Title: Chasing Ghosts
Author: M.K. Hardy
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 8/7/17
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, romance, addiction, drug/alcohol use, performance arts/visual, writer
SynopsisNic is a successful ghost writer, making a decent living churning out best-selling autobiographies of celebrities and other notable figures. She’s also a recovering alcoholic—three years sober and still tempted, every day, to open the bottle again.
Luckily she has distractions—this time in the form of Isobel DeWitt, an award-winning and well-loved actor in her prime, who has decided to release a tell-all autobiography. Nic finds her likeable, charming and fascinating…but also impossible to crack. Every draft sounds like just another magazine piece full of perfectly crafted sound bytes, but there’s no soul.
Undeterred, Nic continues to dig into the actor’s history in search of the clue that will unlock it all and finds it in the form of one Melody Graham, a reclusive playwright and, if rumours are to be believed, Isobel’s erstwhile lover. Nic chances everything to reach out to her and unbelievably she responds, sharing stories about her time with the tempestuous actress and helping Nic get further and further into Isobel’s head. The problem now is figuring out where Isobel Dewitt starts and Nic ends…
M.K. Hardy © 2017
All Rights Reserved
“Hi, my name is Nicola, and I’m an alcoholic.”
Not much of a way to begin a story, is it? But as James, my agent, always says, “truth is what makes the story.” On the other hand, my sponsor Mary likes to tell me to “be honest with yourself and screw the rest of them.” Either way, you can’t get any more truthful than that, can you?
“It’s been two years since my last drink.”
I was sitting in a dingy church hall on a flimsy folding chair, surrounded by people who looked as if they’ve been chewed up and spat out by Fate like disused pieces of chewing gum on the pavement. Some of them couldn’t even bring their eyes up to meet the gazes of their fellow addicts. Instead, they focused on the streaked wooden floor, following the whorls and gouges with their bloodshot eyes. I didn’t recognize all the faces; for every regular there was a newcomer, who more likely than not would come for one, maybe two weeks before disappearing off the map in a haze of empty vodka bottles, never to be seen again. Sometimes on my weaker days, it made me angry to see them, knowing by looking at them that they wouldn’t be back next week, and hating them for being weak enough to succumb. Just like I wanted to.
You’re supposed to share your story at these meetings, but that wasn’t really why we were here, was it? You don’t want to hear my story. Nobody does. There’s a reason my name never shows up on the front jacket—why if you read between the lines of each tell-all memoir you won’t find me mentioned there. It’s because I’m very good at my job, you see. I can draw out even the most reluctant person, put their words, their life down on paper so that the masses can’t help but want to read it, and the supposed author can’t help but rake in the cash. So I hope you don’t mind if I just give you the bare highlights of my own life—my name might be all over this, but it still really isn’t my story.
The smattering of half-hearted applause at my testimony had stopped now, and I was talking again. I was sharing my experiences of the past week—the times I’d wanted to drink, the times I’d been glad of the clarity I now had… You don’t need the details.
The truth was I could do without the clarity. Clarity, if you ask me, is overrated. I wasn’t sober because it made me clear-headed or better able to deal with my day-to-day life—honestly, I was a high-functioning drunk. That’s the thing about a Calling—you don’t have to be sober to be able to do your job. I could write just as well—maybe better—when I was drunk. I met my deadlines, I made meetings when I had to, my cat never went hungry, and I was never the type to get into fights or wake up in a gutter because, like all good alcoholics, I drank alone, at home.
No, to be brutally honest, I got on the wagon because when I hit thirty I was starting to develop a slight gut, and that’s not attractive on anyone. And believe me, some days I wish I had just switched to gin and slimline, but here I am now and so here I stay. Never let it be said I don’t see a story through till the bitter end.
After the meeting finished, the group disbanded, drifting away from each other like autumn leaves pushed by a capricious breeze. There was a table set up with orange juice, tea, and biscuits; some of the newcomers lingered there, hoping to meet kindred spirits who would reassure them that everything’s okay and it’ll just get easier with time. The regulars knew better.
Me, I picked up my sleek black laptop bag and hoisted it over my shoulder, exchanging curt nods with a few people before heading for the door. I wasn’t in full Bitch Mode, which on a normal day meant I might stop and exchange pleasantries, but I’d got a meeting to get to across town and not a lot of time. Chances were I’d probably be late. Why didn’t I just skip the meeting, go to a later one, you ask. To which I reply: you’ve never been an addict, have you?
I grabbed a taxi as soon as I could, promising the driver a generous tip if he could get me to my destination by four o’clock. That’s the other thing about having a Calling—you can make plenty of money doing it. I have even more now that it doesn’t all go on booze and mixers, but it mainly just sits in my bank account or occasionally serves to entice cab drivers to get me where I’m going on time.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that what I do is necessarily what I saw myself doing when I majored in Creative Writing at college (you don’t really care where, do you?). My starry-eyed teenaged self thought I was going to be the next Kerouac, or the next Tartt, or at worst the next Stephen King. I think my younger self would probably want to knife me in my sleep if she saw me trampling all over her dreams of renown and accolade, making a tidy little profit without my name ever appearing on a single dust jacket.
