The Wintoning Project is an invitation to construct a new Tim Winton novel, piece by piece, many writers contributing a paragraph or page. Commenters should aim for Australian or Western Australian schmaltz, in the style of our most famous literary son, master dispenser of literary cheese and fake WA nostalgia Tim Winton. The story should be loosely based on our Tim’s journey to another Man Booker shortlist. Some examples of Wintoning can be found
here on the Wikipedia page. (deleted but saved below).
The First 5000 Words. (uneditied)
“Phwoar,” he said. “Booker prize again.” This time they said he was due. Due like the Fremantle Doctor on one of those Cottesloe days when they would run chiaking into the surf, waving their kylies at each other, the skittish fish for now safe in the shallows. He looked at the half empty backpack. Tuxedo or footy shorts? Either way he’d look like a tit in London unless he won. Then the scoops and Billabong singo would look like a masterstroke. The tux was too tight. The gut had trebled in size since the awful night Yann Martel and his ridiculous Life of Pi had dashed his hopes last time. He tried on the strides. He sucked it in and could almost pull up the zip. Maybe they’d do if he didn’t have to sit down. And if he won, there would be no need to sit would there? But what if he lost? Again. It was unthinkable. He could already imagine the hot stain of shame on his face and the stares as he stood like some high school dickhead while Coetzee or even worse Peter fucking Carey took to the podium. His scrotum tightened like a sun faded piece of nylon rope wrapped around the prop shaft of a crayboat.
No, definitely the shorts and singlet.
The sores were weeping again, his manhood shedding pustulent tears like a teenage mother denied her Baby Bonus. “Phwaor…” he exhaled, his trepiditious breath as gentle as the play of windswept sand at Trigg on a balmy spring day. “It must have been that sheilah on the dunes over the weekend. Phwaor.” It had been a fun evening for all, celebrating the marriage of Australia’s own Prince Willsy and his radiant bride Katie. The air had been swollen with romance, a refreshing spray of relief amid the tide of hectic drudgery of modern life. What HAD the woman’s name been, anyway? Charlene? Cherie? Something like that, anyway – he HAD sunk a lot of piss that night after all. Though her name might have been lost in the murky depths of forgotten memory the experience itself was not; even now the recollection brought a grin to his face, albeit one soon interrupted by the irritable sensation ebbing from his crotch. “Bugger this,” he thought, “I’ll go and see the Doc tomorrow, maybe get some pills or sumthing, and it’ll all be fine. A little itch isn’t gunna stop me, not when I’m so close to the Booker.” His determination renewed, he pulled up his tracky dacks and put on a fresh T-Shirt. Just thinking about the pride on the faces of his three kids as he won the Booker gave him renewed strength and purpose, like the shifting tide on a full moon.
don smith says:
So he spat a goober into the air and it floated in the on shore wind like Mal Brown’s torpedo in the dying stages of the 1974 Grand Final. Landed on a rose petal and reminded him of the English rose who got hitched the day before. “Looks like a good sort” he thought to himself, “Bet she’d pull her weight on a prawn trawler.” Then, out of habit, he headed down towards the White Sands for a game of soggy biscuit before remembering he was a dad, a Vogel winner and a Christian. “It’s bloody fiction Tim!” he swore to himself as the dying embers of a crusty surfer’s fag floated past him in the
glint of the sunset. “Bloody fiction! Full of dirty filthy gutsy manly adjectives that were all the craze about fifty years ago.”
Then, in the distance, he could see the crippled gate of Jacko, or Mick, or Trev, or was it Boggo? Who cares, it was a man drenched in the harsh weather of any number of Australian cliches; and as he moved closer he could almost feel the radiance of the man’s sunburn in the last rays of evening light.
Time for a coffee to keep the creative juices on the go. He sauntered down to Bobbi’s and gave the chick behind the Rancilio the nod.
“Not too much foam this time, ay, Ballet?”
She scowled. Jeez but it was hard to get a friendly gesture in this town these days. A lot of cappuccino had flowed under the pontoon since they had upped sticks from the bush. He tried to tally the years as he nested in a gaudy bean-bag and reached for the papers…too many. Like olive oil leaking from a busted jar in the Freo Markets hemp bag, so were the days of our lives.
A quick squizz of the newsprint showed Clive James had leukemia, Manning Clark had verbal diarrhea, and the critics were creaming their jeans over some new American bird named Tea Obreht. Nothing about him. Well, that would soon change. As surely as the dugong dived deeper in the Hyde Park depths to escape the sound of a jogger being Tasered, he would be standing on the Guild Hall podium, like a pimply grommet proudly hugging the rails of his first McTavish.
