. Daisy felt her role was to show up and type. Whether she had coffee, or smelled nice, or slept in her eyeliner from the night before � this was not a typical job. She was an author.

Authoring was not a typical job and authors were not typical people. Sometimes Daisy even wondered if she was a people. What kind of creature chose to be this weird? A tentative glance in the reflection of her laptop proved the eyeliner from yesterday’s braving of sunlight and humanity to venture to the shops did something more than make her look alive; she looked typical. She wasn’t, but she looked it. Her coffee was cold. So were her feet. Desk time was over. No more working at the desk. Daisy picked up her mug and walked it across the flat. Daisy didn’t rinse the mug and reuse it. She placed it beside the sink and a clean mug was taken from the cupboard. The kettle switch was tapped. She considered eating. It would give her something to do whilst the kettle boiled. Daisy didn’t like to be idle. She sifted through a month’s worth of letters on the desk in the kitchen. Nothing worth looking at before coffee. She wasn’t even sure any of it was worth looking at after coffee. On second thought, she picked up the pile and threw it all in the bin.

“I think it’s best we don’t see each other until you’ve handed in your manuscript,” Daisy repeated Fran’s words as she poured the now boiling water over two Lady Grey teabags. “Why don’t you come over here and finish it then, smart ass?” She wound up a vintage red cooking timer for two and a half minutes and wandered to the picture window on the far side of the kitchen. “You just don’t get it.” Her voice lowered. “They’re not speaking to me, and I can’t make them.”

Daisy’s tea steeped for exactly two and a half minutes. After that, the teabags were left on a plate beside the sink on top of an already-growing pile. Eventually she would rip the bags open and empty them over the soil of her houseplants. She usually performed that task in moments when her veins and muscles felt antsy, like when she’d been sitting for too long without producing a word. Or when her characters stopped speaking to her. The teabag pile was now entirely representative of her (lack of) progress. In the past, the pile would often be heaving and leave stains on the countertop from where it would overflow, causing the hot bags to drain over the plate. There were no stains on the counter now. There hadn’t been for the last six weeks. The pile was pathetic.

She carried the mug back across the flat and deposited it on the desk in the sitting room, of which a single corner was known as her office. An antique banker’s desk was unashamedly pushed up against a floating wall. That was where the magic happened � or didn’t happen � as of late. The wall to the right of her desk was all windows and snobbish views of London. Behind her ‘office’ and across the room on the far wall was an inlay fireplace. Daisy sometimes turned it on for ambience � even in summer. Where a third wall on the left of the room would have been in a less modern flat, instead were two sofas facing one another. A low coffee table was situated between them the way a mediator stood between opposing parties.

Daisy chose this flat because it was what she’d referred to as author ready. The only thing she had to do was have the furniture delivered and arranged upon move-in. The sparse white walls were a lot like her personality � intermittent and unsure. There was one tall bookshelf with hardcovers: her own. Daisy didn’t have time to read other people’s dribble. She only had time to read her own these days. She also thought the idea that a pre-requisite for an author to have countless shelves of disorderly and irrelevant reading material in order to write her own books was ludicrous. Daisy’s personal preferences were far from the somewhat steamy romance novels for which she was famous. She preferred international crime novels with plots about travelling con artists in settings like Albania, Croatia or Monaco. The books she liked to read weren’t historical and very rarely were they romantic. Daisy didn’t even believe in romance. She made a lot of money convincing people otherwise, but for her it didn’t exist.

Her imagination had always been very active and when she was child she used it to escape to everything from castles and underground bunkers, to different eras and even visiting those places as a different person. Daisy never analysed whether or not her deprived childhood was the reason for the talent, because she scarcely recalled it. There was a large black hole in place of ages seven to fourteen. She remembered only going to school, but nothing much beyond that. Her imagination made her a living and that was really all she need be concerned with. Rather, her imagination had been earning her a living, but it sounded as though Fran was making a threat on that.

For the past three years, Daisy was one of the hottest selling romance novelists and as she was barely thirty-five, she was certain she had a lot of time to continue developing her career. Books used to pour out of her the way water poured from a tap. It was rare for the flow to be disturbed, even when Daisy turned her brain off for the day and went to sleep. When she woke, she could pick up right where she left off as if there had been no interruption. Lately, she found it harder and harder to produce word count. It was a strain just to get the curser to move and, figuratively speaking, she spent more time polishing doorknobs than her manuscripts. She felt uncomfortable at the desk so she would move to the sofa. Then she was cold so she would fetch a blanket. She felt a bristly hair on her neck so she would pluck it.� Concentration for her was in the form of straight-up discontent. Or was it distraction?

