Snapping the FWF Schedule closed before the waitress saw anything, I realized I was not sure where I was. Playing it cool, I stirred a cup with a nice dollop of soy milk and RAW sugar while doing a bit of people watching, a shadow cast across my log book for my Fourth-Wall Friday visits, I knew something was going down today but was not sure. The printer just said to be at this cafe in Oxford this morning, so here I am and there he is. Wait, he is not an author in my book? Wait… ummm where did he go?
Please welcome Zoe Brooks as she showcases herself and a character through the specialized author spotlight of Fourth-Wall Friday!
Coffee Grounds & Conversation
The tall gaunt man stands in the door and looks around the cafe. He walks across the room, glancing at the other customers huddled over their mugs of coffee and half-eaten plates of fried breakfast, but always turning his mocking eyes to me. I, like everyone else there, flinch slightly as he examines me.
He eases himself on to the high backed bench seat opposite me. “Zoe, this does feel familiar,” he says. “Couldn’t you imagine somewhere different for your book? Had to base it on somewhere you knew.”
“All writers do. We take what we know and elaborate.”
“And do you know me?” His eyes are on my face. They are yellow and grey, like a snake’s. Or so I imagine. “Who am I based on?” he pursues.
I shift in my seat unable to reply. Who is the Rottweiler based on? I don’t know. He walked into my imagination as fully formed as he is now.
“It seems you are ambiguous about me,” says the man, unwrapping a packet of cigarettes. “Just like the heroine of your novel.” He taps a cigarette against the table top, before putting it to his lips. There are nicotine stains on his fingers.
“You’re not allowed to smoke here,” I say.
“Really?” He raises an eyebrow. “Why?”
“Health. Those cigarettes will kill you.”
“Well, you should know,” he replies with a smile.
“And it’s against the law.”
“In that case,” he says returning the cigarette to the packet, “I always uphold the law, even that one.”
The Chief of Police for the great city of Pharsis sits back as he puts the offending pack into his pocket. I breathe a sigh of relief. Having written of the reek of his cheap cigarettes I have no desire to smell them in reality.
“So,” he says, “Where are we?”
“Oxford.” And when he says nothing, I continue: “A university town. But not a great port like Pharsis, we’re hundreds of miles from the sea.” Still he waits, forcing me to continue. “Historically there were violent clashes between students and townspeople, and yes I used that as inspiration for the attacks on Shadows. That and other historical examples.”
He flicks open the menu and peruses it. I know it is an act, he only drinks black coffee. After all, he is my invention, but right now it doesn’t feel like it. He looks up.”As I recall, you wrote that the cafe on Carnival Road served the best coffee in the city, is that the same here?”
I nod. He beckons the waiter over and places the order. When the steaming cup arrives, he says “Mmm, you’re right, it’s excellent. So, you were going to tell me about your ambiguous attitude towards me.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“You rather like me, just as Judith does at times,” he says.
“Authors often like the darker characters in their books.”
“Generalizing again, Zoe, that’s a very bad habit for a writer. I’m sure Stephen King would have something to say about it. And as a policeman I can tell you that it sounds defensive.”
“I don’t think Judith likes you all the time.”
“Don’t think? Surely you should know. You wrote the book. Or do your characters get away from you?“
Rather like you are doing right now. I think.
“Let me make it easier for you,” he says putting down the nearly empty cup. “Am I a villain?”
“No, an antagonist maybe, but not a villain.”
“Be under no doubt, Zoe, I would hand Judith over for execution if it was necessary. If the law requires it. I am not a monster, but I have to play by the rules.” He pauses. “Your rules in fact. You’ve written me into a corner; you have no one to blame but yourself if you find Judith hanging from a gallows and you don’t want that, do you?”
“If you have to play by my rules, then I don’t have to endure this interrogation.”
“No, you don’t.” He takes the last sip of coffee, puts the cup down and sits with his large hands in his lap, watching me with a wry smile. “You could make me disappear, just like this.”
He is gone. Startled, I look around the cafe expecting a reaction from the other diners, but they all have their heads down over their food or are in some animated conversation. In a corner a man is talking loudly about being kidnapped by aliens. Another is singing to his food. A woman shuffles past, carrying her life in three carrier bags. It’s that sort of cafe.
David, the cafe owner, wanders over and gathers up the empty cups. “You should take a holiday, Zoe. You’re getting like them. You’ve been talking to yourself for half an hour.”
Zoe Brooks is a British writer and poet, who spends half her life in a partly restored old farmhouse in the Czech Republic, where she writes all her novels and poetry. She aims to write popular books, which have complex characters and themes that get under the reader’s skin.
Zoe was a successful published poet in her teens and twenties, (featuring in the Grandchildren of Albion anthology). In May 2012 she published her long poem for voices Fool’s Paradise as an ebook on Amazon, which has just won an EPIC ebook award. Zoe has three novels published Mother of Wolves, Girl in the Glass and her latest book Love of Shadows.