I have had a manuscript languishing in my virtual bottom drawer for years. It is so old that it was once a couple of pages typed on real paper, crumpled and scribbled over. Now it is in my computer, and once in a while I open it, stare at it, shuffle a paragraph from one place to another, change a name, take out an adjective or add a sentence. Then I file it away again, defeated.
It has been a short story – failed. It has been a biographical anecdote – failed. It has been humour – failed miserably. It was the subject of a blogpost called “The last time I took fashion advice from a monkey” (August 2012) – no idea how it was received by my loyal readers and anyone else who might have happened upon it. I tried introducing one or two characters into the mix to see if anything developed – nope, didn’t work.
The monkey at the centre of this writerly problem – I call him Jefferson for literary purposes – was a big angry chimp in a zoo in London. He was not the cute little fellow in the picture here, who was called Rastus, joined me and some friends for a Sunday curry lunch beside a lake in Rangoon, and was urgently but politely interested in what he might discover in the tangle of my hair. By contrast, Jefferson the chimp in the zoo was raucous, ill-bred, deeply offended by my bilious green sweater and threw his lunch at me. Nothing personal, he didn’t know me, and I didn’t blame him. I didn’t like the sweater either. And who hasn’t wanted to throw things at times, especially if they lived in a zoo?
It should be promising material, based on a real event like so much that writers write about, and I should be able to make something of it. I keep stumbling across it in the computer and stubbornly having another lash at it. As Henry Ford said, failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.