Posts Tagged ‘Mitch Benn’

My mate Mitch

Posted: 20 January 2020 in family, life, personal
Tags: , , , ,

It’s Mitch Benn’s 50th birthday, today. Happy birthday, Mitch.

No one reading this is going to be unaware that we’re close friends. That we’ve only known each other since 2010, however, does seem to surprise; most people assume we’ve been friends for a lot longer.

Even yesterday, at Mitch’s birthday bash, a couple of people expressed their astonishment that we only met a decade or so back.

But that’s perfectly fair; it still sometimes takes me aback, and saddens me, that Mitch never knew Mike, and never knew me when Phil was bar mitzvah’d. Would have been lovely to have him there for both.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Most Saturdays, since I restarted the blog in June last year, I’ve done a set of what I call Saturday Smiles; commonly, I’ll put up half a dozen funny or amusing videos just to lighten the mood, to give readers of the blog a smile or six after another week of ‘oh, what the hell has the world done now?’ I’ve done it off and on since I started blogging here in 2011.

And when I restarted them seven months ago, I made the decision to always include a song from Mitch. There’ve been some personal favourites in there, sure, but there’s always been something, if for no other reason that I like his work and I think more people should be exposed to it.

Because I do like Mitch’s work, his songs, his comedy. It’s why it was a joy to discover that I liked Mitch as well as his work when I met him.

And his 50th birthday seems as good a time as any – ten years after we met, and nine years since we became friends – to write something about my mate Mitch, and our friendship.

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t like Mitch the moment we met, but that was under fairly frantic and pressured circumstances, and…

No. Wait. Allow me to go back a bit further. Pre-blog. Pre-Mitch.

I can’t remember when I first became a fan of musical comedy and of comedy songs. As early as I can recall, there were funny songs I recall learning the words of: playground songs, songs my dad sang, songs from I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again on radio, and comedy albums… everything from Alan Sherman’s Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (properly entitled Camp Grenada) to Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West; Benny Hill’s comedy songs are great, by the way.

I’d happily sit and watch Victor Borge on the tv at my grandparents. Hell, I’d watch anyone who made me laugh, while singing a song or playing an instrument, or both.

One year, I remember I was bought an album of comedy songs for a birthday or Chanukah; one of my favourite presents as a child, ever. I played it over and over, driving my parents, and my brothers, loopy. And my older brother – who I’ve mentioned before played the guitar with perhaps more enthusiasm than talent – did the whole ‘funny lyrics to existing tunes’, which I joined in with, with equal… enthusiasm.

And then there was Richard Stilgoe, and The Goodies, and Phil Pope, and Victoria Wood, and Not The Nine O’Clock News and Monty Python, and Who Dares Wins

But I’ve always loved radio comedy. My old man introduced me to The Goon Show (which had musical interludes but they weren’t comedy songs as such) and then… and then… Well, I’d been a fan of Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis through their work on The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Jasper Carrott’s shows.

So when they helmed a new topical radio show entitled The Now Show, I listened to it.

Well, ok, yes, it’s a bit more complicated than that; I used to write for a Radio 4 topical comedy show entitled Weekending; a few years after I stopped writing for them, it came off air… to be replaced by a new show entitled The Now Show.

It ‘starred’ Punt and Dennis, along with Marcus Brigstocke, Jon Holmes, Laura Shavin, and this fella named Mitch Benn who did the funny songs.

And they were funny; clever ideas, fantastic wordplay, glorious rhymes – which I later learned Mitch refers to as ‘stunt rhyming’ – and superb homages/parodies of music styles, and of specific artists.

Mitch let us into his life just a bit on the show. I learned he was married, that in 2005, almost exactly ten years after my lad was born, he and his missus had their first child. He was a huge Doctor Who fan. As was I. And a comics fan. Well, obviously. And loved sf as much as I did. And when he occasionally let his anger show in a song, it was never gratuitous, but always razor sharp, and he hit his targets. I liked his humour, and I liked the show.

I went to see a couple of the Now Show recordings in 2008 & 2009. And yeah, the personalities on stage were about what I expected: funny, silly and the cast obviously liked each other enormously.

