Is this thing on? How can I tell if it’s recording? Oh yes, there’s the green light.
Well, we’re finally here – wherever that is. All I know is it’s hot and sticky and teeming with horrible fly-things. I do know the other contestants now, though. In fact, after four hours cooped up in the back of that truck, I know them surprisingly well: I know all about Jamie Barrington’s ‘intimate eczema’ (although I rather wish I didn’t); I know that L. P. Kerson’s first name is really Julia; that Harrison’s baby is due in five weeks’ time; and that Suzi Kenlow is a borderline claustrophobic. Oh yes, and Dicken Ledderworth makes Donald Trump look like a poster boy for feminism. Am I allowed to say that? Carole, my agent, said the bitchier the better.
I guess that’s it for today. I’m going to try and get an early night before the ‘fun’ starts tomorrow.
And it’s day two in the Big Author house… hmm, that sounded better in my head. My books are much funnier. Honest. Try one and see for yourself. There you go Carole, my shameless plug for the day.
So much has happened since we got here that I don’t know where to start: My early night didn’t exactly go according to plan. The heat was unbearable. And the noises – all those bugs swarming around my hammock. Eugh. Still, there should be fewer tonight after our delightful breakfast: giant woodlousey things covered in dried honey. Jamie said they’re fine if you don’t mind getting legs stuck in your teeth, but I couldn’t do it. And then – get this – they wanted us to write a poem about the experience! I told them I don’t do poetry, but the producer got all antsy, muttering about contracts and threatening to boot me off the show for ‘non-co-operation’. Bit of an over-reaction if you ask me, but Carole would have my guts for garters if I got disqualified, so I did as I was told. If you haven’t seen that clip yet, it was a sonnet (of sorts) called ‘Nausea’. Not my finest work, it has to be said (you try finding a rhyme for ‘cockroach’), but my prose is infinitely better than my verse, I swear. Try some and see! There you go, Carole – two shameless plugs for the price of one.
Oh look, the red light’s just come on – that’s my signal to wrap things up. You’ll probably be able to piece together the rest of the day from the footage anyway. Look out for the clip of me finding a dead grub-thing on my spoon and vomiting up an entire bowl of soup. It’s a classic. And let’s not forget my humiliating leap across the water in that Lost World get-up. For the record, I think someone tampered with the straps beforehand. Leather bra-tops don’t just ping off by themselves.
Day three. Do I look as rough as I feel? That’ll be two and a half hours’ broken sleep followed by a breakfast of smoky barbecue scorpions. Or not, in my case. I’ve never been so hungry in my life, but at least the stomach rumbles drown out the creepy-crawly noises at night. Quite what starving a bunch of overlooked novelists in the middle of the jungle has to do with literature is anyone’s guess, although, according to this morning’s message from Carole, it seems to be working. I had hoped it was from Mark and the kids, but it was just a telegram informing me that sales figures are up 42%. It’s all about the sales, apparently. I felt so homesick I could have cried. Only I promised the kids I wouldn’t blub about missing them on national television. I do though, my darlings – I miss you so much it hurts.
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. They split us into two teams today: Chick Lit versus Crime. Never mind that there’s only one crime novelist between the lot of us, and that’s Suzi. The men were all Crime and we were all Chick-Litters. The idea was to produce a plot outline in our team genre, employing each of the six objects provided: a lipstick; a pair of secateurs; a tennis ball; a round stone with a hole through the middle; a bruised-looking banana and a pair of sunglasses. Dicken, of course, refused point blank – called the whole thing ‘a circus’. He claimed it was beneath the dignity of an award-winning literary novelist such as himself.
I guess you’ll have seen the fight by now. I missed the producer’s speech, but I gather it was something to do with a defunct award ten years ago counting for very little if no one’s buying Dicken’s books anymore. Well, that was it. Dicken went completely nuts. Blood everywhere. Broke the guy’s nose, apparently. Long story short, there’s only five of us left now, so I’m one step closer to that trans-Atlantic advertising deal. Plus I managed to snaffle half the banana while no one was looking. Food without legs – bliss! I gave Suzi the other half as she’s looking a bit peaky. Not sure this bug diet’s agreeing with her either.
Damn, there’s the red light again. They don’t give you long, do they?
