The Literary Prize By Chris Lee

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Bastards all.  Self-righteous, narcissistic, self-pitying, craven, cringing, oleaginous, vile, dribbling, deluded bastards. They all think they should win; they all think they deserve to win. And here they are. And here I am. We’re sitting on a platform; we’re waiting to read. They will read from the ghastly excretions that they have forced before the public. There will be no stories, no great characters, no humour, no action; just the polished and preening smear of the literary. This will be the vocalisation of writing, so self-indulgent, it won’t be able to recognise its own rebarbative stink. The literary. And yes, I among them. I; striving to produce words that mean something; words that do more than prance about in smug self-regard. We’ll see. But if it’s deserving you want, look no further.

We’ve been through so much already.  Discovery, publication, reviews, being entered for competitions, the longlist, the announcement of the shortlist, the invitation to the event, the introductions to our rivals. And we have behaved ourselves impeccably.  All has been decorum and politeness. We have shaken hands, we have placed chaste little kisses on delicate cheeks.  We have nodded and smiled, we have listened in wonder as small talk has tripped from our tongues.  It has been unremitting hell, let me tell you.  I have stifled yawns, swallowed sneers, choked back contempt, and used all my mental and physical strength to resist the urge to vomit all over them. My rivals, my enemies; those who would steal what is rightfully mine. Boiling hatred wells within me. I am a volcano ready to erupt with absolute denunciation. Let me cast them out, let me drive them from the temple, let me trample them beneath my feet. It’s really just the least they could expect, for having the audacity and stupidity to compare themselves with me.

And first, the speeches.  The academic posturing of it all. Professor Turgid from the University of Wank; droning on and on about how this year it really has been so extraordinarily difficult to select a shortlist, from all the wonderful books that have been drawn to their attention. Lies, lies, flattery, lies and deceit. Mendacity. Humbug. Oh, he thinks we’re all so wonderful. And if he thinks that, it demonstrates his lack of discernment. Only one of us is wonderful.

We must now turn our attention to the sponsor; how delighted Diet Raspberry Margarine (now with eighty two percent less fat) is, to sponsor this year’s award. Not nearly delighted enough; they also sponsor darts, yes darts, and the prize money there is about twenty times the paltry pittance on offer here. But what is the lure of language compared to the attraction of fat alcoholics throwing things?

And finally, all the introductions are over; and one by one we must take to the podium, where, after a short build up by the Professor, we will launch into our readings. Close your ears audience, until I take my turn. Ah yes, the audience. What a bedraggled collection of misfits. Would be writers seething with jealousy, devoid of talent, ambition and strategy. Aunts and uncles beaming with pride, but terrified lest they be asked for an opinion. Mothers and fathers worshipping the talent with which they always knew little Jack or Jill was blessed. Bored journalists, hypocritical publishers, back stabbing agents. All of life’s rich pageant; crammed into a lecture theatre. Humanity’s finest; all ready to be disappointed, outraged and sulky. Not as disappointed as I’ll be mind, if justice isn’t done. But have you ever known justice to be done?

Here comes the first writer. Oh God regard him, the pompous nitwit. This will be some tedious rural scene, wrung by the neck until it emotes in embarrassing pseudo poetic gibberish. Yes, and he’ll deliver it all in a soft lilting baritone. The bastard.

Ghastly, garrulous Gerry

Gerald O’Loughlin has published three novels and is already the winner of this year’s Foster’s award for fiction. (I bet he is, never heard of it, why didn’t I enter?) Gerald takes his inspiration from the mountains and meadows of his native Wicklow. (Really, well that’s great for him. Personally, I’ve never seen the point of Wicklow). He is interested in the effects of urban sprawl on the poetics of the Irish imagination. (Have you ever heard the like? What, is he a town planner, a sociologist?) Gerald is reading today from his wonderful new novel The Water Harvest. (Poor title, sounds like some trite Irish update of The Water Babies. Is there no banning of books anymore to protect the sensibilities of the intelligent?)

THE WATER HARVEST by Gerald O’Loughlin

‘A delightful tale of young love in the Wicklow Mountains’ The Guardian

‘Beautiful, poetic and moving’ The Irish Times

Alternatively:

Absolute shite”

