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Last Updated: Monday, 23 April 2007, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Novel excerpt: One of Our Clowns is Missing
As part of our feature on novel-writing we bring you an excerpt from the unpublished novel One of Our Clowns is Missing, by James McCabe.

Hal and Peter are two young starry-eyed street performers in the south of England. They join a local and somewhat inept clown troupe and Hal falls for a female member of the troupe.

She happens to already be in an intense relationship with another of the clowns - a former mercenary with a large collection of guns. Hal discovers that the pursuit of true love and slapstick comedy don't really go well together.

The troupe rehearse a clown version of the Bible and hope to be the controversial toast of a big fringe theatre festival. But as they stumble towards their opening night, and Hal becomes increasingly unhinged by his broken heart, the troupe look doomed to become a complete farce.

Ten minutes later they sat on a bench in the outdoor shopping precinct eating takeaway Vietnamese food.

Nearby a group of drunks were arguing outside an off license about whether some beer cans had been shared out fairly between them.

The talk quickly became deconstructive and before long someone hit somebody else. Somebody else hit someone for hitting someone else, and soon no one knew who had hit who or why, but they knew the beer was worth fighting for so they kept hitting each other.

Angie, with a Niagara Falls of noodles hanging from her mouth, was taken by surprise by the question

A crowd gathered to watch. People pointed, smiled, and took photographs. They winced at some punches, and laughed at haymaker swipes that were kind of comical. The crowd grew bigger.

One of the drunks stopped fighting and looked at the swelling number of onlookers. He took off his beaten up old baseball cap and collected change from people as they watched the spectacle so he could buy more beer for them to fight over.

Angie and Hal ate their noodles and watched the fighting.

'Amazing to think these people once had ordinary lives. Jobs. Kids. Stuff,' said Angie.

'Maybe they were once clowns. Tramp clown characters like us, and one day they went busking and they somehow forgot that they weren't really tramps and ended up never going home.'

One of the drunk fighters had managed to get into an armlock with himself.

'It could happen to anyone.'

'Are you always going to be with Ralph?'

Angie, with a Niagara Falls of noodles hanging from her mouth, was taken by surprise by the question.

She finished her mouthful, and looked at Hal.

'With Ralph it's like one day at a time.'

'Doesn't sound like there's much of a future in it.'

Angie gave him a damaged smile.

The drunk fighter came over to them, holding his cap out.

Hal turned his pockets out to show he had no money, just a couple of bits of interesting looking lint and a nail. Angie pretended to be very absorbed in the bit of the seat where it joined on to a concrete molding.

When he realized he wasn't going to get any money he put his cap back on his head.

'Well, Jesus loves you anyway,' he said. He began to walk off. 'But I think you're a couple of tight gits.'

Below is a selection of your comments.

"Once upon a time I thought I might write, but life always overtook me." That IS writing, Miss Quinn, a lovely sentence. I like the Niagara Falls of noodles, the lint and the nail. This is an event well observed by an interesting eye, and I'd read more.
Staghounds, US

Sounds like the kind of totally implausible drivel that a secondary school kid would write. Bad plot, bad diction and lacks any feel of realism.
Andrew B, Leeds, England

This is very entertaining, I would like to read the rest! I think it's somewhat reminscient of the quirky style of Douglas Adams in some parts, and almost equally as unhinged from reality, as some people have already pointed out. To be honest, I don't see how that's a bad thing!
Joanne Campbell, Newcastle upon Tyne

Adam, London: it's Grays in Essex.
Cat, London

I liked it, but the 'Niagara Falls of noodles' has to go.
Allie, London

The best of the three. I could read this without cringing but good luck to all of them. Once upon a time I thought I might write, but life always overtook me.
Sandra Quinn, Exeter

Yeah, this one made me laugh as well. For all the wrong reasons. It's so bad it's hilarious. Exactly where is this place that tramps gather and fight each other while people look on?! And the emotional scene for which these comic shenanigans are meant to be the amusing counterpoint is utterly, utterly banal. I'd rather be beaten up by a tramp than read any more of this.
Adam, London

I've always wished to be able to see something like my favorite opera's storyline turned to our post-modern world. Indeed, this brief yet savory tribute to Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and it's doomed and absurdity seem to be presented with a touch of irony that seems very acute for our ironic times.
Sebastien Smith, Quebec city, Quebec

A very vivid piece of writing which did make me laugh. The drunken fighting may not be realistic, but I'm a Douglas Adams fan - flights of fancy aren't beyond my imagination, especially if they're entertaining ones. More please!
Angie, Witham, England

Best one of the three. I could quite happily contine reading!
Natalie, Stratford-upon-Avon, England

Nothing makes me laugh. This made me laugh. I'd love to read this book.
FH, coventry

If that's the best of the three, then I don't think I'll read the others!
Dan T, Surbiton, Surrey

I agree entirely with Imogen; if I saw a group of tramps beating each other up I'd move on sharpish, or perhaps call 999 if I was in a good mood. But apart from that I thought the dialogue is promising, and this is definitely the best of the three excerpts.
Milly Mossop, London, UK

Hmm....I must say, I've never in my life seen a group of homeless people fighting each other in broad daylight, happily watched by tourists, then passing a hat around. So I assume by this that the novel is not set in the real world, more a sort of fable-unreal-adult-fairy-story type place. Is this correct? I think I can see what you're getting at, is there a lot of symbolism in the fact that they're clowns perhaps? I'd need to read more before I worked out if this was successful or not.
imogen, london

This one! Out of the three this is the one that I could visualise as I read. It has a human warmth to it, too.
Simon Gibson, bradford, england

Would love to read more, very enjoyable.
Kate, Mid Wales

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