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The Audacity of Hope
Being an author was hard. Very hard. The constant flow of publishers and their deadlines, bookshops wanting special readings, schools wanting lectures all the time...and, of course, the stalkers, with their bouquets and boxes of chocolate. Through all this, one never got the time to write. It was so ironic, wasn't it? Observations like these made great reading and writing material, yet precisely the things leading to such observations prevented this material from coming into existence. Well, if anything was to be trusted through all this turmoil, it was coffee. Coffee was a saviour, whatever the so-called 'health experts' said about excessive caffeine intake leading to a thousand and one illnesses. They just needed to relax. The needed some coffee. How ironic, again. Irony, she thought, was the bane of her existence. The bane of every writer's existence. It was so easy to create, yet so hard to understand. She took another sip of coffee and leaned back in her chair. She still had thirty thousand words to write. Neville, her publisher, had been hounding her all week demanding something at least thirty thousand words long, if not more. He obviously believed that words, magic words, grew on trees. Of course, they didn't. Then again, to all intents and purposes, paper did. She took another sip of coffee, finally realizing how tired she was. A beep from her watch told her it was four in the morning. Eight hours she sat, without writing a word. She must be going mad. She never walked away from her desk without writing something or the other. Never. That too, considering where her desk was. At a window, overlooking Hyde Park.
She loved the place. Never before had that window failed to dispel her writer's block. She saw hundreds of people every day. Through them, she read their stories. If she observed any one (interesting) person for long enough, a novel would be born within two weeks. There were as many stories as there were people, if not more, and she loved that. The stories, the people, they always filled her with energy. Yet, here she was, at four in the morning, with a blank sheet of paper, a half-eaten, melted bar of chocolate, a cup of coffee and innumerable dark circles. Unable to face the embarrassment of it all, she leaned back in her chair and went to sleep as the first rays of the sun hit her face.
Stupid sun. Stupid light. Stupid traffic. Stupid noise. Stupid chair. Stupid backache. Stupid cold coffee. Stupid me, she thought. Five hours of sleep clearly weren't enough to return to normal functioning. She wished she would just die, already. She wished there wasn't this pressure of writing down words, where there were none to be found. This was the one area where struggling writers had it easy. No pressure. No deadlines. No expectations, nothing. How she missed those days, when the only thing she wished for was success. How she wanted to relive them. How stupid she was that time, not appreciating sleep when she had it. Now that she thought about it, being a poor girl with an abundance of words was infinitely better than being a rich girl without them.
Just shoot me, she said to a God she didn't believe in. And then it hit her. As real as a punch to the stomach, it hit her. Just as hard. She couldn't believe it took her so long to see the bully who punched her, to recognize the idea that was already exploring a million possibilities in her mind. A struggling writer, who dies. A struggling young writer. A writer who had just gotten her first publishing deal ,(The protagonist had to be female. She just had to.) and was ecstatic, when she dies. "The Audacity of Hope", it would be called. How she would die, it wouldn't matter. But she had to die. The story would feel all wrong, if she didn't. I would feel all wrong if she didn't, she thought. Tainted. As if she really had the audacity to hope that life actually had some meaning, and was worth living for any reason other than Words. Yes. That was it. She'd write now. And, even if it wasn't her best work, she'd certainly feel happy that she had at least managed to write something. A schoolgirl, who dies. A struggling, young, school-going dreamer, dreaming of becoming a writer. She could barely suppress a grin as she attacked the paper with a determined fervour.
Anya stared at the paper in disbelief, as if it were a death sentence. Her favourite author, Tracie Davenport, had actually written back to her!
"Dear Anya, (the letter read)
Sorry for such a late reply. I've been busy with my new book, you see? It's going to be called, "The Audacity of Hope", and I only have the last few chapters left now. You know the weird bit? My protagonist's name is Anya too! She's also in school, and she also wants to become a writer, just like you! How cool is that! I really hope you enjoy it. Anyway, I wanted to tell you, girl-to-girl, writer-to-writer, always follow your heart. If your head says it's wrong but your heart says it's right, do it. Take risks. Write your heart out. Be proud of who you are. If someone discourages you, it's only because they know that they don't have a hope in h*ll of writing as well as you. That's really all the advice I can give.
You can't believe how proud I felt when you wrote and told me you wanted to be just like me. I can only say, I was just like you at some point. I'm sure, if you persevere enough, you're going to be really successful, and I'm sure some day I'll be telling you how much I want to be like you. I really hope we get to meet someday, face-to-face. I'd love to talk more. But keep in touch!
