In this novel, each character creates her own truth - telling people what they want to hear, or taking advantage of the situation. The reader can sympathise with the young child who tries to make her life a sparkly, happy place, the teenager wanting to fit in and the adult tired of being at a disadvantage. In this chapter Katisse seeks employment in a up-market boutique so her life can be ... sparkly, happy.1
Romance / Women's fiction
Barbara Gurney (Australia)
She chose a bright top with as much material hanging from the bodice as in the bodice itself. Draping a second and third article over her arm, she made her way to the generously proportioned change room.
‘Does madam need assistance?’ The velvety voice of the tall angular women who appeared by Katisse’s side implied much more.
‘Merci, I am just fine,’ Katisse answered.
‘If mademoiselle would like to try something else, please feel free to call me.’
‘No, these will do, merci.’
Katisse faced the mirror – she like what she saw. Her tanned legs protruded from a swinging red skirt and once she removed the plain black tee shirt the firm abdomen and toned arms made her grin with approval. She held the Dior top against her chest before poking her arms into the sleeves. ‘No, no – it isn’t me,’ she announced to her reflection. She removed it quickly and dropped it onto a cushioned chair. Next she chose the top which resembled a brightly coloured gift wrapped by a child let loose with ribbons. Once wriggled into position Katisse swayed back and forth making the coloured strips dance around her torso. ‘This would be totally unsuitable,’ she said, but continued to view the piece from all angles. ‘Mmm, I like it.’
‘Need any help? Are the sizes right.’ The sugary voice announced the assistant who tapped on the side of the booth.
‘No. Oui, Oui.’
Being interrupted during her delight of the garment annoyed Katisse. She tugged at the edges of the cameo-coloured curtain and frowned at her image which now looked cheap and disheveled. No. I think not. She didn’t bother to try on the remaining article and flounced from the cubicle and thrust the three items at the assistant. ‘I will not take any, I think,’ said Katisse.
The young assistant felt uncomfortable as she took the garments from an obviously upset customer. She didn’t know how she had displeased this French-accented woman, and hoped the owner of the boutique hadn't overheard Katisse's abruptness.
‘I'm sorry you didn’t like any of them. Have you seen our shoes at the rear of the store?’
Katisse softened. It wasn’t this young person’s fault that her mood had darkened so quickly.
‘Ashleigh,’ said Katisse as she peered at the elaborate name tag, ‘It is I who should be sorry. So many lovely things, but I try to choose one and it is difficult.’
‘Would you like to start again? I can help you choose. Is it for something special? Perhaps someone special.’ said Ashleigh, who decided there just might be a sale from this person with the eyes veiled in secrecy.
‘Mmm. Maybe. It is tempting to try on that grey dress with the beads.’
‘It’s one of our very newest. It would suit you. Your dark hair.’
‘Oui. Maybe – maybe not.’
‘Are you French?’ The question slipped out before Ashleigh could stop it. One was supposed to engage the "client"’ according to the owner, but becoming too familiar wasn’t encouraged.
‘Oui. Yes, but no as well. My father … we lived in France for many years. I was very young.’
‘How lovely. Now are you going to try on that dress? I’m sure you could carry it off.’
By this time the young assistant had removed the dress from its hanger and offered it to Katisse.
‘Its lovely, but I came to browse only.’
‘Well, there is no cost to try it on.’
Katisse caressed the grey dress with one finger before turning away. She walked the few steps towards the door then paused at the counter for a moment. Ashley watched the tall figure somehow become very small. She thrust the hanger which once again held the silk creation onto the display stand and moved towards Katisse.
Two laughing customers entered the shop and glanced at Ashley and Katisse before they continued towards the racks.
Katisse rubbed her fingers across the counter and looked up at Ashley with half closed eyes. Her voice crept out in a whisper, ‘Is it at all possible … would there be a position vacant?’
Ashleigh felt the intensity of the question and drew a breath. She'd become perceptive to ladies who came into the shop. Some wanted quality and exclusiveness and the price tag meant little. Others came in pairs, out for some fun at trying something they'd never be able to afford. Many customers fell somewhere in-between. Ashley hadn’t quite been able to make out the woman with the haunted eyes. There had been something that set her apart; something that didn’t sit quite right. She had kept an eye on the neatly dressed, but nervous customer. Her darting glances around the shop, the reading of the brochure in apparent detail and the quick appraisal of seemingly unsuitable items made Ashleigh doubtful at the beginning. Now she had an explanation and she felt relieved.