I started using Twitter properly in early 2008, having signed up a year earlier. It didn’t take too long before I discovered Mitch on there. And his missus. And for the next couple of years, it was fun, whenever the show was on, seeing Clara nag Mitch – who’d be playing hashtag games on a Wednesday night when he was supposed to be writing his Now Show songs. The fun they obviously had, teasing each other online… well, they always lightened a Wednesday night.

I chatted to both of them, very occasionally, but no more than they chatted to other people, I guess. I remembered that Mitch had played at the Eagle awards one year at Comic Expo in Bristol while I was in the bar… but we never met.

And – it turned out – that had happened a couple of times; we’d been at the same place at the same time, but just never got around to meeting. It happens.

I knew Mitch and I had a mutual friend, but I’ve always been a bit wary of asking mutual friends for an introduction, not when they’re both celebrities in their own rights.

So, we just never met.

Several hundred words through this, we come to late September 2010. Work was hard, and I was putting in long hours, working six day weeks and most Sundays. Twitter was my… break from mundanity, I guess? Back then it was silly, and fun, and I dunno; maybe the memory plays tricks but it was… fun.

Mitch had written a song entitled (I’m) Proud of the BBC, and was doing a video for it; he invited his Twitter followers, if they were available, to come down and take part in the filming.

My office in Newman Street was about ten minutes’ walk from where they were recording part of the video, outside the BBC. I was going to be working on the Sunday of the recording – near where I’m currently typing this, as it happens – so I dropped them a message and said I might turn up.

Mitch and Clara’s reaction was – in part, I’m sure because they wanted to have a decent turn out – an enthusiastic “Yes! Come along!”

I duly ‘came along’, and ended up appearing for about a second and a half in the video, before I – having met Mitch, Clara and the kids, and liked them all – returned to the office and the month end accounts, and the three year budget, and the financial modelling, all of which I was then simultaneously wrangling.

And that was that; that could have been that. I’d met them, I’d had fun, and who knows, maybe I’d meet them again at some point?

It could have been no more than that.

And my life would have been very different, substantially worse, than it turned out.

Because when I mentioned to our mutual friend how much I’d enjoyed meeting Mitch et famile, his reaction was immediate, along the lines of: “How do you both not know each other? You two should definitely know each other. You’ll like each other.

Shortly thereafter I received an invitation to pop round to the house one day and meet them properly. As memory serves, and memories of that time are, I’ll acknowledge, a bit blurry at times, I was in the office on another Sunday, taking a break, and they said if I finished early enough, to drive around to them, to meet them properly. So I drove over to their place. Had a lovely evening, full of laughter and silliness and fun.

And then ‘popping round to see them’ after work became a regular thing, an oasis from work, and a welcome chat and time of relaxation.

I’d never ‘done’ Christmas really. I’m Jewish for a start, but it had never been my thing, and – after my marriage ended – I tended to go into work on Christmas Day itself. I’d clear the backlog of correspondence and work in the blessed silence of no telephones ringing, no emails disturbing me, no one popping by my office to ask me stuff. (For various reasons, I’d pretty much cut ties with my parents and remaining sibling by then.) So, yeah, I had every intention of working that particular Christmas Day until late in the evening.

Neither Clara nor Mitch particularly liked that idea, and they… well, I’d say they invited, but that’s not strong enough. They pretty much insisted that I join their family for their Christmas.

And I did. In both meanings.

Mitch and Clara invited me to join their family in oh, so many ways. Not just for Christmas, but to always be welcome at and in their house, to view their place as somewhere safe… another home.

They became my closest friends in an astonishingly short period of time.

And I needed friends.

I needed somewhere else I could think of as home, somewhere where I would be… ok, or as ok as I got back then.

Because I was in the process of cracking up.

And not in a ‘cracking up with laughter’ way; cracking up as in a ‘falling apart’ way.

I didn’t know it at that time, but I was. I mean, ok, everyone else – especially those at Chez Benn – knew it, or at least strongly suspected it, but me? Not so much. It’s easiest to describe what happened as a fairly comprehensive nervous breakdown. There’s more to it than that, but that’ll do for the moment.

