Robert W Service

The Writing of Frank McHugh
A few of the class were imbibing a jar in the hostelry over the road.
The incompetent youth who was tending the bar made sure that the Muzak flowed.
Back of the lounge they were feeding coins to a box that would test what you knew,
And one empty chair showed a lady had gone to the room that’s known as the loo.

Then out of the darkness, and into the joint, a venue with less class than most,
There stumbled a man, unshaven and gaunt, with the haunted look of a ghost.
And he reeled to the bar, and clutched at it hard, and slammed down a fifty pound note
And he called for strong drink for any poor soul, be they man, mouse or moll, who wrote.
We could none of us place that stranger’s face, but we all knew the look in his eyes,
So we took up his offer and sat him with us, with the friendship a full beer-glass buys.

There’s men that in some weird way hold your ear, though you know out of which end they talk.
He was nothing like us; he was sweaty blue cheese, while we were all pure white chalk,
But he told a good tale as he knocked back his ale, of genius, betrayal and strife
And years of rejection through publishers’ spite, for such is a poor author’s life.
We listened spellbound as we drank down his round, though we knew scarce a word would be true,
Then back to the table that lady returned, from the room that’s known as the loo. 

There she stood wide-eyed, and she tried hard to hide the signs that they’d met before,
But the air was so tense, every man Jack could sense that there was, or had been, a rapport.
Though the stranger’s smooth spiel pattered on without pause, he had even more haunted a look
And his face flushed like fire, and his high brow perspired, and the table he clung onto shook.
And she just stood there, with a cold gimlet stare that skewered his heart through and through,
Till inside something cracked and she headed right back to the room that’s known as the loo.

There’s a God-awful place - the stranger went on - you’ll remember the place that I mean,
For you’re writers like me, and we all of us know it’s a place every writer has been,
Where the days are dead dull, and the landscapes are flat, and the nights are forbidding and dark,
And nothing of interest has ever occurred since the day Noah scuppered the ark,
And plots never thicken, but every twist thins them to tedious and separate bits,
And every line lacks but a word to be right, and no word in the dictionary fits.

We’ll I’ve been there too, but I yomped right on through, until I emerged the far side,
Where another land lies, full of honey and milk, where your every desire’s satisfied,
Where your novels are published and earn good reviews, and every available prize, 
And even your stories and poems are jewels they’re desperate to anthologise.
Aye, paradise milk I have guzzled - he said - and gorged myself on honeydew, 
And the name you will find on the spines of my books is Francis O’Kelly McHugh.

The mould-breaking novel that first made my name was a plain-speaking earthy romance
That the critics agreed was a stonking good read of postmodernist significance.
The sequel sold better, ’cos it had more sex – though the first had a hell of a lot –
And by common consent every last dirty bit quintessentially part of the plot.
Now the lady behind these outpourings of mine – well, I’m sure you would never guess who!
And he gave a broad wink as he gestured towards the room that’s known as the loo.

We’d have liked to hear more, but he gave a guffaw, and stood up, and without saying a word,
With more boldness than sense off he went to the gents, and we waited to see what occurred.
Well there were one or two who thought it all true, but most of us had major doubts,
And a lively discussion began to ensue – but it stopped when the lights all went out.

And the music stopped too, and the darkness swept in, and out of the depths of the night
As if from a dream came a yowl and a scream and the sounds of a no-holds-barred fight.
We heard steps on the stairs, and a heavy door crashed, and someone fled out to the street,
Then the lights came back on and a figure emerged, not a hair out of place, chic, petite,
A lady possessed of more martial arts skills, and a lot more street-wise, than we knew,
And whom we respected much more than we had at the time she went into the loo! 

Then this sassy female told her side of the tale, which was nasty and brutish and short:
The stranger had been in the class long ago, and a writing career he had sought,
But he never could cope, and he hadn’t a hope, and of all of the students she knew, 
She never had known such a talentless wretch as garrulous Frank McHugh.

His vaunting ambition had driven him mad, and he’d turned to the vanity press,
Then, by a rich aunt with uncommon good sense, he’d been sent abroad to convalesce.
All those best-sellers were, like his conquest of her, wishful thoughts from a mind well askew;
In the whole human race there was no sadder case than garrulous Frank McHugh.

The years have rolled by and the lady who spoke is not in our class any more,
But it now seems to me in her version I see a profound and significant flaw.
One night in the throes of a terrible dose of that dreaded disease, writer’s block,
I remembered how well Frank described it that night. Then the thought came to me, with a shock,
That maybe he’d not (as she claimed) lost the plot; it was she, and not him, was cuckoo!
He was her old lover; why else run for cover in the room that’s known as the loo? 

And if that part was true, why not the books too? I have sought, but I haven’t yet found
So much as a title – so obviously vital – which is strange, for tomes once so renowned.
Has every best-seller by that McHugh feller been expunged from the face of the earth?
Surely not! And if very few copies remain, just think how much each will be worth!
So bear this in mind, if a book you should find – most likely outrageously blue –
That bears on its spine the unloved, unsung name of Francis O’Kelly McHugh.

Robert William Service (1874-1958), "The Bard of the Yukon", was born to Scottish parents in Preston, Lancashire, but made his name - and his considerable fortune - in Canada, where he arrived to work as a ranch hand at the age of 22. His early poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew - featuring that enigmatic femme fatale "the lady that's known as Lou" - was first published in his local paper the Whitehorse Star. It is claimed to be the best-selling poem in history, and to have earned him half a million pounds. His poetry appealed enormously to ordinary people, but made little impression on the critics. This may not have bothered him much, as he earned enough from it to be able to retire to Monte Carlo and live a life of ease among the rich and famous.

I go to a creative writing class, and a bunch of us congregate in the pub across the road afterwards. One week when our homework was to write a parody, I thought I'd tackle Dan McGrew - with the result that you now see. Both of the main characters in my version are, of course, entirely fictitious.

"Loo" may be a Britishism. It means "toilet". 

Back to Parodies home page. 

© Bob Newman 2005. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 01/09/2006