Today I’m pleased to welcome Michele Gorman to the blog. Michele’s novels include The Curvy Girls Club and Love is a Four-Legged Word. She also writes under the name Lilly Bartlett, with previous novels including The Second Chance Café in Carlton Square and The Big Little Wedding in Carlton Square and her latest novel The Big Dreams Beach Hotel as Lilly Bartlett is published by Harper Impulse on 18 August 2017
Today Michele has kindly allowed me to share an extract from The Big Dreams Beach Hotel with you.
Lill raises her tiny hands with a showbiz flourish that catches everyone’s attention. Lill is nothing if not an attention-catcher. Her platinum bob shines out from beneath her favourite black top hat, and she looks every inch the circus ringmaster with her moth-eaten red tailcoat over her usual thigh-skimming miniskirt and white go-go boots.
This wouldn’t look at all unusual if she wasn’t pushing seventy.
‘Happy anniversary to you, happy anniversary to you, happy anniversary, dear Rosie, happy anniversary to you!’
Lill’s voice soars clear and strong above everyone else’s and the Colonel calls me Rose Dear. That man hates a nickname.
They’re all bunched together in our hotel’s decrepit bar, directly under the lurid green banner we used last year when the Colonel’s biopsy came back benign. At his age, that kind of thing deserves celebrating. I was the one who tore it taking it down, so it reads CON RATULATIONS. Story of my life, really.
They couldn’t be prouder of their surprise, though. Even the dog looks smug.
It’s an ambush, though I suppose I’ve been half expecting it ever since Lill let slip that they knew the date was coming up.
Three years back in Scarborough. Who’d have thought it?
It’s touching that they’ve done this, although I’m not big on surprises, which has made me paranoid for days. I even double-checked the restaurant this morning, but everything was normal – Chef barking orders at Janey and Cheryl. Janey and Cheryl rolling their eyes behind Chef’s back. Chef acting like he doesn’t know they’re doing it.
I should have thought to check the bar. It’s just beside reception through double doors in the wide entrance hall, but it’s never open this time of morning, unless we have a stag party in. And that hasn’t happened in yonks. Not even the Colonel uses it before evening. He’s got his own private whisky stash up in his room. He says he likes to keep his loved ones close.
‘For she’s a jolly good fellow…’ The Colonel’s voice trails off when nobody joins in. ‘I didn’t realise you were married, Rose Dear,’ he says. The ice in his glass tinkles as he sips.
Everyone stares at him as if we don’t hear his gaffs every day.
‘She’s not married, Colonel. She doesn’t even have a boyfriend,’ Janey says.
Her tone isn’t unkind. Just matter-of-fact. But ta for that reminder, I think.
‘It’s her three-year work anniversary, Colonel,’ Peter kindly reminds him. ‘Not a wedding anniversary.’ Peter reaches down to pet Barry, who’s starting to look bored with the whole event. Though it’s anyone’s guess what better offers a basset hound might have at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning at a seaside resort in the off season.
‘Righty-ho,’ the Colonel says. ‘Chin up, old girl, it might not be too late for you.’ He wanders out. We can hear the tap tap of his cane on the careworn parquet floor as it carries him off to his usual chair in the conservatory, where he likes to spend his mornings.
Colonel William Bambury always cuts a dashing figure, even when he’s half cut before lunchtime. Which is most days. His shirts are perfectly pressed and the crease in
his trousers could slice through a joint of meat. After forty-five years in the Royal Marines, he knows his way around an ironing board. In summer his ensemble is khaki. He adds a green tweed jacket in cooler weather, and on occasions like today he pins his medals to the front.
Personally, I’d live in thermals and a winter coat if I were him, because I know he doesn’t put the heat on in his room. He says it’s because he likes the bracing air, but I know it’s to save money. We need whatever comfort we can spare for the guests.
‘Sorry about that,’ Cheryl says. ‘Janey can be a thoughtless arse.’
‘That’s rich, coming from you,’ Janey retorts.
‘She’s right,’ I say. ‘You’re exactly alike.’
And not only in personality. From the neck up, Janey and Cheryl could be twins. They wear their blonde hair blown out pin-straight and their make-up laid on with a trowel. If one tries a double eyeliner flick or a new set of false lashes, the other one does too. They claim to have their own lipsticks, but they’re all in the same shades.
It’s below the neck where the differences lie, though they wear identical faded black-and-white waitress uniforms. Janey is as athletically slender as Cheryl is plump, though they both hate exercise, which makes me love them all the more.
‘Can we have the cake now? I’m starving,’ Janey asks.
‘Oh, right, the cake,’ Lill says. ‘With my performance, I nearly forgot.’
Nobody points out that singing four lines of a trite old song isn’t exactly a sell-out show at Scarborough Spa.