And when I lost where I was living, Mitch and Clara invited – again, that’s so little a word to describe it – me to take over the spare room at their place, and to live with them, as part of their family. Partly to look after me, to care for, and about, me. Partly to allow me the time to get through the crisis that was… me being me.

I met Mitch in 2010; we became friends in 2011, and there’s not been a day since when I haven’t learned something from him. Stuff about life, about family, about comedy. About friendship.

(Oh, and a lot about Doctor Who. No, I meant it: a lot about Doctor Who. Seriously, so much about Doctor Who.)

One of the things Mitch and I discovered fairly early on was that we both knew an awful lot about the same subjects, and interests. But there was shed loads he knew that I didn’t, and vice versa. In ten years, there’s not been a single conversation we’ve had where he’s not surprised me with some nugget of relevant information, or shown me a side of an argument I’d not considered. Doesn’t mean we always agree; hell, as often as not, our conversations are attempts to persuade the other that we’re right and the other is… well, if not wrong, then not wholly right.

I can’t begin to list all the things I owe him, for which he deserves – but won’t ever accept – my thanks.

But here are a couple.

Mitch knew of my comedy writing career (such as it was) and when he was snowed under with work – The Now Show, appearing as Zaphod Beeblebrox in the stage tour of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, writing a novel – but had been asked to do some Radio 4 shows, he asked me if I wanted to help write them.

Whether I wanted to? Of course I wanted to. Took me about ¾ of a second to say yes. And ½ a second of that was me going ‘wha–?’

And the past four years, it’s been enormous fun, and incredibly satisfying, to work on his Edinburgh shows, to see him craft an idea, then a routine, then a show; to watch at close hand why this gag works, but this one doesn’t quite; to see why this word caps the routine, but that word would drain the energy from it; to watch an audience being taken along the journey that is an Edinburgh show.

I have no musical ability at all; I can just about pick out a tune on a keyboard, but not so as anyone would, y’know, recognise the tune. It’s a delight to see someone who knows what they’re doing… create musical comedy, and… make people laugh while they’re doing it.

Writing with Mitch has been the hardest, and yet the most fun, writing I’ve ever done. And enormously, wonderfully, fantastic.

Writing something else in the same room as Mitch, on the other hand? That’s just plain weird.

January 2013: Mitch has been away, doing a gig; I pick him up from the airport. We’re driving back, and he mentions he’s doing something for Radio 3, for Comic Relief, something with Simon Russell Beale.

Mitch adds that he quite fancies doing something else as well. Maybe… creating a muscial comedy album from scratch in 24 hours, with – we’re just chatting, you understand – maybe the song titles being chosen by the Now Show audience, curated by the Now Show cast?

The idea’s a fun one, and we bat it back and forth for a bit before I say something like ‘huh… you know, whenever I’ve done the fast fictions, I’ve done loads of extra challenges within it, but I’ve never done a timed challenge. Heh. Can you imagine? Me writing 24 stories in 24 hours?’

It sounds harmless if you say it fast enough, doesn’t it?

And yes, you can see where this is heading.

I mean, I’d said it merely as a ‘Huh… here’s a daft idea.’

But by the end of the car journey, Mitch is already working out where we could do this thing together; him writing, performing and releasing, a comedy album in 24 hours, me writing 24 stories in 24 hours, my challenges coming from celebrities, both raising money for Comic Relief.

By then, I’d lived with the Benns for six months or so. I stayed for another four years, before moving out in February 2017. I doubt there’s been more than a couple of days since when we’ve not exchanged messages, or chatted, or… something.

Mitch has no time for the sentiment: ‘never meet your heroes’; his view tends towards “get better heroes”.

Mitch isn’t my hero but he’s my friend, one of my closest friends. And I’m hugely, wonderfully, phenomenally, grateful for that.

I was a fan of his work before I met him and it was, and remains a delight to me that our friendship quickly developed to cover so much more.

Happy birthday, Mitch.

And thanks for being… well… you.

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years, and I don’t know whether I’ll restart it this year. (Probably not.)

