The Manchester Review
David Wheatley
The Novelist
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Can I offer you some advice? You need to think like a novelist and think big. For instance, the protagonist in my current novel is called Emma. Who would you have play Emma in a film adaptation of your novel, Mr Squishy asked me last Tuesday, to which I told him there were many options: in an ideal world, Lana Turner, though Helena Bonham-Carter or Tilda Swinton would also be acceptable! We’ll get straight onto that, he said, downing another chocolate biscuit before slouching off, his comical spiny tail dragging in the dirt behind him. I have other advice, too. If you wish to succeed in this game, one thing is beyond doubt: you must distribute hugs with your books, ideally one per chapter. Hugs must drip off the pages. All my hugs are remarkable and brilliant. You will love them all.
         When I think of the great novelists I think of all the people who have distributed hugs and press releases down the years talking about their novels, and the various reactions of awe, incomprehension, mild annoyance and boredom they have inspired. Do you remember that bloke who...? someone will say, years after meeting the novelist. No, I don’t, his friend will answer, what are you talking about, or, Yes, and in fact I am reading his novel right now. Do you too have a story inside you, a story of hope and paper clips?, I wrote on my hand in the post office queue the other day, before seizing and shaking the woman standing behind me. Mother Earth weeps for the poor and the badly dressed, and our novels catch her tears in their sieves, highly efficient and well-designed sieves. I am not without compassion, compassion and a ready supply of paper-clips. Inserting and turning the screwdriver, I –
         It is wondrous to be among so many stories and so many friends I have made through my stories. Just last Tuesday Dominic, a leading protagonist, sat down opposite his creator with his afternoon latte, in a small but leading café-bar. The source of his name? A quick but highly satisfying riffle through the phone-book. Dominic was bored and distracted and obviously missing Emma. Taking a fountain pen ostentatiously from his pocket he began to write on a piece of notepaper he had brought along specially for that purpose. ‘Dear Emma’, he wrote, ‘I think often of how important it is to remember my love for you and tell stories of it to all who will listen.’ Suddenly Emma was there, sending a friendly wink my way as she daintily sat by his side. ‘Dominic’, she began, ‘you are the most wonderful of men, and the most wonderful of protagonists anyone could hope to read about.’ Who reads these stories? I have contemplated the millions of people in hope and in need, crying out for these tales. It is good to be among these people, spreading vision and cheer. The early part of Dominic and Emma’s story was written in 1991, during my Norfolk years, but they still had some way to go. We are energized and reanimated by their presence. In an ideal world who would adapt Dominic and Emma’s tale for the big screen? That will bring an exquisite moment of wisdom and relief. Hooray!
         History records many novelists, from Victor Hugo to Melvyn Bragg: from earliest times people have been in conversation, sharing their stories of being writers, of posting on their blogs and winning awards. On the street, in the motorway service station, I seek my rhythm, I seek a space for families to be safe and be novelists together. Trigonometry too has been a great help. Where do you think this story is going?, I asked my colleagues as we hunkered down to examine the brickworks through our theodolite. Their reply was dismissive and frankly uncouth. I see myself as having embarked on a journey with Mr Squishy, towards a state of acceptance and wonder. I am writing this to communicate my vision, to let you know I am still alive and living at no. 73. It will be good not to rise above your reaction to this. Some readers adore me and others will shed bitter tears when Mr Squishy comments again on the adjectives in my chase scenes. I have not yet mentioned the cor anglais. This was an oversight. I expect to run with that subject, soon, faster, harder. Encountering some resistance with the screwdriver –
         Am I enjoying my time with you? It has brought me a slice of relief and a breath of fresh inspiration. If there is some other way I can help, let me know. We are joined this evening by videolink, I should have mentioned, by the inmates of the Doncaster Young Offenders’ Institute. Welcome! So what’s up next? Among the topics under discussion at this year’s Book Fair is the increasing shift towards replacing the buying and reading of books with their non-purchase and non-reading. Some writers may now build whole reputations on the non-purchase and non-reading of their work! As we travel to our home in Maine for a well-earned and (screwdriver, screwdriver, dodecahedron) break I shall discuss this further with my associate.