It’s still writing, though. It scratches that eternal itch. And I’ll tell you what, it’s satisfying, in its own way—getting into someone’s head, finding their voice, putting their life into their own words when they can’t make that transfer from mind to page for themselves. I’m like a conduit—weirdly, I feel connected to them. It’s an addictive sensation in its own right, and I am, after all, an addict.
Some people go from vice to vice, trying to find something that fills in that emptiness. I knew a guy in the early nineties who, after nearly killing himself on a five-year bender, sobered up almost overnight only to begin falling into bed with a different person each evening. What alcohol couldn’t accomplish, AIDS did. When you look at it like that, my way doesn’t seem so bad, does it?
We got to the hotel at five past four—even though we were technically late, I still gave the driver his promised tip. It wasn’t as if he had any control over London traffic, after all. I slid out of the cab, barely looking around to check my surroundings before heading inside. I have a lot of meetings at hotels, so I’m well acquainted with them—the plush beige carpets, the myriad mirrors, the waxy, sunlight-starved pot plants. These initial meetings are always in the bar, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that I ended up the way I did. Liquor is a natural lubricant; it gets peoples’ tongues wagging. Even now, hours before dinner time, the bar was half full, cluttered with businessmen soothing their jetlag with a pint of ale, nervous tourists tittering over a glass of merlot.
I caught sight of myself in the mirror behind the bar. It’s a rule, in writing—you have to tell the reader who they’re looking at. Never mind the picture on the cover, they want to be reminded of the sparkling blue eyes, the crisp white smile, the smooth, even tan. And you won’t be seeing my picture, so I suppose I ought to lubricate my own descriptive skills with a bit of introspection. Not that I’m going to tell you what you want to hear.
See, unsurprisingly I guess, I’m about as ordinary-looking as it gets. I’m about average height, maybe a little over but not enough to be tall. I’m average weight—maybe a bit extra on the hips and thighs from time to time; it comes and goes. My eyes and hair are a mid-brown that’s neither particularly drab nor particularly inspiring—my hair pretty much lives in a perpetually slightly dishevelled ponytail. I’m the kind of pale that you only get by staying indoors most of the time, summer or winter, and only holidaying to northern European cities that don’t require you to wear sunscreen or mosquito repellent. My wardrobe is mostly brown, black, and navy. I don’t wear rings and my ears aren’t pierced. I’m basically the definition of a cipher.
I didn’t start out that way—I am told by reliable though biased sources that I was a very pretty little girl. And I went through all the normal teenage rebellion phases—heavy eyeliner, dyed hair, outrageous clothes (though who could live through the eighties and not claim fashion victimhood?). But somehow, I ended up like this: a plain Jane, nondescript and unmemorable. Maybe it’s the exterior reflecting the interior, since my job is more or less all that defines me these days. Or maybe it’s just that spending so long in a drunken, intensely personal, and yet wholly impersonal haze erased all desire for self-expression. But if that’s the case, why am I writing this? I honestly don’t know. You tell me.
The woman I was there to meet wasn’t hard to find. Unlike me, she was well-known enough to create a bubble of impermeability around her, one which no tipsy tourist or errant waiter was likely to overstep. And even if they didn’t know who she was, she was striking in a way that caused people to stop and stare rather than come too close. And as used to celebrity as I am, I’ll admit I hesitated for a moment before breaching that no man’s land and approaching her table.
“Ms. Dewitt? Nicola Booth. Sorry I’m late.”
“Oh, are you?” she said politely, in that tone where it was obvious she’d noticed and was pretending not to—which I hate, by the way.
“Yep,” I said, tamping down the urge to roll my eyes as I took a seat opposite her at the table. Lord, save me from the well-meaning ones—give me a stone-cold bitch any day. They’re so much more fun. “Anyway, I’ve just got a few questions before we get started. I assume your agent told you what I’ll be doing?”
“Well, I know what a ghostwriter does, of course, but I’m sure you all have your own methods…”
“Sure.” I sat back in my chair, nodding a little. “A lot of writers like to pore through articles, past interviews, watch appearances on Jay Leno, that sort of thing. Really bumps up the research fee.”
She raised an eyebrow—just the one. You know how in books everyone can do that? I’ll tell you what, not everyone can do that. “And you?” she said in this arch tone and I’m not sure whether it’s getting my back up or turning me on a little.
Not wanting to give her the satisfaction of watching me jump through any of her little hoops, I turned a little, motioning for the single waiter who’s loitering by the bar. He hurried over, more for her sake than mine, I knew, and I ordered a mineral water with lemon before looking back to Ms. Isobel Dewitt with all her arched eyebrow and perfect lips.
“I like to talk.”
