December 2009: Thoughts on Preludes and Elusions

Can a short story excite the lawyers? I don’t mean in a litigious manner but in an anticipatory sense. With Preludes and Elusions, my short story set in the near future, about a family lawyer in London who specializes in pre-conception contracts, I think I have come close. Last November following my reading at an event in the City, I spied a certain gleam in the eyes of a few forward-thinking lawyers.

I was invited to read an extract from the story at a cocktail reception hosted by Dawsons Solicitors. The guest-list was made up of female professionals and I joked with the hosts that they had barred male guests in case they found the proposal underpinning the story too scary. As it turned out, it was an inspired idea of the organiser, the head of Family Law at the firm, who had also instructed the barman to dispense cosmopolitans to the guests as they filed in for the book reading. Never have I provoked so much uproarious laughter and at all the right points. What more could a reader want than spontaneous appreciation greeting each vaguely-humorous utterance? However, not only was this an attentive audience, but as they proved later, they had grasped the futuristic ideas in the story and were ready to ‘run with them’ as one person put it later.

‘We could take this forward,’ she said to me. ‘I’ve just discussed this with my friend here, who’s also a colleague, and we think you’re on to something.’ I murmured my thanks that they had decided the idea was feasible. ‘You haven’t patented it have you?’ she asked. Quick mover. I was impressed.

For the record, I have begun to protect my invention, insofar as ‘a pre-conception contract’ is my intellectual property. But ideas are notoriously difficult to protect.

In recent days I’ve begun receiving emails on the subject of ‘new and weird contracts’ from friends, acquaintances and others who have chanced upon and read ‘Preludes and Elusions.’ One correspondent wrote to inform me that a recent issue of Marie Claire magazine had included a brief piece on pre-sex contracts, drafted in LA and downloadable from the internet. A piece of paper for a man to whip out of his pocket before having sex, asking the woman to sign a waiver absolving him of any responsibility if she had a child from their encounter. I mentioned this to yet another lawyer, who gave her view that she didn’t think such contracts would work. The thing about pre-nups, for example, is that the two people are already in a relationship to which they are adding a new dimension, hence both are primed for a mutual contract. Which woman would sign a contract at the point of getting to know a man? If there exists a man who will bring out a legal document at such a moment, does there exist the woman who would want to get to know him better? Who knows? Time will tell.

‘On the other hand,’ this lawyer added, ‘I can see that pre-conception contracts would work.’

Another person emailed to say that she’d been reading in the paper about Tom Cruise re-negotiating his marriage contract with Katie Holmes. According to this report, which may be completely untrue, of course, Cruise is ready to pay Holmes US$5.5 million to have another child, plus another US$2 million if she does it by 2011.  ‘You’re on to something,’ said this correspondent. Well, yes. I expect that such a thing will come to pass. Whether it will be a good or bad development, I cannot say.

In the story, my main protagonist, the lawyer Lena, points out that agreeing a contract forces her clients to think about things they might not otherwise think of, and also lets both parties define their roles to some degree. However, her experience shows that a contract remains words on a piece of paper, and whether her clients want to honour it or not can change with any change of situation. In a pivotal moment of the story she confesses to a client she is advising that she herself does not have a pre-concep.

A few people have told me that a pre-concep is a horrendous idea because it would put women off having children. Somehow, I think not. Maybe a small number would think more than twice or be put off, but not the majority. Women and men will want children. We are programmed. Yet, every viewpoints and response I receive is valid. My hope was to entertain while provoking debate and that has been accomplished to a degree. At the same time, I cannot deny that I am inordinately pleased that the story has engaged the lawyers, and that they are sure they are going to ‘take the idea to the drafting stage.’  A word before they do. Ensure the domain names have been bought from me. I may belong to dreamy writer-land, but I am not completely incognizant. As for those who are sending me material on all the contracts out there, my next story is based on an idea I have had about old-age homes.

Do tell me what you think about pre-conception contracts in the comments.


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