A COMPLETE novel for businessmen today. It’s written as a multi-choice questionnaire in which you have to guess what the hero will do next. Or, as you high-fliers would say, evaluate his action potential. So here we go with:
YOU are Wesley Brockbank, head of a huge firm called Webro International. Webro is very rich indeed and so are you. You are not entirely without sentiment, however: once a year you go to lay flowers on the grave of your ex-chauffeur, who died in an accident while you were both on your way to a meeting, though nowadays you are very busy and have to get your assistant, Freeman to do it for you.
One day you are walking to an appointment when you realise you have left your watch at home. You need to know the time precisely. What do you do?
a) Ask someone
b) Offer someone cash to tell you the time
c) Ring Freeman and get him to make a take-over bid for a small clock-making firm in Switzerland, then ascertain the time from your new purchase and ring you back.
d) Use a nearby cashpoint to get some cash, knowing the time is printed on the receipt, and throw the money away.
You opt for the cashpoint and although the receipt duly tells you that it is 11.23am, there is other, perhaps more interesting, news on the slip of paper. You are broke. Yes, there are no funds to cover your paltry request for £100. This is lunatic: you know for certain there is £50,000 in that account to cover your day-to-day expenses. And yet the computer says you are broke. What do you do next?
d) Fire someone
You fire someone, of course – that’s always a tycoon’s first reaction in a crisis, to show that the blame lies elsewhere. So you go into a phone box at 11.26 am and ring Freeman to give him the bullet. To your amazement a voice says ‘Conrod Holdings here – can I help you?’ With your financial experience, what do you immediately assume?
a) Your empire has been taken over by Conrod while you were out. Freeman is on the dole and you are about to be.
b) Freeman has formed a new company called Conrod in your absence and taken you to the cleaners.
c) You have phoned Conrod without thinking because you are having a passionate affair with a woman who works there. (She arranges the flowers.)
d) You have a wrong number.
‘Sorry wrong number,’ you say and hang up. You dial again and get straight through to Freeman. You are about to dismiss him, when he cuts you short.
‘It’s absolutely urgent, sir’ he says. ‘ We’ve just had a threat against your life. The police are taking it vey seriously.
‘We had to get in touch with you immediately, so as I knew you’d have to withdraw some cash soon, I took the liberty of closing your account temporarily. I knew that you’d ring me to fire me.’
Ingenious, you have to admit. But what’s all this about a threat on your life? Who do you assume is after you?
a) Your wife
b) The Monopolies Commisson.
c) The husband of the girl who does the flowers at Conrod.
d) Almost anyone you’ve double-crossed on your way up, and that could be almost anyone.
The threat, however, is anonymous. Freeman then tells you the address of a safe haven where you are to be within half an hour. (It is now 11.36).
At 12.06, in fear and trembling, you ring at the bell of the address given and Freeman lets you in. Nobody else is there. You ask about the police. Freeman gives you a funny look and says: ’The police don’t know about this, sir. You see, the death threat came from – me!’
It turns out that Freeman is the son of the chauffeur who died on the way to Exeter. He is convinced that you were doing the driving, and caused the crash, thus killing his father. You decide, as he raises his gun, to tell the truth as follows:
a) ‘Yes, I was driving. Your father was a drunkard and I was looking after him!’
b) ’I was not in that car. It was stolen by your father! ’
c) ‘Your father never died in the crash! It was staged to allow him to start a new life in Brazil after he had accidentally run a man over!’
d) ‘The man who died in that crash was Wesley Brockbank! His identity was taken over by the chauffeur! Yes, son. I am your father!’
However Freeman believes none of your explanations and raises his gun again. Pulling the trigger, he – oh, sorry, I’ve run out of space. You’re on your own now!’
The Independent Thursday 23rd February 1989
Following the appearance of what turned out to be the first of a considerable number of interactive novels over the years, Miles received a letter from a Senior Drama Producer who suggested it might form the basis of a ‘zippy radio play’ extending the use of the multi-choice questionnaire.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said in your letter. To be honest, I haven’t been thinking non-stop about what you said in your letter, only now and again, because I’d love to write drama for radio and it’s nice to think about now and again. But there are problems. I think this kind of comic strip approach, as I experience within that short piece, would be bloody difficult on radio because whereas in print you have all the options there in front of you to refer to, it might be much harder on radio to present choices in such a way that the listener could keep them all in his head.
UNLESS of course he knows what is going to happen anyway. Which is what would happen if (brilliant idea coming up) you presented an already well-known play as if it were a multi-choice drama with none of the choices yet made. If you presented Macbeth in a version in which Macbeth clearly had other choices beside murdering people and becoming King – he might, for instance, have quite a reasonable alternative career as the head of the first Scottish Tourist Board. Indeed, it might really happen that way. You could tease an audience by constantly teetering on the edge of departing from the well-know plot, and indeed, the well-known blank verse…
“Macbeth knows that he can gain the glittering prize of the Scottish throne. But he is already finding it a strain talking in iambic pentameters. Should he present the best image by a) continuing in blank verse b) lapsing into Gaelic c)getting Saatchi and Saatchi in to advise on a new voice d) talking normally?”
Well, it’s an idea. Unfortunately I’m pretty busy at the moment, but we seem to have established a dialogue… “