Hugh is a struggling British playwright but after a disastrous opening and then closing of his only play, he realises he hasn’t the talent that he thought he had.
His manager Liam, organises a job as a writer on an American television show and they travel to Los Angeles to begin what Hugh hopes will be a new career. In LA, Liam and Hugh meet the beautiful Valerie, another Brit, who performs as mediocre lounge singer while trying to make it as an actress in Hollywood.
Then, one wet, wild and stormy night in L.A. the incredible happens when with one strange lightning strike, Hugh and Valerie swap bodies!
“…if you enjoyed the focus on music in Elizabeth Grey and the conundrum of the body swap of Other Shoes, you will thoroughly enjoy Shuffle!”
(100,723 words €9.00) To purchase and download, go HERE! (Refresh your browser)
A Small Play.
‘Congratulations, Hugh,’ Liam said in a stage whisper.
The director, who was talking in a low voice to the lead actor near the front of the stage, turned and scowled at the back row where Liam and I were sitting.
‘What for?’ I murmured.
‘It’s not every first time playwright who gets their play produced! You will see it on stage! That’s got to be a good thing, eh?’
‘I suppose so,’ I said doubtfully.
Liam frowned at me.
‘What’s the problem, Hugh?’
‘There’s not really a problem…’
‘Yes there is. I know you…’
‘I don’t think you do,’ I said quietly.
‘Bollocks! I know you so don’t try to say there is no problem when it is plainly obvious that there is!’
‘Sometimes you sound like a twit!’
‘Don’t avoid the question. What’s wrong?’
‘Well, look around, Liam! It’s hardly London, is it? It’s as far from London as you could bloody get!’’
‘All plays have to have a run through in the repertory first! It’s what’s done, old chap!’
‘Yes, but in Edinburgh? I can hardly bloody understand the actors with their brogue…’
‘The audience will understand, old chap, and that’s all that matters, eh?’
‘I suppose so…’
‘Anyway, Edinburgh is the arts capital of the north! They have the festival…’
‘But this is not the festival, Liam. If it was, I’d have some hope of a London producer seeing the play and wanting to whack it on in the East End or something. But here…’
‘You have to crawl before you can walk, Hugh.’
‘That sounded really pompous.’
‘I suppose that’s slightly better than a twit?’
‘Try pompous twit!’
‘I don’t mean to be…,’ Liam said, sounding slightly wounded, ‘…but so many playwrights don’t even see their plays produced! You will!’
‘Maybe. The director looks like he’s trapped and wants to break out of prison! He could walk off!’
‘Don’t be miserable. It’s opening night tomorrow night and you’ll be on top of the world.’
‘Maybe,’ I mumbled.
Liam stood up and whispered, ‘I’m ducking back to the hotel. Have to make a few calls. You’re not my only client, you know.’
I had never met or even heard of any other clients that Liam, my agent, represented but I didn’t say anything.
As soon as Liam slipped away, the director turned and walked purposefully towards me.
I knew that look and my heart sank.
‘Mister Dickinson…,’ he said bluntly, ‘…we need to restructure some lines. It is not working.’
‘Let me look,’ I said with a sigh…
Opening night was an unmitigated disaster!
‘Have another drink,’ Liam urged.
‘I’ve had enough. Another pint is not going to erase this disaster! Bloody hell, it was awful!’
‘It was your first play,’ Liam said, his round face creased with concern. ‘Nobody expects much from a first play.’
‘Well, I did!’
‘No, you didn’t. You said yourself it was just a small one, a play to get your feet wet in the theatre!’
‘Wet? I drowned, my friend. Bloody went down like a stone. Never to surface again!’
‘It wasn’t that bad.’
‘Liam, were you even in the same bloody theatre? There was no applause and half the audience walked out during the second act.’
‘It was shite, Liam and we both know it.’
‘But you have such a good ear for dialogue.’
‘Maybe, but I have no idea of plot! Or so it seems.’
‘Maybe,’ Liam grudgingly admitted.
