“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought,” said Peony, pacing about the living room, “and I need a job where I can be at home to look after John whenever he’s here but which might bring in some decent moolah as well. Also, I wanted to give something back, Mum. Help you out.”
I’m about to say: “I’m intrigued,” but actually I’m not.
“Go on then,” I sigh.
“What do you need that you haven’t got?”
“A device for travelling back in time and circumventing this conversation.”
“I’ll tell you what you haven’t got. Readers.”
I feel vulnerable suddenly.
“So what do you need?”
“Yes, well done. Readers. You’re just waiting to be discovered.”
“No, I’m happy being ignored.”
“And how do you get readers?”
“I’ve got a few already, thank you very much.”
“You need an agent.”
“You’re going to find me an agent? How on earth do you propose to do that? Anyway I’m not sure I really want an agent.”
“Oh Mum, don’t be so bloody dense. I’m going to be your agent.”
And with that ta-dah! she stopped pacing and fell into her grandmother’s unusually vacant armchair, which was brave given its soft and marshy nature.
“Peony, does the world really need another literary agent?”
“Who cares? You need one. Think of everything I can do for you. I can manage all the nasty stuff you don’t like doing, like selling yourself. You hate all that. I can call around and get you into places and have your books featured on web sites and just spread the word. And you can give me a little smidge of what you earn to keep me going.”
“Wait a minute. So, as well as living off me entirely for nothing, you now also wish to draw a salary?”
“Commensurate with my success as your agent.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“You’ve paid off the mortgage. You can afford it.”
“I paid off the mortgage by working extremely hard to do so. Now listen. How on earth are you going to cut it as a literary agent when you rarely open a book?”
“Not true. I’ve been leafing through that one on your bedside table, the one by the Norwegian bloke who remembers every cough and fart of his childhood.”
“I’m struggling. Anyway, I’m not trying to be a critic. Agents aren’t critics. They’re business people. Fixated on success, just like me. Mum, it’s time for me to change direction and take up a new career path.”
“What direction are you changing from exactly? The closest you’ve come to a career was selling your old Barbie dolls on Ebay.”
“Yes and separating them into individual lots realised a much higher return. And I did that despite promising them that they’d never be parted from each other. I feel really bad about that but that’s the kind of hard-headed business woman I am.”
“You’re head is entirely soft, my dear.”
“I’m ignoring that, which is proof of my steel. These days writers can get publicity in all kinds of ways. For kick-off, you’ll need a blog.”
That’s a good start. Clearly one of my devoted readers.
“Also we have to think laterally about people we know and how they can be of help to us. You’d be surprised how much good a well-placed recommendation is. I bet if we had a proper brainstorming we could come up with all kinds of people who could help. What about that boyfriend of yours then?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Yes you do, I saw you both taking Ken Tray for a walk in the cemetery the other day. Is he a recovering alcoholic? Are you on some mercy mission? The poor bastard looks dreadful.”
“Peony! Dr Lorenz is a consultant at Kings College Hospital.”
“Are you sure he’s not a patient? It looks terminal, whatever he’s got.”
“I don’t ridicule your boyfriend and God knows I’ve got enough material to work with. He hardly looks at the peak of condition.”
“Alfons? He’s not my boyfriend. I’ve told you, he’s my sexual partner. Get with the times.”
“Well go exploit him then and leave Laurence out of this. What does Alfons do anyway?”
“Alfons…,” she began and her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. “He’s …”
“Huh!” she said in wonderment. She shook her head, too. Kept shaking it. “Well I never,” she mused. “It genuinely never occurred to me.”
She was tutting and laughing all the while and slapped the arm of the chair.
“Well?” I demanded. “What is he?”
“He’s… well he owns his own publishing company. He specialises in publishing and marketing self-published writers with promise.”
“Peony,” I said sourly. “I love you but you’re an idiot.”