It started with a word. Then another word. Followed by a few more words. A comma here and there. The pre-requisite full-stops. Suddenly, I had a paragraph. I repeated the exercise. Before I knew it, I had written another paragraph. After half-an-hour I had my first chapter. Twenty-nine more chapters swiftly followed and within three days 58% Cabbage was fully born.
Two-hundred-and-forty pages in three days.
‘Don’t be getting a big head’ I thought, but I couldn’t help it.
I was in awe of my own splurge-worthy brilliance. I lent back, put up my feet, lit an old Panetela cigar I had lying around, coughed for five minutes, set fire to the curtains, put out the blaze and then having resumed my reclining, sighed deeply, hugging myself in a cosy bubble-wrap of self-fulfilment and wonder.
The following day I re-read what I had written. Usually, at this stage, the writer announces that he suddenly realised what had been put on paper was complete drivel. But no. I’m sorry. It wasn’t drivel. In fact 58% Cabbage was even better the second time.
It was the funniest thing I had ever read in my whole life. I would go so far as to claim that each convulsed- with-laughter-filled-page was 40 karat humour fiction gold and that the book would change the way the world looked at Galway, Ireland, parents, relationships, ZZ Top and the stand-up comedy industry forever.
Manuscript of inestimable quality finished, getting published will be a piece of succulent gateau, I surmise. All I need is a literary agent. And no time for modesty. Not with the material on offer. Go for the best. Reach for the top. Think I’ll send it to QTA. The Quentin Talisman Agency. Top agent in London. Nickname. The Panzer. Yes. I want The Panzer haggling over my contracts. Offices in Covent Garden. Hong Kong. Sydney. New York. Immediately, I pop manuscript in a jiffy bag and post it.
Two weeks later The Panzer, himself, personally emails me. ‘Karl, I love this manuscript. I feel so good about it. Gemma, one of my interns, rescued it from the unsolicited manuscripts slush pile. She immediately knew it was something very special. And so do I. I firmly believe this book will change the way, from now on, the world looks at Galway, Ireland, parents, relationships, ZZ Top and the stand-up comedy industry forever. I will contact you Monday morning and we can discuss 58% Cabbage further.’
Naturally, I’m elated but frankly, not too surprised. But I do think I deserve a self-congratulatory back slap, and while I attempt one, unfortunately, I pull a muscle in my right upper trapezius. Decide to just lie down for a while and light up another old Panetela cigar I have lying around. No fire this time but sadly some misplaced ash leaves a noticeable stain on my Nordic natural wood flooring.
Monday morning comes. No word from Quentin. A few more days pass. Still no call. I’ll give him a week. He is, after all, a very busy and successful globetrotting dynamo of the book trade. The weekend arrives. Not a peep from The Panzer. Following week flies by. Still nothing. Feeling a sudden punch-to-the-lower-belly dejection I try to rationalise. Hey, there are other top agents out there that will love Cabbage (the book has already, in my mind, achieved the notoriety of the abbreviated one-word title form) but who am I kidding…….I sort of had my heart set on The Panzer. Will I try and ring him? No. Don’t want to come across as too pushy. And desperate. I’ll leave it for another day or two.
These things take time I tell myself as I order a cup of coffee. In the coffee shop I flick through the previous days’ Guardian. I spot a headline. “Top literary agent killed in a mysterious shooting incident.” I close my eyes.
There are thousands of top literary agents in the UK. What are the chances? I read on.
Two paragraphs down the word Panzer assaults my eyeball – my other eye remains scrunched up closed in gnawing trepidation.
The newspaper article goes on to detail the bizarre and tragic demise (a 17th century musket was involved) of the world-famous literary agent and bon vivant. A momentary feeling of unreal calm envelopes me. Followed by fourteen curse words. Screamed at the top of my lungs. Critical stares emanate from the other coffee shop customers. Staff inquire about my wellbeing. I mumble something incoherent. About cabbages and muskets. Then finish my coffee and leave.
Fast forward six years. Early insane optimism about my manuscript has been replaced by a deadening dread of anything to do with it. I spend winter nights, at the back of my garden in Dublin 8, burning the four-hundred-and-seventy-nine rejection letters from both agents and publishers that I have received in the interim. I know it is frowned upon (and completely illegal according to The Waste Management Regulations 2009) but what is a writer in the throes of a long-term nervous breakdown supposed to do?
One night I hear someone ask ‘Are those rejection letters that you’re burning at the back of your garden? I’d know that scent anywhere. Mild effluent with a hint of cinnamon and the slightly sour aroma of anxiety sweat.’ And that’s how former failed writer-turned-agent and recently moved in neighbour Sisyphus O’Shea enters my life. Sisyphus O’ Shea. Of SOS Management. He agrees to take me on. Fortune has once again smiled. But once I get to know Sisyphus I realise fortune is smiling in the playing -a -joke- on -you-and -sniggering- behind -your -back kind of way. Sisyphus finds me a publisher. Unputdownable Books. Never heard of them, I say. Doesn’t matter, they’ve agreed to publish it, he says. And they’ve signed the worldwide rights for an undisclosed two-figure sum.
What? Jesus. This guy is a disaster. I’ve got to get as far away from him as I can…..but how can I? He’s only recently moved in next door!
Never thought I’d write these four words but…….. Thank. God. For. Covid.
Before all the lockdowns kick in by mid-March 2020, I decide, in the dead of night, to quickly move down to Galway to take care of my sporadically eccentric mother.
I’ve returned to my childhood home. I suddenly feel an overwhelming reconnection with the west of Ireland. I spend days longing to smear my face with the clay of the place where my people are buried….or some other mad crazy stuff like that.
And while I’m there, I get word that 58% Cabbage, my book about Galway (and Ireland and relationships and parents and ZZ Top and the stand-up comedy industry) will finally go to print. After nearly seven long years. Gemma, the intern at QTA, subsequently became an agent, remembered my manuscript and found a London publisher.
As I cry uncontrollable tears of joy, mother comes into the living-room wearing a tartan fedora, her polka-dot dressing gown and lights up an old Panetela cigar she has left lying around.
(c) Karl MacDermott
About 58% Cabbage:
58% CABBAGE is about a sit-down nobody who tries stand-up comedy.
Galwegian Roddy Bodkin is forty-three.
He has recently lost his job.
His long-term girlfriend is tiring of him. He feels he is getting old and life is passing him by.
Can things get any worse? Oh boy. Definitely. Yes.
Because now he thinks he can become a successful stand-up comedian.
How wrong can a man be….
Order your copy online here.
And, on YouTube . . . 58% CABBAGE – Murder Most Foul