I’m sitting on the high terrace of the Living Space bar at The Watergate Bay Hotel near Newquay. The view is stunning from this advantaged position and I watch the Atlantic breakers crashing on the yellow beaches while the seabirds wheel above, calling to the wind. From the restaurant, the smell of seafood, French fries and garlic mingle with the blackcurrant tones of my wine and my stomach is rumbling. Through the open doors hurrying through the bar, I spy Lottie. She’s the protagonist in my book The Calico Cat. Lottie’s slipping her light denim jacket off and as she comes outside, her long chestnut-brown hair lifts on the breeze as she walks. As she sees me, her lively green eyes light up and her smile reflects mine as she hurries over to my table. She looks self-assured as ever, but happier than she once did. She’s come a long way, and that makes me happy.
‘Hi Lottie, how are you?’ I say giving her a quick hug.
‘I’m good, thanks. Really good.’ She smiles again and sits opposite. ‘I suppose you might even say I’m fantastic.’
‘You look it. Now, can I get you a glass of wine or shall we order lunch first?’
Lottie picks up the menu and scans it the delicious food on offer, and then back to me with a mischievous twinkle. ‘Hmm, I’m starving. Let’s order first.’
I laugh. Lottie always comes straight to the point, no prevaricating for her, similar to me in that way. A waitress comes over and we select the same lunch dish too. Locally caught crab salad, and fries. We order a plate of olives and fresh bread to share, then wait for the waitress to bring our drinks. Lottie leans back in her seat, straightens her colourful summer dress and says, ‘How’s stuff with you then, Mandy?’
Lu always uses Mandy rather than Amanda. ‘I’m great thanks. Life is treating me well. But I’ve really missed you of course. It’s been a while. And, would you mind answering a few questions, so the readers of The Calico Cat can get to know you a little more?’
‘I expect so. Hope they’re not too tricky.’
‘No, I promise. Okay, first question, how old are you?’
Lottie rolls her eyes and a smile tugs at the corner of her mouth. ‘You know the answer to that, you gave me life after all.’
The waitress sets down our drinks and the olive plate and I pop one into my mouth.
‘I did indeed,’ I say with difficulty as the olive’s intent on sliding down my throat. ‘But then I know all the answers. The readers don’t though.’
‘I’ve just turned twenty-nine.’
‘And what do you do for a living?
‘I used to be a teacher but that wasn’t working out for me.’ Lottie grins and crunches an olive. ‘But now I’m an artist and run my own gallery, just along the coast a bit at Mawgan Porth.’
‘How’s that going?’
‘We are so busy, I had to rope my mum in to cover for me today while I came.’ Lottie tears some crusty bread, dips it in olive oil and takes a big bite. ‘I like busy though.’
‘Your Mum?’ I’m shocked about this. While Lottie and her mum seem to be building bridges, I wouldn’t have thought she’d have been entrusted with Lottie’s business.
Lottie frowns then gives a little laugh. ‘When I say Mum, I mean Louisa.’
Realisation dawns and I say, ‘Oh of course, yes.’ I won’t explain further as I don’t want to give too much away if you’re going to read the book. I take a sip of wine. ‘You sound happy, are you?’
Lottie swallows and gives me a huge smile. ‘I have never been happier. I’m quite certain of that. You know me, I analyse everything to within an inch of its life, and I have come up with Lottie Morgan is definitely happy. Caleb is a big reason she is.’
‘Ah yes, the lovely Caleb. Couldn’t say the same a year or so ago though, eh?
A dark cloud slips behind her eyes. ‘No.’
I feel guilty for dragging up the past, but if readers are to know Lottie, we must visit it. ‘If you’re okay to, would you mind if we went back to your childhood for a bit?’
A deep sigh. ‘I guess not. All that stuff’s all behind me now…so why dwell on it?’
