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Brush With Fame

Derek Mortimer

The famous author was in front of me signing his book, a powerful-looking, handsome man, with a beaming face, smiling up at his adoring readers. He was one of the literary stars flashing across the sky at the Sydney Writers Festival, world renown for his poetry and novels inspired by the mystical stories and legends of his native Nigeria.

The queue was long, the author’s patience infinite. He beamed and chatted, posed for his photo with readers (why hadn’t I brought my camera? Why hadn’t I updated my ancient mobile to a smart phone?). He not only signed his book he also wrote a comment and drew little pictures, one admirer in the queue whispered to her friend.

The queue inched forward. It was going to take a considerable time. The three other writers, who had also sat at the spacious table signing their books, had long ago run out of customers and had gone to the coffee shop, the bar, or home to work on their latest literary contribution.

The famous author, Booker prize-winning Nigerian-Brit, Ben Okri, had said in a chat with radio personality, Michael Cathcart, before a large, spellbound audience, that he had packed one whole chapter into a single sentence; reduced and reduced and reduced until it was finally said in one line:

Some things only become clear much later.”

It was the first sentence in the book. The first paragraph.

It had a whole page to itself.

It looked very lonely.

One thin black line on a white page.

That had to be important.

I must try it.

In my next story.

His earlier books had many lines on each page.

I thought what it was going to be like unpacking the sentence to discover what he had put in there. A bit like re-hydrating freeze-dried food?

“How do you read it?” the author had been asked by the interviewer.


“Not, Somethingsonlybecomeclearmuchlater.”

As everyone in the queue had been requested to do, I had written my name on a Post-it note and stuck it in the front of the book to save time, avoid misspellings and confusion. I slipped in my business card next to it. OK, cringe stuff, embarrassing, opportunist. Yes, all those things, but when you are a highly unsuccessful self-publishing author you can’t sink too low to attract attention. It was worth a try, quicker and far less boring than social media. And you never know, it just takes a little bit of luck sometimes then anything can happen.

My red business card sat between the pristine, stiff, white pages of Mr Okri’s, Age of Magic, next to the yellow Post-it sticker. It could turn into my magic.

As I waited I started to read The Age of Magic, a story about a group of documentary film makers on a quest to Arcadia. I randomly picked out pages and sentences:

You must learn how to lend yourself to dreams when dreams lend themselves to you.

They have read the words but what do they mean? They read the words again. The real reading begins when the first reading is over. It begins with their bewilderment.

At this point I had another brilliant idea for self-promotion. The elegantly-dressed woman in front of me had been showing her younger companion photos on her smartphone. I asked her would she be kind enough to take my photo with the famous author when we finally got to the head of the queue?

“Of course. I’ll email it to you,” she said, anticipating my question.

I smiled my thanks, handed her my red business card, and went back to turning the pages of The Age of Magic, reading whatever caught my eyes, as we continued the slow shuffle to the table and the author.

It took me more than a decade to hear something my father told me,” Mistletoe replied. (What a strange name for a character, mistletoe, a parasitic plant).

It can take a lifetime.”

We really hear long after we have heard. We hear best in recollection.”

I turned a few more pages. The queue edged forward a pace, then halted again.

The dead hear what we are thinking about them as clearly as we hear the wind streaming down the mountains,” said Mistletoe.

I turned a page.

Somewhere in us the absent is most present. It takes as much effort to keep the dead alive in us as to keep the living present to us.

This was going to challenge my perceptions of what the world is. As I lowered the book I noticed  that the woman who was going to take my photo with Ben Okri had had her book signed and was chatting with the author. He shook her hand a final time and she turned and walked away.

My photo!

I grabbed her by the sleeve. She turned in alarm, then recognised me.

“Oh, your picture. I nearly forgot.”

Nearly? She had forgotten

I stepped forward. Ben Okri shook my hand and I walked around the table and stood next to him, trying not to appear too obsequious.

The elegantly-dressed woman took my picture with her smart phone, smiled, and left.

I passed the author his book, my book now. He removed my business card from the page without looking at it and placed it on the table among the curling, discarded Post-it stickers. It was worth a try.

He wrote a little note to me on the inside title page about the “magic of literature”, and the “charm of imagination”.

The “little drawings” that someone had eluded to, turned out to be, in my case, the date, the place; Sydney, and his signature, written in bold, regular strokes of a felt-tipped pen on a white page.

I left the theatre clutching my beautiful book and crunched through the drifts of autumn-brown leaves in the gutter. At a bar on the old wharves I ordered a glass of red to add to my inner glow and sat and watched as the blue sky darkened into evening. The sun set and night’s chill crept in over the water.

I thought, what if? What if Ben Okri, when he was cleaning up his things from the table after the signing, idly picked up my business card, read it, then slipped it into his wallet, the way that writers glean and collect and store things, just in case they might be useful?

What if he checked out my website?

What if he rang me?

I sipped my wine. I contemplated.

You must learn how to lend yourself to dreams when dreams lend themselves to you.

You never know.

I ordered another wine, eased off my jacket and stretched out my legs.

What if?





  • This story works so well in context, Derek. I really enjoyed it this time. It flows so well and we all like to dream, hopefully some dreams will come true.
    Sarah Goldman

  • Thanks Sarah, I’ll let you know if Ben rings me.

  • Most help articles on the web are inaccurate or inoneerhct. Not this!


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