Saturday, July 6, 2019

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The Road to Cromer Pier by Martin Gore - Book Tour


The Road to Cromer Pier


Janet’s first love arrives out of the blue after forty years. Those were simpler times for them both. Sunny childhood beach holidays, fish and chips and big copper pennies clunking into one armed bandits.
The Wells family has run the Cromer Pier Summertime Special Show for generations. But it’s now 2009 and the recession is biting hard. Owner Janet Wells and daughter Karen are facing an uncertain future. The show must go on, and Janet gambles on a fading talent show star. But both the star and the other cast members have their demons. This is a story of love, loyalty and luvvies. The road to Cromer Pier might be the end of their careers, or it might just be a new beginning.


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Excerpt
 He reached the seafront and saw the pier being buffeted by big waves crashing against the shore. He really loved Cromer on days like this, when an irresistible force of nature did battle with the pier as it had for over a century.
Pulling his coat tightly around him, he headed for the pier box office. Fortunately, he wouldn’t need to venture to the theatre itself. Stuck out into the North Sea, it was a fabulous tribute to Victorian engineering.
Instead, he had only to join Janet in her small room tucked away behind the box office at the front of the pier.
He pushed the door open and had to close it forcibly behind him. Betty, the Box Office Manager, smiled at his obvious discomfort.
‘Good morning, Mr Westley, turned out nice again?’
Les had used the George Formby line quite often himself, so the irony wasn’t lost on him.
‘Good morning to you, Betty. I assume Mrs Wells is punctual as always?’
‘On the dot, Mr Westley. Whereas you are reliably 15 minutes late, as always. Black coffee?’
‘Thanks. Make it strong. I rather think that I’ll need it. What mood is she in?’
Betty thought for a moment, sprinkling coffee into a genuine Pier Theatre mug.
‘Rather like the weather, a deep depression with storms gathering in strength and augmented by occasional thunder and lightning.’
She smiled as she handed over the coffee. He grimaced.
‘Bugger it. Here goes then. I’m going in.’
As he entered, Janet was on the telephone. She smiled thinly and motioned him to sit. He sipped his coffee as she rolled her eyes.
She mouthed ‘Barry De Longue’ and grimaced. Les laughed. An agent from hell our Mr De Longue, he thought. He sipped his coffee and leafed through the local paper. Another hotel had gone under.
Eventually she got the pushy Mr De Longue off the line, and smiled.
‘Good morning, Leslie. Is it me or is the world about to end?’
‘Well, looking at the news, you might think that, Janet. You’ve seen the latest? Another of our hotels bites the dust.’
He pushed the paper across to her.
‘Yes. I saw it. It’s all a bit scary. And our figures don’t make good reading either. I don’t think the bank will be overjoyed.’
‘They’ll be OK. You’ve been a customer for years. It’s a one season blip.’
‘Well I’d hope so but in this climate, who knows?’
‘Christmas show bookings OK?’
‘They’ve been better. Nobody wants to spend any money right now. The one night shows are being affected, too. Hotels are reporting a drop in weekend trade. It’s time to batten down the hatches.’
Oh dear, thought Les. This didn’t sound too good.
‘I’ve cut the hours of the office staff, and let one of the cleaners go. It went down well in the current job climate as you can imagine but I need to get the costs down over the winter.’
Les looked across at Janet. She was a very calculating individual not given to precipitous action, so the fact she had acted so swiftly indicated that she had thought things through already. Let’s get this over with, he decided.
‘So how do you see things for next year?’
She paused. Les sensed the worst.
‘Well that’s what we need to discuss. This isn’t going to be an easy conversation. I’ve been over the figures for last season in detail. I’ve taken a salary cut of five percent, and I’m asking for you to do likewise.’
Les paused mid-sip, and set his coffee cup down.
‘Good grief. You don’t beat about the bush, do you?’
Janet leaned forward, a look of concern on her face.
‘I know it’s a lot to ask, but if I can show some savings, it will make things easier with the bank. I’m asking all of the creatives on the team for the same sacrifice. I’m not going to ask anyone to do what I’m not prepared to.’
Les slumped back in his chair. The money didn’t really matter that much to him as a single bloke, and his other sources of income, mainly on the cruise ships, seemed sound, at least for now. He saw a look that he had not seen in Janet before. She seemed genuinely frightened. The storm on the pier outside would pass, but the greater financial storm the world was facing would take much longer to abate. There had already been bigger casualties than the Cromer Pier Theatre Company.
‘You’re overreacting, Janet. Things will blow over by the spring. There are too many fat cats with too much to lose.’
Janet had anticipated this reaction. She pushed the newspaper back across the table.
‘That’s what Jim Collins said to me last month, and now his hotel and livelihood are gone. Are you that confident? Really?’
He considered the position, and Janet sat back sipping her tea from her china mug. Her own special cup. She was content to let him think.
Les pondered. This was not the conversation he had expected. He quietly chided himself for not drawing all of the strands of the situation together as clearly she had. What planet were you on, old son?
He thought about playing for time. It would have been easy to stall her, but they would have to plan the show very carefully if they wanted to keep up the standard they had set on less money, and that would take time. He responded in a calm and measured voice, which still had more than a trace of his Birmingham accent.
‘Well, you’ve certainly put me on the spot.’
He paused to reflect. Janet sat back in her chair sipping her tea, her face implacable. He broke the silence, as she clearly had no intention of doing so.
‘Look, I think I can go with it, just as a one off. I see your predicament. But what does this do for the budget for the show? Are you seriously proposing to cut that by five percent, too?’
Janet shrugged, arms folded.
‘Sadly, yes, I am. I’m going to need to demonstrate that I’ve eliminated the trading loss. The maths is easy to explain if you look at this spreadsheet.’
She pushed a sheet of figures across the table. He pushed it back. He’d never really liked numbers.
‘No worries, Janet. I’ll take your word for it. If it will do the trick then I’m in.’
Janet smiled, but her eyes looked tired. She hadn’t had much sleep recently.
‘I think it will. But even then the bank might counter that ticket sales could fall again next year. I really can’t predict how this will play out.’
Les shook his head. Don’t push your luck, Janet, he thought. He picked his words with care, sensing that he had capitulated a little too quickly.

