Archive for the ‘24hrFFC’ Category

So, that was it. Done. Finished.

Not quite.

As soon as Mitch had uploaded the final version of the album, and I’d uploaded the final story, we had the “get out”; everything had to be taken apart, packed up, packed into the various vehicles we had for transport back to Mitch and Clara’s.

I was babbling. I knew it. I’d done a quick ‘thank you and goodbye’ to the webcam above my writing table before we’d disconnected it, and I was so very pleased to see a couple of friends who’d stopped by with bagels, (smoked salmon and cream cheese). They’d been travelling for some hours, due to there being problems with the trains and got there just as the challenge was coming to its conclusion. I’m as sorry as they are that they couldn’t have been there for more of it.

But yeah, I was babbling. It was as if instead of the adrenaline leaving me immediately, as I’d expected it to do… it was ramped up a level, combining with the caffeine in my system and telling me “you’re no longer on webcam – you can do or say anything.” All I remember (confirmed this Tuesday night, by the way, by those very same friends, Stu Nathan and Andrea Burgess) was that I couldn’t stop talking, nor slightly shaking.

Then we were outside somehow. Another friend (Deborah Crook) was kind enough to run Phil home, back to Barnet. And Kerrie Cook eased me into her car for the short drive back to Mitch and Clara’s.

I didn’t fall asleep straight away when we got back. I was shattered, so bloody tired, but I didn’t fall asleep. Not quite yet. I mean, sure, there was an element of excitement that it had been done, and a greater sense of actual achievement at how much we’d raised, and what I’d done.

But over the next hour or so, there was a definite slowing down of mental processes. When I could hear myself slurring my words? Yeah, time for sleep.

And so I slept.

Not for a hell of a long time; about four hours, I think. Long after I’d intended to wake up though. Y’see, I’d assumed that I’d grab a couple of hours’ sleep, wake up, start on the ebook, bang it out in a couple of hours, and then go back to bed for a longer sleep. It didn’t happen. I woke up irritable, still dog tired, and ratty as hell. And that was pretty much me for the next twenty-four hours. It wasn’t until Sunday night that I got around to properly starting the ebook, and I’d already had several temper tantrums about forgetting how to use the ebook software.

I raised over £1,400 for Comic Relief. It’s worth remembering that. In fact, no, it’s not.

This is what’s worth remembering: You lot donated £1,400 for Comic Relief.

I was just the means that allowed you to do so. You lot deserve the praise, as do so many other people. So let’s do some thank you’s while I have the floor. Or the blog. Oh, you know what I mean.

To all the challengers – thank you so very much. The titles and words you challenged me with were as fine a selection as I could possibly have wished for.

You’re all very nice, wonderful, clever people, and those I haven’t met yet, I’d very much like to, to say thank you for this and for the enjoyment you’ve given me over the years.

So, thank you to Ian Rankin, Emma Kennedy, Kim Newman, Jon Holmes, Rory Bremner, Rufus Hound, Caitlin Moran, Lauren Laverne, Marcus Brigstocke, Laurie Penny, Sarah Pinborough, Tim Minchin, Dave Gorman, Andy Nyman, Andy Salzman, Mark Watson, Ben Aaronovitch, David Arnold, Robin Ince, Jenny Colgan and Robert Llewellyn.

There are three challengers’ names missing from that list – you’ll see why in a minute.

To those who donated money during the writing and who ‘bought’ the ebook – I can’t express my thanks enough. Just… thank you thank you thank you. Thanks also to those who followed us on webcam, or visited the venue, and gave us so much encouragement and support during the twenty-four hours.

To Hayley Gale and Darren Saunders – The technical wonders who kept a live feed going during the 24 hours during which this book was written. Thank you so much for your time, your efforts, your good humour and your friendship.

Here are two of the challengers who aren’t mentioned above… To Mitch Benn, Neil Gaiman, and Clara Benn – This book, indeed this entire project, would ever have happened without you; thank you for this as for so much else.

AND, finally, To Richard Curtis, Comic Relief and everyone who works there – thank you for being there and for doing what you do.

Here’s the ebook – I know that some people have downloaded it already, but I’m sure there are some who haven’t yet. It’s a free download and there’s no obligation to donate anything, but if you’ve enjoyed the stories, or expect to enjoy the stories, or even enjoyed the stories behind the stories, can I suggest a donation of a pound here?

UNFORTUNATELY, there are problems donating via that method if you’re donating from outside the UK, so you can either use a UK postcode (it’s been suggested you try W12 8QT) or Paypal me any donation on budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk

The links:

Twenty-Four Hours of Fast Fiction ebook – epub (for iBooks)

Twenty-Four Hours of Fast Fiction ebook – mobi (for Kindle)

I think that’s it. We’re done.

Any questions? No? Fine. See you next entry when I’ll post something that has nothing to do with Red Nose Day, Fast Fictions or anything to do with Twenty-Four Hours of Fast Fiction at all.

Probably.

To read the prologue, what when where, setting up why this took place, etc., click here.
To read about the stories, click on the links 01 to 04 05 to 08 09 to 12 13 to 16 17 to 20

Pride goeth before a fall, they say. It’s not true. Pride goeth before a wall.

The Wall.

You know? “The Wall”, the thing that marathon runners talk about. Well, not really talk about. They grimace while confirming its existence, and how – although they got through it – the memory of it hurts still, maybe years later. Now, I’m not a runner. Even before I buggered up my foot, I was never a runner. Seemed far too much hard work for me – I’d rather have walked it and arrived a bit later.

And this event was not the first time I’ve stayed up through the night working on something. Far from it. But this was the first time I’d done it publicly, having to exercise that bit of my brain labelled ‘come up with another story… NOW’.

And I hit the wall. Obviously, unlike with running, there was no physical effects; my legs didn’t figuratively turn to jelly. No, my thought processes did.

Now, remember, when we left me yesterday, I’d just completed story 20, for David Arnold, and I was feeling pretty good – I was actually ahead of schedule by about an hour. And it was half past seven.

Story 21
Title: A Forgotten Spider Remembers
word: monkish
Challenger: Robin Ince

I remember wondering at one point whether I could get away with two hundred words of “All Work And No Play” and try and pass it off as a meta-fiction parody.

I also recall considering whether it would be possible in the next few hours to invent a time machine: whether to blackmail Robin Ince into giving me a different title, or persuade ME not to undertake this DAMN FOOL thing in the bloody first place was still up for grabs.

By half-past eight in the morning, an hour after starting this story, I was ready to maim anyone in the room who, seeing that I was having problems, came over to try and “help”. I didn’t want help – I wanted to quit.

A forgotten spider? Who the fuck forgets a spider? And then they remember. No, it’s the spider who remembers. Remembers monks. No, something monkish. I’m struck my a sudden memory of a favourite ’round’ from I’m Sorry I haven’t A Clue, The Uxbridge English Dictionary, and a particular definition:

slippery, adjective. A bit like slipper.

Don’t know why that struck me. Yes, I do – it’s because of monkish. What the hell can be described as “monkish”?

Oh, I know. I stand up, start pacing. Carry on pacing long after that idea has been discarded as unworkable, another idea has taken its place, been similarly discarded, and so on.

Then I stop, stride to the keyboard, start typing. This is it, this is the story, this is the…

FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK

This ISN’T the story – this isn’t the one. The story doesn’t fucking work.

Back to pacing.

At some point, I descend into genuine loathing for Robin Ince.

Robin Ince doesn’t deserve loathing. He’s a smart, clever, brilliant comedian who doesn’t suffer fools at all, let alone gladly. His radio programme (The Infinite Monkey Cage, with Prof Brian Cox) is essential listening, and if you’ve ever seen him live on stage, you’ll know how privileged you are to have seen one of Britain’s smartest premier comedians.

But at quarter to nine on a Saturday morning, after twenty hours of writing and one of not writing anything of use whatsoever, my dislike for the man was reaching apocalyptic levels. I started wondering if I could express that dislike in a story, maybe an acrostic based tale, the first letter of every sentence spelling out…

I think it was at that point that both Clara and Phil started taking the piss out of me, trying to get me out of the funk I was descending into. I kind of remember threatening to throw various things at them: the bright orange marker pen I was using for the whiteboard. The whiteboard. A laptop computer. Possibly a table.

And then it came to me. At ten past bloody nine. A hundred minutes after the previous story, a neat little tale that answered the challenge, and had enough creepiness in there to match my mood.

Twenty minutes.

That’s how long the story actually took to write, edit and post up.

Twenty minutes. After a hundred that were, quite frankly, horrible. Twenty minutes to write a story.

You can read it here. (Story posted at 09:35 am)

I needed a break. Badly. But I knew if I took one, it would be even harder than before to write the next story. I think I said something like “OK, if I can write the next one in under an hour, I’ll see about a break”. Truth was, of course, I was scared shitless I’d hit another wall.

Story 22
Title: Dancing Upside Down
word: flannel
Challenger: Jenny Colgan

OK, remember my oft stated preference for ‘never writing the obvious’; well, sometimes the challengers make it easy for me. The title and word are so obvious, that any potential story ideas along that obvious path evaporate leaving room for other idea to take their place.

And, thank you Jenny Colgan, very intelligent and lovely writer that you are, for making this an easy one.

Flannel made me think of water. “Dancing upside down”? If there’s been a better description of synchronised swimming, I’ve yet to hear it. (“Drowning to music” doesn’t count.)