Shit, he’d forgotten his Moleskin. He was about to give Bobbi a hoy to bring over some butcher’s paper – was she growing the beans, fer Chrissake – when he saw who was about to come in through the flystrips…
Phwoar, he breathed. You wouldn’t believe it. Couldn’t if you tried, if you wanted to, even if you thought you could, not that you’d know. It was always the way. And as always, that flood of memories, backed up like we all used to get on those tedious sunbaked arvoes when you’d get up early, go down the rocks to eat chips and pick at chitons while your Dad had a go at tightening the brakes, and later head out the markets to browse and barter, fossick and fartarse among the cabbage tips and grubby stalls in hope of somehow scoring a couple of Redskins gratis, and then when you’d all finally consented to go home the fucken train’d cut yas off with twenty minutes to go, blurring past in a rattling, racketing mockery of your own stymied movements, down below. And you’d get there to face the inevitable, that simultaneous surge to the dunny, squabbling like seagulls while your tea went cold. Memories, eh.
No, you wouldn’t believe it, seeing her now, seeing her here, of all places. Here on the Strip, where every frothy sip carried memories of its own, where every bite of bruschetta sang lilting hymnals to the better days as it slipped down your gullet. Here, where one could simply be, and be bettered. He knew all about that. He smirked into his cap mac. Would she recognise him? Of course she would – eventually – but give it ’til she’s ordered, eh? Savour the moment. And just look at her. Still so fresh and vivacious after all these years – a couple of scrapes along the way, no doubt; and thinking about it, he could see an extra Chinese character or two wending their way up her arms. Peace, no doubt, and probably Harmony too, knowing her. Did she still smell the same, he wondered, that dark, sweet salt scent, like a bluey in the sun, like a pound of mangoes cast up on the dunes and left to bleach. He’d missed her; she was a classic. And it truly hadn’t felt the same, hunting the breakers or knotting the hemp or whatever bloody else he’d tried to wad into those empty years since that day she’d-
Nuh. She’d walked straight past. The bitch. She’d taken her fucken soy chai latte and left the building. Not so much as a star-struck sigh; not good enough. He swung out of the booth, a slow rolling turn like a dugong in a rip, lumbered to his feet and cap mac in hand, followed her out into that florid bustle, dodging and weaving as ably as he could between the doddering Germans and Spearwood skanks, darting round the crimson-rinsed and menopaused, shoving aside those splendid true believers in their ropey locks and rattan trousers – would they ever, truly die out? – and only, barely, managing to keep sight of her bead-bound hair and awkward bum as she sauntered off ahead in her scintillant pashmina.
Becky! he called. Becky! Becky! It’s me!
Her head turned and he caught a organ-wrenching glimpse of the beaten gold in her highlights – he had nearly caught up with her – Becky! – and he thought he better not seem out of breath – he didn’t want to look like one of those puffed-up blowies panting their last on the rocks at the West End before the surging deep came to claim them – hey Becky! – and as the opening gambits tussled behind his feverish brow her eyes met his.
What are ya fucken lookin at cunt?
Faaark and Chrissakes.
She was a bloody tranny!
His arms waved like the blades on the wind farm on the hills outside Albany.
Mate, sorry, I thought you were…
As she – he – made a beeline for Timezone he felt like he’d been dumped hard on the ocean floor at Hillarys, then had his face rasped along the granulated floor.
The red corpuscles surged around his torso and his heart was pounding louder than the terrible din made by two alpha-male dugongs battlin to see who would impregnate this season’s prize cow, but it was if he was made of lifeless metal even stiller than the Bon Scott statue around the corner…
The Lazy Aussie says
He slunk back to the house, the cool darkness of the verandah swallowing him, back to the safety of the womb. Womb. Shit. The thought reminded him of his itchy todger again. He stomped back to the worn red laminated kitchen table, his steps booming like the noon gun at The Roundhouse on the wide, smooth, century old jarrah boards. He’d escape it all on the trip back to the Old Dart for the Bookers anyway.
He pulled open the envelope and scanned the ticket again. First Class. Yep. Of course it was. But the thought still nagged at him like the announcer at the public pool kiosk all those years ago as they practiced frog kick and then lay on the hot concrete to warm their young bodies…Maybe he should have specified? He could still call Qantas. Nah ridiculous. Leaving from Perth, there was no chance he’d be sitting next to Thomas Keneally. Jesus, 18 hours listening to that prick…He must remember to take the ipod though just in case. Even Keneally couldn’t talk through three hours of John Butler. Could he?
poor lisa says:
A thought came unbidden into the coiled pulsing cortex, grey and gnarled like a ravaged but defiantly alive reef, which lay beneath his insouciantly unfashionable thatch.
