24hrFFC, the stories behind the stories: 01 to 04

Posted: 27 March 2013 in 24hrFFC
Tags: , , , ,

To read the prologue, what when where, setting up why this took place, etc., click here

So where were we? Ah yes, about to start writing story 01. Well, before we get to that, a quick note to describe what was going on, and where. We were in the Vineyard Community Centre, in Richmond. Mitch Benn was surrounded by tech and his mind was already buzzing with ideas for what would become the songs that made up his album. And I was sitting there, waiting.

Yeah, waiting.

Not exactly waiting for inspiration, but waiting to feel like something was “different”, that all this weirdness (being in the same room as someone else creating their own works, being on webcam, having a long twenty-four hours ahead of me) was hitting me as hard as I felt it should.

It wasn’t though – that didn’t come for quite some time yet. At the moment, I just felt eager to get on with it, and nervous as hell. Also, quite proud, as my son Phil was on his way over, and he’d get to watch much of this.

One more thing: we were late, Mitch and I. We’d planned on getting in and starting bang on half-past noon. We got in all right but for various reasons, I didn’t actually get to start until 1:15pm. Yeah, I’d blown 45 minutes before I’d even started. That made it tougher. Still, I was pretty sure 45 minutes wouldn’t make any difference one way or another in the long run.

As long as I didn’t have any real stinkers, any real problems writing a story, any… am I giving you enough foreshadowing here? Don’t worry – no problems today, but tomorrow…? uh-huh…

I’d already told people that I wasn’t necessarily going to do the stories in the order in which they appeared on the list I’d be given. Several reasons for this, including letting story titles percolate for a bit in my brain, time zones (I wanted to post the stories I wrote for Neil Gaiman and Mark Watson when they’d be awake to read ’em) and just personal preference.

OK, so I looked at the list, and the first name on the list was Ian Rankin. I read the title, and… ok, we were off.

Story 01
Title: Nothing To See Here
word: tincture
Challenger: Ian Rankin

I’ve always admired Ian Rankin as an author – his use of language is a delight for another writer to read, and the execution of his plots is glorious. He writes about damaged people: damaged police officers, damaged law breakers. Damaged people.

He also has a dark sense of humour, most perfectly demonstrated to me when he wrote a short story (almost a fast fiction) featuring his most famous creation, John Rebus, for a Gregg Jevins charity gig.

The title Ian gave me suggested at once something hidden in plain sight, for isn’t that what all policemen tell you at the scene of a crime: “nothing to see here”, when what they mean is “nothing WE WANT YOU to see here”? I wanted to write a story that revealed the farce of that, and showed the politely held fictions we know and hold dear as traditions.

So I did. (Story posted at 14:03 pm)

As I was finishing this story, Phil turned up, having been given a lift from the station by Clara – lovely to see him, and lovely to be able to show him the story I’d just written before I stuck it up for everyone to read…

Story 02
Title: Captain Salte’s Slug
word: lettuce
Challenger: Emma Kennedy

There are very few rules to the Fast Fiction Challenge. You’ve read them already, no doubt. There are a couple you don’t know, because I don’t talk about them, but they’re rules I set myself to make the challenge more interesting, or more fun, or have just evolved through long experience.

The first one is never ever ever write a story that the challenger is expecting. If he gives you a title/word combination that is explicitly about politics, then the story can’t ever be about politics. If there are six different definitions in the dictionary for the word offered, use one of the weirder ones. (I was once asked to use ‘weasel’; you can imagine my delight when I discovered that scientists in the antarctic call their polar vehicles weasels.)

So when the very clever and very funny Emma Kennedy gave me the above title and word combination, the two things I instantly knew were: it wasn’t going to be about a slimy crawly slug eating some lettuce.

However, the use of Captain made me think of what could be called a slug? A boat? A ship? What’s the difference – would it be important? And lettuce. Only a food? No – I guess it could be used as a colour…

The original story started off as a Captain lost in debt and lost in life, being forced to lose everything with no way back.

It didn’t quite end up that way, and I’m very, very glad it didn’t. I was really pleased with this one, and the gentle smiles on the faces as I let folks read it said it all.

You can read it here. (Story posted at 15:00 pm)

OK, so, as originally planned, each story was taking about 40 minutes to write, edit and post, and I was giving myself about 10 minutes between each story to refresh myself. Could this continue? Well…

Story 03
Title: Dead Rose Day
word: zenith
Challenger: Kim Newman

Kim Newman is a lovely, lovely man. His head explodes with lovely ideas that I wish I’d thought of, and he writes them with consummate skill. I was delighted he agreed to participate in the challenge.

When I started writing fast fictions, the stories were all written as straight forward 200 word slices of prose. Then, slowly, I started playing with the form – I’d throw in a piece of rhyming doggerel. I’d ensure it was exactly 200 words long, all right, and it’d tell a tale, and use the word in the challenge, but it’d be in rhyme.

Or I’d write one in the format of a screenplay, or as a telegram. Or, very, very occasionally, one like this, in the first person dialogue, as one part of a conversation, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps.

Kim Newman was the only person to have a play with the fact that we were doing it on Red Nose Day, and hence the spooneristic nature of his title.

And I started thinking of Dead Roses. A long deceased love affair? Too blatant. I considered (and even played with an opening line for) a story about the comeback of a band entitled The Dead Roses.

But in the end, we were a month past Valentine’s Day and the idea of flowers being thrown away, disposed of, as they died, and the various reactions people must have to doing that: do people wish they could have lasted, or wish they could have thrown them earlier…?

And who’d wonder about other people’s thoughts when disposing of what is now rubbish? A garbage man. Once that had all come together, the story was only difficult in knowing where to stop. I could have written this man for a very long time, I wanted to know more about him as well as the roses’ previous owner. And that’s when I know I’ve done it right.

Go on – read the story here. (Story posted at 15:42 pm)

Story 04
Title: Night Of The Gibbon
word: electro-encephalograph
Challenger: Jon Holmes

Jon Holmes is one of the most versatile commentator-comedians around. He’s funny, but never without a point. He’s clever, and teeny tiny small, and he’s an inveterate punster, a master of ’em.

And he’s a bastard.

I mean, really – take a look about half a dozen lines up there. Just where it says “word”. And then read the word next to it: electro-encephalograph.


And the title – Night of the Gibbon. I mean, how the hell am I supposed to use them in a…

Oh, you lovely, lovely bastard, Jon Holmes.

The story took fifteen minutes to write, and twenty to edit. I kept coming up with lines for this one that I desperately didn’t want to lose, but had to in order to fit in other lines I wanted to include. It was written and re-written and re-written again. I loved this story, and the final lines are among my favourite.

Thank you, Jon – was an absolute pleasure writing (and re-writing) this one.

Read what I came up with here. (Story posted at 16:46 pm)

OK, so we’re at the end of today’s post, and where are we? In ideal circumstances, I’d have finished story four and posted it at half-past four. Instead I posted it about quarter of an hour later. So, nothing to worry about, eh?

Tomorrow is another day, and in just two stories time, I’d learn to hate the letter ‘H’ so very, very much…

To read about stories 05 to 08, click here.

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