So no synchronised swimming for me, or for the story. Was tempted to make it about a ballroom dancing team in Australia, but the idea was too similar to a tale I’d written before, long ago. Where else?

The following is true, I promise. I tipped my head back, to stretch my neck and ended up looking straight at the ceiling. And imagining ‘out there’, past the ceiling, past the atmosphere, out there.

And imagining how people dance in zero gravity. And whether thirteen year old Jewish boys still have to practice for their first barmitzvah dance with their mother…

Start to finish, the story was written, edited and posted in a little over half an hour.

And you can read it here. (Story posted at 10:11 am)

When I checked the time that story was posted, for the first time in almost three hours, I relaxed. Genuinely relaxed. I had two hours 19 minutes left, and two stories left to write. And the last of them I’d pretty much known what I was going to write the moment I saw the story word, let along the title. But first I had to write the penultimate tale.

Story 23
Title: I’m Going Offline
word: narcissism
Challenger: Robert Llewellyn

As I’ve mentioned before, Mitch Benn collated these titles and words for me prior to the challenge commencing, and I only saw them after the clock had ticked 12:30 pm, some 22 hours ago.

However, the previous night, Clara and Mitch were looking at the titles, laughing away. And although Caitlin Moran’s title “These Aren’t My Breasts!” was without doubt their favourite title, Robert Llewellyn’s was the one that had them going “whoa…”

I don’t know Robert Llewellyn. To describe him as an actor is to underplay his skillset. He’s a great presenter, clever interviewee, but it’s fair to say that most people who know do do because of his portrayal of the character of Kryten in Red Dwarf. But what got both Mitch and Clara was how he knew to use that title, something that I’m known (among friends, anyway) for doing, and saying, on a not exactly seldom basis. Sometimes, I need to get away from online life, and I’ll go offline for a few days or a few weeks. I’ll usually let folks know.

But yes, I go offline for a bit.

Hopefully, though, never for the same reasons as the subject of this tale…

You can find out here. (Story posted at 11:14 am)

And, suddenly (suddenly? ha!) I was there. One story away.

I remember saying as much to the room, hearing a round of applause start, then shushing them, saying ‘not yet, not yet’. Mitch had, at some point in the past hour, finished the album and was listening to the tracks, tweaking here and there, improving the sound here, quietening another bit there.

And then out of the blue, he announces that he’s just going to do one more quick song because he’s thought of a lovely lyric for it… and sings it there and then. He’s done vocal recordings through the night, and played songs on occasion. You know what? I can barely remember them… they kind of fade a bit into the whole thing. I remember walking over to his cam every hour or so, with the next challenger’s name written upon it.

Slightly different feel as I walked over to him this time and brandished the whiteboard to him and the webcam. This time it had Mitch’s name on it.

On the front at least. On the back, it had something rather different. As I recall, it went something like

hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

erm, anyway…

Story 24
Title: Option B Remains Open
word: declamatory
Challenger: Mitch Benn

Mitch Benn is one of my closest friends; no news there. Another friend, however, was recently surprised to learn that we’ve only known each other for under three years, despite having mutual friends who we’ve each known for far longer.

It’s true – I met Mitch for the first time, as I did Clara and their daughters, on the ‘set’ (if one could call it that) of a thing entitled ‘I’M PROUD OF THE BBC‘. You can click that link and see a second and a half of me and much more (in every sense) of Mitch. Roughly 160% of him, I believe, since the video was shot before he undertook his weight loss programme and lost over ten stone (151 lbs, was, I believe, the final number).

Now, me and Mitch share many enjoyments together, including, obviously, spending 24 hours raising money for charity exposing our creative endeavours to the world, and somehow not falling apart while doing so. Lots we disagree about, by the way – just ask us about Game of Thrones sometime…

However, it wasn’t until just before this twenty four hour madness that I discovered, with delight, that Mitch is an I, CLAVDIVS fan. I could have guessed though – who but a fan of the series would use the word declamatory? To me?

Heh. I pretty much knew this story before I wrote it. I knew what would happen, how it would happen, and who would be be involved. It was a genuine pleasure to write.

I hope you like it. (Story posted at…)

Now, take a look above. You’ll see I haven’t put when that final story was posted. Not yet. A bit of explanation.

Mitch, as I said, had finished his album an hour or so earlier, and was just about to upload it, for that had been his challenge: to write, create, record and upload the album. Mine was merely to write the stories; I’d always planned to upload the ebook later, after the challenge had been concluded.

I finished Mitch’s story, announced it to the room, to huge cheers, and got ready to post it… at about 12:11 pm, 20 minutes early.

And then I paused. Sod it, I had twenty minutes or so. I was going to take fifteen minutes just to relax, to take chill out, to enjoy not having to write another bloody word today.

I’d done it.

Twenty-four stories. – I’d written twenty-four original stories, of exactly 200 words, each, the titles and words for which I hadn’t had a bloody clue a day earlier.

In twenty-four hours – Sure some stories had taken well under an hour, three of them had taken substantially longer. But yeah, all twenty-four stories had been written in under twenty-four hours.

Far, far too many coffees… – I think there was probably some blood left in my caffeine stream, but I wouldn’t have bet money on it.

At 12:25, I hit “post”, and the final story uploaded to the blog.

There’s just one more blog entry to write… and you’ll get that tomorrow.

To read the prologue, what when where, setting up why this took place, etc., click here.
To read about stories 01 to 04, click here.
To read about stories 05 to 08, click here.
To read about stories 09 to 12, click here.
To read about stories 13 to 16, click here.

Hello – how are you? Sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin. It’s nice sitting comfortably, isn’t it? Taking a few minutes out of the day. Hope you’re not tired… I mean it’s not like you’ve been writing for about sixteen hours, is it? It’s not like it’s half past four in the morning, is it?

Well, you rejoin me at precisely that point. After starting late, having some stories written and posted well inside the hour, and a couple that took me somewhat longer… I’m finally back on schedule. Sixteen stories written, sixteen hours gone. And far, far too many coffees drunk.

There are a few people who’ve stayed through the night, and most of them are dozing now. Gav Taylor is providing some moral support when I’m flagging, but mostly I’m just getting slowly more and more tired.

And the smile is looking more and more glassy as time goes by.

Story 17
Title: Death Of A Turnip
word: archbishop
Challenger: Andy Salzman

The first time I heard Andy Salzman was on an episode of The Now Show. Honestly? I didn’t know what to think of him or his material – it was surreal… but as so often, I was wrong on two counts. One: I didn’t know what surreal meant, and two, his material is clever. No, I mean really clever. Andy doesn’t go for the lowest common denominator – he doesn’t go for any kind of denominator; he assumes you have a reasonable working knowledge of politics, world events, the personal foibles and verbal ticks of famous people. And if you don’t? Go see someone else.

I’ve met him on a couple of occasions since, and it’s always been a genuine pleasure to do so – the man has a brain the size of a planet, and I like hearing him prove it.

However, there’s another side of him. The silly side. The ‘being reduced to a fit of helpless giggles by his best friend and fellow comedian John Oliver and then doing it back to John Oliver’ side, so often expressed by the pair of them in their glorious podcast The Bugle.

It’s that side that I was playing to when I wrote the story based on Andy’s challenge. A recent rewatching of The Wicker Man might also have been knocking at my brain. And, hey, it was half past four, ok?

Strangely, I can see various comedians of my acquaintance taking well-cast roles in the inevitable television adaptation.

Let me repeat – it’s gone past half past four in the bloody morning.

This is a very silly tale for someone who can be very silly himself.

You can read it here. (Story posted at 05:18 am)

And, yeah, we’re up and running again – well, inside the hour, I even had the time to have a proper wander, stretch my legs, stretch my arms… Do you know what? I can actually see me finishing this, and doing it on time. I’m very pleased at that… And, now, the next story, which is almost the only story I’d planned for when I was going to write it. You’ll see why in a sentence or two.

Story 18
Title: My Wife Never Knew
word: pollen
Challenger: Mark Watson

Mark Watson is a comedian of consummate skill, appearing to many as someone who just opens his mouth and allows streams of very funny material to come out of it. Not a chance. Not a bloody chance. Having seen umpteen comedians over the years, one thing I know is it takes hours, weeks and months of work to make it look that casual.

He has some appreciation of what I’m doing for this project, and for what Mitch is doing, as Mark did his own 25 hour standup for Comic Relief at the beginning of March. You can imagine my pleasure when he agreed to challenge me for this event.

As for the timing of this story; well, on Red Nose Day, he was in Australia, and I kind of figured it’d be nice to write a story that would be posted, and that he could read, at a time when he’d actually be awake…

The story itself? Well, a classic pull back and reveal that rewards careful rereading of the story. I’ve always enjoyed the unreliable narrator in fiction. I’ve done it several times and it’s both easier and much, much harder to pull off than you’d expect.

Easier because, of course, you as the writer know far more than the reader does at any point, so it’s easier to allow the reader to be steered in a particular direction. Harder to pull off though if you’re not going to cheat. You have to play fair with your reader, so you can’t lie by saying something that’s explicitly not true. Lying by omission? That’s the secret, that’s the trick… and it’s lovely to play it every so often.

As I hope I successfully did here. (Story posted at 06:07 am)

When I posted that story up, I was hugely surprised; I was pretty sure it had taken me a lot longer to write, but no: stretched legs be damned – I’d written and posted the story in about half an hour. Nice! Felt a lot better after that tale was up.