It’s mean, but… Fuckit, I can say it to meself can’t I? At least I won’t have to share a row with Dorothy Hewitt. He chuckled saltily and dragged a coupla Things of Stone and Wood tracks on for good measure.
Suddenly the phone rang out, its obnoxious tones as jarring as an overfed seagull hovering over an uncovered bowl of potato salad. He picked up the receiver.
“Timothy? Is that you, son?”
Jesus, it was Mum. ‘For Flipper’s sakes, I don’t have time for this crap!’ he thought. ‘Doesn’t she know how busy I am?’
How many times did he have to tell the bloody nursing home not to let the senile old bat hassle him unless it was an emergency? What was it this time, more gross stories about kerosene baths? Not for the first time he cursed Today Tonight for putting crazy ideas in the loony old bag’s head – he never should have let her have that television in her room.
‘Oh well,’ he mused. ‘blood is thicker than water, I suppose if I can spare five minutes if it’ll get her off my back…’
Aloud, he answered “Yair Mum, it’s your little nipper. How’s things at Ebbing Tides?”
“What? Speak up sonny, I’ve lost my hearing aid again.”
“HI MUM, HOW ARE YOU?”
“Don’t shout dear, it’s very bad manners. I’m not deaf you know.”
‘No,’ he thought. ‘You’re just as mad as a galah.’
“Whaddaya want, Mum? I’m in the middle of something important here.”
“I can’t find your father anywhere, is he visiting with you?”
Oh God, not this again.
“Mum, Dad’s dead. He’s been dead for years. That’s why me and the kids bought you that goldfish, to keep you company.”
“Oh…Are you sure, son? I’m sure I was talking to him just a few hours ago.”
“YES I’m sure Mum. It’s just the dementia making you all confused again.”
“Oh…well, how are the grandkids? I’d love to see them sometime, maybe you could bring them for a visit next weekend? Just half an hour? I’d love to see you you know…”
“Well, I’d really like to Mum, you know I would, but I’m just drowning with work at the moment. Maybe in a few weeks or something.”
‘There, that should buy me some time.’ he thought.
“Oh. OK. Sorry to bother you son.”
“Anyway, I have to go now Mum. Was that everything?”
“OK then, bye Mum.” he said, hanging up.
‘I really have to get a phone with caller ID.’ he mused to himself, absentmindedly scratching around the old meat ‘n two veg. ‘Now where was I again?’
Later, after the wife and kids had gone to bed, he kicked off his sandals and slumped into his old hemp-cloth beanbag. As much as he hated to admit it, thoughts of the trip to London tomorrow made his stomach flutter, much like a tightly balled school of whiting, blindly darting and butting heads, desperate to disperse as the ocean almost imperceptibly vibrated to the thrum of an approaching fishing boat. A movie would make him feel better, settle him down like the old milko depositing the daily pair of perspirating milk-bottles at the doorstep of his boyhood home. Getting up and opening the cupboard door, he rummaged past the Wiggles DVDs, his fingers finding his own stash right at the back. He pulled a case out at random – nah, not that one; the wife might still get up; gotta conserve anyway – before a decision, almost unbidden, flashed through the god-like prose whirlpool of his mind. Finding the one he wanted after a couple more misfires, he loaded up the DVD player and returned to his womb-like seat. Fuckin’ remote, prick of a thing. His weathered hand felt several inches of cool slate, knocking aside several wooden toys, before finding it. Always made him feel better, watching The Adventures of Bazza Mackenzie. His Dad used to like it – would let out great ripping laughs like a wombat regurgitating a 1080 bait – so it had in its own way become a family tradition. But clearly he got something out of it his Dad never did. Poor bugger never got to travel much, stuck in Albany most of his adult life, teaching – or trying to teach – a seemingly endless stream of inbred ingrates, many of whom mocked the son’s writerly aspirations, questioned his sexuality. I am a man, he reflected, with a wife and three kids. Which of them had ever come to anything? The screen flickered into life, bathing the room in a weird chiaroscuro. The whole film read as a what-not-to-do for the Aussie in London. Stuck up pricks. Still, not as struck up as that Malouf cunt. Hope he’s not there. Anyway, Bazza was getting off the plane now, just like he would be in little under a day.
