Thursday, 9 June 2011

The folly of Clegg McNolly


There is no better word to describe the way words poured from the fingertips of Clegg McNolly, as he hammered his novel from his guts to his typewriter while dressed only in a bathrobe and a single sock.

He barely got changed on the way to college that day, adding a fedora and a second sock to his outfit but nothing more. He sat in the corner of the classroom, bumfluffed and shambolic, ignoring the other students as the teacher wafted his manuscript in everyone’s annoyed face.

“The Brontë sisters. Mark Twain. Maeve Binchy. Great authors who put the work in,” said teacher. “You have no time to be lazy bastards. You need to be more like Clegg.”

And Clegg did put the work in. He typed over breakfast, dribbling cornflake milk onto the keys. He typed over the dialogue in Knight Rider. He suspended his typewriter on a pulley system above his bed should his dreams inspire an exciting new plot twist.

Teacher was right. This was going to be the greatest debut novel ever written.

One Tuesday, he went to Manchester Airport with a mate to fool around on the escalators and watch the planes come in. He sat on the concrete in the car park, high above the runway, looking at his feet.

“You're a miserable bastard these days,” said his mate, a New Romantic called Geoff.

“You only use that word because teacher said it the other day. You should work on your vocabol-- vocabalry-- on your grammar.”

“Come to the edge. Concorde’s due in any moment.”

“I wish they made portable typewriters,” said Clegg as he joined his friend on the wall that overlooked the grey strip of runway.

The plane that came in was a common or garden passenger jet which touched down quickly and disappeared down the tarmac. Clegg thought of Airplane!, the unfunniest film ever, and he thought of Icarus and his melted wings.

“I have something special within me,” said Clegg. “I need to go home and write.”

At an open mic the following evening, he read from his ever expanding novel. He carried the pages in two box files held together with his old school tie. All blushing and gangly, he blurted an excerpt into the microphone. When he finished, one woman at the front of the room clapped until she cried. She asked for his autograph. Clegg told her she was drunk, and anyway he didn't have a pen.

Clegg spent three hours on a Saturday choosing a new pen. The posh stationers on Brown Street displayed its pens on plinths, like decorative swords.

“This, sir, is the Mach 12 biro designed to release ink faster than science would allow. Only available in blue.”

“We writers don't use blue. Have you anything else?”

“This fountain pen, sir, is the same one Mary Queen Of Scots would have used if they'd had fountain pens when she was alive. God rest her soul.”

“Royalty are bastards. How much is this felt-tip?”

On Sunday, he started his final chapter. This chapter would be the best. Towers of pages tottered loosely next to his typewriter: leaves burst from his desk drawers. He'd given up on his word count a long time ago.

He celebrated by going for drinks with Geoff the New Romantic who was now Retro New Wave. Their conversation went nowhere, blowing in circles like a crisp packet caught in the wind. As Clegg was yawning, the woman from the open mic night shuffled up to him and began praising him to the heavens. I have a pen now, Clegg said, and they dumped Geoff and went back to Clegg's for mad passionate sex.

Clegg humped like a dead robot.

“I'm disappointed,” she said.

“I know what can make it better.” Clegg yanked open the drawers of his desk. He scattered hundreds of pages over his bed, padding down any upturned corners until his bed was awash with a paper lake of his own genius.

“This is going to be really special,” he said, and although he still serviced her like an android corpse, she went wild with elation as if the words were bursting from the pages beneath them and marching across her g-spot. Afterwards, they lay exhausted on a crumpled mass of paper.

“You can fly,” she gasped.

“I can fly.” He had no idea what she meant, but right now he felt invincible.

In college on Monday, he danced on the desks, jumping from table to table in his dressing gown. Teacher went mad, calling him a bastard, as furniture crashed onto the floor and students jumped for cover. Clegg pinned the teacher against the wall and gave him a slobbery kiss on the cheek. “I don't need you any more, fuckface,” he said. “I am the Brontës. I am Shakespeare. I am the Messiah.”

“Language, McNolly. And stop wearing your dressing gown to class!” It was too late. Clegg danced out of college and went whooping down the street.

BASTARD was the last word. His opus was complete. He pushed his typewriter under his bed and carefully stacked his manuscript into his twelve box files.

He carted his novel in a shopping trolley to the car park of Manchester airport. It was late night and the place was quiet save for a few stranded travellers snoozing empty dreams on uncomfortable benches. A full moon splashed its light down the runway, but Clegg wasn't interested in the 737s or the Concordes or the Wright brothers or whatever.

He took a sheet from the top file and held it up to the light of the moon. He couldn't make out the writing, but he knew what it said.

“The Greatest Novel In The World by Clegg McNolly. A story of intrigue, of revenge, of struggle, of redemption, of class, of power, of greatness, of humility, of rags to riches, of baddies made good, of good eggs and bad blood, of the greatest story ever told.”

Six thousand pages.

He had a roll of sellotape in dressing gown pocket. Clegg dropped his robe to the floor and stood naked overlooking the airport runway. He taped the sheet onto his shoulder and waggled his arm approvingly. He did the same along his whole arm with the first file of manuscript. And then the second box until his entire novel was sellotaped, in page order, downs his arms from shoulder to wrist.

The sheets hung heavily from him, but they flapped, after a fashion. He balanced on the wall, the breeze chilling his back and his buttocks. The pages flapped more now, and he felt a slight lift. In the moonlight, Concorde swooped in to land. Its thundering engine rumbled his guts. He pushed his feet against the cold brick. With a flap of his literary wings, Clegg McNolly stepped off the wall, invincible, the chosen one, a million words carrying him into the night.

First published on Write In For Writing's Sake.

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