My study is the smallest room in the house – in fact smaller than the traditionally smallest room. And yet everyone congregates here while I try to write. Mother has taken to doing her Pilates right under my nose as I’m typing.
“Why are you even doing it?” I demanded yesterday morning. “You’ve always been so scornful of exercise.”
“Because if the medical profession refuses to help me, then I must help myself,” she grunted.
Peony, who was eating her cereal while standing over me and idly observing my progress, tutted: “Hurry up and write something funny, Mum. I’ve been watching you for ages and I haven’t even managed a smile. Come on!”
I’ll get you all out of here somehow, I seethed, and I pushed Ken rather roughly off my lap.
A little later that day, my daughter sought me out in the garden:
“Mum, I’ve got my agent’s hat on now. Not literally. It’s a figure of speech.”
“Right?” I sighed.
“Alfons is very excited about something and wishes to speak to you.”
The thought of an excitable Alfons was revolting to me and so I struggled to get out of whatever they had brewing but the man actually turned up on my doorstep at lunchtime, phosphorescent with news.
“Just think, don’t you!” he exclaimed. “Someone has submitted a novel for me to publish. Plankton is a going concern. I want you to take a look at this manuscript and tell me as a fellow writer what you think.”
God but my heart sank.
It was bad enough to have to look at this manuscript but to be pulled into a writing fellowship with Alfons was galling. I asked to be able to retire with it to my study for ten minutes. I thought ten minutes would be enough to get a feel for it. In the event, ten minutes felt like a lifetime.
I emerged to find Peony pushing a Twix into Alfons’ trouser pocket.
“Well?” he beamed.
“What exactly do you want to do with this?” I asked him, throwing the manuscript onto the kitchen table.
“Why publish, isn’t he! Then lots of crazy publicity. Lots of people buying lots of books and buying mine too.”
I cleared my throat.
“But it’s excrement.”
He turned questioningly to Peony.
“Poo,” she said.
“Alfons, this is the most dire bit of nonsense I’ve ever been forced to read. And I include my own manuscripts in that.”
“It is genius.”
“It is poo.”
“Tah.” He dismissed me. “This writer is very, very clever. What fault are you finding?”
“Well for starters there’s absolutely no punctuation whatsoever. It appears to be four hundred pages made up of one sentence.”
“I can’t find anything in the way of plot and certainly no characters. It is all written in the first person – with a lower case ‘I’ while we’re on the subject. It is puerile indulgence.”
“This is literature, isn’t he.”
“Alfons, simply because you don’t understand it, doesn’t make it high art.”
“Maybe you don’t understand it.”
“Maybe I don’t.”
“But you will still edit it for me?”
“How do you suggest I do that? Place a judicious full stop in the middle?”
But of course I’ve taken it on. He’s determined to publish it, on the basis that it’s the only book that anyone’s ever submitted to Plankton. It was Peony in the end who brought me round. Alfons had gone and she was hooting with laughter.
“Can’t you just see the humour in this?” she cackled. “Sometimes getting a laugh out of something is its own reward.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” I relented and looked again at the title page. solid.passage by Leon Bogrush. At least he’s put a full stop in the title. That is a title, isn’t it?”
“Hey I’ve just noticed.” she laughed. “If you put a b in the middle of his surname it spells bogbrush”
I am writing this in the vast embrace of my new PU leather “executive” office chair. Lush and brown and excessively thick in the seat and back and with great curlicue arms, it as good as screams “Sell! Sell!” down the phone by itself.
I picked it out from the pile in front of the second-hand office furniture shop this morning. It is such a monster that you have to flatten yourself against the wall to get into my study. This room now consists or a desk and a chair. And me. Just me.