You are an aspiring writer who, halfway through your life, has woken to find yourself lost in a dark wood. You are in the Valley of the Unpublished. It is dismal and you are terrified at being so alone. You wander until you come to a hill bathed in sunlight. But when you start to climb, you find your way blocked by three fierce beasts; a leopard in the form of a literary agent, a lion in the shape of a publisher and Mariella Frostrup.
They fill you with fear and drive you back down into the sunless wood. At that moment a figure appears. Oddly, it turns out to be the shade of Margaret Atwood and you beg her for help. Atwood tells you that you cannot overcome the beasts that stand in your path. They must remain until a ‘greyhound’ (or Paris Hilton’s enraged chihuahua) comes to drive them back to HELL.
Rather, by another path will you reach the sunlight, and Atwood promises to guide you through Hell and Purgatory and, ‘ mebbe lead you to Publishing Paradise’.
So, skipping a couple of Cantos; you enter a glass-filled atrium full of specimen trees in expensive pots. People rush past in a mild frenzy.
‘Is this a Walmart Sale?’ you ask in fear.
‘No’, says Atwood inconsequentially, as if ordering a Chef Salad, ‘This, my dear, is the Vestibule of Literary Hell.’
‘Who are all these people?’
‘Rejected writers’, says Atwood, chuckling sadly and shaking her head. ‘Their punishment is to follow a banner, at a furious pace, forever, and to be tormented by flies and hornets.’
‘Banner?’ you say, ‘what is this banner?’
You watch blogs popping up to the right.
You listen to the Twitter people alternately howling and shouting witticisms.
The blogs look interesting, you are tempted to read one,
‘These people are nowhere.’ Atwood says, in her inimitable drawl while putting a firm hand on your arm, ‘C’mon I’m taking you to meet the infernal boatman’.
‘No, I’m not ready Ms Atwood,’ you say pulling against her strange gravity. ‘I haven’t yet abandoned all hope. I still want to be a tiny bit like you. Surely, there’s still a chance of publication, if only I can find the right course.’ And with one great tug you pull yourself free from her grasp and run to catch up with a group of desperate wannabees, flailing your hands all the while at the flies and hornets.
Next thing you know, Margaret has faded away and you have woken up in a queue for another writing class.
This one is called, ‘Writing is a Business (You Schmuck)’ and is being run by a woman in a severe but sexy suit called, ‘Zerena Littlemercy’.
Reading her promotional materials you find that, for a minor king’s ransom, she is promising to make you exactly what the publishing industry wants. You sign up. Of course.
with apologies to to Dante Alighieri, ( translator M. Musa) The Shade of Margaret Atwood, and Mariella who is a cultural institution in the U.K. and not a She-Wolf at all.