Chapter 1 -Introducing Mrs. Smithers
My last post concerned characters and the control of them. It’s not an easy subject. As a writer, it is easy to let your characters run away with your story so caution is needed to keep them contained.
Here I am posting the first chapter of my book ‘ Murder in the School’ , which is a murder mystery set in a school in a large, urban town. The book is available from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk as an e-book to read on the Kindle or on your computer. I’ll give you the link at the end of the post.
I am currently writing the sequel to ‘Murder in the School’, which will be called ‘Justice Will Prevail’. It should be finished around Christmas time.
In this first chapter we meet Mrs. Smithers, the school secretary, who has some secrets, which the reader will learn about as the story progresses. The other characters in this chapter are:
Ms Althea Gardner, the new Head Teacher
Mrs. Riglett, one of the parents and her son Georgie is also mentioned.
Mrs. Wales, the general assistant/medical lady
This first chapter is written in the first person. Mrs. Smithers is speaking to the reader and explaining how she felt when she first met the new Head Teacher, Althea Gardner. I have not flooded the first chapter with lots of characters for the reader to get confused about because when I am reading myself I like to get to know the characters slowly. That’s just my choice. What is your opinion? Do you like to meet all the characters in one go? or do you prefer to be broken in gradually?
Although this is a mystery story, it is also a study of human behaviour in an institution, like a school. Therefore we have to wait a while for the murder to happen. If I was writing Crime Fiction, I suppose the murder would need to happen in Chapter One, in a dramatic way, so as to grab the reader’s attention immediately. That’s fine and it works on T.V. and films, but what is the hurry with a book? Let’s be a little patient and take time to get the feel of the school and what is happening there.
So here is Chapter One. I hope you enjoy reading it.
My name is Mrs. Smithers and I was a part-time school secretary at PrimrosePrimary School in the urban sprawl known as Langwitch. My office was in the part of the building, which was formerly the InfantsSchool. The Infant and JuniorSchools were amalgamated recently and a new Head teacher, Ms Gardner was appointed in charge. Ms Gardner had been in post for three weeks and already she had instilled fear in the hearts of the staff throughout the school. Even the goldfish in the tank in the foyer swam frenetically back and forth when she passed by. The day after the first joint staff meeting Ms Gardner started her individual interviews. She wanted to see me first and my appointment was for 9 a.m. in her office, which was in the larger, junior side of the school.
I spent a sleepless night tossing and turning in my bed worrying about the interview. What was this all about I wondered? Did she really want to get to know us all better or was there a hidden agenda? Should I be forthcoming and friendly and open with her or would it be better to keep something back and show my more reserved side?
Dressed in a navy blue suit with a white blouse, I felt smart and perhaps if I didn’t say anything untoward, I thought, the interview should go smoothly. Just as I was about to leave for the interview, the phone rang in the office. I picked up the receiver. It was one of our most irritating parents, Mrs. Riglett, phoning to explain that her Georgie was ill again and she intended to take him to the doctors that day but there weren’t any appointments till much later on so she was going to keep him indoors and give him lots of hot drinks and cool flannels……….! And…………! And …………..!
“Yes, yes, Mrs. Riglett” I almost shouted down the phone with exasperation. “You’re doing the right thing and we look forward to seeing Georgie soon when he’s quite better and in the meantime, yes I will go and ask his teacher if she can look in his desk for his library book. Now I must go. Thank you for phoning, goodbye.”
I looked up at the big clock on the wall of my office; 9.10 a.m. showed. I was going to be late. I really didn’t want to be late and now I would be. I grabbed my handbag and ran. The new administration block, joining the two schools, was not quite finished so I had to run across the car-park. It was raining so when I got across to the far door my glasses were covered in rain spots and I couldn’t see much. A large magpie observed me with pity from the overhang on the porch door. “One for sorrow!” I thought. The door swung shut behind me and there was Ms Gardner’s office with a new brass plaque on the door. “A. Gardner” it said. I wondered what the ‘A’ stood for. I knocked politely on the door and heard her say, “Come in”.
Ms Gardner was wearing an exotic perfume, which put me in mind of the markets in Marakesh. As usual she was immaculately dressed. Today she was wearing a russet brown suit; in keeping with the season, I thought. Two gold bracelets shone bright against her bronze skin; one on each wrist. She was sitting in her chair, which was in front of her desk on a dais. She motioned to the only other seat in the room, which was not on the dais and thus she had the advantage of the highest seat and an imposing position. I had the advantage of being able to see what was on the wall behind her. I looked for a picture or a photo to give me a clue what her background might be; nothing. I looked at her desk, again nothing. No past, I thought. Nothing to give a clue as to what she held dear in her life.
“Now”, she said. “Tell me how you see your role in this school?”
“I have been a part-time school secretary over on the Infants side of the school for 13 years”; I began. “Since L.M.S. (Local Management of Schools) I have had to become adept at managing the school finances”, I explained. “I enjoy the financial side of the job but it is difficult to concentrate on finances when I also need to keep jumping up and opening the door to visitors”.
Ever since the incident at Dunblane in Scotland, in 1996, when a deluded 43 year old man, Thomas Hamilton, massacred 16 children and a teacher, our main door has remained shut and locked. No longer were visitors allowed in of their own choice and without an automatic opening system, it fell upon me to allow visitors to enter. “
“I work well with Mrs. Wales, the General Assistant”, I continued. “ We would like to change our hours so that she does less hours and I do more. That way we can cover the new responsibilities of the combined schools. Mrs. Wales is very capable of tackling the office work and would welcome more responsibility and I would like to spend more time on the finances, perhaps combining that with library duties? We thought that with our family commitments we could each work ¾ time.” My voice tailed off as I saw Ms Gardner’s expression change from mild boredom to irritation.
“Impossible”, she said. “Mrs. Wales is to be placed in the classroom as a teacher’s help and in the office what I want is a full-time efficient P.A.!”
I sat back on the chair realising that I had just blown it. I had given Ms Gardner the ideal opportunity to get rid of me and by the same stroke she could demoralise Mrs. Wales by taking away the prestige of having her own room. After fourteen years of loyal service Mrs Wales, capable Mrs. Wales, would lose the one special thing she had, the Welfare Room. It was her domain and she reigned supreme in it. Returning my thoughts to the present I heard Ms. Gardner say “Thank you Mrs Smithers, you may go back to the office now.”
I stood up and returned across the rainy car-park to my cosy little office on the Infant side of the building but I couldn’t get back in because I had forgotten my key to the main door in my haste to get to the interview on time. I could see the key on the desk through the window. Everyone was in the assembly hall so I had no alternative but to sit on the step and wait. Now the tears came, mixing with the raindrops and splashing on the ground between my shoes. Now I understood, my days at PrimrosePrimary School were numbered. Whatever I had said to Ms Gardner, she would have given the opposite view. Ms Gardner had other plans. A shake-up was coming and we couldn’t do anything about it. We were powerless, or were we?
When Mrs. Smithers returned home that afternoon she went straight to the cloakroom cupboard and took out her beautiful shiny besom. “Time for a sweep”, she thought. Her three black cats stretched their legs, gripping the carpet with their sharp claws and curling their tails around the broom and Mrs. Smithers’ legs and purrrrred with pleasure…….
If you want to buy the book, you can click on this link and it will take you straight to Amazon: I use a pseudonym, Amanda Marigold.