132. The Artists' Colony

Part 1 of a series of the same name.

IT WAS RAINING THAT Sunday afternoon when I arrived at the writers' colony. I was scheduled to stay for a fortnight, during which time I would be free to write in my room during the day, with the option of socialising with the other guests in the evening. In the foyer, several writers were milling around, but I’ve found that unless alcohol is involved most writers prefer their own company to that of strangers, and so all of us were facing the walls, reading the information notices posted for the benefit of new arrivals. As I read, I came upon a map indicating where the guests for that week were to be accommodated. From what I could see on the map, other than the communal buildings – the administration office, a canteen, a library, a laundry room, a games room – the colony consisted of twelve cottages, each of which was divided into two residences. On the map printout, inside each residence was the name of the writer assigned to it. I looked for my name and found it assigned to residence number 15. Residence 15 shared a wall with residence 16, in which was written the name of a writer I shall call, for his sake and for mine, B. Although his star has since waned somewhat – the inevitable fate of all but a few writers in this country – it is easy to forget that back then, a matter of only a few years ago, B enjoyed an almost unsurpassed reputation. Widely awarded and anthologised, B was considered the brightest of the literary sky’s rising stars. He was my senior by only several years, but in career terms he was so far ahead of me he could rightly be said to be over the horizon. I hadn’t read a single word of his, which isn’t unusual for me as I tend to avoid the writing of my contemporaries, finding it only impedes my own for reasons I am yet to fully comprehend. I was, however, aware of his literary reputation: he wrote speculative fiction, with a particular interest in cyborg technologies. This reputation only made me less likely to read him, as I do not read speculative fiction as a rule, even when it comes highly recommended. Moreover, he was a darling of the academic world as he was seen as that rare creature who was able to sell widely without compromising his literary abilities. As for me, I was a humble writer of short stories about everyday life, only two of which had been published. I didn’t fancy my chances of ever becoming a darling of the academic world other than by way of a lifetime of persistence. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the entrance of the manager of the writers’ colony, whose name was Patricia. She welcomed us, made us introduce ourselves and then gave us an introduction to the writers’ colony, including a run-down of the daily routine. She finished with a reminder of the reputation of the colony, whose guests had won many of the most prestigious awards in the country. While she was speaking, I looked around for B. There were eleven fellow writers in the room, of which three were men, but of the three it was impossible to say which one was B. I then realised that the colony’s arrivals and departures were staggered, meaning that B had already been here for a week. We then separated to settle into our residences.