An excerpt from Fallen Star
Here’s a short extract from Fallen Star, my first novel published in 2010.
This passage shows the two main characters meeting for the first time. I like it because although it’s simple it shows the beginnings of what will become a relationship, sparked with a dash of humour. – Ian Barker
Karl asked the taxi driver to drop him about a quarter of a mile from home. He’d decided he needed to walk to clear his head. There were never many people around in the middle of the afternoon; most of the area’s residents were out at work. Near to Karl’s flat stood a block of shops, a dry-cleaners, a bookie, an Asian grocer and on the corner, a café. It was the last that attracted Karl’s attention. It had been named, with a startling lack of originality, The Corner Café. He’d never noticed it before. He paused for a moment by the door looking through the glass, then, on an impulse, pushed it open and went inside.
A handful of other patrons were scattered amongst the Formica-topped tables and plastic chairs. Karl wandered up to the counter at the rear.
The girl had her back to him. She wore tight black trousers and a white T-shirt. Her blazing-red hair was cut short in a neat bob. On the whole Karl liked long hair, preferably blonde. She turned. ‘Sorry, didn’t see you there. What can I get you?’ Freckles spotted her cheeks and made tentative forays towards her button nose; the rest of her skin seemed pale, almost translucent. When she smiled at him her green eyes twinkled.
‘Just a cappuccino, thanks,’ Karl’s eyes flicked to the perspex cabinet on the counter, ‘and a slice of your chocolate cake.’
‘Oh dear, comfort food is it?’
Karl shrugged. ‘Yeah, I went for a job interview, but they said I wouldn’t be able to rise to the challenge.’
‘That’s a shame. Sit yourself down. I’ll bring it over.’
Why had he said that about the interview? Karl thought as he made his way to a table. He never discussed his private life with strangers. He pondered the lapse as he waited and put it down to the stress of the last few days.
The girl arrived with his coffee and cake. ‘In the Mafia are you?’
‘Back to the wall, facing the door. Wasn’t that how the bloke in The Godfather was taught to sit?’
‘Oh. Force of habit.’
‘If you told me why you’d have to kill me, right?’ The smile lit up the green eyes again as she began to turn back to the counter.
‘Was that a lucky guess?’ asked Karl.
‘About the Mafia?’
‘No,’ Karl grinned, ‘about the comfort food.’
‘Well, I’m a big believer in psychic abilities but, in your case, it wasn’t too hard.’ She tilted her head slightly to one side and surveyed his features. ‘You’ve a face like a wet week. Enjoy your cake,’ she said with a smile.
Karl was in no hurry to eat. Some of the other customers drifted away and one or two new ones took their places. When he’d finished he took his cup and plate back to the counter. Something else he’d never done before. In Karl’s world people were paid to clear tables. The girl had her back to him again. He dug some coins from his pocket and placed them next to the plate. ‘Thanks, I needed that. Keep the change.’
‘Glad you enjoyed it.’ She turned and swept the money into her hand. ‘You don’t have to leave a tip,’ she leaned forward and lowered her voice. ‘Not if you’re out of work.’
Karl smiled. ‘I’m not on skid row just yet.’ Then he added, ‘Is this place new? I’ve never noticed it before.’
‘No, it’s been here forever. Used to be a typical East End caff: all greasy fry-ups and pie and mash. The new owners are trying to go upmarket a bit, to attract the yuppies from the flats. We only reopened last month after a bit of a make-over.’
‘Oh.’ Flat-dwelling Karl wasn’t sure if he qualified as a yuppie but he still felt a vague sense of embarrassment. ‘They’ve done a nice job.’
‘I’ll be sure to tell them you approve.’ She smiled again, an expression Karl was beginning to find rather compelling. ‘Call back soon.’
‘I will,’ said Karl, ‘I will.’ With that he stepped outside and resumed his walk home, whistling a tuneless version of the Fallen Boys’ first hit single.
As Karl strolled into his block, Colin, the concierge, called out to him from his glass-fronted booth. ‘Mr. Weston, sir.’ Colin was an ex-soldier who had been wounded in the Falklands’ war. Karl sometimes stopped to chat with him, his own father’s army career giving them a small plot of common ground to share.
‘Some people came for your car, Mr. Weston. From the leasing company. I tried to call you but your mobile was off. They had all the right papers so I let them take it. Did I do right, sir?’
‘Yes,’ said Karl. ‘Fine, no problem.’ He began to mount the stairs, his head swimming with thoughts of twinkling green eyes and oddly attractive freckles.
Only once he was inside his flat with the door closed behind him, did Karl realise the importance of what Colin had told him.
Coffee Time Romance: You’ve also published Fallen Star. How is it related to One Hot Summer?
Barker: Although Fallen Star was my first published novel, I actually wrote One Hot Summer first. It sat in the bottom drawer for a long time until, based on the experience of getting Fallen Star published, I dusted it off and revised it. There is one character, Graham, who appears in both books. I’d intended that he would just have a cameo role in Fallen Star – in the way that Nick Hornby gives walk-on parts to characters from High Fidelity in his later novels – but when I came to write it he wouldn’t leave it at that and ended up being a key character in both books.
CTR: Graham was the town’s rebel. I’ve just started reading his story in Fallen Star. You’ve crafted some great characters in your current books. What are your writing plans for the future?
B: I’m currently working on a sequel to Fallen Star which picks up the main characters some four years further on. I’m notoriously slow when it comes to writing fiction, though, so don’t expect it to appear in the near future!
Read more about Karl and Graham and the red-head barista… we dare you!