I am very excited to share an extract of Jane Lythell’s newest release Woman of the Hour with you today. I am a huge fan of Jane’s books and was highly anticipating this newest one. I am about half-way through this book and it is fantastic!
ABOUT THE BOOK
StoryWorld is the nation’s favourite morning show, and producer Liz Lyon wants to keep it that way. Her job is to turn real-life stories into thrilling TV – and keep a lid on the scandals and backbiting that happen off-stage.
But then simmering tensions erupt at the station, trapping Liz in a game of one-upmanship where she doesn’t know the rules. As the power struggle intensifies, can Liz keep her cool and keep her job? Does she even want to?
In this gripping novel of power, rivalry and betrayal, Jane Lythell draws on her experiences of working in the glamorous, pressurised world of live TV.
SEPTEMBER: StoryWorld TV station, London Bridge ‘It’s not true, is it?’ Simon was standing by my door and I beckoned him in. I know you shouldn’t have favourites but Simon is the best researcher I’ve ever worked with. He’s a finisher, never overlooks any detail and is great both with members of the public and presenters. He closed the door behind him. ‘There’s an ugly rumour circulating that the new job’s gone to a daughter of the great and the good,’ he said. You can’t keep anything secret in a TV station. It’s the leakiest place on earth. I sighed but said nothing. ‘Liz?’ he persisted. ‘I’m afraid so. Thumbscrews were applied.’ I was being indiscreet saying that. I should have held the management line and pretended that I had given the researcher role to Harriet Dodd on merit. But I was fed up about it too. Harriet is the daughter of Edward Dodd who edits a national newspaper and is a friend of our MD Saul Relph. What I didn’t tell Simon was that Saul had called me into his office and told me that his friend Edward Dodd was worried about his daughter and he wanted her to be taught the meaning of hard work. It would be a major favour if we would take her on and train her up. I had resisted but Saul had added that my taking her on would help the whole station. Simon was giving me an old-fashioned look. ‘It’s a three month attachment. I’ve made it clear that if she doesn’t make the grade she’s out,’ I said. Simon leaned forward and picked up the glass paperweight that Ben, my ex-husband, bought me on our falling-in-love trip to Venice. We had gone over to Murano to choose it. Simon gazed at the colourful swirls that orbited inside the glass sphere. ‘How do you bear it?’ he said. ‘Because I have to.’ He put the glass globe down delicately. ‘OK.’ I knew Simon wouldn’t shop me to the others. Given the amount of TV we have to produce, I have a ridiculously small team of three researchers and a runner. I used to have three experienced researchers and we could manage our output, although we were working at full stretch. But Roomana had left recently to work at a rival company as an assistant producer. I had expected to appoint a seasoned researcher in her place. Instead, we were going to have to train up Harriet, a complete novice, and I knew this would put a strain on us all. My team is small because most of what we produce is sofa television. This entails getting a range of guests into the studio to be interviewed by Fizzy Wentworth, our star presenter. We also run pre-recorded stories on our show, but many of these are supplied by independent production companies; hence my tiny team. The phone on my desk rang and it was Henry, the floor manager. ‘You’d better get down here quick. Dianne Lucas won’t come out of make-up. Says her hair looks a fright,’ he said. I hurried downstairs to the make-up room on the ground floor. I had booked the actor Dianne Lucas as our interview of the day. She’s no longer an A-lister but she is still a name and she’s written this steamy memoir about a love affair she had with a much younger man at the height of her fame. She kept the affair secret at the time. Maybe she needs the money now because she’s been extremely graphic about the affair and it is being serialised in one of the tabloids. I slipped into make-up and the moment I saw Dianne’s fraught face in the mirror I knew this was a woman on the edge. Her eyes moved up and met mine in the mirror. I saw anger in her eyes, an anger she was barely containing. Why the hell had the publishers put her up for this interview? Live television is a tough gig and I’ve noticed before how actors can go to pieces when they don’t have their scripts to hide behind. ‘I can’t go on with my hair like this,’ she said, making a tragic grimace which made me think of one of those theatre masks with the lips turned down dramatically. Make-up mirrors can be unforgiving with all the light they throw on the face and Dianne’s hair, which had been overdyed, hung limply around her cheeks and drained her face of colour. Ellen, our head of make-up, was applying blusher to her cheekbones. ‘Maybe if we pinned your hair up?’ Ellen suggested. She and I both made soothing, complimentary noises as Dianne’s hair was teased up into a bun and false hair was added to give it more body. I slipped into flattery mode. I hate the way I am able to do this so easily. ‘Now we can see your lovely cheekbones much better,’ I said. I watched Ellen working fast and expertly and tried not to panic as I thought of Fizzy sitting on the sofa with no one to talk to. Fizzy could only spend so much time going through the newspapers. ‘Your book was such a revelation; so authentic. I’d hate our viewers to miss the chance of hearing from you,’ I said, touching her on the arm and helping her to her feet. I knew I was laying it on thick but if it got Dianne Lucas out of make-up and into the studio I was doing my job. She gave a parting look at the mirror, pulled her shoulders back and raised her chin; I could imagine her doing that as she stood backstage in a theatre just before she made an entrance. I hoped her professionalism as an actor would carry her through as I walked with her to the studio door. Henry the floor manager took her in to be miked up. I hurried to the gallery to watch the interview. We are in voice contact with Fizzy from the gallery via an earpiece and I whispered to her to take this gently as Dianne was fragile. Fizzy gave a tiny nod to show that she had got my message. As Dianne sat down on the sofa Fizzy leaned towards her, holding her book face out to camera, and said in a warm voice: ‘Welcome to StoryWorld, Dianne, and thank you so much for coming in this morning. What a great read this is. I found it a very honest account of love.’ ‘Love!’ Dianne Lucas hissed at her. ‘What does that word even mean?’ Fizzy did not react to Dianne’s aggression and ploughed on. ‘Well, I agree that there are many different types of love, but what you seem to be talking about here, very candidly I thought, is a deep physical attraction between two people, an attraction that transcended the age difference.’ ‘No! That is prurient nonsense. It was a meeting of souls,’ Dianne said very coldly. I thought that was a bit rich as the book describes their first kiss and their first shag with relish and later goes on about how rejuvenating it was to have a much younger lover. ‘Ask her what her happiest memory of the relationship is,’ I whispered to Fizzy who was now flicking through the book to give herself a moment. ‘I was wondering what your happiest memory is of the relationship, Dianne, as clearly there were deep emotions.’ Dianne narrowed her eyes and I felt sorry for Fizzy. ‘Did you read the book?’ ‘Yes indeed, wonderful.’ She hadn’t. We had summarised it for her. ‘The relationship was torment from beginning to end,’ Dianne Lucas said, putting on the tragic face for which she is famous. It was a car crash of an interview and I asked the director to come out of it early. He shot me a sympathetic look. He knew I was in for a mauling from Julius. Every morning there is a post-mortem meeting on that day’s show chaired by Julius Jones who is our director of programmes. He makes notes on each item and the show is pulled apart, and occasionally praised, in front of assembled senior colleagues. We have all come to expect more shredding than praise at these meetings. I knew Julius would have a go at me for booking Dianne Lucas because it had been one of the most uncomfortable interviews we’d broadcast in ages. I got myself a coffee from the staff café and joined the others in the conference room. Julius kept us waiting. Fizzy was already in there and I sat down next to her. One thing I’ve learned over the years is to be careful how you treat presenters when they’ve just come off air. For all their apparent confidence in front of the camera most presenters are deeply insecure and needy people. They need the love of the viewers to make them feel alive. When they come off air they are still full of adrenalin and cannot take any criticism. It is best to praise them and take it up later if an interview has gone wrong. ‘Well done for handling Dianne. I know she was a nightmare,’ I said. ‘She’s aged very badly,’ Fizzy replied with a slight shudder. Fizzy is a woman who sets great store by how people look. She is thirty-eight but she looks younger. She is pretty rather than beautiful, with her strawberry-blonde hair and pointed chin, more of a girl-next-door type who viewers can relate to, rather than drop-dead gorgeous. Julius entered the room and there was a palpable change in the atmosphere. No one says anything until they’ve had an indication of which way he is going to jump. Sometimes you can tell what his mood is going to be simply by the way he sits down and spreads his arms on the table. Julius is handsome, though in a rather bland way. He’s got light brown hair cut short, hazel eyes, a straight nose and full lips. He looks clean-cut and preppy but he is unpredictable, a chameleon, and his face can change from pleasant to menacing in a moment. Even his name is a sham. He was born and raised Nigel Jones but changed his name to Julius Jones when he started working in television. He’s the man who spotted Fizzy when she was a PA and he has moulded her into the queen of live TV. He is a difficult man but I have learned a great deal from him about how to produce hit shows. He has a genuine talent for popular TV and knows what issues and personalities will connect with the audience. Now his full lips were stretching in a humourless line as he looked directly at me. ‘What did we get out of Dianne Lucas today? Three sentences? Our interview of the day!’ ‘I’m sorry. She was a disaster and I think Fizzy did really well under the circumstances,’ I said. ‘That’s a given. But doesn’t Lucas have a reputation for being a nut job?’ ‘Neurotic certainly, but her book is getting a lot of attention and—’ ‘Why didn’t you pre-record her?’ he snapped. ‘That’s the wisdom of hindsight,’ I said. To my surprise Bob, the news editor, spoke up in my defence. ‘To be fair, we do always say that live TV is better than pre-recorded,’ he said. Julius gave him a dangerous look. ‘Rubbish. Liz should have predicted we would have trouble with her,’ he said. Bob wouldn’t let it go. ‘I’m just saying that we pride ourselves on our immediacy, don’t we?’ This was true. Live TV is more risky than pre-recorded TV because you can’t control what will happen and we are encouraged to go live whenever possible. It was Julius who came up with our slogan: Real people, real life, real stories live. ‘Someone with your experience; not good enough, Liz.’ His hectoring tone rang out across the table at me. Julius left it at that and turned to the next item. But he would have noted that Bob had stuck up for me and he wouldn’t have liked it. I felt grateful for the support because Julius had made me feel inadequate even though he was one hundred per cent right about Dianne Lucas. It is well known that she is strange. There are stories of her holding seances in her sitting room to get in touch with her dead first husband. I should have thought about her eccentricities and sent a crew to interview her about her book. But why did Julius always feel the need to belittle everyone all the time? As we left the meeting I mouthed a thank you to Bob who gave me a small nod. Bloody Dianne Lucas and her stupid hair; she was going straight onto my blacklist. Oh yes, I keep my own secret blacklist of guests who I will never book again. They get on my list if they fail on camera, as Dianne did today, or if they act out of order. I have always found it significant how a celebrity treats junior members of staff, like our runners who get them a coffee and book them a cab. Many a celebrity will put on the most charming face when sitting on the sofa with the cameras running, but I’ve seen some of them behave horribly to the runners; sneering or snarling at them for no reason. They go straight onto my blacklist. I enjoy the fact that they don’t realise they are reducing their time in the limelight because of their treatment of staff they think don’t matter. I sometimes wonder how I have survived in live television this long. It can be a bloody and brutal business. When I started working in television seventeen years ago I was idealistic and perhaps a bit foolish. I was working on a series called Celebrating Our Unsung Heroes. Julius Jones was then head of features and he tasked me with finding a coal miner who was on the point of retirement after a life spent underground. We planned to make a big fuss of the miner and his wife. We’d bring them up to London to sit on the sofa with our popular breakfast stars, screen a brief package about his life of hardship and then beam in a pre-recorded farewell from his workmates which was guaranteed to reduce his wife, if not the miner, to tears. Bingo. Real people, real feelings, real television, Julius said. It wasn’t easy finding a working miner, nearly all the mines had been shut down, but I did find Albert, a man who had gone down the mines at the age of fifteen. I liked him. He was a proud man. This was a big thing in his life and he had told his village he was going to be on the telly. A group of them had gone down to their social club that morning to watch the live transmission of his interview which was scheduled for eight-fifteen. Julius Jones was in charge of the show that day and he overran the running order by nine minutes, which is unheard of. He was in a rage and he told me he was going to pull the eight-fifteen story. I said you can’t, his whole village are waiting to watch it. He shouted at me: ‘If you can’t fucking deal with this you shouldn’t be on the team. Now get out there and sort it!’ I took Albert and his wife into our café. We made a point of giving our guests a good breakfast after the show, and I had to break the news to them. I was ashamed at how we had treated Albert, as if his life story did not matter. We ate bacon and eggs but I was finding it difficult to swallow the food. As I was escorting them to the taxi we crossed the atrium and the big boss, the MD of StoryWorld, was walking in. Albert stopped him. ‘You let my village down today,’ he said. The MD looked over at me. ‘Is this true?’ I nodded miserably. ‘Albert’s village had gathered to watch his interview. We had to cut it.’ An hour later Julius Jones hauled me into his office and he was incandescent. ‘You naive little bitch! Landing me in it. I won’t forget this.’ But I’m still working at StoryWorld. I was a researcher then and now I’m head of features and Julius Jones has worked his way up to become the director of programmes. He is my boss. I called my team in and we went through the list of who we had booked for the rest of the week. I was under pressure to deliver a strong interview of the day tomorrow. Simon was keen that we go with a member of the public with a human interest story. A single-parent dad called John had written in to our agony aunt, Betty. ‘John’s wife upped and left him with their three young children. He’s given up work and built his life around his kids, but he’s worried now because his daughter is hitting teenagehood. He feels she needs a woman around to talk about girl stuff and does Betty have any advice for him?’ Simon said as he passed me the email. I read what John had written and it was the most marvellous letter. ‘It’s wonderful, Simon, but he’s an unknown.’ ‘I’ve spoken to him on the phone. He’s a natural. He came out with all these brilliant funny stories about his kids. And look at him.’ Simon handed me a photo he’d printed of John seated on a sofa with his three children climbing over him, two boys and a girl. The sofa was worn, the room was shabby but the kids looked happy. He was a good-looking man with a friendly open face. ‘He is rather attractive,’ I said. I handed the photo to Molly, my other researcher. ‘I wonder why he hasn’t got himself a girlfriend then,’ she said. Molly and Simon get on but there is an inevitable rivalry between them for stories. She was pushing her idea for Fizzy to interview a footballer who had brought out his memoir; actually it was more of a misery memoir than a sporting one. ‘It’s not only about football, it’s also about his tough childhood and it’s surprisingly well written and revealing,’ she said. ‘Why does everyone think footballers are stupid?’ Simon said. I was reading the back of the book. ‘And he wrote it himself? Not a ghostwriter?’ ‘All his own words…’ ‘Maybe next week, Moll; I’m not keen to do two book stories back to back.’ ‘I’ve got this feeling John from Sheffield will be great. I think Fizzy will love him. We get her to empathise with him and she can ask viewers to email or tweet us any suggestions about dealing with teenage girls,’ Simon said. ‘That’s Betty’s territory,’ I said. Betty is our formidable agony aunt and she covers these types of issues on her weekly slot, but she was away doing a lecture tour in Canada. It was high risk but in the end I decided we would invite John from Sheffield as our interview of the day. Some of our most successful items have involved ordinary people and Simon’s instincts are sound. Chalk Farm flat, 7.15 p.m. I was home by seven-fifteen tonight which wasn’t too bad. I pay Janis, a woman who lives locally, to be with my daughter Florence until I get back. Flo complains it’s stupid because at fourteen years of age she is fine to be left on her own, but she gets on well with Janis who has been her childminder for years. Janis cooks her supper and they talk. I learn all kinds of useful stuff about Flo from Janis, which I’m grateful for but which also makes me sad because Flo stopped confiding in me a while ago. When she was younger we were incredibly close and she was my best cuddly little girl. Janis left and I knocked gently and popped my head round Flo’s bedroom door. One of the great fights between us has been about how I barge into her room unannounced. Now I try to remember to knock first. Flo’s bedroom was in near darkness except for the glow of her tablet which lit up her face. I love that face more than any other face in the world. She did not smile when she saw me but she did not scowl either. ‘Had a good day, sweetheart?’ ‘Yeah, OK. Dad called.’ ‘How’s he doing?’ ‘He said Granddad will pick me up if I get the train on Friday.’ ‘Great.’ Every two or three weeks Flo spends the weekend with her dad Ben and his parents in Portsmouth. We have to be flexible about it because Ben works as an aerial photographer and sometimes a big job will come up at the weekend and he can’t see her. Sometimes she will go down on a Friday night, which I prefer because it gives her longer with her dad. ‘I’m making chilli. Do you fancy some?’ She shook her head. ‘No, ta. I’m stuffed.’ She was keen to get back to her tablet so I closed her door. It was one of our better exchanges because recently we rarely talk without angry words passing between us. As I chopped the onions I reflected that I would have a free weekend. Ben and I set up the weekend arrangements after we divorced and I try hard not to let it slip. Before our split I couldn’t understand those women who try to stop contact and who bad-mouth their exes, especially when they do it in front of the children. But afterwards, when things got ugly, I would find myself biting back my anger and frustration in front of Flo. There was a lot of anger and disappointment to process after ten years of being together and I’m sure she must have overheard our heated words from time to time.
The publisher is kindly offering one lucky person a signed hardback copy of Woman of the Hour. To be in with a chance of winning this book please enter via the following Rafflecopter link. This giveaway will close at mignight on 29th July. Good luck!