So yesterday, I had a bit of fun by posting my original notes for Oxford Blood, which I wrote in a frenzy, four years ago, on the train between London and Sheffield.
Today, I thought I’d share the second half of what I wrote that day: the first draft of the first chapter. A quick warning for anyone who has never read any of my books – this is not representative of my work. It’s unedited, unproofchecked, and really here just to show how books evolve over time from first draft to published version.
Readers will notice one major difference between this version and the Oxford Blood they know – it’s in first person. It’s also Harriet speaking long after the event. I wrote about three chapters like that, and then changed my mind and started again from scratch. And actually, I quite like it. It’s almost making me wish I never switched to third. This is mainly just a bit of fun, but (and bearing in mind that the absolute lack of editing on this version means its not a very fair comparison) which approach do you prefer?
Blue Blood, Chapter One (oh yes, there’s the title too…)
If I’m absolutely honest, when I found out i’d been accepted into Oxford, i had two primary intentions – social climbing and finding a “nice” (read rich, fit and charming) boyfriend. My Mother’s hopes, even if I didn’t know it, were even more blatant – she wanted a “nice” (read the same as above, but add old, powerful and ruthless) vampire to turn her only daughter.
My aims, cynical as they sound, are easily explained. I was bored of my small northern town. Bored of people’s lack of ambition, lack of glamour, lack of achievement, lack of life. Above all though, i was bored of the boys in all their predictable, charmless teenage glory. I’d briefly tried going out with an older guy, but that didn’t make much different. I dreamed of someone well dressed and flamboyant, who spoke like the lead in a black and white film, who drank champagne like other people drank Carling and who could talk about history and philosophy and life for hours, without making themselves sound like an idioy. Someone who made romantic gestures, who was generous to everyone and extravagant towards me. Someone, for preference, who rowed and had the muscles to prove it. When i was really having a bad day, someone with a title. I short, i wanted it to be like Brideshead only with less homoeroticism, more falling in love with me and a complete absence of people dying from alcoholism in Venice. Every time a well meaning access scheme leaflet tried to reassure me and all the other state school acceptees that Oxford wasn’t wall to wall old Etonians in permanent black tie, I died a little inside.
As you might have anticipated, my mother’s motivation requires a little more explanation. I’d better start by explaining that at this time, the summer of 2007, revelling in post A-Level freedom, the whole vampire issue had never been communicated to me. My Mother was a mystery and to some degree she remains so .
She didn’t bring me up of course. My aunt Kate has always been my real mother in all but the biological sense. Even before the car crash my father’s sweet, dull sister had spent days on end babysitting when my parents worked late at the bank and later at the banker restaurants, clubs and bars.
It seems fair to suggest that even in those days, my mother missed me. Indeed that, combined with my parents’ near legendary lack of impulse control was the cause of it.
[I guess we pulled into St Pancras at that point! This is sort of cheating, but as I’m finding it slightly surreal to read the first person version, I thought I’d carry on with the next chapter. I think there was meant to be something between these two instalments.Not sure whether it’s lost or was never written. We’re still in first person, but now Harriet seems to be narrating in real time. I appear to have done quite a bit of playing around with style that I’d forgotten all about.]
I see my real mother precisely four times a year. On the 1st May, 31st October, 21st December and at some point during the week of my birthday in March. [Oh Harriet, for goodness sake, your birthday is in September. This is surprisingly critical to the plot of Ivory Terrors] Sometimes these dates fall on a school day, but from primary school right up to the sixth form I’ve never had a problem getting them off. For a start I guess the teachers are a little horrified that my mother basically abandoned me, and give me the sympathy vote. But my mother also told me that she’s spoken to the headteacher at each school I’ve attended, and, like most people, they didn’t even try to argue with her.
I’ve always been intensely excited about her visits. When I was little I’d spend days beforehand telling anyone who’d listen that I was going to see my mum, would questioned my aunt endlessly in the run up about when she’d be here and what we were going to do and would inevitably be completely incapable of sleep the night before. Kate had gone through a stage of just not telling me she was coming, but I’d always known.