I take a sip of wine and plunge straight in. ‘I won’t dwell – just a bit of background. You and your mum didn’t get on, as a result of something she and your father kept from you, is that right?’
Lottie wrests her hair from the wind and look out over the ocean. ‘Yes. My parents kept a big fat secret from me and then came and bit us all on the arse when I turned thirteen. I reacted in a way in which I thought was understandable, but Mother blamed me. Said I was cruel, wilful and unruly. She said I was ungrateful, odd…her penance. As a consequence, I felt rejected by my parents, Mother mainly, but Dad had to take some blame. He’s always been a weak man, let Mother trample all over him. I decided that I wanted to be as different from them as humanly possible. Different from most people, actually.’
I nod and give her an encouraging smile. ‘What do you mean by different?’
‘Well, because of the big fat secret, I really didn’t know who the hell I was anymore. Everything I had ever knows was false. I was false. Unloved, unwanted. Or so it seemed back then.’ Lottie dabs at her mouth with a napkin and stares at her glass. ‘I didn’t want to be false, I wanted to be real, true to who I was. So I spoke my mind, even if it hurt others. I said exactly what I thought – still do. I don’t do anything anymore that makes me feel trapped, unhappy. Life’s too short. My grandmother Gwendoline taught me that.’
‘Yes, she was your saviour, wasn’t she?’ I put my hand on her arm.
She looks at me and nods. ‘God yes. I couldn’t have got through without her. She left me the money in her will to be able to change my life…’ She tails off and picks up more bread but doesn’t eat.
I’m worried that I’m pushing her too far, so move away slightly. ‘Your mum always resented the fact that she never left anything to her in the will, didn’t she?’ I tear off some bread and dip it in oil. She copies me and gets oil on the tip of her nose. I point it out and we laugh. The misery lifts and she washes the mouthful down.
‘Yep. Serves her right, I say. Gwendoline had the measure of her daughter and no mistake.’
‘Let’s talk about your walking trip now. You set off around the South Coast Path around Cornwall with Caleb, your colleague from school, and met lots of interesting people along the way didn’t you?
She gives me a withering look and yawns. ‘You know I did, you wrote the story. This interview is a bit daft really. Can we talk about you for a change? I never really got to know much about your life.’
‘Er, perhaps another time. Humour me.’
‘Okay. Yes. That experience made me realise who I truly was, and the people I met on the journey helped me understand the true meaning of friendship and love.’
‘Caleb became very special to you, didn’t he?’ I make space on the table for the waitress to put down our crab salads.
‘He certainly did. Once, we were on the path and I—’
I hold up my hand. ‘No, don’t mention more. In fact, I think we have enough now to give readers a flavour of who you are and what your story is about.’
Lottie shrugs her shoulders and sprinkles cracked-black pepper onto her food. ‘Make your mind up, Mandy. First you want the low-down, then you want me to stop.’
‘That’s because the story’s just waiting to be discovered. No point in giving the game away before the readers have even opened the first page is there?’ I smile and pour salad dressing.
‘Right,’ she says a little stiffly, loading her fork. ‘Shall I fill you in with what I’ve been up to recently or what?’
‘Best not, because that might give too much away too,’ I say hoping she’s not going to get in a strop. ‘Let’s go eat this and then go inside for another drink. The readers won’t hear us there. I’d love to hear all your news.’
Lottie grins. ‘Now you’re talking.’
We tuck in and Lottie says she feels like we’re in one of her paintings because the scene is so colourful and vibrant. I totally get what she means and feel I’m so lucky to have created someone like her. I say as much.
‘Luck has nothing to do with it. I knew you were the writer I needed to give me life and crept into your subconscious at 4.am demanding to have my story written, remember?’ Lottie’s eyes dance with amusement. ‘You had to jot the bare bones down before I’d let you sleep again.’
I nod and smile. ‘I remember it well, Lottie.’
She raises her glass. ‘Good. I call the shots and don’t forget it.’
As if I ever could…