How To Be Perfect - Opening page
I've always written for children but I have a few months off over the summer and have decided to write an adult book. I'm frustrated by getting quite far along the path with agents (requesting my MS and even redrafts but then not choosing to represent me despite really liking my books). So I'm hoping it's an easier task for adults.
I've started writing something but I don't really know where it fits into the market. It's a comedy about a woman in her thirties who moves back to her childhood home after living abroad for ten years and expects all her childhood friends to be impressed by her, when in reality they've actually achieved a lot more and moved on with their lives. She has a bit of a social meltdown (which plays out in the first chapter below) and decides to set about trying to improve every aspect of her life, first through self-help books. It plays on our society's obsession with perfection and eventually slides into some existential, magic realist questioning of reality (which will hopefully be more organic over the course of a novel than it sounds in this paragraph.)
I'd love to hear any thoughts people have on it as I'm really torn at the moment on how to spend this free time I have.
How to be Perfect
This is a Low
“Don’t fucking judge me!” That was the best I could come up with. Eighty pairs of oh-so-judgy eyes on me and that was my only comeback.
I wish I could blame it on the alcohol. The glasses of sangria Adam had been couriering over to me all evening smelt of more than just Rioja and orange juice but that’s hardly an excuse.
If I was being kind, I’d probably accept that Chloe Arthurs had a hand in it. That cow had been looking for a way to get her own back ever since I’d made out with Ricky Eng on the school trip to Hever Castle when we were thirteen. If she hadn’t stuck her weirdly small nose in I’d have had a perfectly nice evening.
And yes, any normal person would admit that the cocaine didn’t help. Three lines in quick succession, off the back of Stacey Palmerton’s fiancé’s hand in the men’s toilet, hadn’t exactly sharpened my mind.
But let’s be honest for a second. It wasn’t the booze or the coke or little-nosed Chloe or even Stacey Palmerton’s fiancé that got me kicked out of the engagement party. It was me; Lizzy the fuckup. Lizzy the train wreck, the fiasco, the absolute calamity.
When Stacey poked the door to the cubicle open, I thought I’d hit rock bottom. Neil the fiancé had his trousers down, his pathetic “Here Cums the Groom” boxers still visible, and for one stupid moment I thought, This is it! It’ll all be uphill from here.
“How could you do this?” Stacey began to silently sob and Neil started in on the “Babe, no seriously, babe. Listen to me, babe.” Chloe was grinning at me over Stacey’s shoulder, her inner monologue no doubt going wild with excitement as she served up her frosty slice of revenge.
Once I’d adjusted my top and subtly extracted myself from the cubicle in that overpolite, slightly insane way that people caught in the middle of an argument do, I let out a sigh of relief. I honestly thought that my night, and perhaps my life, could not get any worse.
I got past Stacey without her hitting me. I sidled around Chloe without having to suffer through one of her sanctimonious lectures. That twat Neil was being smacked across the face with Stacey’s tastefully accessorised clutch bag so, all things considered, I’d got off pretty lightly.
“You bastard. How could you do this to me with her?” Stacey’s banshee wail burst into the hall as I opened the toilet door and every last person there turned to look at me. My heart stopped for a second as I saw the eighty pairs of eyes lock on, but I still thought I could ride it out.
I made an eek sort of expression. It was meant to be a humorous glad-I'm-not-him face, the muscles pulled tight on one side of my neck, the opposing eyebrow raised. I’ve never done much acting but it was sterling work. I’m pretty sure I’d have got away with the whole thing if it hadn’t been for the swingy door on the toilet that reopened one last time to release Stacey’s “How could you fuck Lizzie Chandra at our engagement party?” into the world.
I stopped walking and eighty pairs of eyes held onto me like tractor beams. Their owners sketched a mental image to describe to their friends later on. Mousy looking girl, white powder all over her nose like she’d been huffing blackboard dust, left breast not quite returned to position, obviously a slut.
And all I could think to shout in reply was, “Don’t fucking judge me!”
The barn-like hall was silent. There’d been music on tenminutes earlier when I’d gone into the toilet, but right then it was so quiet you could have heard my sense of self shatter. Stacey’s dad was the first to react. He cut across the dance floor, a microphone for the impending speeches still in his hand.
“I think you’d better leave, Lizzie.” My one-time maths teacher’s voice travelled through the P.A. system to make sure that every last person understood that I was the one who’d lured his future son-in-law into the men’s toilet.
My head was foggy. I knew that there was some great injustice unfolding, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I couldn’t move either. As Mr Palmerton put his hand on my shoulder and Mum and Dad shuffled into view to check that it was their abominable hussy of a daughter who was causing a scene, it felt like my shoes were made of iron.
The section of my brain that was responsible for getting me the fuck out of there was busy humming the theme from Friends. Sadly, whichever part was in charge of social immolation was still fully functioning.
“But, Mr Palmerton… You…” The cocaine spiking through me at just the wrong moment, my voice was as broken as a twelve-year-old boy’s. “You were my favourite teacher.”
Which is when I started to cry. Not a demure, ladylike whimper. It was a full on, nose-running, face-reddening, tears-as-big-as-slugs-sliming-their-way-down-my-face sobfest.
Her arms crossed, her head shaking, Mum couldn’t watch any longer and made a run for the exit. At least my best friend Adam was enjoying himself. He was the one raising a bottle of champagne, shouting, “Bravo, Lizzie. Bravo!” from over by the bar.
Mr Not My Favourite Anymore Palmerton grabbed me awkwardly by the top of my arm and marched me after my mother. And that’s one thing I will blame the booze for – who has fucking sangria at a fucking engagement party in fucking Surrey anyway? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have tried to pretend that everything was fine, wouldn’t have waved at the party guests as I left and cry-mumbled, “Congratulations, Stacey. Have a wonderful evening,” if I’d been on Appletise all night.
Outside, in the cool fresh air of the Scout Hall car park, my mother was finally free to tell me off.
“Really, Elizabeth. You’ve showed yourself up. There’s half of the Wallington W.I. in there!”
And I was free to lean over the handrail and vomit out the booze and aperitifs, the sudden force of which took me head over heels into the bush beneath. Which is where I stayed, thinking, Yep. This is just where I deserve to be, until Dad arrived to help me home.