Thursday, June 17, 2010

Six hundred and eighty-nine words

I wrote a scene this morning.

There shouldn't be anything special about that sentence. It shouldn't be a whoot whoot moment or cause for dancing a merry jig. I'm not a professional writer, but I am an aspiring author. Writing is what I tell myself I do with my time when I'm not trying to earn a crust. But lately writing has not been as smooth a process as once it was.

I could blame the many distractions in my life; there's plenty of those. But I think that's a lame excuse. However much else I have to do, however busy my life becomes, I can always find time to do something I really love doing. Time was that was writing, but lately I can't seem to find that old enthusiasm.

A few years back, everything seemed to be coming together nicely. I had an agent trying to flog my dragon books, I'd been nominated for the debut dagger twice, and publishers were actually asking to see my most recent manuscript. I was on the cusp of fulfilling the dream I've had for too many years to mention without embarrassment - getting something I'd written published. Then it all seemed to fall apart. My agent decided she didn't want to carry on, then the publisher's buying committee decided against my book. Another agent, who had shown great interest up until that point, backed off sharpish. I was so close, and then right back to square on as if I'd landed on the big snake just before the finish line.

Now, I'm used to rejections. God knows I've had plenty down the years. I started off this writing gig sending comic scripts to 2000AD magazine, and used to get a standard letter twice a month: "Thanks for your script, but we're not buying anything at the moment. Do try again." I never did work out whether that was a polite way of saying 'you're shite, go away.' It doesn't make it any easier when the rejections keep coming in. Each one is yet another chip away at the self-confidence, until after a while you begin to wonder why you bothered in the first place.

And so it has been with me. I have something out with an agency at the moment, but I've heard nothing and will have to send them a gentle reminder soon. Usually that means the rejection will come a few days later. Other than that, there's nothing in the pipeline, no deal being considered, no hope of publication to keep me plugging away at the keys. I know that you should write for the pleasure of it, not the hope of fame and riches, but what if it stops being pleasurable?

Then something like this morning happens. I hadn't intended writing this short scene. I hadn't intended writing anything fiction this morning - there's paying work that needs to be done first. And yet as soon as I sat down at my computer I felt compelled to write. This isn't a pivotal scene, and it might not even make the final cut. But I like it, I enjoyed writing it, and it reminded me - at least a little - why I started doing this, all those years ago. So here, for your entertainment, are six hundred and eighty-nine words where we learn why one of the two hitmen is called Mr Crisp.

Fine, yellow, oily crumbs tumbled from greasy fingers onto the lapels of Mr Crisp’s crumpled black suit as he worked his way slowly and methodically through the packet. Jonno watched from the corner of his eye, listening to the crunch, crunch, crunch of his colleague’s jaw as it turned deep fried potato into starchy goo. Each swallow was a bobbing of that prominent Adam’s Apple, threatening to burst through the paper-thin skin of his neck.
            Surveillance was the worst. Waiting in a car or a van, parked up across a deserted street, not knowing if your intel was good enough, if the target was ever going to show. Scanning the neighbouring windows for lace-curtain twitches; you never knew when some nosey old biddy was going to phone the police and complain about the car that hadn’t moved all day. Even if none of the other cars had moved all day either.
            Packet finished, the ritual began. Mr Crisp brushed the crumbs from his lapels and into his lap. Then he took the empty bag and began to fold. His long, thin fingers took on a life of their own, so dextrous it made Jonno feel ashamed of his stubby Rugby-player hands. In a seamless flow of movements, what was once a packet of crisps became something else entirely. A neatly tied bow, a small boat, a passable impression of a swan. This time it looked like a hawk, preparing to stoop on its prey. Mr Crisp reached forward and placed it delicately on top of the dashboard. Five other foil-packet origami shapes already sat there; it had been a long day.
            Mr Crisp wasn’t his real name, of course. That was, well, that was lost in the mists of time. It was the old man who’d first called him crisp as a joke. Then the copper had got the wrong end of the stick, thought it was his real name and called him Mister Crisp. Somehow the name had stuck. It was ironic, really. When you looked at the clothes he wore, the way he could turn a neatly pressed, brand new jacket into something that looked like it had been stolen off a dead tramp, just by putting it on. But then that was probably what the old man had meant when he’d called him crisp. Nothing to do with the man’s eating habits at all, or his strange passion for origami. Irony. The old man did that a lot.
            Jonno shifted in his uncomfortable seat. That was another thing about these German cars. Bloody seats were as hard as rock. The old Range Rover was much better for a long surveillance job, but they’d had to get rid of that last month. Shipped off to Africa with a load of stolen Mercs and a couple of Tonkas. A shame that dealer had bled all over the back seat like that. Still, forensics would have a hard time finding it in Addis Ababa or Timbuktu or wherever the fuck it had ended up. Perhaps when this job was over he’d get himself another one though. He liked the Range Rover, even if it was as conspicuous as fuck.
            ‘Shouldn’t be long now.’ Mr Crisp tapped the glowing clock on the dashboard and turned towards him. Jonno caught that unmistakeable whiff, saw the brown and black stained teeth for a moment. That was the downside of a starch-based diet. Far worse than eating sweets all the time. He’d read that somewhere. Sugars got dissolved in your saliva and swallowed away, but the starchy stuff stuck to your teeth, in the cracks and gaps between them. Perfect breeding conditions for the bad breath bugs and the stuff that dissolved your enamel away.
            ‘If he shows at all,’ Jonno said.
            ‘Oh, he’ll show.’ Mr Crisp reached around behind his seat, fished another packet of crisps from the bag. He pulled it open with a swift, practiced move, dipped two fingers in and drew out a single, pale disc of fried potato, paused a moment before putting it in his mouth.
‘And if he doesn’t, then his sister will be home soon.’
 Don't say I'm not good to you.

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