The Edinburgh Novel

30 Jul

Book Launch

Menzies Menzies gave his agent the most important thumbs-up of the evening. The one that meant it was time to let the punters and the fans in. The thumbs-up, the back-pat, the clinkety-clink of champagne flute against champagne flute were all stock in trade for this heavyweight of the British literary scene.

As the doors of the grand Edinburgh hall were thrust open into the icy night the harp player Menzies had requested for the evening began to pluck delicately at Pachelbel, Canon in D. Satisfied, tickled by the melody, the author thought about his books. This was the eighty-eighth. Some had been more successful than others but he had no substantial regrets. Confident now with his craft, he was at an age where he could observe and analyse others without feeling, as a younger man might, that he was analysing a part of himself. I’m good at what I do … well, he thought … I do my best … it is as that most model Victorian George Meredith once said;

‘Genius does what it must, and Talent does but what it can.’

He swept his hand over his bumpy bald crown. He was certainly getting older now. Not to worry, he thought.

As people began making their way down into the hall the lights were dimmed and champagne served. Menzies descended from the main stage into the body of people before him. He picked up a glass of champagne himself and began warming up the gathering crowd – shaking outstretched hands, exchanging words and glances. Smile knowingly at the people you know, he thought, nod benevolently at those you don’t. Butter up at will, but keep it dignified. And don’t get caught by anybody dull for God’s sake.

Several people caught his glinting eyes; eminent physicians, lawyers, philanthropists, gynecologists, solicitors, professors;  a fine selection of Edinburgh’s finest and … but what is this! Edith! No! Absolutely not! Plague! Viper!

And what’s more – he couldn’t quite believe it – Trevor the Trousersnake was by her side. A horrified Menzies then let out a most curious sounding guttural groan. This was simply outrageous. More, more than that: this was evil, this was actual evil. This woman and that, that bloody personal trainer had between the two of them ruined his bloody… oh Christ… he could see it now … that shapely sculpted (hairless) bottom throbbing away at something small and wife-shaped bent enthusiastically over the kitchen counter…


‘Ming …oh God…Ming it’s not what it looks like… oh TREVOR!’

Slamming the front door he had walked through the throbbing rain up Dundas St towards the Balmoral where he had booked into the Royal Suite and gorged himself on Kobe beef salads and bottle after bottle of Chateau Latour. Pay-per-view porn of the most vulgar sort took up the bulk of that evening. And as a peach dawn rose over a dove-grey Edinburgh skyline, pished and emotional he had looked about frantically in the bedside cabinet; but there was nothing there.

He phoned down to reception.

‘Where’s my damn Gideon’s bible! Will you bring me a bloody Gideon!’

‘Of course Mr Menzies, right away.’

He took to the good book, piously attempting it cover to cover. Doggedly he read throughout the wee hours eventually reaching somewhere around Genesis 7:16, luckily the Gideon had a user-friendly subject index for the casual reader – he went straight for Betrayal;

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

He knew then that Christianity just wasn’t going to cut it. For affairs of this nature, Menzies surmised, one would need something a little stronger. In the morning, he left the Gideon on the bed and walked calmly out of the Balmoral. Later that week he bought a Porsche 911 GT3.

Why, he thought, why me? I cannot I absolutely will not have this evening soured by Edith and that pony-tailed piece of genitalia standing beside her. I must do something. Menzies Menzies took a second to compose himself;

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

Spurning many incensed society ladies he crossed the hall at a trot.

Champagne, Chatter

Mathew (20, wiry, a little sneery, wearer of a synthetic leather jacket, Camus’ La Peste peeping out of his back pocket) looked around the hall and up at the chandeliers, casting a wry and cynical eye over everything. One day this would be his life. If everything went according to plan that is, and his first novel Bedroom Journeys took off. He had sent the first chapter (‘Sock’) off to a pick n’ mix of publishing houses about six months ago. Or was it ten months ago?