Story 19
Title: Suzy Gets A Fish
word: banana
Challenger: Ben Aaronovitch

Is there anything more upsetting as a child that wanting something and your parents not letting you have it?

I couldn’t understand where that thought came from when I saw the title challenged by the superbly talented writer who is Ben Aaronovitch. But it immediately speared what was left of my brain. Why’d Suzy have a fish and why, oh why, wasn’t it good enough? What did she want instead?

I’m not sure when ‘dodo’ jumped into my head; it was certainly after I’d discarded ‘triceratops’ and also ‘brachiosaur’ (although thinking of them may have led me to the next story, it’s certainly true.)

OK, so now I had a parent and “Suzy”, the latter presumably sulking because she couldn’t have a dodo and was refusing to have a fish instead.

I was already thinking along the idea of time travel before I’d got to the second sentence; I hope you have a better time reading the story than Suzy did on her trip home.

You can find out here. (Story posted at 06:48 am)

And now I’m on a role. Again, about a ten minute stretch, a smoke (yes, another ‘real’ cigarette) and then a story written and posted in about half an hour… Would this continue? Could this continue?

Story 20
Title: Sale On Horse Beaks
word: crepuscular
Challenger: David Arnold

You may not have heard David Arnold speak. You may not have even heard of him. But you’ve seen his name, I promise. You’ve seen it on screen when the opening credits say “Composed by…”, if you’re paying attention, not having been swept up by the themes to Stargate, Independence Day, Zoolander, Hot Fuzz, Casino Royale and four other Bond movies, let alone those for Little Britain and Sherlock for tv.

I was tempted to write something musical but as Mitch and other musical friends of mine know, I genuinely have problems with the concept of keys, let alone anything more detailed. And I’ve always believed that if you’re going to write about something, it does kind of help if you know what you’re talking about.

So of course, the story I wrote for David’s challenge was about genetic manipulation made so ubiquitous that a pet shop could sell such items. Well, maybe not ubiquitous. Perhaps the pet shop in question is a unique offering, like its wares, with a very specific owner.

Crepuscular is a lovely word indeed, and strangely, I’d only learned it a couple of weeks earlier; otherwise it would have been a trip to the dictionary again. Horse Beaks? That rang a bell, a distant bell and it was while I opening up google that I remembered: the hippogriff. A sale on them? The plot, such as it is, hit my brain fully formed. I just had to decide win which format I wrote it, and the more I thought about it, the more I had a mental image of a shopkeeper welcoming a customer. And that gave me the format.

Like a previous tale in this collection, the story I wrote for Kim Newman, this one is what I call a dialogue for one; I absolutely loved writing this story. I could have written four or eight hundred words. Again, like the previous take, I wanted – as I wrote it – to know more about the shopkeeper. Was he the owner? Just a manager? The last in a long line of managers? And if so, what happened to the last one?

Alas, the tale was the tale, and they’re always the right length as they are.

I hope you like the story. (Story posted at 07:36 am)

Unlike the previous stories, I wasn’t surprised at all that this one took about half an hour to write. I was very well aware of how fast the ideas were coming for this story, and I was genuinely pumped up for the remainder. I had four stories left to write.

I’d written twenty stories in nineteen hours; The last eight stories had been written in six hours. I had five hours left! FIVE HOURS. And FOUR STORIES. I was flying.

What could possibly go wrong?

[SPOILER WARNING: something went wrong.]

To read about stories 21 to 24, and what went wrong, click here

To read the prologue, what when where, setting up why this took place, etc., click here.
To read about stories 01 to 04, click here.
To read about stories 05 to 08, click here.
To read about stories 09 to 12, click here.

And… we’re back. Well, at least I am. I assume you are as well if you’re reading this, and I hope you had a good break. There’s been a lot of stuff going on, so for the next few minutes, regard this place as an antidote to whatever it is that ails you. Unless of course, you’re suffering from an excess of people telling you how they spent Red Nose Day writing stories. In which case, you’re not going to enjoy this blog entry a lot. I’d go join a madrigal society or something.

Anyway, where was I? Well, at the time I’m writing about, I was where I’d been for thirteen hours: the community centre in Richmond, where I was writing story after story on behalf of Comic Relief. When we last looked in on me, I’d finished twelve stories… in thirteen hours. A couple of quick mathematical calculations shows that, using precise measurements peer reviewed and everything, each story had taken me a bit over an hour to write… and that each story going forward had to take a bit under an hour to finish and post up.

So, after posting story 12, and stretching my legs, having a ‘proper’ cigarette (yeah, I had some during this; mostly e-cig, but the occasional cigarette as well), the time was now half-past one in the morning…

Story 13
Title: The Bite
word: sexist
Challenger: Tim Minchin

I don’t know Tim at all – which is a pity, since I like how his mind works with words; strangely, although the musical comedy is what he’s become famous for, I’m far more impressed by the occasional bit he writes for various publications. I enjoy what he does with a sentence, and how his contempt for the target of his upset steers a paragraph.

When I saw the list of story titles and word supplied by the challengers, and the simple title and word above, I was struck again by the ‘obvious’ way this story could go… and how I definitely didn’t want it going there.

The first attempt for this story was a disaster. Literally. I set it in a post-apocalyptic environment, playing with the idea of sexism literally being a life and death matter in daily existence. Not exactly an idea swimming with humour, I’ll grant you, but the reason the story didn’t survive was a simple one: the only way I could get the story to work was to telegraph the ending from the first sentence and give the twist (which was a good one) away. Bah.

Back to the drawing board… well, the keyboard, anyway.

One of my favourite 1980s tv shows was the original WIDOWS by Lynda La Plante. I’d always wanted to do something like that, or at least pay homage to it, and when I remembered (confirmed by a quick reference to a dictionary) that a bite was also slang for a criminal’s portion of the take, the temptation was too much to resist.

I hope you enjoyed reading the story; I throughly enjoyed writing it.

You can read why here. (Story posted at 02:14 am)

And again, we’re at the ‘taking about an hour to write and post’ level. And I’m tired. I’ve been writing for almost fourteen hours and I’m tired. I want to write something silly.

Story 14
Title: The Green House’s Greenhouse
word: custard
Challenger: Dave Gorman

I’ve been a huge fan of Dave Gorman’s work since the BBC run of The Dave Gorman Collection, and my only regret about that is that I didn’t get to see the original stage show evolve as it did. The books of Are You Dave Gorman? and Googlewhack reduced me to tears of laughter while reading them.

Given where I was in the run of stories, I definitely wanted to write something silly, something humorous, something that was just… ok, I’ll say it again: something silly.

The last story I wrote in verse was for Caitlin Moran, and that wasn’t intended as a story in rhyme until, as I said, I read it out. That wasn’t the case with this tale – I knew the moment I saw it how I wanted it done: as something to be read out loud, preferably by Ronnie Barker in his role as a slightly the worse for wear [due to a brandy or two] country house owner.

I’ve still yet to see Dave Gorman live. I’d very much like to one day.

You can read the story out loud here. (Story posted at 3:09 am)

Bloody hell – after three o’clock in the morning. Ug. Most sensible people were asleep by then. Fortunately, I don’t know many sensible people and me and Mitch were still getting messages of support, donations, sometimes good natured and well meaning abuse. Ah, it kept me going. Lord knows what kept Mitch going, but behind me I could hear him singing away, plucking the strings of the guitar… and I was little bit envious of his astonishing ability. Shows how tired I was, folks – usually I’m incredibly envious of it.

Story 15
Title: The Lights Went Out
word: sarcophagus
Challenger: Andy Nyman

Andy Nyman is a hugely talented writer, actor and magician, with plays, screenplays. And he gave me a delightful challenge that provided a perfect contrast to the previous story.

The reading of the will has been a staple of detective fiction, indeed all fiction, far too long to be sensibly catalogued. And, if I’m allowed a certain pride for a moment, it’s usually the reading of the will in British fiction that reveals the most about a family via that reading. And, as the best fiction involves conflict, there’s always the unexpected bequest (whether in terms of amount, type, condition or legatee), the threats of challenging the will, the aged family lawyer, all the usual paraphernalia surrounding it.

I pictured the death of an important man, and his family behaving like automata afterwards, expecting their legacies, receiving them as their due, and moving on as if a business deal had been cocluded rather than a life. And there being only one person who saw that as anything ‘wrong’, and even she was powerless against it, wondering whether she too was only playing her part.

You can make your own mind up here. (Story posted at 03:50 am)

And just like that, I’d made up some time. A great little story, I thought, and time for another coffee…

Story 16
Title: Texting My Ex
word: underwhelming
Challenger: Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman. There’s nothing I can say about him that I haven’t said before, so I’ll leave it at an expression of gratitude for everything, and one additional set of thanks for nagging me to write more…

When I saw the challenge that Neil had supplied, I was both delighted and bothered. Delighted because I instantly knew what I was going to write, how it would be written, and the narrative ‘trick’ I’d be using; the lovely thing about the English language is that it often uses the same word for two or more similar but crucially not the same, no I mean really really not the same concepts. And so it is in this story.

Bothered? Well, yeah, it’s such a lovely little reveal at the end (in my mind) that I was sure I must have used it before. Now, I can’t be responsible for knowing or not knowing what every other author has done, but I can damned well be responsible for my own writings. And though some would argue that stealing from yourself is not only allowed, it’s positively encouraged on occasion, I’m not one of them. Not for something like this, not where the challenge is to come up with truly original (or at least as original as I can muster) tales.

