Nicole Acquah: The Trouble with House Parties

 

The sky looked like a milkshake. Strawberry. What was it they said? Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning? But what did a pink sky hail? John didn’t know, but he wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic.

The day had been doomed ever since he’d decided to throw a party last night. In fact, he’d only invited five other people, but a glass of wine had turned into a bottle of wine, then John had discovered some whisky in the kitchen cabinet. His mother’s, he realised now. He groaned, shifting his position on the bed. His mother was going to kill him.

Write drunk, Hemingway said. It’ll be a good idea, Hemingway (probably) said. John had given it a go, but the advice wasn’t working for him. It hadn’t worked for ten years now. Then again, most of the great writers went largely uncelebrated by their contemporaries. Clearly John was too great for his time.

John groaned again and swung his legs out of the bed. The world looked slanted. He had developed a slightly skewed way of walking over the past few years, but was far too lazy to go to the doctor’s. No doubt it was the weight of all the knowledge he possessed in the right hand side of his brain. Wait. Which was the creative side again? Left or right? He forgot.

Edit sober, Hemingway had also said. But John certainly wasn’t sober. He scratched his arse, sniffed, and plonked himself down behind his computer. John was, he supposed, happily tipsy. So the adage was wasted on him. Then again, what did Hemingway know? John opened up the document he’d been working on – the novel that would make him the next Dickens or at the very least Melville – and was greeted by a whole load of mumbo-jumbo. In his drunken stupor, he had butchered his novel with too many parentheses and not enough speech. If only his agent could see this!

Joke was on him. John didn’t have an agent. He sniffed again, before flexing his fingers and getting to work. He’d only written a page last night but it would take hours to clear up this mess.

“Are you going to clear up this mess then?”

John jumped, turning to see his mother standing at the door. Yes, he lived with his mother now. He’d been living with her ever since that book deal had fallen through and his wife had left him, and the kids had grown up and gone to university (bless the poor sods, at least they weren’t doing an arts degree) and he’d drunk away his mortgage. But living with his mother wasn’t so bad; except sometimes she would say or do things that really weren’t in the outline, and it frustrated him.

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” he snapped, gesturing at the screen. “Do you see this? I even used an Oxford Comma for crying out loud!”

“I meant downstairs. I don’t know what you were playing at last night, but the place is a mess.” His mother sniffed. “And it stinks in here. Open a window…”

John was about to insist he was a grown man, and he would open his window when he liked. But he remembered the empty whisky bottle lying in the trash and decided it would be best to comply.

“You need a real job, John,” his mother said, folding her arms. “You need to make money.” She said it like it was an epiphany, like she was the first person to have ever told him that. John thought it was aggravating, like all those tourists who took pictures of themselves holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa like they the first ones to think of it. Just thinking about the tourists made something stir within John’s chest.  Anger, maybe. Or vomit. Either way, his chest burned. He hoped he wouldn’t puke.

“I know, mother,” he said. “That’s why I’m trying to finish The Incredible Tale of a Mediocre Life.” At her face, he added: “What?”

“I don’t get the title,” she said. “I mean, it’s so long. What’s it about anyway?”

“It’s about a starving – but ingenious – artiste who’s struggling to finish his novel,” John said. “They say to write what you know.”

“Who says?”

John blinked. He gestured at the bookshelf beside his desk.

“You know. The great writers. The advice columns on Write Now! The people who hashtag ‘amwriting’ on Twitter…”

His mother clicked her teeth.

“Uh huh. Please get yourself a real job.” She turned and left the room.

John sighed. Such was the struggle of being a misunderstood artist. But it wouldn’t matter for long. He just needed to finish editing his novel, then he could send it out to publishers. Trouble was, he couldn’t seem to stop editing. There was always something to improve, and he wanted to make sure everything was perfect. That way, there would be very few negative reviews. Not that he made a point of reading the reviews, of course. But The Old Hen had given his last book A Timorous Treck Across the Stars, only one out of five stars. He’d gotten over the shock relatively quickly, after some encouraging words to himself in the bathroom mirror, and a few shots of vodka. A Timorous Treck Across the Stars had actually received five out of five stars in The Times, and which was he going to listen to – a newspaper that sounded like it was a pub, or a well established corporation? Why, the newspaper that sounded like a pub of course. John had gotten so drunk, all the taxi drivers refused to drive him, so he’d staggered back, red-eyed and clutching a tear-sodden copy of the review.