‘But we’ve always maintained that unless we offered a West End standard show, the brand would suffer. You, of all people, have said that season after season. It’s why we’re still here and the others aren’t.’
‘Yes. I know I did. And I haven’t changed my opinion. But we dare not overcommit after this season. We need to consolidate through this, however long it lasts. If banks are going under, what does that say for the rest of us?’
Les nodded quietly, still adjusting to the harsh reality of the situation. He began to pick his way through the implications.
‘So you’re going to renew the second year headline acts and get them down five percent too? What about Karen?’
‘Karen has agreed. She is family so she understands. But I fear you’re going to have to sacrifice Ron and Mike altogether, great though they are. They will simply cost too much. That’s your decision, of course.’
Now this was a shock. Les slumped back in his chair.
‘My God, that will go down well. They expected another season at least before getting rotated out. That’s what we usually do.’
‘Yes. I know that’s what we normally do. I’ll break it to them if you like. I know they’re friends of yours. It’s only fair.’
She sipped her tea once more. He shrugged and finally smiled grimly.
She opened the old tin on the corner of her desk, an heirloom of her father’s.
‘Biscuit?’
She smiled, as if relieved that the difficult conversation was done. Negotiating with friends was always difficult, and Les counted both as a friend and a hired employee.
Les took a cookie and nibbled it. He shook his head, sensing that she’d mugged him.
‘So, have you got any good news this morning? I’m thinking of taking a one-way walk down the pier.’
Janet laughed. Once Les started cracking jokes again, you knew he was on board, however reluctantly. She took out a letter and pushed it across the table.
‘Well, it depends what you think of this lady.’
The letter was from Frank Gilbert Promotions, a London-based agent, boasting a few big names. The name of the artist being promoted surprised him. He dismissed it, pushing the paper back across the desk.
‘You have to be joking, Janet. We don’t have the money to shop at Harrods. Now more than ever.’
Janet smiled. She handed over a printed copy of the email she’d received earlier that morning.
‘Take a look at that. Her star has passed its zenith. She’s been dropped by the record company and has had a bit of dodgy publicity recently. Hit a reporter outside a nightclub apparently, if you believe the tabloids.’
Les read the email and looked up.
‘Bloody hell, she’ll do the season for that? She must be desperate.’
‘Or maybe Frank knows the score.’
‘Meaning?’
‘Meaning that this is going to be a bloody awful market in which to be unemployed, and Frank knows it. He’s perfectly capable of taking his luvvies down a peg or two. Three months of guaranteed work here looks attractive at the best of times.’

