YOU ARE INVITED said the notice, to a cocktail party thrown by an important literary agency who (if you’re lucky) will one day want to recruit you.
Stop by, schmooze, mingle. Be prepared to describe yourself and your breakthrough novel in five fabulous words or less. Be there, be square. Most importantly, be yourself.
We have come here tonight to be picked off one by one like prized game by the elite hunters of the London literary world. Most of us don’t resemble exotic prey. Momentarily overcome with apprehension and free alcohol, we are ungraceful rhinos, petrified zebras or those really ugly monkeys; red and bothered in the unflattering lighting of the reception hall.
You have one hour to impress, warns our tutor. After that the agents are not obligated to speak to you anymore and will cut you off, even in mid-sentence.
Not to worry. My classmates have it covered. They’ve memorised the faces of the agents they are interested in by their photos on the website. Everyone will simply select an area in the room to work in, moving in clockwise direction to make casual but witty repartee with a person who specialises in their field.
But after a few drinks, the plan is abandoned. It is every writer for themselves and the atmosphere us midway between the charging scene in Braveheart and the drowning scene in Titanic. One of my classmates has jotted notes on the inside of her sweaty wrist. I can see her squinting in the dim light and wandering around in circles.
Fifteen minutes into the party and I’ve met no one of consequence. Just as well, as my plan consists of drinking as much free booze as I can in an hour. My next move is to start in on the Pringles, as I play my ‘guess-what-the-famous-writer-would-do’ game. Three points for every literary figure who would rather hold up the bar than schmooze: Hemingway, Faulkner, Bukowski. Too easy.
A literary assistant standing near me looks bored out of her mind. She keeps glancing at her watch. I’m sure we’re not her idea of a fun evening. She stands around pouring wine like it’s killing her. After a while, she tires of this and heads toward the window at the rear of the room –a merciful, tiny breeze trickles in.
‘God, it’s so hot. I’d kill for a ciggie and a scotch,’ I quip, lifting my hair off the nape of my neck.
Supermodel Agency Girl shoots me a double expresso-shot of contempt. I bet she doesn’t smoke or drink. I bet she’s into raw foods. She hangs her lithe little body out of the window and I stop playing my drunk-writers-game, and start praying she slips out her Jimmy Choos and splatters onto the pavement below in a pool of vibrant colours (Brian from Spaced inspired moment).
After a few sharp whiffs of recycled city air, she shuts the window and takes her pristine lungs elsewhere.
I take quick stock of the room and count how many classmates are wearing Fuck Me jewellery. The order of the day is big and brash, presumably to stand out from the rest of the crowd. It’s a good plan, except there are roughly 29 women and 18 men drowning in bangles, bracelets, toerings, noserings and necklaces so OTT big, I berate myself for not having the hindsight to wear one more strand.
The agents are smiling inanely at us, no doubt placing bets on who will take the worst cover jacket photo or have the first mental breakdown.
I walk around the room and swill more booze. Twenty-five minutes and I still haven’t spoken to anyone of consequence. I find the bored assistant sitting next to a signed collection of Philip Pullman books. She is surreptitiously punching buttons on a sleek motorola phone, no doubt sexting her boyfriend. She looks like the type who would do it in a room full of desperate wannabe writers.
Twelve minutes until our hour is up and my fellow writers are still attempting to circle the nine rings of literary hell.
Worry about agents later, said my advisor. At this point you have little to offer except desperation and 19000 unpolished words of an unfinished novel.
Screw that, say my classmates, who do I have to blow to get a deal around here?
Maybe they’re right and I’m not taking appropriate advantage of this fabulous meet & greet. I randomly pick out four agents, leaving me roughly two minutes per pitch. I head toward a woman in pink, glancing at my wrist notes. Out of the corner of my eye, I see two students racing at her like colliding planets. In the back, someone opens up a fresh bottle of wine. I make a beeline for the table.
This is what it’s all about, I think, holding out my glass. This is what my favourite writers, drinkers and non drinkers, understood instinctively. The world will always be divided between winners and losers. All you can do is write and damn the torpedoes. I down my glass and hold it out to be refilled.
Hello, I say to myself, as I take one last look around the empty room. My name is Niki, I write about the virtual.