New Writing In Various Forms, edited by Michael Blackburn

The Review is now on permanent sabbatical.

Many thanks to those who contributed.

The rest, as the man said, is silence.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Remake: a Short Story by Mark Robinson

The man allowed the author to breathe it in, leaving the blank cheque where it was on the desk between them; “Whatever figure you want.”

It was a tempting offer; Lee could visualise the numbers and his name on the pay to lines, it was already signed by the publishing house.

“Can I think about it?” Palms sweaty like an armoured car security guard with a spiralling mortgage and empty bank account, looking at the cash bag and thinking about running.

The man opposite pulled a grimace; it reminded Lee of a car salesman or mechanic being asked how much it was all going to cost him. “Afraid, all the thinking time you got has almost gone.”

He could do this, but could he live with himself afterwards? Looking down at the cheque, that tiny slip of pulp in the centre of the glossy mahogany desk; he had sold out before, he could do it again. With things the way they were, Lee didn’t really have a choice but to take the offer to re-write a classic: The Classic.

“Movie studios do it all the time.” He had said, even before the cheque was placed out in the open on the desk between them. “They look at their back catalogue and think, what can we remake this year?”

What little experience Lee had of working in Hollywood, he knew that remakes had become a staple of studios stuck for something new. And, if it wasn’t remakes, it was sequels or prequels, the post-modern equivalent. Here, though, a sequel already been done and a prequel, well, that was out of the question.

“But, you’re talking about a book.” It was difficult to get his head around; nobody re-wrote a classic book, not in the same way movie studios remade a classic film. Plenty of people had been inspired by a classic, and the resulting text had been categorised as a homage to the original but, to Lee’s recollection, no one had flagrantly re-written a best-seller before. At least, not this best seller.

“Think of what we’re commissioning you to do as a modern retelling, like a cover version, eh?” Fluffy eyebrows riding the ridges above his eyes like two deft puppets on invisible string. Lee felt like he should have strings attached to himself to be sitting here listening to this request.

“With all due respect, Lawrence, you can’t really compare this to a boy band cover; even a Beatles cover.” In his mind he was frustrated, only because he didn’t have a valid reason to say no; though, had plenty with which to accept. “Do you even own the rights?”

Leaning forward, the man’s bulbous nose almost shadowing the blank cheque; “That’s the beauty of it: the original texts pre-date copyright law, only the translations are protected.” A smile that exhibited his stained dentures. “What you’ll be doing for us is a further translation.” Rolling back his eyes with that slight twitch he had before reeling himself back across the desk into his usual reclining position.

Lee had to smile at that; “A translation of a translation.”

“Exactly!” Index finger in the air like the magicians and wizards and warlocks he wrote about exclaimed, index fingers replaced by a wand or sword or whatever, depending on the time in which the story was set.

“We’ve thought long and hard about this, Lee; long and hard, and we think that what you’re doing is just the direction we want to take this project in.” There was nothing like massaging a writer’s ego to make him sign on the dotted line. Great swollen hands out in the air, Lee could feel his ‘I have a dream’ speech garner strength. “With your talents, Lee, the best selling book of all time retold through your distinctive voice will take sales through the stratosphere. The original story of good versus evil; of original sin, our fall from grace and subsequent redemption through His deity on earth, Lee, this book will be just the beginning.”

The author felt suddenly ill; and, it wasn’t just the enormity of the task at hand. What about the public’s reaction to it and to him? He would, in all likelihood, become rich beyond his most wildest dreams but, he could, quite possibly, lose his soul and his life. What they wanted him to do was worse that what Mel Gibson and Salmon Rushtie had done combined; what Lawrence wanted him to do was re-write the word of God for the Playstation Generation.

“Could I have a glass of water, please, Lawrence?” Hand up to his mouth, swallowing back the surge of flood waters wading up from his gall bladder.

Lawrence reached forward in an instant to buzz his assistant, even though a half-filled jug sat not five feet away from them.