But no, couldn’t see it in my previous writings. So I used it.

And I was very pleased with the responses I got – people really liked this tale. I’m glad. I got great pleasure from writing it; I’ve now written three stories for Neil, and I’ve enjoyed writing them, and enjoyed knowing he’s enjoyed reading them.

I hope you enjoy it as well. (Story posted at 04:27 am)

Yeah… half-past four. I’ve written four stories in three hours. I’m smack bang on schedule… for the first time in the whole thing, I’m absolutely smack bang on schedule.

Yeah, like that was ever going to last… See you tomorrow

To read about stories 17 to 20, click here

To read the prologue, what when where, setting up why this took place, etc., click here.
To read about stories 01 to 04, click here.
To read about stories 05 to 08, click here.

So it’s nine o’clock in the evening, both Mitch and I are approaching the end of what would in normal circumstances be ‘an eight hour day’, and of course, we’re over – just over – a third of the way through this madness that are our individual twenty-four hour projects. Mitch has – from what I can gather from hearing him murmur away and playing his guitar – progressed well into the actual production and recording of the music; the vocals would come later. Oh boy, would they come later.

I don’t know about him, but I’ve probably already had too many coffees, but that’s not about to stop me having more, as future stories will probably reveal. I’d have been genuinely unsurprised if one of the stories, upon review, had simply read

coffeecoffeecoffeebringmecoffeecoffeecoffeecoffee
coffeecoffeecoffeeIwantmorecofeecoffeecoffeecoffee
coffeecoffeeIneedcoffeenowIwantcoffeeNoIhaven’thad
toomuchcoffeewhydoyouask?

Apparently not, though.

But yeah, eight stories down, sixteen to go. And for the first time, I’m beginning to wonder how the stories are going over; whether people reading them are enjoying them, whether the people I’m writing them for are enjoying them… I don’t know, I won’t know for hours yet.

But I’m taking a look at Twitter every so often, and the support that Mitch and I are receiving… to describe it as touching would be to understate it. And that’s not even mentioning those who’ve turned up to give us moral suppport… more about which later.

But time is passing, both now and then, so on with the stories.

Story 09
Title: Barry’s Massive Red Shoe
word: stammer
Challenger: Marcus Brigstocke

I’m not absolutely sure how long I’ve been a fan of Marcus Brigstocke. I’m pretty sure I discovered him when I started listening to The Now Show, and knowing that series as well as I do, that must have been about ten years ago. But from the moment I heard his gloriously original style and delivery – well I’d not heard anything quite like it before – I was hooked. I’m not usually a fan of ‘ranty’ comedians, and I guess the reason I like his work so much is because ranting is the very least of what he does. Ranting implies noise for the sake of it, and Marcus never does that – he makes very clever, very funny points with the accuracy of an SAS sniper. And he loves words. It’s a common theme, I’ve found, of people whose work I admire in both literary circles and comedy – the more you love words and language, the more likely it is that I’m going to enjoy your work.

I mentioned the other day, when writing about Emma Kennedy’s challenge, that one of the things that I hope mark out my particular style (if I have one) is that I rarely take a noun as offered and use it in perhaps the way that the challenger might have anticipated.

A massive red shoe? Well, fair enough, not sure I can do much with “massive”; only really one meaning for that. “Red”? Plenty of different uses, but “shoe”? I was pretty sure there’d be a dictionary definition for that word of which I was previously ignorant. And if I was unaware of it, then it’s a pretty good bet that others – perhaps the challenger – would be equally in the dark about it.

And so it proved, There were at least a dozen different definitions of “shoe”, several of which lent themselves to potential stories. But one of them leapt out at me; who knew that a shoe was the thing that held a girder in place on a bridge? I certainly didn’t. Now why would someone have a shoe they or anyone else would consider theirs? It’d be huge – obviously, pretty much by definition. Red? Not a problem.

So who’s Barry? And why would he – or did he – stammer?

I had a sudden mental image of a child, walking over a bridge, touching the ‘shoe’, proclaiming it his, and then the same child, many years later, walking over the same bridge.

You can read why here. (Story posted at 21:49 pm)

Yesterday evening, as in Thursday night, I want along to see a recording of the aforementioned Now Show, and was delighted to be able to meet and chat to Marcus Brigstocke, who was appearing on the show again after some time. It’s always a pleasure to discover that people whose work you admire and enjoy are as nice as you hoped they’d be. It was lovely chatting to him over a drink and to talk to him about the story I wrote for him. Thanks, Marcus – genuinely appreciated.

Story 10
Title: Box of Old SIMcards
word: longing
Challenger: Laurie Penny

I’ve told before on this blog how I met Laurie Penny some years back, at a drinkup arranged by a mutual friend, one Mr W Ellis of the principality of Southend. Although I’ve not always agreed with her writings, in both ‘print’ and person, she never fails to make me think, which is, after all, one of the points of writing for wider dissemination.

I was so very pleased she agreed to be part of this challenge, and hers was one of the few challenges that the moment I saw the title and word, I knew precisely the story I was going to write. If someone else had challenged me with this title, I doubt the story I wrote would have been the same – it just seemed so perfect for Laurie.

So of course, this turned out to be one of the toughest stories to get just right.

I must have completely changed one of the middle paragraphs a dozen times or more; trying to get the mixture of suspense, pathos and just plain weirdness just at the correct level.

I think I managed it at the end, but it’s always just so tempting to tweak it one more time…

But it all starts with questions: why would there be a box full of them? Why would anyone keep them? What would be on them, and who would want to go through them? Well, maybe no-one would want to – so why would someone be forced to, and by whom?

You can find out the answers here. (Story posted at 22:56 pm)

And suddenly it’s eleven o’clock, and we’re heading for midnight. And beyond midnight, there’s half-past midnight, and we’ll be half way through and… shut up Budgie – stop panicking.. write, dammit, write…

Story 11
Title: From Beyond The Indigo
word: breathless
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough

I’ve only met Sarah Pinborough the one time, but have talked to her on Twitter occasionally, read her writings, watched a screenplay she wrote, and on every occasion thought “this is a very, very smart person.” I’ve no idea why the following story was written in the format in which it’s presented. It didn’t start out that way, you know. It started in the third person. But the story just didn’t work like that. Haven’t got a clue why not, but it happens sometimes.

Now, usually, if an idea doesn’t work, it’s the idea that gets junked. But I really liked the take on the title I’d come up with, so I tried it in various formats: first person (better but not quite), rhyming (no, no, no – definitely didn’t work), I even played for ten minutes with… no, best not admit that.

Genuinely don’t have a clue what made me try writing it as an organisation’s internal memorandum, but the moment I did, it fell into place. “It”, of course, being a very silly tale, about a warning not to think you know more than you do.

You can read the story here. (Story posted at 23:54 pm)

And just like that, we were at midnight. I rewarded myself with a stretch of my legs; Phil had gone off to the station some time earlier; he’d be back tomorrow, and Gavin Taylor had turned up to give us some support over the night, as had some folks I only know from their Twitter handles, sorry… On the whole i was happy – things were going well-ish. I was still behind, but maintaining the level of ‘behind-ness’. If I could write the next one in 45 minutes, I’d have caught up a bit…

Story 12
Title: Charity Broke My Heart
word: possum
Challenger: Richard Curtis

You know what happened last time I thought that – I can catch up on the next story? Yeah…

Richard Curtis created Comic Relief. Just think on that for a moment – he bloody created Comic Relief. And when I cheekily asked them if Richard would care to make a challenge for this event, I genuinely expected a “sorry, but he’s absolutely snowed under, and couldn’t possibly pick one red nose day event over another to lend his support to.”

Instead the man not only gave me a cracking challenge, but was my first sponsor, chucking in £240 of his own cash. The man deserves a round of applause just for that. That, and my sincere thanks.

OK, as a friend of mine is wont to say, enough schmalz.

“A cracking challenge”? That’s one way of putting it. Another is that it took me five separate attempts to write a story for this challenge. Each previous story got about 150 words through the tale and then… and then… just petered out. There was nothing there… there.

By the time of effort number six, I was pacing around the room, muttering story ideas, and almost dictating them aloud just to see if the idea had anything. Ideas were flying in and out of what by that time I laughingly called my mind. (Strangely enough, one of the discarded tales came to light later on that day for another challenge.)

And then, literally, just like that, after an hour of wanting to tear my hair out… I had it. Just had it – the right story drove up, reverse parked, flashed its lights and said “OK, I’m here, what are you waiting for?”

I remember sitting down and typing solidly for about ten minutes. And then editing for another five. And that was it. It worked.

At least I hope it did. (Story posted at 01:22 am)

Yeah, you can do the maths; that story took me almost an hour and a half to write… I should have been about to post story 13, and I’d just finished story 12. I’d now written twelve stories in thirteen hours. And I had to write the next twelve stories in eleven hours. I was not pleased. At all. I was now almost an hour behind, furious at myself again, and wanting to write angrily. Fortunately, the next story gave me more than ample opportunity to do so.

But you’re going to have to wait a few days for that. It’s Good Friday, and I’m going to take off Easter from blogging about the stories. See you on Tuesday…

To read about stories 13 to 16, click here.

