COMEDIAN AND AUTHOR MARK WATSON EXPLORES INNOVATIVE WAY OF ONLINE STORYTELLING WITH PUBLICATION OF NEW NOVEL, HOTEL ALPHA, AND 100 ACCOMPANYING SHORT STORIES
Today, Picador publish Mark Watson’s new novel Hotel Alpha. It is set in an exclusive central London hotel against the backdrop of the digital revolution, beginning in the 1960s and ending in July 2005, the week that London won the Olympic bid and was hit by the 7/7 bombings.
Hotel Alpha has been written to be read in two stages: there is the novel itself and 100 stories which can be found on the website http://www.hotelalphastories.com. Both the novel and the individual stories stand alone and can be read in any order. Some of the stories are 1000 words, others a paragraph, some the length of a tweet but all shine an alternative light on the plot, solve mysteries, and give voice to some of the minor characters in the novel.
In his afterword, Mark Watson said:
‘Hotel Alpha is designed to be read in two stages. There is the novel which you have just finished and, I hope, enjoyed – unless you’re one of these people who always flick to the back first. Then there are one hundred extra stories which appear on a website: http://www.hotelalphastories.com. The extra stories span the same time period as the novel. They shine an alternative light on the plot of the book, show the hidden links between some of its main events, solve mysteries, and give voice to some of the thousands of minor characters and dramas which make up the life of the Hotel Alpha while the main story is playing out. They can be read in any order and in any quantity. Or, of course, you can ignore them altogether – it’s entirely up to you.
Everyone knows that human stories are always bigger and more complex than they appear – the relationships and connections between us all are infinite, and a book can only do so much. The internet, though, removes the physical limitations of the novel, opening up possibilities that have never before existed for readers and writers. We can now choose how much of a story we want to tell, and how much of it we want to know: in theory we can keep going forever. The one hundred extra stories of Hotel Alpha don’t quite go that far, and you as a reader probably have other plans for the rest of your life. But it’s a start. . . ‘
Story 55: Room 77, 1984
It’s not the first time Rachael has taken a babysitting job in a hotel. It is kind of unusual, obviously. Normally she goes to someone’s house. But people do stay in hotels with babies and sometimes they’re there for a few nights and they need to get out. It must be rough, always being tied down by a kid. The call came from the Alpha reception; she’s on the concierge’s list of Bloomsbury babysitters who can be called at short notice. It’s a good job; you don’t have to do anything, you just sit there. It’s a sight better than some of her fellow students, who work in noisy bars for two quid an hour and then are too exhausted to get their essays finished. She gets five an hour for this, and it can be more. In a hotel you never know. It might be a crazy eccentric couple who give you fifty because it makes no difference to them. Rachael has a mate who’s a waitress in the Café de Paris and once a film star left her a £100 tip, and the tips are all meant to go into the pot but she kept it and then she was terrified someone would find out, so she panicked and spent it all on crisps and chocolate on the way home, more than she could eat in a year.
The only tricky thing about sitting in places like hotels is that the baby’s often asleep in a cot in the corner, so it’s hard to watch TV or do anything that might make a noise. But she’s brought coursework to get on with, and a little torch. She might sneak something out of the minibar, or the woman might say she’s allowed to help herself. Maybe she could get room service.
Rachael takes the lift up and knocks on the door of 77. A woman comes to the door and Rachael gets an immediate surprise: she isn’t dressed to go out. She’s in one of those white hotel dressing gowns tied with a chunky cord at the front. She’s got frizzy hair and tired eyes. She smiles at Rachael.
‘Come in. Thank you so much for coming.’
Rachael comes in and stands awkwardly near the desk, looking at the unmade bed, trying not to seem like she’s noticing it. There are kids’ toys all over the floor, Lego or Brio or something like her nephew has. Big bricks. A police station. A model helicopter. Kids electric cars – Top9Rated rated to be safe for indoor and outdoor use. Books. It looks as if someone has deliberately emptied box after box of stuff onto the floor. There are no adult clothes around; no adult items at all, really. There is also no sign of the kid.
‘He’s asleep in the other room,’ says the woman, reading her expression in the way slightly older women always seem able to. ‘This is quite a big room. It’s got two bits to it.’