Stephanie strolled inside the office like an out-of-work catwalk model, sweeping up the jug, a glass and a placemat in her stride without pausing or spilling a drop. Lee necked the tumbler before she could put the jug down next to him and kindly refilled it before leaving the room.

Blank cheque still in place, next to the empty glass tumbler, collecting the slight spray of condensation that bubbled up from the base of the jug. In a far-off voice, Lawrence asked him if he was feeling okay.

“It’s just a little overwhelming, that’s all.” In truth he had gone as far as he could go with wizards and warlocks, the sudden spell of writers block had left him in a state of literary impotence; he could no longer perform. Meanwhile the money and advances he had made over the last five years were starting to recede, his life of excess and extravagance had seen to that, so had his wife and their three young children.

“This is my gift to you, Lee.” Quiet words, like those of a doctor who had a cure to the terminal disease he had just diagnosed. “Over two-thousand years worth of words from which to source something fresh and original; paraphrase if you must, cut things out; alter the narrative, switch the perspective, stagger the time-line: all we ask is that you retain the moral, the soul of the story.”

Lawrence was right; he could do this, this was just what he needed to get himself back on track, pull himself out of the lull he had fallen into. There was a rich wealth of players, of stories, of words from which he could fashion a story; as he thought about it, a steady calming feeling enveloped his body, he felt those long-lost juices flowing already. For the first time in months, Lee actually felt excited about writing something; gone was the anxiety and self-doubt blockers that had implanted themselves inside his own mind. He could overcome this, it was nowhere else but inside his own head.

Lee reached forward for the cheque.

“That’s my boy, Lee; that’s my boy!” Tapping his huge hands atop the giant desk like a kid perched on a high chair.

“Any figure?” Aiming his gaze upwards toward the big man.

“Your thirteen pieces of silver.” A steady stare that broke up after a moment or two. “Just kidding!” Those aged laughter lines breaking out across his weathered face like a stop-motion cadaver decaying into the earth.

Taking the pen that was swept across the desk toward him, the author reached up and etched in what he thought his life was worth, before slamming down the ball point.

Lawrence snatched both objects up, replacing the pen in his top pocket and revealing the cheque through a pair of glasses he had found from within his jacket pocket. With a turndown of his lips; “Quite modest, Lee; the board will be very happy with that. More than happy.”

In a dirge, he thought he might have left out a zero, then remembered that he had also written out the figure to make absolutely certain what he expected in his account.

“Half now, half on completion?” Pocketing the cheque once he had scored and folded it in two.

“I’m happy with that.” And he was.

“I’ll have accounts draft the paperwork and process the transfer before the end of the month.” Getting ready to stand. “If you want to swing by next Thursday, I’ll have the contract ready for you to sign.”

Lee was up out of his seat, tearing to get back to his office and start the outline of his bible. Coming around the desk to shake his hand, Lawrence had his Friday-afternoon-at-the-bar smile on show. “Glad to finally have you on board, Lee; it’s been a devil of a project to get going, let me tell you.”

“I bet it has.” Withdrawing his clammy palm from Lawrence and following his extended arm toward to the door.

“Any ideas you have in the meantime, if you could bring them along with you to the next meeting; I’d like to keep informed of developments.”

“Of course, Lawrence; I’ve got a couple of ideas already.”

Clapping the back of his shoulders; “That’s great, Lee; very reassuring indeed.” As he saw him into the outer office, right up to the lift doors as they opened, as if right on cue. “Have a safe journey home.” Then the author was shuttered behind the sliding doors that had divided to let him through.

Briskly treading back toward his throne, he stopped by Stephanie’s desk to ask when the next author was due in.

“About twenty minutes.” She replied, not breaking eye contact with her monitor.

“Fantastic; send him right in when he arrives, and add another one to the list.”

Mark Robinson, erstwhile poet and editor, has appeared in Birmingham’s Raw Edge Magazine, Manchester’s Transmission and online at, and (short story Library).

Forthcoming attractions are inclusions in: Never Hit by Lightning, an anthology edited by Tucker Lieberman & Andrew Tivey; and an upcoming issue of Delivered Magazine (late 2009).

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