A Triumph

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Triumph is R J Dent's short story about the rivalry between two writers - and how one writer steals from the other to boost his career.

Submitted: April 18, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 18, 2016



A Triumph

by R J Dent


Simon Dorn sat at his desk and opened the brown envelope.

His fingers lifted the flap and he pulled the five folded A4 pages out, opened them and looked at the top sheet. Beneath the company banner, the short letter read:

Dear Mr Dorn

Thank you for sending an example of your work to Story Board. Although we found it to be well-written, interesting and thought-provoking, it is, unfortunately, not the type of story we are looking to publish at present.

Good luck in placing your work elsewhere.

Yours Sincerely

E. Slaughter

Elaine Slaughter.



Dorn dropped the letter into the overflowing plastic box by the side of his office chair. He held his short story, Driftwood Hunting on Brighton Beach in his hands and reread it, looking for the flaws the magazine editor had obviously found in it. Eventually he found one sentence that was a little unclear. He switched on his word processor, found the story file, opened it and scrolled down to the offending sentence – then stopped.

No! There was a specific reason – integral to the story – for that particular sentence being the way it was. It was deliberate. If he changed it, it would mean that the story content would not match the story form for a couple of lines. This was not permissible.

Writing fiction was a very fine art.

Dorn sat thinking for a few seconds, then opened a new file on the processor. He looked at the empty screen and thought about the letter he’d just received. The magazine clearly didn’t want ‘interesting, well-written and thought-provoking’ short stories. What did it want? The opposite?

The opposite of interesting was dull.

The opposite of well-written was badly-written.

The opposite of thought-provoking was uninspiring.

Could he write a dull, badly-written, uninspiring story? He could try.

What was the subject matter of the dullest story in the world? The story of someone’s failure through inertia, that was what.

How could it be written badly? Easy. Don’t develop character, have a trite, almost non-existent plot and reject theme completely. That should do it.

How could it be made uninspiring? That would be the tricky one, because the story of someone’s failure through inertia might actually inspire someone to succeed through effort. Of course, the story could have a lot of readers it didn’t inspire to anything. If it had any readers.

Dorn’s fingers flashed across the keyboard and the words: A Triumph appeared at the top of the screen. He centred them, then typed: by Simon Dorn beneath the title and centred them too. Then he wrote.

When he had finished his story, he read it through, looking for spelling, punctuation and syntax errors. Then he read each sentence carefully, looking for ways to improve them, making sure that each one shone with clarity.

Writing was communication. Therefore, what he wanted to communicate needed to be clear. What did he want to communicate? He wanted to communicate the obvious but very important idea that integrity was the most important quality a human being possessed. That was his philosophy – his theme. In his story, he had dramatised this into an ‘us and them’, or more accurately, a ‘me and them’ short piece of fiction, which emphasised the conflict and the resolution through plot and character development. He hoped the story would help to show that a great deal of contemporary fiction contained little in the way of ideas, conflict, passion, characterisation, belief, or even entertainment.

Readers needed to be entertained. They needed to be taken on a journey that felt real. A writer had to make sure that the story was ‘real’ enough to hold the reader’s interest for as long as it took for the ‘message’ to be read, understood and – hopefully – assimilated.

Dorn had written over two hundred short stories. He’d also written five novels, two thousand poems, three plays, two monographs and forty-two essays. Everything he’d written had been praised lavishly by publishers, lecturers, and other writers, but apart from three of his poems, no one seemed prepared to publish his work. He’d often wondered why. Certain things about him made a difference. He wasn’t a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge. His M.A. wasn’t in Creative Writing from East Anglia. He didn’t have an author father. Also, he wasn’t from the North of England. These things often counted.

Dorn had read a lot of fiction – past, present and future; stories, novels, plays and poems. Most contemporary stuff he found boring – more specifically, dull, badly-written and uninspiring. There was a distinct lack of vision in most fiction, so he wrote the type of fiction he wanted to read – fiction that involved people who had overcome opposition of one type or another. Triumph. Not failure. Not rejection. Not negativity. There was too much of that in the world already. Stories needed to entertain, lift, inspire, make points, educate, and provoke thought.

That was why he wrote.

There were of course his literary heroes – a few stand-out authors – Poe, Lawrence, Maugham, Bradbury for short stories; Joyce, Djian, Burroughs, Rand, Vesas, Selby Jnr, Ballard, Pynchon, Kavan, Beckett, Carter, Huxley for novels; Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster, Sophocles, Stoppard, Pirandello, some Brecht, Wilde, Pinter, Orton, Griffiths, Potter for plays; Plath, Pound, Dickinson, Blake, Hopkins, Baudelaire, Reed, Sappho, Petit, Lowell, Petrarch, some Eliot, Shakespeare, some Ginsberg, Whitman, Crane, Apollinaire, early and late Hughes for poetry – but the rest were second rate or mediocre at best.

Dorn printed his story out and read it through again. After making sure it contained everything he wanted it to contain, he opened his handbook that listed magazine publishers. He found one that claimed to want ‘fiction about writers and writing’. He wrote a covering letter, addressed and stamped the envelope, making sure he included the editor’s name, then put the story, letter and s.a.e into the envelope.

Getting up, he went out of his house, up to the post box and posted the story. Back home, he printed out his story again, saved the file, then took the story into his bedroom.

Laura was stretched out in their bed, halfway through a film. She looked up and smiled as Dorn entered the room.

“Is it ready?” she asked, after they had kissed.

Dorn nodded and handed her the story, then left the room.

Back in his study, Dorn paced up and down, back and forth, going from his desk to his armchair and back again repeatedly. He was unable to settle. He was nervous. He was always nervous when Laura read his work. She was one of the few people who instantly – intuitively – understood – no, comprehended all he was doing with his fiction – why he wrote.

There was a sound at the door. Dorn looked up. Laura – naked and beautiful – came into the room, the manuscript in her hand. She held it out to him.

“Well?” Dorn asked, taking the pages from her.

Laura smiled and said: “It’s a triumph.”



A Triumph (1180 words)

Copyright © R J Dent (2001 & 2016)


A revised version of this story first appeared in Writer’s Muse No. 11


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