When I was writing an early draft of JIGSAW ISLAND, I wanted Annie to meet her friend Shona in a setting that highlighted the difference between them. Annie had just come off the bus from Glasgow so looked a wreck – Shona was just departing The Ritz to go to the theatre. I have had tea at The Ritz (my Grandma’s 80th birthday treat) and the staff were charming. I wasn’t going to write anything unpleasant but decided to run it past them. This is what I sent them:-
ANNIE London. Late June 2002
If I were to say I first met Shona when I was thrown out of The Ritz Hotel, it would make quite an eye-opener of an introduction, wouldn’t it?
If only it were true. That I met Shona at The Ritz Hotel is a fact. That I was thrown out is not. I deserved to be, and a lesser hotel would have done so. But The Ritz has class, it has style. Hence ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. And, consequently, when I turned up at The Ritz Hotel’s Reception desk, wearing scruffy jeans, a slept-in shirt and hefting a backpack and a guitar, the receptionist was absolute charm. The only hiccup was, initially, being called ‘sir’; understandable as I was five foot one and fairly skinny, with cropped hair. At sixteen, I must have looked like a boy of twelve. When I put her straight and explained what I wanted, she was extremely apologetic and keen to help me. Yes, they did have availability and, while it was helpful to know I that wouldn’t mind sharing with a stranger, the hotel didn’t operate that policy. She handed me a sheet of rates, invited me to scan it and let her know whether I thought the hotel could fulfill my requirements.
I wandered to the middle of the hotel lobby, looked at the price list and felt a right eejit. Sure I wanted a room for the night, but I didn’t want to buy the hotel. I stood there for a while, not knowing whether to brazen it out and tell her that the hotel did not cater for my needs – or run away. Then a man in hotel uniform came up to me and handed me another sheet of paper, a map on one side, handwritten on the other:
‘You may find the Central London YHA useful. It’s marked on the map. Hope you enjoy your stay in London. Kind regards.’
Trying to maintain face, I mumbled my thanks to the man and wandered towards the front door. Then someone else stopped me, a woman in evening dress, smelling like she’d just broken out of a perfume shop.
“You’re looking a bit lost. If you get stuck, give me a call.” And she wrote a phone number on my piece of paper, and her name – Shona. Then she hurried away. I turned to see her join a man standing with some other people. They were all dressed up. The man looked pretty peeved with her. I thought I’d better go. There wouldn’t be much point ringing her if he answered the phone. I folded both sheets of paper and put them in my back pocket. On my way out, another man in hotel uniform opened the door for me and said:
“Goodnight, sir, have a pleasant evening”.
Outside it was still a warm evening. I walked back down to Piccadilly Circus.
END OF EXCERPT
Fairly innocuous, wouldn’t you think? This is the reply I got from The Ritz:
Thank you for your email to Jackie, which she has passed onto me.
Your novel sounds like it is going to be very interesting but unfortunately The Ritz will not be able to participate it in. We do not want our brand to be presented as snotty or turning people away, no matter how politely.
We do wish you the best of luck in your endeavours and we are sorry we cannot assist you with this.
Joi Izilein l Head of Marketing
SO I REWROTE IT. Changed it to The Langham Hotel. On the pavement outside.
Did you notice anything in the excerpt that suggested that The Ritz ‘turned people away’ or were ‘snotty’? (Not the word I would expect an employee of The Ritz to use, BTW.)