For those of you that haven't had the pleasure yet, I thought today I'd give away a completely free chapter of my new novel, Global Cooling.
This is an early chapter, before the main plot really gets going, and a light-hearted one based all around a karaoke night, run by one of the main characters - a female karaoke presenter - don't worry, Helen, she isn't based on you! In this chapter she has to deal with all the usual problems e.g .drunks, being hit on by odious characters and so on.
They say you should write about what you know, hence my decision to write about karaoke. Anyone who ever attended any of my famous Sunday nights in the past will I am sure find things here to empathise with. Enjoy - and obviously I hope it inspires you to buy the book.
Lauren was making the final preparations for the weekly karaoke night at The Red Lion. There wasn’t a great deal that needed to be done, if truth be told. Long gone were the days of DJs risking their backs lugging in heavy speakers, huge cases of discs and all manner of other bulky equipment. Everything was pretty much built in – the speakers were embedded within the walls and everything was controlled from one central touch screen on the wall. There was no need to buy songs anymore – everything was done via an on-demand subscription service linked up to the internet. From the panel on the wall, Lauren could instantly call up any song from out of over a quarter of a million songs stored in the cloud. Over a century of popular music was available at her fingertips.
About the only piece of equipment still needed was the wireless microphones, and, as long as she had a good supply of batteries to hand, there was very little that could go wrong.
That karaoke survived as it did in The Red Lion was a bit of an anachronism. Karaoke had come to be seen in general as a rather naff activity: the sort of thing that was OK in a three-star, all-inclusive hotel on the Spanish islands along with the bingo and kiddies’ disco, but long past its sell-by date back home. Very few pubs did it anymore. The only reason the Red Lion did was that for some unexplained reason it did pull in a crowd on a Thursday night. Kent personally hated it, but he couldn’t argue with the takings coming in through the till. He’d tried dropping it at one point and replacing it with a quiz, but there had been uproar from the regulars. After a couple of weeks of finding the takings down by several hundred pounds, he’d had a change of heart and reinstated it. He claimed this was in the interests of “listening to his customers”, conveniently neglecting to mention the financial side of things.
So every Thursday at 8.30pm, the diehard karaoke crowd descended upon the pub. They had been coming week in, week out for a good couple of decades now. There was a large round table at the back of the pub, close to where the action took place, known as “karaoke table”. At least twelve people could fit around it and it was invariably full by the time things kicked off. A more diverse group of people you couldn’t expect to find gathered in one place. They ranged from students up to pensioners, with people from all other walks of life in-between.
Lauren was a natural at hosting the entertainment. She oozed confidence and charisma and always caught the crowd’s attention. She dressed to impress. Tonight she was wearing a tight, pink, cropped top exposing her pierced belly button, and some tight denim shorts that she hoped some lucky man, or maybe a woman if one took her fancy, would be peeling off her later tonight.
As always, she got the show underway by performing the first song. As befitted her nature, she always went for something a little suggestive, and tonight it was that old Madonna classic, Like a Virgin. She’d seen the old video of the song and did her best to cavort around on the stage like Madonna had on the canal boat, many years before Lauren had been born. As she reached the chorus and the words appeared on the huge screen behind the stage, she got a few ironic cheers. She was pretty sure she also heard someone shout out “bullshit” from the karaoke table. She was enjoying every minute. She had always loved being the centre of attention.
As usual, the names of the singers were coming up on her touch screen with the songs they wanted to sing. In the past, people had written their names down on a list. Now it was all done remotely from their various gadgets. She groaned when she saw the name of the first singer to come up.
Alec was a proud Scotsman of indeterminate age. All anyone knew was that it seemed as if he’d been living in the town forever. Every week without fail he came to the karaoke, and every week without fail he performed the same song by The Proclaimers. He had resisted all attempts to persuade him to sing other songs over the years, so for approximately the thousandth time he stepped up to the stage to perform it.
Between songs, Lauren generally mixed and flirted with the crowd. Kent and Debbie were well aware of what Lauren got up to, but they weren’t bothered in the slightest. She was a huge asset to the pub and they knew it.
She got on with most people, but there were exceptions. After she’d introduced Alec and handed him the microphone, she stepped down from the stage and found herself face-to-face with someone she could quite safely say if she never saw him again, it would be too soon.
Dan Fisher was not a very nice person. He’d been unpleasant enough back in the day when she’d had the misfortune to be in the same class as him at school, but he’d grown up to be a really nasty piece of work. He did a manual job in a local factory, which meant that, although he was overweight, he was also pretty fit. Few people wanted to get into an argument with him. It was well known he’d had a conviction for violent conduct in the past. He also frequently boasted that he was the only England supporter who’d been deported from the host country of the last World Cup. Football violence was very rare nowadays, but Dan was fascinated by all the tales of what used to go on in the late-20th century and seemed to glory in it. He supported Millwall.
