Zac Kaplan is not your average graduate mergers and acquisitions lawyer. He listens to the "Wicked" soundtrack on his way to the bus-stop and reads Henry James on the ride to work, he cries at modern art exhibitions and at the ballet, and can recite more soliloquies from Hamlet than sections of the Companies Act. And he's just been poached by the best law firm in the world and transplanted from the seaside paradise of Sydney to the squalid heart of the corporate machine in London, to work with the most ruthless deal-maker at Saul & Gates.
Zac's big break finds him trapped in a rat-wheel of 18 hour working days churning out contracts under the nose of his draconian supervisor, sleeping in 'rest pods' in the building's basement and drinking Victory Gin that is wheeled out to the middle of the office floor on the regular Friday 'drinks trolley'. But in a moment of desperation, Zac hatches a plot to transform this Orwellian nightmare into an extravaganza worthy of one of his favourite West-end musicals. He learns to imbue fabulousness into the most unlikely of scenes, exploring every nook and cranny of the absurd world of M & A by day, and by night wrecking a trail of mischief across London's iconic urban playgrounds.
Against the historical backdrop of Brexit and a society caving on itself, the unlikely hero's adventures take him through the boardrooms of FTSE-100 companies, the underground parties of London's Elite and the print-room of the least architecturally inspired skyscraper in EC1. He uncovers scandal, corruption and most importantly, the true definition of success in the age of post-neoliberalism.
'The City' is a work that captures the quarter-life crisis and coming of age of the Millennial generation, couched in the disillusionment of realising the cost of achieving your dreams. At once a cross between 1984, American Psycho, Absolutely Fabulous and Ulysses, and like nothing you’ve seen before, it is an epic encapsulation of the angst and ecstasy of a city in flux and the world that still seems to revolve around it. Its combination of biting satire and tremendous heart makes 'The City' an archetypal twenty-first century urban odyssey.
So how did we get here?
As a high school student, I had a passion for writing and a dream to be a writer. But I was told that the world didn't need another naive, starry-eyed scribe. And so I chose a 'sensible' path, that of studying law and becoming a corporate lawyer, believing that another lawyer was what the world in fact needed. All the way through my studies, I felt like I was trying to push a rainbow-coloured, irregular shape through a narrow, grey hole but I persisted, and even excelled, at my studies, eventually being poached by one of the largest and most prestigious firms in the world and offered my 'dream job' in London.
In the lead-up to the big move and the commencement of my 'training contract', I had hoped that working for my new employer, which had an international reputation for breaking backs in order to close deals, would crush my stubbornly romantic spirit once and for all, leaving only the opportunistic and competitive aspects of my nature to drive the chariot towards a 'successful' (if insensate) life. What transpired over the next eighteen months was rather different. Despite a baptism of fire that exceeded my gravest expectations, the romantic in me emerged from the experience far from vanquished.
My plan to transform my brief but tumultuous corporate career into a work of fiction developed while the 'real life events' which would come to form its plot were still unfolding. After three months of my new life, I came to a fork in the road - either stay and surrender my soul completely or leave and accept failure - so I fashioned a third path, to stay on, but in the capacity of an undercover writer gathering material for a future novel. This strategy succeeded in liberating me from a psychological enslavement by becoming the author of a narrative which formerly seemed entirely beyond my control. A free-fall drop was transformed into a roller-coaster ride.
I eventually resigned from the job in September 2016, catalysing a year of introspection and reconciliation of self and soul. A few months ago, I started to become more focussed on my original authorial mission, withdrawing from the vault of memories from that strange period of my life to create a scaffolding of a novel, sketching out a detailed timeline, character outlines and scene summaries. Now has come the time to sit down and write. It is my intention to devote the next 12 months to completing 'The City', chapter by chapter, with a view to having a finished manuscript by the end of 2018.
Although my lifestyle is now ascetic compared to the corporate largesse of yesteryear, I still do require somewhere to eat and sleep. Hence, the need for this crowdfunding campaign. Your contribution will go directly to ensuring that The City is written as soon as possible by contributing to the living expenses of this once physically glutted but spiritually destitute corporate lawyer, now emancipated but (not quite) starving writer.
And here's something I prepared earlier....