He jerked awake from his slumber, flailing like a sinking corpse spooking a school of electric eels. The telly was hissing static, the movie long ended – he must have fallen asleep on the bag again. His shuddering form was beaded with a cold sweat, like the dew-laden grass of Monument Hill on a chilly autumn morning. He’d had another nightmare too, he recalled: a gargantuan floating wizened hand wielding a ghostly phantom pen, writing page after infernal page of the same clumsy, nonsensical verse while he, again the larrikin child he had been in his carefree youth, looked on bound and helpless. It sometimes felt as if he were floating on a dark sea of clouds of interminable torturous ennui, unable even to scream. It was the helplessness that made the phantasm so terrifying – as if he were stuck on an eternally looping rythm of repetitive torment. Always the same dream, always the same…
“I’m such a FRAUD!” He broke down, head buried in his hands. “I’ll NEVER win the Booker! How I ever became a successful author is beyond me, I’m such a worthless HACK!” His flowing tears slid down his quaking hands, slicking them as wet and slippery as a fish freshly delivered to Kailis Brothers, thence to succor the ravenous maw of a hungry working family. He sobbed, sobbed like a child, his tears a harsh and unforgiving rain across the barren landscape of his tortured soul. Yet still, STILL, the tears were nothing compared to his inner shame and disgust, his enormous sense of self-loathing. The secret knowledge, that he was flawed, base and disgusting, a man of a thousand failings unworthy of the great life he had somehow managed to scam out of the great sea of life. It sometimes seemed that the better life got, the more books he published, the more awards he won, the worse the dread inner emptiness became.
He got up and made his way to the kitchen. No getting back to sleep after The Dream, might as well get a coffee. “Maybe I’ll take a walk, get some fresh air.” he mused aloud. At least it’d get his mind off the incessant throbbing in his unmentionables. How could it have gotten so much more insistent in just a few hours? Well, can’t do anything about it now. His mind made up, he woke up the dogs sleeping on the living room futon, put on their leashes, and strode out into the night.
Phwoar, he breathed, the evening mist curling out of that blunt shark-end he called a face and wisping away into itself like a moonlit caress, one of those silent numbers you’d bestow upon yourself behind the scallop sheds while the rest of your family whistled and whooped to the Skyworks telecast next door. It’s cold. Beside him, Mentelle and Lamont, snug in their tartan blankets, trotted just that little bit faster. Easy girls, he muttered. Easy. Can’t keep up with yas.
They rounded the block, reached the end of the street – rebellious as ever, he slipped ‘em over the train tracks and they scampered off up to the promontory – his quiet place. From here, it was all so peaceful, so still; the silent, rocking yachts, cormorants lurking in their amber silhouettes. Shoulda brought a thermos, he reckoned; too fucken cold. But he’d made the effort, and phwoar, no use getting a coronary on the way back. Have a rest, take it in. He bundled the dogs up close, felt their warmth bleed through against his shins, their comfort. Tough times, he muttered to himself. This bloody Booker. He didn’t have it in him, he knew; this time it wasn’t the same. They were wise to it – they were counting the rhythm, now, they were waiting with suspended breath for every seamless analogy, every nostalgic rambling, every laconic colloquialism to just tumble out on cue, each as stale as the last, like those wholesale packs of Chiko’s they’d used to find, out behind the dunnies down the drags on those dusty, frenzied nights when young dreamers truly could afford to lie back on the cool gravel under the stars and just imagine what it was going to be like, once they’d made it, once they didn’t have to struggle any more. And how much more could he contrive? Could he really endure yet another gust of satisfied sighs? Or would he falter and collapse, like a palace made from sand, or was it sandstone, on the very brink of the glorious blue itself?
He’d been cutting it fine, anyway, that was for sure. Breath, Land’s Edge – and now Flow, his metaphysical masterpiece, his ticket to the Booker – or so they’d told him, down at FACP. Was he asking too much of himself? Or was it they who did the asking, his readership, those dear parochial gourmands who kept demanding more, more, like those clamoring fairy penguins they all used to find back on those balmy afternoons when but SHUT UP he screamed to himself and of course he gave it to them didn’t he, always reaching further and further within himself for more tiresome similes with which to choke their gaping throats. The truth was, these days he fucken hated fishing and he couldn’t surf for shit. There, he’d said it; he smirked to himself in the darkness, as dew settled on his still-flushed cheeks. Could still knock back a couple dozen Little Creatures though. For what it was worth. Which as he knew, extended about as far as Shenton Park.
But he’d touched on the truth – there was no comfort. Even the shiftless harbour’s copper-lacquered blackness failed to move him – just another bloody reminder of the ordeal to come, of the unrelenting THEME that had him by the very guts of him. Convincing half a dozen cunts in fancy ties that yes, he had yet again produced the greatest feat in modern English – and that yes, as his agent had claimed, his product was indeed a formless, characterless, atemporal solipsism of pure theoretical hydrodynamics, a work of sheer waterness and coastalness and liquid recollection – or was it reflection? He made a note to check the flyleaf. It was too audacious, he knew it – and really, it wasn’t him, wasn’t… salty enough. Flow was bound to fail. It couldn’t work. His public, he knew, would never stand for it… unless…
Phwoar. A mirrored cover. What a bloody beautiful idea.
