Every 6 months or so I decide to try to write a novel. Now I’m not exactly a tortured artiste with a burning urge to spill my creative seed out into the universe or else I’ll die, suffocated by the genius which I must purge from my soul else spend an eternity lamenting my creative failure. Nothing quite so pretentious here I’m glad to report, it’s more that of all the things in the world I love the most, escaping into another world and spending a few hours living someone else’s life is where I’m at my happiest. Books, Films, Museums, the Theatre... surrounding myself with the result of someone else’s passion is quite simply my happy place. To wit, I can’t draw/paint, my acting career ended aged 16 after a particularly withering review from my English Teacher over my interpretation of Cleopatra, “Quite simply the angriest, unpleasant and sanctimonious Queen of the Nile I’ve ever seen. If she hadn’t ordered the asp, the audience would have killed her!” and after a lifetime of looking like Caspar the Friendly Ghost in countless photographs and constantly being asked if I felt alright, well celluloid is out. So books it is... Now I’ve read enough over the years to consider myself discerning. In truth, I’ve read so much crap that I should be able to bash out something decent with very little trouble. I get so excited at the prospect of the fame, fortune and critical acclaim my literary opus will bring, it makes me giddy. My normally 30% functioning capacity brain gets energised and I get abnormally aroused by the smell of fountain pen ink. I sit at my pc, surrounded by handwritten notes, characters fully fleshed out, emotional story arcs plotted out as if it were real life, the ending... oh god, the ending so perfect that I want to race through it all just to get the that last denouement. I buzz about, full of youthful exuberance and an unnerving sense of finality about the fact that I will be brilliant. That my story will be the best it can be and that I will finally, after too many years of trying and failing dismally, achieve the greatness my mother always told me I was too lazy to try to aspire to.
After a week, I give up. Notes lay strewn like bunting after a particularly boisterous street party. I stomp about, swearing in several different languages (Well, in English but I vary the accent). I scare the cat hourly and feel as deflated as most men feel after England get knocked out of the World Cup. My brain shuts down and I feel vitriol for the whole situation which makes a change from mostly feeling vitriol towards Martine McCutcheon, Yet again, I’ve failed to finish what I’ve started. The weeks of planning and plotting and dreaming are flushed down the drain of my inability to be competent. It’s at this point that I usually fall into a heap and cry, wailing to the world of my crapness and promising to never get to this shambolic state again. Everything related to the “incident” gets destroyed, notes shredded, pens binned. One time I threw my mug out the window as if it was somehow to blame for my creative stalemate. What I don’t do is destroy the words. So now I have about 12 discs all containing the seeds of a beautiful idea which failed to blossom. My creative mind is barren but I hold onto them as if one day I will turn into Capability Brown and these seedlings will bloom into something gorgeous.
Sometimes I reread these scraps. Sometimes I even think they are quite good. Mostly I laugh at my own arrogance and remind myself I get paid to fanny about with bits of paper for a reason. I still keep them though, as reminders of times in my life when I was full of creativity and wanted, needed
to do something about it. I usually never want to do anything so these discs are a comfort, that maybe all is not yet lost for me.
The one story I keep going back to is The Coffee Girl, my sole attempt at a novella. After myriad short stories and 8 attempts at the full 500 pages, I figured a 200 page novella was more achievable and adopting the old adage “Write what you know”, I scoured my mind and came up with 4 possible subjects. Unfortunately The Sims and smoking were ruled out immediately as a) way too niche an audience and b) slightly un-PC. Porn was my third option, and believe me, the results of that creative bender still give me serious concerns about my moral compass. Geez, to this day there are things I wrote which I’m sure are anatomically impossible or at best, illegal for very good reasons. So I settled for the only other subject I could possibly answer Mastermind questions on – Coffee. I went out, I bought pens, paper and a new mug and I started research. I planned it all out, 7 interwoven stories all set in and around a Coffee Shop. All independent of each other but linked by the Barista, the titular Coffee Girl. Each story was named after a different beverage offered by the shop – The Americano was the San Franciscan born IT guy working in London who sought solace in the caffeine fumes so similar to back home, Espresso was the 30-something single woman who used the shop as a pick up joint, one shot is all you need after all. Cafe Misto was the human equivalent of the Faberge Egg, the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen on the outside but totally vacant, a brain full of steam. Green Chai was the 50 something couple trying to forget they were getting older. It goes on...
I wanted it to be quite detached, I remember how I felt after reading Shopgirl by Steve Martin. My first reaction when I finished it was disappointment but this evolved into awe at the way he refused to give the characters the ending they deserved. We’re so programmed to seek the happy ending that when we don’t, we feel cheated. Anyone who has seen Se7en will know what I’m talking about... The box. Who saw that one coming? Did I feel cheated, hell no! I thought it was brilliant. Just when you think you’re on solid ground there’s always one last banana peel to trip you up. Now I’m not putting myself up there with Steve Martin and David Fincher but I knew going in that I wanted The Coffee Girl to be different. To make you think you knew where it was going and at the last page to completely shoot any theories down. I definitely had ideas above my station with this one.
I thought it had potential. The scope to be funny and sweet and witty. An opportunity to write about very different people facing different challenges from my own. My equivalent of a full bodied Columbian – all intense satisfying richness and depth of flavour. In truth, it’s all a bit Gold Blend – generic and cheap with an unpleasant metallic aftertaste. Maybe next time, I’ll save my mug for something else besides the pavement and take up something less emotionally draining. A Lana Turner movie marathon perhaps...