To read the prologue, what when where, setting up why this took place, etc., click here.
To read about stories 01 to 04, click here.

When you left me (Where’d you go? I hope you had a nice trip. Anyway, welcome back.) I was a little behind where I’d planned to be, but seeing as I’d stated 45 minutes late, I was fairly pleased with how much I’d caught up. No worries – we were doing well.

Four and a bit hours in, things were settling down to a kind of routine. Every so often, I could hear Mitch mumbling to himself and others, working out songs in his head. Occasionally, I’m sure I heard a laugh from him, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t even aware of it. Or anyone else, really.

Mitch and I were, it has to be said, working in entirely different ways. For a start, I was writing my stories in sequence: writing one, getting it done, and moving on to the next. Mitch, on the other hand, in part due to the circumstances of recording, was writing all of his at the same time, moving from one to another, nailing the lyrics, then working on the “musically thingy bits” as I believe they’re technically known.

I mentioned yesterday that I had a white board and an orange marker pen. By now, I’d gotten into the habit of, once I’d chosen which the next story was going to be, just before I started writing it, scribbling out my choice – the challenger, not the title – and showing it to the webcam, and those viewing. Darren Saunders – our tech wizard – snapped some of these scribblings, and you’ll likely see some of them.

Like, for example…

Story 05
Title: Boy Meets Girl (Again)
word: serendipity
Challenger: Rory Bremner

It’s always interesting when I get a challenge and it’s a classic trope; boy meets girl is such a classic that, of course, it’s beyond parody, which is a pain, since that was my initial thought.

Unfortunately, this meant that if I was going to write something that wasn’t a piss take of the concept, it would have to look at the whole concept from a different angle, especially the tantalising “Again” teaser.

I was very tempted to turn it completely around; show boy anticipating meeting girl again after SO long, after SUCH a long wait… and of course it turns out they’re four years old, and he’s waited all of one whole day to see her again at kindergarden. It just didn’t sit right.

And then, I started thinking about television miniseries, how separated couples always seem to meet again just when it’s convenient for the story to move on… and wondered what if they never met under such circumstances; what if they met under a completely different, entirely coincidental scenario… and their “lives” were both changed and unchanged by the meeting?

What indeed? Find out here. (Story posted at 17:39 pm)

Take a look at when that story was posted – almost twenty-to-six in the evening; I’d caught up massively and that gave me some comfort for the next story. Ah, you know what they say about comfort. Well, what they should say anyway…

Story 06
Title: Hummingbird Harbingers In Hell
word: halcyon
Challenger: Rufus Hound

Sometimes, I approach a challenge with humility and with an open mind as to the various ways a story can go. I’ve even been known to admit on occasion to thinking that I’m incredibly fortunate that my mind allows me to come up with one more story, one more twist, one more fast fiction.

And then there’s the story I wrote for Rufus Hound which taught me again the much needed lesson that there’s no greater guarantee of crashing to earth than running full pelt off a cliff with the arrogance of having once jumped off a stair.

So, take a look at the title Rufus gave me. And the word. See anything jumping out at you? Yep – all the words (well, almost all the words) begin with H. It’s a holiday of H’s. A huge, humungous, horrifyingly…

Yeah – you can see where this is going, right? Some time ago, I wrote a fast fiction entirely in alliteration. It was incredibly satisfying to do. both to be able to tell a story in that format, and have the enormous fun I did in doing so. And for this story, I thought it would be so cool to write a story not only all in alliteration, but entirely using words beginning with the letter ‘H’.

So I confidently typed:

“Help!” he heard her holler! Hurriedly, he hefted himself…

And then I stopped. And grinned, and ignoring the little part of my head that was beginning to scream at me, I continued…

Ten minutes later, I wasn’t grinning. Or even smiling. I was furious at myself for wasting ten minutes on this when I could see the impossibility of 200 words of this… I was struggling to reach 60.

Clara came over, as did others, all of whom I assured I’d knock it on the head and try again.

But I didn’t – I tried some more.

I finally gave up another thirty-five minutes later, having added only another 40 or so words to the tale, for a total of about 100 words. I was furious with myself – I’d wasted an hour on a story I’d known wasn’t going to work after ten minutes.

I stood up, took a walk around the room, and within a minute or so of deciding it was a dead idea, another idea (which must have been knocking at my brain for half an hour or more) took the opportunity to rush in.

I sat down and wrote that story in ten minutes flat. Barely needed a rewrite, and I think it’s one of my favourite stories of the run, especially because of the language used. Although I’m sorry I couldn’t write the earlier story, I’m very, very pleased I got to write this one, and I’m delighted that Rufus enjoyed it so much; the other story would arguably have been a cleverer story. This one is a better one.

You can read it here. (Story posted at 19:15 pm)

The fuckup and stubbornness on my part had cost me; not only in the actual time involved, but I was badly shaken. I was furious with myself, and even more angry because I didn’t know whether I would be able to shake it off and write something genuinely silly, something that played with language, as I desperately wanted to write for my next challenger.

Story 07
Title: These Aren’t My Breasts!
word: tureen
Challenger: Caitlin Moran

Catlain Moran does wonderful things with words; her columns are a pleasure to read and I love how they flow so beautifully from paragraph to paragraph, point to point; she occasionally uses a bludgeon, but is far happier, I’d guess, with a rapier.

As I mentioned yesterday, with a couple of exceptions, I didn’t know what the titles of these stories were going to be. Clara and Mitch, on the other hand did, and the night before the challenge, they both told me that Caitlin Moran’s challenge was without doubt their favourite story title. They were giggling at the mere thought of me reading the title and laughing out loud at my trying to write a story based upon it.

Together with my own concern after the previous story, what happened in fact astonished me.

I laughed when I saw the title and read it out loud… but when I read it, I carried on going

“These Aren’t My Breasts!”, the young man said,
As he strode across the floor.
“They’re strange and pale and much too big
They’re not what I paid for.”

And just like that, I had the story – the whole thing, laid out in my brain, exactly what was going to happen, and even most of the rhymes. In fact, I had too much fun writing this one; took me a long time to edit this one down from the 250 words it stubbornly wanted to be.

I loved writing this story, and I’ll always be grateful to both Caitlin and the story for getting me back on track.

Go on – read the story here. (Story posted at 20:15 pm)

Story 08
Title: Goth To A Flame
word: ululate
Challenger: Lauren Laverne

Lauren Laverne’s work was introduced to me by an alumni of Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, the supremely talented artist Jamie McKelvie. I’d heard of her, of course, but it was Jamie who suggested I listen to her 6Music radio show in the morning, Jamie who told me to seek out some old Kenickie videos, Jamie who got me watching 10 O’Clock Live and Jamie who, bringing this up to date, acted as a middleman for this challenge. So, thanks Jamie, for this as for so much else.

I was absolutely determined to write a tale for Lauren that was about how music matters; I wouldn’t be daft enough to try and write about why music matters – I’m damned if I know the answer to that one.

But I definitely wanted to write this story for Lauren, a tale of what music does do, what it can do, and what it inevitably will do.

I wrote this one for Lauren – I’m delighted that so many other people appear to have enjoyed it.

Read it here. (Story posted at 20:55 pm)

OK, so now I’ve written eight stories; I’m still behind, but thankfully, Lauren’s story was written in half an hour and I was slowly getting back some of the time I’d blown earlier.

More tomorrow…

To read about stories 09 to 12, click here.

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.

Electro-bloody-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.

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

– excerpts from the first chapter, nay the first page, of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

In a similar way, it has to be understood from the very beginning that the musical comedy songwriter and satirist Mitch Benn is one of my closest friends, or you won’t appreciate how a brief throwaway line on a car journey turned into my raising £1,400 for Comic Relief.

You also won’t truly understand why I owe quite so many thanks to quite so many celebrities, nor how 4,800 words were written by me in response to approximately 120 words thrown at me, nor even how I learned to both love and loathe a white board and orange marker… nor finally how every bloody one of the stories surprised me. For different reasons, each one of them, sure, but they all surprised me.

Ok, so where to start? That car journey? Not quite – let’s leap back a little bit further, to late December 2012. For some years, I’ve on occasion thrown out to the world the following:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write you a story of exactly 200 words.

Now, usually, those challenges came from anyone on Twitter, on Facebook, people who read my blog, etc., but just before Christmas 2012, I asked twelve writers and artists, all friends of mine, to challenge me with their own titles and words. They did, and the resulting Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, wherein I wrote and published on the blog one story a day seemed rather popular.

Skip forward a couple of months, during which I serialised and self-published a novella, and then we’re in early February.

Ok, finally, we’ve reached six weeks before Red Nose Day… And I’ve picked up Mitch from the airport (he’d been in Jersey the previous night playing a gig), and we’re chatting in the car. He’s been thinking about Red Nose Day; specifically, he’s been thinking about what he could do for it. He was already doing something for Radio 3 with Simon Russell Beale, but he’d had an idea… to create, record, and make available for purchase an album of comedy songs… in 24 hours.

At this stage, Mitch hadn’t come up with the idea of how to get the titles supplied to him, to ensure it’d be a ‘genuine challenge’; more about that later. But that it would be sorted partially explains why the next words out of my mouth, after saying I thought it a great idea, were something along the lines of…

“You know, of all the fast fiction challenges I’ve done, I’ve never done a timed one. Twenty-four stories in twenty-four hours. That’d be… interesting.”

