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In the Name of Art #3

Harriet's Book

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

The coffee was good, Harriet had to admit, and Daniel made it well though the conversation left a lot to be desired. He had prattled on for almost three quarters of an hour about the flowers in the park nearby and how he loved that the gardeners there made sure something was in bloom all the year round. 

"And even on Christmas day, there's something to admire. When everything else is dull and grey." 

Dull and grey? At Christmas? What world does this guy live in? Harriet had performed something of a u-turn during the last 30 to 40 minutes. It seemed to her now that Daniel was at best an irritation and at worst a complete prick. Despite her increasingly confident questions about the whereabouts of his manuscript, Daniel had continued what must be his new career ambition to promote the flora of public parks in South London with deft defiance. She began to wonder if he had written anything at all. How could that be? Surely no one at Axis would have let it come to that? The people she worked for were like literate bulldogs. Surely none of them could have been so star-struck by Daniel that they would have let him sit on his laurels for months and months and write nothing at all? Was he given an advance? A less common practice than it once was, but with a best-selling writer, they may well have started paying him. Yes, to stop him seeking new publishing dealers, they'll have had him on salary practically. And all for what? It seemed to Harriet that at best he had some kind of half-finished work that even he knew was too rubbish to share, or at worst, he had absolutely nothing at all. She needed to work quickly and carefully. If she handled this situation well, it could kick start her career. If she handled it badly then it might just be the end. 

"And then, of course, you're right back round to summer and the blooms are ready for action." 

"Is the book set in the park?" 

"The book?" 

"Your book. The second book."

"In a park?" 

"I know so many writers use the environments around them for inspiration. The obvious choice round here would be gang violence or urban isolation. It's very refreshing that you've chosen to bond to nature. Very clever to go for a park." 

"Actually," Daniel paused as Harriet clenched her fists, "there is a scene in a park. A crime scene."

"Crime?" 

Daniel's first book had been contemporary literature with a capital C, capital L, and a whole lot of bells on. The notion that he was writing some sort of crime novel seemed almost absurd. She probed further. 

"Your new novel is a crime story?"  

"Well, the idea is that the reader thinks it's a crime novel, but once you peel back the layers, it's so much more than that." 

Was he telling the truth? Is there really a book in here somewhere?  Harriet couldn't tell if he was even more of a prick than before or a massive hero. She had to press him. She had to make him spill the beans. He was hiding now, somewhere. He was either hiding the work which he wasn't confident in or hiding the work he had not done. She needed to force his hand. 

"Sounds amazing. Can't wait to get my hands on it... Speaking of which, I really must be heading back. Are the sheets lose or is it in an envelope? I can put it in my bag. It has a lock." 

Daniel was looking at her like a puppy who has secretly urinated in the corner of a room. He knew he'd done wrong, but he hoped she wouldn't notice. Harriet more than noticed, but the puppy dog eyes only made her feel sorry for him. She felt she had to help. 

"Mr. Weather, Daniel, I think we're about the same age. I think we probably had a similar time growing up. I think we both feel that sometimes we're just faking it until we make it. I want to be honest with you. I want to help you if I can." 

Harriet was an intern. She had no power or sway, but she suddenly felt that it was her job to fix this. If she went back empty-handed, it could be the end of her time with the company. If she came back with a finished manuscript then she would carry on with the mind-numbing tasks of her job and Daniel would continue to be revered as the voice of his generation. 

"I won't lie to you, my position with Axis is not that strong. I can't make any promises. But I do know a thing or two about books and I'm the master of proofreading. So lay it on me, show me what we're working with, and we'll get your little book published, okay? "

"Oh, Lucy." 

"Harriet."

"Harriet. Yes. Sorry. Oh, Harriet, I wish it were that easy. But the truth is..." 

"There's no second novel?" 

"No."

"No scribbles?" 

"No. There's an outline... Of something, it could be good or it could be awful... Never know until they're written really." 

Harriet had believed in this man, she had idolised him, but he was letting her down. He had shattered her dreams and her notion of what a writer could and should be. He had truly made a mess of this, and perhaps cost her her job... her internship job. 

"I can help you." 

"How?" 

"I have a book. A book that I've written. You can have it... make it your book" 

"You can't do that. I couldn't take your work and put my name to it." 

"But it's your only choice. You have a huge responsibility to keep the dream alive, to show the world what a writer can do. You've blown it well and truly, but no one outside this room need know. No one need realise what you really are."

"Okay, just a minute here. I've messed up for sure but I hardly think that gives you the right to..."

"I'm trying to help. I'm only trying..."

"And anyway, why would I put my name to your book? Why would I want your book? Are you published?"

"Well, no..."

"No, exactly. But I am, and actually I'm really rather successful and I think I can get myself out of this mess without publishing little Miss Harriet's book as my own. I'm an adult. I think I'm quite capable."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have suggested..."

"No, you shouldn't."

"I won't mention it again."

"No."

There was a ceasefire. There was a moment of rest. It was not peaceful and a fog of ashen smoke lay around the room—a burning ember all that remained of the erupted volcano. 

"But just for kicks," Daniel began, "what is your book about?"

"My book? It's about growing up in a place where you don't fit in, and leaving and wishing you were back at home."

"Quite relatable then?"

"To me, Daniel, yes... You're living in your grandma's old council flat which you bought off the back of a bestselling book. How can you relate?"

Harriet had meant it as an insult, but from his expression, she could tell that it had given Daniel an idea. It seemed that if she returned to the office at all it would not be this afternoon, or even this evening. 

"I'll put the kettle on," said Harriet. "You best get cracking."

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