I had been staying at Bev’s too long. I was becoming part of the furniture. Even the animals were getting used to me. Their tone towards me changed, from initial wariness, to acceptance and lately to downright irreverence. I have had several run-ins with the cat, a stoush with the sparrows and a fracas with Francis, the tawny frogmouth. And just this morning, with no eggs five days in a row, I had to read the riot act to a rabble of recalcitrant chickens. It is getting all too much. Never mind. They have found their way into my new story collection, The Bilingual Cat and Other Tales.
Many of you are familiar with Clive James ‘The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered’ , perhaps his best known poem, in which he takes ravenous glee in the sad afterlife of his enemy’s once lauded book of poems. Now I have just read ‘Ballistics’, a poem by the normally genial Billy Collins about a book of verse by a poet, ‘someone of whom I was not fond’, which suffered a violent end. By extension the poet got his come-uppance. Both poets — James and Collins — revel in Schadenfreude, an emotion that is recognised but not applauded. Yet we all feel it. When a fellow writer who has lorded it over us suffers an ignominious professional setback we purr with contentment. It is a form, we conclude, of poetic justice.
Can you think of an instance amongst writers of Schadenfreude?
I cannot finish novels. It maybe because I have ADHD; maybe because as a poet I admire conciseness and find novels too ‘baggy’ or it maybe because I am time poor and cannot find ample lengths of time to devote to such undertakings.The only novels I finish reading nowadays are unfinished novels.
I am reading all the great ones. It won’t take long. According to one website, there are only 15 such works by prominent writers in the English language. Currently I am reading Kafka’s ‘The Castle’ and then Stephen King’s ‘The Plant’. King is an exemplar of the type of writer I admire: an author who does not finish his novel not because of death or serious illness but simply because he chooses not to.
Unfinished novels are also fun to read as you can make up endings to them.
Which unfinished novels have you read?
I am in the throes of writing my very first Unfinished Novel. [Others are in the pipeline]. To write an unfinished novel is more difficult than you think, much more difficult than writing a finished novel of which the world is more than replete. Careful calculation is called for. You just can’t end an unfinished novel anywhere. I played Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony for clues but it wasn’t much help. A novel is not a symphony even if it is unfinished. In desperation I will turn to my old girlfriend Sandy for clues. She was always good at starting things and not finishing.
I am reading the biography of a man who doesn’t exist. It is one of three such books, the latest, on my dressing table. I can’t wait to get to the others, all of which I shall review for a journal that doesn’t exist either. After that I will be reading his autobiography. It is in three parts but only one so far has been published. Rumour has it that it has been ghost written also by a writer who doesn’t exist which is not only ironic but also appropriate. I am feverishly taken notes as very soon I am going on sabbatical from a job that doesn’t exist in order to write the opening chapters to my autobiography, a challenging task as I don’t exist either.
The news shook everyone .
Rellies rallied from the suburbs .
Friends poured in from interstate .
8 was bad — & that was good !
I was feted as if survivor
of some catastrophe .
Then this : Mr Malone we have
some good news :
Your heart attack’s been downgraded —
to a 6 .
6 was good —-and that was bad !
I was losing cred .
A day later worse still :
further tests indicated
a 4 .
Once word got out I’d be finished .
Visitors would dry up . Phone calls cease .
Nurses pay less attention .
The next day was the stress test .
Would I pass ?
Be sent for further tests ,
assigned for surgery ?
I passed with flying colours .
Demoted to a 2 .
If this kept up my heart attack
wouldn’t have happened at all .
I had to get out .
I can write short stories. I can write poetry. But what I’m really good at is writing the stuff that falls in between. To call it ‘flash fiction’ is not entirely accurate. Each piece, usually less than 400 words, zappily delineates a scene delivered with minimal context but with maximum punch. It sounds weird, I know, but it works. The most recent, and perhaps the best of these, is called ‘The Bilingual Cat’. I am putting together a collection of these pieces called ‘The Bilingual Cat & Other Tales’. I will keep you posted as to its progress.