The following excerpt is from my 'online short-form psychiatric memoir UNMEDICATED (released April 2017), which is available to read along with a collection of my other non-fiction works at www.sambookatz.com (see Altmedia's review of UNMEDICATED). The auto-biographical work summarises the 'medical context' of the real-life events that inspired The City:
After eleven consecutive sleepless nights in the serviced flat in which I had been put up, which itself looked across a narrow City lane directly into the offices of a rival law firm (where at least 20% of the lawyers were working through the nights which I wasn’t, the light from their offices blearing through the cheap blinds on my full-length bedroom windows), I found myself grasping onto my last slim threads of my sanity. After some frantic Googling, I headed towards the reception desk of a De Beauvoir NHS clinic with a week-long waiting list for appointments, begging for someone to write me a script for the medications I knew might have the potential to carry me through one of the most violent psychic storms I had ever experienced. The most solid East-End lass you’ve ever met agreed to see me. She wrote the scripts, and made a space for me as her last patient every Tuesday thereafter at 8.30pm just because "I’m worried about you, love”, letting me pour my heart out for as long as I wanted (which was not very long, because I was too anxious to get back from my work ‘dinner break'). God save the NHS!
But then, after the three darkest months of my life (which, considering the nature of the years that preceded it, I think is really saying something), most of which was spent in the Panopticon-like prison of my shared office, the sun came out on a crisp May morning in London Fields, where the wildflowers were already in bloom, to illuminate the true nature of the events of that bitterly cold March. It became abundantly clear that what that year’s 'breakdown' had signified was that the throbbing intuitive organ buried deep inside of me, which had either been neglected, medically straightjacketed or downright abused for most my life, had suddenly found itself an open stage and an uncovered microphone, and sensing the immense danger that lay ahead and in one final attempt to make itself heard, had yelled with all its might. And because at the time, I hadn’t yet learned to listen to my intuition even when it was speaking at a normal volume, now that it was screaming like a raving lunatic could only make out:
And because most of my life I had been conditioned to believe that any overly-emotional or seemingly self-sabotaging behaviour I had ever exhibited was attributable to a horrible, incurable mental illness (whether that be homosexuality or ‘bipolar disorder’), I was alarmed beyond measure by the unremtting blaring of this internal siren. I never questioned whether something could actually be wrong outside of my head. As far I was concerned, a lifelong, incurable disease had just ‘flared up’ again. And I took what I thought was the sensible, responsible course of action, which was to not tell anyone, to keep calm, and seek medical attention. I didn’t miss a single day of work despite my ‘utilisation’ continuing to exceed 120% for my first couple of months (just so non-lawyers understand how horrific a figure that is, 120% utilisation means 12 hours of billable work recorded per day, which requires at least 16 hours to actually be spent in the office, every day). I was too scared (and too busy) to tell anyone in Australia about my 'relapse', which fortunately meant that there wasn’t an opportunity for my family to corroborate my self-diagnosis, and panic me further, and tell me how I had to immediately return home to go straight into a psychiatric clinic. Although it was horrendously lonely, just sitting in that office dealing with all of it on my own gave my slow-on-the-uptake 'conscious mind' the time it needed in the corporate trenches (where, though over 100% of my time was required, only about 7% of intellectual capacity was needed for the monkey work I was actually doing) to work out that I hadn’t been ill at all (or at least not before I made myself so) and that my instinctive reaction of revulsion had been entirely rational and justified. It took all that time for my supposedly terrifically clever brain to work out what had taken my intuition only a matter of minutes, and to properly decipher the message that had almost been mistranslated as a command to commit a tragic and irreversible act, a message that actually was instructing the rest of me to:
GET OUT! GET OUT NOW! GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN! GO! GO NOW! DO NOT PASS ‘GO’, DO NOT COLLECT TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS! JUST GET OUT OF HERE! THIS IS NOT A GOOD PLACE! THIS IS AZKABAN! LOOK AT THESE PEOPLE!!! THEY ARE DEATH EATERS!! THIS IS YOUR SOUL SPEAKING AND I DO NOT WANT TO BE EATEN!! What are you doing there on the edge of that bed? What are those – deep breathing exercise? Do you think you’ve become immune to anxiety-triggered insomnia just because you’ve been doing yoga for a year? FUCK YOGA – JUST LISTEN TO ME!!! I KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON HERE, WHEREAS YOU CLEARLY NEVER HAVE AND NEVER WILL! I’ve been trying to keep you away from this place anyway I could for the past five years, but now that you’ve finally gone and stuck your nose right up to the abyss, I’m just going to have to bring out every piece of heavy artillery at my disposal to stop you falling in. I’M NOT GOING TO LET YOU SLEEP! NO SLEEP!! NO WAY, JOSE! You can sleep as much as you want once you are the hell away from this giant corporate incinerator that will swallow you up into its squalid belly and spit you out into another contract laying machine like the rows of suited battery hens rotting in their glass cages just outside your bedroom window! Just go take another look if you need proof. See what I mean? LOOK AT THEM!! Look at that forty year-old hag in a crinkled Marks and Spencer blazer almost collapsing onto her keyboard. Do you know how old she actually is? TWENTY-SEVEN!!! She was probably also a starry-eyed hot shot from somewhere nice and sunny when she arrived at the ‘magic circle’ three years ago. And just look at her now! THAT’S MAGIC FOR YOU!!!! Do you want to be that hag in three years? NO! THE ANSWER IS NO! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CHOOSE LIFE! ACTUAL LIFE, NOT TRAINSPOTTING-IRONIC-LIFE! Just pack your things, leave the key under the mat, take the lift down to Ground, tip the nice door-man, get in a cab and L-E-A-V-E!!!!!!