The hard heat of summer, in the splendid fields of the high country. That was my domain.  The gorse and the granite. When I think back it is always summer.  And the rocks are covered with a sea green moss and the wind is gentle with slowness. The days are heavy and long and I am tired from running about. A child, in the lap of the mountains. This is a locked and perfect memory and I will not yield it for any careless wish.  Mine to cherish and save.  Mine to hold and believe. I recall one day among all the days.  The days with him. How old were we then?  It doesn’t matter.  We stuttered the passage from boy to man.  We were waiting for great things to happen and for wonders to arrive.  It was then. Restless and unable to be still.  There’s more strength in a boy of that time than in any man he might chose to become. Mad on blue sky and light that stretched for years.  We started in the village and climbed up out of the valley as the shadows grew. We had no purpose but movement, no plan but to climb.  Past the sodden grazing land and across the sloping fields.  On and on till the farms had gone and the earth was soft and peat laden. The sun grew colder and the high air sharp and clear.  The march forward, our bodies dragged on by thoughts tossed far ahead.  The sound of breathing and heartbeat. We weren’t climbing one mountain but all the mountains. Rising up.  Scrambling and clattering but rising up. We came to the forest of thick set pines.  A fringe of darkness.  A black green army of trees that had dropped from nowhere, blocking our way to the space beyond. To go around would have taken us through to the evening and we did not want to waste the hours. So, we plunged into the world of sap and amber.  Matted branches scratching at us every heaving step of the way.  A real fight.  Needles piled on the treacherous ground and no noise at all but ourselves pushing through. We had to go down on our knees near the end as the trees pressed closer and closer.  But we slithered out into the light at last.  Grazed and battered and clawed at.  Victorious.  And the day still generous.  We caught our breath and gathered ourselves and started off again. And he noticed it first and pointed and stopped and we asked each other what it was. So of course, we approached and our eyes soon made out a fire of some kind and a man standing tending it, gazing into the flames. Coming closer we were surely in the man’s line of vision.  Yet not once did he look at us or acknowledge our presence.  Strange.  He was staring deep into the fire. He was lost in its blaze.  Yellow and red splashing heat on the blue.  Beautiful at first.

Excruciating, I’m sure you agree. Sugary, onanistic, and fey.  What a nauseating combination.  That voice; they’ll all say it was musical of course, but it wasn’t. It was tone deaf, trumpeting self-congratulation.  Begone. He sits down, look at the smirk on him, he thinks they’re grateful, but he’s just shat all over them from the heights of his arrogance.  Poor slobs probably haven’t noticed anyway.  And here comes more creative putrefaction. A young woman with serious intent rises to bark. This will be all about finding herself, just you wait; while we yearn, while we pray, for her to be lost again. Here she comes, worthy, eager, but insufferable with anticipation. How she will let herself down, and us.

Hateful, hopeless Helen

Helen Brady is an experimental writer of great power and vision. (That means no one understands a fucking word.) She completed her most recent book of short stories while on a retreat in the Orkney Islands. (Retreat? Why can’t the useless bastards just stay at home and work? The Orkney Islands for Jesus’ sake. Don’t they all indulge in Satanic rites there? Mind you, we’ll probably need a Satanic rite or two after Helen). Helen is reading today from a story called ‘Oblivion’ from her new collection Regolith. (Honestly you can’t make this stuff up. Regolith? What in the name of fuck is that? As for ‘Oblivion’, bring it on.)

REGOLITH by Helen Brady

“Feminist parables of great wisdom” The Sunday Times

Funny, sharp and un-nerving” Radio Four

Alternatively:

‘Choose watching paint dry, over this, you won’t be disappointed’

I will never stop running away. I ran from every encounter.  I ran from every experience.  I ran along sandy beaches and my feet caught the salty spray.  I ran across sharp rocks and the cuts left trails of blood.  I ran on the sweet damp moss and I ran on the hard, dry road. I ran away because it was always better than staying where I was.  I ran away because the next place is better than the last.  I ran towards because running is always bringing you nearer. You must stop running away, they said.  But why would anyone stop?  As long as you can run you must keep running.  We are all of us running through time, and when we stop running, we begin dying.  Always run. Always run because whatever you have left you will find again if you run all the way round the world.  The body is made for running.  Yes, yes, for loving and craving and hating and killing, yes, yes, all these too, but mostly, for running. One day I ran along the stone path and out through the copper gate.  I ran across the sugar beet field and over the style at the flower ditch.  I found the winding dirt track and I climbed up out of the valley.  I looked back and with one look I started to run harder. I ran down the left fork at the copse of hawthorn and I ran over the iron bridge.  I ran into the marketplace, two miles past the railway station.  I ran and as I ran the earth turned faster.  I ran and my feet made the earth spin under me. I ran through seasons and across countries.  The dust changed colour as my feet touched the ground.  I ran through grey and into green, I ran through yellow and on into red.  I ran into deepest red and I nearly drowned in it. I reached the sea and I ran until the waves passed over my head.  I ran down the giant slope of the continental shelf as it falls away into the vast open plain of the ocean.  I ran between volcanic ridges and into the black water where the sun cannot reach. I rose again in another time zone and I ran into its forests where the colours were so vivid, they could not be believed.  I ran to the top of the highest mountain and I stepped out onto the clouds. I ran past the stratosphere and beyond the sky.  I circled the moon and was hurled into the sun.  I fell into the white-hot centre of the sun and I ran out in another star.  I ran around the vast perimeter of the spiral arm and I found the limit of the universe.  I ran and I ran for 5 billion years and then I found myself here. And I heard my mother.  Or was it my mother?  Perhaps, after all this time it was my daughter I found.  And if it was then I must have told her.  Run and keep running.  Run because only through running will time exist at all.  Or something like that, anyway.

