Friday, April 22, 2011

Strop Homogenous

Previously, on SubGrubStreet:

Still imprisoned by Sharon Plum, Nathan was unable to prevent her burning The Shoutyknackers File in a zealous fit. Sharon then revealed Nathan is to write a sequel to The Death Metal Revelations so they can rule the hardback charts again together.

I am now sat in a wheelchair that Sharon has pushed next to a school exam-style desk by the window. This gives me a good view of the snowy fields and the distant mountains (*). I could get a lot done in this quiet, with this calming vista to ponder. This is like being at a writers’ retreat. It’s not, though. Not even at Arvon is there such a draconian boot-camp regime: the straps, the sedatives, the threats. There’s a more or less antique Remington Portable Typewriter on the desk. In my head I am writing a book that lists the tricks you can use to avoid writing the book.

Sharon enters, carrying a packet of paper. She slams it on the desk so forcefully that tremors quiver through the wheelchair’s frame. There’s a horrible, X-shaped frown ingrained at the point where the bridge of her nose intersects with her eyebrows.

‘Are you going to be a good boy today,’ she says, ‘and write your Number One Fan some thrilling pages?’
‘I keep telling you, I can’t do this. I can’t write like him.’
‘You did it before, sweetie pie, you can do it again.’
‘Sharon, this is what I’m confused about. Mr McMahon’s overwhelming contribution to that book was quite, how shall we say, risqué. You burned Thingyknob’s diary (***) for being risqué, lets just say risqué, or racey or gamey. If I write what you want, you’re just going to burn it in a fit of puritanical zeal. Or you’re a massive hypocrite if we get it published.’
‘Just see how you get on, Nathan,’ she says, as she skips out of the room. ‘Whistle if you need your pencil sharpening.’

Rilke said once that any writer would enjoy a spell in prison because the treasuries of his memory would surround and nourish him. This is how it works for some writers. The treasury of my memories. The enchantments. The twilit moments, the kisses in the haystack. Nah. I can only revisit things that I desperately want to forget (****). It’s not fair. Everyone else has forgotten (*****), which means they don’t want to read about it. I console myself with the tyranny of the blank sheet. It is very blank.

Four hours later and I’m still gurning at the sheet. The treasury of my memory is more like a piggybank or the structural deficit. I have put this down to two factors: 1) I am incapable of writing commercial fiction (aesthetic autism) 2) I’ve not even read The Death Metal Revelation (******). I hear Sharon’s heavy bootfalls clumping up the landing. I pretend to be typing and whack a big blissful grin on my face. She pokes her head around the door. She shows me a bullwhip, then vanishes.

Later still and I’ve just mapped in balloons and arrows half the plot of a novel that I think I’d really like to write. It’s called Tortured Loner. The tortured loner is an undervalued character in contemporary fiction. It is my mission not to write about people with noisy children and bad taste that buy books in supermarkets and think shoes or other people will make them happy. I will instead write about the Tortured Loner who picks them out with a sniper’s eye and sees into their empty souls. Of course, the fascinating contradiction is that the Tortured Loner assumes the others are not smart enough to acknowledge an emptiness that threatens to overwhelm him. The others actually live full lives, with their air-conditioned brains, many life-affirming purchases, holidays in gaping hotels with marble foyers, massive families and easy box-ticking jobs.

Who wants to know about this complex modern conundrum? Nobody, obviously. It’s not even true. Well, it’s sort of true. The eccentric, the radical independent is being purged from popular culture when in the seventies all striking and memorable things stemmed from this source. There is something about the decline of the aspirant working class and something about the rise of the writer as professional category miner. The Internet homogenises. I must become homogenous. I find myself writing: I HATE COMMERCIAL FICTION on the paper. I work on an anagram of Tony Parsons and come up with STROP ANNOYS. This is my new pseudonym, though I am quite tempted by Strop Homogenous. I can imagine a series of badly written Scandinavian crime novels by Strop Homogenous. I cross out Annoys and replace it with Homogenous.

Sharon comes into the room carrying a tray. There’s something horrible on it, bowls of bean soup, something vegetably bland anyway. She puts the tray on the bed and then gives me a nice warm smile.
‘Of you’ve started, then,’ she says. ‘How wonderful.’
‘Wonderful, yes. I really getting into it.’
She moves behind me and gently rocks the wheelchair as she reads over my shoulder.


‘I think it’s quite Joycean in its scope,’ I say. ‘A bit Finnegan’s Wake, or maybe a bit of a cut-up.’

Sharon shoves the wheelchair so hard into the desk that I’m catapulted forwards and bang my head on the keyboard.
‘You dirty ducky,’ she shouts, jerking the wheelchair back and forth. ‘Write write, write, you little pig. If I have to come in here again and you’ve written nothing I’ll run you through with a pitch fork.’

Bit scared now. I screw up I hate Commercial Fiction by Strop Homogenous and write: Revelation 2 on a fresh sheet of paper:

Dollops of shagging
Satanic Conspiracies

Promising, eh?

It’s dark now and I can hear her pacing up and down on the landing. The page is still blank. I am being asked to write a sequel to a book that I’ve not read, in a style I don’t respect. It’s like I’ve got to paint the Sistine Chapel of Awful with a death threat hanging over me.
Who says literary fiction is boring?
It is actually. I don’t write that either.
I realize that I am very alone.

An owl hoots out in the blackness.
‘Oh piss off, you cliché.’

That’s it. That’s it. A whole formula seems to open up for me. I can see where it can go from her. I write:

An owl hooted in the blackness and Stevie Sux, guitarist with top hairstyle metal band Poodlebonce, was porking a groupie behind a Happy Eater somewhere behind a desert near Vegas when he heard a strange noise. He put his stovepipe hat over his wedding tackle and even though he was actually starkersmalarkers took a chug on his can as he went to investigate.

Done it. Yes. Anything Shoutyknackers can do I can do better. Second groupie on the left, straight on till morning.

A horrible, throbbing pulse hits me in the temples, one I well remember from before (*******), one that Sharon would comprehend if only she hadn’t burned the Knackers File (********). I wait for the voice. Sometimes the voice doesn’t come. If it doesn’t come, then maybe my immune system is trying to eject what I’ve just committed to paper.

There’s a shimmering light in the room. There’s a voice.

‘Howdy there, Dame Parlet. I think you have something there that needs to be surrendered to my good keeping.’

To Be Continued . . .

* See SubGrubStreet 35, The Witch’s Hat
** See Touching the Starfish
*** See SubGrubStreet 37: A Mean Bit of Arson
**** See Touching the Starfish
***** See SubGrubStreet
****** See Touching the Starfish, page 498
******* See Touching the Starfish, page 9
******** See SubGrubStreet 16: Between the Cauliflowers


Word Count –

Sales – 0

Insults – 3

Next Week: Deus Ex O‘Mailer

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