Lill hoists a plain white cake onto the burnished bar top. I’m surprised she can get it up there with her scrawny arms. ‘We did ask Chef to add some colour to the icing, but he said you wouldn’t go in for that kind of frivolity.’
Chef means he doesn’t go in for that kind of frivolity. He’s cut from the same military cloth as the Colonel, though Chef’s cloth is ex-Army green.
‘Where is Chef? Isn’t he coming in?’ I ask.
‘Not when he’s getting ready for service,’ Janey says. ‘It’s fish and chips today.’
Peter’s eyes light up at the news. ‘With mushy peas?’
Cheryl nods. ‘And the home-made tartar sauce that you like.’
‘Can you believe our luck, Barry?’ He scratches behind his dog’s ear.
That’s a hypothetical question, though, since Barry was strictly banned from the restaurant after he made off with Chef’s crown roast two Christmases ago. He didn’t get far on his little legs, but dinner was ruined and Chef still holds a grudge.
Kindly Peter Barker swipes the scant strands of his coal-black hair over his shiny dome. It’s a nervous habit, but necessary because his parting starts about an inch above his left ear.
His hair colour is probably as artificial as his surname, though he won’t admit to tampering with either one. But really, a dog trainer named Barker? Moreover, a fifty-something dog trainer named Barker with hair that black, when his face is crinklier than a sheet that’s been forgotten in the washing machine?
We’d give him a lot more stick about it if he wasn’t such a gentle soul. Believe me, we’ve got a lot of opportunity, with him living here at the hotel.
That’s the arrangement the Colonel has with the council: to house some of the people who need a place to live. They’ve been here for years and even though I’m the manager, I don’t know the exact details of the arrangement. They’re just our friends in
residence. I guess they bring in a bit of revenue. Given how few paying guests we get, it might be the Colonel’s only steady income.
‘Will you have lunch with us?’ Peter asks me.
‘Yes, why not?’ Lill adds. ‘The guests leave this morning, don’t they? It’s been ages since you’ve sat down properly for a meal, and you are celebrating. Three years. Where does the time go?’
That’s a really good question, though I’ve been trying not to dwell too much on it lately. Otherwise it could get depressing.
I’m not saying that Scarborough itself is depressing, mind you. At least, I’ve never thought so. But then I was born and raised in a bungalow not a mile from the hotel, with the waterfront penny arcades, casinos, ice-cream shops, chippies and pubs a stone’s throw away. It’s a faded seaside town like many of the old Victorian resorts, but we’re hoping for a revival. With a little vision, we could become the Brighton of the north. I do love the grand old buildings, even if they’ve all seen better days.
When I left at eighteen, I assumed I’d never come back, except for holiday visits to my parents. Yet, ten years later, my parents are living exotically in France while I’m back in the bungalow where I grew up.
See what I mean? Looked at in the wrong way, one could find that sad.
‘Rosie can have lunch off today, can’t she?’ Peter calls to the Colonel, who’s come back into the bar.
‘Don’t mind if I do,’ he says, refreshing his drink. He’s talking about helping himself to the bar rather than my lunchtime plans. ‘What?’
‘Rosie,’ Lill says. ‘She can have lunch with us today, can’t she?’
‘Of course, of course,’ he says. ‘The more the merrier, I always say.’
Actually, he never says that but, as he owns the hotel and is technically my boss, it’s not worth correcting him.
Given Chef’s refusal to indulge in a little food colouring, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that he’s also a stickler for punctuality. If everyone’s not sitting down for lunch between noon and two o’clock, they won’t get a morsel to eat. Not long after I got the job, I made the mistake of suggesting that we offer room service. Nothing fancy, just a selection of simple cold dishes for guests who arrive outside of Chef’s timetable.
You’d have thought I wanted him to don feathers and do a fan dance for the guests. He gave me dirty looks for weeks. Now I keep suggestions for the restaurant to a bare minimum.
Miracle Jones hurtles towards us through the dining room. Imagine the Titanic draped in a colourful dress and you’ll get the idea. ‘Darling baby girl, I’m so sorry I missed de surprise!’ she says in her sing-song Jamaican accent. It’s much stronger than that actually, so I’m translating.
Miracle is another of the hotel’s long-time residents. She’s also the mother amongst us. Large and regal, her black face catches every smile going and bounces it back at you tenfold. You can hear her throaty laugh all through the hotel.
‘I had to be at de church,’ she says, settling her bulk into the chair beside the Colonel and tucking her riotously patterned caftan around her. ‘Today is tea and sympathy day. It’s so sad how those poor souls have got no one.’
None of us can meet her gaze.
Unlike Peter and Lill, Miracle lives at the hotel thanks to her three grown children rather than the council. Every month the Colonel can depend on the fee for Miracle’s room and board. That’s more than Miracle can depend on when it comes to her useless offspring. None of us has ever actually laid eyes on them, so whatever they’re so busy doing, it’s not visiting their mother.
