On a forum I frequent there is a monthly short story competition. All fun, nothing serious. The competition-setter is the winner of the previous month’s competition and in November he gave us a rather complex set of rules involving “the inciting moment” and an eclectic, and somewhat bizarre, list of prompts. One of the prompts caught my eye – Six accountants.
As a youth being dragged up in Hong Kong I’d auditioned for, and won, the part of the child who kills himself at the end of Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author. I had previously been Timothy in Simon and Laura for the Hong Kong Stage Club and the boy king Ptolemy in Caesar and Cleopatra for the Garrison Players. Pirandello’s play proved to be my last shot at fame and fortune on the boards. And so, I couldn’t resist the temptation to imagine that Luigi Pirandello had started out having as his main characters six accountants, and what his agents reaction might be. I wrote this:
“Listen to me, Luigi; we’re always on the lookout for new stage plays and this one sounded interesting. Ingenious plot, bit of sex, incest, prostitution, a potential murder and ending up with a suicide.” He put down the cigar he had been waving like a conductor’s baton and folded his hands on his expansive belly. “What’s not to like?”
“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me, sir.”
“Six accountants. Accountants! Are you crazy! As your agent I can be brutally honest. It’s 1920, these are exciting times – drinking, dancing, gangsters pursued by heroic cops, sexy architecture, ground-breaking art. What on earth made you choose accountants as your characters?”
“Well, a friend is an accountant and he tells me it’s the most exciting profession in the world. I thought I’d tap into that.”
“Your friend is an idiot. No-one, just no-one, thinks of accountancy as anything other than boring. If you put out a play called “Six Accountants in Search of an Auditor” it will be watched by three people and you will be, quite rightly, a laughing stock.” The fat agent waved his hands in the air as if declaring a goal offside. “But enough, already. I’m telling you it won’t fly like this. Never. You need to rewrite it. And no bloody accountants.”
Winter turned to spring, the trees were decked in blossom, daffodils nodded in warm breezes and the days grew longer.
“Mr Pirandello’s here to see you.” said Maria.
“Hey, Luigi, welcome, welcome. Come in, sit down. Maria, please bring coffee and biscuits.”
When they’d settled down, pleasantries and small talk concluded, Luigi Pirandello asked:
“I take it you’ve read the new version?”
“Yes, and we have a winner on our hands, my boy.”
“So, you think people will be more interested in actors than accountants?”
“Of course, Luigi, of course. They could have been soldiers or, maybe, priests, but what you’ve come up with is a stroke of genius; Six Characters in Search of an Author. Brilliant.”
Luigi Pirandello sat back, smiled and sipped his coffee. He was savouring the moment, the door to success was opening, a bright new future beckoned.
“And now the real work starts,” said the agent, slapping a chubby hand on the desk.
“What do you mean?” said Luigi, sensing his euphoria may have been a little premature.
“Editing, Luigi, editing, editing and more editing.”
It didn’t win the competition, another forum member triumphed with a lovely literary piece which the competition-setter drooled over. I realised, as I read the competition-setters critique of my piece, he had absolutely no idea that Pirandello and his famous play existed!
When I reread my submission in light of that I could see how wacky a story it must have seemed. Oh well.