‘And in this climate, the bird in the hand–’
‘Exactly.’
‘So, if I read you correctly, you are saying that I need to build a show around the money left over after we’ve hired her?
‘Pretty much. Yes.’
‘That’s a pretty shitty job.’
‘But someone has to do it. In this case, you and I.’
Janet shrugged and smiled. They’d been together too long for hidden agendas, and besides, Les had seen enough crises in his time in this business. He was not one to panic.

Comment
This is from an early chapter, where we meet two central characters. Janet Wells, Proprietor of Cromer Pier Theatre, and Les Westley, comedian and director of the Summertime Special Show.
It starts on a stormy morning in Cromer in October 2008, the height of the global recession. Anyone who knows Cromer loves it on wild mornings like that, of which there are quite a few. The waves crashing over the seawall, and the smell of the sea ever present.
Janet and Les are employer and employee, but are also long standing friends, forged when Janet’s father Jack died suddenly, and she had to take over. Les became director as a consequence. The personal bonds between the two are akin to that of husband and wife. Janet is driven and tough, but the toughness is skin deep. A single parent in the seventies she brought up her daughter Karen alone. Karen is Dance Captain in the show, which is as such both their life’s work and their livelihoods.
Les has a past too, and their have been many tears in the life of this otherwise lovable clown. At his darkest hours Jack Wells had given him a chance, and he had never forgotten that. He’d come to love Cromer and the North Norfolk coast, and the Summertime Special Show. Fiercely loyal, with an eye for talent, Les can be affable and funny, but acerbic and critical as a director needs to be at times. He’s a creative talent, but not necessarily the most organised of people.
The maelstrom of the recession makes Janet fearful of the future, and in this excerpt she shares the position with Les. He recognises the cold fear that Janet is feeling, the fear of losing everything they have worked for. The weather outside is a metaphor for their feelings.
I wanted to open up the story in an evocative setting, and both set the scene for the reader and draw out the close relationship between the two lead characters.

 

Author Bio
I am a 61 year old Accountant who semi-retired to explore my love of creative writing. In my career I held Board level jobs for over twenty five years, in private, public and third sector organisations. I was born in Coventry, a city then dominated by the car industry and high volume manufacturing. Jaguar, Triumph, Talbot, Rolls Royce, Courtaulds, Massey Ferguson were the major employers, to name but a few.

When I was nine year’s old I told my long suffering mother that as I liked English composition and drama I was going to be a Playwright. She told me that I should work hard at school and get a proper job. She was right of course.

I started as an Office Junior at Jaguar in 1973 at eleven pounds sixty four a week. I thus grew up in the strike torn, class divided seventies. My first career ended in 2015, when I semi retired as Director of Corporate services at Humberside Probation. My second career, as a Non Executive Director, is great as it has allowed me free time to travel and indulge my passion for writing, both in novels and for theatre.

The opportunity to rekindle my interest in writing came in 2009, when I wrote my first pantomime, Cinderella, for my home group, the Walkington Pantomime Players. I have now written eight. I love theatre, particularly musical theatre, and completed the Hull Truck Theatre Playwrite course in 2010. My first play, a comedy called He's Behind You, had its first highly successful showing in January 2016, so I intend to move forward in all three creative areas.

Pen Pals was my first novel, but a second, The Road to Cromer Pier, will be released in the Summer of 2019. 

I’m an old fashioned writer I guess. I want you to laugh and to cry. I want you to believe in my characters, and feel that my stories have a beginning, a middle, and a satisfactory ending.


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