‘The thing is,’ says Oscar, draining his coffee, ‘is that the British one pound coin is very thick, and around the edge it has something written in Latin.’
‘Right,’ I say.
‘Or Welsh.’ He orders another latte. ‘One of those two. Which is the one with lots of ‘w’s?”
I’m not sure I should answer. There’s a short silence.
‘Doesn’t matter. The point is it’s got something written around it, and this is what you need.’
‘You want me to write something in Welsh around my edge?’
Oscar looks despairingly around the café. ‘Let me go through it again.’
I’ve invited Oscar out to ask him about why I’ve gone three months without writing anything new. He returned just last night after two weeks at a conference in London, and although he says he’s had twelve hours sleep I can’t help but suspect the jet lag has not fully worn off.
For example, he’s about to say: ‘It hasn’t been three months for a start, it’s been eight.’
I blink at him. ‘No it hasn’t,’ I say, but a shadow is creeping through my mind and I don’t say it with much conviction.
Oscar’s latest coffee arrives. He points it at me. ‘When did you finish your novel?’ he asks.
‘Right. And what have you written since then?’
‘Well, I started work on a screenplay, for a while, and I’ve sort of begun plotting a second novel —’
‘So are we calling it eight months?’
‘Aren’t you here to help me?’
‘Cool your jets, we’ll get there. So, it’s fair to say things started winding down for you when you finished The Last Monk, yes?’
I know he’s right, but instead I say, ‘Is it fair to say you’ve just increased the magnitude of my problem by five months?’
He smiles and rummages about in his pocket. ‘And this,’ he says grandly, ‘is where this comes in.’ He pulls his hand out of the pocket and triumphantly thrusts a small, round object across the table towards me.
I look at it. ‘It’s a button,’ I say.
‘I couldn’t find a quid,’ says Oscar. ‘Just imagine it’s a pound coin.’
‘It’s got fluff on it,’ I say.
‘It’s a bloody quid, alright?’ says Oscar, snatching back the button. He holds it up. ‘A pound coin, symbol of a proud nation and all it stands for, and so that no one ever forgets it has stamped around its circumference its guiding principle in Latin.”
‘Possibly. And I don’t really know what it says, which sort of harms my argument.’
I decide to discreetly pay for the coffees.
‘But,’ says Oscar, running his finger around the edge of the button, ‘it doesn’t matter, because what this is is scaffolding.’
I decide I’ll pay for them now. The waiter is lurking.
‘You got up every morning for six years and you knew what you were going to do that day, right? You were going to work on your novel, because that’s what you did. You had a project, a guiding principle.’
I wave the waiter away.
‘Now you get up every morning and you could do absolutely anything. A screenplay? A short story? Another novel? Three hours at Officeworks fondling the fluorescent pens?’
‘How do you know about that?’
Oscar leans forward. ‘Your job isn’t like other jobs. Other people have bosses. They have reports to fill out, ditches to dig, sales to make. They have bosses. Deadlines. Structure.
‘Your job isn’t like that. No one tells you what to do, so with the entire world to choose from you flail about. ‘Cause there’s no structure. Everyone needs a structure to work in, and it’s your job, professionally speaking, to build your own.
‘You can’t just be a novelist. First you have to be a scaffoldist.’
I look at him. I look at the button. ‘Do you know where my dictionary of quotations is?’ I ask.
Oscar pays for the coffees.
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