Diamonds are not a writer’s best friend…. by Juliet Ashton
2017/03/20  |  By:   |  Features  |  

maviszeldaThere are characters I enjoy writing more than others. Some of them just speak to me, and they pour onto the page, fully formed. In THE WOMAN AT NUMBER 24, I loved creating the two elderly sisters at war, Mavis and Zelda.

Both in their eighties, Mavis and Zelda carry a lot of story. Sometimes, when an elderly character makes an appearance in a book or movie, you know they’re only there in order to poignantly die, usually with some life-changing last words on their lips. (This law also applies to Cute Dogs, by the way; never invest too much emotionally in a cute dog in the first fifteen minutes of a tense film.)

My old ladies are there to talk, to argue, to keep secrets and cause drama. Naming them was easy; I simply borrowed the names of my dogs. I have two King Charles Cavaliers who sit beside me all day. And I do mean all day – like furry bodyguards they accompany me to the loo. They are incredibly stupid. I say this with love; I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t look for philosophical discourse from my pets, I look for twenty four hour willingness to cuddle.

They’re not sisters, but they might as well be. They spend all day together, eat together, and are finally caged up together at bedtime. They bicker – Zelda is sleeker and quicker, prone to standing on Mavis’s head when she wants to get past her. Mavis is possessive in the extreme about her dinner/her toys/stray corners of dusty toast she finds under the table.

Walking them is a trial; Zelda zooms ahead of me while Mavis drags along behind. Zelda, despite being six years old, isn’t properly house trained. She steals guests’ food from under their noses, widdles on cushions, and cries like a banshee if left in the garden for longer than it takes to execute a speed-poo. And yet they are my best friends.

Who else would clamour for my company even though I spend nine tenths of my time staring at a screen, tapping a keyboard and swearing extravagantly as I backspace through whole chapters? None of my other friends make it their life’s work to lick me on the nose. Even my dearest besties don’t gaze at me adoringly first thing in the morning when my bedhair is at its Bride of Frankenstein height.

I look up from whatever I’m doing and Mavis and Zelda are staring at me. (I did it just then as an experiment and their daft eyes were drilling holes in my skull.) Not even the most dedicated stalker would expend so much energy on simply being near me. I rely on their constancy and they never disappoint. Something to rest your feet on at your desk, a little soul to commune with when the edits are dragging, a best friend who has no idea what it is you do all day. Thank God for dogs.

The Woman at Number 24 by Juliet Ashton is published in eBook and paperback on 20th April.