Many published novelists have as many as five or six books which have never made it to the wide open spaces of the reading landscape. They often refer to them, accompanying their remarks with jokes about where the manuscripts now languish, but, unless as authors they achieve mountain stature, that is all the world will know of them. Rather than bewail the fact that this one of mine didn’t ‘make it’, I thought that you might like to rummage in my reject pile for fun. This one, in fact, I never tried to publish; it’s based on the life of my old boss, whom in the novel I call ‘Charlie’, and here are the opening paragraphs:
Uncle Henry viewed Charlie from behind his partner’s desk, his skinny elbows resting on its tooled leather surface, his snow-white cuffs exposing narrow hairy wrists held upright to support the steeple of his wrinkled fingers. His starched white detachable collar held his grey wattled neck in a cruel grip. His head was small and bald, and he made it move slowly to the left and right, peering the while through his dull brown eyes, so that he resembled a rather belligerent tortoise.
“Go forth and cast your bread upon the waters, young man,” he said. “See what you can do. Book yourself into The Grand: always be ready to cock a snook at the world. Do not settle for second-best.”
Charlie was growing used to Uncle Henry’s disjointed homilies, with their elliptical meanings. Working for the old man was actually quite good fun, because he hardly ever did any work himself and left Charlie to get on with the job as best he thought fit. Not to put too fine a point upon it, despite his respectable exterior, Uncle Henry was often blind drunk.
Uncle Henry was a profoundly depressed man who did not see why his depression should get in the way of making lots of money. The causes of his depression were irreproachable: his unspeakable experiences during the First World War, which he still refused to discuss with anyone, though he threw out opaque hints occasionally, and the fact that he and Evadne had no children. Evadne was Charlie’s mother’s eldest sister, and since adulthood had been an invalid in a wheelchair. Charlie did not know why she was unable to walk, nor if her indisposition was related to her childlessness. She was a fearsome woman. She had the heavy Stanningley face and masses of dyed black hair. Charlie disliked going to see her, though he found her liberally-applied make-up quite fascinating.
Uncle Henry, who had already made two fortunes, one running a private school for boys and the other running an hotel (both had now been sold), thought that times were propitious for making a third. The war had been over for almost three years. The wives of the young men who had returned were busy having children and the government was even busier investing in houses, hospitals, clinics, schools and libraries to make the country a better place for these children as they were growing up. The old man did not necessarily approve of the social egalitarianism towards which all this effort seemed to be tending, but he did like the idea of the investment… particularly in libraries.
Uncle Henry had begun to take an interest in libraries before the war, when he was still a headmaster. A councillor friend of his had tipped him the wink, telling him that new reforms would mean that the post of chief librarian in the county would become a proper salaried one, instead of a sinecure with token gratuity attached. As was customary since the library service had been set up in the early years of the century, this post was currently held by a well-connected local lady who did not need to work. Of course, this lady would not be suitable to hold the well-paid position that it was about to become and Uncle Henry was invited to apply.