An extract from A Man of Diminished Stature by Simon Hattenstone, submitted by Andrew Gordon at David Higham Associates.
Why did I invite Jay Stone into my life? I’ve asked myself the question so many times, and still don’t think I’m any nearer an answer. Perhaps the question should be why did she choose me.
I hadn’t seen anybody for years. Had no interest. I wouldn’t say I was content, but I had worked out a system, a routine. I was self-sufficient. Gym, library, food, newspapers. Enough to get through.
When the first letter arrived, I left it unopened in its envelope for days. It wasn’t me who weakened in the end. It was a screw.
At first, I thought the whole thing was a set-up. It was the tone. Never heard anybody express themselves like that. The language was crazy – archaic, over-elaborate, literal, clumsy as fuck. It had to be a joke, but not one I ‘got’. Jay claimed to be a journalist, working for the Reporter of all papers, who had not had a story published for years. The letter displayed a great, if bizarre knowledge of the industry. She claimed that even at the peak of her career she had published only tiny one-paragraph stories known as NIBs (news in briefs), and that she hoped to investigate my case in order to secure herself an exclusive and resurrect her career. They were making redundancies on the paper, and she was convinced she was in line for the chop. Terrified of being made redundant. She was as upfront as that.
I was convinced this was the work of an insider, a former colleague probably, with too much time on his or her hands. But when the letters kept coming, I became less sure. I grew used to the language – began to like it I suppose. There was something so sincere, desperate, about her letters. Looking back, I was enticed by the familiar world of journalism and deadlines and disappointments. But there was more. A tenderness in the voice, a conviction. Yes, she obviously wanted her exclusive, but after a while I believed her when she told me that she could help me come to terms with the past, though she didn’t express it quite so simply as that.
Perhaps the letters, Jay herself even, became an obsession. I was spending more time than was sensible thinking about them – and her. I’d be bulking in the gym, and almost lose control of the weights because I wasn’t focused.
It was unhealthy. Christ, I knew that. After all, I had spent so much time reading and practising how to free my mind of thought and desire. The more meaningless the outside world became, the easier it was to do my time. And yet, Jay took over my head.
For months I did not reply to her letters, despite the temptation. Just by thinking of her, my resolve had weakened beyond what was acceptable, and I was not prepared to buckle totally. Or so I thought.
But there was something about her. The insistence, the refusal to say no, her certainty that it would be right for both of us. Four months after receiving the first letter, I have put pen to paper. I know it will change my life.