"No I've been up for hours. I've been the gym, done housework, washed clothes, bough an over-priced jumbo cappuccino with a slice of banana bread which, FYI, seems a weird combination but it actually works-" I began.
"So you're recovered from your nocturnal activities." Emma interrupted, her tone clipped and impatient. I pictured her in her spacious office, headset on, pacing up and down as she spoke. A forty-something woman with an excess of energy, known for not mincing her words, but according to my editor a complete genius at what she does. I'd been with her a grand total of two weeks and she'd already scored me an interview with "The Age" to discuss my upcoming first novel that was already being lauded as the best breakthrough novel of 2013 by the lucky few who had scored advance copies from my publisher. (The observation that it was only January so that took some of the shine off the compliment is not needed thank you.)
"Are you my mother?" I asked.
"No. Thank fuck. Though you act like a child a lot lately. Are you regressing or is this still about she-who-cannot-be-named?" Emma asked.
"Voldemort?" I suggested. Of course I knew full well who she was talking about. How had she come to know me so well in such a short space of time was beyond me. But I suspected it had something to do with a litany of spies and minions reporting back on me to her. A similar network, clearly, to my mother's. I had thought, after our first meeting, that my Mum would like Emma's no-nonsense ways.
"Don't be a smart arse. It's too early in the morning for your attitude. And don't change the subject. I'm not the only one who's noticed. Your about to begin serious publicity for your novel which as you know has had high-rating pre-reviews but instead of acting humble, intelligent, likeable even, you're acting like a child. I'm your publicist not your minder. I know you're cut up about the break up but Will you need to get over it. People break up all the time. It's not the end of the world. She's not worth it, certainly not worth you screwing yourself over before your book's even on the fucking shelves." Emma told me bluntly. (Yes, she also swears a lot. That's a major point of difference between her and Mum who looks horrified if I even say something like dickhead let alone the f-word.)
"You didn't even know her. You don't know whether she is or isn't worth it." I snapped. Automatically my eyes went to the photo on my bedside table. Jenny and I in happier times, at her sister's wedding in Bali. In the photo Jenny's leaning on my shoulder with a happy smile and I'm smiling like the cat that got the cream. Or the plain Joe who got the beauty.
"Your right. I don't. But you know what Will- you need to make a choice. Your career or your childish behaviour and pining over your lost love. If you pick the latter let me know sooner rather than later and we can part ways now. I can make you a fucking literary legend. But you need to be on board too or it ain't gonna work." Emma said.
I closed my eyes for a moment. Of course it wasn't even a choice. I'd wanted to be a writer since the age of five when I'd written a lovely story about a tiger that got run over by a car and was made as flat as a rug and was used as a real life living rug in the home of some seriously disturbed people. You might argue that only a seriously disturbed person would write such a story but boys at that age are fascinated with things like blood and gore. Jenny's sister's eight year old was the same.
I'd showed him a video I'd taken on my iPhone at Phuket Zoo when Jenny and I were in Thailand last October of the crocodile show where the two keepers (or lunatics escaped from the asylum) would put their heads into the mouths of the crocodiles for a few long- tense- moments. And his first comment was "Did they bite his head off?" I'd said no. "Shame. That would have been cool." He'd said. I'd lamented that it was indeed a shame and it would indeed have been cool. "There would have been lots and lots of blood and guts too wouldn't there" was his third comment.
But at the same time you don't spend eight years of your life with someone and then have to turn off your feelings- the love, the memories, and the pain- and expect them to come to a complete stop without a few residual drips do you? And, yes, I'm not entirely convinced our relationship is over. Jessica never said she didn't love me anymore after all. She didn't say she never wanted to see me again. She didn't say she hated me.
"Are you seriously fucking considering that proposal?" Emma sounded incredulous. As well she should be.
"No! God no. I want this. I can't even begin to explain how badly." I assured her. I wasn't lying.
"Try Will. Convince me not to just give up on you." Emma said. I heard the sound of her heels tapping across tiles. She must have left her office that is furnished with plush carpet you practically sink into like quicksand and been in the foyer of the PR firm she is a senior partner in.
Miles away- worlds away- from my own "office." My office is a desk in what is meant to be the dining nook of my Richmond apartment where I sit squashed between a filing cabinet, an antique hall-stand, a couple of boxes of stuff Jessica has yet to come and get and a dining table and chairs.
But with the advance from my publisher and the co-operation of a lovely young lady from the Commonwealth Bank in giving me a mortgage I've put a deposit on an apartment in Melbourne's relatively upper-class docklands precinct and have a two month settlement. When I signed my life away I'd thought I'd be sharing it with Jessica. Clearly Jessica had other ideas.
"I will get over her. Or we will get back together." I said.