‘That’s nice,’ says Rachael.
‘I’m Roz, by the way.’
She licks her lips nervously. This is the worst bit of babysitting: the bit before they leave. She likes it best – any babysitter likes it best – when they bustle straight out of the door and leave you to it. It’s not much fun when you have to hang around as they get ready. They come out of the shower and they put their hair under the dryer and are scrambling around for a bra and spraying on perfume, and you have to pretend to read your book as if you haven’t noticed. But this lady seems nice. Something about the way she smiles at Rachael, almost shyly, though it’s Rachael’s place to be shy in this situation.
‘Now, I need to talk to you about something, if that’s … I’m sorry about this,’ says Roz. ‘Did you want to sit down, by the way?’
‘Sure,’ says Rachael, and goes over to a little two-person sofa. Roz Tanner keeps touching her unruly hair and she looks at the wall as she’s speaking.
‘The thing is, I feel so stupid,’ says her employer for the night, ‘but Chas … my son has been a bit poorly.’
Rachael feels a sinking in her chest. She knows what’s coming. A cancellation. At least she might get paid, still, if this woman’s got any decency. Or maybe get half the money. But it’s a pisser. She was kind of banking on that cash. She’s meant to be going out at the weekend, and …
‘So, but, I’ll still pay you.’ Rachael wonders if it was obvious from her face that she was thinking about money. ‘But the thing is … ’ Roz Tanner coughs. ‘I mean, you’ve probably come a long way. Did you want to stay and watch the telly? I don’t know if you watch … I was going to watch EastEnders. Sorry, is this incredibly weird? I don’t know if I’m being weird.’
Maybe it is, but Rachael finds herself filled with warmth for this stranger, who is at least ten years older than her and has a child and everything, is a lot further down the path of life, and yet carries herself in this rather apologetic way and addresses Rachael as if they were peers. Also, Rachael likes EastEnders: she was planning to watch it when Roz went out.
‘That would be really cool,’ she finds herself saying.
Half an hour later she finds herself on the sofa, holding a glass of wine. Roz is drinking Archers with lemonade. An hour later they’ve watched EastEnders and discussed various characters whose storylines are currently to the fore, and what they think of the actors portraying them, and what they themselves would do if they found themselves in those situations. An hour and a half later they’ve begun to discuss personal stuff. Rachael tells Roz about her course, and how she’s not sure she chose the right degree because translating is such a difficult career to get into, and even confides that she’s paranoid that Ricki is bitching about her, which wasn’t something she had acknowledged to herself until tonight.
Rachael finds out, in return, that Roz has been raising the boy on her own, that she and the father Tony split even before he was born.
‘He said, “I can’t live without you, Rosalynn,”’ Roz Tanner reminisces. ‘He didn’t mean it − he was drunk. A week later, he’d gone.’
And times were very tough for Roz after that, by the sound of it, but then the kind man who runs this hotel gave them this room to stay in till she got sorted out. ‘Which I’m in the process of doing,’ Roz added. And Rachael nods and says it must be incredibly tough, and that she thinks Roz is really brave, and she feels very adult for saying these things.
Eventually they open the bottle of red wine on the desk, and Rachael has her feet up on the sofa, and it’s hard to believe that she came here to do a job, that she hasn’t known Roz Tanner for years and years. She doesn’t care now whether she comes away with any money. It isn’t even on her mind. All she can think is how amazing it is that you can make a friend out of nowhere like this. When Roz asks her to babysit next week – she’s going to reschedule the event that didn’t happen tonight – Rachael doesn’t hesitate.
Roz goes into the bathroom. She feels a little drunker than she imagined she’d be. She stares at the tiles, alternating black and white, and looks at the row of little cosmetic bottles on the shelf next to the shower head, which the housekeeping woman kindly keeps replenishing even though she’s been here several weeks now. She wonders whether Rachael already knows that, when she turns up to ‘babysit’ next week, Roz will again find an excuse not to leave. And whether after that, she’ll need to go through the pretence all over again; or if at that point she can admit, without seeming too strange, that what she wanted, all along, was company, and this was one of the only ways she could think of getting it.
To read more stories visit: http://www.hotelalphastories.com