“Bloody mind-numbing dystopian author bullocks is what it is,” Daisy corrected herself, out loud. She talked to herself a lot.

When she recalled she’d previously decided to be done at the desk, she hit ‘save’ on the nine words of her latest book and took her mug of tea to the sofa. The laptop was useless to her now. She used the coffee table book as a coaster and laid out flat on the modern herringbone piece. The mug was too hot to handle, which was the complete opposite of her current work in progress. Yes, it was unlike her to take so long on a book. No, she wasn’t blocked. Her characters went quiet ever since� actually, she didn’t know. Why had it been so long since she got out of bed and started her word count before ten o’clock in the morning? Her waking hours were getting less and less. She wondered if she was burnt out. Twenty-five titles in the last three years meant that she averaged one every other month. She worked for a publisher that was both eBook and print, with a specialist division for her niche market. It also meant that those authors who wrote mainstream (i.e. boring) fiction � void of the dashing buccaneers of the seven seas or rugged highland rogues in their steamy primeval huts � only published once a year. Their books were on the shelves of Waterstones and they did book signings. Daisy and her clan of inequity were a rare breed of authors on the raised-eyebrow end of Francine & Foley Publishing, but no less successful. Only a select few of them with a particular art for words in tasteful contemporary romance also found their books in Waterstones, but mostly, they were found on Mummy’s Kindle.

Daisy was one of the few who walked a fine line between romance and erotica. She liked it that way because without having a specific branding she could dabble in any sub-genre as long as it had the underlying themes that caused a woman to fan her face in delight. Her books were anywhere from 70,000 words to upwards of 100,000. The larger ones were in paperback and hardcover, which was exactly where F&F Publishing wanted her to be now. She had an offer someone of her age and disposition (eccentric, cynical, awkward) required in order to make a living. No one else would hire her. She wasn’t good for any other line of work, either. Stories had been writing themselves and her sales were phenomenal, so F&F made her a deal. Be exclusive, carry on writing, carry on selling, and get a regular income. For an author, that was pretty damn amazing. She’d accepted the offer but soon after, it was as if the tap had been turned off. Not by her. She didn’t know what happened. She’d written about pirates, she’d done time travel and she’d graced the categories of historical fiction. There were so many varying plots and circumstances that had brought a hero and heroine together that she wondered if even she was sick of it. Daisy thought back to how it all began.

One day last winter she sat down at her laptop with her silver tray of French press coffee, a jug of semi-skimmed cream and the matching cup and saucer, but the words didn’t come. She pressed the coffee, poured the cream, stirred it up and took a sip. Nothing. She sat back in the chair and furrowed her eyebrows. She readjusted her always-slouchy posture to an upright one, just to test the atmosphere. Still, the words didn’t come. Daisy drank the entire French press in portions appropriate for the size of the china cup and yet there the cursor had remained, blinking. There wasn’t a single word typed before or after it. Daisy eventually walked around the flat in the figure-eight shape in order to stir her imagination. The thing was that she had a title but she didn’t have a plot or a story, or characters. That was just how she did it. She had to meet the characters just like the reader � as they went along with the story. But this was different. Usually, her books started with one line. Just one. Or a word, a thought, or a prompting of some kind came to mind and off she went with the entire book. That’s how she’d written thirty books and that’s exactly how she intended to write the rest.

When she’d gone to bed that night with an empty mind and nothing but a single blank page in “When She Was Mine”, Daisy was far from amused. The next morning she repeated her routine. Silver tray, French press, jug of semi-skimmed cream, matching cup and saucer. Gold teaspoon. She sat at her desk, cursor blinking, and coffee slowly being consumed. Then, there it was.

His name was William. Her fingers had typed the words the way a ravenous schoolchild inhaled a snack after an entire day of lessons. With desperation. It was the first of any progress in twenty-four hours and Daisy wasn’t used to such infrequency.

Aside from the very, her fingers slammed into the appropriate letters as the words came to her mind, but then it stopped. Aside from the very . . .very what? She’d stared at the cursor for another bout of panicked silence and then pulled her hands from the keyboard.

“Aside from the very big wanker that William was,” Daisy had said as she stood up from the desk and spoke out loud as she stalked across the flat, “he was also a very damn stubborn protagonist who’d better bloody come up with the rest of the sentence by the time I get back from the loo! And he better be handsome because ugly heroes don’t sell books!” Daisy scolded the fictitious character as if he were floating around the flat in defiance.

