‘Raises the curtain on a wonderful new talent’ – Erica James
I got the idea for Waiting in the Wings during a trip behind the scenes at the Theatre Royal, York. Looking around the dressing rooms and the backstage area, I thought what a great setting it would be for a novel. By the time the tour had finished, I’d dreamed up the character of newly single actress Annie Mitchell, exiled into rep to recover from a failed romance. It’s a whodunit as well as a love story, with a bit of spine-tingling spookiness thrown in. Well, every theatre has to have a ghost…
Actress Annie Mitchell’s husband Max has done the dirty on her, and not only that, he’s done it with her oh so perfect, blue-eyed blonde of a best friend.
To help take her mind off her problems, her agent fixes her up with a spell in a dreary Yorkshire rep theatre. But Annie soon finds life at the Phoenix anything but dull. Not only is she working with Nick Ryan – the man she ditched Max for – but it seems someone is determined to see the Phoenix reduced to ashes…
According to Every Woman’s Self Help Guide To Relationships, there were four stages to the classic break-up: Denial, Self-Recrimination, Anger and Resolution.
Strange they didn’t mention Compulsive Eating, Annie reflected, delving into the box of Coco Pops she kept clutched to her bosom like a much-loved teddy bear. Max had only been gone three weeks and she’d already worn quite a furrow in the stretch of carpet from the sofa to the fridge. At this rate, by the time she got to the Resolution bit she’d look like she’d swallowed a duvet.
If she ever got there. At the moment she was still hanging on by what was left of her fingernails to Denial, before she made the long, dismal freefall into Self-Recrimination.
Julia had been typically blunt. ‘You’re letting yourself go,’ she’d bawled down the telephone earlier. ‘I bet you’re wearing that sad old cardigan, aren’t you? And when was the last time you washed your hair?’
Annie ran a hand through her tangled curls. ‘Mind your own business. You’re my agent, not my mother.’
‘I’m just protecting my investment. Carry on like this and I’ll be lucky to get you a guest appearance as a dosser in Casualty.’
‘Look, I just want to be left alone, okay? I’m depressed.’
‘And don’t we know it,’ Julia sighed.
Annie picked at a chocolate stain on her shapeless grey cardie. How could she expect Julia to understand? When it came to the men in her life she had the boredom threshold of a black widow spider.
Her idea of commitment was to give a man her phone number. And half the time it wasn’t her real one.
I know what you need,’ Julia said.
Annie groaned. Julia Gold had a serious interferiority complex. She could just imagine her sitting at her desk overlooking Soho Square, lighting up her twentieth Silk Cut of the morning. ‘I’m not interested in your cast-off men, if that’s what you mean.’
‘And I daresay they wouldn’t be interested in you either. Let’s face it, you’re hardly Claudia Schiffer at the moment, are you? No,’ she said briskly, ‘what you need is a job. And I’ve got just the one for you.’
Annie shovelled down another handful of Coco Pops as Julia described the ‘fantastic new opportunity’ she’d lined up for her. Some downbeat repertory theatre in an unheard-of part of Yorkshire was re-opening after many years and the new artistic director was casting for its opening production.
She straightened her shoulders. Her husband might have run off with her best friend, leaving her with a mortgage to pay, a terrifyingly huge Barclaycard bill and the self-esteem of the last sandwich in a railway buffet, but professionally speaking she still had her pride. ‘I couldn’t possibly do it,’ she said, with as much hauteur as she could muster through a mouthful of breakfast cereal.
‘Don’t be silly, darling, I’m sure it won’t be that difficult. And you’ve got too much talent to waste it sitting around stuffing your face and waiting for that bastard to come home.’
‘What makes you think I’m doing that?’ Annie shoved a half empty Quality Street box under the sofa with her foot.
‘Because I know you. And you won’t get him back by eating yourself into blimpdom, you know.’
Too late for that, Annie thought, plucking at the baggy knees of her leggings, which were well into their fourth day of wear and looking the worse for it. ‘Who says I want him back?’
‘You mean if he came through that door now you wouldn’t welcome him back with open arms?’
‘Not necessarily.’ Annie crossed her fingers.
‘And you don’t jump on the phone every time it rings?’
‘Oh, please!’ No need to tell her that she took it to bed every night, along with an old flannel shirt that still held lingering traces of his CKBe.
‘So you’re not just existing from day to day, hanging on to the hope that he’ll come back?’
‘I do have my own life to live, you know.’ So what if she chose to spend it huddled up on the sofa with the curtains closed, eating chocolate and watching Richard and Judy phone-ins?
‘I’m glad to hear it. So there’s nothing to stop you taking this job then, is there? You can go away for six weeks, put your career back on track, get your personal life sorted out. And you know what they say: success is the best revenge.’
‘Is it?’ Up until now she’d been getting a grim satisfaction from pouring Max’s aftershave down the plughole and fantasizing about sending his Ralph Lauren suits to the local Oxfam shop.