‘Well, as a matter of fact there is. Part-time, but could become permanent if trends continue.’
Katisse sat down on one of the glamorous Parisian styled chairs near the counter and flapped the brochure in front of her overheated face. ‘I’d like to apply, please.’
Two days later, Katisse sat in front of Rachel Bentleigh-Rowe, the owner of the King Street’s boutique La Joie.
‘May I ask how you would like you name pronounced?’
‘Car teesh. My mother’s choice.’
‘Katisse. Was your mother French? Ashleigh said you speak some French.’
‘Only a little. Father was a diplomat. We moved many times. France was one of the places we lived for a while.’
‘He was Australian then?’
‘He used to say he was a world citizen.' Katisse repeated her father's explanation, '"From nowhere and everywhere".'
‘Interesting.' Rachel twiddled the pen in her hand. 'And your mother?’
‘My mother?' Katisse paused. Explanations of her parents were always difficult. 'She was born in Australia, but my mother, she too wanted to be a citizen of the world. She loved France. Always dreamed of going back.’
‘Well, Katisse, let's get down to the necessary. Tell me about your experience. May I see your resume – references.’
Katisse swallowed. ‘I must explain.' She licked her bottom lip, then worried about smudging her lipstick. 'I’m sorry, but I don’t have documents to offer. You see I've travelled so much, so many places; firstly as a child, then I couldn’t get the travel bug out of my system. So many places, so many jobs. There are no references, I’m afraid.’
‘I don’t know how I can employ you without something to go on. This is a highly reputable boutique. We have many high-powered clientele. Our stock is very valuable. You must have something. A police clearance perhaps.’
Katisse looked down at her knees which were poking out from the same red skirt she'd worn the day she first stepped into La Joie. She turned her hands around each other and looked at her freshly painted nails. The silence had gone on long enough, she would have to say something or loose the chance to work here.
'I've worked in Prague, Seattle, LA.' Katisse shrugged. 'I know fashion.'
'That may be. But I need a little more. Why have you not got references? It certainly isn't smart to leave an establishment without a reference.' Rachel raised her eyebrows. 'Doesn't give the right impression.'
Lifting her chin, Kat spoke clearly, 'I agree, but there was a fire. Paper burns. People move on. Memories are short.' She sniffed as if to hold back tears. ‘I’m willing to be put on probation, even work for a week without pay. I really would like to work here. I have a good knowledge of fashion, am excellent at looking after any clientele, even the most fussy, and certainly know how to treat the wealthy. I just need a chance to prove it.’
‘Enthusiasm is one thing; even experience doesn’t count for anything if I don’t feel I can trust my staff.’ Rachel tried to see into the eyes of the young woman who seemed to be begging for this job. ‘Why La Joie? Why not apply at the agencies? Tell me, why here?’
Katisse fingered her long earring. ‘It’s all about the clothes, Mrs Bentleigh-Rowe.
Rachel opened an empty file with the title "Katisse Blanchard" typed neatly on the stark white label. ‘I’m a business woman. I’m supposed to have many pieces of paper in this file, your file – but I have nothing. What can we do about that, Katisse Blanchard?’
Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1
Attention to mechanics
- You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
- Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
- The protagonist didn’t always respond believably against the backdrop of the story. Ask yourself if people would really answer to a situation in that way. Think about whether the characters’ voices could be more convincing for their age, background, gender, time period, genre, gender and ethnicity. Dialogue should be natural and consistent throughout the story.
- Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
- Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
- The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Plot and pace
- Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.
Suspense and conflict
- The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The first page should introduce some intrigue, something that causes the reader to turn the page. Think about the conflict and tension in your story. How effectively has it been introduced?
Technique and tight writing
- When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
- The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
- Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose is tricky. As writers, we face the daunting task of making sure we are not being predictable. Can you find a way to give the content and characters more of a unique edge? Perhaps say something boldly, something fresh or show an unorthodox approach to a topic?
Atmosphere and description
- A writer’s ability to create mood and atmosphere through evocative description is vital to the reader’s experience. It’s a real skill to craft out how the characters react to the setting and atmosphere and perhaps your story could go further in its description. The reader wants to experience the same sensory and poignant journey as the characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
- The scene needs to be vivid and realistic in order to hold the reader’s attention. Being concise and plausible at the same time is tricky. Giving this further attention could perhaps be worthwhile.
Opening line and hook
- Great books, nowadays, start with a powerful opening and compelling hook in order to keep the reader engaged. Have you baited the reader enough?