Issue 8

David Wheatley
The Novelist

What I enjoy about being a novelist is the chance it gives me to talk about being a novelist. Would you like to hear about my novel? I’m not sure how I managed to pull it off, but it’s a weight-loss comedy set in Bolton, written with panache and page-turning brio. Do you see what I am doing? I am talking like a novelist, saying what I want the reviews of my book to tell you when it is published. If I communicate like this, in asides, do not assume I am pitching my remarks to you in a spirit of knowingness or sarcasm. I wish you joy and wisdom from my remarks, not the smallness of spirit of an imperfect world.
         I became a novelist because Mr Squishy told me to. When in doubt, I hunch under the table and ask his advice. This was one of those times. We all need reassurance and hope, and being a novelist gives me that. Most of the time language is not very good. For example: ‘This office is shut today due to a bereavement.’ The word ‘due’ modifies ‘office’, and this is ungrammatical. The correct thing to say would be ‘owing to’, but spare me your quibbling pedantry. Even that elegant phrase ‘quibbling pedantry’ here is pushing it, to say the least. The point is to make words go away faster, to get to the end of the sentences as soon as I can. Horrible, horrible sentences. It’s all part of being a novelist, the loving abuse, the slow tickling of language to death. Catachresis, asyndeton, dangling modifier, dangling modifier. The office is shut today due to a bereavement. Starting to write at 12, the South of France has always been important to me. I think of the time with the screwdriver and the –
         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.
         Hastening between conversations in St Ives and Boston Spa just last week I found myself staring with more than usual intentness at the keyboard of my laptop computer and the suddenly-strange outlines of my particular friends, the letters of the alphabet. It was as though all power of speech and expression had deserted me, for that one moment at least. Has the letter f been important to you, down the years, I turned to the woman beside me and asked. Her response was brisk but revealing. Check back in soon for the full transcript of our conversation. As I queued in the dining car for a coffee, I glanced at my prompt-notes and learned to my amusement that I was on the wrong train, and was scheduled at that very moment to address a party of bowls players in Plymouth. I thought of Mrs Waddilove and her mobility buggy. I returned the screwdriver to my inside pocket and –
         Were you happy with the reception of your note to the milkman, I asked Mr Squishy. I would say there are several influences on my style, he told me, stroking my calves as he spoke. Of a Spring evening, I walk to the garage and purchase a copy of Angler’s Monthly, whistling to myself as I stroll back home. Encountering Melvyn Bragg in the street I pause for a chat about fly-fishing. No milk until Thursday please, I told the milkman, and hurried to the station for my train to a writing conference in. Place, name of place. The letter f, I pressed her, has it been. Under the table like that, I asked Mr Squishy, why do you. Has the dangling modifier been a source of comfort to. Why are my words doing this. To me. Clutches screwdriver, the plastic handle warm in my PALM, we’re onto capital letters now: PALM.
         What I’ve always enjoyed about being a novelist is, and still they keep coming, the stories, the bottles of milk. Perhaps now would be a good moment to open things up to the floor. Yes, the gentleman in green in the next town, who is neither with us nor watching. You, sir. I close my eyes and see (the screwdriver) a hell of stories, flowing, babbling, vanishing, a million ignorant tongues curling and uncurling at once, tongues in my hands and inside your eyes. Where I get my ideas from? For my books? How dare you, frankly. It’s none of your business, can I just (screwdriver), can I just. Palm. Screwdriver. Say.
         Press release, press release, dodecahedron, second home, the smell of a new hardback book. Are you a ticket-holder for this event, I was forced to ask Mr Squishy, before turning the screwdriver on my left hand, inserting and twisting, twisting. He thanked me for coming, looking over my shoulder for someone more interesting or important no doubt. I hunkered down in the garden to speak to a worm: it’s bright and jolly at moments like this to feel the connection with nature, to take its questions on punctuation and where I get my ideas. How dare you, I repeated with a flare of indignation and rage. Where I get my screwdrivers from. My real secret is the pathways and lanes I walk, hand in hand with myself, reminded of the pulses of joy in the seasons and my collection of jumping beans. The words go away, make them go away, now, please, please. Writing is a passion, a joy, a calling, a small turnip, a wretched and extinct Scandinavian flatfish. I follow where its Pan pipes lead me, the enchanted voyage towards better haircuts and a violent end. Let us skip and gambol there together, sneezing and intoning our anthems of gnawing hatred and indigestion as we go!