‘Well…,’ I said morosely, ‘…it will be better tomorrow night.’
Liam cleared his throat.
‘About that, Hugh…’
I turned to look at him, half expecting what he was about to say.
‘What?’ I asked, against my better judgement.
‘There is no second night. They cancelled it.’
‘Oh. So my small play lasted one night? Is that a record or something? Should we see if I can get into the Guinness Book of Records?’
‘Steady on, old man. It’s not as bad as it seems.’
‘No? I think, Liam, that I will have another pint, after all. In fact, make it two!’
‘Are you sure? I mean…’
‘Set them up, Liam!’
‘You’ll be worse for wear tomorrow and we have to drive back to London.’
‘You can drive, Liam and I will sleep. Another drink, for fucks sake!’
The trip back to London was long and I was grateful to stop for the night a good distance from Edinburgh, location of my shame.
‘We’ll be in London tomorrow,’ Liam beamed.
‘Are you always cheerful?’
‘I try to be.’
‘It’s annoying,’ I said miserably, head pounding. ‘When do we stop?’
‘It’s just a few more miles. I got us a room for the night at a small B&B…’
‘A room? Are we sharing?’
‘Well, this is all we could get,’ Liam said gently.
I shut my eyes.
‘Fine! I just want to sleep!
The room had two beds, which was a relief, and I immediately claimed the bathroom.
Liam was sitting on his bed, talking into his mobile when I returned.
I didn’t bother listening to his conversation and crawled into bed.
‘The mattress is lumpy,’ I said as Liam put his mobile down.
‘It’s only one night, Hugh.’
I rolled over and heard Liam getting undressed.
‘Were you talking to other clients?’ I asked after a moment, my voice muffled by the bedclothes.
‘No,’ he said and I heard the bed squeak as he got into it. ‘Another agent, an American.’
‘So, you’re global now?’
‘Not really,’ Liam said with a chuckle.
I rolled over and looked at him.
Liam was a big man with a bit of flab and with a large comb over to hide his departing hair.
‘How come you took me on, Liam?’ I heard myself asking. ‘No other agents were interested in playwrights.’
‘You’ve got talent, Hugh,’ he said in that gentle way of his. ‘It’s always darkest before the storm.’
‘I suppose that’s meant to be comforting?’
‘’Goodnight,’ I said, rolling over to sleep.
Once back in London, I spent most of the new day staring at my computer screen, trying to come up with an outline for a new play but my thoughts kept returning to the debacle in Edinburgh.
Before I could help myself, I used the internet to find the one and only review of my small play.
It was succinct and damning.
It does appear that Hugh Dickinson has a talent for dialogue. It is a pity he has no talent whatsoever for plot, characters or theatre in any shape or form. As the dialogue was sparkling in places, I award the play two stars out of ten!
I reread it again and tried to see anything positive in that short and very hurtful paragraph.
‘Fuck him!’ I snapped, standing up and walked to the window.
The thought occurred that the malicious critic may have been a woman so, returning to my computer, I searched for the name of the author of that damning review.
Thinking that Mister Greaves was probably a provincial critic, banished to the far north for destroying young literary talent, I searched for more information on the man who was rapidly, in my mind, becoming my enemy.
There is no doubt that Rupert Greaves is the foremost theatre and film critic in Britain…
Bugger! He must have been up there on holidays or something! Just my bloody luck!
Flicking the computer off, I walked again to the window in disgust. Nothing, it seemed could go my way.
Trying to get my mind off the scathing review, I walked over to the old upright piano that was in the corner of my small and crowded flat.
The piano had been with me for years and it had taken the removal men ages to get it up the stairs but it was worth it.
Playing the piano helped me relax.
I began learning the piano when I was, I think, six or seven, and I fell in love with the instrument.
Once, I even entertained the idea of a career as a concert pianist but that quickly evaporated when I discovered I did not have the necessary discipline or dedication. It didn’t help that I had a deep infatuation with jazz, especially with Thelonius Monk.