I can’t believe it’s only day four. It feels like weeks. And just when I think it can’t get any worse, it does. Suzi and I are in disgrace over the banana incident. Everyone else had spaghetti last night while we got grasshoppers in tomato sauce. Gross. I was so hungry though – so unbelievably hungry – that I did actually try one. And do you know what? It was even more revolting than I’d imagined. I kept seeing them every time I shut my eyes last night. Suzi said she was the same, only she’s all smiles this morning because it’s given her an idea for her next novel. You can bet it doesn’t include a pair of secateurs, a tennis ball and a half-melted lipstick, though.
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever felt less like writing, what with dry-retching half the day and these giant red welts all over my legs. Jamie – bless him – thought it might be something I’d eaten. Hah! Chance would be a fine thing! I’m really not sure how much more of this I can take. There was another message from Carole this afternoon, saying sales were through the roof, but all I could think was: ‘so what?’
That’s the red light already. I swear my slot’s getting shorter every day. Well, tough, because I haven’t finished yet. The show’s a joke and I don’t care who knows it. These stupid tasks they keep setting us – the producers clearly don’t care about writing. They’re not interested in intellectual debate or getting to see the real people behind the books. Dicken was right – half the crew probably haven’t even read them. All they’re interested in is giving EastEnders a run for its money. Ratings not high enough? Throw in some live sago grubs and chopped ants. What was it Emily Dickinson wrote? ‘Fame is a fickle food / Upon a shifting plate’. She certainly got that one right. I’ve a good mind to… Uh-oh here comes the big man himself. I think they’re going to cut me o-
Suzi went first thing this morning. I was tempted to join her, but they’ve promised us real bread and jam for breakfast today. And after last night’s outburst I’ve had three messages from Carole begging me to hang in there. She said the American publishers she’s got lined up for my new novel are threatening to pull out if I don’t see it through. Plus Jamie’s promised us a special announcement after dinner tonight. Says it’s going to rock the literary world as we know it.
Where are we now? Day six? It all merges into one after a while. Just me and Harrison left now. Julia was automatically disqualified after admitting Jamie was right and that every one of L. P. Kerson’s books is really the work of her ‘prison pen pal’, Larry Peters, currently serving a life sentence for triple murder. He provides the literary genius in the form of long handwritten notes for her to type up, while she does the publicity stuff and syphons off half the royalties into his off-shore bank account. Pretty wild, huh? I mean, you couldn’t write this stuff. Although perhaps I should try.
Jamie fell on his sword afterwards, saying he was sorry for any pain he may have caused with his revelation, and that he’d be withdrawing himself from the competition with immediate effect. He wanted to be first home to deliver the dirt to the papers, more like.
Today’s been fairly uneventful by comparison. Harrison and I completed the haiku challenge and were rewarded with some more bread and jam. Who cares if it’s made from ground mealworms instead of flour? Harrison was violently sick after they told us (he’s still throwing up now) but I managed to keep mine down. It looks like real food and doesn’t wriggle in your mouth and that’s good enough for me.
I can’t believe it’s all over. This wasn’t how I envisaged winning but I guess the end result’s the same. Poor old Harrison. Must have been a dodgy scorpion or something. He looked awful when they airlifted him out.
I know I should be excited, but I’m too tired and hungry to feel anything except a vague sense of anti-climax. And so much for my ‘surprise guest’. Where’s Mark when I need him? I don’t think I’ve ever been less pleased to see Carole in my life.
Just waiting for the prize-giving ceremony now and then home at last. Not that I’ve decided on my prize yet – the lucrative advertising deal or the so-called Writer’s Block? (More of a box, really, but that’s not quite so catchy.) It should be easy – I know that – but have you seen what they’ve got in there? Two giant chocolate bars, four bags of crisps and a six pack of coke. Chocolate! Mmm, I can virtually taste it already. Carole’s doing her nut, screaming something unintelligible about idiotic choices under duress. But what was it she said when she persuaded me to come in the first place? It’s not about the winning, it’s the taking part that counts. When it comes to reality TV, she claimed, everyone’s a winner. In which case…
Jennifer Moore is a freelance writer and children’s author from Devon. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Guardian, Mslexia, Fiction Desk and Short Fiction, and she is a previous winner of both the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Contest. Her funny children’s book, Agent Starling: Operation Baked Beans, will be published by Maverick at the end of October 2019. Find her online at jennifermoore.wordpress.com or on Twitter @JennyWriteMoore.