That’s it? That’s all she’s going to read? Well, certainly a case of less definitely being less. Oh, they love it, the idiots, stop applauding.  This is the demise of culture you’re promoting. God they’re going to hate me. Oh no, she’s crying, she’s been moved to tears by the sound of her own voice. I need to throw up. But wait, here comes a middle-aged man. It’s the poet. Ladies and gentlemen there’s a poet in the house. And he’s got a fucking tweed jacket, have you ever seen such a thing? And a beard. Jesus H Christ, this is going to be hideous. Portentous declamation coming up. Please God he won’t intone.

Beardy, bastard Bailey

Undoubtedly the greatest poet ever to come from Scunthorpe, Bailey Squires has an apocalyptic grandeur that is unequalled in modern literature. His muscular tone perfectly matches the rugged ambition of his subject matter. (They’re tittering, I’m not surprised, the greatest poet from Scunthorpe? He’s probably the only man who can read in Scunthorpe. Don’t they all marry their mothers and breed whippets?). Bailey will be reading his latest poem ‘Fallen Stones’. (This is going to be earth shatteringly dreadful.)

FALLEN STONES by Bailey Squires

‘The best new voice in poetry this year’ Times Literary Supplement

A quiet genius’ The Daily Telegraph

Alternatively:

A total wankfest’

There is a dark river that rises in the highlands.

Where the wind shrieks like a torture victim on the rack.

It trickles from its spring over broken stones.

The gelid shards of the earth, scattered on the naked hills in bleached clusters.

The highlands scratch the sky.

They point their skinny fingers at its terminal expanse.

The sky, so grey and listless.  The sky, so unforgiving.

And the rising river streaming down.  Carving a pathway through bleak and barren rock.

A harsh epiphany of granite.  Volcanic graves littering its steep descent.

A young river, fast flowing and savage.  Ripping through soft clay, seething with mineral and silt.

Water, skittering in sheer gravity, a blitzkrieg of erosion.

A dark river, in the twilight of the world, gushing, chattering and expectant.

Through smoking hills, down charred valleys, on scorched plains.  Water, riven with death, stagnant, yet charging.

The river tumbles down to a wide plateau and spreads itself.

Pouring over the stunned landscape in a thick black coil.  Past the skeletons of farms and the once rich pastures, which now lie bruised and ravaged.

Something has happened here in the overcast and bitter chill.

There are bodies in the ditches and the long dead cattle rot quietly beneath the wrecks of trees.

Nothing moves, save for the wind, which is choke full of dust and ash.

The plateau smells of catastrophe.

The houses are hacked open, their contents sodden and flayed.

A network of roads criss-crosses the plateau but nothing leads anywhere anymore.

Everything has been forgotten here, blasted apart by disaster.

And through it all, the river runs, like a terrible wound.

Senseless and cold, the river thickens and bends.

It meanders in vast arcs through the low-lying towns, which are ghost strewn and steaming, in the aftermath of war.

Rubble and rust, the corpses of buildings and cars, the faint murmur of desolation.

Onwards the river slides, through countless reminders of terminated dreams.

And eventually it comes to the city.  The city; gigantic with rigor mortis, stretched out and frozen.

Its ribs are exposed, its limbs are caught forever in the last gasp of an agonised writhing.

It has had its memory erased.  All of its history has been petrified and desiccated.

All of its people are lost to time.  Their skin leathered in the rasping wind, their bones rattling in a vast cemetery.

The city; a perfect archaeology of extinction.

The river pushes on regardless.

Dragging its impenetrable filth towards the dead promise of the sea.

It rolls and it churns across the delta.

The old river, demented and drooling, seeping into the great slick of ocean.

This journey is the end of all hope.

The confirmation that nothing of us has survived.  At no point has the river offered us a flicker of life.

Yet it flows across the earth.

We can see it only in the fading light, in the dim premonition of the future.

The pearl grey sun rises and sets on a world without any human heart.

This we have craved.

This is our nightmare.

This is tomorrow.