In my teen-age years, I played keyboards in a terrible pop band. The singer was woeful and even though I was obviously the best musician in the band, I never got any girls. Keyboard players, apparently, are not sexy to girls! The lead guitarist, meanwhile, who could just barely play his borrowed instrument was never without a shag!
Deciding music was not for me, I left the band and apart from playing mood music in restaurants while at university for tax free cash, I never played professionally again.
Trying to relax, I ran through a little Mozart and then morphed into a little jelly roll before playing an old Monk piece, ‘Dinah’.
I couldn’t concentrate and the critics words were still in my mind.
‘Fuck him!’ I repeated, slamming the piano shut and striding back to the window. Miserably, I stared out of the window, trying to forget about the play and the review.
Even through the grimy window, I could see it was a grey London day. I felt like going to the pub instead of trying to locate elusive inspiration for a new play.
Decision made, I grabbed my coat and walked down the stairs.
‘Afternoon, Mister Dickinson,’ Mrs Evans called as I tried to sneak past her door.
Sighing, I plastered a smile on my face and said, ‘Afternoon, Mrs Evans. What’s that delightful odour? Cooking something special for Mister Evans?’
‘Oh, Mister Dickinson, you’ll turn my head with your compliments! That’s just my old stew. My niece is popping in for dinner. Perhaps you’d like to join us?’
‘Oh, bother…,’ I said with, I hoped, the correct amount of regret, ‘…I have a previous engagement. Perhaps…,’ I said, inching towards the door, ‘…another time?’
‘Heard you playing the piano, Mister Dickinson. Lovely, very lovely. Are you sure you won’t pop in for dinner?’
She was obviously disappointed but I did not give her time for another attempt to persuade me to meet her niece and bolted out the front door of the building.
Liam found me in the pub.
‘Thought you were working on a new play?’
‘No inspiration. Besides, Mrs Evans keeps trying to fix me up with her niece. I had to do a runner.’
‘What’s the niece like?’
‘Haven’t got a clue.’
‘The ladies like you, Hugh. You’re a catch!’
‘But I’m not a guitar player,’ I grunted.
‘You really are very good looking, Hugh. Very handsome.’
Startled, I looked at Liam.
‘Me? You’re not turning queer, are you Liam?’
‘Sod off! Let’s get a table.’
‘I’m comfortable here…’
‘I have news,’ Liam said meaningfully. ‘Big news! Come on.’
Sighing, I picked up my pint and followed him to a round table in the corner, well away from the dartboard where a noisy game was in progress.
‘What’s this news?’
‘It’s big, Hugh…’
‘You said that. Get on with it!’
‘I’ve got you a job!’
‘I didn’t realise I was searching for employment,’ I said sarcastically. ‘I thought I was writing plays?’
‘Writing a play at the moment?’
‘Don’t be an arse, Liam!’
‘It’s a simple question. I thought you were writing but, here you are, in the pub!’
‘You’ll have me filling in time sheets, next!’
‘That could be handy.’
‘Very funny. Why do I want a job?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. Let me think. Money? Experience…?’
‘Leave the sarcasm to me, if you please.’
‘The job is a writing job, Hugh. Writing dialogue for a television show.’
Liam smiled when he saw he had my immediate interest.
‘Well…,’ I said slowly, ‘…that sounds interesting…’
‘It’s better than interesting,’ he said smugly.
‘You’re acting smug. What’s up?’
‘The job is in America,’ Liam pronounced after sipping his beer.
‘America?’ I screeched. ‘Are you joking?’
‘I don’t joke about important things like paying jobs, Hugh,’ Liam said with his wounded sigh. ‘It’s on the up and up. It’s real!’
‘Explain! Now! Where in America? New York?’
‘No,’ Liam said with a smile and a shake of his head. His comb over strayed and there was a sudden flash of pink skull flesh. ‘Hollywood.’
‘No! You’re pulling my leg!’