Nowadays I manage to seem calmer. After all, most of my friends spend as much time avoiding their parents as possible. On the inside however my heart starts pounding about a week beforehand. I plan what I’m going to wear and how I’ll do my hair every bit as carefully as I’d do for a first date (and know she’ll pay much more attention than any boy). A million things I want to tell her start rushing through my mind. I’m basically incapable of holding a sensible conversation the day before and on the day itself, even the most inviting of social invitations take a back seat.
I guess in part its a natural reaction of any girl who doesn’t get to see her mother, but it’s more than that. To a greater or lesser extent, my mother has that sort of effect on almost anyone she meets, male or female, young or old. She’s intensely glamourous and very beautiful, two qualities you don’t get that much of around here. She’s chatty and funny and has great stories and gossip. Above all though, she has this unbelievable confidence. It’s as though she has no conception of the possibility of anyone disliking her or ignoring her or turning down her requests and she’s almost always proved right.
It’s a bit of a mystery what exactly my mother does. When I was a kid I’d question her endlessly on her rare visits, but she’d generally smile and change the subject. Nowadays, I just want to enjoy the time I have with her, so I avoid awkward questions (why did you leave me Mummy?) and just enjoy any information she does give me. As far as I can tell, she travels a lot and works long hours in some high flying job which she claims are the main reason she doesn’t see more of me.
She lives with an older man called Austin or as Aunt Kate scathingly calls him (despite the fact that to the best of my knowledge they’ve been together for about sixteen years), “her new husband.” By all accounts he’s immensely rich and powerful, very high up in a bank and with political connections. From the brief conversations I’ve had with him when he drops my mother off he always seems very charming, if a little grand and distant. Aunt Kate isn’t my mother’s biggest fan (in fact, she often seems to be the only person who actually dislikes her) but she’s usually at least civil to her. Austin however, she steadfastly refuses to allow into the house and has made it quite clear to me that I’m never to let him in either. I always knew better than to ask questions about Austin or why she disliked him, and certainly never dreamed or defying her and asking him in for a drink.
I suppose Kate has always been hurt that her beloved brother’s widow seemingly found someone to replace my father in her affections so soon after his death. I can understand this, but so much time has passed now that to me it seems a little churlish and completely uncharacteristic of my usually friendly and easy going aunt. Would she really rather my mother was still grieving and alone?
For my part, I’d love to get to know my step-father a little better but I don’t press the point. I suspect he’s offered to help Kate and Richard out financially in the past and been firmly rebuffed. Sometimes I wonder if Austin is the real reason that my mother couldn’t bring me up – that he didn’t want children and she chose him over me. I try not to think about this too much though.
So anyway, on her specified days (and search me why she chose those) she’ll turn up around lunchtime, driven by Austin in some fancy car or other, seemingly a different one each time. That alone is generally enough to get the neighbours looking out of the windows.
I used to run out to them. Nowadays I’ll generally try and walk out coolly in a pretty pair of heels. There’ll be an all enveloping perfumed hug from my mother and a few polite words with Austin to update him on what I’ve been up to over the last few months. He always seems genuinely interested but it could well be an act. Then he drives off somewhere and me and mummy go inside.
So today’s the 21st December, two days after I got my acceptance letter and I think that between me and my aunt, we’ve told all the world. Well, all the world but my mother, but today, she’s going to be here. This time around, with all the waiting to hear whether or not I’d got the place, I’d been thinking about her visit less frequently than usual, but yesterday I was more excited than ever. I could tell her my news. She’d be so proud of me. Instead of all the myths I’d been getting about people who never left their room, I could ask her all about it. She was, after all, the only person I knew who’d actually studied there herself, and although that had been twenty years ago, I couldn’t imagine that twenty years was a very long time scale in a university a thousand years old.
Most of the time I wear jeans and a little top, like my cousin and like most people I know. My mother however always wears beautiful dresses, smart heels and lots of jewellery and I know she likes me to do the same. Most of the things I own like that we’ve picked out together and she’s bought for me. As a matter of fact, I’m hoping there’ll be a shopping trip on the cards today.