Oh, just kill yourself and put us out of your misery. What a dirge, what a turgid arse wipe of guff. The audience have fallen asleep. It’s not surprising; they’ve been anaesthetised by literary tedium. And he thinks they’re taking him seriously. He’s from Scunthorpe. Johnny No Mates the poet. Why does everyone hate me grandma? Because you’re a boring cunt, that’s why. Only one to go before me; one more swine before the pearl. Here she comes, all manicured with menace.  What a sadistic grin she bears. She has a look that says you’re all going to suffer, and you know what, she’s right.

Vicious, vainglorious Vidula

Vidula Patel-Williams is at the vanguard of new writing by young Welsh-Asian women. (If she’s just the vanguard then there’s a whole Bolshevik party behind her.) Her writing defies categorisation. (That means it’s 24 carat dog turd.) She incorporates themes from modern science and philosophy, as she negotiates the ever-changing identities of personhood. (She whats the what? Where do they get this stuff from? Even the introductions are deranged, moronic piffle.) Vidula will be reading from her new novel Dragonflies in Amber. (There is no hope, there is simply no hope.)

DRAGONFLIES IN AMBER by Vidula Patel-Williams

Impossible to categorise, brilliant and alarming’ The London Review of Books

Compelling and ambitious, full of complex beauty’ Richard and Judy

Alternatively:

‘Incomprehensible and indigestible twaddle’

Reality, the essence of reality, is that we live in a multiverse; in a whole series, a vast number, of parallel universes.  That is, there is a version of us, in many of these universes, and though we don’t cross over, our choices take us in certain directions, and other versions of ourselves in other universes, take other choices.  Our conception of time as a succession of moments, as a flow, is incorrect; as is a simple conception of space time with a frozen past and a determined future.  What there are; are many space times, many universes, and the future and the past are just specific instances of those other universes.  But we do have free will, because we can choose, we can decide what to do, precisely because there are many universes, and we decide only for the universe in which this particular version of us exists.  If we were able to travel back in time and change what happened in the past; then the outcome of that change would lead not to the present we had come from, but to a different present in another universe.  This theory reconciles Einstein’s determinism and our passionately held belief in free will.  Reality is a multiverse, whose nature is created by the interaction of quantum physics, the force of evolution, the spread of knowledge and the effects of universal computation.  It is not a cold, soulless, inhuman place, but one where the riches of thought, of complexity reaching across the multiverse; morality, beauty and reason, deepen our understanding of what it is to be alive, and to bear witness to such wonder.  As we travel across the millennia to the end point of the multiverse, it is more likely than not that we shall expand our thinking and our discovery of truth, and that the final moments of life will be filled with the absolute comprehension of everything, when consciousness has become one with the fabric of reality itself.  And this is why it is essential to cherish every human life, and every choice that is made; for no matter how tiny each one of our voices is in terms of the great polyphony of existence, everything has value, everyone is extraordinary, and almost everything we have been doing recently…is wrong.

What the fuck was that? A lecture? An attempt at scientific musing? That’s the worst choice of extract ever. Polite applause, but they’re all thinking that was a con job. Christ she’s smug; that smile will last till Christmas. Right. Enough. It’s time to claim what’s mine. I hate the audience; freeloading bunch of tossers, but I shall ignore them.  I rise to offer the world writing of great skill and power. Here we go. Wish me luck.

Charismatic, captivating Chris

Chris Lee is a combative writer of ferocious intensity. He specialises in antagonistic aggression. (Too fucking right losers.) Tonight, he will be reading from his new short story, ‘The Literary Prize’, specially written for this evening.

THE LITERARY PRIZE by Chris Lee

Bastards all.  Self-righteous, narcissistic, self-pitying, craven, cringing, oleaginous, vile, dribbling, deluded bastards. They all think they should win; they all think they deserve to win. And here they are. And here I am. We’re sitting on a platform; we’re waiting to read. They will read from the ghastly excretions that they have forced before the public. There will be no stories, no great characters, no humour, no action; just the polished and preening smear of the literary. This will be the vocalisation of writing, so self-indulgent, it won’t be able to recognise its own rebarbative stink. The literary. And yes, I among them. I; striving to produce words that mean something; words that do more than prance about in smug self-regard. We’ll see. But if it’s deserving you want, look no further.

glasses

Chris Lee

Chris Lee is an Irish writer living in London. Best known as a playwright, he has had over 20 productions of his plays in eight different countries and was Writer in Association with the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. The Map Maker’s Sorrow is published by Faber and The Ash Boy and Shallow Slumber by Methuen. His stories have appeared in A New Ulster, Bandit Fiction and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Chris has been a mental health social worker for the last 27 years.

www.unitedagents.co.uk/chris-lee

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

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