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Gareth Crocker

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Eureka! And now we’re all going to die

(Original version written in 2009)

History is littered with tales of how great discoveries were made purely by mistake. Consider the likes of penicillin, brandy, the microwave oven, artificial sweetener, X-Rays and, according to the Interweb, half a bajillion other items. In fact, even Viagra was apparently a bit of a happy accident. According to urban mythology (slash Wikipedia), the drug was actually being developed to treat angina. The fact that it landed up benefiting ‘ginas’ of another sort, seems more than a little ironic to me.

Never Let GoIn any event, I’m very pleased to announce that I can now add my name to the list of luminaries who – through a bit of arse, it must be said – have stumbled upon an invention of such magnitude that it has the potential to revolutionise our lives.

But before I share any more, we must first step briefly back in time.

The origins of my discovery can be traced back to the early 2000s when I set out to become a published author. After several years of abuse, tantrums, put downs, hysterical crying fits and enough rejection slips to paper-mâché the Statue of Liberty, a very small publisher in London finally agreed to take on my debut novel.

True to my word, I released the publisher’s daughter from the tool shed in my garage and was soon dizzy with visions of Hemingway, Dickens and Salinger all winking and nodding in my direction. I was one of them now; part of their world.

Or so I thought. Right up until the moment my publisher informed me that they planned to print a rather miserly 500 copies of my masterpiece.

Now considering that maths is my Kryptonite nemesis in the shape of an Achilles Heel, I was struggling to work out how several billion people were going to absorb my story when only 500 books would be on offer. I hauled out my calculator and did the equation. Approximately 500 books divided by, say, 3 billion English-speaking adults. The answer? A rather bewildering 0.000000166 books per person.


So, in order to share my story with the planet, my best bet would be to call an enormous meeting of the English-speaking adult world and to then read out my novel on stage.

But what I didn’t appreciate at the time was that my strength lay not in producing the sort of magnificent prose that the world was destined to read. Quite the contrary. My destiny – and thus my discovery – was in concocting a sort of potent ‘word recipe’ – a spell, really – that would have exactly the opposite effect.

Allow me to explain.

My novel seems to possess the almost supernatural ability to repel readers completely and absolutely. In fact, so far as I can tell, these days my book doesn’t even get picked up by that most heinous of all bookstore browsers – the non-buyer who’s wandered into the store because he or she has 15 minutes to kill before the Adam Sandler movie starts downstairs.

I know this sort of thing because I make weekly visits to bookstores where I painstakingly count out the amount of my books that have been sold in the seven days since I last visited. Of course, the number is always the same. If there were eight of my novels available last week in a particular store, then there will be eight available this week. I also know that they have not been picked up for closer scrutiny because I also happen to carry my high school maths protractor with me to check the top book’s ‘angle of display’. It is always precisely the same – more consistent and reliable than the very rising of the sun.

The only thing that changes is the sheer amount of dust attached to my small pile of novels. And thus to the rub we go. It’s gotten to the point that I’m beginning to suspect that my books are made out of some sort of weird and unholy pulp that repels humans but sucks dust like a nuclear-powered Kirby vacuum cleaner. While the other titles appear so new and shiny that their covers seem almost wet to the touch, mine look like cheap props in an Indiana Jones film.

And so it is easy to consider the numerous applications of my invention.

What’s that, you say? You can no longer afford a housekeeper? Don’t fret. A single application of one of my novels is sure to cleanse your home of even the vaguest sprinkling of dust. If you’re a struggling corporate, why waste thousands on cleaning bills when all your dust can be gathered by popping one of my novels onto the nearest bookshelf.

And now, I’m sorry to say, things are getting worse. During a recent trip to my local bookstore, I discovered that my normally constant stack of eight Crocker novels had inexplicably and ominously grown to thirteen.

That’s right. My novels have now achieved the power of mitosis. Which, if I’m honest, has me more than a little worried. It may be good and lucrative news (for me, at least) in our global war against dust capture, fair enough, but it may also spell our doom. After all, one might argue the point of living in a dustless world if, in fact, you are dust yourself (and thus attached to my novel).

I can tell you that I now know how those scientists must have felt after they had created the atomic bomb. ‘How can we undo this?’ one of them is believed to have whispered at one point. I hear you, apocalyptic scientist guy. Ours is indeed a heavy burden to bear.

Now that my novels are multiplying on their own – self-publishing, I guess – I fear that it is only a matter of time until we are so inundated by my fiction that you will have to swim through an ocean of my novels just to visit your bathroom. The upside is that you will have something to read, or wipe with, when you get there.

Our only hope is to attempt something so outlandish, so far out of left field, so unthinkable … that it just might save us. It’s a desperate measure, but what choice do we have?

You see, I believe to break the spell we need to start buying my work. To get rid of whatever twisted voodoo is at play here, actual cash needs to be exchanged for my books. I urge you to buy as many copies as you can. Spend as if your life depends on it, dear reader.

Because it most surely does.


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