NF#1 says: Alternate version of Tim’s last night in Freo before the big trip:
The Fremantle night was quiet and cool. Signs of last night’s larrikin revelry were writ large on the South Terrace footpaths: patches of dried vomit, somehow redolent of the splatter of fish guts on the North Mole rocks; broken glass, winking like the afternoon sun on the stretch of ship studded sea, which spread toward the coast from Rotto like a gently rippling cape – not unlike the only barely metaphorical cape he might wear, should the judges determine correctly in awarding him his rightful prize. Gino’s was closed, dammit, so he crossed the road to gaze into Elizabeth’s darkened shopfront. To the casual observer, as casual perhaps as a sun-baked Bremmer Bay beach barbeque, he couldn’t be looking through the window, for it was almost pitch dark inside, yet he also couldn’t be staring solely at his own reflection. Concentrating now, he saw his own name loom forth from the shop’s dark: “Staff Recommendation: 2011 Man Booker nominee, Tim Winton – his finest novel….” He couldn’t make out any more. Which one? So many to choose from, whether the watery sibilance of Breath, or the earthy and yet airily homiletic pungence of Dirt Music. That’s what one of the critics said, anyway – not too bad for one of them, complimentary enough, but failed writers to the last, bastards. The nosing of his dogs around his tanned ankles recalled him to the here and now, but not before he noted with considerable satisfaction several copies of The Potato Factory in the five dollar bin. He inwardly smirked: what did Bryce ever win? As his eyes continued to adjust to the dark, he saw the shelf-talker’s final detail in all of its tepid obviousness: Clodstreet. Can’t even spell. Punters and pundits both, would they ever move on, or would his legacy forever be mired in the fates of the Pickles and Lambs? Pays the bills, I s’pose, he mused; pays for the dugong sanctuary in Shark Bay. No point hating his public: good, honest, salt of the earth readers – know what they like and like what they know. Who was he, or anyone else for that matter, to judge? Man Booker adjudicators be damned. As he turned home, he felt as resolute as one of the Pinnacle’s ancient limestone spires, pointing at the sky as though turning a mocking upturned finger to the gods, of earth and heaven or of Literature he could not at that moment decide.
The Lazy Aussie says:
He stared at the vacant seat next to him and then up at the battleaxed Qantas stewardess guarding the door like some ancient alcoholic Cerberus. “Shut it!” He thought. “Shut the fucking door!” He should have paid for the extra seat next to him. He could have strapped his guitar in there, or at least his jumbo Moleskine. “Shut the fucking door!” Why was he doing this to himself? But he knew why. The Booker. The Booker deficit was hanging round his neck like a Metters number 8 stove. Any cunt could win a Vogel. Shit hadn’t that fraud Demidenko won it once? And Premiers awards? Premiers. What had that dumb cunt Alan Carpenter said to him that time, pointing at Mark McGowan? “You’re his greatest fan?” He had sipped quickly on his Dogbolter, not trusting himself to say anything. He had difficulty remembering those shit awards, and even the works he had submitted. Which book had he written about the kid having an underwater shit in The Swan? It sounded like Lockie Leonard, but he kept thinking Cloudstreet. Whatever. Didn’t matter now. Fuck it.
Surely that was it now. He looked around first class. It was the only seat not taken. There couldn’t be any more passengers.
He lifted the armrest and started relaxing and spreading out his stuff. He closed his eyes and felt a ripple of pleasure run down his gut. “Ahhhh.” He considered dropping in to Harley Street when he got to London. Knock the knob-rot on the head. Was there actually a Harley Street or was it a largely mythical place? Like Point Peron? Arundhati Roy would know.
Hideously he was woken from his reverie by the dropping of a books on the seat next to him. Wildly he opened his eyes and stared. Fuck. Dirt Music. Plop. Another book fell. Australia’s Funniest Serial Killers. Yikes! He lifted his gaze and stared into the demented, cackling maw of, gulp – No! He looked up into the Walkley Award winning maw of Colleen Egan!
The door finally shut. Now when it was too late, too late like The Doctor on…wait hadn’t he done the Fremantle Doctor comparison already? He had sworn to only use it once every fifty thousand words, but here already it was coming round again. Coming round again like that bloody Battle of The Coral Sea anniversary. Locking her in with him. She was already babbling about her next book, “Andrew Mallard, The Last Ten Minutes.” He looked away and fumbled with the ipod, fingers desperate for the volume and suddenly, mercifully, John Butler’s Zebra was lilting and sizzling like whitebait in a pan of extra virgin on High Street – but what fresh hell was this? Egan was poking him in the ribs, like a gidgee ripping into one of those big devious Swan River flatheads who’d gone after one prawn too many. He tried to ignore it, shutting his eyes and begging Butler to pacify his mind, but the cackling harpy had the gall to pull out one earbud. He opened his eyes and was caught like a quokka in the path of a pair of pissed horny schoolies on one wobbly bike. They were all standing around him, Egan, the hostess, even the cabin crew. The plane door was open again and standing there sheepishly, plastic ID tag twisting and reflecting the light like a Gage Roads buoy on a hot velvet summer night, was an Asian man holding – what? Holding his manuscript!