I swear: it was a throwaway comment, conversational conceit; apart from anything else, if I’d have had to swear on a stack of bibles, I wasn’t absolutely sure I could do it. I knew that on average, a story in response to a fast fiction challenge usually took me about 45 to 50 minutes to write, but I’ve mentioned before that one in particular (Shakespeare on Summer’s Morn) took me almost three hours.

The conversation continued. I’m not sure how long it took for “so if I were to do this” (genuinely not for a second thinking I would) to become “we’re doing this”. Because that was, undoubtedly, what swung it for me: doing it contemporaneously, in the same room, as Mitch.

I’d been a fan of his for years before we became friends. And the opportunity to do this thing effectively with him was too good to immediately turn down.

Now the original plan was to raise money for the eventual ebook I foresaw by getting people to bid for the titles and words I’d use, but I quickly saw the drawback in that: no guarantee I’d get twenty-four different titles and words that followed the rules of the challenge. (Seriously, folks you wouldn’t believe how many people have challenged me with five word titles over the years… and then been surprised when I’ve pointed out the four word limit.)

And then, like most simple solutions to simple problems worried about by simple people, it hit me: do it just as I did for Twelve Days of Fast Fiction – get celebs to challenge me. But this time, not exclusively friends – no, aim big, aim BIG. Get comedians, authors…we ended up with one BAFTA winning composer and several broadcasters…

I must at this point thank once again both Mitch, and another friend, Neil Gaiman, for offering their own challenges and helping me secure many others.

So now we had the challengers, and Mitch had got us a venue.

I’ll discuss the individual challengers in the next few blog posts when I write about each story, but I must mention two here.

I knew that I wanted Neil to challenge me once again; I’d written one for him for Twelve Days and it was a pleasure to write a story for him for his fiftieth birthday present, but Neil’s been such a support in so many ways, I wanted him part of this madness I was attempting. And, delightfully, when I told him I was planning it, his reaction was unfettered support for the event.

The other person I knew I wanted was Richard Curtis. As the creator of Comic Relief and Red Nose Day and a writer I enjoy (usually, let’s not talk about Love, Actually, but Notting Hill is a sheer joy) of course I wanted a challenge from him. I was delighted and so very pleased when he not only challenged me with a title, but also sponsored me £240. Yeah. Wow.

Now we come to the titles.

How to ensure the titles were a surprise to us? Well, that actually turned out to be the easiest thing of all. Mitch is part of the cast of a weekly satirical show; the audience were asked to supply song titles, after which Steve Punt, another member of the cast, chose some for Mitch. They were given to a friend (Darren Saunders, who with Hayley Gale was so superb organising the tech side of the challenges, including webcasting them) who handed them over at the start of the challenge live on cam.

My titles?

Well, with three exceptions which were sent to me, all the challenges were sent direct to Mitch and his missus, Clara. Clara then stuck them in a list, together with the three I’d received, and she presented them to me at the start of the challenge.

As the time ticked down to half-past noon on 15th March 2013, Red Nose Day, I was bricking it. To be fair, I’d been bricking it for several days, moving between understandable nervousness at what I was about to attempt to outright being scared shitless: what if I had a mind full of brain-farts? What if I just plain ran out of time? But as time passed (and I did with increasing frequency, running to the loo) the clock ticked away.

And then we were in, and setting up.

Mitch, of, course was surrounded by tech, including lots that I heard the names of but didn’t have a clue what they were.

Me? I had three pieces of equipment, not including chargers, and not including the webcam aimed roughly in my direction:

– an ipad
– a bluetooth keyboard
– a whiteboard and marker, upon which I wrote the name of each challenger as I embarked upon their story.

And upon that last, after getting in, setting up and getting everything ready…, I wrote the following:

#1 Ian Rankin’s story

More tomorrow…

To read about stories 01 to 04, click here.

OK, it’s a little later than I anticipated, but below are the download links for ebooks of The Twenty-Four Hours of Fast Fiction, the Red Nose Day project I undertook for Comic Relief.

A few thanks and some explanations, however…

The explanations first. You’ll see that I’m making the ebooks free for download. There are lots of reasons for this, including an inability of mine to be able to follow simple Paypal setup instructions… To be fair though, that’s only a minor reason.

Being serious for a moment; when I started this project, I wanted to raise £1,200. I aimed high, never really being convinced that it was possible, and thinking that maybe, if I was lucky, very lucky, we’d hit £1,000.

As I write this, we’re at a shade under £1,300.

We hit the target and then some. YOU hit the target and then some.

The donations I’ve received have astonished me with their kindness and generosity, of all sizes, up to a whopping £240 from Mister Red Nose Day himself, Richard Curtis.

So that’s one reason right there. That kindness and generosity from so many people in a good cause has allowed me to reach the target I hoped for. It’s also allowed me to think that maybe, since Comic Relief is all about asking people to give what they can, maybe I should just do that with the book: make the download free.

Some quick thank you’s before the links:

To all the challengers – thank you so very much. The titles and words you challenged me with were as fine a selection as I could possibly have wished for. And together we raised over £1,300 during the writing of this book.

To those who donated money during the writing – I can’t express my thanks enough. Just… thank you thank you thank you. Thanks also to those who followed us on webcam, or visited the venue, and gave us so much encouragement and support during the twenty-four hours.

To Hayley Gale and Darren Saunders – The technical wonders that kept a live feed going during the 24 hours during which this book was written. Thank you so much for your time, your efforts, your good humour and your friendship.

To Mitch Benn, Clara Benn and Neil Gaiman – This book, indeed this entire project, would ever have happened without you, so thank you all.

To you, who are about to download this book. Thank you…

AND… To Richard Curtis, Comic Relief and everyone who works there – thank you for being there and for doing what you do.

OK, here are the links. As I said, no obligation to donate anything, but if you’ve enjoyed the stories, or expect to enjoy the stories, can I suggest a donation of a pound to charity?

If you want to donate, you can Paypal me any donation on budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk

The links:

Twenty-Four Hours of Fast Fiction ebook – epub (for iBooks)

Twenty-Four Hours of Fast Fiction ebook – mobi (for Kindle)

Title: Option B Remains Open
Word: declamatory
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

The old god tried not to laugh when mortals applied for godhood. It wasn’t easy, even for a being as old as he, and he was by far the oldest of the current pantheon allowed contact with ‘temporal corporeal beings’, as the newer, more politically correct gods insisted on calling them.

Every decade or so, he’d check the various temples erected in his or his families honour on Earth, from the mud huts of one continent to the golden palaces of another. He had long ago ceased to even find any amusement in treating them the same. They were just buildings; neither he nor his kind had required buildings for longer than humans had had recognisable forms of language.

Oh, here was one, uttering both plea and demand in the declamatory style they so believed was expected of them. The old god could no longer sigh, and at times like this, missed the ability. The fools genuinely had no concept how boorish and boring they simultaneously appeared.

The old god rarely granted godhood, nor immortality of being. Their own activities, however, usually guaranteed they would never be forgotten. Isn’t that true, young Caligula? the old god thought, before he left.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the twenty-fourth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There are no more. That’s it.

No, seriously, that’s it.

But you can still sponsor me!
The ebook will be available later today…

Title: I’m Going Off Line
Word: narcissism
Challenger: Robert Llewellyn
Length: 200 words exactly

After spending years in the wilderness of scientific outlands, entirely sure our planet was speaking to us if we could but only translate the messages, it was something of a shock to receive an email from The Earth.

Of course, I was initially convinced it was a hoax – who wouldn’t be? But when I checked the incoming headers, they… didn’t exist. Nor did the domain from which the email purportedly came.

And yet the email arrived. As did a follow up when I deleted the first one.

A simple message: The Earth was shutting down and it was giving me fair warning, suggesting I tell others. It did this only, of course, after correcting my main thesis and suggesting that my attempts to raise public awareness owed more to narcissism than genuine scientific enquiry and sharing. Well, obviously, that played no part whatsoever in my suggestion that it would be necessary to meet The Earth should it genuinely wish me to believe its story.

At this point, The Earth told me to fuck off.

So I started digging my garden up in order to communicate further.

Yes, at midnight. Yes, with a mechanical digger.

Why do you ask, Constable?

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the twenty-third story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be one more story, just one. Just. One. More. Story. Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: A Forgotten Spider Remembers
Word: monkish
Challenger: Robin Ince
Length: 200 words exactly

By the time the intern had been fired for incompetence, seventeen experiments had been ruined, a further six had been compromised and then, of course, there was the spider that no-one knew existed.

Discovered two years later in a clear plastic network of tubular connecting tunnels, it appeared that the intern had on this occasion excelled in his uniquely egregious patterns of what, for want of a better word, they called “work”; no paperwork had ever been filed, nor grant applications made, nor any records kept.

Discussion with the intern’s colleagues revealed no further information; indeed, it appeared that where this spider was concerned, the intern had been almost monkish in his apparent vow of silence. It was with further astonishment that they realised the arachnid had survived solely upon the flies and small insects trapped in the filters built into the tunnels.

The spider dimly recalled training the large creature before it had left; afterwards it had to fend for itself. This was less than ideal, and it newly remembered hunger, and not being hungry. It preferred the latter. It now saw the curiosity on the faces of the giants and was satisfied. They would be easy to train…

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the twenty-first story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be three more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Dancing Upside Down
Word: flannel
Challenger: Jenny Colgan
Length: 200 words exactly

When the human race finally left for the stars, the effects upon so many spheres of human endeavour had never been anticipated. It had taken many, many years, in some cases generations, for the consequences to be fully appreciated.

