The next instalment of my column for The Sunday Guardian.
“What is the job definition of an actor? Technically, you must perform your scene, endorse products and do stage shows.”
The Writer awoke with a start to the cacophony of the alarm clock. Bleary-eyed, he rolled out of bed, joints aching because of the unaccustomed use to which they were put at last night’s dance rehearsal. Next week, he would begin a series of stage shows to promote his new novel, and he had been put on a gruelling schedule. The phone trilled; it was the Writer’s agent. “Awake, are you?” the agent said. “Hot, strike while the iron is.” “Listen –” the Writer began to protest weakly, but the agent cut him off, dropping the Yoda impersonation in the process. “Do you want to go back to starving in an attic, burning manuscript pages to keep warm, applying for grants and teaching unlettered English students? Writing doesn’t pay. Unless you’re Dan Brown.”
While the Writer yawned, the agent spoke enthusiastically of how a writer’s job wasn’t just writing anymore. Publishing profits are down, he said. Old models don’t work, he continued. Look at actors like Katrina, showing the way to professionals ready to embrace a brave new world of possibilities, he concluded. By this time the Writer had fallen into a light doze, which he snapped out of when the agent began to sing “Rise and shine! Rise and shine!” in a high-pitched tone.
Under the shower, the Writer thought longingly of the old days. A book tour, a few readings, some radio and TV appearances, and he could get back to writing his next book. Now, he barely found time to write, squeezed as he was between dance rehearsals and practicing lines he would have to recite in front of the cameras. He held up a shampoo bottle. “To give my best, I need to look my best,” he said, in a dull monotone. Why couldn’t the people who write TV commercials come up with better lines? He’d tried re-writing some scripts, but his efforts were met with hoots of laughter, especially the one in which a man finds himself converted into a giant beetle overnight and attracts beetles of the opposite sex by judicious application of the right deodorant.
An hour later, the Writer was in a large room along with a dozen other scribblers moving to the music that blared out of large speakers. “No, no, no,” said the annoyingly fit dance instructor coming up to him. “Put more energy into your pelvic thrusts! This sequence is meant to capture the essence of your novel – that man is born free but is everywhere in chains. I want to see your hips trying to break free of those chains. Otherwise, how will your readers get the message?” He pranced off as the Writer wiped the sweat off his brow, meeting the sympathetic gaze of other authors who had similarly been instructed to embody the themes of their own novels, from loss of innocence to the discovery of hope under trying conditions.
Rehearsal done, the Writer was rushed to a studio to shoot a commercial for a new brand of chocolate. “Look,” the bearded director said, looking intense, “this is a scene where you’re sitting in front of your typewriter, hands frozen on the keys. Then, you look at a bar of Delish, your eyes light up, and you say: Whenever I’m stuck for words, I reach for Delish. Instant energy for instant ideas! We cut to another shot where you’re happily munching and typing away. Got it?”
“Er,” said the Writer, “I use a laptop.”
“We’re aiming for a retro feel,” said the director wearily, “so if you don’t mind, let’s just go ahead.” He turned away and the Writer heard him mutter to a passing light-boy, “Who does he think he is, Katrina?”
Much later, long after sunset, the Writer reached home and crawled wearily between the sheets. His last thought before he fell into a dreamless sleep was to wonder whether it was too late to follow his parents’ advice to become a chartered accountant.