“Tim you dumb plonker,” crowed Egan, taking the man’s burden as he nodded and smiled, backing away, “you’ve only left your next book in the Qantas club dunnies! One bucket to many eh?” She started to riffle through the pages, batting off his attempts to retrieve the treasure. “What have we got here? “His scrotum tightened like a sun faded piece of nylon rope wrapped round the prop shaft of a crayboat..? Whoa saucy!”
What he wouldn’t have given to be Thomas Keneally right now.
Phwoar, he wheezed through a slick mouthful of humbugs, this England thing was alright. London, eh? The sights, the sounds, the feelings. The emotions. It felt like coming home, and he supposed it was, in a way, his homecoming; as a writer, as a lover of the English language, as one who’d sweated and strived all those years, to penetrate the veil of vernacular and stake his claim on true intimacy with the tongue, on a special, privileged relationship. He’d earned it, he knew – earned it back on those wattle-scented arvoes through the early 80s, those becalming, sun-swept hours when the minutes crept like schools of trepidatious trevally in the bottle-green abyss between those crusty pylons where they’d all used to sit and sip luke-warm Emus and wait for nibbles while he’d done the right thing, plugged away at the old Amiga waiting for inspiration itself to strike upon his hook. And what a hook it’d been, eh? The old familiar, the unexpected uppercut from the collective unconscious, so simple you’d’ve all expected it, if it wasn’t for those very same small-town virtues, if you’d’ve had any nous at all.
Yeah, nah, it wouldn’t wash in London. Big league, this. They wouldn’t fall for his little palm-reading act, the way Becky’s cousin might’ve, had he ever had the guts to try it out on one of those feverish nights when they’d all writhe around on the glowing sands half-cut on Daniel’s and Buddha buds as big as ya fist in the throes of a newly awakened riptide of adolescent passions, or so he’d been forced to assume as he’d solitarily pondered and mused above the pages and pages of crossed-out colloquialisms, yearning for that ever-looming event horizon of linguomantic realisation almost as deeply as he’d thirsted for just one fleeting hint of the sweet briny knowledge of an actual woman. How he’d sweated, poring over his twenty full years of experience, seared by the heat of distillation as his alchemy of sincerity began to crystallise, and then: the breakthrough, hordes prostrate before his feet in mute abeyance as their own comfort-words washed back over them, only heavier now, imbued with something uncanny, like the whispering tide out of Cockburn Sound on one of them silver-gleaming evenings he hadn’t spent running sand-smoothed fingertips over the lilting curves of an actual, flesh-and-blood female because he’d put an extra phwoar in chapter ‘Fudgey Done a Poo’ the night before and now the whole thing, like a rattle-trap Torana run on drivel, required thematic reattunement.
Phwoar, it’d been a tough ask. And he’d been fortunate, he knew. As accidents of birth went, it was a bloody lucky one that’d seen him plonked in a place where you could ride to the very top on the product of your virginity. I mean, there’s always Tall Poppy, he mused, and it had been painful, those tedious Sunday sessions down the Newport listening in on other people’s lives, choking down the mill-grist like it was beer-battered, smothered in the bitter tartare of personal inexperience. And later, struggling to regurgitate it all in a coherent narrative arc before flushing it down the toilet of postmodern veneer, watching it gurgle back into itself, a formless, miasmatic, pre-digested mush, and then he’d weep, salty tears streaming forth like the rolling breakers, to wash away the shame of his own perceptual bulimia. Yeah, he’d been lucky. Because despite it all, he’d been the one to do it, the one against many, a dugong in a mangrove full of gnats. And here, in London – he shuddered. They were all dugongs, here.
…Christ but London was cold. Colder than the heart of Mrs Daniels, the feared PE teacher at Albany SHS. Still, here he was in the Great Wen. The Great Wen…wending his way to more literary glory…when would the rumours about the Nobel start? It was comforting – as reassuring as a much-loved blind family dog farting under the old scored laminated kitchen table – that the impetuous creative instincts were flowing as freely as ever, despite being on the other side of the weary world.
“Tim. Tim. I’m going to throw you a curly one.”
