Do you know what kind of people have meetings in Starbucks? Important people. People who wear well-pressed suits and order black coffee with no room (or, occasionally, on blustery, miserable Mondays, a venti upside down nonfat mocha with an extra shot, topped with whole milk foam…). They come equipped with spread sheets and projections, yet they’re always late enough to have to squeeze eight people at a table meant for two with absolutely nowhere for the all the briefcases to go. Then, of course, there are the matching neutrally toned tench coats that should be hung, but end up underfoot and trapped under chair legs.
It’s a very solemn business obviously, and although I have to imagine that these people work in offices with lovely large conference rooms and enough cushy chairs for everybody, I’m the one who gets dirty look for spitting my coffee out when this damned book happened to catch me by surprise. I work from home, people! This is my office (for as long as I can fake a few sips left in this cup), and if I happen to bray unexpectedly, resulting in a mouthful of room-temperature soy latte all over my one nice sweater, it’s my prerogative. You don’t have to stare and make faces; your disgust has been duly noted. Just go back to those bar graphs. I promise untoward delight will not impinge on the sanctity of your coffee shop meeting again.
I did promise (silently, because there were about sixteen of them and I prefer to save my smart alec remarks for people who know me better and are less intimidating), and it really wasn’t my fault that I broke that promise several more times over the course of an hour. I eventually took the hint that said joviality was truly not appreciated, and saw myself out.
The thing is, I’m usually an excellent coffee shop patron – very quiet and tidy, and I’ll even share the outlet if I have a full charge. It takes a special book to reduce me to a chortling distraction, unworthy of the chair I had to pry from a woman who was only using it for her purse. Clovenhoof is apparently one of the dangerous ones though.
“What do you mean, pretty much a paramedic?” asked the woman standing above them.
“I’m first aid trained,” said Nerys. “Can you feel your legs, sir?”
“I’m first aid trained too,” said the woman.
Nerys stood. “Listen, sweet-cheeks. I don’t mean I’ve just watched a few episodes of Casualty. I am first aid trained. I’ve helped out during several medical emergencies.” She pulled out her phone, flipped to her photo library and passed it to the woman. “Look. Here’s me helping a boy who was choking on a mint imperial.” Nerys knelt down again and began feeling the man’s arms for fractures.
The woman looked at the photograph. “How many emergencies?”
“Several,” said Nerys.
“Two,” said Nerys. “Including this one.”
“Two is not several.”
“Two is more than one and therefore is several.” She put her arms under the man’s shoulder and began to turn him over. “Sir, I’m just going to put you in the recovery position.”
“Oh, what’s the point?” he said, producing fresh tears.
“To stop you swallowing your tongue, I think.”
“Hang on,” said the woman. “Did you ask someone to take a picture of you giving this boy the Heimlich Manoeuvre?”
“Yes,” said Nerys irritably, getting the man onto his side.
“He was choking but you stopped to get out your phone so someone could take a photo before you stopped him choking?”
“Who wants to see a photograph of someone who is no longer choking?” She raised her eyebrows to her patient. She was sure he understood that the woman was some sort of imbecile. (loc 304)
And that was just a funny moment – not one of the sections where I legitimately laughed out loud. I’m not sharing any coffee spewing moments here – not to be a spoil sport, but because I swear they will be much funnier if you read them in context. (I know this for a fact, because I read out one a piece to a friend over Skype and she thought I was deranged. So, context.)
I have to admit I stumbled on this book in an unconventional way. I was reading up about one of its authors, Iain Grant, who is gathering interest for a collaborative writing project called Ten to One. I decided to submit a brief resume and writing sample for consideration in the project, mainly because in my experience, writing with a partner or two (or in this case, ten) is infinitely more fun than writing alone. Writing with others shores up personal weaknesses and it introduces ideas that can lead to far better books. Clovenhoof was written this way, and I think it worked out brilliantly. One of my all-time favorite books, Good Omens, was also written collaboratively, as was The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, a favorite from when I was young. While I have no idea what kind of writers will end up being chosen for this project, I’m thrilled by the idea of it.
When I left college and moved 3000 miles away from my family, my mother and I decided to write a collaborative novel just for fun. I was lonely, she was heartsick, and we both needed a way to stay in touch that transcended ordinary emails. It was from this desire that our clunky, silly (still unfinished) book was born. At least once a week, I would write a chapter and send it to her, then she would write another and send it back. The characters were related (both literally and figuratively), but their story lines didn’t overlap much. This gave us room to pursue our own plot lines while still driving the other half of the story forward. It was wonderful.
Even though the novel was not particularly good (I dare you to look back on something you wrote when you were twenty-three and claim it as anything but melodramatic insanity), it meant so much to me. It motivated me during a difficult transition, and it brought me closer to my mother. Most importantly, it was fun. Her chapters always made me laugh, and I loved that she looked forward to seeing my work as much as I did hers. After all the competition of the academic world, what she and I created was pure bliss.
I got the impression, reading Clovenhoof, that these authors, too, were having a good time with it. It’s a quality that shines through in a book, and one that I can never get enough of. I knew from the first page of this book that I would enjoy it. A snappy novel about the devil getting sacked by his sanctimonious board of directors and sent to live in a suburb in England? It was almost too on the nose in its targeting, to be honest. And a week before Easter, at that? I never really stood a fighting chance against its charms…
Heide Goody and Iain Grant may be found at their book-related blog.