Emma's sigh was so loud down the phone. "Bloody hell Will. Okay. But in the future do you think you could give me the heads up when you're about to go out on the town with a harem of beautiful women Entourage style? As your publicist it's my job to control release of information and manage your publicity but when people think you're off for a night of hot sex orgy style-"
"I didn't sleep with them. With any of them!" I protested. It wasn't so much what she thought of me but the worry that Jessica might also have seen this and be thinking the same thing. I imagined the picture cut out from the newspaper, pinned to a board and with holes from darts being violently flung at it.
"Still a heads up would be nice. Now this afternoon you've got the interview for "The Age" and a photog is going to be there to take some photos so please look somewhat respectable. But not to clean cut because you are a writer, you need to look..." I imagined her tilting her head on the side, searching for the right words.
"Scruffy? Artistic? Mad scientist?" I suggested.
"Not to clean cut but not a total mess." Emma said.
"I can do that." I said. Though I had no idea what image Emma wanted me to present.
"I will be there half an hour before the interviewer and photog so we can go over things. Do you think your home could look like it belongs in "Home and Garden" magazine?" Emma asked.
"It's a flat that's cluttered up with boxes of Jessica's stuff because she's not bothered to come and get them yet. She's got the important things but not all of her...other stuff." I said.
"Would it be too ambitious to think she might have miraculously collected her things by this afternoon?" Emma asked hopefully.
"Way too ambitious." I confirmed.
Emma sighed over the phone. "Okay, change of plans. We're going to do the interview somewhere else, a hotel maybe. I will text you the details when I've teed it up." She informed me. And with a quick goodbye she hung up.
I tossed the phone aside and lay down on my bed. This was all going so quick. Five months ago I'd sent in the manuscript for "The Astrologer Murders" with my usual mix of heady optimism, conviction that the story had good bones, the strange feeling of being almost let down by the finishing of yet another piece of work and suddenly having to begin again on the next story, and the fear of rejection. A writer lives with rejection. Even the best writers in the world get rejections. A publisher is ruthless. But given how many manuscripts they are sent every year it's hardly surprising.
Some publishers send you curt rejections. "Dear Mr. Graves, thank you for submitting your manuscript but unfortunately we will not be publishing your piece at the moment. We wish you luck with your future endeavours." (Read: we don't like it enough to ask you to submit your next piece.)
Some publishers were harsh. "Dear Mr. Graves, we appreciate you taking the time to send your manuscript but we regret to inform you it is not what we are looking for. Even with the benefit of editing we feel from its current un-edited form that it would not sell, nor is it the sort of book we feel there is an audience for." (Read: your book is so shit that even with it being raped and pillaged by our editorial team it would still be unqualified crap and we think the best thing to do would be not to put in the bin as it is a waste of good paper but rather to wipe your butt with it.)
Some were full of advice about how to make it better mixed with their rejection. "Dear Mr. Graves, I am writing to advise you of the receipt of your manuscript. One of our manuscript assessors has read it and feels that in its current raw form it is not commensurate with our current publishing policy however he did make a few suggestions that may be valuable for you in the future. He suggests you tone down the lengthy inner monologues of the main character as they do not serve the purpose you intended them to. He also suggests you tone down the technical language because the majority of readers are not scientists. He further suggests you try and make the main character more relatable to the age bracket your story appears to be aimed at." (Read: we know better than you and perhaps if you sold your soul to the devil and took all of our advice someone might publish you one day.)
I've been rejected for short stories, freelance articles and novels. I've also had some short stories and freelance articles for magazines and newspapers published. But this is my first novel so essentially it's my debut. Which of course brings its own host of problems chief amongst them being "is he a one hit wonder?" I've heard it said so many times that everyone has a story in them. But does everyone have a second story in them?
Until you are a published author, an established author, writing doesn't pay the bills. A freelance article might pay a couple of hundred but if you only get a couple of articles published a year that's not going to pay the bills. I've worked in a supermarket (stocking the shelves and resisting the urge to beat myself senseless with cans of Heinz soup), a gaming attendant at the local pokies (where I watched pensioners gamble away their fortnightly income but come back the next time convinced they were close to a jackpot), behind the bar at my local RSL (where I got fired because I was interested in the old timers stories about life before, during and after the war and tales of Australia that have surfaced a few times in my various rejected works), in a bookshop (where I spent too much time reading the books in there and complaining they weren't half as funny, insightful, thought-provoking or well written as my work) and a bunch of minimum wage labourer or product line work. Now, provided my book did as well as everyone told me it would, those days would be gone and I could concentrate and give myself completely over to my craft. I could write all day rather than getting little sleep because I had to write after a long shift.
My phone beeped and vibrated against my bed. I reached over, swiped on and read Emma's text. "Interview now at the Windsor. Meet me there half an hour before interview. Don't look like shit. And don't be fucking late. E."
I saluted the phone. "Yes Ma'am." I said. Then I tossed the phone aside and closed my eyes. Just for a couple of minutes...