Within three generations, the human body tended to a redefined norm, with extremes at both ends becoming rarer with each passing year. It was astonishing to the older generations how quickly they themselves, let alone their grandchildren, adapted to zero gravity for moving around; it surprised no-one, however, that they still preferred beds to floating around their rooms… As for washing, within seventy years, no one had heard of a flannel or a towel. Encased showers that pulled moisture from you were the standard.

It would be unfair to say that dancing simply ended; that would be far too simple. Nor had it evolved, as some liked to pretend. What people now called dancing was merely moving from one place to another in approximate time to some music that happened to be playing. Speedy movements inside zero gravity even when possible, were best avoided, and no matter how teachers tried to encourage it, thirteen year old boys still loathed the waltz.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the twenty-second story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be two more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Suzy Gets A Fish
Word: banana
Challenger: Ben Aaronovitch
Length: 200 words exactly

She was furious with me, of course. The journey back had been unpleasant, to put it mildly, and the moody silences punctuated by sullen looks did nothing to improve either of our moods.

As so often between parents and children, it came down to one of us wanting something the other wouldn’t allow. Whether it was a present, a hug or some peace on a Sunday morning, desire didn’t guarantee satisfaction. Suzy had wanted something other than what she’d come home with, and to her that was unacceptable, as was her behaviour to me. She seemed to take a perverse joy in my upset.

I offered her a banana, arguably several thousand years old by now, but she just turned away from me and the two hour old fruit. The company had made it perfectly clear before we travelled: you were allowed to bring back to present day certain types of fruit, but no animals whatsoever. They had a fishtank in the vistors’ shop to allow for fauna requests; that mollified most children, but definitely not Suzy.

I kept telling her: we don’t have room for a dodo, it’s only a small apartment. She just cried. And ignored the fish.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the nineteenth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be five more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Sale On Horse Beaks
Word: crepuscular
Challenger: David Arnold
Length: 200 words exactly

Come in, come in. No, you’re not too late; I was just shutting up shop but for such an obvious gentleman of taste? Your first time… well, no mind, sir. I’m happy to introduce you to the wonders of nature. Well, I say nature, but here at Doctor Moreau’s World of Pets, we don’t believe in being hidebound by the limitations of chance and casual fortune… or should I say casual misfortune?

I mean to say, sir, who’s harmed by having a crepuscular chipmunk? Now, being totally honest, sir, yes, indeed, you do need to give them special feed otherwise they’ll starve to death, but it really isn’t all that expensive. (Not compared to the little bastard you’re buying, I mean.) No, I didn’t say anything, sir, you must have misheard.

Of course, you’re not limited to animals with minor changes to correct, shall we say, nature’s lottery. We have some excellent examples where we’ve heightened the aggressive genes. These vicious fighting sloths, sir. Yes, do be careful.

Over there? Alas, not all our benificent gestures come to fruition. We were attempting to recreate the hippogriff. Unfortunately, however… You’re interested? Well, we do have special offers on them right now…

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the twentieth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be four more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Death Of A Turnip
Word: archbishop
Challenger: Andy Salzman
Length: 200 words exactly

“It is a pity,” said the archbishop to the local vicar, as they entered the church, “that despite parliamentary draftsmen spending their lives ensuring clarity, no-one has managed to codify via any legislature the law of unintended consequences.”

He viewed his current predicament as a perfect example of the rule; he had not intended to stay the night with this vicar, but his car had skidded on some root vegetables upon the road, and had gently collided with a tree. The local vicar had asked him to stay and offered him the opportunity to deliver the sermon the following day.

He walked to the front of the church, consulted some notes and began, planning to recount his misadventures.

“Consider the turnip,” said the archbishop, and the members of the congregation shifted in their seats and looked uneasily at each other.

“I say again, consider the turnip,” repeated the archbishop, and then he paused at the obvious hostility beginning to become apparent.

Once he’d told them it was his car that had crushed the turnip, his fate was set. They were an old church, ancient with their own customs. One did not simply murder a turnip and expect to escape justice.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the seventeenth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be seven more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: My Wife Never Knew
Word: pollen
Challenger: Mark Watson
Length: 200 words exactly

She always suspected, of course, but my loving and devoted spouse was never entirely convinced of the truth one way or the other. Even when the jury came back with the unanimous guilty verdict, there was that small kernel of doubt, an irritation like a mild pollen allergy; just enough to keep her awake at night. But now, I wonder whether she’s still tormented by the uncertainty or whether after years have gone by, turning into the decades of a life sentence, she’s come to accept that she’ll never be sure.

Of course the truth is that I was guilty as hell – I killed the old man for his money and never regretted doing so. He’d been blackmailing me for years and when I discovered that he’d been extorting others as well… the opportunity to take a chance on getting away with the killing was too good to pass up. There would surely have been too many suspects to narrow it down to me.

Ah, if I’d only known; unfortunately, I know myself only too well; even had I known, I would probably have still done away with him.

I wish my wife hadn’t been found guilty, of course…

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the eighteenth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be six more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Texting My Ex
Word: underwhelming
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

It used to be so easy, texting him, back when we were closer. I’d think nothing of texting him as I was heading home from work, asking him if he fancied a drink, or a coffee, or more. This was when we were closer, as I said.

He was the only one who never complained about my atrocious spelling – I never did get the hang of predictive texting. Sure there were times we argued still, times when exasperation could turn to annoyance and all the reasons we became exes emerged to take centre stage in the plays of our lives.

That was when it was horrible, when the slightest irritation grew in importance again, and marital support that was underwhelming at best and sheer apathy at worst reminded us of the pain. But on the whole, we still liked each other, and we liked being close.

We’re not close any more and I miss that, more than I anticipated. I miss getting his replies to my texts, funny replies, that showed how close we still were.

Still two hundred miles straight up will do that. We mail each other now. From the International Space Station, it’s cheaper than texting…

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the sixteenth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be eight more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: The Lights Went Out
Word: sarcophagus
Challenger: Andy Nyman
Length: 200 words exactly

The end, when it came, was unexpected. The old man had been ill for so long and his demise had been predicted so often, only his family cared when he died, and they only because of the bequests.

To the oldest, of course, went the businesses: media organisations, entertainment companies, management consultancies and corporate structures that kept law firms busy on four different continents, with ambitions on a fifth.

The middle daughter was expected to supervise the charities and welfare foundations started long ago; the position of patron was never strictly an heriditary position, but nonethless no-one other than a family member had headed a charity with the family name attached in six generations.

The youngest would be expected to take on the art collections, the museums, and of course the family curse. An honourable thing, the last, linked to the sarcophagus of Pharoah’s fifth cousin twice removed Rameses-who-would-have-been-had-everyone-else-died-first XXXII, from a minor branch of the ancient Royal Family.

The widow of the deceased saw her children leave after the will was read, each set upon their destinies, and wept, for she knew the curse of inheritance was as nothing compared to the bane of possessing only your parents’ destinies.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the fifteenth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be nine more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: The Bite
Word: sexist
Challenger: Tim Minchin
Length: 200 words exactly

“But it can only be divided up so many ways,” the gang leader told the others, repeating the words for the fourth time.

Five of the others looked at their leader, at the floor, at the ceiling, at the walls. Anywhere, frankly, but at the single woman among them, who radiated anger as if it was a physical force. Seven members of the gang, plus the fence. She was entitled, she felt, to an equal share, one eighth of the split, not what she’d been allocated: ten per cent. He repeated that she’d only been the driver. But he fooled no-one, and in all honesty, hadn’t intended to – he saw nothing wrong in her receiving less, a sexist attitude affecting her bite of the pie, just as much as her non-criminal contemporaries’ salary differentials.

Yet money was piled on the table… the guns they’d used in the robbery were conveniently close…

“MEN!”

When the police finally forced open the warehouse door, and discovered the bodies, the single word on the wall should have explained everything. That it didn’t, might not have been because the constable, the sergeant, the inspector, the chief inspector and the superintendent were all male…

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the thirteenth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be eleven more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: The Green House’s Greenhouse
Word: custard
Challenger: Dave Gorman
Length: 200 words exactly

Whenever the Manor held a party
Whenever The Set would appear
Someone was sure to be murdered
That’s just how things happened round here.

Last summer the butler was throttled
The previous spring, ’twas the maid.
And the footman and chauffeur have never been seen
Since that August the new driveway was laid.

Last weekend was Miss Martha’s coming out
All her friends and acquaintances came
Of course, there was blackmail, conspiracy and death
Without them, it’s just not the same.

The gardener vanished late Sunday night
Just as Winter was turning to Spring
Buried in the greenhouse at midnight I hear
Busman’s funeral, that sort of thing,

Detective arrested the cook of all people!
Then the chef, the housemaid, and the rest
Then the whole of the staff, and the family as well
And fifty per cent of the guests.

The murder weapon was custard it seems
his head was crushed quite quite flat
Well, being hit thirty-eight separate times
With tinned custard will often do that.

Eventually of course, we all were released
And the police sent us back to the Hall
Until the next murder, I think it’s next May
Or next June, well maybe next Fall.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the fourteenth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be ten more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Charity Broke My Heart
Word: possum
Challenger: Richard Curtis
Length: 200 words exactly

I made them wait far beyond what would have been considered polite under normal circumstances, but today, I thought it deserved.

