Cousins, Midland Terrace, Millhead, 1948

Short story first published on-line by Virtual Lancaster in August 2003.

In the Spotlight

Greg Grey, my Creative Writing tutor, criticises my work. It’s hard to take. He says nice things too but you don’t really notice those because he’s just saying them to take the edge off the criticism. He never slates it – just picks little holes that eat away at it. Why can’t he see that it’s excellent work?  Why can’t he see that I’m a really talented writer – a great writer?  Has he never heard that saying ‘Some men are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them?’ Who was it said that? Well whoever it was missed a bit off – ‘and some just take a long time to be acknowledged as great.’ Well, I can wait. It will come.

It’s a family thing. My cousin Henry is just the same. He’s convinced that he’s going to be great in show business – singer, actor, performer, it doesn’t matter. One day he’s going to be discovered, just like me with my writing, and then the world will take notice. In the meantime we both get on with the day job and develop our unappreciated talents in our spare time. It will happen for us, one day, soon.

Henry discovered his talent before me. When we shared a pram as babies he never stopped screaming. It was the showman in him, trying to get out even then. I couldn’t demonstrate my skills because nobody thought to give me pen and paper. As we grew up I’d sneak off to write in solitude. Well you couldn’t concentrate on writing when he was around – the noise was unbelievable. That problem was solved when he discovered school plays, Scout ‘gang’ shows, church-choirs and talent contests. He no longer needed me as an audience.

He took me to a talent contest once. We were about ten years old. It was an afternoon in mid-season in the late 1950’s.  Archie Collis was running it on the West End Pier in Morecambe. The concert-hall was a third full of old people with nothing better to do and mothers on holiday with their kids. There wasn’t much talent on show that day. Henry went to enter his name and I sat at the back.

Archie Collis took the mic from the penultimate performer and announced the last act,

‘Two local young men – Henry and his cousin – singing Lonnie Donegan’s latest hit “Putting on the Style.” Give them a big round of applause.’

Jesus wept. I died. I slid down the seat and hid between the rows, rigid with fear. There was a long pause then Archie said,

‘Sorry folks, it’s a solo after all.’

Henry took the mike and belted it out with his usual enthusiasm, to a piano accompaniment. That was the single most embarrassing experience of my life. Henry won ten bob for second place and a smack in the eye from me when we got outside.

I pay for the Creative Writing course so Greg makes a living out of picking holes in my work. One day he’ll realise that he’s failed to discover a great writing talent right under his nose. But my day will come. One day I’ll be famous – the greatest writer in the world. Everyone will want to read my work. I’ll make J.K Rowling look like nothing more than a writer of children’s books.  I’ll have wealth and acclaim. Then I’ll show him.

He does an occasional turn at the Spotlight Club in the York House. Just because he’s had a few things published and some people find him funny.  I’ll turn up one night when I’m famous. I’ll take Henry along too. But I won’t flaunt my wealth and fame. We’ll just walk in quietly, as Greg’s about to take the mic, and sit at the back. I won’t say anything but people will notice me and wonder what I’m doing there in Lancaster instead of being interviewed on ‘Parkinson’ or a television arts show with Melvyn Bragg. A buzz will go round the room and then Greg will realise that nobody’s listening to him. He’ll peer past the spotlight and see me. He’ll know that there’s no point in going ahead with his turn as no one will pay any attention to him. That no matter what he does it will never be as well received as my work. So he’ll ask the great writer in the audience to perform and I’ll politely decline. Then he’ll ask again with a little more desperation, then he’ll plead and then he’ll crawl across the floor to beg me.

And I’ll say,

‘Sorry Greg, but I don’t perform live. It was a decision I made forty years ago – in my youth – when I was unknown.  But, have you met my cousin Henry?  He’ll give you a song instead.’