John was made of tougher stuff now. His mother’s comment didn’t hurt. He title was dapper. Still, he cancelled out the title and wrote an alternative one. Just in case.

He’d cleared up most of the mess now. Now he could commence to CHAPTER TEN.

Therewereafew formatting issues in this chapter, but he could sort them out. It shouldn’t take him long. After all it had only taken him – he glanced at the clock – four hours to sort out chapter nine –

Four hours? John looked outside his window. Indeed, the clock was not lying, for the sky had changed its flavour, and now resembled a rather creamy, vanilla milkshake instead. And somewhere between staring at the sky and the food analogies, John realised he was hungry.

Ten minutes and two cheese toasties later, he was once again sat behind his screen. His story needed some sort of conflict, he thought. Something to really keep the readers reading.

A gunshot sounded outside his window and John jumped, before realising it was far too dramatic and illogical. Furthermore, what would happen after the gunshot? So John waited, patiently, until his mobile phone began to ring. He checked the caller ID.

“Holden, hi,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Hey man, me and the guys are heading out for a pint this evening. You up for it?”

“Uhm…I’ll be working this evening.”

“You mean sitting behind your desk in your pj’s scratching your head at a plot point,” Holden laughed.

“You’ve hit the nail right on the head,” John said, then cursed under his breath; even his dialogue was clichéd. “I’m trying to think of a conflict.”

“Well I’m no writer mate. But what about a cliffhanger? That’s how James Paterson writes his books and I’m pretty hooked.”

“Hmm. What kind of cliffhanger though? Trouble is, mate, it’s the kind of story where nothing really happens,” John said, wondering why on earth he sounded exactly like his friend when he spoke on the phone. There really was no way to differentiate between the voices, and he’d lost all sense of continuity.

“Why would anybody write a story where nothing really happens?”

“Clearly you’ve never read any Fitzgerald.”

“Well your book’s about a writer’s struggle. So why don’t you create tension between his desire to finish he novel, and the distraction of everyday life?”

“Sure,” John said, but he rolled his eyes as he said it.

“So – pub later? Me and Christie and Pinter and Auden are going.”

John made no promise, and hung up. The suggestion of a cliffhanger rolled around in his head for a while. It made sense to write about the struggle between the neverending pressures of life, and the urge to finish a novel. Trouble was – was it enough tension? Would the reader even care about his protagonist’s struggle? Would the reader even care if the novel was never finished? Probably not.

He would need a real climax. A real struggle. A real story! Especially if he wanted to be like Hemingway. No. Screw Hemingway. Dickens. Yes, Dickens. But it was difficult to come up with a good climax when even naming his characters was difficult.

He resorted to using the names on the spines of some of his favourite books. As long as he didn’t name them after anybody too famous, it should be fine.

*

He could always work on the novel after the pub, he told himself, as he pulled some clothes on. Time had passed. The evening had arrived. The sky was now the colour of an overripe banana milkshake – yellowed as the sun struggled to burst through small, dark-spotted clouds. Besides, the asterisk told him it was time to go.

First, he noted down his idea for the ending, so he could work on it when he returned:

John is reunited with wife, and she agrees to give their relationship another shot, but only if {INSERT IDEA HERE}. He agrees, before realising too late  {INSERT IDEA HERE}

He would flesh it out when he returned from the pub.

glasses

nikki looking sexy

Nicole Acquah is a twenty year old Creative Writing & Drama student at Royal Holloway University. She is currently working on her second novel and feels very blessed to be part of STORGY.
She writes and directs for her own theatre company, whose blog can be found here: http://skyhightheatregroup.tumblr.com/

black tree