When she’d returned from the loo she tried to make up the story without the help of William’s voice in her head. It didn’t work. Daisy pulled one thousand words out of her imagination to try to get the story moving, but it frustrated her. It wasn’t right. None of it sounded right. Delete. She didn’t even bother cutting and pasting it into a document for future use. She just wanted it off the page. The days between then and now were a lot like that: Daisy sipping coffee as she waited for William’s voice to reappear. Eventually, she stopped trying to write his perspective and wondered if she was going at the story the wrong way. “When She was Mine.” She’d rolled the title over in her mind. She always had a title before she had anything else and it was completely non-negotiable to do it any other way. That was why she didn’t speak to people about her works in progress. She didn’t want anyone telling her she had to plot it all out, blah blah blah, and the title came last. No. It didn’t. The title came first. The plot came last. The characters came as she wrote. The stuff in the middle fell into place and when it didn’t fit, she sorted it out during editing. And she had a flat with a view of Tower Bridge to prove it.

Daisy rolled her head over and looked at the white mug of steaming tea. She didn’t want tea anymore. She wanted port. And a cigar. Six months of this stupid routine of nothingness was making her eccentricity itch. This wouldn’t do. There must always be weird ones amongst us. Always.

One of the characters from her eighth book liked port and cigars. Fabio. He was a buccaneer who attacked his own Spanish ships in disguise to get the loot and the girls taken captive by his crew. Daisy rolled her eyes writing every one of the 90,000 words that was “The Seven Seas” because Fabio’s gums had flapped all day and all night in her head. The fictional hero had found his way into Daisy’s dreams and when she woke in the morning she often tripped over the duvet trying to get out of bed and over to the laptop to record whatever it was he was going on about before she was barely conscious. He just never shut up.

“Not like William,” she blurted out, “who never says a bloody word.”

She lit the Churchill and let it rest between her teeth as she poured a hefty glass of Dow’s reserve port. It was cheap, but it was sweet. That was how she liked her alcohol. She rarely drank, so her tolerance was low and it meant she wanted any and all of it to taste like dessert because a) who didn’t like dessert? And b) who didn’t like the idea of 750 millilitres of liquid dessert? The views of Tower Bridge were best seen through binoculars, which she held up to her eyes as the cigar exuded a patient, white curling trail of smoke.

“It’s just a bridge,” Daisy mumbled with the cigar blocking her vowels rather humorously. She never understood why tourists made such a fuss at the landmark. She put the binoculars down on the glass-topped table beside where she was reclining on her sundeck. It wasn’t nearly warm enough to be lounging about but that’s what the port was for. Growing hair on chests and keeping grumpy people warm since 1798. Cheers.

“William the protagonist, you bastard, here’s to you.” She held the glass of sweet liquid dessert up in a toast.