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

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 a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Two stories written for friends from the first Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

It’s hard writing a story for a writer. It’s hard writing stories for friends. Imagine how much harder it was for me to write stories for Neil Gaiman and Mitch Benn. Both writers. Both friends.

Here are the results.

Neil Gaiman is… well, he’s Neil Gaiman. And I’m very grateful for that, as well as his for friendship for coming up to twenty years now. Everything you hear about Neil being incredibly supportive and being there when you need someone to be there… it’s all true enough, but throughout our friendship, he’s always offered advice when I wanted it, help when I needed it, and when necessary, a kick up the backside when I’ve not wanted it, but have so very desperately needed it. I’m incredibly grateful for every moment of it.

It’s a little known fact that “Neil Gaiman” means “storyteller” in seventeen archaic languages.
Title: Why Can’t Reindeer Fly?
Word: apothecary
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

Elf-blood is purple, which often surprises those witnessing a battle for the first time. That it is pale, runny and rapidly absorbed by snow is less astonishing. Were the stains longer lasting, the white carpet around Santa’s workshop would instead be permanently amethyst.

The war had lasted too many centuries to count, only interrupted by the regularly scheduled twenty-four hour ceasefire, commencing at the close of 24th December. No-one could any longer recall how the war had commenced; some believed that an elf had grossly insulted a reindeer, some the reverse. Still others even blamed Santa himself, but only quietly, and among trusted company when they could be certain that none present would report the conversation.

However, all were agreed that any attempts at peace between elf and reindeer had been fiascos; the name of the last apothecary to try, sickened as he was by the cruelty and violence, had been struck from the guild’s records in shame.

Each side had their regrets. The elves were bitterly disappointed that the size differential between the foes favoured their enemies; and the reindeer, seeing the copious levels of excrement produced by their troops, looked to the skies and wished fervently for flight.

© Lee Barnett, 2012

Mitch Benn is an incredibly talented author, comedian and comedy-songwriter, and one of my closest friends, for which I never cease to be grateful. I’ve been a fan of his comedy for almost twenty years, and it’s always a surprise to me that we’ve only been friends for a decade or so. He’s also one of the smartest people I know, and it’s incredibly rare that we chat when I don’t come away having learned something important about comedy, politics or any one of the fairly large number of interests we share.

Few people know that Mitch plays a guitar made of wood from Yggdrasil.
Title: The Impossible Box
Word: saturnalia
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

The sun had set on Christmas Day hours ago, but she had merely noted it as a sign that her time was running out. Later, her brain had filled with plans, schemes and plots. And an hour after that, they’d all evaporated into the what might have been.

She’d been walking for hours, consciously blocking out the sounds of revelry from every house she’d passed, each one a veritable saturnalia of festivities and laughter.

At midnight, she opened the door to her apartment, and poured two stiff drinks, set out a mince pie. He liked traditions.

And then he was there, holding out The Box to her.

She hesitated for a moment before taking it, but then she always did.

Once it had been too difficult for her. Once she’d had no support, no relief.

And then he’d offered: one day a year without it. One day a year of freedom. His Christmas present to someone who once had been a very naughty girl. “Professional courtesy,” he’d called it.

Now, with a tender kiss on her cheek, he was gone.

Pandora lifted The Box, determined not to cry.

And she didn’t. Not straight away. She didn’t start weeping until February.
© Lee Barnett, 2012

Some more Christmas fast fictions next week.
Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

Mitch Benn is an incredibly talented author, comedian and comedy-songwriter, and one of my closest friends, for which I never cease to be grateful. I’ve been a fan of his comedy for almost fifteen years, and it’s always a surprise to me that we’ve only been friends for four years or so. He’s also one of the smartest people I know, and it’s incredibly rare that we chat when I don’t come away having learned something important about comedy, politics or any one of the fairly large number of interests we share.

Few people know that Mitch plays a guitar made of wood from Yggdrasil.

Title: Their Eyes All Aglow
Word: haven
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

The room was elegant, containing an eclectic mix of styles. Past arrived first, as was his preference. He sat in the smallest chair, one neat and manicured hand upon the table, one supporting his slender, pointed chin.

