May 27, 2011 in Dag

Blog Tour De Troops

Welcome to the next stop in the blog tour de troops. I’m welcoming you from down under – Melbourne Australia.

Before I begin, I just want to make sure that you’ve already checked out Jennifer Provost’s post. And when you’re done here, pop over to Kat Lively.

We Aussies have a lot in common with Americans. We both value a lot of the same things. So when I’m offering thanks to the American troops, I’d like to add a special note to any Australian troops out there as well.

I’d also like to talk a bit about the book, Doodling I’m offering up today. It’s a humorous fantasy about a different kind of freedom. The freedom to get away from the hustle and bustle of our fast moving world and live life at a nice, relaxing pace. At least that’s what the hero of the story, Neville, wants to do when he stops trying to keep up and decides to let go and fall off the world.

As the story progresses, Neville discovers that it’s not so easy to escape from the world. Maybe there’s a message in there about taking responsibility, and the fact that we are grateful for people who are prepared to make sacrifices.

Then again, maybe it’s just a funny kind of story. I’ll leave it up to you to decide. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, check out the review at Eulana.

While I’m in gratitude mode, I also want to thank the fine folk at the Indie Book Collective for making this fantastic event possible, and for the rest of the great work they do.

But don’t just sit there. Please post a comment and I’ll get a copy of Doodling out to you. And don’t stop here – make sure you head off to visit Kat Lively next. And then keep on going. There’s lots more free books available, plus a chance to win a kindle for yourself and a troop as well.

One final note to any commenters – please excuse any delays I have responding as I’m most likely in a totally different time zone. And please leave your email so I can pass on the book details to you.

Thank you to all commenters for supporting me and the troops. As this event has now officially closed, I won’t be responding to any further comments.

May 22, 2011 in Dag

The Strange Case of Arthur Fribble.

Arthur Fribble’s strange condition began to become apparent while he was in primary school.

His grade one teacher was the first to notice it.  She had asked the class the simple question, “what colour is the sky?” and Arthur had correctly replied, “blue.”  After being congratulated for this response, young Arthur sneezed.  Just one little short sharp sneeze, the teacher recalled when questioned about it many years later.

As the condition developed, it soon manifested itself in many of Arthur’s activities, both in the classroom and the playground.  Successfully completing a short spelling test was enough to cause the boy to break out in spots, while if he ever kicked a goal during a lunchtime football game, his eyes would begin to water, his cheeks would puff up, and he would burst into a series of urgent, uncontrollable sneezes.

The high school years were difficult ones for Arthur.  Teenagers can be cruel, and Arthur’s classmates could not resist ridiculing him at every opportunity.  But curiously enough, after these sessions of teasing, Arthur’s condition always seemed to clear up.  It was only after the other kids had left him alone for a while, and his self confidence had begun to return, that it would reemerge.  He might perform well on an exam, or summon up the courage to talk to a girl he had a bit of a crush on, and instantly all the symptoms, the rashes, the runny noses, the bloodshot eyes, would reappear.

As poor Arthur left school and headed out into the big, bad world, things were not looking bright for him.  After failing his final exams, he struggled to hold onto a job and soon found himself friendless and miserable.  It seemed that there was no hope left.  But thanks to a chance encounter with the famed immunologist, Dr Rheinstrom Bergstrom, things began to change for him.  It was Dr Bergstrom who recognised the strange pattern of Arthur’s condition.  As long as Arthur’s life was going nowhere and he was achieving nothing, just getting by from day to day, then he was alright.  But as soon as things started to pick up, and Arthur began to get back on his feet and move forward with his life, then the condition would reassert itself.  From these observations, Dr Bergstrom was able to make his extraordinary diagnosis:

Arthur Fribble was allergic to success.

I last saw Arthur about six months ago.  Although things still weren’t easy for him, I was glad to hear that he was doing a lot better.  He had begun a university degree and he proudly informed me, while only sneezing six times, that he had managed to pass all exams so far.  But I was most pleased to discover that he had actually begun going out with women.  He told me that every time he went on a date, he made sure to bring cortisone cream, anti-histamines, and a couple of condoms.

Just in case he got lucky.

May 7, 2011 in Dag

The House Call

It was the first house call I’d made in a very long time.

I’d been in general practice for fifteen years but things had gotten a little slow. Changes in demographics, people said. A new generation of young folk moving into the area, with a preference for big faceless medical clinics rather than a small, friendly local practice. I didn’t know much about that. But I did know that for the first time ever I was starting to have trouble making my ends meet.

A good friend had suggested locum-ing as the solution. “Hours aren’t great but it’s good money,” he advised. “If you do it for a couple of months, you might not have a life but you’ll clear up those debts, no problem.”

So here I was, knocking on a strange door in a strange block of flats in a suburb I didn’t often find myself, particularly not at eleven o’clock at night. As I waited for a response, I tried to prepare for this novel experience. Practising my bedtime manner. Repeating over and over in my head the different ways I could introduce myself. Introductions had long since ceased being a requirement of my regular work. Every one of the small roster of patients I saw had been on my books for over ten years. Obviously this was part of the problem.

As there was no reply from inside, I knocked again. Eventually I heard a faint voice coming from somewhere on the other side of the door:

“It’s open. Just come in.”

I turned the handle, pressed open the door and stepped into the flat. I could see straight away that it was a male’s apartment. The floor was littered with old newspapers, football magazines and empty beer cans. I made a mental note of this to myself. The name of the patient I was here to see was Pat, an epithet that was highly non gender-specific. Now I had a better idea of whom I was to be treating.

But when I arrived in the only bedroom within the flat, I was surprised to find the occupant of the bed was in fact a woman. She would have been somewhere in her late forties or early fifties, with shoulder-length brown hair and a friendly, although rather worn-out, face. However the most striking thing about this woman was her size. Lying flat on the bed, her sheets rose almost two metres above the level of the mattress, giving the appearance of a head sticking out the entrance of a brightly coloured igloo.

Stepping into the room, I tried to appear relaxed. “I’m here to see Pat,” I said cautiously.

She nodded and then opened her mouth to speak, but before any words could come out she sneezed loudly.

Relaxing at her affirmation, I pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed. I introduced myself and then opened my briefcase to take out my consulting pad and pen.

I checked my notes. “And you’ve had a problem with a lingering cold?” It was half question, half statement.

She nodded again. “For almost a month now. It just won’t go away.”

“I see.” I quickly considered the best way to take this further. Most likely the underlying problem wasn’t the cold itself. But how to break it diplomatically? It had become such a sensitive issue in these politically-correct times. I decided to follow my instincts; something about her told me she was an open sort of person and direct was the best way to go. Besides, in her condition she’d probably heard it many times before.

“I’ll see what I can do. I’m afraid your weight is probably a factor in the difficulty you’re having trying to throw off this infection.”

I paused, waiting to see whether I’d caused any offence. Fortunately my first impressions were correct. Far from being upset, she actually grinned. It was the reply that followed that threw me for a six.

“I’m not overweight.”

“You’re not?” I tried to make my response more of a polite comment than the exclamation it probably turned out to be.

“No,” she chuckled. “It’s okay, everybody makes that mistake. I’m definitely not overweight. I’m actually pregnant.”

Pregnant! That changed everything.

“This is a real concern,” I said. “It may be best to get you to a hospital for some proper checks. When are you due?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t know.”

“But you must have some idea. How long have you been pregnant for?”

“Twenty-seven years,” she replied casually.

“Twenty-seven years?” I repeated. “But that’s ridiculous, Pat.”

“I’m not Pat,” she said. “I’m Julie.”

“But I’m here to see Pat. Has there been a mistake?”

“No. No mistake. You are here to see Pat.”

“Who is Pat then?”

“He’s my son.”

“Well where is he?”

She pointed at her stomach. “Right here.”

At that point, I was just about ready to get up and leave. As far as I could tell, she needed a psychiatrist, not a doctor. It was only her beseeching and imploring, coupled with some fairly serious sniffing and coughing, that convinced me to stay. And that’s how I got to hear the extraordinary story of Julie and her twenty-seven year-old unborn son, Pat.

Pat was not Julie’s first child. Her daughter, Emily, had just turned three when she received the joyous news that baby number two was on the way.

At first, everything seemed to be going as per normal. She went through the regular battery of tests and ultrasounds, all of which showed that the baby was developing quite naturally. She did suffer from a slight case of morning sickness but that had cleared up by the end of the first trimester. Therefore she was not at all concerned when she hadn’t felt even the slightest twinge of labour three weeks after the due date had passed. After all Emily had been late as well. So although her obstetrician strongly recommended that she be immediately induced, she strenuously opposed any such interventions.

“The baby will come when the baby is ready,” she had said in response to anybody who offered her advice or opinions.

After another month, with the obstetrician now reduced to a nervous wreck, she finally consented to another ultrasound. To everyone’s great relief, this revealed a perfectly healthy, though somewhat cramped, two month-old baby. And although she had originally planned to defer on finding out the gender of the child until after the birth, she figured that she’d waited long enough. As a result, she was delighted to discover that her second child was almost certainly a boy.

By the end of the first year, and with no further sign that the child had any inclination towards coming out, Julie decided it was time to bestow a name. She choose Patrick as it had been the name of her much beloved paternal grandfather. She even approached the local church about having the boy baptized, but to her great disappointment they would not agree to performing the ceremony on an unborn child, even one who was now over a year old. In disgust, she cut off all ties with the church, the first, but unfortunately not the last, schism her unusual condition would precipitate.

As Pat grew, Julie tried to give him as normal an upbringing as possible. A good education was particularly important to her, but finding the right institution did turn out to be problematic. He was briefly enrolled in a number of different schools, both within the public and private systems, but unfortunately none of them met his very special needs. By around the middle of grade two, she finally gave up and Pat spent the rest of his childhood in home schooling. This seemed to suit him well and he showed a particular aptitude for mathematics, although his reading skills were never better than average.

While educationally things were going well, the situation began to take its toll on Julie’s family. Both her husband and daughter began to become impatient and to harangue Julie at every opportunity, insisting that it was time Pat finally be born. To this, Julie always maintained the same reply:

“He’ll come when he’s ready.”

This definitely did not mollify her husband. He claimed that Julie was babying the child, not allowing him to grow up and become a man.

“You keep treating him like this, and he’ll end up like some sooky little mummy’s boy,” he complained.

Stung by this criticism, Julie did everything she could to ensure that Pat had suitable ‘masculine’ influences. Although trying out for any local sporting teams was obviously not an option, she made sure to take him to the cricket and football at every opportunity. Still, that was not good enough and the two divorced over ten years ago, although the settlement turned out to be quite amicable and her ex-husband regularly came over to watch action movies on DVD and play video games with his son.

More hurtful to her were the conflicts with Emily, who for years whined and moaned that Pat was the favoured one and that Julie was always putting herself out to look after him at the expense of her elder child. Regrettably, the rift that developed between mother and daughter was never mended and to this day the two do not speak.

At around this stage in her recollections, Julie lit up a cigarette and began to draw deeply on it. I indicated that in her current condition, I did not think that smoking was advised. She nodded in agreement.

“You’re right. It’s a disgusting habit. I’ve been trying for ages to get him to quit. But he tells me he can’t. He just doesn’t have the willpower.”

I was surprised to hear this because otherwise willpower did not seem to be something Pat was lacking in. Despite all the setbacks and complications described previous, he was able to do well enough in his final exams to gain a place at university, where he completed a degree in computer science and information technology. Since then he had never had any problems with gaining employment, mostly via extremely well paid, short-term appointments.

Julie has, quite rightly, derived much satisfaction from Pat’s unconventional path through life.

“The greatest day of my life was when he moved out of home and found his own place to live,” she said proudly. “They say so many kids of his generation are still living at their parents’ houses when they’re thirty. But Pat moved out when he was only twenty-three.”

Since then he’s been able to build up quite a social life, even establishing relationships with a number of girls, although he has struggled to maintain these in the long-term. In fact his last girlfriend only just walked out a couple of months ago. Julie had done her best to convince her to stay but unfortunately, the young woman was deeply unsatisfied with the direction the relationship was heading.

“It’s just not good enough,” she had said. “He keeps saying that yes, one day he will be born, but he never tells me when. I feel like he’s just not prepared to make a commitment to me.”

“He’ll come when he’s ready,” was the advice Julie had given to her. It wasn’t enough to convince her to stay.

“But what about you?” I asked when Julie had finished telling me her story. “You seem to have given up a lot for Pat. Don’t you feel like you deserve to have a life for yourself?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “What’s a mother meant to do except look after her children the best she can. I know there are a lot of aspects of his life I have to put up with. The rowdy boy’s nights I don’t care for at all, especially all that drinking. I never could stand the taste of beer. And the filthy state he always leaves this place in. I’m constantly telling him, why should I have to clean up after you? You made the mess, you clean it up. But it never seems to sink in.”

There didn’t seem to be much left to say. Julie and Pat obviously had a relationship they were both comfortable with. Some might suggest it was unhealthily co-dependent but it seemed to work for them. I prescribed a mild antibiotic for Pat, after checking with Julie whether he had any problems with allergies or sensitivities. I also advised her on some over-the-counter medication that might be useful to help reduce his symptoms.

“Don’t forget to make sure Pat takes it easy and drinks lots of liquids. I would strongly suggest you take him to see his regular doctor if this cold has not cleared up by the end of the week. And probably best to make an appointment for you to see an obstetrician as well, just in case.”

“I see him every month. Have done for the last twenty-seven years,” she replied. “Still demands that I have Pat induced but I’ll have nothing of it.”

“You do what’s right for you. Just make sure you take care of yourself. And tell Pat he should be taking better care of himself as well. Easy on the beer and ciggies.” I packed up my things and stood up. I had been here far longer then I’d anticipated and there were numerous other patients I was required to see that night. Still, before I turned to walk out of the bedroom, I found I just couldn’t stop myself asking one more question.

“If you don’t mind me asking, do you think Pat will ever be born?”

Julie didn’t seem to mind. She smiled a long-practised smile and gave a world-weary shrug of her shoulders.

“He’ll come when he’s ready.”

May 2, 2011 in Dag

Daggy Dads

Today I want to pay tribute to a very special kind of dag – the daggy dad.

So what exactly is a daggy dad?

It’s hard to define the exact characteristics of a daggy dad. But it’s easy to recognise one when you see one. A few sure signs that clearly identify this rather special species:

  • He’s the one at the family gathering telling the world’s worst jokes. Again. Daggy dads take special pride in repeating the same jokes over and over. And the less funny, the better
  • At the school performance, the daggy dad is the one who’s jumping up out of his chair, singing and dancing along and generally completely embarrassing all of his kids (and anyone else in the family lucky enough to be attending)
  • Daggy dad’s always make a special effort to show their kids how “hip and groovy” they are. They like to make sure they’re up to date with the latest music and the latest trends in whatever is trendy. That is, as long as you can define latest as at least ten years old.

Daggy dads have been a standard of both films and television. In pretty much every family movie featuring Steve Martin, he’s served as a standard model for a daggy dad. And they are a regular component of sit-coms, from the dad in Modern Family, back through shows like Everyone Loves Raymond and many, many more before.

And let’s not get started on the role of daggy dad’s in commercials. He’s the one we’re all used to seeing, constantly shown up by his wife and kids.

But despite all their shortcomings, there’s a lot to be said for daggy dads. They’re warm and caring. They’re funny (as long as they’re not trying to be). They make everyone else in the family feel so much smarter.

So I’d like to end this by saying hoorah for daggy dads. I reckon they are without a doubt the best kinds of dads. And I should know, because I’m proud to say I’m one of them!

Are you a daggy dad? Is your husband/partner a daggy dad? Are you the child of a daggy dad?

Tell me about it. Place a tweet with the details and the hashtag #daglit and I’ll send you a free copy of my daggy ebook, Doodling.

April 23, 2011 in Dag

Swimming with Sharks

I first met Vic on the day we went swimming with the sharks.

He was right next to me in the changing shed as we stripped off and put on our bathers.

“First time?” he asked.

I nodded. “Seen it heaps on TV but I’ve never been game to try it myself until today. What about you?”

“Yep, also a first timer. Name’s Vic.”

I introduced myself as well. “Nice to meet you, Vic,” I said

As we left the shed, my eyes were blinded by the glare of the sunlight. Slowly, the scene resolved itself in front of my eyes. A scene I had witnessed so many times before on television, but even with that familiarity, it was far more then I could have possibly imagined.

I was standing on the edge of a low cliff which swept around to my left and then back again in a roughly semi-circular arc. Not far below, the water of the bay shimmered like a brilliant azure mirror, the sunlight dancing over its rippling surface. On the top of the cliffs to the left, a crowd was gathered. They waited, expectant and impatient, some individuals occasionally yelling out for something to happen. And all about me stood the other competitors, stretching and pacing and staring nervously into the clear water.

Suddenly the tension was broken by a loud splash. The crowd immediately roared and the other competitors looked up, as if they had all been instantaneously awoken by a gunshot. The serenity of the water was broken by a frenzy of swinging arms and kicking legs as the swimmer who had just dived in made for the cliffs on the other side of the bay.

The reason for his frantic movements very quickly became obvious. Five large shadows appeared from out of the depths of the water. Long and cylindrical, but as they approached the surface, the telltale fins became all too apparent.

The man was now over halfway across. The distance towards the far cliff was getting rapidly smaller. But this was nothing compared to the speed of the fearsome shadows as they raced towards him.

I nudged Vic gently in the side. “He’s not going to make it.”

“Sure he is,” Vic replied.

The man was now a good twenty metres away from the cliff but the sharks were closing fast. Forty metres. Thirty metres. Ten metres. Now they were circling feverishly. The howling of the crowd rose to a crescendo as they rushed in, ready for the kill.

Just in time, the swimmer reached the low ladder that hung from the far cliff and hauled himself out, kicking at the nose of one of the sharks as it lunged out of the water towards him. The baying of the crowd was immediately replaced by a massive shout of approval. In response, the victorious swimmer leapt up and down, punching the air in triumph.

Vic nudged me gently in the side. “Told you he’d make it.”

“He’s a hero,” I said.

The crowd had calmed down and returned to their impatient muttering. But for now, nobody else was prepared to enter the water. So Vic and I sat by the edge of the cliff and after a while we got to chatting. Turned out, Vic was a writer.

“So what did you write?” I wanted to know.

“You know,” he said, “I think it’s less about what you actually wrote and more about what you were going to write.”

“Go on. So what were you going to write?”

“The ultimate book,” he said.

Just then, our conversation was broken by another splash and another great bellow from the crowd. At last, the next swimmer had taken the plunge.

We both looked over the bay as she boldly made her way across, surging forward with powerful, determined strokes. But once again, the alarming shadows glided up from the deep in remorseless pursuit.

I nudged Vic. “She’s not going to make it.”

“Sure she is.”

She had just about reached the ladder on the far cliff, but they were already on to her, striking mercilessly at her flailing body.

But just as all seemed lost, two figures balancing on the ladder managed to reach in and drag her out of the crimson-tainted water. The damage done was clear to see; one leg taken off from just below the knee. In a flash, she was carried onto a stretcher and hustled away for suitable medical attention. But even then, she managed to raise her fist and wave it in a weak gesture of victory, driving the crowd into ecstasies of appreciation.

Vic nudged me. “Told you she’d make it.”

“She’s a hero,” I said.

It took a bit longer for the crowd to quieten down this time. Once their noise had reduced sufficiently for normal conversation to be allowed, I resumed my discussion with Vic.

“So tell me. What exactly is this ultimate book?”

“The last book. The final book,” he explained.

“I have no idea what that means.”

“Have you been to a bookshop lately?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “Once or twice.”

“And what impression did you get?”

“I don’t know. Lots of books I guess.”

“Precisely,” he said. “Lots and lots and lots of books. But did you ever ask yourself the question, ‘are all those books necessary?’”

“No,” I replied. “Can’t say that I ever have.”

“Ah, you see,” he said. “Not many people have thought of this. But that is the question I found myself asking. Why do we have so many books? Surely they’re not all necessary. Surely not every one of those books needs to be read. I reckon all you’d have to do is read, maybe fifteen of them, and you’ve pretty much covered everything that’s written in all of the other books.”

There was a splash, and then another splash, and then another. To the great delight of the crowd, three swimmers had jumped in simultaneously. All three struck out strongly for the far shore, attempting to outrace the sharks that now numbered at least twelve. One of them made it to the other side, where he flamboyantly accepted the plaudits of the crowd. However the other two did not. Barely three quarters of the way across, they were overtaken and rapidly ripped apart.

As all the sharks rushed in for their pound of flesh, another seven contestants leapt into the water. Five of them made it to the other side, three of them with bodies intact.

I nudged Vic. “I reckon that’s the way to go. Wait until the sharks are feeding and then make a dash for it.”

“Good plan,” he agreed.

It was soon clear that this latest burst of activity was over. No more contestants were ready to take on the inhabitants of that water, now stained a deep red. This was a relief as I was keen to continue my discussion with Vic.

“Sorry, I got a bit distracted,” I said. “What was that about fifteen books?”

“I was saying, I reckon you only need to read fifteen books and you can pretty much say that you’ve read every book that’s ever been written.”

“Only fifteen books you reckon?”

“Maybe twenty at max. Of course, you’d need to choose the right ones. You could read twenty books and they’d all be pretty much the same. No, you’d need to get a spread of all the different types of books in the shop.”

“Of course,” I agreed. “A good spread of all of the books. So what does this have to do with this ultimate book you were going to write?”

“Well that was my breakthrough. I began to think that if these twenty essential books have all been written already, then maybe, just maybe, there was still one that hadn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at it this way. With every book that’s ever been written, you’ve got some writer who’s trying to say something. Make a point. Create some sort of profound observation about the world that we live in. Only problem is, there are now so many books around that they’re all just repeating each other.”

“Repeating each other,” I said.

“Exactly. You’d think by now that everything that needs to be said has already been said. But I reckon there’s still one thing that hasn’t been said. One point that’s yet to be made. One final book that’s waiting to be written. And that’s when I figured that I was the bloke to write it.”

“The ultimate book,” I murmured. “That’s brilliant.”

“Too bloody right it is,” he said. “After my book is finished, nobody ever has to write another book again. Think of all the advantages. When you go into a bookshop, you won’t have to worry about whether some new book by a writer you’ve never heard of is going to be any good or not. Make life easier for booksellers too, ‘cos they won’t have to worry about stocking up on so many different books any more. And even better for publishers ‘cos they’ll never ever need to publish another book again. They can even consolidate their lists. Cut them right down so all we have is the twenty books that we really need.”

“Twenty-one,” I reminded him.

“Of course, twenty-one. How could I have forgotten? But do you know who the biggest winners will be?”

I was about to answer when we were interrupted by a rising slow handclap from the crowd, followed, in response, by a series of splashes. There were now at least twenty swimmers in the water. The formerly placid, blue bay was transformed into a cauldron of hysterical movement. And while occasionally a competitor proudly raised themselves up the ladder on the other side, the vast majority never made it halfway.

But exciting as it all seemed, I had somewhat lost interest in this spectacle. I was much more interested in hearing the rest of Vic’s story.

“No,” I finally replied, trying hard to make myself heard over the now incessant roar of the crowd.

“Writers,” said Vic, also yelling to make himself audible.

“What do you mean?”

“Think of all those writers out there, desperately typing away. Trying to think of how to be original. How to say something that’s never been said before.”

“Yeah?”

“Well now they don’t have to worry anymore. It can be known with certainly that everything that needs to be said has already been said. They can get on with doing something more valuable in their lives.”

“That’s genius!” I exclaimed.

“You reckon?”

“I reckon. Mate, you’d be doing the world a public service.”

“For sure.”

“So why didn’t you do it?”

“Why didn’t I do what?”

“Write the ultimate book.”

At that moment, a commotion arose around us. Apparently a couple of contestants had gotten into a disagreement and one had pushed the other into the water. The crowd was furious, booing loudly at such unsporting behaviour.

I nudged Vic. “That’s just not on,” I said.

“No bloody way,” he agreed.

It seemed that the other competitors shared this view. The miscreant was quickly picked up and carried, kicking and screaming, to the edge of the cliff, where he was unceremoniously tossed directly into the thickest mass of sharks in the bay. The jeers of the crowd immediately turned to cheers at the sight of justice being done.

“So why didn’t you write the ultimate book?” I asked again.

“Well here is the problem,” he explained. “In order to figure out which book hadn’t been written, first of all I had to figure out all the books that already had. And you know what that meant?”

“I get it. You pretty much had to read every single book that had already been written.”

“Well not every book. Remember there’s really only twenty books I needed to read.”

“That doesn’t sound so hard.”

“It doesn’t sound hard. But the really difficult bit is figuring out exactly which twenty books to choose when there’s so many to begin with.”

“I see.”

“And the more I thought about it, the more I came to realise that there wasn’t much this book could actually be about anyway. It can’t be a detective story ‘cos lots of people have already written them. It can’t be science fiction either, or one of those fantasy ones with wizards and elves and that. It can’t be funny, ‘cos there are lots of funny books out there, but it can’t be serious either, ‘cos I reckon there are probably even more of them.”

“I can see the problem.”

“So that’s when it hit me. I couldn’t do it. There was no way I could write this ultimate book. It was just too hard. My career as a writer had ended before it had even begun. But do you know something?”

“What?”

He turned to me, his eyes glittering. “As a writer I might have been a failure but at least I set my sights high. I tried to do something that nobody had ever done before. I never ended up doing it but geez I gave it my best shot. And I reckon there’s something heroic about that.”

“You were a heroic failure,” I agreed.

“You’ve said it in one. A heroic failure. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s the only failure I’d ever want to be.”

“Here’s to heroic failures,” I cried, and we smashed our fists together as if we were making a toast.

“Hey, shall we do it now?” he asked.

I looked up at the sun, just starting to sink towards the horizon, and down to the rusty-brown waters of the bay, now seething with arms, legs and torsos, not to mention the hordes of sharks, still swarming in from the open ocean.

“If we don’t do it now, I reckon we never will,” I replied.

We shook hands.

“Good luck,” he said.

“And to you as well. Thanks heaps for the story.”

“No worries. How about on three. One, two, three!”

We both jumped. As I sank into its depths, the coldness of the water almost overwhelmed me. But then I made it back to the surface and took a deep breath, just as Vic’s head popped up beside me.

“Hey, do you reckon someone will ever do it?” I asked.

“Do what?”

“Actually write this ultimate book.”

“Dunno. But whoever does will have to be one top writer.”

“They’d be a hero?” I suggested.

Vic laughed. “Too right. They’d be a bloody hero.”

Dark shapes were beginning to loom through the murky water. It was time to end this.

“Race you to the other side,” I called.

“You’re on.”

I turned to face the ladder hanging from that opposite cliff so far away. And then I swam like I’ve never swam in all of my life.