This is the time of year when six different publishers are busy printing wrappers saying " Winner of the Booker Prize 1994!" ready to slap on the winner as soon as it is announced. Unfortunately, five of them will be wrong, which means that at least five publishers will very soon be pulping " Winner of the Booker Prize 1994 " wrappers, which must be a melancholy occupation, but at least they can comfort themselves with the thought that the Booker Prize does still generate interest in novels.
Or so I thought till the other day I saw a stark headline reading "Mogadon Booker Prize".
This is the sort of headline that always confuses me because I don't take drugs and can never remember if Mogadon cheers you up or slows you down, but having read the item I get the very strong impression that it's the latter, because apparently the public are finding the six books on the Booker shortlist a little hard-going or just too hard to buy. Booksellers who had hoped to do a bit of business with novels this week are sitting on their hands. Books by Pasternak are going all right, but unfortunately it's not Boris but Anna who is doing so well.
This is all a bit unfair on Mogadon, and indeed on Booker, who never thought when they went into making drugs and sugar that one day they would be associated with slow-moving bookshops. It is especially unfair on Mogadon, I think, who never even asked to be mentioned in the same breath as books. After all, there is another literary prize named after a substance which, if taken in quantity, sedates and puts you to sleep, and that is the Whitbread Book Prize, but I never heard of the sales of beer dropping off in the wake of literary dissatisfaction...
Anyway, feeling sorry for the Booker people, I wondered, not for the first time, why nobody has ever got a computer to work on producing a novel which would have the opposite effect of Mogadon. This time, finally, I have done something about it. Over the weekend, when the mighty Independent computer normally lies idle, I fed it extracts from all the past Booker winners, plus a working knowledge of world literature, and asked it to come up with a new best-seller. It lay quiet for a while, then up on its screen came the curious question: "This Roddy Doyle fellow; is he any relation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?"
It seemed possible. I fed back the answer: "Indubitably". Moments later the computer clattered into life and printed out the following.
"Sherlock Holmes Ha Ha Ha."
A new novel By Sir Roddy Conan Doyle. *
My best friend was called Sherlock. He lived in a big house all by himself. As far as we could tell, he didn't have a da or a ma. He just played the violin all day and sometimes took potshots at a target with an air gun.
- Do you not have any parents, Sherl? - I asked him once.
- I did once,- he said mysteriously – but they turned out to be surplus to requirement.-
Sherlock often talked in this sort of way, so that none of us could understand him. When he did, we tried to beat him up, but he was pretty good at unarmed combat and so we desisted after a while, as we were the only ones that were getting hurt.
What Sherl was best at was guessing games. He could just look at a boy he hadn't seen before and tell you all sorts of things about him. I remember once there was a boy called Flaherty, and Sherlock said to him:
- I see you have been to the horse races with your da.
- Yes, I have,- said Flaherty. - How did you know?-
- Everyone knows that Flaherty's da is a bookmaker,- I said.
- The earth on Flaherty's boots is a peculiar clay you only get at the racecourse,- said Sherlock, ignoring me. - Perhaps you have read the little book I have written on Dublin clays.
- I hadn't, and I felt resentful that Sherlock could write books when I still found it hard to read them, so I tried to beat him up again but he still won.
- Aren't you afraid of anyone, Sherlock? - I asked him, out of breath and sporting a few new bruises.
- No. Not even Moriarty,- he said.
- Who is Moriarty?-
- Only the most evil boy in Dublin,- said Sherlock, but he would not say more.
One day there was another new boy in our neighbourhood that none of us had ever seen before, and I went over and said to him that if he didn't go away he might get in trouble, but he simply ignored me and I wondered if this might be the Moriarty boy that Sherlock had told me about.
- Is your name Moriarty? - I said.
- No, it is not,- said a familiar voice. - My name is Sherlock and if you don't want to ruin my disguise I would ask you to leave me alone. -
- But why are you disguised like that ? I asked....
If you want the Independent computer to complete this brand new novel called Sherlock Holmes Ha Ha Ha, simply dial our 24-hour hot line and register a Yes vote.The Independent Friday Oct 7 1994