The Towering Inferno

My entry for this week’s #whimword. Any similarities to the plot of the movie of the same name are completely coincidental and the plot summary from this wikipedia article has nothing to do with anything.

Writer Robert Douglas returns to Hay Literary Festival for the launch of his new book, The Glass Tower, published by book-magnate Duncan James. At 1380 chapters (1,800,000 words/5000 pages), it is the world’s tallest tale. Shortly after his arrival, a dramatic irony starts an undetected fire on the 1000th page. While Robert accuses the books copy-editor, Simon Rogers, of cutting corners, Simon insists the book is up to standards.

Over champagne, publicist Big Dan turns on the charm offensive. His sub-plot quickly threatens to overwhelm the main story and Robert orders it shut down. Smoke is seen on the 1000th page which Robert and illustrator Gideon Williams flick through to investigate. They fail to prevent a spoiler alert, leading to a fire flash killing Gideon.

Ill-equipped readers arrive to tackle the blaze. Workshop organiser Harry Michaels helps Robert to evacuate the characters from the pivotal scene on the 3055th page, directing him to imagine them in a lift. Publicist Millie Lisolette, who is being wooed by critic Harvey Claireborne, rushes to the 2072nd page to check on her young family. Simon admits to Duncan that he cut commas to stay under budget.

Robert imagines characters in lifts until the fire renders their reactions unbelievable. The fire traps Big Dan and his secretary/mistress Lorrie in his office on the 1650th page, killing them.

Robert rushes to rescue Millie and the family from page 2072 but they are misled by a red herring and find themselves back in the pivotal scene. With fire suppression efforts becoming ineffective, the book loses conceptual power and Harry is forced to pull out his back up exercise on ‘found poetry’.

A penultimate chapter rescue results in disaster as characters rush the helicopter, causing it to crash, setting the page ablaze. Robert writes an alternative ending allowing twelve people, including Robert’s girlfriend Susan, Millie, and the children, one trip down. An explosion leaves this sub-plot hanging by a single cable with a hundred pages left. Millie falls to her death. Harry is able to save the rest.

Simon tells Duncan that he will save himself with a spin off, but Duncan punches him. The fire reaches the pivotal scene and Simon forces his way onto the sequel, leading to a struggle. A minor character is pushed to his death by Simon, who is killed by an explosion moments later.

A Hay Official summons Duncan with a plan to explode the million-dollar cinema rights to extinguish the fire. Knowing it could result in his bankruptcy, Duncan arranges a meeting for Robert with Netflix. The series editor sets about extinguishing the flames.

On the ground, Harvey is heartbroken to learn that Millie did not survive. Harry gets him to write a short story about Millie’s pet cat. Duncan calls his father for another loan. Robert tells Susan that he does not know what will become of the novel, perhaps it should be left in its fire-damaged state as “a kind of shrine to all the bullshit in the world”.




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