Eh. He was in one of those classic Pommy pubs. Jeez, but you could tell no-one in this smoke-fugged small room had ever gutted a fish or fished the guts out of the emotion of scraping a living on the coast of the most isolated place on the blue planet.
“Tim. Tim. Mrs Gort wants to give you relief.”
Eh? He turned, and the lager must have made him leery – that and the jet-lag – and he was looking gobsmacked into the face of a bewhiskered Englishwoman of indeterminate age wielding a bag of dirt above her head.
“I want to show you your most seminal work, young man.”
The fear: it lanced through him like a young codgie who had been swept off the rocks at Lancelin in the blink of an eye. He gaped, like a goldfish sold at the markets who had run out of air in the little plastic bag, and wobbled his tired ponytailed head in panic.
“Onya Tim! Youse gunna show these Pommy bastards a thing or three, eh! I’d give my left nut to be with you at the Guild Hall in five minutes. Why don’t we point Percy at the porcelain to celebrate your triumph, eh mate?”
The big-chinned man with the big hat leered at him. He stank of beer and desperation and Earl’s Court. Tim tried to back away, but he felt the bile rising – too much Theakston? – and he raised his hands at the hideous cartoon figure who was confronting him as implacably as Sir Charles Court stared down a Nookanbah protestor.
He lost his footing, slid sideways – and found he was staring at the fuzz on the TV.
It had all been a nightmare.
His lungs were working harder than a sheep on the station as it went into the shed fearing the worst…
His warm warm-beer scented breath gushed out of him in shallows as he stood on the spew-spattered pavement. A blur of successive images scored his sun-blasted retina: cloud, street, dirt, music from a beret-topped blueback…this part of old London Town was soupier with vibrancy than an open swimmer stroking his way through the goon-bag infested waters of Hyde Park…
Time for some shopping, and Harrods beckoned: really, this place thought itself flash but it was much the same as Donovan’s Newsagency in Albany. He strode through the halls and gazed at the produce and gee-gaws and trinkets: it was ever thus in the great bazaars of Marrakesh or Samarkand or Fremantle.
He was debating whether to get a scotch egg or two from the deli place when he heard an unmistakeable sound…
He left a gaping shop assistant in her frock and tie (‘That will be twelve pounds, sir….SIR’) and hastened on trembling pins to where the distress emanated…
He knew what it was before he turned the corner: the noise plucked at his heart like his good mate Jon Butler plucked expertly at an Angoran lute…the sound was like the silence of the Lops in the instant they knew they were going to form a major part of the famous Easter stew of 1968 at the B&S outside Chongalup…
He turned the corner and it was like being whacked in the nurries with that eye in the sky: Harrods, the shop that sold everything, had a dugong for sale…
And because he delighted in spending money while hating such horrible impedimenta with the contempt a seagull must feel for an empty Bernies box, he meandered listlessly along the street, fingering the crisp pound notes in his pocket, before coming upon one of those gigantic edifices wherein you can purchase anything in the world – from a copy of one of his own novels to a white elephant. Having got safely in, he at once began to ponder how he was to get safely out, for he had realized in the recent hours that with so little earth left to spend, except an indefinite amount of leisure, he must strive to spend that little with extreme deliberation.
But wait, what was THAT, glistening gently under the flourescent lights that buzzed like a tired mayfly on a lazy summer day? Was it, could it be…
“Phwaor,” he murmured, “Haven’t seen that in yonks mate.” It was the complete series of Xena: Warrior Princess, all on Blu-Ray. How could a man be expected to turn a beaut score like that one down? All he had back home was a bunch of crappy VHS, the shitty visual media equivalent of Fosters to the Little Creatures of modern technology.
“VHS, pffft! Can’t even skip straight to the titty scenes with that shit!” he thought, absentmindedly shifting his underroos in a futile attempt to lessen the chafing. But now, NOW, he could watch Xena’s ample bosom heave like the surf in a winter’s storm, and all in HD! To marvel at the crackling dialogue, the epic plotlines worthy of Homer himself, the cut and thrust of speudo-sapphic repartee…It was like that time he got dragged to the Court with Andrew and wound up trying to pick up that pair of dyke sheilahs, except without security kickin’ ya out fer having a chunder over some poofter. Screw the dugong, he was gunna get THIS! And maybe some KY Jelly too.
As he pulled his wallet out of his bumbag – no thieves were gunna get near HIS bum, no sirree – the assorted photos the missus had slipped into his wallet scattered across the floor like a newspaper full of cold chips cast to a flock of waiting seagulls. As he bent down, one photo in particular caught his eye – a sepia-toned image of a buxom woman with a strong jawline, strangely familiar somehow. Phwaor, she was pretty hot, looked kinda like Xena. Maybe she was some family friend of Mum’s or something…
David Cohen says:
Christ: that had been a bit hairy. He’d got through the big doors and was wondering where you could get a cup of Bushells when there was a tapping on his shoulder.
He ignored it at first – he had no time to do autographs here – but it was as metronomic as a parched kookaburra trying to cajole the heavens to rain.
“Look, mate…” he said as he turned.
It was the cabbie. He opened his palms.
“The publisher will pay. I said already…”
More tapping and unintelligible noises, along with some eyebrow raising and head-turning. The bloke was more exciteable than than a bunch of bush mechanics that had ventured across a 1978 Ford Laser.
“Cobber, I reckon you’ve got…”
Stone the crows, and the kookaburras. This character was chiaking like he’d just seen the Nedlands Monster.
The little man ran back to his jalopy, turned back, and then waved his arms about.
Fear knifed through his guts like supercharged ambergris and he clutched at his genitals…
After it was safely back in his backpack he berated himself: mate, losing one award-winning much-beloved universally-hailed vernacular masterpiece may be unfortunate, but losing two classes you as a Grade-A, genuine dill.
Good thing no-one saw – and at last he could have a quick recce around Harrod’s before his next assignation…
- NF#1 says:
… but not before a quiet pint at the local he spied from the corner of one shrewd brown eye, puckered with jet-lag like a dingo’s arsehole. It was called The Cock and Bull he noticed as he stepped into its welcoming warmth. Several men looked up surlily from their beery meditations. Nope, none of them recognized him, hence the latent hostility. Could be the ponytail. He ordered an ale from a sunken-faced barmaid before sliding his bulk into an empty booth. The medieval stone of the walls diminished London’s roar to a purr; he was in his own world now, lovingly thumbing through the manuscript he had nearly left in the cab minutes before. He loved the earthy tactility of an MS; preferred it somehow to the slatternly easiness of it final mass-produced form. Might get this one done in hardback, he mused, if that cheap bastard publisher would spring for it. He opened to the first page and began to read his own cramped, meticulous handwriting:
“Phwoar,” he said. “Booker prize again.” This time they said he was due. Due like the Fremantle Doctor on one of those Cottesloe days when they would run chiacking into the surf, waving their kylies at each other, the skittish fish for now safe in the shallows.
He blinked and looked at his half empty beer. He’d never written that. An uncanny sense of belatedness took hold of him. He felt like a lone hapless full-forward: surrounded, tackled and taken to ground. It was as though everything he could say had been said before, or could be said by someone else. Jeez, must be tired, he thought, unable to shake off the unpleasant sensation of a moment ago. He squinted at a line halfway down the paragraph below: “Charlene? Cherie? Something like that, anyway – he had sunk a lot of piss that night after all.” No he hadn’t, not even emptied his first one. What was he thinking? The page slipped from his trembling fingers. It was distasteful to him now; what he once knew as wholesome repelled him as much as the softly salacious caress of a jellyfish against the legs of a boy joyfully chiacking in the Swan. Never had he seen anything to which the term ‘reading-matter seemed more appropriate – a flyblown pile of murky paper at least six inches high, seemingly mocking him from its place on the stained wooden table. Jeez, he thought, must be tired. ”You all right mate?” The harsh cockney syllables brought him back to his senses before he stumbled out again into the London night.
The Lazy Aussiesays:
He almost began to regret only bringing the footy shorts and Billlabong tanktop. He looked out of the hotel window. Looked chilly. Jeez wasn’t it supposed to be nearly fucken summer here? No wonder London was full of writers. Too cold to go chiaking. He slipped on the thongs. Hot Tuna. In his position he couldn’t be seen to be endorsing one surfwear company over another. Maybe he should have chucked in the bait stained Ripcurl windcheater the dogs were always humping and the slightly longer Piping Hot Boardies. At least they had a pocket. The footy shorts might be good for showing up Keneally’s coloured bow tie, but it was a bit light on for somewhere to stash your hard earned. He slipped the invite, with the underlined “YOU HAVE TO GO” from his agent into the moleskine with a few pound notes. “Bloody Booker photo op.”
They’d offered to send a driver with a Bentley, but he hadn’t wanted to look like a Class A cunt turning up at The Ritz in a Bentley. No, a minicab was good enough.
He stepped out of the revolving door int the street. The ponytail lifted his eyebrows as his scalp contracted in the cold. “Jeezarse!” Luckily the minicab was waiting, double parked. From this distance, the driver looked like an Aussie cab driver. Foreign. Moustache.
Gratefully he started to jog the few steps. “Fuck me drunk!” One me Hot Tuna’s has let go!” Double bunger too. He kicked them off where he stood.
“G’day mate. Ritz thanks.”