‘No, I’m not. I take it you’re interested?’
I was about to blurt that that, of course, I was bloody interested but the rational and suspicious part of my brain kicked in.
‘Hang on why?’ Liam said.
‘What’s the catch?’
‘There isn’t a catch. It’s a writing job on the new television show starring George Lawson.’
‘George Lawson, the film star?’
‘That’s the one.’
George Lawson was a Brit who, after a few minor roles on long running shows on BBC Television, left for America.
In his first supporting role in a film, he was nominated for an Oscar! He did not win but he was in demand from then on. Future roles demonstrated he could act and he was, due to his good looks, in demand with various glamorous female actors and gorgeous supermodels.
‘Why is he going back on television? I thought he was a big movie star?’
‘It’s where the money is and he wants to settle down in LA. The rumour is that he may be about to marry Heather McGrath.’
‘That’s incredibly interesting…,’ I said after a long sip of lager, ‘…and I’m impressed you seem to know so much about celebrity gossip…’
‘It’s my job, Hugh,’ Liam said earnestly.
‘I suppose it is, Liam, but why me?’
‘Don’t get carried away, Hugh…,’ Liam said gently, ‘…it’s a position on the writing team! You won’t be writing the show by yourself.’
‘Team? How many other writers?’
‘Come on, Liam, spill! How many other writers do they have on this show? Another two? Three?’
‘Seven! Did you say seven?’
‘You’re joking? Seven bloody writers on one show?’
‘Well, it is Hollywood and there will be more than seven…’
‘More? How many more?’
‘Ah…I think they’re aiming for team of ten. Maybe twelve.’
‘Twelve bloody writers! How does that work? Bloody hell, Liam…’
It wasn’t often that Liam was firm and even a little stern but this was one of those times.
‘Look, it’s a guaranteed job for three weeks, working on the pilot. If the pilot is picked up by one of the networks, you could have a job in Hollywood for three months! Three months, Hugh! Think of the inspiration you could find for your new play,’ Liam said persuasively. ‘Think how the writing experience will look in the press releases for your next play…’
‘Former Hollywood television writer, Hugh Dickinson,’ I quoted thoughtfully, imagining the fame.
‘So, it’s a bloody good idea, Hugh, for you to accept the job.’
‘All right, all right but I still don’t understand why me?’
‘It was Lawson’s idea…’
‘Lawson? How does a big star like that know me?’
‘He doesn’t but he wants writers on the team who are Brits and fresh from the UK. He wants the dialogue to be real.’
‘He’s afraid he will come across as American…’
‘Isn’t he an actor? Can’t he act as a Brit, even if he’s picked up an American accent?’
‘Probably but stars get what they want and he wants some of the writers to be Brits.’
‘Only in Hollywood,’ I muttered.
‘Be thankful. It’s a good job. You can’t blame Lawson,’ Liam said earnestly. ‘As I said, he wants it to be real.’
‘This is television, isn’t it? Reality kind of goes out the window. Even the reality shows aren’t bloody real!’
‘Does it matter? He’s a big star and what he wants, he gets, so I had an old pal of mine call me, wanting to know if I had any writers that could jump over the pond and work for a few weeks.’
‘And you suggested me?’ I asked slowly.
‘Of course I did.’
‘But…but what did you say?’
‘I said you just had a play open and the critics said you had a gift for sparkling dialogue…’
‘I did. The critic…’
‘The critic was Rupert Greaves.’
‘Whatever. He actually said you had a talent for dialogue…’
‘Liam, Greaves closed the play with his review! He destroyed me and you used his review to get me a job in America?’
‘It has certain righteousness about it, doesn’t it?’
He raised his glass and I found myself grinning in return.
‘I suppose it does. Hey, what about visas and permits…’
‘Taken care of. We’re going to Hollywood, old son!’
‘Of course. I’m coming along. Have to keep an eye on my rising star!’
I smiled at his enthusiasm and raised my glass.
‘To Hollywood,’ I toasted.