Why I Won’t Read Your Novel

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(This image is relevant, I swear)

A couple of months ago I’m at a 30th birthday party of a friend of a friend who I didn’t really know and besides feeling like an imposter during the intimate thank-you speeches I was having a pretty good time. Sometime after midnight the party began to thin leaving only the die hard drinkers and that’s when it happened. Every writer on the face of the planet has been, or will be in the following situation.

A skinny guy with a pony tail, who looked as if he owned every episode of Doctor Who and was of an age where that was weird, crossed the floor and made his way up to me. ‘You’re a writer,’ he said as if he were accusing me of something evil.

I confessed to the horrible truth that I was indeed a writer and a smile crossed his face as if he had been on some Hobbit-like adventure the entire night to find me and now here we were.

His name was Lawrence, and he had just finished writing his first novel. It was set in the future where for some undisclosed reason, domestic cats grew to be thirty feet tall and were now the main threat to humanity.

‘Will you read it?’

‘Oh, shit man, I’m real busy,’ I said.

‘You’re a really good writer. I can tell just by looking at you.’

In my experience good writers and bad writers look relatively similar but I was half drunk, half tired and wanting to get home to watch music videos on RAGE, so I handed him my card (yes, I have one) and told him to send me his manuscript.

‘No need,’ he said burying his hand into a dirty backpack by his feet. He pulled out a ream of paper and shoved it at me. It was nine hundred pages long and held by elastic bands and insecurity.

‘You carry it on you?’ I asked.

‘Of course.’

‘Isn’t it heavy?’

‘It’s the first in a series. I’ve got the other four at home.’

‘What if this one doesn’t sell?’

Confusion crossed his face. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Nothing, forget it,’ I said.

I carried the monster under my arm and made the trek out to the train station. Ten minutes later a carriage rolled up. I took a seat by the window with the big bastard next to me, took a sip of beer from a bottle I smuggled out of the party, lent my head against the window and drunkenly nodded off.

I woke to the not so gentle nudges of a police officer. ‘This train isn’t a hotel,’ he said.

Who was I to argue? It didn’t look like one. I climbed to my feet and looked to the empty seat next to me. ‘Shit, someone stole my manuscript.’

‘A what?’

‘Before a novel is published it’s called a…’ I gave up. He didn’t care and after I gave it some thought, it didn’t much bother me either.

I made my way home thinking about the poor literary deprived bastard who took the nine hundred page beast, went to bed and forgot all about that Saturday night.

A few days later I was sitting in front of the typer, wrestling with a particularly troublesome sentence when the telephone rang. The number: BLOCKED.

‘Have you read my novel yet?’

It took a moment for my mind to catch up. ‘Lawrence, I’m not sure if I’m going to get to it.’

‘But you said you would read it?’

‘I said I would try to read it.’

‘I’ll call you back tomorrow after you’ve had some time.’ And he hung up.

The next day rolled around and again, there I was staring at another string of bad words and the flashing cursor taunting me with each little blink.

And again, the phone rang. The number: BLOCKED.

This time I ignored it. In hindsight I should have just shown guts, picked up the phone and told this poor prick I had lost his Cat-ageddon story but I had this blinking bloody cursor to deal with. The phone rang out, there of was breath of silence and just as I was about to hammer away again at the keyboard it started back up. And over the next twenty four hours it rang another fifty something times. Then the paranoia set in.Maybe I should have read it? Maybe I should call him back? What if he’s found me? What if he’s hiding in my wardrobe right now? What if he’s dressed as a clown? What if he has a knife? And with that paranoid thought I headed down to the Prahran police station and dramatically slammed my phone on the bench and told my tale of woe to the cop who looked younger than the leather jacket I was wearing.

‘Who’s your telco provider?’ He asked.

‘Vodaphone.’

‘They don’t have very good coverage.’

‘They seem to be doing okay today.’

He told me the best thing to do is change my number and I walked out glad he wasn’t solving a homicide. A couple of steps later, the devil phone rang again but this time it was a buddy, Hugh. He was down at the Bush Inn which was conveniently, or not so conveniently for some, located half a block from the Prahran police station. I crossed the road and half a pint later I had told Hugh the events of the past few days.

Hugh took a sip of his beer. ‘How did all the cats get big?’

‘I didn’t read it!’

‘Why?’

‘Christ, have you not been listening?’ and before I could get any further my phone rang, again. ‘SHIT!’

Hugh snatched it off the bar, took two drunken steps back, smirked and answered it. ‘Detective Senior Sergeant Thomas Andrews.’

Now, I cannot lie, at this point, impersonating a police officer seemed like a worse idea than Justin Bieber playing live at Folsom Prison. Hugh even had the balls to give over a rank, badge number and the name of his commanding officer down at the Prahran Police Station. But if the Bush Inn Hotel gave out awards for best impromptu performance down at the TAB end of the bar, Hugh would have been a very strong contender. And after a few minutes, he hung up the phone and declared the case closed. And for about an hour it looked as if the world had returned to normal. We had a couple more beers, a couple of more bets, then I went to the bar and when I returned I had a missed call on the phone, only this time the caller had left a message. I pushed it into my ear to hear over the racket of the bar.

‘This is Constable Bernadette Collins from the Prahran police station calling in regard to a complaint about impersonating a police officer…’

My stomach dropped. I played Hugh the recording, told him he couldn’t act for shit, and as we headed off back down the road towards the cop shop to explain ourselves, I was rehearsing the explanation I was going to have to give to my girlfriend when I had to make the call for her to bail Hugh and I out of the clink. When I looked over to Hugh and for the first time noticed the Hawaiian shorts and filthy sneakers he was wearing. ‘This hurts us you son of a bitch.’

‘You’re drunk,’ he said. ‘Don’t fuck us in here.’

It sounded like a plan but as soon as I walked into the foyer of the station fear and panic had set in and I blurted out the words: ‘I AM NOT A COP!’

The young cop gave pause and sized me up, probably trying to gauge if I was the violent type or not. Christ, even Hugh looked at me sideways and he was one of my own kind. I drew a breath, flashed a smile and explained everything that had led up to the point where two half drunken fools were standing at the front desk of the Prahran police station explaining why they were impersonating police officers.

‘Why didn’t you read his book?’ the cop asked.

I sighed. ‘Because, it was probably bad.’

She shrugged. ‘So?’

We weren’t a threat. Nobody would ever believe either one of us were a cop. The Constable let us off with a warning and as we headed back to the Bush Inn for a celebratory drink, I thought about Lawrence and why he was so desperate for somebody to read his manuscript and then I realized something that I should have seen in his eyes the night he gave me his book… he had nobody else to read it.

I had another beer, watched Hugh win $182.50 on a dog called ‘Tank’ and then the next time my phone rang, I answered it and asked Lawrence if he could send me another copy of his manuscript.

First published at Momentumbooks.com.au

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