We are having the difficult-second-novel discussion. It is our seventh such meeting, by my count. He reckons fourteen. His estimate being double my own seems significant. Is he counting each time the door swings? Am I failing to?
“Why don’t you get rid of some of these?” I ask, gesturing to the dusty walls of books around us. “There’s an entire tower of that novelisation of The Dead School.”
“I wish somebody had told that boy The Dead School was already a novel,” he muttered. He is smoking, which is unusual and illegal. He hides each cigarette beneath a potted rhododendron, picking it out and drawing quickly before sliding it back beneath a leaf. The plant appears to smoulder. I don’t know how it’s still alive.
“It would have been your job to tell him, no?”
“I’m sure I mentioned it. Patrick McCabe. I’m sure I mentioned it. We’re here to talk about you in any case. How’s the novel coming? We’re all still excited. Quite excited.”
“It’s changed tack.”
“Yes, well. I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough. I mean. I’ve figured out my audience. It’s the only audience that matters.”
“Do you mean you’re going… literary? You know I have reservations about literary.”
I nod. “In a sense. I’m retaining Captain Wallace. He’s still going to be the core character. But it’s not a serial killer anymore. It’s more like… an outbreak. A disease. A very specific, very strange disease. He’ll be the one discovering the nature of this sickness.”
“… the nature being?”
“Well, picture this: writers around the world begin to die off. In huge numbers. But that’s not even the worst of it. Before it happens they systematically undermine their own legacies by producing complete dross. Career-destroying crap. So… Martin Amis or some fucker starts populist junk and publishes it serially in Speculative Fiction Monthly. Then he dies of a strange fever. They all start dying, and nobody knows why.”
“Why is this interesting?”
“Because who reads novels anymore? Other writers. It’s a story tailored to scare the bejeebus out of the only target market left.”
He stubs his cigarette out in the plant pot. “That’s genius… I think. We could be starting something great here. Let’s discuss it further.” He leans over an clicks a button. “Eunice? Could you bring us two coffees please?”
A voice crackles. “I’m not your secretary. Mr. Romero asked you to stop using this intercom. Am I going to have to call him?” My editor laughs amiably.
“Would you like a drink?” he asks. When I nod he pours a generous scotch into one of the jam-jars on his desk. The ice-cubes he cracks out are Christmas tree shapes. I am going to stop coming here, I think. One of these days I am going to say no. I am too good for this place.