“Mm. I mean, yes. To talk. You’re supposed to be telling your life story, right? So the best way to do that is to… talk about it. To me. I’ll record it, take notes, ask questions…and then I’ll whisk it all away and transform it into a bestselling account of your life.” Maybe it sounds conceited, but trust me, it’s true. I have never failed to turn out a book that exceeded the publisher’s expectations, and I’ve even helped a few minor celebrities to climb the social ladder to better recognition.
The great Isobel Dewitt pursed her perfect lips and tossed her perfect hair and relaxed back in her chair with a nod. “All right. So when do we start?”
Well. This is it, then. “We can start right now,” I told her, leaning over to pull my recorder out of my bag, then set it on the table between us. No time like the present. “Let’s talk about what you want out of this book.”
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Character Interview – Isobel Dewitt
"And now for our next guest I'm delighted to be able to introduce one of our greatest British exports. She cracked Hollywood as an actress, she's a critically acclaimed director, and now she's living and working back in the UK. Please give a warm welcome to the radiant Isobel Dewitt!"
The Tonight with Gareth Morton audience broke into the studio-mandated wild applause as Isobel emerged through the billowing dry ice at the back of the set, doing that awkward-but-pleased-to-be-here thing celebrities usually do for these sorts of guest spots.
"God, she's just sickeningly attractive, isn't she?" Julie said with a dramatic slump back against the couch cushions as Isobel shared a polite hug and cheek kiss with the chat show host.
"Mph, you should see her in person; it's ridiculous." She hadn't pulled out all the stops tonight, but in many ways her simple green dress, light make-up and ponytail only highlighted just how naturally alluring she was.
"Well," Morton said as they settled into their seats, Isobel on the couch previously occupied by the four young members of a boyband whose name I'd already forgotten, "thank you so much for finding a gap in your schedule."
"Oh, don't be silly, it's a pleasure to be here."
"You've got a lot on right now," Gareth commented, checking one of his note cards, "I have you down here as producing a new feature film and working on your autobiography, is that right?"
"I'm a workaholic, what can I say?" Isobel said with a charming smile; she obviously knew what a pleasing dichotomy this was, the perfectly put-together woman who was obsessed with her work. "I like to keep busy."
"So tell us about this new project, then - it's from a young female director, yes?"
"Yes, and I'm so excited to be able to tell you about it." As she launched into the details of the film I couldn't help but wonder how people did it - sit in front a studio audience knowing their image was being broadcast out to thousands of people, that any little imperfection would be noticed and commented on by jealous idiots.
"Sounds like we should've got Laura Maguire on," Morton teased.
"Oh, you'll want to meet her soon enough, I'm sure," Isobel agreed.
"How about this book, then? Sounds juicy."
Isobel laughed and shook her head. Was it my imagination that her voice turned a little brittle as she replied. "I wouldn't say that," she said. "Most of my interesting life experiences have been out there in public already. This just... brings them all in together, in one place, with my own perspective on them."
"Is she trying to tank her own autobiography?" Julie asked, gesturing at the screen.
"Hey, as long as I get paid," I said with a shrug.
"Well, I can't say I'm overly surprised you can write as well as model, act, direct, play musical instruments... it's disgusting really, isn't it." The crowd tittered at Gareth's signature dramatic exaggeration.
"D'you know, I've had a lot of help with it," Isobel said. "It's not my area, but it's been a really great experience."
"You've always been very protective of your private life," Morton observed.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that... I'm an open book, really." Isobel said - lied - with an easy smile. "I just don't love people peering at me all the time."
"So will we learn a little more about that 'behind closed doors' stuff? Personal trials? Romance? C'mon, give us something here..." Another amused reaction from the studio audience, and I snorted, making Julie jump.
"You will be lucky," I said.
"Let's just say... I've talked about things I haven't talked about before."
"How tantalising... so when does it drop?"
"Later this year is the plan - we'll see."
"Well, I'm sure we're all looking forward to that. Right, now I don't know if you were watching in the Green Room, but we just had the lovely lads from Heat Haze on - d'you know them?"
"I... have to confess that I don't, but I was watching backstage and they seem lovely."
"Well, you're going to hear them now, performing their new single, Fool Me Twice..."
I clicked off the television. That was quite enough of that.
"So what'd you think?"
I shrugged. "What should I think? She was... Isobel. Same as always. Note perfect. Not a foot wrong. Engaging, friendly, and totally unreachable."
Julie smirked. "Y'know what they say about a bad workman blaming his tools..."
"Are you calling Isobel Dewitt a tool?"
"What if I am?"
I couldn't help it: I laughed. Why else did I love Julie so dearly, after all, if not for her ability to make me laugh at life, and at myself? It was unfortunate that I couldn't keep her around for later, when I'd play the interview back over in my head, picking through it looking for items to obsess over.
Let's just say... I've talked about things I haven't talked about before.
True in the technical sense, of course. What she hadn't admitted was that none of it would make it into the book.
Meet the AuthorMK Hardy is the pen name for two geeky women living and writing together in Scotland. They’ve been writing partners for eleven years and life partners for nine. When they’re not typing frantically at one another they like to walk the dogs, cuddle the cats, drink cocktails and play boardgames.
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