I stabbed out a hand, hitting the intercom. “Send them in,” I growled.

Three agents of my organisation walked into my office, two of them showing the expected nervousness, one of them, however, displaying an attitude more expected of a model upon a catwalk: half boredom, half contempt, an arrogant possum.

Faith spoke first, meekly offering apologies for her last mission. I just stared, and she fell silent. Agent Hope was next, contrite for the errors he himself admitted he’d made. I could admire his honesty, but not his abilities.

Agent Charity was last, she who I’d once loved. She had the audacity to claim that I was at fault, that my own inadequacies had caused the problems. And she topped it off by throwing a letter of resignation on my desk. She was leaving, she said. She’d found a different team with which to work.

The next time I saw her, she showed me precisely how much I’d meant to her. Her new colleagues, War, Famine and Death, laughed as Agent Pestilence touched my heart… and broke it.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the twelfth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be twelve more stories… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: From Beyond The Indigo
Word: breathless
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Length: 200 words exactly

MEMORANDUM
To: Secretary General, United Nations
From: Team Commander, First Contact Team 7
Date: 12th March, 20__
Subject: Resignation from post

As previously discussed, I would be grateful if you would accept this memorandum as my formal notice of resignation from the position of Team Leader, First Contact Team 7.

You will recall the circumstances of our recent first contact with the race of aliens popularly known as “The Purples”, and the events following that contact. I believe, with some justification, that to describe the events and the conesquences resulting from them as fiascos would be to understate the matter.

It is important to emphasise that my resignation should not be taken in any way as an admission of blame. As you well know, I hold you and your diplomatic team to be solely responsible for any issues; their suggestion that we introduce the concepts of metaphor and figurative description was not only ludicrous but positively dangerous when engaging with a species that communicates only literally.

Sincerely

Cmdr John Jacobs.

PS When The Earth recovers from its oxygen being destroyed, perhaps you would reconsider how wise or otherwise it was to tell the purples they made us breathless with anticipation…

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the eleventh story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be thirteen others… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Box Of Old SIMcards
Word: longing
Challenger: Laurie Penny
Length: 200 words exactly

The memories were the worst.

Once a day, she travelled to a vault. She was shown into the vault, and the door was sealed behind her, leaving her alone to stare at the sole items of furniture: a wooden table and a plastic chair, the latter deliberately uncomfortable.

Then there was the box. One box, out of hundreds, chosen at random, or so she’d been told. Like so much, she’d come to doubt the truth of that, but who was she to judge truth or falsity any more? She sat at the table, opened the box and found the old fashioned mobile telephone resting upon so many chips of plastic. She would not be allowed to leave until she’d inserted 50 SIMcards into the telephone and read every text, seen every contact, checked every item.

The new bomb had been the ultimate deterrent: instant destruction of biological tissue, no damage to non-biological materials. A deterrent: never to be used.

And she’d ordered its deployment.

And now she paid for that action. Every day. Longing to be forced to remember, she was scared she’d forget and use it again.

The memories were the worst.

But then they were supposed to be.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the tenth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be fourteen others… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Barry’s Massive Red Shoe
Word: stammer
Challenger: Marcus Brigstocke
Length: 200 words exactly

The shoe was enormous, its vermillion colour a sharp contrast to the even larger girder it secured to the bridge. But the casing itself had always impressed and scared Barry as a child.

It was his shoe. He’d named it the first time they’d crossed the bridge, his father telling him to do so and so remove any fear. He’d stammered out a name slowly. And so it became his shoe, in the same way as it was his bridge and had been ever since his father had taken him across it, the pair of them laughing as if the day could never end and the joy never stop.

So long ago. Barry leaned against the girders now, his eyes dropping to faint scratches in the red paint. He was under no illusions – the bridge had been painted many times since his childhood and the scratches belonged to a new generation.

As it should be. And yet it was still his shoe, and always would be.

He’d lost the stammer decades ago, his father only a few weeks back. But here by his shoe, he could close his eyes and hear his father’s laugh. And Barry the man smiled.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the ninth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be fifteen others… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Goth To A Flame
Word: ululate
Challenger: Lauren Laverne
Length: 200 words exactly

It may have been hearing him ululate that first attracted her to the club, but it was the music that kept her coming back. And when he left, it was the music that kept her there.

It was the music that always pulled her inside, only the music; through the dark narrow lobby, past the strange smells and the stranger looks of those waiting to check in their coats. It was the music, always the music.

Her eyes adjusted to the dark of the cavernous room, suddenly and viciously interrupted by flashes of neon and slashes of white, glaring in the ultra-violet. And then it was the music that propelled her forward through the mass of people, simultaneously both ignoring them and hating their presence until a familiar realisation – it was the music that called to them as well. And then they were sisters, brothers, family.

Then the music left and she realised she’d never really liked her family anyway.

And then she too drifted away, feeling dumped back into the drudgery of humanity.

Until next Saturday, next week, next time the radio played. And then life and the music would call her back once again.

Calling her home.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the eighth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be sixteen others… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: These Aren’t My Breasts!
Word: tureen
Challenger: Caitlin Moran
Length: 200 words exactly

“These aren’t my breasts!” the young man cried
As he strode across the floor.
“They’re strange and pale and much too big
They’re not what I paid for.”

The delivery man, to whom he spoke
Looked tolerantly back at him
And slowly considered his answer
Making plain it was not from whim.

Then he patiently showed him the order
And the younger man’s name at the end
And prepared to leave his product there
As he’d always meant to intend.

But the younger man was having none of this
Raising his voice to try to impress
To show the driver who was boss
At The Time Of The Magnificent Breasts

The breasts themselves did nothing much
As the wind duly threatened their fall
From back of the lorry, some way off the ground
Tureen like breasts, some thirty feet tall.

“Almost thirty feet tall!” the man shouted again
In shock and some disbelief
As the driver unloaded the breasts to the ground
And made himself ready to leave.

In his mirror he saw the breasts’ paperwork,
The younger man staring it at it.
And the driver knew once again with some pleasure
There’s more than one kind of huge tit.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the seventh story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be seventeen others… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Hummingbird Harbingers In Hell
Word: halcyon
Challenger: Rufus Hound
Length: 200 words exactly

The doors to the nearest regions of Hell are tall and dark and made of jet black stone. They are guarded by nine creatures of myth; five of them are there to ensure no soul escapes from hell, the others to prevent anyone and any thing from entering.

The guardians range in size from one, huge enough to dwarf the doors themselves, to the smallest sentinels, two armed fairies of ill repute, the latters’ duties strictly limited to warning Satan himself should angels appear and seek entrance.

Winged messengers from Heaven rarely appear, but when they do, they regard the fairies with hummingbird wings as tiny annoyances. And yet, somehow, the angels never succeed in their desire to enter Hell.

It is said that long ago, long, long ago, in the time before even the halcyon days of myth and legend, God and Satan wagered. In some versions of the story, Satan wins truly. In others he cheats. And only God and Satan know why the smallest of Hell’s protectors have never failed in their task of protection.

Blackmail is never mentioned. Never. Ever. Of course not.

But the fairies are of very ill-repute. And even a God can blush.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the sixth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be eighteen others… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Boy Meets Girl (Again)
Word: serendipity
Challenger: Rory Bremner
Length: 200 words exactly

The first emotion he felt was shame. Not at abandoning her those many years ago. He had been selfish, he knew, accepting the money from her father, taking an inducement… no, be honest now, at last… taking the bribe to end their engagement. He knew that her father had been if not ‘right’, then at least not wholly ‘wrong’. He could never have given her the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed upon her later marriage into nobility. And he had needed the money.

The disgrace he’d felt was that of stupidity. He hadn’t recognised her when she’d hailed him; it was as simple as that. When he’d realised it was indeed her, he had tried, not wholly successfully, to hide his surprise at what time had done to her.

Well, time and the tyres of the carriage that had hit her, crushed her and deposited her body with a quirk of serendipity into the same cemetery where he himself had lain these past six years.

And so they spoke, as spirits do. And they made peace, as spirits sometimes do. And they told tales about themselves. And though they never changed, the stories of their lives always did.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the fifth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be nineteen others… Sponsor me to complete them!

Title: Night Of The Gibbon
Word: electro-encephalograph
Challenger: Jon Holmes
Length: 200 words exactly

The electro-encephalograph was the final straw.

Until then, the city government had wilfully ignored the strange goings on at the university, despite complaints from some, and threats from others. But when the apes starting breaking out of their cages at night, specifically to use the brain imaging devices, city councillors began to debate. And discuss. And defend their previous approach.

Then there came the night when the gibbons took over the hospital.

The first emergency meeting of the city council took place that Thursday. Telephone contact with the hospital administrators was lost during the meeting. The gibbons had discovered the MRI machine by then, and on the same night, had learned to appreciate positron emission tomography. And the brain. And scalpels.

The second, more heated, meeting of the city council took place the following Monday, just hours before biaxial wrist movement allowed the apes to open operating theatres. And arm themselves. Nothing after that should have been a surprise.

It only took them three sets of elections to vote us out. And now the city’s run by them. The gibbons.

Things are much the same, to be honest. Less corruption, more bananas. (To be fair, that was their campaign slogan.)

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the fourth story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be twenty others… Sponsor me to complete them!