Ticket stamped he went down to stand amongst the other peeps on the floor – he seemed to be the youngest person at the event but that wasn’t at all unusual for this flinty forward-thinker and renegade iconoclast.

Busy, very busy. But none of these people know M.M the way I do, he thought. They’re just here to be seen here. I’ve read at least twenty of his novels. He peered around for the great man. That was him over there.

Nursing his bubbly Mathew tuned in to the general hum around him. Ming this, Ming that. Much drivel. Desperately he tried to focus on his own vital and penetrating thoughts but eventually the distractions became inviting, immersive, irrevocable…

The blurb on the back said it was fiction. Like no fiction I’ve ever read darling – you might even say it was … non…fiction.’
‘Ha…ha ha …ha. Lloyd that’s rather funny.’
‘Indeed Meredith, I was always famed for my dazzling wit.’
‘Lloyd, dearest, you are wicked.’

‘“Oh Mr Buonarroti!” I said, “you’ve done a lovely job on the roof, I wonder, would you be able to tile the bathroom?”’
‘And did he?’
‘Oh yes, and he did a sterling job. I really would recommend him.’

‘Doesn’t The Trainspotters give you a tickle. Doesn’t it just. Oh I do like to read about the places I know well. Oh – well – when he started talking about the Leith, oh, and in the original accent – well – I nearly had a baby.’
‘A baby?’
‘Oh it’s just one of my many catchphrases. Of course I wasn’t actually pregnant at the time.’
‘I see, I see.’

‘It was a little piece o’ Tartan Noir, Lord Copper. ’
‘The Tartan noir, my yes – how very fashionable.’
‘And the man himself. So very decadent my Lord – an Oscar Wilde for the face book generation.’
‘We shall have a full page spread on him in the literary supplement on Monday William – have it arranged.’

‘That’s funny – my Godson drinks in the Oxford Bar – no, no sorry – The Cambridge bar.’
‘A fine establishment – lots of Accies.’
‘Yes. Yes that’s right.’
‘And you say he knows Mr Rebus personally?’

…The young pretender came to with a wobble. He put out his nicotine stained fingers in a vain attempt to steady himself. They landed on what felt like a raw chicken breast. He clutched it whatever it was. Raw chicken at an Edinburgh book launch? Surely not. No this was a woman’s breast, hot and round, alive. There were a few gasps and salvos of champagne flew up in the air. Disorientated, Mathew looked up to see his favourite author approaching with a smirk on his face.

One City, Two Faces

Peering keenly ahead to see what was going on (and with his keen novelistic brain realising nigh on immediately what was afoot) Menzies Menzies was surprised to see a young man. You don’t get too many of those at these things, he thought. And had there not been so many prying eyes he would have cordially shook the lad’s hand. The sight of Edith’s uncompromising face dripping with champagne had pleased him greatly. A shame though, thought Menzies, for this young flaneur. He must be feeling very isolated. You can’t just go around squeezing the boobs of your elders and expect not to be singled out, especially in Edinburgh. Sartorially speaking this young Byron looked like a frog in a hen-house in his far-fetched leathery get-up, flanked on either side by elegant Edinburgh literati as he was.

Menzies was deeply familiar with the look that young men like this one were at pains to cultivate having meditated on the subject unflinchingly in his thirty-ninth novel Frog in a Hen House. It was a kind of bohemian oddball chic. Scruffy but not dirty – like Tracy Emin’s unmade bed – it was really quite endearing. He had crossed the hall now and was beside the boy.

‘I’m so sorry … I … I …’ said Mathew.

‘My boy, my boy, come now I’m sure it was an accident.’ said Menzies Menzies putting a hand on Mathew‘s shoulder.

‘Well really Ming,’ snapped a very wet and angry Edith Menzies, ‘This young rogue, this … this … adolescent … you must have him thrown out. Immediately!’

‘Oh be quiet Edith. You’re embarrassing yourself. Now what did you say your name was young man?’

‘He has designs on me Ming. He’s a sexual predator. Look at him. Just look at him Menzies! Leather!’

