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Daniel put down the phone and sighed. It was an old phone from his grandma's flat. White plastic, with a ringlet of a cord that had gone from white to grey with time. The handset was yellow from nicotine and sweat and sin. The sins were all his.
Having finished the first cafetiere of the day, Daniel had thought he would go around the park, perhaps head into town and then have a second imbue of caffeine before sleeping off the afternoon. But not so, it would seem. His publishers had just rung him to let him know that a girl—they gave no name—would be coming round to collect the manuscript of his new novel. A novel, it would seem, that he had neglected to write. When he finished the South American leg of the publicity tour for Falling Angels he had fully intended to write a second book, perhaps he even started, though by now he couldn't be sure.
Somehow in the intervening months, his publishers had deemed it necessary to set deadlines and Daniel had subsequently ignored them. The reasons were plenty. Far too plenty to delve into now, but what was clear, what could no longer be ignored was that in a matter of hours—two to be precise—Daniel would be expected to hand over a narrative, scribed, and slaved over, that would rival the bestselling novel which he had already written. Easy, he thought, I'll write about what I know. Falling Angels had been about the lives of three gay men all dealing with HIV in different ways. Daniel wasn't HIV positive, nor had he ever been to Newcastle—where the book was set—but he was gay, and a man, which apparently mattered. He'd make it about the lives of gay men now; people loved how relevant his writing was—he'd make it about Grindr and PrEP and the legal grey areas about gay parenting. Yeah that'll work!
Before becoming a published novelist, Daniel hadn't really thought about his sexuality that much. It was part of him, to some extent a defining part of him, but it had never been an issue and it had never seemed to matter. His mentor at University had made him start it. Mentor in the sense that he was a lecturer in the English department, and also in the sense that he and Daniel were romantically entangled. His name was Simon. He was technically senior staff, though he was only 29. He was from Sheffield originally though his time at RADA had removed all signs of a northern accent. Simon had briefly enjoyed success as an actor before returning to the comfort of academia—where he was sure he would stay. It was Simon who encouraged Daniel to perform poetry. Daniel was sure that Simon saw him as a "bit of rough" or even worse "ethnic diversity" but certain aspects of their relationship made Daniel not feel offended, or even care. If it wasn't for Simon, Daniel wouldn't have started writing performance poetry about sexuality, he wouldn't have gotten noticed by a Junior at Axis publishing, he wouldn't have turned his dissertation idea into a bestselling Novel. Nor would he have put his studies on hold to publicise that Novel, which was—by the time he should have been sitting his final exams—a bestseller in 19 countries including the UK, US, Canada and—bizarrely—Argentina. He'd since been given an honorary doctorate by the same University which he had left. He wasn't sure if that could be classed as irony, though perhaps he would've if he had a BA in English Literature.
Not long now, perhaps he should get writing. Right then. Gay stuff. The Grindr killer! That sounds good. He'll write about a sexual predator using gay dating apps to lure well-meaning men to their deaths. Oh, or what about the Queen? Servants at the palace had been inviting unchecked guests into their quarters using Grindr. Or maybe just a love story? No, we've got enough of them. Perhaps this wasn't the right tact. But Daniel did like the idea or writing a crime novel. It worked for JK so it could work for him right? Devils Rising. That could be the title. That worked. Falling Angels, Devils Rising. But it wouldn't be a sequel as such. He couldn't set another book in Newcastle without going there at least once, surely?
He began to write. Daniel had done all-nighters in his student days but this sort of pressure was something else entirely. He knew it wouldn't be finished but perhaps if he could make it good enough they would grant him extra time. Perhaps he could still make it to novel numero duo. His head was moving fast. Despite, or perhaps because of, his clear addiction to coffee, he wasn't used to processing thoughts this fast anymore. At times he thought he could faint. Calming his nerves, the narrative web began to appear before him. The Grindr killer would be the setup—but then the story hones in on someone else. A neighbour? A client? No, the policeman! Yes, that's the book. A policemen, let's say some sort of junior detective—Daniel could research this later, he was on a roll—and this detective has a girlfriend, but he's struggling with his sexuality. He's always been sure that he's not gay, but he feels that he isn't entirely straight either. Perfect! The liberals that read Daniel's work love the "labels are limiting, love who you love" bullshit. The story was unfolding before him. Notes and scribbles began to form sentences, chapters even! The exposition was clunky, he had no idea how it would end, but there was some actually beautiful writing happening. He thought this thing might actually be worth reading! Then. The buzzer rang through from the intercom. His heart sank. He sat back to look at the scribbles before him. Alright for a kid. But an acclaimed novelist? People were expecting this one to reach new heights. Oh, Daniel. The buzzer rang a second time. He stood, moved toward the door, this could make him or break him. He lifted the phone.