Present arrived next, looking older than his years, his responsibilities weighing heavily; he spoke briefly to Past, asking after his brothers and seemed vaguely content with the answer. Then Future walked into the room, and nodded slowly to his fellows, saying nothing, then sat with his head bowed.

The three of them waited, content with this haven from their duties until eventually What Might Have Been arrived, and once again made her annual pitch for inclusion.

Future looked at her, and from beneath his cowl, angry burning eyes condemned her audacity. Past was merely amused, as he had been so often before, his eyes shining with laughter, but his voice from long ago was deliberate, and low. Present’s siblings had always been contemptuous towards the proposal, and he followed the tradition, his eyes frozen azure.

The verdict delivered, What Might Have Been was no longer present. Then the clock struck twelve, then one, then two and the room was empty for another year.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody

“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Mitch Benn is a marvellously talented, very clever, very funny comedy-songwriter. He’s also one of my closest friends. Neither of these is exactly a secret. It’s a constant surprise to both of us, however, that we’ve only known each other three years or so. But in that time, I’ve benefitted from advice and a comedy brain that Marvin would envy.

Mitch Benn’s middle name is silent.

Title: He’s Making A List
Word: plug
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

To: Charles Mistletoe, Head Elf, Investigations Branch
From: Simon Hollyfield, Second Elf, Investigations Branch
Subject: Unauthorised Disclosures
Date: _________

You tasked me with investigating recent unauthorised publications in the media about The Naughtiness (Santa’s Archive), and discovering whether systemic failures contributed. Further, you instructed me to make related recommendations in order to, in your own words, “plug any gap”.

I am aware of the claim by Edward Snowmen that he alone was responsible, and that others are negotiating with Morena of the Russian regions for Snowmen’s repatriation; although diplomatic mediations are outside my remit, I urge that his return be a matter of utmost priority.

After interviews with elves, goblins and associated naughtiness analysing imps, I authorised surveillance upon those responsible for initial decisions as to whether ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ designations are applied. Information obtained impels me to declare that naughtiness security has been breached repeatedly; senior elves swan around, boasting of their access to the Archive. I recommend urgent attention be paid to this.

More shocking, however, is a growing culture of low morale and the view that “everyone is naughty sometimes”. Santa should be made aware; this could reduce workloads markedly.

Further reports in due course.

Simon Hollyfield

© Lee Barnett, 2013

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The Misanthropic Principle – challenger: Jamais Cascio
Day 02: Robot Ghosts of Apocalypse – challenger: Cherie Priest
Day 03: Every Word Is Wrong – challenger: Si Spurrier
Day 04: The Train Didn’t Come – Challenger: Emma Vieceli
Day 05: Living Happily Ever After – Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 06: Embargoed Until Midnight – Challenger: Corrie Corfield
Day 08: Fingers On The Windowpane – Challenger: Leah Moore
Day 09: Santa Abduction Narratives Recalled – Challenger: Paul Cornell
Day 10: Copula Numb – Challenger: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Day 11: It Lived Under Monday – Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Day 12: Batman Sure Likes Tea – Challenger: Tiernan Douieb

Edit to add: An ebook of all twelve stories is available for $0.99. Click here for details.

“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

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…


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


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.

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…

The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction was written between 13th December and 24th December 2012, and even as the stories were being written, I was being asked whether or not the stories would be available as an ebook.

So, here it is, in two formats, both in ePub and Kindle (.mobi) versions, both free for download. [Click on the appropriate link.]

(If you’ve accessed the page via a Twitter client, the links work better from an external browser…)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t extend my huge thanks to all the friends and creators who challenged me to write stories for them, so an incredibly large truckload of gratitude to Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton, Jason Arnopp, Greg Rucka, Amanda Palmer, Warren Ellis, Mitch Benn, Tony Lee, Kieron Gillen, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Jamie McKelvie – you’re all wonderful people.

And to those who’ve read them on the blog and those who download the ebook – I really enjoyed writing these stories, and I hope you enjoy reading them.

I’d like to extend the readership as far as possible, and I’d be grateful if you could spread the word.

There’s absolutely no obligation to do anything more, but if you think the ebook and stories are worth more than a tweet, feel free to donate a small amount via Paypal, using the donate button below.

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