Martha on 09/24/2015 07:27pm
I enjoyed the book but need another book to complete the story.
Martha on 09/24/2015 07:27pm
I enjoyed the book but need another book to complete the story.
Redrabbitt on 09/14/2015 12:04pm
I loved the uniqueness of this story with a cast of characters from two different eras. I found myself laughing out loud several times reading this charming story. I have such a great admiration for authors and their creative minds to produce books and keep readers like myself entertained. Ms. Bryce did an excellent job sharing this tale. Daisy, eccentric and cynical, is a best-selling author of thirty books but has hit a block wall with book thirty-one, her characters are not speaking to her, as they normally do for her books. Her story's hero, William, the Duke of Carrington's son, is in love with Queen Victoria's daughter, Georgina and he wants his story written his way, but Daisy isn't hearing him. The plot kept me captivated as Daisy is transported by William back into 1795 Victorian England and takes on numerous roles. As her muse tries to get her to write his story, she argues with him that she is not used to being told how the story will go. She experiences several spankings in various forms. The dialog is witty and entertaining.
Redrabbitt on 09/14/2015 12:04pm
I loved the uniqueness of this story with a cast of characters from two different eras. I found myself laughing out loud several times reading this charming story. I have such a great admiration for authors and their creative minds to produce books and keep readers like myself entertained. Ms. Bryce did an excellent job sharing this tale. Daisy, eccentric and cynical, is a best-selling author of thirty books but has hit a block wall with book thirty-one, her characters are not speaking to her, as they normally do for her books. Her story's hero, William, the Duke of Carrington's son, is in love with Queen Victoria's daughter, Georgina and he wants his story written his way, but Daisy isn't hearing him. The plot kept me captivated as Daisy is transported by William back into 1795 Victorian England and takes on numerous roles. As her muse tries to get her to write his story, she argues with him that she is not used to being told how the story will go. She experiences several spankings in various forms. The dialog is witty and entertaining.
SH on 09/13/2015 05:32pm
This book made me smile, laugh, and not put it down until I finished it! I was hooked from page one with a wonderfully different type of book from Bella Bryce. There is still the English influence and the plot idea is so creative. Daisy had me laughing out loud and William was stern but just what she needed. Well done!!
SH on 09/13/2015 05:32pm
This book made me smile, laugh, and not put it down until I finished it! I was hooked from page one with a wonderfully different type of book from Bella Bryce. There is still the English influence and the plot idea is so creative. Daisy had me laughing out loud and William was stern but just what she needed. Well done!!
Meg on 09/12/2015 10:43pm
Daisy has never really experienced writer's block but when she does, it is as if she's hit a brick wall. Not only is her publisher threatening to drop her, not a single trick of the past is working. Faced with an impossible deadline, she sits before her laptop staring at the entire manuscript which consists of nine words. After overindulging in port, she awakens to find a man dressed in clothing fashionable two hundred years in the past. He informs her that he has been talking to her for the past six months but she has stubbornly refused to listen. Playing along seems safe until the Victorian Lord tips her across his lap and she experiencing more than simply 'waiting for her characters to speak'. Will William be able to teach her that listening isn't truly the most important thing? Ms. Bryce weaves an interesting tale of the creative process an author deals with every time they sit before that blank computer screen. I found myself wishing that I could open my eyes and walk among those people in a different era as well. I wish the book had been longer but I suppose that is what every reader feels when the last words are read in a good book – we never want it to end.
Meg on 09/12/2015 10:43pm
Daisy has never really experienced writer's block but when she does, it is as if she's hit a brick wall. Not only is her publisher threatening to drop her, not a single trick of the past is working. Faced with an impossible deadline, she sits before her laptop staring at the entire manuscript which consists of nine words. After overindulging in port, she awakens to find a man dressed in clothing fashionable two hundred years in the past. He informs her that he has been talking to her for the past six months but she has stubbornly refused to listen. Playing along seems safe until the Victorian Lord tips her across his lap and she experiencing more than simply 'waiting for her characters to speak'. Will William be able to teach her that listening isn't truly the most important thing? Ms. Bryce weaves an interesting tale of the creative process an author deals with every time they sit before that blank computer screen. I found myself wishing that I could open my eyes and walk among those people in a different era as well. I wish the book had been longer but I suppose that is what every reader feels when the last words are read in a good book we never want it to end.
Karla Deeter on 09/12/2015 05:32pm
Daisy is trying to write her next book, but the characters aren't talking to her. After a night of drinking, she wakes to discover her main character has left the Victorian era to speak to her personally. When William decides Daisy isn't listening, he transports back in time to have her learn first hand about the newest story.
Karla Deeter on 09/12/2015 05:32pm
Daisy is trying to write her next book, but the characters aren't talking to her. After a night of drinking, she wakes to discover her main character has left the Victorian era to speak to her personally. When William decides Daisy isn't listening, he transports back in time to have her learn first hand about the newest story.
Lisa M on 09/12/2015 02:54am
This was my first time to read Ms Bryce's work and I was delightfully surprised! This is not a typical romance. Instead it is a wonderful adventure between an author and her main character. The main character that will not just tell her, the author, his story since she wasn't listening anyway, but has her experience his story first-hand. And, of course, she mucks things up a bit for him. There is a bit of time-travel, great spankings scenes, and no sex. Just fun and humorous! I will certainly read more by Ms Bryce!
Lisa M on 09/12/2015 02:54am
This was my first time to read Ms Bryce's work and I was delightfully surprised! This is not a typical romance. Instead it is a wonderful adventure between an author and her main character. The main character that will not just tell her, the author, his story since she wasn't listening anyway, but has her experience his story first-hand. And, of course, she mucks things up a bit for him. There is a bit of time-travel, great spankings scenes, and no sex. Just fun and humorous! I will certainly read more by Ms Bryce!
Gitana on 09/10/2015 10:47am
Fast-paced story about Daisy Abbot, author of naughty romances, whose leading character, William comes to life. Well, he does more than comes to life; this man is taking over the writing of her latest (and overdue to the publisher) book. Lots of snappy repartee between the smart alecky heroine and her Victorian hero, who knows how to get her to behave. Wicked fun!
Gitana on 09/10/2015 10:47am
Fast-paced story about Daisy Abbot, author of naughty romances, whose leading character, William comes to life. Well, he does more than comes to life; this man is taking over the writing of her latest (and overdue to the publisher) book. Lots of snappy repartee between the smart alecky heroine and her Victorian hero, who knows how to get her to behave. Wicked fun!

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