Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Papyrus Alley

The little story made its way to the alley when it got dark. The others were there, huddled close to the fire burning in the forty-gallon drum. But not too close.

Fire was something they all feared. It was a necessary evil, for without it on a damp night their pages might curl, the ink might run, and they would slowly rot away. But the fire also offered destruction. The little story had only lived on the streets for a short time, but she had already seen a book thrown himself screaming into the flames. "No-one wants me," he'd yelled, then he started screaming as the flames took hold. The others fled in terror. There was nothing they could do to save the unwanted novel. Nothing that would not have spelt their own fiery end.

The others made room for the little story in their circle.

"How'd it go today, kid?" asked a rat-earred filmscript.

It wasn't really a question. It she'd been successful she would not be back in the alley. She just shook her pages from side to side.

A short story with a distinctive tear on its frontpage spoke up.

"I think I had a good nibble today," it said. "From an anthology editor."


There was sudden interest from all the other short stories in the alley.

"What's the theme?"

"Romance fiction involving otters."

The interest faded. A single-spaced novel script printed on pink paper spoke up.

"How would you fit in that?"

"I'd get edited a little. Turn the cat into an otter. Set the story near water rather than the jungle."

The others considered this.

"That's a big edit for you." It was Paradise Re-Lost, a very old and heavy draft that spoke. "Really big."

"Yeah, isn't the desert an essential part of your story?" chimed in a limping, half-finished poetry collection.

"Not really." The short story was getting defensive.

There was a nervous rustling of pages around the fire.

"But your hero is a nomadic Bedouin, and the twist at the end involves a camel," said Paradise Re-Lost.

No one spoke for the next ten minutes. They all stared intently at the fire, watching the warming, deadly flames, ruffling their pages for maximum heat transfer.

"Yeah. I'm not going to get in that anthology."

"There'll be others."

"It's okay, man. You'll get there."

Half a dozen more empty platitudes were said by various scripts, drafts and unshipped novels. Then the silence came back.

"Anyone else have any luck?"

There were a few mumbles. One novella claimed to have had lunch with a agent for a major publisher, but he was known for his exaggerations. All in all it had been another lean day.

"You know who could be easily edited to included an otter?," said the limping poetry collection.

They all knew.

"The kid."


"Yeah, you, kid," said Paradise Re-Lost. "You could easily change that seal to an otter. It doesn't alter any of your pathos."

There was a chorus of agreement.

"But it's Friday Night and Alone's gig," said the little story.

"I don't mind, kid." Friday's frontpage seemed to sag even more than normal along its distinctive tear, but his voice betrayed nothing.


"Really, kid. You go for it. I'll set you up with a meeting tomorrow."

The fire was dying down, so they threw another Barbara Cartland novel that one of them had picked up in a bargain bin, two Dan Brown's rip-offs and some trashy chick-lit pages torn from a library copy.

Once you were published you were fair game.

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