And the Moral Is… by Colin Cotterill

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Here follows a true story about Niloc Lirettoc, a virtually unheard of Icelandic crime writer. One day, whilst scratching out a living writing internet copy for that well-loved Icelandic beverage, Alocacoc, Niloc had a sudden unexpected burst of inspiration for a crime series set in Tasmania. Tasmania was one of the few remaining unmined seams in the tunnel-riddled landscape of Icelandic crime fiction. In order to find a publisher for his first book Niloc cast his net wide in search of an agent. He was surprised to have a dozen responses to his email and he landed the biggest mackerel of them all. Lars was a clever agent, an agent with a history and a reputation and he found a small but loveable publisher that was willing to take a chance with Niloc’s novels. They sold eleven or twelve copies a month, which in Iceland was like topping the best seller list. Niloc was able to buy a new bicycle and live comfortably in a small whaling community on the coast of Greenland.

With the help of a business associate of the agent, Niloc’s books were eventually translated into Mauritian Creole, Fijian, Hmong, and Scottish but did not do so well in those places because nobody was particularly interested in Tasmania. His agent kept reminding Niloc that although he wasn’t that good a writer he was still making a better living than most Icelandic writers who had to supplement their humble literary incomes by breeding reindeer for the busy Christmas period. To give Niloc confidence, his agent opened a bottle of Aquavit to toast the signing of every new book deal. The agent could very well afford to do this as he and his business associate were reaping 85% of Niloc’s income. This, combined with Iceland’s fiendish bank charges and tax requirements meant that Niloc was earning .02% of his potential and he realized that he wasn’t really that well off at all. One nasty skating accident and he’d be buggered. So, he decided to thank his agent and discontinue their alliance. Perhaps he could struggle along on his own. He did, however, suggest that they could ‘remain friends’.

The agent reminded Niloc that without the substantial representation he’d been receiving Niloc would still be living off free Alocacoc samples and cheese crisps. He also mentioned, not for the first time, that Niloc owed everything to his discovery by the agent as he actually had no talent of his own. Niloc nodded his agreement. If such a respected agent said such a thing then it must have been true. But, regardless, he went on his own way.

A year passed and in spite of the fact that Niloc’s agent still represented most of Niloc’s books, not one new overseas contract was signed. Niloc had to assume it was because he really had no talent as coincidences like that only happened in bad Icelandic crime novels. Obviously it had only been thanks to intensive bullying from the agency that Niloc had been able to publish his books anywhere. Niloc reluctantly won a prestigious literary award in Reykjavík. He tried to explain during his acceptance speech that he really owed everything to his agent who had made him. But they gave it to Niloc anyway and he decided it would be a nice gesture to send it to the agent as a token of his gratitude. But all the agent’s communications with Niloc were rerouted through the agent’s office manager. The agent still wasn’t talking to him. The last direct contact Niloc had had was when the agent mentioned that the agency had decided to stop helping Niloc with any taxation matters even on books they still represented. Niloc had nodded his agreement – albeit over the telephone – and apologized again for causing the agent so many problems. Such is the ice-cool temperament of the Icelandic crime novelist.

But Niloc had become troubled. He was fearful now that other business dealings might lead to the same unpleasantness. He became paranoid about what effect he might have on the hearts of other professionals. He really wanted to cancel his morning milk delivery, for example, but was afraid it would upset the milkman. He could visualize frozen half-and-half cartons flying through his window in the early hours. When the summer came, he wanted to have his reindeer shed repainted but he was fearful that the painter might consider it a slight against his previous work which was looking moderately patchy. In short, Niloc’s life took a distinctively paranoid detour. He refused to go to restaurants, sign for mail deliveries or use public transport. His fear of upsetting other professional workers overrode his need for basic services. If an important agent could be so fragile, what hope was there for a painter or a postman or a …? The girls at the Stalactite Massage A-gogo delegated one of their senior Lapp dancers to visit Niloc in his frozen coast retreat.

“We miss you, Niloc,” she said. “Or rather, we miss your financial input which was keeping up the gas heater payments. What has happened to you? You used to be so full of gusto.”

It was then that Niloc realized that his gusto was gone. He had lost sight of that obvious divide between family and friends and hired staff. What used to be business wrangling was now psychological torture. What used to be a clear partition was now a foggy, horizon. Even though he wasn’t exactly clear what a mojo was, he knew he’d lost it. Niloc continued to win awards but his heart was no longer in it. At every reception he had images of his agent sobbing in a dark corner, his life ruined by an ungrateful Icelandic writer who didn’t realize how much love had gone into him. Niloc stopped going out in public, stopped eating, and, as a natural conclusion, stopped breathing. The cold end to a cold-hearted man.

And the moral is: Don’t piss off your agent.

WASHED UP; PII. Evidence that people in Bangkok only have one leg.

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