The shop across the road looks like it sells a load of old tat, but it sure looks more appealing than trying and failing to put pen to paper. I down the last frothy dregs of my cappuccino, tuck my notebook and pen in my bag, and head out to kill some time.
The door jangles to announce my presence, and in seconds the shop owner appears before me with a wide grin stretched across his face.
“Looking for anything in particular?”
I shake my head. “Just browsing.”
I look at the shelves and take in the junk. Twee wooden figurines. Cheap plastic flowers arranged in even cheaper plastic vases. Cutesy signs with naff statements like God Bless This Mess and Dust is a Country Accent. Dachshund draught excluders with blue plaid bellies and cartoonish eyes. Floral aprons and floral tea towels and floral oven mitts and floral cushion covers and...
“Perhaps I can point you in the right direction,” the shop owner says, his megawatt grin not faltering for even a moment.
“I don’t really need anything specific. I’ll just take a look around.”
“It’s not always about what you need, but what you want.”
I nod politely and turn away, feigning interest in a display of glass paperweights.
“What do you do for a living?” he says.
I hate this question and I have no idea why he is asking it. “Um… I’m a writer. Kind of.” I leave the paperweights behind and approach a display of ugly fridge magnets.
I hear his footsteps. He’s following me.
“What do you write?”
“Wonderful! What are you working on right now?”
“This and that.”
“I have some fantastic notebooks you might be interested in.”
My mind instantly pictures the tragic stash of beautiful unused notebooks I have tucked away in a drawer at home. “I don’t really need one at the minute.”
“But these are something special, I promise you. Over here.”
I roll my eyes behind his back, but I follow him anyway. Poor bloke is probably starved of customers. The least I can do is entertain him.
He stops beside a table which is covered in gaudy notebooks of all shapes and sizes, all of them with colourful foil covers. I smile politely.
“All the top writers have one of these notebooks,” he says.
“Stephen King, J. K. Rowling. Neil Gaiman. Kate Atkinson. I sold one to Tolkien not long before he died. And I’ve heard that George Orwell used one to write Animal Farm.”
I have to suppress a laugh.
He leans toward me and lowers his voice. “These notebooks have a touch of magic to them, you see.”
I raise my eyebrows, just to humour him.
“All you have to do is write down a concept for a story on the first page, and the notebook will do the rest. Leave it overnight, and by morning an entire story will have been written for you. Incredible.”
“That’s… yeah. That’s really impressive.” I wonder how crushed he would be if I were to simply cut and run.
“So which colour would you like?”
“Huh? Oh. I don’t think I… I don’t need one, thank you.”
His grin finally vanishes and he looks me up and down disparagingly. “Seems to me that you could use all the help you could get.”
“Well, consider your circumstances. You’re killing time in a twee little tat shop in the middle of a working day. If that doesn’t prove lack of purpose, I don’t know what does.”
My mouth hangs open, but it can’t think of a suitable reply.
“You have ideas, of course. I can see in your eyes that you’re full of them. The trouble you have is bringing them to life. And isn’t that the problem for everybody? They say everyone has a book inside them, but how many are actually capable of writing their story down and putting it into the world? Not many. But you… you so desperately want to be one the few who manage it. You want the glory of publication. You want to see your name on the bestseller lists. You want to see your books front and centre on the shelves of every bookstore. You want it — but you can’t do it.”
My face flushes and my mouth turns dry. He might as well have punched me in the gut. He’s right. I want it so desperately I could cry. But I can’t do it, no matter how many cappuccinos I sup in the artsy coffee house across the road, my pen poised above blank lined paper.
“So buy a notebook and make your dreams come true.” His grin returns. “Worth a shot at least, isn’t it?”
I awake before my alarm goes off, feeling fully rested. It was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I yawn, stretch, push away the duvet, and remember the notebook that left my wallet £19.99 lighter.
I scramble out of bed and over to the dressing table where the magic book lays. My hands are quivering as I pick it up. I hold my breath, open up the cover, and see…
Well, not nothing. There are three scribbled lines there, of course, written in my own hand the night before. But a complete story certainly hasn’t been brought to life while I slept.
I drop the notebook and laugh. That bloke was a true salesman. Of course it wouldn’t work! I’m embarrassed to realise a little part of me thought it might.
£19.99 down the drain. What a scam.
But at least I have this story to tell.