‘Edith!’ hissed Trevor the personal trainer.

‘Come on young man, walk with me. Mathew, was it?’

‘Ming? What are you doing? Don’t walk away from me.’

‘Edith. Why don’t you go and dry off. Go on Trevor, you go with her. You did bring your sports bag didn’t you?’ Trevor blushed and lead Edith off before she could reply. ‘How old are you my boy?’

‘I’m twenty sir.’

‘Ah…I remember it well. Your wrist watch coos “no time, no time.” Do you write my boy? Are you lyrical?’

‘A little Mr Menzies,’ Mathew thought about mentioning Bedroom Journeys but decided that this wasn’t the time, ‘but nobody wants to hear what a twenty year old with not a great deal to say about, well, anything has to say,’ said Mathew, ‘let alone you Mr Menzies.’

Menzies pursed his lips and looked at Mathew. ‘You must not take it personally my boy. Many years ago,’ he looked up at the ceiling for a moment, ‘many, many years ago I was once where you are now … the wilderness of youth. Ah yes… I had penned a few charming little things by the time I was your age, but alas, nobody would ever dream of publishing them. Just like you, my boy, I had not the faintest idea why. But I kept at it my boy and what eventually transpired was the publication and immediate success of my magnum opus One City, Two Faces – which did very well, I can assure you, made my name. Lots of people wanted to be my friend after that. So my boy, my advice – keep at it, just keep at it. Ha.’ Menzies paused, pleased that he could proffer on this young scriptor some advice that he himself would have gratefully appreciated at the tender young age of twenty.

‘Well,’ said Mathew, ‘Maybe. But I don’t know. I have been considering the Law Mr Menzies. As a vocation you know. Something to fall back on.’ Mathew looked down at his feet, a little sheepishly.

‘A vocation? My my, you don’t want one of those. You must be free,’ the author’s hands rose in conductor like fashion, he moved them gracefully along to the climbing notes of the harp, ‘free like the very birds in the trees my boy. You must never be bound. Oh what a tragedy it is to be bound! You must never be bound to anyone my boy or anything.’ Menzies Menzies – who Mathew now saw in a slightly different light – lowered his hands and continued talking, a little more prosaically, ‘local chap are you?’

‘Yes. I actually went to school round the corner.’

‘Ah…a young Edinburgh man. Well then? Surely you know what you must do?’

‘No, I don’t sir,’ said Mathew.

‘You must write The Edinburgh Novel my boy.’

‘The Edinburgh Novel?’

‘Yes my boy. The Edinburgh Novel. Not The Edinburgh Novel, not The Edinburgh Novel but The Edinburgh Novel. It’s a right of passage for a smart young chap like you.’

‘Ah…’ said Mathew hesitantly, wondering what his favourite author was getting at. ‘I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean Mr Menzies?’

‘Drat.’ Menzies looked at his delicate silver wristwatch and then up at his agent who was signalling something with his hand. ‘No time my boy, no time. I’ll have to speak to you later on. Come and get a signature at the end of the evening. I must go, I’m on the stage in five minutes. Help yourself to more champagne. The Edinburgh Novel my boy, I’m sure you’ll work it out. And don’t worry about Edith, she’s a pushover really.’ Menzies turned to go towards the stage but paused – struck by a thought – and turned back to Mathew. ‘Don’t ever get married Mathew. Remember, remember what I said about being bound boy. And if you do decide on a wife, don’t for God’s sake let her have a personal trainer.’ And off he went.

‘OK.’ Mathew said, quite bemused, ‘thanks then’.

The End

2 Responses to “The Edinburgh Novel”

  1. May 2, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    I love that Jekyll and Hyde cover. Please tell me that MM pronounces his name “Ming-iss Menzies, or perhaps even Menzies Ming-iss”

    • @alipeoples May 7, 2013 at 10:44 am #

      Or even Ming-iss Ming-iss! He’s my Scottish Humbert Humbert

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