Anya couldn't believe it. She stared at the piece of paper, sure that it was a hoax. Tracie Davenport had actually written back! She'd actually said she looked forward to meeting Anya! She'd actually said she would look up to Anya some day! Maybe, the world wasn't so bad, after all. Maybe good things were meant to happen. Maybe, Tracie would actually look up to Anya some day. Maybe, while accepting the Man Booker prize, she could mention Tracie in her thank-you speech....The world was looking up for her, better than it had been for a long time. Feeling as if nothing could go wrong, she slit the next piece of mail. Just seeing the first few words, her innards fell inside the pit of her stomach.
"Dear Miss Williams, (the letter read)
We at Scholastic Publishing are pleased to tell you that we were extremely pleased with your work, and it will be published as the first of a series of novels written by schoolchildren. Please accept our heartiest congratulations. We hope to receive more of your work soon."
She couldn't bring herself to read the rest of it. She was going to be published! Published! Now the whole world would see her talent. Now, she was unstoppable. Now, her dream was well within her reach. Now.... now she was walking on Cloud Nine. Nothing could deter her. Nothing.
Except, maybe, the fact that she had to go to school. Gosh, school seemed so boring after this. Even English lessons, which were the only reason she could tolerate school, would seem so mundane. Chemistry would be even more torturous than usual. Well, at least she had to pass Hyde Park on the way to and from school. Hyde Park always cheered her up. The happiness, the energy levels were insane. Even Tracie Davenport, lived somewhere close by. Maybe, just maybe, she'd get to actually meet her today? All of this was too good to be true. Way too good. But, since it was happening, she might as well enjoy herself and be happy. She literally trod on air as she stepped out of her house. Maybe, it was just as well that her parents weren't in town, so that they couldn't ask her questions every two minutes regarding her recent achievements and dampen her mood. She wouldn't have had the words to reply to them, or anyone else, for that matter.
The only time when the desk near the window wasn't such a nice place to write at was in the afternoon. It was so hot. Still, it was the only place where she could write the endings of her books. Writing the endings anywhere else seemed like a felony, like she was dishonouring the desk at which so much of the book had been completed. So, she sat down, at that desk, in the afternoon, to write the ending of "The Audacity of Hope". She began contemplating ways by she could kill her character Anya off. Anya is supposed to be returning home from school at the end of the book, so all possibilities regarding dark alleyways would not work. She was only a child, so no one could poison her. Maybe Anya shouldn't die, Tracie thought. She had felt a certain special attachment to the character, not felt towards any other of her characters, especially after receiving a letter from another school-going struggling writer called Anya. Her character Anya might as well have been a mirror image of the real-world Anya. But, still, the story would just be incomplete if everyone lived happily ever after. She hated those endings. They were so stupid. A reader doesn't want a happy story; a reader wants a story which stay with him long after it's been told. 'Happily ever after' endings don't work in today's world. Nobody lives happily ever after, anyway. Hit by a bus. Yes, that was how Anya would die. She'd be hit by a bus near Hyde Park. On her way back from school.
Anya felt weird. Queasy. Uneasy. Even though her best friend couldn't stop talking about how happy she was for Anya, Anya couldn't distract herself from a feeling of inevitable doom. Nonsense, she told herself. Stop freaking out. Yet the feeling only got stronger. Stop it, she said to herself. At least you're approaching Hyde Park. That ought to make you feel much better.
Tracie put her pen to the paper, and time passed, beneath her notice. She was writing in a mad, frantic way, as she always did in crucial parts of her books. Yes, Anya definitely gets hit by a bus. And that was that. She'd give the manuscript to Neville, and not have to worry for two more months. She planned to take a vacation somewhere, on her own. She knew, she could really use it. She gazed out of the window, at Hyde Park, pensive. The book had taken a huge toll on her, emotionally. She felt that even if she wanted to feel some emotion at that point, she wouldn't have been able to. She smiled at the irony. As she gazed out of the window, she saw a bus moving dangerously fast. It knocked down a little girl who was trying to cross the road. Within a minute, an ambulance had been called. In another, the girl was whisked away to a hospital.
Wow, she thought. How strange. Coincidental. That was exactly what happened in my book. She had a feeling the girl wasn't going to make it through.
Forgetting all of that, she calmly walked to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee.