While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Blank Hippo Blank

I've been looking through the word documents I have created so far this year. Specifically the ones that never became anything.

The Quickly Abandoned.

The outlines for unwritten novels; ways to link short stories. The snatches of dialogue overheard at work that could be something more. The first person rants which I couldn't bring myself to fictionalise, nor could I bear posting them here as "What I Actually Think."

Even though it's only been a hundred and something days, I had already forgotten some of the things I'd written. That's what happens when you don't revise something. It is only once I begin revising that a piece begins to assume any importance.

Revision is what separates writers writing for themselves and from writers writing to be read.

But, having said this, some of these unrevised snippets are interesting -- in an archaeological sense. I've been writing all over the place (short stories, novels, poetry, blogs, memoirish indulgences), and these Also-Wrotes fill in the gaps of the story of this year.

The piece I'm about to cut and paste below was written on the sixth of Jan, so very early on in the Year of a Million Words [sic]. At the time I didn't really know how to go about writing circa 3000 words a day, every day. I was half drunk on the challenge, half baffled by the numbers.

The 532 words were the last I wrote that day. An effort to pad out the numbers, sure, but I thought they could be useful for something (perhaps that should be: something *big shrug* ?)... but now, four months later, I know these words are better left where they are.

Rest in peace, casualties of the War of Words.

Blank Hippos Blank

We were walking along the beach at Portobello.

“If I had to describe it, I’d say fizzy.”



“I don’t understand,” I said. “You can’t just start a conversation like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like you’re continuing a conversation. What’s ‘It’? You said, If I had to describe it… ‘It’ is only a placeholder for something the other person already knows.”

“They do it in short stories all the time. You do it in your short stories. I remember.”

“This is real life.”

She made a snickt sound; suction between tongue and roof of mouth. Said, “My life is like one long short story.”

I laughed.

“It. Was. Fizzy,” she said. “My stomach. Last night.”


“When you go to the library next, get me Moby Dick.”

“You won’t like it.”

“It sounds like I’d like it.”

“The plot is like the tiniest part of the book.”

“What’s the rest?”

“Stuff about whales. Whaling. Ships. In the 1840s.”

“Could be interesting.”

“It’s great, but I don’t think you’ll like it.”

“What about that other book?”

“What other book?”

“The one you mentioned last night. It probably doesn’t have hippos in the title, but that’s what I’m getting.”

“I don’t remember mentioning a book with hippos in the title.”

“It didn’t have hippos in the title—”

“You could make a great title with hippos somewhere.”

“It was three words.”

“I don’t remember.”

“I didn’t dream it.”

“Hey, I just remembered a dream I had a few days ago. I was forced to eat human flesh.”

“Yeah, you told me.”


“You told me.”

“But I just remembered.”

“You must have told me when you weren’t awake yet.”

“Did I recommend this hippo book when I wasn’t awake yet?”

“It was night. We’d just turned the light out.”

I shook my head. “Blank.”

“It was three words: blank blank blank.”

“Blank blank hippos.”

“Hippos blank blank.”

“Blank hippos blank.”

“I like that one. You should name a story that.”


“Can I be in it?”

“But your life is one long short story. If you turn up in one of mine, it’ll be like plagiarism or something.”

“No it won’t.”

“Or fan fiction.”

“I don’t have fans. I’m destined to be ignored in life, mourned in death, remembered in eternity.”

“Sounds like the best kind of short story. Was it Gogol?” I pronounced it Gaw-gol, the way Nabokov says to.


“The book I told you about.”


“You should read some Gogol. ‘The Overcoat’. ‘The Nose’.”

“I prefer ‘Blank Hippos Blank’.”

“Only coz you’re in it.”

“Yes! I’m in your story, I’m in your story.”


By this time we’d walked up and down the promenade. It isn’t very long.

“I used to hate stories with writers in them,” I said.


“And then I realised everyone finds writers fascinating. Everyone thinks they have a novel in them.”

“Or a long short story.”


“I don’t mind that you’re a snob,” she said. “I’m not a snob, but I don’t mind you being one.”

“I am a snob. I am also white trash. I am a long short story, too.”

“Home time?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Guess what? So am I.”

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