They had critiqued each other's stories for some time before they moved onto chatting via email. They quickly worked out how to manage this as one was on the west coast of the States and the other in London.
The American lady mentioned she was coming to visit the UK and while there planned to attend a conference for women only. May was intrigued and it did not take her long to check it out and also register for the same conference.
They agreed to meet up at the venue before the sessions started. Holly felt worried. How would she recognise May? Who wrote back, easy I’ll wear a cerise scarf, that sticks out anywhere. They agreed on this course of action and looked forward to this physical meeting after so long as virtual friends.
As May Berry only had to take the train from London, she arrived with plenty of time to check in to the hotel then walk the short distance to the old hall. It usually was part of the university, but for this weekend, it was the main venue for the conference. It had been in the hands of a minor member of the nobility for hundreds of years. The high cost of maintaining these large buildings plus installing the necessities for modern life like electricity, decent lighting and central heating had meant a change of ownership. The outside still looked much as it had for hundreds of years. Crenelations marched along the edge of the roof, arched windows let in the light and the main entrance was a massive arched oak door well strengthened with iron studs. In its day, this was a well-fortified building able to withstand an enemy outside, but time was its actual enemy and there was no defence there, she thought.
With these noble thoughts floating around her head, she entered the room into chaos and noise. Women were milling around the registration desk while others sipped coffee and chatted, others crowded around the book sale tables. She braved the registration queue first that necessary job completed she decided to await her friend before braving the coffee tables. She stood to the side of the registration area and watched the new arrivals wondering if she would recognise Holly. Then she turned aside to peer myopically at the photos on the wall. It quelled her rising anxiety.
“Has May Berry registered yet?”
The lady at the desk looked through the lists and nodded, “Yes, she has registered, so she must be here. Everyone is waiting for the boards showing where the various sessions will happen. The board is not up yet.”
At that moment, May turned around, her cerise scarf visible now, and looked at the American. She was young! But dressed in the crop top and jeans as she said she would. May stared a moment at the young woman. Her writing showed such maturity. Astonished May said, “Hello, Holly Birch?”
The younger woman took in the other, a tall, slender woman dressed in a navy “power” suit, her grey hair swept up in an elegant chignon. For a moment, Holly felt intimidated, then saw she wore casual clothes like most of the other delegates. It was only this woman who was so formal. They smiled at each other. Holly looked dubious. How could she be friends with such an older woman? From May’s stories, she had expected someone in their late thirties or even early forties. This woman looked to be at least in her fifties, maybe even older.
Smiling, May said, “You look thunderstruck, let’s get a coffee.”
They wandered over to the serving table and each remarked how strange they both had their coffee the same. Strong, black and unsweetened. They also both chose the same chocolate biscuit. Ensconced in the comfortable seats and sipping their coffee and they surreptitiously eyed each other. May broke the silence with the usual questions about the other’s trip and what she planned to do here on her holiday. Once the ice breaker questions were over, both felt comfortable with each other and talk flowed smoothly about the books they liked, remarkably similar. And their writing and their hopes for this conference. May surprised Holly, saying, “Let me guess which session you have booked to attend now?”
Smiling, Holly nodded and waited as May concentrated on the programme then said, “I think it is the one writing the back story for your characters.”
Holly took a deep breath then nodded her head, “Spot on how did you guess?”
May was serious. “I did not guess, I’ve sometimes noticed your characters are one-dimensional.”
Holly acknowledged and admitted she sometimes struggled with the backstory, wanting to get the story over and done with quickly so she could move on with the next challenge. Then she said, “I think you will go for the writing for middle-grade children.”
May agreed she was correct. Just then, the bell rang for them to move off to their appointed sessions, but not before agreeing to meet up in this room before going into lunch.
Now they were comfortable with each other, lunch was a noisy affair but they concentrated on each other. The two of them attended the same afternoon session on publishing trends.
Sitting in the room, May was unimpressed as the agents filed in to face the crowd. The first one was a middle-aged lady dressed in black with enough gold bling to make a banker smile. She was not small and as she sat looking out on the crowd, May thought she resembled a self-satisfied toad. The next to stalk on was younger, slimmer and very hippy, long skirt, beads clanking on her wrists and long hair swishing around her face. The last looked boring in comparison, a thirty-something wearing jeans and a very expensive blouse. May thought being an agent must be a lucrative career. Holly was not so judgemental at first but lost concentration when they all spoke condescendingly to their audience. At the tea break, May ducked out of the next session, but she invited Holly to join her at the hotel for dinner.
They met in the foyer and went into the dining room together. It was quiet, discrete and very expensive looking. The maitre de took them to a table in the far corner of the room. May told Holly she worked as a financial consultant. She loved writing and that was her hobby.
Holly asked, “Have you ever wanted to write a novel or anything like that?”
May smiled. “I have written several detective books.”
Holly’s eyes opened wide, “Oh, wow, but are they published? After what those agents said, I thought it best to change my plans for writing a book. It seems very difficult to get an agent if you are an unknown commodity.”
“Yes, it is becoming more difficult getting published through the traditional pathway, but have you considered self-publishing?”
“No, I have to write a book first. But to get back to you, are your books published?”
May smiled. “Yes, and I did self publish, I was fortunate to have help with the marketing, that’s where the work happens. I write under a nome de plume. I have to consider my corporate background.”
It impressed Holly. “What is your nom de plume? I wonder if I have read them?”
“I would expect you to have done so since we talked about our interests this morning. My other name is Beryl May.”
“I’ve read them they are fabulous, I must get you to sign some for me.”
The talk moved onto other topics and Holly mentioned she was adopted. “I know it was a private adoption, though. I approached loads of agencies to see if I could trace my biological mother, but there are no records.”
May was serious, “Do you want to find that out, or is it a whim? Tell me about your adoptive parents.”
Holly went on to say her father was a surgeon and her mother a nurse. They both worked at the same hospital. They were wonderful to her, but she felt a sense of disconnect. They laughed at her passion for writing and that it had taken her into the marketing world where she worked now, but she still hankered to write a book.
May was very quiet as she sat back in her chair and sipped her wine. “When is your birthday? Are you an American citizen?”
Holly had not noticed the change in May. “My parents were born in the UK but have worked most of their lives in the States. I think I was born in this country but went over with them when I was a baby.”
May asked, “What have your parents told you about your adoption?”
“They said my mother loved me and wanted to keep me, but her husband died while serving in the army before he even knew she was pregnant and she was still studying at university. She was friends with a lady my parents knew and that is how it came about. My parents wanted to provide another world for me, so they moved to the States. Now the lady who organised the adoption is dead, leaving me with no way of tracking my birth mother.”
Holly looked at May, who had gone quite white. “Are you all right? You look as if you have had a shock.”
“I have, I am your Mother.”
It stunned Holly for a moment, then she leapt up and rushed around the table. She hugged the other woman. “I have waited so long for you to arrive!”