"It's no good," said Bob.
He put down the manuscript and picked up his beer.
"What d'you mean, it's no good? You haven't even finished reading it."
"I don't have to. I'm telling you, with this kind of stuff you haven't a hope of winning that contest."
Bob really annoys me sometimes. "I spent weeks on that story. Went over it again and again. I thought it was the best thing I'd ever written."
"And so it is Billy, so it is. The language is rich, in places even poetic. The imagery is original and quite, quite beautiful. The ideas are thought-provoking. And, the ultimate accolade - I'm three quarters through it and I haven't figured out how it's going to end."
I eyed him over my pint, waiting for the "but". For, sure as I knew Bob, there would be a "but".
"But," Bob began. He saw me roll my eyes, and with a twinkle in his, he paused for another swig of his beer before continuing. "But it will never win the contest. You want to win the contest, don't you?"
"Of course I do. I need the money." This was true. I have the artist's lofty contempt for the beauty pageant of literary competition. On the other hand six thousand quid is six thousand quid. Furthermore, it was six thousand quid more than I had.
"Well, You'll never win it with this."
"I thought you said it was good. I remember hearing the words beautiful, poetic."
"Quite so, Billy my boy, quite so. But you miss the point. This contest is for Scottish writers."
"And I'm Scottish. What are you blethering on about?"
Bob took a crumpled newspaper cutting from his pocket and spread it on the table where the beer immediately soaked it in spreading spots, like miniature maps of China. "Remember that story I showed you in the paper. "Fair Hudden Doon Wi' the Bubbly Jocks"?"
"Yes. It was crap."
"Exactly, Billy, exactly. It was crap. I wasted almost half an hour wading through a dismal prose-swamp to arrive at the destination of the author's single stroke of imagination. An image of a whisky-sodden turkey going up in flames to the accompaniment of a dull metaphor. Quite a striking image, or at least it seemed so after the famine of the preceding several thousand words. But then, you could make me grateful for a plateful of cold soggy chips if you starved me for a couple of days."
I looked at Bob's belly. A couple of days' starvation would probably do him no harm at all. He read my mind and gave a big frothy grin.
"Do you want my help or not?" he asked in mock indignation.
I laughed. "Of course I do Bob. But what's your point?"