If that wasn’t bad enough, he was well known for his racist and homophobic outlook on life and was an active member of an extremist far-Right political party. He didn’t do anything to disguise this and mostly went around wearing T-shirts bearing the flag of St George – tonight being no exception.
“What are you letting that Jock sing for?” was the first thing he asked Lauren.
She ignored his question, and replied with one of her own. “What do you want, Dan?”
He eyed her up and down lecherously. “I think you know the answer to that, love.”
“Let’s get something straight, Dan, once and for all,” she replied. “I am not, never have been and never will be your love. I don’t know how many more times I have to tell you that.”
Dan despised Lauren. She was everything he wanted and couldn’t have. He did not have a lot of luck with women and couldn’t understand why. He didn’t think he was particularly bad-looking: no worse than anyone else, so why could he never pull? He was unable to see that his outdated misogynistic approach was a huge turn-off to the opposite sex.
What made it worse was that Lauren was seemingly so free and easy with her morals. He knew she’d been with most of the blokes in the pub at one time or another, so she should be easy game. So why not him? He resented her, he was jealous of all the other men who’d had the pleasure, and was determined one day that he’d find a way into her knickers.
“Never say never,” he replied. “You don’t know what might happen in the future.”
“I can safely say it won’t be happening with you. Now please go away, you sad little man.” Alec had finished his weekly rendition and she turned away to take the microphone from him.
“Yes, let’s hear a big hand for Alec,” she announced, to some half-hearted clapping from the karaoke table. “What an original choice that was!”
As she continued her banter, feeding off the admiration of the adoring crowd, Dan looked at her, his eyes full of hate. How dare she reject him, the stupid whore? Full of dark thoughts, he headed over to the bar where his mate was getting a round in.
Ryan was tall and thin with short-cropped, ginger hair and something of a social inadequate. He’d been unemployed for years, having left school with no qualifications, and spent most of his time building model planes and re-enacting World War II battle scenes in his bedroom. He also had an unhealthy obsession with guns. Needless to say, he did not have a girlfriend.
He’d hung around with Dan since their schooldays because he’d never found anything better to do. Dan found him incredibly irritating at times but kept him around. He liked having a sycophantic social inadequate as a friend whom he could feel superior to.
“Did you get anywhere, then?” asked Ryan. Dan was always telling him about all of the women he pulled. It was entirely fictional, of course, but Ryan was gullible and naïve enough to believe it most of the time.
“No, mate,” replied Dan. “She’s a rug muncher, mate, told me herself. She said if I was girl she’d jump me like that.”
“I don’t think she is a lesbian, Dan,” replied Ryan. “Nick from the kebab shop shagged her the other week. He told me.”
“You don’t want to listen to anything he says, mate. He’s always chatting shit.” Dan decided to change the subject. “Come on, let’s finish these and go up to the Craphole. There’s always loads of loose muff in there.”
Dan began to outline his plans for the evening’s female conquest. Ryan listened avidly, despite the fact that on 99% of occasions such plans always ended in dismal failure: at best, a mild rebuke; at worst, a kick in the nuts.
Lauren hadn’t been perturbed by Dan’s attentions at all. She was quite used to dealing with sad, desperate men and he was one of the worst. Right now she was dealing with another kind of problem – a troublesome karaoke customer. After ten hours’ drinking, Andy was ready to entertain his imaginary fans with a song.
“Why can’t I sing?” he protested. “I’m a good singer. I was on The X Factor once, you know.”
“Yes, I know. You tell me every week. I didn’t say you couldn’t sing, I just said you couldn’t sing that particular song.”
The previous week, Andy had decided to give the pub his rendition of the old Sex Pistols classic “My Way”. His rendition included bellowing the “C” word as loud as he possibly could over the microphone. It was loud enough to be heard in the restaurant next door. Debbie was extremely annoyed and had given strict instructions that he was not to sing that particular song ever again. It had gone onto the banned list, along with Yogi Bear, and various others that Debbie had objected to over the years.
“What about Eminem, then?” asked Andy, swaying and slopping his pint all over the floor.
“Right, for a start, Debbie wouldn’t like it and secondly, there’s no way you’d be able to keep up with the lyrics in the state you’re in.”
“Living Next Door To Alice?” he suggested.
“What’s that?” she asked? It sounded vaguely familiar but she couldn’t place it. It was long before her era.
“Just an old seventies classic,” replied Andy. “Nothing dodgy.”
“Alright, we’ll give that a go then,” she said and she called up the song. She glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was nearly 9pm. It looked like it was going to be a long night.
Also available from Jason Ayres:
The Time Bubble
The Sausage Man