The Manifesto on How to be Interesting

by Holly Bourne

chapter one

Bree supposed it was quite an achievement really – to be a failed novelist aged only seventeen.

Most people her age didn’t have a clue what they wanted to do with their lives yet. Let alone know, work really hard for it and then fail miserably. She was miles ahead in the life-ultimately-sucks realization that takes most people their twenties and thirties to figure out.

But Bree wasn’t most people. Well, she didn’t think so anyway.

She looked at the rejection letter in her hand, hoping, somehow, if she stared at it hard enough her longing would melt the ink on the page into a “yes”.

Dear Bree

Thank you for your submission. We regret to tell you that your novel isn’t something we think we can take forward BLAH BLAH BLAH.

Generic response. They hadn’t even bothered personalizing it. That’s how much of a failure she was.

Four years ago, when Bree decided to become a novelist, she’d done what she’d always done – obsessively planned, researched and plotted a no-fail manifesto. She’d read everything she could about writing, including a book by Stephen King, aka GOD. He’d apparently been rejected LOADS – so much that he hammered a nail into the wall above his desk to spike all the “no” letters on. Delighted at the self-deprecation of it all, Bree also hammered a massive nail into the perfect plastering of her bedroom wall. And, month by month, year by year, the nail got clogged up with her own swell of rejection letters.

Ha ha, just like Stephen King, she’d thought, spiking the first “no” letter and flipping it the middle finger.

Then more came, and more.

“I can’t wait to talk about this emotional part of my journey when I’m being interviewed by the Guardian about my number one bestseller,” she’d told the clogged nail as she impaled another rejection letter. Yes, she’d got to the point of talking aloud to it. Like it was a person.

Now that Guardian interview seemed as likely as J K Rowling asking Bree to be her best forever friend. Her first novel had been rejected by every agent and publisher in the UK.

Then her second.

What the hell was she going to do now?

“Bree?” Her mother called up the stairs. “You’re going to be late for school.”

She stubbed the new letter onto the nail, pushing hard to make room for it.

“It’s alright. I’m almost ready,” she called back.

“Well I can’t give you a lift. I’ve got Bikram yoga this morning with the girls.”

She always did. Bree thought how ironic the usage of the word “girls” was to describe her mum and her mates.

In a rush now, she rummaged in her drawer and pulled out a pair of pink and black striped tights. She pulled them on quickly, wincing as the fabric brushed against last night’s fresh cuts on her thighs. It was the first time Bree had done it for a while. She would pay the price in pain whenever she sat down or stood up for the next two days.

Her phone went. It was a text from Holdo. No doubt double-checking they were still walking in together despite the fact they did so every day.

Sure enough:

Good morning, Bree. Shall we meet at our regular corner at the usual time? Please let me know. From, Holdo.

Holdo didn’t “do” text-speak – considered it an aberration of the English language. He wrote everything out in full, with proper punctuation marks. Once, he’d forgotten to use a comma and Bree was subjected to a mammoth apology.

She fired back a response.

Sure. C U there.

She deliberately used the “C” and “U” to piss him off. She wasn’t sure why. Bree put on her school blazer and was about to run out of her bedroom door when last night’s list caught her eye.

She’d forgotten about it – it lay abandoned on the carpet. She made so many lists, it was hard to remember them all. She’d written this one on an adrenalin comedown. That familiar sensation of calm had reminded her that things weren’t that bad and so the list was meant to jog her memory for next time – hoping it may prevent a next time.

Reasons why I shouldn’t be so bloody miserable all the time

I live in a massive house, the kind that makes strangers jealous

I suppose, in their own sort of way, both of my parents love me

I could be pretty if I wanted…

I’m much smarter than most people

I know what I want to do with my life

I have Holdo

That was it. She’d wanted to list ten – because it just feels nicer, doesn’t it? But she couldn’t think of any more reasons. This, Bree supposed, could be the start of a whole other list.

Reasons to be bloody miserable all the time

My life is so crap that I can’t even think of ten stupid things that give me reason NOT to be miserable

But she didn’t have time for that list. Not now. She was late.

Bree ran down the stairs and into the kitchen. She ignored the bowl of muesli, fresh fruit and organic yogurt her mum had left her and took a Pop-Tart out of the cupboard instead. Strawberry. Just what she felt like. She shoved it into her mouth and held it there as she packed her school bag. Then she set the alarm and half-jogged out of the house.

As she waited for the security gate to open, she thought a bit more about her list. How stupid she could be sometimes – thinking her life wasn’t that miserable. Yes, she could list six reasons why things weren’t that bad. But those were just starting points for further elaboration. Elaboration that would ultimately collapse each point.

Take number one, for example.

I live in a massive house, the kind that makes strangers jealous

That, on the surface, was true as true could be. Her house was gigantic. And on a private road as well. Ashdown Drive was the sort of road poorer people deliberately detoured through so they could stare at the houses. Hers was one of the most impressive. It had a security gate with intercom to get through to the sweeping circular driveway. They didn’t have a garden as such – “grounds” was a more appropriate word. It took about five minutes to walk past the property. The outstretched dark-green-light-green-dark-green-light-green stripes of lawn were hidden by carefully manicured privacy hedges. It was the sort of house that everyone peers at, trying to get a glimpse of the lucky ones who live there, and thinks: Wow. Those people must have the most perfectly wonderful lives. I bet they don’t know what a problem looks like. If I lived there, everything would be okay. All the time.