Voyage of discovery

Image of Susie Boyt

I heard yesterday of a thrilling security breach at a high-end literary publisher. For all the electronic visitor passes and uniformed guards on display, for all the polished floors and quadruple height atria, an unauthorised human managed to pass through the revolving doors, penetrate the security gates without getting distracted by the coffee shop, proceed unnoticed into the great glass elevators, take the lift up several floors, bamboozle a receptionist who wasn’t born yesterday, navigate a corridor with its many shin-height coffee-table-book tables, turn a tight corner, happen upon the correct imperious mahogany office door and place an unsolicited manuscript on the desk of a very important person.

Mission accomplished!

Did the triumphant novelist shimmy down the drainpipe to celebrate this achievement? Was a bucolic celebration of guerrilla authors held in a local field complete with cider and hog roast? We’ll never know.

“Well, I hope the manuscript was fabulous,” I told my informant. I imagined the bashful author, giving a witty acceptance speech at an awards dinner, still dressed in the beret and belted mac in which the deed was done, describing his or her intrepid antics inspired by a childhood admiration for the Milk Tray man and Inspector Clouseau. “You see what it takes to get published? You must risk your very bones ... the very marrow of your very bones ... ”

“Oh, nobody read it!” I was told. “You can't just read things that come in unsolicited.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” I said. “I do understand completely, proper channels and so on and so forth. But actually, why not?”

“Oh, well, I mean, obviously, well, no no no no no.”

This last “no” was not just firm, it was absolute. It was matron’s “nil by mouth” and “no room at the inn” combined, with a soupcon of “not on your Nelly”.

It did not seem right to me that such ingenuity should be crushed, but what do I know? I have been ingenious this week and so far there has been no crushing. Truly, I have pulled off a bit of a personal coup. I have always thought that life would be a million times easier if I had a completely different personality, but never quite knew how to act on this belief. Well, this week, it just sort of happened by itself. I have found myself looking forward to something for which I usually only feel dread: my holiday.

Over this small development I am beside myself. Hello! Usually, about a week before I go anywhere I prepare a little mental advent calendar so I can count off the days until I return with little soothing images to carry me through. These range from – oh, I don’t know – a steaming cup of tea with my name on it, a pale pink garden camellia, a really good assortment of London litter including a bit of newspaper with a stunning headline, five crisp and perfect exercise books with grey lines and pale blue margins, a snooze on the top deck of a bus with half an ear open to a scintillating conversation, a pair of Chelsea buns maybe.

I always travel, when I can’t get out of it, with mementos of home, and mementos of my ordinary-time persona: a china ornament of sentimental value, a meaningful letter or two, bits of old envelope with lists on, very early drafts of Christmas shopping campaigns. Travelling is a crisis, and you just can’t be too careful.

I suppose old rocking chair got me when I was about six and a half, and I’ve just never discovered anywhere I like as much. And yet today, on the brink of a trip, I have strange sensations of anticipation that, although not the opposite of anxiety, I can only describe as pleasant. These sensations, when analysed closely, may even be a close relation of excitement.

Like the intrepid manuscript that stole its way into the corridors of power,I might even find myself ... – well, I know that didn’t exactly end well, but still.

If I’m suddenly to be the recipient of a whole new personality, just think what other rich fruits could be on their way! Soon the whole of life could be water off this duck’s back. I almost know how Columbus felt.

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