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The Failure

by vonschlaf 

Posted: 02 January 2007
Word Count: 1374

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Monday 10th Oct 2004

Train down to London. A lovely, sunny morning. Feeling good. Read through the novel on the way, looking for faults, looking for words, sentences, paragraphs to be improved.

Amazingly, nothing leaps out at me.

Get to St. Pancras. Pulse quickens, as it always does. Tube to Green Park, to Iain. I leave my bag (it really is incredibly heavy) in his office, then the two of us walk to a wine bar. On the way, somewhat extraordinarily, we pass the movie star Keanu Reeves in the street. He looks bloated, tired.

Get to the bar and order club sandwiches and wine. Iain can only stay for an hour, as he’s quite busy at work. Doesn’t stop us from drinking properly, though. We race through two bottles of Chardonnay.

We go back to his office at 2:15pm and I pick up my bag and we bid each other farewell.

My bag really is far too heavy for public transport, so I take a cab to Barnes. It’s a nice, pleasant bland uneventful journey (the driver is not a talker, thankfully), up until Barnes itself, where something happens that makes my jaw hit the dirty cab floor. We have to stop at a pelican crossing outside a Swedish School (that’s what it says on the blue and yellow sign outside). Three incredibly statuesque blondes, probably young mothers all of them, are crossing the road. It looks amazing. Like an urban safari.

Get to Colly’s at 3:30pm. The buffoon is in, taking the afternoon off (or ‘working from home’, as he puts it). We greet each other warmly, sit in the kitchen for a beer. Several beers, in fact.

Colly has forgotten entirely about the Bret Easton Ellis talk – possibly because I never even told him about it in the first place – but he has no objection to going. We leave the house at 6:30pm, taking a cab to the South Bank, getting us there in time for a quick drink before the main event.

It’s a lovely evening, very mild and fresh. We buy a couple of beers inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall and then stand outside, looking at the London Eye and the Millennium Bridge, and the brightly-lit buildings facing us across the Thames.

One of these brightly-lit buildings stands out in particular. It’s made of glass and steel, like everything else around it, but it looks like it might be residential, as opposed to just office space. It’s about eight stories high, and very wide, with what looks like the most expensive apartment in London on the top floor.

‘My god,’ I tell Colly. ‘Do you think that’s someone’s penthouse?’


We both stand in silence for a moment, contemplating the apartment.

‘I’m thinking of sleeping with a high-class prostitute,’ I say suddenly.


‘There’s this girl on the internet. I’ve taken a bit of a shine to her.’

‘An actual woman?’

‘Her name’s Natasha. She’s Polish, but she’s based in South Kensington. She costs £300 an hour.’

‘Can you afford that?’

‘No,’ I tell him. ‘Yes.’

‘I see.’

‘What do you think? Do you think it’s a good idea?’



He sighs. ‘Well, it’s possible it might actually do you some good, I suppose.’

I nod slowly, staring down at the Thames. ‘That’s what I thought.’

We finish our beers and go back into the Queen Elizabeth Hall. There are hundreds of people inside the foyer now, quite a few of them clutching copies of Lunar Park. A woman’s voice comes over the public address system, telling us the talk will begin in five minutes. Colly and I join everyone else and file into the Main Hall, taking our seats near the back of the auditorium, looking down onto a stage empty but for two chairs and a lectern.

After about five minutes, the auditorium full, a white-haired man in his fifties walks onto the stage. He’s evidently the literary critic Bret Easton Ellis will be in conversation with. He says a few words of welcome, all fairly measured and intelligent, and then introduces the man himself.

To loud applause, Ellis walks onto the stage. A young Richard Nixon, really, looking particularly shifty in an ill-fitting blue suit. He takes up a position at the lectern, waits for the applause to die down, and then says, ‘Good evening.’ His voice is small and whiny. He gives us some spiel about Lunar Park, and then starts reading an extract from the opening chapter.

I’ve never seen an author giving a reading before. It’s weird. All those words, dreamed-up in such privacy, pouring out in front of total strangers.

Ellis races through his extract. He’s clearly uncomfortable with the whole thing. Presumably he’s happy with his own material, but saying it out loud, pushing it in other people’s faces, seems to be a different matter.

After about ten minutes he finishes (to loud applause) and then sits down with the critic, who proceeds to gently quiz him about his life/career. Ellis proves to be quite a witty conversationalist, which gets me wondering whether he’s rehearsed any of the banter. Anyway, an hour passes quickly, enjoyably, with only one little bit which troubles me towards the end. The critic asks him whether he enjoys writing, and he replies:

‘Of course. It’s fun. Why would you do it if it wasn’t fun?’

Oh dear.

Tuesday 11th October

Colly back at the office today. I have the house to myself. I sit down at the kitchen table at 09:30am and start working on the novel, trying to improve it. Presumably there is something wrong with it. Why else would it have been rejected?

Mess around with a couple of paragraphs for an hour, but I feel like I’m wasting my time. I can’t find anything wrong with what I’ve written. Which is very unusual.

Decide to look at the synopsis instead. Maybe the problem lies with that. I’ve never really liked the last two lines, for one thing:

But the real battle has yet to start. Larry has to confront his Staff Sergeant, and find out the truth…

I’ve always felt that’s a little cheesy. Like something you might read on the back of a really bad novel. I let it go before, because I thought it didn’t really matter (it’s easy to be lazy with a synopsis). Presumably that’s where I fucked-up.

I fiddle around with it for an hour, writing several different versions. Finally settle for this one:

But his real war has yet to start. He has to confront his Staff Sergeant, and find out the truth.

All I’ve actually done is change ‘the’ to ‘his’, ‘battle’ to ‘war’, and ‘Larry’ to ‘he’. I’ve also got rid of the dots at the end.

I know that doesn’t sound like much, but I do think it does lend the whole thing a little bit more gravitas.

At midday I make myself a sandwich. I’m really bored, and not even hungry. Start imagining what it would be like if Natasha were here now, in the kitchen. There’s a great picture on the website of her bottom. Firm and tanned, perfect in every way. I imagine what it would be like to watch her bend over the table, wearing nothing but her g-string.

I get the telephone number out of my wallet. She’s not going to be available straightaway today, presumably. She must need some sort of notice. I wonder how busy she gets. What is her schedule? I don’t like the idea of her doing it with another man just before me. That would be revolting, her turning-up still…humid.

I put the telephone number away. I really don’t know what to do.

I open a bottle of white wine. One of the Chardonnays in the fridge. It always helps, wine, not only with writing, but also with difficult moral judgements.

Finish the wine at 3pm, and then start drinking Colly’s Grolsch. Just sitting in the kitchen, listening to music. Thinking about Natasha, but not actually making the call.

Colly gets back at 5pm. Asks me how the writing has gone. I tell him I’ve drunk a bottle of wine and 2 cans of lager. Which seems to answer his question.

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Comments by other Members

old friend at 14:44 on 08 January 2007  Report this post
Hi Vonschlaf,

This style is incredibly difficult to write really well. The reader has little opportunity to envisage your MC and certainly nothing to form any emotional associations with him. The risk - as a result of this - is that we don't care.

I appreciate that this is the first chapter of a novel and I am sure that the level of interest is raised in subsequent chapters, particularly when we shall probably see the first clues as to the plot.

Bear in mind that so many readers have a look at the beginning of the first chapter to see if it is likely to interest them. It will be interesting to see further chapters from you.


alexg at 19:31 on 26 February 2007  Report this post
Hi there

I'm liking it! drop me an email at onlyonechapter@yahoo.co.uk as I want to tell you of a new author/publisher website that is perfect for you.



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