Or something along those lines (wait for the novel for a longer, more eloquent description, without any J.K. Rowling or Danny Boyle allusions – there will only be middle to highbrow literary allusions in the novel). But somehow, even once I had decoded this exceptionally clear, direct message from my gut, I managed to rationalise myself out of listening to it immediately. I made a long list of reasons for staying at the job even though I knew it was making me miserable, the least romantic of which was that I would have owed the firm a whole heap of money from all the strings-attached sweeteners they had offered when they still thought they needed to woe me over from paradise (sweeteners which soon after being greedily gulped down left a too-good-to-be-true, sick-to-my-stomach aftertaste that now makes complete sense). Other reasons for staying included ‘not wanting to be a quitter’, not quite being ready to walk away from such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (please God, let it have just been once!!), and desperately not wanting to go back to Australia for reasons that only became clear when I was eventually forced to return. Despite having felt like I was lucky to have got through those three months in London alive, Australia still seemed like an even greater hell and one that I had only just escaped from. So I conjured up an extraordinarily fanciful plan, one borne out of sheer desperation and perhaps fuelled by the close-to-hypomanic state in which I may or may not have been at the time (who will ever know?) The plan was to keep participating in the Hunger Games of the City of London, but to start making everyone else start playing according to my own rules. And I’d do this by reconstructing the remainder of my Training Contract as being a ‘field research mission’ (from which I could walk away at any time) for the revolutionary novel I was going to write at the end, one which was going to be so inspiring and widely read that it was going to turn the sordid, sequestered world of corporate law inside out. I thus reimagined the experience through which I was only an eighth of the way from being an introduction to a lifelong career in which I was inevitably going to be found dead at my desk, to being a thrilling escapade of espionage, and a noble sacrifice of a small chunk of my precious youth for the sake of the betterment of humankind.
*read Altmedia's review of Bookatz's 'online psychiatric memoir' UNMEDICATED (published on www.sambookatz.com)
Risks and challenges
The primary 'risks and challenges' associated with this project stem from two words that I am almost too scared to utter through fear of cursing myself - 'writer's block'. This work has been marinating in my mind for so long that the main risk seems to be the oven just refusing to cooperate, even for a short time, when it comes to the cooking.
But I wouldn't feel comfortable setting up this crowdfunder and accepting contributions if I didn't feel confident in being able to overcome such psychological hurdles, if and when they should swoop in. I've already had a trial run this year at full-time, long-form writing, which gave me the opportunity to work out how to establish a routine and lifestyle conducive to such an endeavour, which can be solitary and gruelling in its own way. In three months, from March to May this year, I managed to write 125,000 words - split between the non-fiction pieces posted to my website and short fiction pieces ('studies' for the novel). I did experience occasional writer's block, but I learned how to ride it out, responding to the sometimes temperamental word-factory inside my cranium with mindfulness and patience until it began to cooperate once again. And I learned how to tap into a good 'flow' when one was forthcoming - reaching 4,000 words per day in my most procreant periods.
My longest published work to date, 'Unmedicated' (available to read at www.sambookatz.com), at 23,000 words, was written in 8 days. If 'The City' were to materialise so effortlessly, the first draft could be finished a few months. But despite the amount of preparation done thus far, I'm not counting on such a smooth ride. Even so, and accounting for unforeseen obstacles and intermissions, I believe that a 12 month deadline for a first draft, and 18 months for a publishable manuscript, is realistic.
I will be updating the backers on a regular basis to let them know of my progress, keeping them abreast of any changes with respect to the anticipated date of completion.
On a practical level, in relation to fulfilling the perks, the ideal scenario would be that the work is picked up by a publisher, with the fulfillments of my obligations to the crowdfunders included as part of the deal. Failing that, I have looked into the cost and practicalities of having the hardback and paperback copies produced privately, and will reserve such costs of printing from the proceeds of the campaign to ensure that no matter what transpires between now and 2019, the crowdfunders will receive the perks they have been promised, signed, sealed and delivered with the love and appreciation of the author.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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