I don’t know how they can do that to such a giving lady. My parents drive me round the bend, but I still see them regularly. Granted, it’s not exactly a hardship when they live in a picturesque village not far from Moulins in France. But the point is that I’d visit even if they lived in a council flat in Skegness.
Nobody imagined they’d actually leave Scarborough. At first I thought they were joking about moving away from the water. Not only are they away from the water, they found the most landlocked village in France to live in. It is nice to visit for a few days, but then I miss the sea.
‘I’ll have to run off straight after lunch,’ Peter tells us as Cheryl and Janey bring our fish and chips to the table. Not that we ordered it. Chef doesn’t so much run a restaurant as a school canteen. We eat what we’re given. ‘I’ve got a three o’clock birthday and Barry and I have some lines to run through.’
We all nod as though it’s perfectly normal for Peter’s dog to run lines with him. Because, in a way, it is.
Peter’s had his trained dog act for decades and he’s well known on the children’s party circuit. Barry’s not your usual dancing dog, though. Well, a basset hound is never really going to be a great dancer, is he? But what he lacks in agility he makes up for in personality. He’s the perfect straight man for Peter’s act. When Peter tells his jokes, you’d swear Barry understands. His facial expressions are always spot on.
The Colonel clears his throat.
‘Have you got a fish bone, William?’ Lill asks. When she puts her hand on his arm, the Colonel blushes.
‘I’ve got something to say.’ Never one for public speaking, he shifts in his chair. ‘We’ve finally had some interest in the hotel.’
This is great news. ‘Was it the North Yorkshire Gazette advert?’ He wasn’t keen on spending the money, but I knew it would bring the punters in. And out of season too. If we keep up the publicity, imagine what we could do when it’s not rainy and cold. ‘We’ll have to open up some of the other rooms, though,’ I say. To keep the utility bills down we only keep the first floor open for hotel guests. We’re managing. Just.
‘It’s from a US hotel,’ he says.
I’m confused. Why would a US hotel send guests here? ‘Do you mean some kind of exchange?’ If so, we haven’t got many guests to send their way in return.
‘You don’t mean a sale, Colonel?’ Peter asks.
No, he can’t mean that.
‘It was a surprise to me too,’ the Colonel says. ‘You remember when we tried selling the place after we played ‘The Last Post’ for my sister. Couldn’t give it away with a free prozzie then.’
I do remember that summer. It was when I worked here in school, though I didn’t have anything to do with its management. I was under Chef’s tyrannical regime then. It’s hard to imagine the hotel more run down than it is now, but it was.
‘They approached me,’ he says. ‘Made an offer sight unseen.’
‘You’ve sold the hotel?’ Lill asks. It’s clearly news to her. ‘William, how could you?’
‘I thought you’d be pleased,’ he says. ‘You know how long I’ve wanted to get out from under the place. Now I’ll be free.’
‘You thought I’d be pleased? How long have we known each other?’
‘Eight years, Lillian.’
I’ve only known Lill for three and even I can see that the Colonel’s news is about as welcome as a parp in a phone box.
‘And you think I’d be pleased to know you’re selling the hotel out from under us to strangers? Out of the blue?’
‘I’m not selling it out from under us! We’re all staying. It was part of the negotiation. I made sure, Lillian. Now we won’t have to worry about keeping the hotel running. Let it be on someone else’s watch. I did it for us, really.’ His bushy eyebrows are knitted together in concern. ‘All of us.’
Lill crosses her arms. ‘There is no us, William.’
The poor Colonel. His upper lip may be stiff, but his bottom one starts wobbling with emotion.
‘Rose Dear.’ The Colonel looks beseechingly at me. ‘Once we’re established with new owners here, you might be able to do a stint with them back in the US if you want. Wouldn’t that be nice?’
I want to make it better for the Colonel, I really do. But I’ve spent the last three years trying to forget all about my life in the US. The last thing I want is to go back there now.
About the book
Wriggle your toes in the sand and feel the warm breeze on your face at the hotel that’s full of dreams…
Three years after ditching her career in New York City, Rosie never thought she’d still be managing the quaint faded Victorian hotel in her seaside hometown.
What’s worse, the hotel’s new owners are turning it into a copy of their Florida properties. Flamingos and all. Cultures are clashing and the hotel’s residents stand in the way of the developers’ plans. The hotel is both their home and their family.
That’s going to make Rory’s job difficult when he arrives to enforce the changes. And Rosie isn’t exactly on his side, even though it’s the chance to finally restart her career. Rory might be charming, but he’s still there to evict her friends.
How can she follow her dreams if it means ending everyone else’s?