‘I don’t think very much of this, so far.’
‘Who are you? And why should I care what you think?’
‘I’m the reader.’
‘Oh. Hello there.’
‘I hope you don’t mind me interrupting like this.’
‘Well, it is not usually the way we do things. The writer usually does the writing and – as the protagonist – I do what I need to do keep his – or her, of course – story going.’
The protagonist peered out of the page. ‘We don’t usually get to hear much from readers, at least until the reviews come in.’
‘I know. That’s why I’m here now, talking to you.’ The reader glanced around. She was alone, sitting in her favourite reading chair, but she still felt self-conscious talking to a fictional character like this. She – so her mother had told her – had a relative who talked back to the voices in her head and they’d locked her away in a secure unit… after the incident. But, on the other hand, she knew of another distant relative on her father’s side who talked back to the voices in his head, and they’d made him a bishop.
‘Hello, are you still there?’ The protagonist shook off a paragraph of description and stepped closer to the edge of the page. But not too close. He’d always had a terrible fear of margins. They were too much like cliff edges.
‘Sorry, I was distracted.’
Only I don’t have long to save the world and the female lead is unknowingly driving to her almost certain death if I don’t get on with it.’
‘That’s just it.’
The reader shrugged. ‘This story. It just isn’t working for me.’
‘Sorry. We were all doing our best. The writer thought it was the best idea he’s had for years. You must admit the bit where the female lead gets caught in the antagonist’s bedroom by the bodyguard is….’
‘I haven’t got that far yet.’
‘Oh, sorry. What chapter are we in? Only I can’t see the chapter heading from this far down the page.’
‘Why do you say it like that?’
‘Chapter Three? As if I’ve just handed you a dead mouse.’
‘Only it is not that far into the story. It does seem a bit early to be giving up on us, especially as they are quite short chapters.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. But like I said, this is just not working for me. I think I want to try something else. Perhaps a romance, or something like that.’
‘A romance? I think, if you stick with it, we could change it.’ The protagonist sidled closer to the page surface. ‘Listen, I think I could swing it – a romance that is. This female lead, I’ve heard about her. The blokes down at The Protagonist Arms have shared a few of their synopsises with me, if you know what I mean?’ He winked.
‘I’m not interested in erotica.’ The reader started to close the book.
‘No! No, hang on. Not erotica, of course not.’ He smiled tentatively, wincing at the adverb. ‘A reader like you… with taste and discernment. Obviously, you are not interested in that sort of stuff. I’m just saying, y’know, that with a drink or two inside her this female lead gets quite… passionate.’
‘No, sorry. I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to read something else.’
‘Do you know how hard we worked? The writer had to spend days researching nuclear power,’ he flexed his arms.’ You do know how long I have to spend working out to get muscles like this? That on top of my archaeology professorship, it is no wonder I haven’t had a proper relationship since the third book in the series.’
‘This is a series?’
‘Yes, this is book 7. Didn’t you know?’
‘No. No wonder I couldn’t make sense of it.’ The reader slammed the book shut, ignoring the muffled shouts of protest that faded into silence as the pages all closed together. She glanced over at her bookshelf, sighed and reached for the TV remote.